Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Québec.
I am pleased to speak today to the throne speech, to try to explain to Quebeckers and Canadians and the people of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel how the Liberal government could have taken such a great opportunity and produced such an empty throne speech.
First, I will refer to the text of the throne speech. Then, I will talk about what was not in the throne speech. I want to use this document for three aspects that I, and doubtless all Quebeckers and Canadians, consider important, starting with health.
The last line of the sixth paragraph on page 6 of the Speech from the Throne reads:
These waiting times must be reduced.
I think that the public realizes along with me that this is a matter of will. This should be a goal that must be reached. The federal government has a great deal of money. This morning, another $7 billion surplus was announced. It is extremely important to understand that the government has decided to invest part, $2 billion, in the provinces. Everyone knows it, and I will just read the document, because it was repeated in the throne speech. There is still a $5 billion surplus, which is quite a lot. Out of $7 billion, $5 billion remains uncommitted. No doubt, the government wants to try to keep this for its own election campaign and the next budget, except that this is not really in the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians.
With regard to waiting times, the February 2 throne speech states, on the following page, first paragraph:
The Prime Minister announced on Friday that the Government of Canada hasdetermined that, without going into deficit, it will now be able to provide a further$2 billion health-care transfer to the provinces and territories this year.
Obviously, it had been announced. For those who do not remember, on January 30, the provincial premiers met with the Prime Minister of Canada. He announced that he would transfer the $2 billion already promised to them. The same $2 billion that Jean Chrétien had promised is now being promised all over again by the new Prime Minister. Surely he remembers. There are some things the new Prime Minister does not remember, but he does remember that Jean Chrétien, when he was prime minister, had promised $2 billion to the provinces. Obviously, this $2 billion is back in the picture; he announced it on January 30 and confirmed it in the throne speech. It is being recommended.
What is important is that he is in a position to provide this amount this year. Seeing this, several provincial premiers asked the government, “What? This $2 billion is not something you are going to transfer to us every year?” The answer is no; we can read it in the Speech from the Throne. It is only for this year.
How will it be possible for the provincial premiers, for hospital administrators, to reinvest in personnel if they finally get the money, but only for one year? What do they do? Do they hire employees, lay them off, give them a salary increase for just one year? That is the harsh reality for those who manage the CLSCs, hospitals, clinics and all these institutions. We cannot guarantee that the health care system will be more effective with an extra $2 billion for all of Canada. That makes $400 million for Quebec, which is a fine sum of money, but it is just for one year. We cannot plan for the long term.
Once again, in the Speech from the Throne, the federal government is saying it is just for one year. This was criticized by the premiers, but the Prime Minister never objected to it. He even said he would have to look at the country's financial situation annually to determine whether he could renew the $2 billion. I know perfectly well why he wants to do that. He wants to be able to make an announcement like Prime Minister Chrétien did. He announced the $2 billion two years ago, and announced it again when he finally authorized it. Then the new Prime Minister got in the act. Every year they will try to make a new announcement.
In the meantime, the provinces, the hospitals, the CLSCs are not sure they will get this money, making it impossible to plan for the long term. That is the harsh reality of the throne speech.
Now I wish to address the part of the throne speech regarding the mad cow crisis. The government promised, or tried to tell the farmers that it would help them.
The Speech from the Throne does not mention any actual dollar figure. Earlier we saw that there was $2 billion for health, but there is no new money for farmers. There is only one sentence, on page 18, in the second paragraph:
The Government is dedicated to Canada’s farm economy ... and to ensure that farmers are not left to bear alone the consequences of circumstances beyond their control.
It claims farmers will no longer be left to carry the burden alone. This is an admission that up until the Speech from the Throne, the Liberal Party left the farmers to fend for themselves. Now, they are being told they will no longer be left to their own devices, but they are not told how much money they will be given. How must these farmers, who are going through difficult times, feel?
Farmers from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, from my riding, and also from the ridings of my other colleagues from Quebec, are going through tough times. We are having problems. We are in a very precarious financial situation and not just in the cattle industry. In Quebec, the cull industry is also affected. It is very difficult for rural Quebec.
In the throne speech, we were entitled to expect some sizeable assistance with this problem, but all that it says is:
...and to ensure that farmersare not left to bear alone the consequences of circumstances beyond their control.
The government does not want to leave them to bear this alone, but of course no mention is made of any money to help them out. It will again say that it will try to convince the Americans or other countries to buy our product, but in the meantime cattle cost money to feed. This is what is happening. The farmers have less and less revenue, and it will not be long until we see a lot of operations going under. Once again, there is nothing in the speech outside of these vague statements of good intentions.
The third point concerns help for the municipalities. We are told that the government will waste no time in trying to help them. The eighth paragraph, on page 11 of the Speech from the Throne, reads as follows:
Therefore, the Government will work with provinces to share with municipalitiesa portion of gas tax revenues...
It says “will work with”, but there are no guarantees that it will.
The next paragraph reads:
This will take time and the agreement of other governments.
That is right, and that is what the Bloc Quebecois has been denouncing from the start. You cannot negotiate directly with the municipalities because they are the creatures of the provinces.
As the former head of the Union des municipalités, I know this to be true. It may not suit all municipal officials, but this country does have a constitution, after all. Not that I agree with it, but it does place the municipalities under provincial jurisdiction. The government has been making promises.
In recent months, the new prime minister has been doing the rounds of the cities, telling them he is going to give them money. Yet he knows very well that this is not under his jurisdiction. In the throne speech, he tells us he might, perhaps, share the fuel tax, but that will take agreements with other levels of government. This means there will be no money forthcoming.
The only thing the federal level can do concerns the famous goods and services tax. On this, of course, the speech says:
But the Governmentof Canada is prepared now... to act in its own jurisdiction byproviding all municipalities with full relief from the portion of the Goods andServices Tax they now pay.
What he says in the throne speech, and of course the Bloc Quebecois is pleased about this measure, is that the full GST credit will be given back to the cities, compared to only 57% until now. Over the next decade, this change will provide Canadian municipalities with new stable funding of about $7 billion.
The government figures that the rebate on the GST will be a form of funding for cities. This is partly true. The larger the city, the greater its expenses and the more money it will get. In the case of smaller municipalities and medium size cities, this involvement will be minimal. Still, $7 billion will be reinvested.
However, there is nothing in the throne speech on the gas tax and nothing either on the permanent infrastructure program that municipalities and small, medium and large cities in Quebec have been asking for. Once again, we will have to wait for the next budget.
I will conclude by pointing out what is not in this speech. Of course, there is nothing in the throne speech to help the unemployed or to improve the employment insurance program. The Bloc Quebecois had asked that this program be improved for seasonal workers. It asked that the two week waiting period, which the unemployed see as a penalty when they must apply for benefits, be abolished. But there is no mention of eliminating this two week waiting period and there is nothing to improve the EI program.
Once again, as regards transportation issues—I am the Bloc Quebecois critic on transportation—there is absolutely nothing on the building of new highways. There is nothing on highway 50 in the Outaouais and Basses Laurentides region, in my riding. There is absolutely nothing to get the airline industry back on its feet. This means that there is nothing to help Mirabel airport where, again, 500 jobs were lost because ADM decided to pay tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to Air Transat to move its operations to Dorval.
Again, Quebeckers should be very suspicious of this throne speech which, as far as I am concerned, is an empty shell when it comes to their best interests.