Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Liberal member for giving me the opportunity to speak to the following measures that were announced in the 2004 budget and which will have a direct impact on Quebec.
We know that health care is the top priority. Of the additional $2 billion granted to the provinces and territories for health care, Quebec will get $471 million. When we talk about this additional $2 billion, it is important to tell people what Quebec will be getting.
Besides the $404 million that will be transferred through Health Canada, the government has set aside, in the 2004 budget, $665 million for this fiscal year and the next two in order to create the Canada public health agency and fund its main operations.
The money will be allocated, in part, to regional initiatives, like the creation of health-related emergency response teams in every region of Canada, including Quebec. Also, the provinces and territories will be provided with $400 million over the next three years to support a national immunization strategy, to help relieve the pressures on public health systems that were identified during the SARS epidemic, and to deal with their urgent capacity problems. What this means is that Quebec will be getting an additional $94 million.
I now turn to the issue of early learning and child care. The 2004 budget commits resources to the multilateral framework on early learning and child care to the tune of $75 million in 2004-2005 and another $75 million in 2005-2006. Quebec will be receiving $35 million for this initiative.
There will be new horizons for seniors. For a number of years, I have been asking that the New Horizons program, abolished some years ago, be revived. The budget thus provides funding for a New Horizons program for seniors to give these people opportunities to take part in social activities, lead an active life and contribute to their communities. All the golden age clubs and seniors in Quebec will take part in this program; that is significant.
As for renewing equalization, the 2004 budget proposes specific changes to improve its operation and ensure more stable and predictable funding. We know that the 2004 budget contains 435 pages. We do not have time to explain exactly what equalization is, but one thing is clear. The improvements to equalization described in the budget will mean that the receiving provinces will share $1.5 billion more over the next 5 years.
We have seen what has happened in the province of Quebec in previous years. We know that the program has been dangerously unstable. Since fiscal capacity varies with the economic context, equalization may be subject to periodic and spectacular adjustments. Bernard Landry, when he was Quebec 's finance minister, therefore received a $1.4 billion windfall because Ontario's economic growth was much stronger than predicted. At the time, Mr. Landry used this amount to achieve a zero deficit a year earlier than planned.
This year is the opposite. Ontario's growth has been slower than predicted and the Quebec finance minister, Yves Séguin, is receiving $350 million less. With such surprises, it is very difficult for the provincial finance ministers to come up with solid estimates. We can understand why Mr. Séguin spoke his mind publicly on this.
Because of these changes, the provinces will receive more than $50 billion over 5 years through equalization. But the system must be reviewed. There must be a more stable and predictable system.
It is important to mention another issue, namely the GST rebate for municipalities. This measure was announced a few weeks ago by the Prime Minister. Municipalities will enjoy GST relief, to the tune of $7 billion, over the next 10 years. They will then be able to use this money for critical priorities such as highways, public transit or clean water. For the first year alone, the GST relief for Quebec municipalities will exceed $129 million.
The 2004 budget also deals with infrastructures. There are $4 billion in Canadian funds for the strategic infrastructure fund. From 2001 to 2003, the government contributed to two highway projects in Quebec, namely highway 175 in the Saguenay region and highway 30.
As we know, Quebec municipalities will receive $195 million from the $1 billion committed to municipal and rural infrastructure. While this money was earmarked in the 2003 budget, the 2004 budget will accelerate the process. And this is important, because that money will now flow over five years, rather than ten years. The government is doubling the moneys for the province of Quebec and for my vast region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
As regards the environment and more specifically contaminated sites, Quebec will greatly benefit from this initiative. There are 3,828 contaminated sites in Canada. Quebec has the largest number of them with 765. These contaminated sites include the Cartier-Brébeuf national historic site and the Valcartier base.
There is also the indirect cost of research. The assistance provided in this regard will increase from $225 million to $245 million. Quebec's universities and research hospitals received close to $56 million of the one-time initial fund of $200 million, in 2000-2002.
It is important to mention this and talk about national programs. The Bloc members say, “The Liberal members do not rise in this House. The Liberal members are not present”. Some describe the members as ghosts, but Halloween ended a long time ago. It does not come every month. Nonetheless, I know one thing, that I was not here from 1993 to 1997 and that a Bloc Quebecois member was representing my riding.
We could compare the time Bernard Deshaies spent here and the time since 1997, when I came back, and look at what was said. We could make a comparison. Bloc members do not make comparisons. They simply rise today and say, “The Liberals never say anything”.
We speak up in the national caucus and in the Quebec Liberal caucus. We participate with motions, questions, interventions and statements. We deliver messages from our constituents to Ottawa.
As for the members, regardless of the political party they belong to in this House, they are still people. Even if some are absent, all members do good work, regardless of their political party.
Nonetheless, I must say one thing. In the programs, the mining flow-through shares and the tax credits are being kept in the budget. That is important. The softwood lumber program, which is a national program, was not cancelled. The money is there.
Agriculture is important. The Prime Minister announced $1 billion in the West, but Quebec farmers are happy now. However, we must ensure one thing: that this program does not have a fixed date. It should perhaps be kept next year and subsequent years.
We must really pay attention when the Bloc members tell us the members do nothing. Last year there was mad cow disease. The hon. members will also recall the wild ruminant problem. American and Ontario hunters spent millions of dollars at game outfitters in Quebec. They spent $200 million to $300 million on hunting and fishing activities. I remember last August that not one Bloc Quebecois member spoke out. I understand they may have been busy mowing their lawns, or perhaps they had gone fishing somewhere in Quebec.
However, it must not be said that the Liberal members are not doing anything. I was the only Liberal member from Quebec involved in the issue of wild ruminants and mad cow, and our efforts were successful. We were successful thanks to the Association des pourvoiries du Québec. This was an important issue given the number of outfitters; I represent a vast riding of 802,000 square kilometres and 96,000 constituents. So, it was important and necessary to take action.
We also get involved in other areas, such as parental rights. We are currently negotiating day care rates with Quebec. I am perhaps one of the only Liberal members who wrote Jean Charest in Quebec to contest the $2 increase. Why did I get involved? It is not just about $2. Someone had to say that Quebec should not increase the rate by $2 but rather return to the 1997-98 rate.
When the PQ government was in power, it introduced the change with regard to family allowances. It abolished family allowances. As a result, since then, each family pays between $300 and $600 more in taxes. Another $2 is being added, but we must also think of families who do not send their children to day care and who have lost their family allowance. They pay for day care. In any case, family allowances must be restored and day cares must also be maintained.
We get involved often in all areas. We are there for the people in our ridings.