That is nonsense.
Mr. Speaker, let me translate what I am hearing from the other side. Somebody said that it was nonsense. This whole bill is nonsense. Maybe it was not planned that way, but when we look at it—and it is our duty to do so—we see that it would only postpone and delay the negotiations.
That is what it would do. I was a negotiator for 15 years. I learned to read documents and not rely only on what my counterparts would tell me. I found out that I was right to do so. Spoken words fly away, written words remain.
What does it mean for the people watching us? Why are we against this bill? If there were no problems with the current equalization legislation, if the provinces were pleased with it, we would not be here considering this bill.
The truth is we need to negotiate this. The provinces have met. Thanks to the leadership of Quebec, they have agreed on a number of demands. On October 10, as the hon. member for Joliette pointed out, the provincial finance ministers and their federal counterpart said that they would negotiate in good faith in the hope of reaching an agreement before March 31.
That was on October 10 and today is October 30. What has happened since then? Why? If the government did not want to draw attention to this issue, why did they do this? It does not make any sense.
Either no one is steering the ship or the ship will not come back to the House of Commons before the next election. There are not a million explanations for this. Or it is a rather strange way of governing.
For those who may be listening to us, equalization is important for the provinces. It is a way of bringing some fairness to the ability of each province to provide services. However, right now, this system is flawed.
What the provinces are asking is that the revenues of all provinces, instead of just five, be taken into account. This would increase by $3 billion the amount of money to be distributed, except that $3 billion is nothing compared to the wealth generated in Canada. It is a drop in the bucket. It is between 1% and 1.3%.
The provinces want this because it would take into account their ability to pay and that of the federal government, which keeps increasing at the expense of the provinces, the unemployed and low-wage earners. I will digress here and say that the employment insurance plan is supposed to be a plan for which contributions are taken out of our pay cheques for a specific reason. And yet, that money is used to increase the federal government's surplus, which is now somewhere around $48 billion.
The provinces have been forced into a difficult position with regard to the delivery of health care services. We heard much about it. We did not hear as much about services in education. As for social services, we heard even less about that. Why do we want to renegotiate the equalization formula? To bring some fairness to the distribution of what is called the tax base, which means the ability to collect taxes.
The federal government has the ability to collect a lot of money in taxes, but it does not have the needs. The provinces do not have the same ability to collect because there is not enough tax room left by the federal government. However, they are the ones who have to provide services to the public. This is why we need to negotiate.
What the provinces are asking first is that the government consider the revenues of all the provinces, not only the five provinces with average revenues. Alberta, Ontario and the poorest provinces are excluded.
Second, they ask that negotiation be more transparent. At this time, 3,000 elements are taken into account. Those in the know say there are really very few experts in this sector. Transparency is absolutely essential and this is what the provinces want.
The provinces also want the cap on equalization removed. Indeed, they have increasing needs in all the sectors that we have listed.
Why do we find ourselves in this somewhat aberrant situation where the provinces, on October 10, said they were waiting for negotiations and wanted to renew all this, and on October 30, a bill says that this is postponed until March 30, 2005?
We must ask the question and we are asking it. What answer will we be given? We will be told that the government is forward thinking. I heard the member opposite say quite loudly, “You do not understand anything; if at the expiry date there is no legislation, there will be no money”. What is he saying? You understood perfectly well; it is easy to understand. He is saying that, on October 30, the House has one week left and we must pass this bill. Then, we will say goodbye, and we will see each other again at election time.
I am sorry, but that is the message the government is sending. Do they think we will agree with such a message, when that would mean saying that the government is no longer able to assume its duties, that it does not want to put itself in a position of having to assume them before the next election? The provinces are waiting to negotiate and they need to negotiate with someone who is able to do so.
Earlier, I said I had lengthy experience in negotiation. If there is one thing we learn in negotiating, it is that you are not really negotiating until you have the person who makes the decisions at the table with you.
When people who are negotiating do not have a mandate, the negotiations do not happen. It may be that the messages being put forth by the member for LaSalle—Émard, saying that he will reassess all decisions made by the government, has bothered the equalization negotiators so much that they are saying they had better pay attention.
It is hard to think of it any other way, and that is serious, because it confirms once again that this government is paralyzed. Instead of facing up to it and making the necessary decisions, this week we have been treated to a kind of farce—I say what I think—when, the same day we read in the newspapers that the member for LaSalle—Émard says he will reassess all the decisions, he comes in to vote in the House against the Bloc's motion, applauding the Prime Minister and urging him to stay as long as he wants.
What does that have to do with the business of Parliament? What does that say about government responsibility? It means—and I will be polite—that at the very least, there is an extraordinary lack of respect for the House. It means that we can sit here in this House and tell ourselves that what we do may serve no purpose. The work we do here in committee and in the House may be wiped out and we will begin again at zero, since the government is no longer governing and there will be a new prime minister. However, he will not be able to take up his duties as he should have.
On that topic, I heard the Prime Minister give an answer to some questions we have been asking ourselves here on this side of the House. He said that he had lived through a similar situation when there was a change in government after the Conservatives.
I agree, but currently, it is the same party and that makes it very strange. We are in that situation and it is surprising. We did not expect to be in such a situation.
Since we are confronted with this situation day in and day out and since it is deteriorating, this bill is confirming all our fears. No one can deny that this bill could mean either that an agreement will not be negotiated or that it will not be negotiated within the timeframe, but possibly after the election.
This is frustrating for parliamentarians. Above all, it is insulting to be told we do not understand anything. What the government is trying to do is to anticipate the consequences of its inability to govern.
We cannot support or accept that. We will continue to oppose it vigorously, because it is nonsense. We will not allow that to happen. We will use every means at our disposal.