Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois had hoped for an opportunity to introduce some subamendments to the bill before the House. Unfortunately, parliamentary procedure prevents us from doing so. Once the official opposition puts forward any subamendments, we are prevented from doing likewise on the same clauses. This is unfortunate.
I understand the Conservative Party for having taken this opportunity to put forward amendments to Bill C-48 that are consistent with its convictions. However, we wanted to introduce a subamendment to the bill, on respect for the areas of provincial—and Quebec—jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, everything in Bill C-48 falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Unfortunately, we were unable to put forward this subamendment.
We would also have liked to continue the battle that we, as a political party, have waged in the Standing Committee on Finance. In other words, we wanted to include the main priorities of Quebeckers in the bill. Unfortunately, we could not do that, either.
We take issue with the following aspect of this bill. The NDP is patting itself on the back, saying it concluded the agreement of the century with the Liberal government. I do not understand the NDP. If it says it has this power, I do not understand why it has abandoned the unemployed. EI is not one of the concerns the NDP presented and expressed in Bill C-48.
The NDP has boasted for years about fighting to improve EI, which excludes 60% of the unemployed who would normally be entitled to it, were it not for such inhumane criteria.
From the start, the government considers the unemployed as potential con artists. Benefits have been slashed for people hit by unemployment, a problem for thousands of families in Quebec and Canada. The NDP has abandoned the unemployed. We have not abandoned them. During each stage of Bill C-48, we have done everything possible to reintroduce such consideration for the unemployed into the bill. Not so the NDP.
As far as the fiscal imbalance is concerned, all parties in opposition believe it exists. The sub-committee I have the honour of chairing has just tabled a report. That sub-committee travelled the length and breadth of Canada to hear people's testimony. They all expressed their concerns about the fiscal relationship between the federal and provincial governments and the inability of the governments of Quebec and the provinces to provide basic services like health to their populations. Regardless of last September's agreement, they still lack the funds to be able to provide health systems that operate to their full potential.
As for post-secondary education, the provinces are faced with under-funding, since they simply cannot afford to invest in post-secondary education, although in a way investing in our youth means investing in our future.
Then there is the problem of disadvantaged families. In the provinces—and in Quebec—the funds are not there for lifting entire families out of poverty. None of these considerations exists in the bill, nothing to correct the fiscal imbalance, nothing to improve employment insurance either. Even if those lefties keep saying something needs to be done about EI, the unemployed have been abandoned.
We in the Bloc Québécois have not abandoned them. Nor have we abandoned the key priorities of Quebeckers and Canadians. In fact, in the rest of Canada we heard considerable concerns expressed about the fiscal imbalance and the under-funding of essential public services. We have not given up on this, If the NDP has, so be it. History will judge them, and they will get their come-uppance in the next election.
As for the rest of us, we will continue to fight and to push for reforms. Our basic premise is consistency. The first budget was bad, and the second is a fool's bargain. The NDP is boasting of its great gains. I will read an excerpt from the bill.
This analysis was confirmed last Monday evening when we studied Bill C-48. A senior Treasury Board official was there. He told us flat out that this bill did not commit the federal government at all and the NDP had signed a fool's bargain. The government has not made any commitments to any of the areas in which it promised to invest. It has not really made any commitments to social housing, or education, or foreign aid, or environmental programs.
I will read some excerpts which the senior Treasury Board official emphasized: The government has not made any commitments. The government “may” invest in it. So the government has not made any firm commitments. I will read some excerpts from subclause 1(1) of Bill C-48. It says: “Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2005-2006, make payments —”
That does not mean he is going to make them. It does not say that he must make them or that he will make them. It says that he may make these payments.
It is the same thing in subclause 1(2): “Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2006-2007, make payments—”
We know that “may make” does not necessarily mean that he will make. There are also a lot of conditions surrounding the end of year surpluses. The government can decide to do anything else that it likes during the financial year knowing that it will have surpluses at the end of the year. It can take any initiatives at all other than those in Bill C-48. This is a real fool's bargain. Nothing is gained here. There is no commitment on the part of the government to any of these things.
In English and French, the bill says the same thing. It is “may” not “must” and there is no commitment. A real fool's bargain.
The NDP has stood the world on its head, saying that it was good, it had negotiated some things and we had not done our work very well. To that I say it has not done anything if one looks at this agreement. When there is an agreement and a bill says “may make payments”, that means the government can do anything it wants.
For all these reasons, in committee, we worked hard—which cannot be said for the other political parties—to amend the bill, to consider everyone who was forgotten in this budget bill, and by that we mean the unemployed and the sick, among others. Given the rate at which spending in health care is increasing—at the rate of approximately 7%—they will not recover the time or the resources lost in order to get the system to operate as it should. In fact, the current Prime Minister made savage cuts in this area when he was finance minister.
They have also forgotten students, who are dealing with an education system that has been underfunded for years. In Quebec alone, it would take an investment of $1 billion a year for the next five years to catch up.
We in the Bloc have tried to get these amounts and move things along. However, the government and the other opposition parties are not interested in supporting amendments to improve EI, to help the unemployed—about 60% are excluded at the moment—and to help people who are sick and to help the students.
We also tried to get international aid increased to 0.7% of the GDP. With the amounts involved at the moment, we will need 25 years to reach this objective. We tried to help farmers in Quebec and Canada, who are facing a very serious crisis. However, the government was not interested in supporting our amendments and suggestions to improve this bill and make a firmer commitment than the one providing that the government “may”.
In conclusion, it is a fool's bargain. The amendments we had proposed were rejected. The bill is still totally unacceptable. The NDP has no reason to boast about this agreement. There is no commitment on the government side. The people understand.