Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-48.
As some already know, I am a teacher by profession. I was an economics professor—and will be again once we achieve sovereignty in Quebec—at the Maisonneuve college, where I am still employed. I am sure that Bill C-48 will make for an extremely interesting case study when I go back to teaching at the end of my political career.
Bill C-48 is a unique case politically, economically, and financially speaking and the Bloc Québécois is opposed to it on all those levels.
Politically speaking, look at the situation we were in a few weeks ago when the minority government was looking for support just to survive. Bill C-48 did not come out of the goodness of the Liberals' hearts. They were in political hot water and this is what they came up with to survive politically. Bill C-48 is the product of this government's corruption. Let us not forget that.
Without Bill C-48, this government probably would have fallen and an election would already have been held in which the people of Quebec and Canada could have punished this government.
In case anyone thinks this is not a government on probation, some of whose representatives have been accused of dirty deeds, L. Ian MacDonald, who is not a sovereignist, I am sure we agree, wrote an article in Policy Options on the Gomery inquiry. I will read an excerpt. It is a summary of his article that I invite everyone to read:
As explosive as the auditor general’s report on the sponsorship scandal was, it did not, and could not, follow those funds, as Sheila Fraser said, “once they left the government.” It was left to Justice John Gomery to follow the money, not so much through a bureaucratic maze as down a political trail that led to the advertising agencies in Montreal and back to the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec). In 128 days of public hearings, Gomery took some 25,000 pages of testimony, some of it stories of cash payments in envelopes right out the movies. Gomery’s findings will be out in November and his recommendations in December. Has the cost been worth it? The only benchmark is what we know now that we didn't know before Gomery. The answer is plenty.
It is very clear in what political context Bill C-48 was created. They tried to win an artificial majority in order to continue governing.
Unfortunately, I must say that the NDP, a party that I respect a great deal, has fallen right into the trap. On my way here, I thought about what I had learned in college. The NDP had the wool pulled over its eyes, to use one expression to describe this situation. We have others: it took the bait; it was fooled by smoke and mirrors; in short, it grasped at a shadow and lost the substance.
Politically speaking, I am quite concerned when a party of honesty and integrity, such as the NDP, is taken in by the Liberal Party of Canada, which is a corrupt party. As I mentioned, the Gomery commission and a number of observers seem to support that argument. The truth will come out once Justice Gomery's report has been tabled.
Politically speaking, this is an absolute farce. Nothing in Bill C-48 is truly progressive. Its only purpose is to buy peace for several months so the Liberal Party can continue to govern.
Economically and financially, we have the example of the $500 million for foreign aid. Obviously, there will always be support for increasing development aid.
So, this allows the Liberal Government of Canada to say that it has invested $500 million—how extraordinary—but that it will make no commitment whatsoever to 0.7% of GDP for official development assistance.
Again this week, the Minister of International Cooperation said that the government was making a moral commitment to reach this goal, but that there was no timeline, calendar or plan. So, the government is telling us that there is $500 million in Bill C-48, that this is wonderful, and that this absolves us of any commitment to provide official development assistance.
There is $1.5 billion for post-secondary education. Obviously, this is an astronomical sum. However, when we do not know how this $1.5 billion will be spent or what percentage will go to which expenditures, this may be a recipe for disaster.
I myself attended a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance, two weeks ago Monday. University association representatives came to tell us that a balance is essential. If everything is invested in improving access to a university education, then the universities cannot accept additional students, because they do not have the professors, labs or infrastructure they would need.
Adding this $1.5 billion may therefore seem to be a good thing, but it is more likely to cause problems than to bring solutions, particularly since there is no government commitment to renewed funding. Teachers will be hired, laboratories opened perhaps, and then everything will have to be closed down again because there is not enough money to fund it all.
I will remind hon. members that there was a strike in Quebec a few years ago, one the Liberal government of Quebec of the day considered illegal. At that time I was secretary general of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux. We were hit with a fine of several million dollars. Of course, in order to look good and seem progressive, the government said that the money from these fines would be made available to community groups and charitable organizations. The Montreal United Way recommended that these groups turn it down. Why so? Because, when money becomes available for one year, permanent staff is hired, additional services provided, and then the next year there is no more money, staff can no longer be paid nor services delivered, but the demand created is still there.
In Bill C-48, as in the entire approach of the federal government and of the Liberal Party of Canada, there is always that philosophy of creating a need, funding it initially, and then pulling out later, leaving Quebec and the provinces holding the bag.
We have seen this with social housing. There again—I am forced to say this—the $1.6 billion for social housing is of course welcome, but if the federal Liberal government pulls out the following year, does not maintain its investments, and announces no continued funding for social housing, Quebec will find itself back in exactly the same position as now. I am sure that is the situation in other provinces as well. There is social housing but not the funds to maintain it properly.
So a need is created and then the ball ends up back in the provinces' court—and in Quebec's especially. I must point out that Quebec has kept its commitments as far as social housing is concerned. Moreover, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain has said so on numerous occasions. Consequently, the problem is still there. This does, of course, seem to be a most acceptable measure, even praiseworthy in principle, but in reality, it creates problems.
In this regard, we would have thought it more likely the Liberal government would commit to investing 1% of its public spending annually on social housing, as the NDP has asked—I imagine—along with the Bloc. However, this is not the case. The government provides one breath of fresh air, which will then suffocate social housing. It is extremely disturbing.
In terms of the environment, $900 million is an extraordinary amount, to be sure. It does not prevent the plan announced by the Minister of the Environment in response to the Kyoto protocol from being not only too weak to be carried out but destined for polluters who pay nothing for their pollution.
Accordingly, it guarantees a policy, which is, in our opinion in Bloc Québécois—and that of our critic for this matter—damaging to Quebec. The government is favouring the petroleum industry and once again making the people who have made an effort, especially the manufacturing sector in Quebec, pay for the reduction in greenhouse gases.
Looking at all that, I think it began with the best of intentions. However, the political, economic and financial results are catastrophic and do not resolve the underlying problems. The fiscal imbalance must not be forgotten. And there is nothing in this bill for EI.
It is not the fault of the NDP. I do not want to throw stones at them for that, but it does enable the federal Liberal government to say that it has a very good bill to resolve a stack of social issues, and that employment insurance will be for later. It will not be for later. We know that very well. Since 2000, government members and ministers have promised EI reforms we have yet to see.
I recall clearly—and I repeat this often, because I want everyone to remember—that, in 2000, the member for Bourassa and other Liberal government ministers of the time promised reforms to construction workers in Jonquière or Chicoutimi. Furthermore, during the televised debate in the last election, the Prime Minister himself promised reforms. However, nothing has happened since then.
Some $46 billion or $47 billion was diverted. Obviously $4.5 billion is nothing to sneeze at. However, $46 billion or $47 billion has been misappropriated. This gives an idea of the scale involved. We cannot settle for this, especially if we consider ourselves progressive.
So we must continue to put pressure on this minority government. Furthermore, EI should be a priority.
We must not forget the gun registry scandal either. Apparently, $1.7 billion was spent. Most of us agree with the principle; the gun registry is essential. However, we were told that it would cost $2 million, not the almost $2 billion it has cost to date. This is mind-boggling. Obviously some people profited from it. This is another scandal.
This reminds us, obviously, of the sponsorship scandal. I will say no more about it. I think that we have made up our minds about that scandal.
Look at the federal job creation program. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was then the human resources minister. A billion dollars was spent on all sorts of projects. Exactly how that money was used was never really determined.
There is still the fiscal imbalance. We are talking about an amount between $12 billion and $14 billion for all provinces. For Quebec alone, the fiscal imbalance represents $3.5 billion. In that sense, Bill C-48 is like putting a band-aid on a cancer. The cancer should have been treated.
The Conservative Party finance critic mentioned that this bill does not contain any details and that is a shame. As I was saying earlier, in terms of post-secondary education, the choices made in budget allocation will be extremely critical in determining how useful this money is. The same is true for housing. We would have expected a little more. Perhaps they ran out of time.
I imagine the Minister of Finance must be quite shocked to see, after tabling his budget in February, that for partisan reasons his credibility is on the line. Indeed, that is what is at stake.
In February, he told us there was no surplus, but that he had a $4 billion contingency fund for emergencies and economic prudence. Now the government is making a $4.5 billion commitment over two years. It is proof—and the Bloc Québécois has denounced this many times—that they deliberately underestimate the surpluses. The finance minister's credibility will be marred for life. He knows it, too; that much is obvious. When he responds to questions on Bill C-48, he is uncomfortable and he winces. I would rather he gave a precise picture of the public finances and that we had a real debate on how to use the surpluses; not the unexpected surpluses, but the real ones.
Where should this money go? To repay the debt, as they have said for years? I want to reiterate that. That is an extremely serious thing. For years, they led us to think that the unexpected surpluses should go to repay the debt. And yet, we can see it with Bill C-48. If the government expects unexpected surpluses ahead of time, they can be allocated to some particular thing. Tens of billions of dollars are involved here. In fact, some $60 billion to $70 billion have been withdrawn from the democratic debate, from the options available to the members here in the House and to the public. It is unacceptable.
With Bill C-48, unfortunately for the Minister of Finance, they made this fact public. In other words, they underestimate the surplus so they can deduct it from the public debt. They also use trusts and foundations for this. In this way, money from the public purse is removed from the control of parliamentarians. This too is a denial of democracy and a democratic deficit, a deficit that the current Prime Minister criticized a few months back. I have to say that the more time passes, the more I realize those words must surely have been intended to convince both the members of the Liberal Party of Canada and the public that renewal was on the way. We are realizing with the Liberals that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The democratic deficit remains. The proof lies in the number of motions passed in this House without producing any effect on government action. I will give only one example, in which I am personally involved. It is the splitting of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The Prime Minister decided the day he was sworn in to split this department. Two bills were introduced and defeated. It would seem that that changed absolutely nothing in the government's trajectory. I could mention other motions that also passed in this House, and that came to nought in terms of government action.
So Bill C-48 may be a fine gesture by the NDP, but it is a harmful one from the political point of view, because it attempts to make people forget that at least a portion of one of the parties involved, that is the Liberal Party of Canada, is corrupt. From the economic point of view, this is far from a guarantee of improved services as far as post-secondary education, provision of social housing, or the environment are concerned.
As I have said, as far as international aid is concerned, this will enable the government to wiggle out of its obligation to have a deadline and a very specific plan for achieving the 0.7% of GDP objective by 2015.
So, overall, this is a way to make people forget what is essential: this government has lost its moral credibility; it is a lame duck government, but Bill C-48 has enabled it to enter into an alliance that will keep it going another few months. We in the Bloc Québécois, like all parties in opposition, have a responsibility to keep reminding people of the essential facts, which demonstrate that this government does not deserve the support of the people of Quebec and Canada. It is regrettable that the NDP fell into the trap.
In this connection, it is my hope that within a few days, or a few hours, some people will see the light and common sense will win out. Bill C-48 is a sham, and we cannot vote in favour of a sham. What we want is some real solutions. All parties in opposition must join forces to put pressure on this corrupt government.