Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address this important legislation, but I want to say from the outset that my party will oppose Bill C-22.
Why? Because of the lack of concrete measures that would serve the public interest, particularly low and middle income earners.
I want to discuss the tax cuts that were mentioned in the last federal budget and that will now become reality with Bill C-22. These tax cuts by the Minister of Finance are great for very high income earners.
If we look at measures such as lower tax rates or the new tax rate on capital gains, we realize that those who will benefit the most from the Minister of Finance's budget and tax cuts are the people who earn at least $250,000. The Minister of Finance targeted these people first and foremost. As of this year, this group will save about $19,000 in taxes.
Instead, we are shocked to see how minimal the tax cuts and savings for low and middle income families are.
Taking the example of a single parent with one dependent child and an income of $30,000, this person will have a tax saving of $750 and will continue to pay taxes. Is it normal for a single parent family, with a single wage-earner and one child to earn $30,000 and still pay some $1,545 in income tax, even after a tax cut? Is this normal for a family that has to live on $30,000? That is the cut-off figure for the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.
Is it normal for the federal government to continue to impoverish this family still further, even with the tax cuts, by making it pay an average of $1,500 in federal income tax? No, it is not. A single parent with one child and an income of $30,000 ought not to be paying any federal income tax.
That is the way it is in Quebec. For some time now the Government of Quebec has been revising its tax categories. It has revised the marginal tax rates with the following result: a family of two adults and two children with an annual income of $47,000 will pay hardly any tax. How is it that a family with one child and one wage earner is still in the situation of having to pay more than $1,500 in tax?
I can already hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance replying “That is wrong, it makes no sense”. I have news for him. It is wrong to say that it makes no sense. He should save his breath. People have just finished filing their income tax and they have it fresh in their memories that, once again this year, they have paid federal tax even though they are in the low income category.
When we look at the tax cuts for low and middle income families, we see that the tax savings this year, for example, will be no more than $300 or $350. That is for this year, because these tax cuts are being phased in between now and 2004; that is about the average.
But the high income earners get great breaks. As I mentioned earlier, on average, those earning $250,000 and up will save $19,000 this year. There is a double standard here. The government has also forgotten that it is low and middle income earners who have brought down the deficit since 1993, who have contributed to the huge surpluses, and we will come back to this later.
Middle income families are the federal government's cash cow. They are the source of most of the money collected in income taxes. The government should have been a bit more sensitive when it came to this category of revenue. These families should have been given a few more credits for having played such a major role in helping put the fiscal house in order.
It can never be said often enough that all the cuts made by this government since 1994, such as in the Canada social transfer for funding health, education and social assistance, have taken their toll on these families. These are the people really responsible for putting the fiscal house in order and generating surpluses. They are still doing it today. It must never be forgotten that every year the Liberals greedily help themselves to the surpluses accumulating in the EI fund because of the premiums paid by workers and employers.
It is not right that barely 40% of unemployed workers qualify for EI benefits. It is not right. The system is too restrictive. It excludes too many people who should normally have been entitled to EI benefits, since everyone pays into the plan now.
There is something wrong when these people are being hung to dry by the last budget, actually the last two budgets, and asked to help with fiscal consolidation through their contributions. The government does not have to worry any more.
Everything left in the employment insurance fund, once it has paid benefits to only 40% of the unemployed, the rest, that is 60%, goes into the consolidated revenue fund. It is added to general revenues, therefore contributing to fiscal consolidation and general surplus.
Why is it that these people could not benefit from true employment insurance reform; a real reform, not a “reformette”, a true reform of the employment insurance plan using most of the accumulated surplus to really help the unemployed instead of excluding 60% of them?
What we have instead is tax relief especially for millionaires, probably those who contribute the most to the Liberal Party coffers. We have unemployed workers who are excluded from the employment insurance plan. Low income single parent families with one child, making $30,000, are still paying $1,500 in federal income tax. It is despicable.
Is there a justice in this country? Are we eventually going to do something for these people or are we going to shamelessly forge ahead with the same budgetary policy we have being following so far?
As for social housing, why was there nothing in the past two budgets, that is, those of February and October 2000, the October mini budget geared to the election, of the Prime Minister in waiting. He has long been in waiting, but he is still hoping.
How is it they failed to consider social housing? It is an important issue that probably affects the single parent family, with one dependant and an income of $30,000 or less, which I cited as an example earlier.
How is it that this family is being put off once again? Why is not one cent provided for social housing? Is this a matter of no importance?
And yet, when we look at the statistics, the number of people spending over 50% of their income on housing has increased alarmingly, especially since the start of the 1990s.
At the moment, if we look at the statistics, there are 833,000 households—nearly a million households—that should be offered social housing, because they spend over 50% of their income on housing. That means that the other 50% is left for all the rest: food, electricity, telephone, clothing the children, child care and heating in winter.
When we think of the scandalous profits of the oil companies, which have raised prices significantly in the past two years, we could say there is collusion—let us not beat about the bush—in the oil industry.
They get together and raise prices at the same time. This is what the major oil companies do, and the government does nothing about it. Who is hit by the oil crisis, a crisis created by the big oil companies through collusion? Again, it is the poor, it is those who, after spending 50% of their income on rent, must spend part of the other 50% on heating.
Given such glaring needs, why did the federal government not think for one second of including new money for social housing in its budget?
If the government had continued to spend proportionally the same amount on social housing that it did before 1994, if it had maintained these expenditures since 1994, there would be 30,000 additional social housing units in Quebec alone. The government should have invested $3.5 billion in social housing since 1994, but it did not.
I cannot believe that, with surpluses coming out of his ears—even with the downturn—the Minister of Finance is not ashamed when he gets up in the morning and looks at himself in the mirror, because he did not show any consideration for the poor, who are not the main beneficiaries of his tax cuts and of all the measures implemented by the government since 1993.
I can hardly believe that. Why did he not also consider—after talking about it for so long—the possibility of transferring $500 million from the employment insurance fund to Quebec, to set up a true parental leave program?
Instead, they are putting the $6 billion surplus in their pockets to increase the surplus and to promote the image of the Prime Minister in waiting, that is the current Minister of Finance. Why have these people, who claim to be civilized, who claim to support social justice, not think of transferring, as provided under section 69 of the Employment Insurance Act, the $500 million that is required to set up a parental leave program in Quebec?
Because of this and because of them—and they are not in the least ashamed—the introduction of this plan has been put off until 2003. How is it that they are making young couples postpone having children? Are children not important to this government? Why will it not agree to transfer to Quebec the amount allowed under the Employment Insurance Act? Is it because Quebec is asking? Do they have it in for young families in Quebec?
It is sometimes hard to understand, to keep one's cool, in the face of such deceit, such an obstinate refusal, such incredible closed-mindedness, when by rights we should have had a parental leave plan in Quebec in 2001 or 2002, thus helping not just young parents working for businesses or the government, but also those who are self-employed.
Unlike the federal plan, the Quebec parental leave plan pays benefits to self-employed workers and takes the reality of the labour market into account. Not only are we still dealing with dinosaurs when it comes to a single currency, but also when it comes to parental leave. They are incapable of adapting to the labour market and keeping the public interest in mind.
Let us not forget that not only does federal parental leave not cover self-employed workers, but the eligibility criteria for this leave are the same as for employment insurance. This means that most people are excluded right off the bat. That is the situation right now. A little over 40% of unemployed workers qualify for EI benefits; if these are the same criteria used for the federal parental leave policy, quite a few people besides self-employed workers will not qualify.
In Quebec no one is excluded, not the self-employed, not the parents who wish to take advantage of our parental leave program. It is a far superior program. Because of the obstinate refusal of this government, however, young parents cannot take advantage of such a program.
How can it be that there has been no thought given, with billions of dollars in surplus again this year, to indexing the social transfers to the provinces, for health and education in particular? How can it be that, seeing what is going on in the hospitals, with the lack of funds and increasing demand, no thought is being given to putting more into transfer payments for health and education?
They say “But we must be prudent. The surplus is not all that big”. This is false. Contrary to the Minister of Finance's forecast in last year's budget, the surplus will not be $4 billion—insignificant, even taking into account the tax cuts in the October mini budget—but rather in excess of $17 billion, or four times his predicted figure. When it comes down to it, the Minister of Finance's sole plan was to use figures that have nothing in common with reality for petty political gain.
That is what he has done ever since he has been Minister of Finance. When there was a federal government deficit, he inflated the deficit figure, telling people “Look out, we need to be careful, because we do not have all the manoeuvrability we need, and the battle is far from over”.
He even told the members of his own party “We need to be careful”. But there is always a limit to prudence. We are all in favour of being careful, of having a contingency fund, but we are not in favour of lying to the population by not giving the real figures and by avoiding any debate on how to use the surplus.
When he forecasts a $4 billion surplus and that in reality the surplus is $17 billion, the $13 billion that was not forecast is used directly to pay down the debt. He avoids any debate and puts everything on the debt. There is no democratic debate, no transparency. This is hypocrisy, big time, and he wants us to swallow it.
I made a bet with a reporter. Did he know what the Finance Minister will say next week in his economic statement? He will say “There is no unanimity among economists; some say that things may go well, others that they may go wrong”. One of his former assistants, Mr. Drummond, who has been Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance and who is now the chief economist at the Toronto Dominion Bank, said “We have to be careful. We could come back to deficits in three years”, and he knows what he is talking about. Having been an assistant to the Minister of Finance for several years, Mr. Drummond cannot go wrong that easily and talk nonsense.
The Minister of Finance is setting the stage for next week by saying “Surpluses will not be as high next year. The economy is slowing down, we could go into a recession, find ourselves in the red. We may not necessarily be headed toward a deficit, but we still have to be careful. Since there is no unanimity among economists, I prefer to draw a line down the middle and say that surpluses will not be as high”. In other words, he is still going to tell us nonsense.
He is setting the stage. Some economists are optimistic. Yesterday, Thomas Wilson, a well known forecaster, forecast a surplus of $14 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001. He is a bit closer to reality. Our own figure is $17 billion. Even with last October's tax cuts and the new spending for Genome Canada, we still come up with $17 billion.
Next week, the Minister of Finance will tell us we have to be careful. That is a lie. It is hard to believe how much the public has been fooled since this man has become the Minister of Finance.
It is so much so that the economic statement exercise is losing its credibility, according to several analysts, particularly Mr. Piché, of La Presse , because the figures we are given are false. They are just not the right figures. We cannot rely on them to tell whether government management is good or bad. Does it follow certain priorities in its management, or does it take into account the interest of the population? There is no way for us to know, because we do not have the right figures. We have to find them for ourselves.
For the last fiscal year ending on March 31, we have a surplus of at least $17 billion. For each of the last five years, I have tried to lower the figures because of an economic downturn, but I cannot see the day when we will have a deficit.
The government could have done a lot of things with this money. It chose to side with the millionaires and not with the population. For all these reasons, we are going to vote against the bill.