Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-18.
As members know, we are against the capping of equalization payments, especially for provinces like New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces, but also Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
In a country like ours, where we talk about national unity and where we should be able to work together for our common well-being, it is important to help each other. The goal of equalization payments was to get money to the provinces that needed it, mainly for social programs like education and health.
Now, the cuts imposed upon the provinces create an unacceptable situation and place them in a difficult situation.
I would like to read a newspaper article published in L'Acadie Nouvelle , which summarizes what has happened in New Brunswick. This article, published on March 1, 2000, reads as follows:
The decapping of equalization payments for 1999-2000 will allow New Brunswick to receive $50 million more from Ottawa than what was initially anticipated for the fiscal period 1999-2001. New Brunswick's finance minister, Norman Betts, is far from carried away by the bonus resulting from the decapping of transfer payments and prefers to put things into perspective.
“Fifty million dollars represent 10 days in health care spending. It represents 1% of our $5 billion budget” said Mr. Betts, adding that the province could also receive less money because of the country's economic performance.
Besides, according to official new estimates by the federal Department of Finance, New Brunswick will receive an extra $5 million for the 1999-2001 period.
For fiscal 2000-2001, New Brunswick will receive $1.207 billion from the federal under the equalization program. This amount represents more than one quarter of the province's budget, which was $4.472 billion in 2000-2001. Before Minister Betts can cash the $50 million cheque from his federal counterpart, the Commons will have to pass the bill reviewing the equalization program formula tabled on Tuesday.
This was for the month of March 2001. The article goes on, and I quote:
The equalization program was created to close the gap between the have and the have-not provinces, so that these provinces can provide to the public services comparable to those provided by the wealthy provinces. Three provinces, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, get nothing under the equalization program.
As I said, living in a country is something like the unions, which I will use as an example. Within a union, there are big locals and small locals but every member is part of the same union. It is true there are smaller locals with only five, six, seven or eight persons. It is more expensive to give them services because they cannot afford to pay for all those services. I like this example because I think it is a good illustration of what happens in the case of the provinces.
It is called a union because all the workers of the country, big groups and small groups alike, are united in one union. That is how I imagine the country. The country is a group of all 10 provinces and the territories, including the Yukon and Nunavut. All those provinces and territories form the union which is our country.
Whenever we are no longer able to take care of the have nots, why remain a part of it? Why stay in a country if we cannot take care of each other?
The reason a country takes money from the rich, yes I dare to say it and I am not ashamed of it, is to redistribute it. This sharing can be compared to what happens in a family. Sometimes in families those who have more help those who have less. This is what a country is all about.
I believe we have a problem today because we are too selfish. It is everybody for himself. This attitude runs from the top down: the country, the leaders and the governments down to the provinces and the families. We have to show that we can take care of each other. This is why a cap is unacceptable.
If we can help a province to survive and if we are able to invest to create jobs, I think people will be able to manage on their own. However, if we deprive them every day of these tools and if we are unable to make the transfers needed to help those provinces, I think it will go from bad to worse. This is contrary to common sense and to national unity, utterly contrary.
The federal government has a responsibility, which is convincing people, be they from Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, that this is the way Canada works; all the provinces are together, and we must have a formula to help Canadians all over the country. We have to recognize this.
For example, if Alberta were to say “We are now rich; we have oil and we don't need anybody anymore”, I hope they will not run out of oil, because they might need this formula also. This is what a country is all about.
In New Brunswick, we never asked that the fisheries go the way they went, and we never asked for the elimination of groundfish quotas. We never asked for this. People in fishplants were working 30 to 32 weeks before the moratorium on groundfish. We never asked for this closure of the fishery.
It can get tough for any province when revenues do not come in. Let me take Alberta as an example. I am very glad for Alberta, because it is a rich province, but when one is rich, one should share with the poor. I do not mean that our own region is very poor but it does have certain needs, just as Manitoba does.
The whole country is glad that we have an agricultural industry in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Thanks to them, we can have three meals a day. We need provinces where agriculture can prosper. It is the same thing in Quebec. Between Montreal and Rivière-du-Loup, farms line the road on both sides. It is nice that we have farmers but it is also nice to have fishers.
People like to visit New Brunswick and other Atlantic provinces. We have people working in the tourist industry. As I said very often in other speeches, people in Toronto are fond of our two by fours but to have two by fours, we need lumberjacks. These people work hard yet they have seasonal jobs. It goes without saying that seasonal workers cannot pay as much income tax as if they worked 12 months per year. Our provinces are losing out on benefits because these are seasonal jobs.
I would like the federal government to show some leadership in this regard, and to say “This is the rule, this is the formula that will help our poorer provinces and keep our country united”. Again, if there is no advantage in being part of a country, why stay in it? What is the country in the end when the federal government makes such cuts in health, education and all the rest?
I will conclude by asking the federal government, the Liberals, those in power, to show some leadership. This is why we have to oppose the capping of the equalization program.