Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-32, the Budget Implementation Act, 2000, and I would like to put forward some ideas.
First, in my opinion, the budget shows very clearly that if the government decided to restrict its spending to its areas of jurisdiction, Quebec and Canadian taxpayers would get the most wonderful tax cut they ever had in the whole history of Canada. If the federal government decided that it would spend only for defence, foreign affairs and other areas under its jurisdiction, there would be a lot of spending it would no longer need to do.
As a consequence, the federal government would no longer be tempted to impose national standards in areas that are not under its jurisdiction. That would also have a good result at the accountability level for elected members, because people could require adequate social programs from their provincial governments.
If, in a province like Ontario, people voted for a government providing less social programs, that would be the choice made by the population at election time. If, in Quebec, the government decided to provide more substantial social programs, that would be in accordance with the choice made by the population at election time. This would rid the Canadian system of its accountability problems.
As we know, Ontario is a perfect example of that; the Ontario government makes choices and then the Liberal federal government steps in, acting like the saviour of social programs in that province, playing the role of the good guy, of the knight in shining armour, but it is intruding in areas that are not of its responsibility.
The first thing we should hope that the federal government would do in the budgetary area is to withdraw from all jurisdictions where it has no business. This would be great for to all Canadians.
There are people all across Canada who wish to see that happen and we will see this developing in the next few months. It might even be a major election issue in the next campaign. This year's budget, which may be the last for the current minister and perhaps for the Liberal government, does not appeal to us. It tells us that the government wants to continue to intervene in areas that are not its responsibility and continue to collect money while not giving it back to the provinces through transfer payments for example.
Let us imagine how wonderful it would be if the 10 premiers did not have to practically beg for the money they need for health programs, if each province could use this tax field according to its vision of things and assume its responsibility, and the federal government would give it the leeway. This would be a nice way for the federal government to ensure that, in the Canadian system, there is an appropriate accountability. There is no such thing in the current program.
I would also like to emphasize another point that seems very important to me. For the current fiscal year, there will be a $6 billion surplus in the EI fund. In March 2001, the surplus will reach a total of $34 billion. This means that, over the last four or five years, the federal government has borrowed $34 billion from workers and employers across Canada in order to fund expenditures that have nothing to do with the EI system.
If we took $14 billion out of those $34 billion just to cushion the employment insurance system, there would still be $20 billion left, which the federal government has collected and is using for expenditures not related to the EI system.
When pay cheques are issued every week or two, people can see that, as far as EI premiums are concerned, employees and employers are contributing a huge $6 billion a year, which do not go to the EI system.
Just imagine what a boost it would give the economy if contributions to the EI fund were lowered reasonably or if the unemployed received decent benefits. In spite of the $6 billion surplus for this year, the average benefits paid to the unemployed no longer amounts to 55% of their average wages, but to only 50%.
With the infamous intensity rule, the federal government's assumption, four or five years ago, was that the reason why our seasonal workers were not working longer periods each year was because they are lazy. We have on record a statement very typical of the prime minister, describing the unemployed as beer drinkers.
Today, the results are there. The third annual EI monitoring and assessment report includes a study commissioned by HRDC and conducted by Messrs Pierre Fortin and Van Andenrode, two well known economists. According to them, the intensity rule has had no effect on the number of weeks worked. Seasonal workers all across Canada are not working longer, not because they are lazy, but because there are no jobs available outside certain periods.
A 35, 40 or 45 year old worker who worked 15, 18 or 20 weeks in the woods cannot become a computer technician overnight so he can find a job for the winter. A lumberjack cannot turn into a hotel welcome host come the fall. Things do not work that way.
There is evidence. The studies are in. The government is grabbing $6 billion a year from the EI fund while continuing to cut benefits paid to seasonal workers. Seventy seven percent of fishers are affected by the intensity rule. Soon, only 50% of EI claimants will be eligible for benefits.
For those earning $100,000 a year, $10, $15 or $20 a week is nothing. But a 5% cut on $250 a week in EI benefits leaves unemployed workers with only $235 or $240 a week.
These are the $10 or $15 a week that are needed to buy shoes for the youngest one once in a while or are missing to pay the grocery bill every week. It is very frustrating for someone who has contributed to a plan, who has paid premiums, employment insurance premiums in this case, and who sees surpluses being racked up when he or she does not have enough money to survive or have a decent income between two employment periods.
This budget falls far short in this regard. Tax cuts are minimal for 2000. There is no improvement in the condition of the unemployed. Although the unemployment rate is going down, the poverty rate keeps going up. This is due to the fact that, whether the economy is good or bad, in the seasonal industry, there is generally no significant additional income to compensate for the loss of employment insurance benefits.
Some people today have a lower income than what they had three or four years ago, even if they work a few more weeks. When they do receive employment insurance benefits, they get less money during a shorter period.
I read somewhere in a newspaper article the words “If I were a rich man”. The choices made in this budget protect the rich. The surtax has been eliminated. I am very happy to learn that some people have more money in their pockets, but if we do not at the same time make any effort to help those who earn less, it is not worthwhile, it is unjustified and unfair. And yet, this is what is to be found in the budget.
The federal government missed a golden opportunity to restore fairness in two areas, first by making sure it only collects taxes to pay for the services it is responsible for. It is unfair to the Canadian federation as a whole.
It is also being unfair to the unemployed, and is not facing up to its responsibilities to those who contribute to the employment insurance system. The current system is unfair, it is the blatant and systematic misappropriation of the money paid into the system. We still do not know how the government is going to pay back the $34 billion it owes the workers, the employers and the unemployed of this country. Even when times are good, it cannot do it.
I would like to talk about a third issue the member for Mercier touched on in her speech and which seems very important to me. With regard to international co-operation, did you know that 75% of the aid provided by Canada is conditional?
This means that our generosity is not very genuine. During a period of economic prosperity such as the one we are experiencing today, we have responsibilities internationally as well as nationally. I think it is very telling of the government; if it had treated the less fortunate in our society in an appropriate manner, it would have done the same at the international level.
In both cases, it is trying to save face. It is important for international aid to produce spinoffs for Canada, but is just as important to provide aid without any strings attached, to truly co-operate with people and find it a worthwhile objective.
For all theses reasons, I believe the Budget Implementation Act is inappropriate. It does not go far enough and does not restore the fairness we would have expected from a government such as this one during a period of economic prosperity.