Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the budgetary policy which we are debating today, following the budget tabled last December by the Liberal government.
First of all, I wish to take this opportunity to wish all those who are listening, and to you Mr. Speaker, health, happiness and most of all prosperity in this new year 2002.
I noticed that in December, the Finance Minister did not talk about prosperity for Canadians and Quebecers. He only referred to security, following the events of September 11. He forgot to tell us about the scope of the economic crisis we are presently facing. In such cases, people have to be put back to work.
My father, a plant worker and a very wise man with the good common sense of people living in the regions, used to say “In the past, when governments saw a recession coming, they would invest money in various projects in order to put people back to work”.
During the holiday season, people in my riding of Jonquière kept asking me “Jocelyne, what does the finance minister have in mind to help us move forward, and get jobs?” As we know, the regions are always the first to suffer the consequences of a recession. I looked at the budget summary with them and I saw that there was not much for the regions.
The Minister of Finance of Quebec, Ms. Marois, who tabled her budget just days before the federal finance minister did, had a vision. She invested new money to allow jobs creation immediately, by the spring, in February or March, she did not wait until May, so that people can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
Many people in my region have lost their jobs in the lumber industry. There were also plant closures. These people are waiting. The Minister of Finance of Quebec took action. The federal finance minister could have done the same. What has he done?
Today, January 29, 2002, is a great day for me, because I now understand why, and I have been asking myself the question since the tabling of the budget, the federal minister finally wants to create a foundation. I was wondering why. As the Bloc's critic in the House of Commons, I am responsible for regional and rural development, as well as for infrastructures. I was wondering why he had not responded to the expectations.
A federal-provincial infrastructure program was created, but it is in dire need of funding. In Quebec alone, an estimated $1 billion would be required to implement projects that municipalities tabled with the Quebec government so that each municipality could move forward.
For the first issue, there is a $690 million envelope and projects are valued at $1.4 billion. This means that there is a $700 million shortfall just for this.
For the second issue, concerning sewers, bridges and so on, 1,146 projects valued at $978 million were tabled, but there is only $690 million in the envelope. This is a $200 million shortfall.
For the third issue, dealing with cultural, recreational and tourist infrastructures, 405 projects valued at $1.4 billion were tabled and there is only $306 million in the envelope.
If one can do the math, this adds up to a $2 billion shortfall, that is $700 million, plus $200 million, plus $1 billion, for a total of $2 billion in Quebec alone.
The federal government knew what was at stake, but it preferred to say “No, no, no, we will not listen to the municipalities”. It snubbed not only Quebec, but also the municipalities. It was the municipalities that tabled their projects. It was the municipalities that said “These are our priorities, based on the resolutions passed by our municipal councils, for the development of our economy, of our municipality”.
The member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord said so: “We want the opportunity of increasing our visibility throughout Quebec”. They want to be able to say: “We are the ones with the money”.
Let us not forget about this foundation. Let us talk about it. It will be created if there is money and it will not come into effect until April 1, 2002. A bill will be introduced at that time, after which, all of the friends of the government, the Liberal friends, will be appointed to the board. They will meet to define their priorities and the criteria of this foundation. I expect this will take a year, or a year and a half.
Does anyone really think that the people in my region, in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, have time to wait? They are currently unemployed. And are members aware of what has happened to their employment insurance benefits? They only receive 55% of their income. Is it really possible for a man supporting a family to live decently with 55% of what he normally earns? They do not have time to wait around for 18 months, because in 18 months time, they will no longer be receiving EI benefits. What will they be getting? They will be forced to receive social assistance, but only on the condition that they sell their house, their car, all of their furniture and possessions in order to be able to receive social assistance benefits.
Is this what the federal government wants? I think that is the case, I am proud to be a Quebecer, I am proud to belong to Quebec society and I say to this government that what it is doing is serious. It is going to let people starve so that it can have some visibility. That is the word the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord used. He said that the government wanted to have some visibility.
This is not the way to run a country. This is not the way to be accountable to taxpayers. This is not the way to allow people to earn a decent living.
Highway 30 runs through the riding of Châteauguay. In my riding, it is highway 175, which has become an urban legend in the riding of Jonquière. The construction of this four-lane divided highway can be delayed no longer. Such a highway would enable our region to move into 2002, to promote economic development, to stop the exodus by our young people, and to get things back to normal.
The Quebec minister of transport has submitted a memorandum of agreement, and has laid $260 million on the table, telling Canada “Follow suit, and do it before March 31, 2002”. After that date, as the hon. member himself has said, along with the hon. member for Hull-Aylmer, who heads the Quebec Liberal caucus, “It is true, we will no longer have any control over it. We will not be able to respect the promises that have been made”.
Let the government do it. It has the money. There is a budget surplus this year. There is money. Let them stop misleading us with talk of whether there is money, or whether there is not. There is. Let them put some money into meeting my region's expectations. Two billion dollars have been invested into this foundation, but that is for all of Canada. Quebec's demographic weight in Canada is 25% of the whole. So, 25 % of $2 billion makes $500 million. But that is for all of Quebec's roads, and there is not just roads. There are also sewer and water infrastructures.
I am going to use some rough language here this morning: they are taking the public for fools. That is what this government is doing. I think that the people of Quebec and of Canada are no longer fooled; they know that the tax money belongs to them. We pay taxes so that the needs we have identified can be met, not to raise the profile of the government. To meet our needs. As far as the highway in my area is concerned, I want to see the $260 million by March 31, 2002.