Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again take the floor today, but on a different topic, namely Bill C-24.
I am especially pleased since today is the birthday of my father-in-law, Paul Jacobson, and he is surely watching CPAC, the parliamentary channel. I salute him.
I would be remiss if I passed over the comments by the member for Kings—Hants just before Oral Question Period. He praised the Government of Quebec's fiscal policies, rightly so I might add, mentioning the benefits of the policies the PQ government has put in place to attract high-tech industries, among others, to Quebec. We know that the City of Montreal and his region, of which we have a proud representative in the person of the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, is now one of the centres of the new technology, not just in Canada and North America, but worldwide, of course.
I would be remiss if I did not mention what the member said, and quite rightly, about the fiscal policies of Bernard Landry, one of the greatest finance ministers Canada or Quebec has ever had, provincially or federally.
Obviously, Bill C-24 is a bill which we vehemently oppose. One of the main problems—I would even say the main problem—of the Canadian federation right now is fiscal imbalance. While the federal government is swimming in enormous surpluses, and the Minister of Finance talked about surpluses of $95 billion over five years, our view, which is shared by most of the experts—the member for Sherbrooke agrees with me—is that it will be more like $137 billion to $140 billion.
The tax imbalance is such that while the federal government is enjoying huge surpluses, all the provinces have trouble just keeping their heads above water. Ottawa and the provinces have needs to meet. For example, because of the ageing population, we know that expenditures can only increase in the health sector.
But, since 1993, the federal government has been cutting the transfers to the provinces for health. What is the result of these cuts? The result is that the provinces are feeling the crunch. Then the federal government acts like a saviour and says “Here, we will give you more money, but we are the saviours of Canada's health system”, when, in fact, it is the federal government that axed health all across Canada. It is only through the heroic efforts of all the provincial governments that we are managing fairly well. But the primary source of the problems in health is the federal government.
We could go on like this in several areas. Worse still is the fact that the federal government's surpluses were generated not only at the expense of the provinces, as I pointed out, but also of the poor. For example, six out of ten people no longer qualify for employment insurance.
Yet, the term insurance implies that if we have a problem, we are protected, we have a safety net. But no, the federal government organizes things so as to get the money out of the most disadvantaged, the unemployed for instance, to fill up its pockets and then to use their money for purposes other than those intended.
When most Canadians and most Quebecers look at their pay stubs, they can see that a certain amount has been taken off in the employment insurance column each month. Anyone looking at it can say to himself “If I lose my job, I should be able to access employment insurance”, but no. No, because this government is stealing from the unemployed to fill its coffers with money that ought normally to go back to them.
We find ourselves therefore in a somewhat unbelievable situation in which transfers to the provinces are being cut, in which the provinces are doing their best to deliver the services for which they are responsible, and then Ottawa comes along saying “Come now, dear provinces, I can give you some more money, but you will have to adhere to this or that national standard”.
The Canadian federation is more centralized than ever, and one symptom of this massive centralization is the agreement on social union which the provinces, with the exception of Quebec of course, the only one to stand up for itself, felt obliged to sign.
This is serious. The provinces are obliged to sign off, to abandon huge chunks of the sovereignty in order to get their hands on some few million dollars temporarily. Unfortunately for them, they have been bought off. That is what has happened. Only Quebec had the honour, the dignity and the courage to stand up for itself and to say no, but that is the way Canadian history has always gone.
There have already been other instances of this type of dirty financial dealings by the federal government. For example, there is the harmonization of the GST with the QST. We know that the Government of Quebec had harmonized its sales tax with the GST. A few months later, the maritime provinces reached an agreement with the federal government and were compensated for harmonizing their sales tax with the GST, something the Government of Quebec was not. This is another example of the perverse desire of this government to see that Quebec does not get its due.
For example, in order to compensate the Atlantic provinces for the financial losses they will suffer by harmonizing the sales tax, the federal government paid $961 million in compensation to them. This aid represents $423 per inhabitant. In Quebec, this would mean a figure of $3.1 billion.
This is not what Quebec is asking. The Government of Quebec rightly said that it would accept $2 billion. However, if the criteria used with the Atlantic provinces were used, the Government of Quebec would be entitled to ask for $3.1 billion.
The Government of Quebec asked for $2 billion in compensation. The harmonization cost everyone a lot, not only the Government of Quebec, but businesses in Quebec as well.
The reform of the QST occasioned by the harmonization, resulted in significant financial costs that necessitated increases in corporate taxes and the retention of certain restrictions on refunds of taxes for corporate input.
Quebec businesses have not benefited and are still not benefiting from the harmonization with the GST, because, once again, of the ill will of the federal government. The federal government's compensation to the maritimes adds to the economic and fiscal competition these provinces represent for Quebec, since Quebec does not receive comparable assistance.
In addition, Bernard Lord's predecessor in New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, who is of the same political stripe as the government, took out full-page ads in newspapers and economic reviews in Quebec inviting companies to set up business in New Brunswick, saying that his province's fiscal policies were competitive and that they would be better treated than in Quebec. Of course, because, among other things, they are entitled to compensation from the federal government, while the Government of Quebec is not.
Quebec taxpayers subsidized, as it were, the Government of New Brunswick's attempt to steal jobs from Quebec. It is a completely ridiculous system. It is utterly surrealistic, but it is the way Canadian federalism works. This is just one example of why we want to get out and are fighting to do so.
In addition, at the suggestion of the Bloc Quebecois, the government said “Perhaps we are not right. We think we are, but we are prepared to submit the dispute to arbitration”. The federal government and the Government of Quebec could have jointly appointed an arbiter, a judge, call him what you will, to determine who is right. The government completely refused this overture from the Bloc Quebecois because, of course, it knew that the request from the Government of Quebec, and the Bloc Quebecois in particular, because it was the Bloc Quebecois that introduced the idea, was right. It was reasonable and it was right.
I am delighted to see the Liberal member nodding his approval. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I tell him “Ask the Minister of Finance to submit the dispute to an unbiased person. That is what he should do instead of pitting the Quebec government against the federal government”. I would bet, I was going to say $1,000, but thanks to the Bloc Quebecois, $1,000 bills are being withdrawn.
I would bet $100, Mr. Speaker, that the Quebec government would be proven right. I do hope that you will accept the challenge, which I throw out in all friendship, to you and to the two members who are hanging on my every word, because they, too, know that the request of the Bloc and of Quebec is legitimate.
I ask them to put pressure on the Minister of Finance to have him submit this issue to arbitration.
Another issue on which the Bloc has worked hard concerns the increase in the price of gasoline. Such issues show how a party sticks to reality and listens to people. The Bloc Quebecois has launched a vast campaign throughout Quebec to help consumers affected by the drastic increase in the price of gasoline in Quebec and Canada last winter.
Like my colleagues from Témiscamingue and Sherbrooke, we ask that the federal government temporarily waive the excise tax of 10 cents per litre on gas and 4 cents per litre on diesel fuel until such time as the price of gas has returned to an acceptable level.
Whether we lower the taxes or not, this increase in gas prices will have been very costly for Canadian and Quebec households. Anyone who has a car—and most people need one—or has to buy heating oil for their house, their apartment or their condominium is affected by that increase. The federal government took advantage of that increase to fill its pockets, raking in 10 cents per litre of gas and 4 cents per litre of diesel fuel.
Many times, the Bloc Quebecois asked repeatedly that the federal government waive the application of its tax but, again, it preferred to rake in the money instead of giving it back to the Canadian and Quebec taxpayers to whom it belongs.
Those who drive to work or heat their homes are affected. But, heartless as it is, the federal government decided to ignore the request of the average citizen defended by the Bloc.
I personally circulated a petition, which was very popular in my riding. It was circulated to gas stations, community groups and several people. It is incredible how sensitive people are where their money is concerned.
Why give tax breaks when they do not mean anything? Why should the government say that it is reducing taxes for Canadians, as the Minister of Finance is bragging about, when it is raking in more money with the increase in gasoline prices? It does not matter whether the money comes from the right pocket or the left pocket, it still comes out of the same pair of pants.
Again, this shows how this government is completely out of touch with reality, and it is just one more reason why we will strongly oppose Bill C-24. I call upon all my colleagues, including the two Liberal members who are here, to put pressure on the Minister of Finance to get him to listen to Quebecers.
Mr. Speaker, in closing, I will ask you to make sure that there is a quorum for the next speaker.
That quorum should be made up of Liberal members. Out of respect for the next speaker as well as for the Chair, I ask that members be called in.