Mr. Speaker, as you see, all things come to those who wait. I am pleased to speak today, albeit a little later than I expected, to share my opinion on Bill C-28, on implementation of certain provisions in the budget.
I could summarize my speech by saying that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. That is shocking, but also and particularly, unacceptable. Financially, the federal government has a lot of room to maneuver; $18.2 billion over two years, according to the present Minister of Finance, and $25.8 billion over two years, according to our calculations.
What is more, despite the fact that there is an 11% rise in expenditures, which is enormous, the Bloc Quebecois is of the opinion that the federal Liberal government is going to have a surplus of $14.7 over the next two years. This clearly illustrates the extent of the fiscal imbalance and clearly points to what I have already said in my summary.
I could also summarize what I have to say as this: the federal government is responding more to the needs of a Prime Minister in waiting than to the true needs of the public. It is doing nothing to correct fiscal imbalance, nothing to help the victims of the softwood lumber crisis, nothing to put an end to the pillaging of the EI fund.
The regions, which are dependent on the softwood lumber industry, the self-employed workers, whose existence is not recognized by the federal government, the aboriginal people, the unemployed, the workers paying EI premiums, are all part of the great forgotten as far as this budget is concerned. Middle-income taxpayers are totally forgotten as well.
Unions and employers are frustrated by the diversion of the EI fund, and are demanding an independent fund to stop the federal government from pillaging it, as well as for the contribution rate to be set by the contributors. This, of course, is what the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding for years now. We had even hoped that the federal government would create a stand-alone fund before the former finance minster becomes the future Prime Minister.
In addition to failing to create a stand-alone employment insurance fund, the budget announced a delay of nearly two years in the implementation of a new mechanism for calculating premium rates. However, employment insurance could generate a $3 billion surplus over the next fiscal year, according to our estimates, while the current Minister of Finance is promising, in the future, to strike a balance between employment insurance premiums and program expenditures. What a balance: $3 billion.
With regard to infrastructure projects, we had asked that the appropriate funds be released so essential projects could get underway in Quebec. We had asked for substantial long-term commitments. However the increase in infrastructure expenditures is insufficient, and the government is delaying in allocating the needed funds. I will repeat here that the federal budget meets the needs of an outgoing Prime Minister and a future Prime Minister better than the real needs of the people.
The budget provides for additional investments of $3 billion over 10 years. These investments have resulted in an additional $2 billion for the strategic infrastructure fund. This fund is increasing from $2 billion to $4 billion. Although we demanded massive investments in infrastructure, only $100 million, of the additional $3 billion announced in this budget, has been allocated in fiscal 2003-04. This nowhere near meets the needs.
This amount is clearly inadequate, given all the needs. We might have expected, at the very least, that a fair part of this investment, or $300 million, would be allocated in fiscal 2004-05. However, after the next two fiscal years, only $250 million of the $3 billion will be provided. This is disappointing, but I said this at the beginning of my speech: the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. The simple conclusion is, therefore, that the federal Liberal government is not taking infrastructure needs seriously.
We have indicated that the Government of Quebec must remain in charge of the projects and allocating funds. However, the budget indicates the projects related to climate change will be eligible for funding through these infrastructure initiatives. Yet, it is very clear from the funding criteria for the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund that it is the Government of Quebec or the provincial and territorial governments that are responsible. Let us hope that the fund, bolstered by an additional $2 billion, will continue to operate in this way.
Another disturbing fact is that the budget mentions that $1 billion will go to municipal infrastructure. It is important to note that the federal government cannot provide money directly to municipalities. The Government of Canada must keep in mind that it must deal with the Government of Quebec, and not municipalities. Obviously, in counting on this $1 billion, Quebec will be able to better plan and coordinate spending on its own.
Even the Coalition pour le renouvellement des infrastructures du Québec was disappointed by this budget. According to the coalition:
It is unfortunate to note that, despite the intentions laid out in the Speech from the Throne, the priority given to repairing our infrastructure for roads, sewers and water is dangerously low. What is the point of investing in health if we are going to have less and less confidence in the drinking water infrastructure and roads? We are putting off repairs to basic infrastructure and what is worse, we are compromising quality of life for citizens and competitivity for business.
It is also important to mention the reaction from the office of the mayor of Montreal and the executive committee of the City of Montreal, which feel that the 2003 budget brought down by the government is disappointing. The chair of the executive committee said that the Liberal federal government's proposal was clearly insufficient, considering the needs of the City of Montreal to renew its infrastructure. The same is true for all municipalities in Quebec.
Once again, I submit that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared ito its needs. The Bloc Quebecois is not the only one to say so, it is being said by many stakeholders every day.
Another cause for concern is that there is no mention in the budget of any form of assistance for self-employed workers. From day one, they have been the forgotten ones in connection with the EI fund, since they are uninsurable under the act. Yet self-employed workers account for 16% of the active labour force. The Liberal federal government should have taken advantage of this budget to establish a framework to extend the application of the EI system, with respect to both regular and special benefits, to self-employed workers. Once again, this clearly shows that the objectives of this budget do not reflect the needs of the people of Quebec and Canada.
We must not forget the latest health negotiations. An agreement was reached whereby $800 million was transferred to Quebec. After this amount was reinvested by the previous PQ government, the media, hospitals, and the health care community in general, are already reporting noticeable improvement with this $800 million received. This amount is only about half the $2 billion originally requested. Now imagine what could have been done with $2 billion, as confirmed by the report on health care; it would not be so difficult to make ends meet and Quebeckers and Canadians would have the kind of health care system they need.
It is wrong to blame the problem on a government, be it in Quebec or elsewhere.
There are huge surpluses which contribute to the fiscal imbalance. All the provinces in Canada agree on this, starting with Quebec, which is spearheading the demonstration that a fiscal imbalance exists, and all the provinces agree with the Séguin report. Moreover, every opposition party in this House also agrees.
In addition, I am convinced that many on the government side are aware of the existence of a fiscal imbalance. But we know how it is: the executive claims that there is no such thing, and everyone remains silent. These were my comments.