Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mercier.
In speaking to this budget, my first order of business is to express the disappointment of the entire population with the fact that the Prime Minister, who had set out commitments and created expectations in terms of health, has completely failed to deliver the goods.
All that his government has been able to do is to slip the $2 billion promised by Mr. Chrétien over a year ago into the financial statements of the current year. The provinces are saying unanimously, in a well-justified advertising campaign, that the federal government only invests 16% of its expenditures in health.
This amount declined dramatically throughout the Chrétien years, when the current Prime Minister was finance minister. There was a drastic decrease from when he was finance minister to when he left that position to become Prime Minister. Although everybody expected there would be more money for health in 2004-05, there will be less. Consequently, people who expected that the current government would adopt an attitude of openness have seen their hopes dashed.
Shortly after the budget was tabled, the Prime Minister went so far as to say, because he paid close attention to the polls, that the budget was having a disastrous effect on public opinion with regard to health. It is the number one concern of voters and our constituents. They expect a health care system to be adequately funded, and for the federal government to contribute its fair share.
Currently, the provinces, with some errors but also some success, are trying to do their best with the money they have. However, there is a fundamental problem. The federal government is collecting loads of money, billions of dollars, and it is so rich that it squanders it shamelessly.
On the other hand, we are told that the Canadian Forces are under-equipped, but $160 million gets wasted, just lost, in a system somewhere.
Next, with regard to health, the provinces say that the $2 billion invested last year should be made a recurring amount. Would not the best demonstration of the federal government's good faith have been to say that this money will be invested in 2004-05 and then there will be negotiations on the Prime Minister's current proposal, which is a new way of doing things while respecting the jurisdictions of each level of government?
But no, the government actually leaves this money out of the budget. A few days later, everyone realizes that this has had a devastating impact and there is an attempt at damage control; the government tries to fix things by saying that the money will be provided at a later date. The Liberal governments have used the phrase, “we will do it later” to death. No one believes the Liberals any more when they say things like that.
Take the example of seasonal work, of work in seasonal industries. I remember that, during the 1993 election campaign, there was a letter from Mr. Chrétien saying, “When we take office, we will give back to the employment insurance program what will ensure a reasonable value to that program, what will allow it to meet its objective of truly providing adequate income to workers who lose their jobs”.
In 1993, a letter to that effect was signed by Mr. Chrétien. After the election, he undertook the harshest reform ever of the employment insurance program. In 1997, and again in 2000, the same promise was made. Six months later, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development reviewed the whole issue of employment insurance reform. Seventeen recommendations were made. How many did the government implement: one, two, five? The answer is zero. It did not follow any of the recommendations. Throughout all these years, the government continued to accumulate surpluses of $3, $4, $5 or $6 billion per year.
That is totally unacceptable. It is obvious that the current government, which is tired and washed up after years in office, cannot repeat the same old promises again, because no one believes them anymore.
I see once again Liberal candidates meeting constituents and telling them that they will look after seasonal workers and settle the issue. No one believes them, because the Liberals have made promises in that respect in the past five election campaigns. No one believes one word of what is said on that side. What we have to do is to send the Liberals in opposition to give them time to reflect and hear concrete messages. There are several reasons why the Liberals should sit on the opposition benches.
Obviously, there is the whole scandal, the arrogance of managing public funds as if they belonged to the boss's company. That is somewhat the approach used by the present PM, acting as if he were the chairman of some company rather than prime minister of a country.
We saw that in the budget. There are very concrete examples in support of that impression. I have already spoken of employment insurance, seasonal workers and the whole softwood lumber issue. There is no additional funding to help the regions through the crisis. The money is carried over from previous years, but there is no new money.
The crisis could last another six months to a year. People were rallied round, the companies asked to cope, and wait until the decisions were known, leading to an eventual return to free trade. The workers were asked to do likewise, but without any support worth mentioning.
So, this coming winter in my region, thanks to the great EI program we have, the forestry sector employees—those who manage to qualify at all—will have to manage for 10, 12 or 15 weeks with no income whatsoever. Try to balance a budget with no income for 10, 12 or 15 weeks, or half of it in the form of employment insurance benefits, while at the same time having to meet the usual household expenses, such as mortgage payments, groceries and so on. It is far from easy. It is also very frustrating when we know that the government is accumulating a surplus of billions of dollars at the same time.
As for social housing, there is a very present reality, not only in major centres, but also in areas such as Montmagny or Rivière-du-Loup: vacancy rates are very low, and low income people have trouble finding housing. There is nothing new in this budget that would enable us to increase the amount of available housing to meet this need, or to make housing available for other categories of people.
I would have liked, too, to see something in the budget with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. We decided to adopt a clause retroactive over a number of years in order to correct the inequities in various sectors. However, for a number of years, the necessary funds were not provided so that seniors and the most vulnerable would have a decent income.
Some people did not receive the guaranteed income supplement for 5, 6, 7 or 8 years. They had to cut back on essentials. When it was realized that these people should have been registered in the system, they were denied a reasonable period of retroactivity. It would have been appropriate, in my opinion, for the budget to have included this kind of initiative.
There is the whole issue of old age security pensions. Currently, the system is not fully indexed. A basket of purchases by seniors is used to assess the difference between their cost of living and that of society in general. When people spend more on drugs and have more difficulty getting around, some of their expenses are much higher than those of an ordinary family. So, full indexation of the cost of living for seniors is needed. This is not in the budget.
And so, many things have been overlooked. I would also like to mention an issue that is discussed widely at present. I am happy that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has decided to study the topic—unless an early election is called—of the challenges posed by China, the factory of the world.
I made a proposal that this issue be considered, but I would have liked it if, in the budget, there had been measures to promote increased research, development and support in the most traditional industrial sectors. There are not enough.
We are facing an enormous challenge from that quarter. All of Quebec's and Canada's manufacturing structure is shaken by this phenomenon. The answer is not to erect barriers around Canada but to give our industries the tools they need to ensure they can survive this new phase of the world markets.
It is especially true because, in the textile and apparel sector, Canada decided to remove tariff barriers ahead of the rest of the world. Thus, we placed ourselves in a position of weakness and we might have expected that significant changes would be proposed.
In conclusion, the people, particularly those in my riding and those in Quebec, do not see themselves reflected in this budget. We would like a formal commitment from this government that it will reinvest the $2 billion in health care before the budget vote. We would also like the Prime Minister to recognize that there is an important error in his budget. No one believes him when he promises that it will be fixed later.
Right now is when the networks need money and when we are expecting the government to act. If not, the voters will punish the government severely in the coming election.