Mr. Speaker, first, I would also like to join in congratulating the hon. member for Edmonton North. I do not know her very well, because I am from the class of 2000, but I think that everyone who meets her knows she has extraordinary energy and I am convinced that, as her life continues, she will have an opportunity to use it very productively for Canada and for her community.
Twenty minutes to talk about the scandal of this budget and Bill C-30 is not a long time. Bill C-30, the bill to implement certain provisions of the Finance Minister's budget, is actually the bill to institutionalize the fiscal imbalance. It is a bill that institutionalizes the state of affairs denounced by everyone in Quebec, whether federalist or sovereignist.
In my speech on the budget, I indicated that we had been victimized twice by the sponsorship scandal twice. The first time, obviously, we were the victims of the sponsorship scandal because public funds were used for purposes that were questionable to say the least.
The amount of $250 million was used to unduly increase the visibility of Canada—to sing the praises of Canadian federalism. At the same time, this federal government visibility campaign was accompanied by commissions paid to advertising agencies of about $100 million, or 40% of the total cost. With respect to that, I would say that the public reaction, particularly in Quebec but all over Canada as well, has been at least what this scandal deserves.
Yesterday, I was at the nomination of the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who is the candidate for the Bloc Quebecois in Rivière-du-Loup—Montmagny. It was quite interesting watching the people in attendance try to figure out what the three letters PLC meant. Of course, all of us here know they stand for Parti Libéral du Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada. But the imagination exercised by people at that nomination meeting was quite interesting. For example, someone suggested to me that PLC could mean “parti du libre copinage”, or party of liberal cronyism. We know what they are talking about.
In light of Jean Chrétien's remarks this week, with his barely veiled criticism of the Prime Minister, another person proposed that PLC might stand for “parti des longs couteaux”, or party of the long knives. And finally, the classic “parti libéral pour les commandites”, or Liberal sponsorship party, comes up constantly at our meetings across Quebec.
So, the first time we were the victims of the sponsorship scandal is well known. The judgment passed by the public is very harsh. Indeed, a survey published this morning in La Presse showed that 61% of Quebeckers are dissatisfied with the current government, the federal Liberal government, which is rather extraordinary only four months after the new Prime Minister came into office.
That was the first time we were victimized by the sponsorship scandal. The second time was when the budget was brought down. The budget was designed by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister in reaction to the sponsorship scandal. They wanted to project the image of a prudent and rigorous government. However, this image was fashioned at the expense of our fellow citizens, in Canada and in Quebec, especially the most vulnerable members of our society.
In reality this budget is not rigorous. It is irresponsible towards those who need health care, young people who need education, the elderly who need adequate income security, working families who need support, and the regions which also need to have the means to ensure their development.
This budget is irresponsible because there is nothing in it to meet the concerns of Quebeckers, and I believe the same is true of the rest of Canada.
This budget is not prudent either, because it fudges the numbers and does not give a true picture of the federal public finances. Once again, the surpluses have been underestimated. I know, it is sad to have to denounce that fact for the seventh or eight time, but we do not have a choice. When we are made to believe that, for the current fiscal year, starting today, 2004-05, the surplus will be $4 billion, we are being taken for fools.
Last year, despite SARS and mad cow, the blackout in Ontario and forest fires in western Canada, and the 20% rise in the Canadian dollar, in other words, despite numerous factors influencing economic growth, the surplus was still $5.4 billion. It will probably be more lie $7 billion once all the figures are known.
They would have us believe that although the economy is improving, next year, the surplus will be lower than it was this year. This makes no sense. It is truly scandalous. It is even more scandalous, as I said earlier, since this cover-up, this attempt by the federal government to hide the surplus comes at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society, particularly those needing support and financial assistance, be they seniors or individuals unfortunately experiencing financial hardship or living in poverty, as well as young families and students.
We are paying a second time for the sponsorship scandal. Not only through the taxes we pay, but now as a result of this government's irresponsibility.
Obviously, the sponsorship scandal is the backdrop. But, this scandal must not make us forget all the other scandals during the overly long reign of the federal Liberal Party.
The employment insurance scandal resurfaces in Bill C-30. The government is once again institutionalizing the theft from the employment insurance fund: $45 billion was misappropriated for something other than employment insurance. In other words, $45 billion in contributions was not allocated as benefits.
We must not forget that, with the reform implemented by the Liberals, only four out of ten people contributing will have access to benefits, since eligibility requirements have been severely restricted, particularly for young people, women and new entrants to the labour force.
In addition to $45 billion having been stolen—I am forced to use this word—or misappropriated from the employment insurance fund, most of which was used to pay down the debt, the contribution rate is being held at $1.98 this year when, according to the actuary, it should be $1.80 to meet the needs of the system. Consequently, once again this year, there will be a nearly $3 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, which will be used for other purposes.
The government could have improved the system, but it did not, nor does it want to. This was proven yesterday when the member for Charlevoix, who will soon be the member for Manicouagan, proposed fixing the situation for seasonal workers—workers in seasonal industries who are currently going through the spring gap.
People from Charlevoix and the North Shore—my brother lives there—call me and say, “Do something. This makes no sense. Year after year we slip further and further into poverty”.
This situation has to be rectified. The member for Charlevoix made a proposal to fix the gap situation and the vast majority of Liberal MPs, particularly those from Quebec, voted against his motion. That said, during the election they will try to tell us, “Trust the federal Liberals. Once we win the election, we will come back to the House and correct the situation”.
We will not have a repeat of what happened in 2000, when the President of the Treasury Board went to Chicoutimi and promised aluminum plant workers, in particular, and construction workers that they would see a change in employment insurance. The President did not follow through on his promise. It is absolutely scandalous. Some $45 billion is owed to employment insurance fund contributors and claimants and this should be corrected as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, that is not what Bill C-30 will achieve. It institutionalizes the fact that it is the government that unilaterally sets the contribution rates. This year the rate is being held at $1.98, which will generate a surplus. Moreover, the government is giving itself the power to set the rate for 2005.
I remind hon. members that in 2001, on the eve of the election, the government gave itself the temporary right for two years to set the contribution rate in order to review the mechanism for determining employment insurance contribution rates. That was in 2002-03. In 2004, the government set the rate. The former finance minister set the rate. He promised that for 2005, the budget would include an announcement of a new rate setting mechanism.
It did not happen. Bill C-30 is telling us that for two more years, the government will take it upon itself to unilaterally determine the contribution rate. Even in 2004, this practice is questionable. How could the government set the contribution rate despite its own commitment and despite the fact the legislation allowed this just for 2002-03?
That is unacceptable. The contribution rate should depend primarily on the type of coverage we want from the EI fund.
We expect from the EI plan better coverage for workers who are temporarily out of a job by raising the number of benefit weeks and improving accessibility. Bill C-30 and the vote against the motion of the hon. member for Charlevoix by Liberals yesterday are not taking us in that direction. Voters from the North Shore area and all of Quebec and all of Canada, I hope, will remember this and will have the Liberals pay the price of the EI scandal.
Tax havens are another scandal. We would have thought that, at least in this budget, the finance minister would make an announcement about tax havens. We have been told a process was underway. Probably a process similar to the one for the sponsorship scandal. So, we have tax havens, particularly Barbados, which is the tax haven designated by the Canadian government for Canadians.
As a result of the tax convention between Canada and Barbados, Barbados has become the third ranking destination, after the United States—understandably—and Great Britain, for direct Canadian investment. If I remember correctly, the amount going to Barbados is around $25 billion or $30 billion.
Might I know what the Canadians who send those $25 billion or $30 billion to Barbados do with it? Is that small island capable of supporting such large investments in terms of manufactured goods or services? Certainly not. We are not fools, and neither is the general public.
This is money diverted from the income tax these people should be responsible for paying in Canada. They have been provided with a loophole. It has been made legal. This Prime MInister is the one who legalized it when in finance, and he has personally benefited from it. That is common knowledge.
The Prime Minister had at least 13 companies in tax havens, Barbados and Bermuda in particular. They no longer belong to him, but to his sons. We have traced one of these companies, Canada Steamship Lines Inc., headquartered in Barbados, and have been able to calculate that, in recent years, it was saved from having to pay $100 million in tax dollars to the Canadian government and the provincial governments concerned. This has never been denied by either the Prime Minister or Canada Steamship Lines.
This is absolutely scandalous, and there is absolutely nothing in the budget to close this tax loophole. The public will remember that as well. Most of us, most of the voters in Quebec—and this goes for Canada as well—have to pay their income tax. They have no such loopholes. They do not have the means to send their money to Barbados in order to avoid their responsibilities as citizens.
If everyone did, we would not be able to have the public services to which we are entitled. As well, you and I are paying more taxes as a result. When the federal government needs money, it taxes those I call the captive taxpayers, those unable to take advantage of such loopholes.
So, one would have expected the budget to close this loophole, and particularly to terminate the tax convention with Barbados.
There is another scandal, the one that involves the guaranteed income supplement. I know that the hon. member for Champlain will talk about it later on, so I will not get into details. However, depriving people of $6,000 by not properly informing them of their rights is a very serious matter. Here again, the government targeted the poor.
Jean Lapierre, the Prime Minister's lieutenant in Quebec, reportedly boasted about sampling wines that cost $3,000 per bottle. So, the price of two of those bottles of wine is equivalent to the guaranteed income supplement that a significant number of seniors did not get, because they were not informed of their rights. And Mr. Lapierre has the nerve to brag about drinking two bottles of wine, or more, with Lafleur, who was the president of Lafleur Communications, one of the companies involved in the sponsorship scandal. So, there is also this scandal, but I will not elaborate any further, because I am sure that the hon. member for Champlain will address the issue.
Then there is the scandal of those Quebec families that do not enjoy the much needed federal support that they should be getting under two programs. There is the parental leave program, which Quebec wants to set up and on which there is a consensus. Indeed, all the parties in the National Assembly support this initiative. This is a more generous program than the one that exists under the federal employment insurance program; is also broader and more accessible since workers, particularly self-employed workers, are covered by it.
Nevertheless, the federal government refuses to transfer the $700 million to which Quebec is entitled. This amount also includes the compassionate leave, which is very poorly thought out in Ottawa at present. The taxpayers of Quebec are paying this amount and they ought to be getting it back, but the federal government stubbornly refuses to transfer it, even though it lost in court.
The Government of Quebec went to court, and the court found that it was within Quebec's jurisdiction and therefore the federal government had no business getting involved in that field. Consequently, it was obliged to transfer the money to Quebec.
But there are worse things in this budget. Day care is now at $7 because the federal government is not transferring the money Quebec needs, to provide the range of services that we want to have available. The $7 a day child care program loses $250 million a year for Quebec's families and taxpayers. Since it is partially publicly funded, the federal government does not allow the deduction, the total tax credit, for child care expenses.
The federal government is saving $250 million in tax refunds. Since the program has been operating, there has been a clear shortfall of $1 billion for families and all taxpayers in Quebec. We have been asking for a long time to have this situation corrected, to transfer this money back to Quebec, but the federal government says no; it will not listen.
In the budget, we were told they will invest $150 million all across Canada. Where does this amount—which is inadequate—come from? It comes from the $250 million of which taxpayers and families in Quebec have been deprived. The government will send back a few crumbs to Quebec—some $30 or $35 million—and it would want us to say thank you. We have $250 million stolen and get $35 million back, and we should be saying thank you? We will not say thank you. We will make our voice heard and demand a correction. The scandal of families, therefore, is another scandal for the Liberal government.
Let us talk about the gun registry scandal. This project was supposed to cost $2 million, but it has cost close to $2 billion. What I have noticed, and the Auditor General has shown this again this week, is that the federal government wants to encroach on every provincial jurisdiction. It wants to tell the provinces what to do and it always knows better than everyone else when it comes to health and education.
Just starting up the Canadian Learning Institute cost $100 million. That money could have been used for many other things. When we look at health, they want to set standards, and so on, and it just keeps adding up. Nonetheless, in their own jurisdictions, it is nothing but incompetence, inefficiency and waste.
For instance, we know that the $7 billion allocated for security after the tragic events of September 11, when the Prime Minister was finance minister, was spent in a completely inefficient and inconsistent manner. Border security, which is a federal government responsibility, is inadequate in Canada. It is porous.
This morning, all the newspapers in Quebec are talking about it in their editorials. It is a joke. It is a porous border. The means are not there. Where did the money go? Some have benefited from this $7 billion. Perhaps it was cronyism, perhaps some totally useless procurements were made but benefited friends of the government. I do not know, but I find it strange that this money did not produce the desired results.
An amount of $7 billion is not peanuts. It could be used to build 35,000 social or affordable housing units in Canada and in Quebec, since there is a shortage of such units. The lack of housing policies is another flaw in the budget.
So, the federal government is totally ineffective in its own jurisdictions. It gets a big zero in terms of effectiveness.
I will conclude by talking about equalization. The government would have us believe, with Bill C-30, that the equalization program is generous. In fact, it does not at all meet Quebec's expectations, as Minister Séguin said last week.
I will quote a few figures on Quebec's expectations. This is from a document entitled “Correcting Fiscal Imbalance” in relation to Mr. Séguin's 2004-05 budget.
For this year, that is 2004-05, Quebec was hoping that the federal government's contribution to health would represent $471 million. Quebec wanted the $2 billion to be a recurrent amount. Ottawa's response is zero dollars.
As for equalization, Quebec was hoping to get $2.872 billion. The federal government's response is $70 million, which is almost nothing. Next year, the Quebec government would like to get $814 million for health. The federal government's response is zero. As regards equalization, Quebec was hoping to get $3.009 billion. The federal response is $70 million, which is peanuts.
For all these reasons, we cannot support Bill C-30. Not only can we not support it, but we must strongly condemn it and tell voters that, very soon, they will have the opportunity to do some spring cleaning.