Mr. Speaker, in fact the debate is not really on the amendment, because it is quite clear that, if the Bloc Québécois supported it, there would not be enough Conservatives to vote for fear of triggering an election. Let us therefore debate the budget itself.
To begin with, I will say to you that the budget tabled yesterday by the Minister of Finance is, in its current form, totally unacceptable to Quebec.
The main characteristic of this budget is indeed that it totally ignores Quebec, and in fact is contrary to the interests and aspirations of Quebec.
Michel Audet, the Quebec finance minister, was critical yesterday of the fact that the budget does nothing to correct the fiscal imbalance. Mario Dumont and Bernard Landry had the same reaction. René Roy, of the FTQ, thinks that this budget sidesteps the real problems of Quebec, as do Claudette Charbonneau of the CSN, Réjean Parent of the CSQ and François Vaudreuil of the CSD.
The president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, Pier-André Bouchard, speaks of a lack of vision. François Saillant, of the FRAPRU, speaks of failure to respect the commitments of the Liberal Party. The President of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Isabelle Hudon, speaks of a bad budget on the whole.
The verdict is clear. This budget runs counter to the interests of Quebeckers.
I can now affirm that, if the government does not seize the opportunity to amend its budget, the 54 members of the Bloc Québécois will vote against this budget and will be present in the House to vote against this budget.
The government has chosen to completely ignore the most urgent problem, the fiscal imbalance. Yet no one in Canada is unaware that the federal government is swimming in budget surpluses. And neither is anyone unaware that Quebec and the provinces are having difficulty funding health, education, social programs, municipal infrastructures, roads, research, regional economic development and so many other of their responsibilities.
In short, no one is unaware that the money is in Ottawa while the needs are in Quebec and the provinces. Responsibilities that are crucial for the future of Quebec, and of Canada. No one is unaware that the money is in Ottawa and that that money comes from people's pockets.
In choosing deliberately to ignore the fiscal imbalance, this budget is a slap in the face to all the elected officials of the National Assembly, and hence to the population of Quebec. On Monday, Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, said that the fiscal imbalance had not been resolved. Allow me to quote him:
The proof of this is that the federal government continues to swim in surpluses while Quebec struggles to balance its budget.
And he continues:
Thanks to the fiscal imbalance, the federal government's spending power has become a power to intrude in the fields of provincial jurisdiction.
The man who is saying this is an ardent federalist. The budget tabled yesterday is an eloquent demonstration of this reality.
The reality is that this “serious structural problem”, to use the words of Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Benoît Pelletier, and I quote him:
—suggests a prospect not favourable to the affirmation of Quebec.
Quebeckers pay their fair share of income tax and they want their national government, which is the Government of Quebec, to be able to assume all of its responsibilities.
That is all Bernard Landry and Mario Dumont are saying. That is all I am saying. Henri Massé and Claudette Charbonneau are saying the same thing, as are Yves Séguin and Michel Audet, the Quebec finance minister.
A survey published yesterday made it very clear that Quebeckers share this point of view. In fact, the only persons who continue to deny reality are the members of this government. Quebeckers want their national government, the Government of Quebec, to collect the largest share of income taxes.
Quebeckers want the federal government to stop its intrusions and they want it to give back Quebec's money. The situation is worse under this Prime Minister's government than it was under Jean Chrétien's, and that is saying something.
Not only does the Prime Minister refuse to keep his promise to improve relations between the federal government and Quebec, but he does things totally contrary to what he has promised.
With this budget, the government increases its intrusions. An intrusion, for those who do not know, is defined as the act of entering without invitation a space, a society or a group. That is exactly what this government does as it constantly meddles in Quebec's exclusive jurisdictions, when nobody has invited it.
At present, Quebec has a federalist government. Even that government, which is ready to defend Canadian federalism at all costs, has found it necessary to stand with the other members of the National Assembly to denounce this situation.
While it intrudes more and more, the federal government also maintains its financial stranglehold on Quebec. After 10 years of uninterrupted growth and zero deficits, Quebec is still in a fragile financial situation, and that is the work of the Prime Minister, who is the father of the fiscal imbalance.
The Prime Minister may well refuse to admit paternity, but he cannot hide it. He had a golden opportunity to resolve the fiscal imbalance. He has refused to do so. I offer him another opportunity to do so with our amendment.
I remind him that Quebec has 200 elected representatives, 125 in the National Assembly in Quebec City and 75 in the House of Commons. Of these 200 Quebec representatives, there are 179 who agree with the conclusions of the Séguin report on the fiscal imbalance; there are 179 who agree on the solutions needed; there are only 21 who are blocking Quebec's path; those are the 21 federal Liberal members from Quebec; the 21 federal Liberal MPs, including the Prime Minister, are the ones working against the basic interests of Quebec.
Today, we deeply regret that the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have the same attitude to Quebec. I invite all Quebeckers not to forget that this government, led by this Prime Minister, has refused to make any compromise on this issue and that the leader of the opposition has already forgotten his promises to defend Quebec's interests.
The Minister of Finance points out that this budget covers five years rather than two, as is usually the case. This is especially arrogant, given that this is a minority government, which is very likely to disappear well before its promises can actually materialize. The government is laughing at Canadians, giving virtually nothing the first year, crumbs the second and the whole kit and caboodle in the years after. It is a bluff, it is a snow job.
Once again, we have the Prime Minister's little masquerade of underestimating the budget surpluses. This is intellectual dishonesty, and no one is fooled. This year, he is piling it on with his inflated promises over five years. If the government thinks that it can manage to stay in power for five years with this kind of budget, it is dreaming in technicolor.
The worst thing, though, is the government's insensitivity to workers. It has diverted tens of billions of dollars from the employment insurance fund over the past few years. In doing so, it has violated the spirit of the act, as the Auditor General has stressed repeatedly.
The members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities, including the Liberal members, agreed to recommend to the government that an independent fund be created to put an end to this institutionalized diversion of funds. But once again, the Prime Minister has missed an opportunity to end an injustice. Once again, the government is obstinately rejecting common sense.
In the meantime, the government announces a tiny reform to employment insurance. As a supposed change, it is a real insult to workers. The government announces $300 million a year and then turns around and says it is going to continue excluding hundreds of thousands of working people who have contributed. It is announcing pilot projects, so it says, but what it is really announcing is that the regions will continue to suffer.
The government must understand, once and for all, that the discriminatory requirement whereby people entering the work force must accumulate 910 hours—now 840—in order to access the system is just driving young people out of the regions of Quebec.
The problem will not be solved by slightly relaxing the stringency of this discriminatory measure. The Prime Minister must know that his government is part of the reason for the exodus of young people.
The government must also realize that the globalization of trade and competition from China are killing our manufacturing industries. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs over the past few years, and many of them have a very hard time finding another. The need for a program to help older workers has never been so great as it is today. But the government just ignores these workers, most of whom have contributed for years and years to employment insurance. Finally, the government could have put an end to what seasonal workers call the “gap”.
I do not dare even imagine what this government would have done had it had a majority. The Prime Minister really does not have his priorities straight. How can this government refuse to help working people while swimming in budget surpluses? How can it spend $12 billion on defence and refuse to do justice to seasonal workers, to older workers and to women, who have been paying into employment insurance? How can the government be ready to make a gift of hundreds of millions of dollars to the oil industry while refusing to help workers in the regions of Quebec? How can the Prime Minister be prepared to allow companies to use tax havens and his own family company to save more than $100 million in taxes while refusing to correct a huge injustice in the employment insurance system?
The Liberals, we will recall, have made all kinds of promises about employment insurance before elections, but have always reneged on them.
In the early 1990s, I took to the streets of Montreal in 20 below temperatures, along with tens of thousands of other people, to demonstrate against the Conservative cuts to unemployment insurance. At my side was a member of Parliament from Quebec: the member for LaSalle—Émard. At that time, he claimed to be on the side of the workers and the regions of Quebec. He has turned his back on all that. He has turned his back on the workers, the regions of Quebec, and even Quebec. The Prime Minister has gone back on his word, on his responsibility for the fiscal imbalance and on his previous commitments.
He wrote the 1993 Liberal red book promising to fund social housing. Despite repeated commitments from the government, not a cent was earmarked for social housing in yesterday's budget.
The Liberal government could have taken advantage of this budget to announce its intention to settle the parental leave issue with Quebec. Tens of thousands of workers currently do not have access to the federal parental leave program. The Government of Quebec is prepared to implement a much more accessible and generous program. How is it that the federal government is prepared, contrary to all logic and the most elementary notion of equity, to give Newfoundland and Nova Scotia billions of dollars as a gift, while refusing to hand over $275 million to the Government of Quebec for parental leave for Quebec families?
The fact is that this Prime Minister has no sense of priorities. He has no leadership. He has no judgment. Quebec families have been totally forgotten in this budget.
The budget also announces $5 billion to fund a national child care system. Why would the federal government get involved in child care? The answer is simple. The federal government is swimming in cash, as a columnist wrote this morning. The federal government is swimming in money and it is taking advantage of that to intrude more and more. If the federal government has more money than it knows what to do with, we have suggestions to offer.
The government should just transfer the money for child care to the Government of Quebec and not meddle with day care needlessly creating yet again standards, overlap, discord and a great deal of bureaucracy.
Quebeckers should know that $1 billion a year means $230 million for Quebec, which is less than 15% of what the Government of Quebec spends on child care. Quebec wants to be left alone to take care of its own business and for this government to transfer Quebeckers' money to the Government of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois also calls on the government to give Quebec its entire share of the funding with no strings attached.
The government has announced that it will inject billions of dollars into implementing the Kyoto protocol. Stephen Guilbeault, the Greenpeace spokesperson for Quebec, is bitterly disappointed. Once again, the government has no plan. Not only does it have no plan, but the Minister of Finance did not even utter the word “Kyoto” in his speech.
The Liberal government is going to create more bureaucracy and Canada-wide programs that are inefficient, poorly drafted and have no overall plan. The government refused to listen to the public, the environmental groups, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and even the recommendations of the OECD to amend the tax system in order to apply the polluter-pay principle.
I must say that it is discouraging to see to what extent the members of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party in this House do not understand the urgency of the situation. If it were not for the NDP and its leader, I would say that Canada is indifferent to climate change and the environment and that only the Bloc Québécois is concerned about this issue.
What does this government need to understand that the situation is dramatic and that resorting to tricks is no longer good enough. Yet, this is a critical issue, which goes beyond partisan differences. In fact, by lowering taxes for businesses without targeting these companies, the Liberal government is once again rewarding major polluters, such as oil companies. The government is showing once again that it wants to put the burden on the shoulders of ordinary citizens and let large emitters continue to pollute with impunity. No wonder Canada has the worst record among all western countries when it comes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. If the government is sincere about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it should adopt the territorial approach, let Quebec implement its own plan and transfer Quebec's financial share unconditionally.
I am convinced that this would allow Quebec to achieve its reduction targets at less cost and with much greater economic benefits. It is not too late to make that change. As things stand, Quebec's interests are being totally ignored, and the Kyoto objectives will never be achieved. Canada is currently not assuming its responsibilities, and this fall, at the meeting of the signatories to the Kyoto accord, a shameful record is all that it will be able to show.
This year again, the government announced a significant increase in the defence budget. It is about to spend over $12.8 billion for defence and another billion of dollars for security. The reality is that the Canadian government does not have a foreign policy and it does not have a defence policy. How can it allocate billions of dollars for the army, when we do not even know what role this army will play in the future? The government has it all wrong. It hands out money first and then thinks about the army's role. It does not make any sense, and this is why we end up with submarines that do not go underwater and with helicopters that do not fly.
Also, while we are pleased with the modest increase for international aid, we must point out that, at this rate, Canada will never achieve its objective of allocating 0.7% of its GDP to international aid. In fact, this government has decided to spend four times more on defence and security than on international aid. This goes squarely against Quebeckers' wishes. And it shows once again that this indecisive Prime Minister does not have a sense of priorities.
The government is failing Quebec producers, particularly dairy farmers. This government is announcing that it will spend $30 million to recover taxes not paid by companies with foreign subsidiaries, with collections expected to total $30 million. This says a great deal about the government's willingness to stop the extensive use of tax havens. If the government wanted to, it could recover hundreds of millions of dollars. Naturally, the Prime Minister's family business would be forced to pay its taxes in Quebec and Ottawa.
The government is announcing that the guaranteed income supplement for seniors will be increased by $400 per year—over five years. This is what the government has announced.
I see that I have just one minute remaining although I would have liked to touch on a number of other issues.
In conclusion, all this clearly demonstrates that currently Quebec does not have the means to reach its full potential and control its own taxes, which is one of the essential elements of sovereignty. It comes down to this, the control of the money. We do not have control of the money.
This budget proves that it is high time Quebec once again assumed full control of its finances, and that the only way forward is sovereignty for Quebec. Sovereignty for Quebec is the only way we can solve these problems.
Consequently, I will move the following amendment to the amendment, seconded by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot:
That all the words after the expression “does not reflect” be replaced by the following:
“the concerns of the population and therefore demands that the government resolve the fiscal imbalance, put forward a real plan that provides for the investments necessary to meet Canada's commitments on reducing greenhouse gases, and immediately implement the 28 recommendations contained in the report on employment insurance tabled by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the House on February 15, 2005.”