Mr. Speaker, I must first inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurentides.
It is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-54 to extend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. Of course, this bill extends the period during which equalization payments may be made. When we hear this word, it sounds very complex. What is the formula? On what basis is the distribution made? There is a whole lot of discussion about that.
Oddly enough, before the last election in Quebec, there was less money for equalization. After the election, the money started coming in. Some will say it was unintentional. Personally, I would say that the timing was perfect. That is the name of the game. There is always a dilemma with respect to equalization. Why? Because this is the way Canada, and the federal government in particular, has decided to redistribute wealth throughout the country.
Redistribution of wealth means that some provinces receive equalization payments while others receive nothing. Quebec is a recipient province. I long for the day when Quebec will no longer be a recipient. The reason is simple: to receive equalization is an indication of a flagging economy. It is true that unemployment is higher in Quebec than elsewhere. Take for example the GM plant in Boisbriand, which closed down. This closure affects the ridings of my hon. colleagues from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles and Laurentides as well as my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. This is a fine example of distribution of wealth across the country. All the automobile manufacturing is in Ontario. But all the raw material is in Quebec. That is how wealth is distributed.
In order to reach that balance at the end of the year, the federal government decided to redistribute money. Some provinces have more money than others. Ontario does not receive any equalization payment because it has big companies, big manufacturing plants and big car plants. We have none. We have to be content with some small parts plants. And yet Quebec is one of the biggest producers of aluminum and magnesium in the world. These products are used to build cars, but they are no longer built in Quebec. There are no more plants. The Liberal government chose to close the Boisbriand GM plant. That is a fact.
The other way to try to reach a certain balance is to redistribute wealth through equalization payments. Today with Bill C-54 the government is renewing the way equalization payments are calculated. As we know, there is a lot of debate and discussion on how they are calculated. There were discussions when the Parti Quebecois was in power in Quebec. The debate is still going on. Questions are being asked by the Liberal government now in power in Quebec. Other provinces are asking questions too. They want to review the way these infamous equalization payments are calculated.
Without warning, the government has decided to renew the agreement in this respect because the House might not be sitting before the existing legislation expires. Today the government is rushing through an extension without discussing the principle of equalization. That is a fact. It will not be discussed because there is no time. A system that is challenged by every province is going to be extended.
Why is it challenged? I will give one example. Because, among other things, in order calculating the average, the richest provinces are not taken into account. The wealth of the richest provinces is not assessed to determine which are the poorest and which ones must benefit the most. They are taken out of the equation. Only some provinces enter into the calculation. I will tell you which ones later. These provinces are used to calculate, among others, equalization payments.
You will understand that to redistribute wealth one should be able to put in the balance the richest provinces and the poorest provinces. One should give to the poorest ones and take a little bit more from the richest ones. That is a fact.
By taking a little more from the wealthy, I mean taking more money from the federal government and giving more to the poorest. Anyway, the wealthy will not get any. If we were calculating this way, it would cost the federal government $3 billion more.
This is why the calculations are still done using the old system because they do not want to redistribute wealth according to the newly established formula. I have made this comparison because it is not easy to understand for those who are listening to us. They are not all administering provinces.
Let us look, for example, at the old age pensions and the way the government calculates the increase in the cost of living. The cost of living corresponds to the average family cost of living. Do not tell me that the cost of living is the same for the elderly as it is for the average family. They do not have the same eating and the same driving habits. However, their housing and drug costs are much higher for them than for the average family.
Thus, when the Canadian government increases the amount of the old age pension, it uses the traditional formula. It does the same thing when redistributing the money among the provinces. Provinces are now asking that the redistribution be according to a new formula, and seniors from Quebec and Canada should ask the same thing, to ensure that the government is not calculating the increases according to an average family cost of living.
In recent years, the cost of living for seniors has risen drastically. That is the reality. What is the reason for this? The cost of housing has gone up a great deal, and prescriptions cost more as well, while food and transportation are down.
Governments benefit from this. One example: the Old Age Pension, which is pegged to the cost of living. In some quarters of the past year, no increases have been necessary, because the average cost of living has not gone up. There is to be a small increase coming up shortly, but it is still less.
For these reasons, the distribution of wealth needs to be reconsidered. Discussions must be reopened on how the wealth is shared with seniors, so as to bring their pensions into line with actual accommodation and health care costs.
The same thing goes for the provinces. Equalization payments must be increased so that the poorest provinces, those with less resources, can benefit more, which is the principle behind equalization payments. Provinces with fewer resources ought to benefit more from the equalization system than the extremely rich ones.
Everyone must be included. We must not do as the Liberal government has done in its calculations for equalization: take just a handful of provinces and do an average. They use Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
The others are excluded, purely and simply because they are sometimes too rich. Thus calculations for the equalization payments are simplified. To repeat, if true wealth were calculated, that is all the resources of the richest provinces compared to those that have the least, there would be $3 billion more in equalization payments to the poorest provinces.
Quebec and some others would benefit, most definitely. Hon. members will understand why the potential recipients complain about the way the calculation is being done.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-54, but not to the principle of equalization payments. We are opposed to the fact that it is being brought up at the last minute, without any discussions with the provinces, the ones concerned by the system of equalization payments.