Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this part of the Conservatives’ last budget. As you know, my party, the Bloc Québécois, supported the budget. It did so, not because the members of the Bloc liked the Conservatives—after 10 months, we like them less than we liked them at the time—but because at that time there were some sensible things in the budget. At least that is what we thought.
The fiscal imbalance file in particular is a fundamental file for Quebec, a file for which the Bloc Québécois has worked with all the vigour and rigour for which it has been known for years. We were even the first ones to talk about the concept of fiscal imbalance in the House of Commons several years ago. It was even before the Séguin Commission began its work in Quebec with a mandate from then Premier Bernard Landry to find some solutions to the fiscal imbalance, which leads to the underfunding of basic service programs for citizens by Quebec and the Canadian provinces.
Appended to the budget was a document, a very well prepared one, I might add. It said that the government was making a commitment to fix the fiscal imbalance, that this fall—the fall is advancing and the winter is fast approaching now—the Prime Minister would call a conference with the premiers of Quebec and the provinces to deal with the fiscal imbalance. Dealing with the fiscal imbalance does not mean fixing part of it. It means that Canada would transfer $12 billion in tax resources to the governments of Quebec and the provinces. It means, for Quebec alone, a transfer of $3.9 billion, including equalization.
We were stunned when, a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister began to minimize the amounts that were supposed to be transferred to the Government of Quebec and the provinces. He also dropped the idea of holding a first ministers conference, saying that it would take a consensus of the provinces for him to act. Since when, when a government wants to correct something within its jurisdiction, that is, federal tax resources, does it wait for a consensus of the provinces before acting? That is one way to pass the buck.
The fiscal imbalance was the most important issue when the budget was passed. Now, though, we do not know what has happened to the government’s promise. We do not know whether the Prime Minister will keep his word. If he does not, he was misleading us. At the time of the last election in Quebec, the Conservative Party accidentally won a few seats because it had made a solemn promise to fix the fiscal imbalance. We are dealing now with some bills to implement parts of the budget. Still there is no mention of the fiscal imbalance. The government seems to be wriggling away and it looks as if it will not keep its promise in the next budget.
That was the grand gesture that prompted the Bloc Québécois to support the government, give it a chance, and speak about a budget of transition until the next one. We believed it at the time in light of the promise the government had made to deal with the fiscal imbalance. We will see what happens. We will still give the government a chance, but we remind it that it is on its final laps and does not have much time to race to the finish and keep its promise. There will not be any second chances, like the one we gave it in the last budget.
The fiscal imbalance is only one of the issues. There are many others about which we have expressed our dissatisfaction day after day for 10 months, including the environment, Quebec’s representation at UNESCO, and so forth. The government should not fool around with us too much in this way because when the time comes to make decisions, we will be very rigorous and determined, as we have always been for 13 years. If the government has to be defeated over the next budget, we will do so.
I would like, though, to say a few words about some particular provisions in the budget that were somewhat overshadowed by the fiscal imbalance. There were some things we were very proud about. Let me tell the House why. It was 13 years ago today that we elected the first contingent of Bloc members. At the time, there were 54 of us. We formed the official opposition of Her Loyal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. From that time until today, the Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests of Quebec and the interests of the people, our fellow citizens.
My Bloc colleagues get up every morning wondering how they can contribute to the advancement of their fellow citizens, work and fight for the common good, and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged in society, and how they can block a government.
This government and the previous one seem to be clones of each other. We keep asking ourselves how to do battle with a government with no compassion, which does not offer any hope in terms of improving the lives of the most disadvantaged in society or ensuring that middle income families can benefit from a favourable tax environment that adds to their well-being.
That is what we in the Bloc Québécois have always done. That is what all my colleagues have been doing in every riding, one election after another.
I am proud to have been associated for the past 13 years with a team as outstanding as that of the Bloc Québécois, one that has been standing up for more than just the interests of Quebec. Whenever the interests of the rest of Canada coincided with those of Quebec, we gladly defended them. Since 1993, we have made friends all over Canada, and particularly among the workers. Why? Because our only motivation is the common good. And when the common good of Quebec meets that of Canada, we do not hesitate to work relentlessly and even to travel across Canada to meet with workers who have lost their jobs or seniors who are being mistreated.
The Liberals mistreated older persons by ignoring their needs, by abolishing, in 1997, the POWA program and by refusing to replace it with another program. The Conservatives are doing the same after promising to implement a program to help workers 55 and older who are victims of mass layoffs. They should receive support until their retirement because a number of them cannot be retrained to work in another sector of the economy either because there is no other company around when the only company in the region has closed and there is nowhere for them to relocate to or because after 30 or 35 years, these workers who thought they had a secure job until their retirement get the short end of the stick and have to liquidate any wealth they have accumulated over the years before they can get their pension. This obviously means loss of dignity, necessary liquidating of assets and possibly going on welfare.
Let us come back to specific measures in the budget. I said I am proud to have been associated with the Bloc Québécois team for the past 13 years. The Bloc team did not just oppose government measures; it proposed alternatives for the common good. I was going over the budget and I thought these issues were discussed a few years ago, issues such as the tax credit for public transportation. My colleague from Jonquière presented this in the Standing Committee on Finance. The Liberals and the Conservatives were skeptical. Only the NDP joined us in defending the tax credit for public transportation. My colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher introduced a new bill and defended it with a view to having a tax credit for public transportation. We debated these issues and we came up with these measures. When our adversaries ask what the purpose of the Bloc Québécois is, it is because they have nothing to say. They recognize our value, our rigour and our originality. We present things to improve the lot of our fellow citizens. Now they know the purpose of the Bloc Québécois. We are described as originals who have the strength and conviction to defend the measures we strongly believe in.
For years we have been saying that a tax credit for public transportation could contribute in a small way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This could encourage people to take public transportation instead of driving their cars with just one or two occupants. Public transportation causes much less pollution. We have been fighting for this for years.
I was looking at the tax deduction for toolkits. My colleague from Beauport, who is also the Bloc Québécois whip, introduced that measure nine years ago. He recognized the need, especially among young tradespeople, for tax deductions for toolkits, which can cost thousands of dollars.
We were allowing lawyers and other professionals to write off their professional expenses, but we were not letting young plumbers, mechanics, and so on, do so. This measure has now been adopted, but how long did the Bloc Québécois have to fight for it? The idea made its way through the system, and we never gave up. We pushed until the government included such measures in its budget. Perhaps it did so for electoral reasons, but that does not matter because the point is that it is going through.
Since 1996, the Bloc Québécois has fought tooth and nail for microbreweries in Quebec and the rest of Canada—at least, for those that are still around. Government inertia delayed the adoption of such a measure—a measure revisited by the Conservatives—and hundreds of microbreweries across Canada and around Quebec went bankrupt, including in isolated regions where they had developed niche markets. There are still some microbreweries around in Canada and Quebec. Thank goodness such a measure exists because their competitors are being offered even more generous fiscal treatment than what the government has put forward in its budget.
This kind of tax measure would enable the microbreweries in Quebec and the rest of Canada to meet the American and European competition. I do not know if you know, Mr. Speaker, but foreign microbreweries are competing with ours. Their licences are bought by the major Canadian breweries. In this way, thanks to a licence from an American or European microbrewery, the major Canadian brewers can become Canadian and Quebec microbreweries.
This tax measure is an additional way of ensuring that the uniqueness of a product is preserved. In Quebec, the Unibroue microbrewery was one of the victims of the lack of tax measures to facilitate competition with foreign microbrewers. Unibroue made some incredible beer before Sleeman bought it, withdrew and, as an example, reduced the wide array of high quality “strong beer one lees” varieties similar to some imported European beers whose traditional production goes back several centuries.
Unibroue had been successful, without any government assistance, by fighting. I remember the president of Unibroue coming here several times. At the time, he was the president of the microbrewers of Quebec and Canada. We fought alongside him, made a common front, not to gain an unrealistic advantage but so that microbrewers in Quebec and the rest of Canada could have the same advantages as American and European microbrewers.
I can recall—there are always memories—that the major Canadian brewers did something totally disgusting. They went through the back door to push the finance and national revenue departments, saying that this kind of measure should not be brought forward. Meanwhile, they were telling the microbrewers that they agreed with them on the need for such a measure and for a reduction of the tax rate on microbreweries producing less than 75 million litres. At the same time, the major brewers were meeting with public servants and telling them that this measure should not pass and things were fine. It was unbelievable, until the microbrewers decided to take things into their own hands and not rely on the major brewers who were body checking them as hard as they could.
So that, too, was some of the long-term work of the Bloc Québécois. When I hear the hon. member for Beauce, who is responsible for economic development, say, “You will never be in power”, I think it is the height of stupidity.
What then is the purpose of a Parliament? Is it just to have a government and not an opposition? That would be a dictatorship. If those are the democratic feelings of the member for Beauce, he is not in the right place. A good government requires a good parliament, that is a government and an opposition to put it in its place, to enhance legislation, to present ideas from the representatives of the majority of the population. We should not forget that, although they are arrogant, the Conservatives are in the minority. Those of us in the opposition represent the majority of the population of Quebec and of Canada, and that has been the case in the last two Parliaments. We speak on behalf of the citizens. The member for Beauce speaks for himself. In his mind, the power is his and federal money is his money. That is not the case.
Federal money is the money of the people; it belongs to our citizens. We are here to ensure that it is spent as wisely as possible. That money does not belong to the Prime Minister, nor to the member for Beauce, nor to the Minister of Finance— it belongs to the citizens. We stand up for citizens when they ask us to represent them and to obtain action on public transit and microbreweries, because they create a great deal of employment in the regions. We also stand up for plumbers and mechanics asking for a tax credit. We are their voice.
All the opposition parties represent the majority. The arrogance of the Conservatives will only last a while.
I find that we have been very patient these last 10 months, and we will be patient for a few more. However, we have heard enough about the Bloc Québécois being good for nothing. The Bloc is here to do its job, and its job is to represent the citizens that have voted for us, by a majority, since 1993, election after election, giving us a strong majority in Quebec. If this meant nothing, if we were good for nothing, Quebeckers would not have elected us.
My colleague should be more careful about what he says, because this is very serious. He is saying that a large majority of Quebeckers—his own fellow citizens—have been wrong every time since 1993, that they are not smart enough to make decisions, decisions involving power. But what power? Does he mean the power of his citizens?
He was not even able to defend the businesses in his riding. He talked about how proud he is to be in government and to have decision-making powers. But to decide for whom? Decide for what? He could not even be bothered to defend the softwood producers or manufacturers of bicycles, clothing and textiles in his riding. And God knows, in Beauce, those are important industries, particularly the carpet industry.
We are saying we support these measures. Of course, we support them. It would be difficult to do the opposite of what we have been doing for years. We are pleased that the other parties have taken up our ideas. We hope they take them up even more. We hope they take up our idea of loan guarantees for the forest industry.
That is what Parliament is for. It is for the fermentation of ideas. It is not intended to have a few people who pretend to be something they're not—I will refrain from using a popular Quebec expression, because it would be unparliamentary—and who speak only for themselves whenever they speak. The purpose of Parliament is to ensure that the best ideas emerge, so that we have the best possible government. A minority government is usually a better government because it has greater opposition, which represents the majority of citizens. That opposition pushes the government, and pushes it as hard as it can, to ensure that the government makes the best possible decisions based on the ideas, convictions and values of the majority represented in this Parliament by the opposition parties.
I would like to talk about business taxation for the next few minutes.
Since 1994, we have consistently been ardent advocates of reducing the tax burden for businesses and individuals. It is not a question of foolishly cutting taxes to pay businesses, rather to ensure that these businesses reinvest, especially in the high-tech sector, particularly in state-of-the-art production equipment, in order to tackle globalization and emerging competitors such as China, Brazil, India and Pakistan.
For roughly nine years now, companies have received tax cuts year after year. Nevertheless, I have always lamented to the presidents of the Chamber of Commerce of Canada—from Quebec City, Toronto, Montreal and everywhere in between—that, despite these nine consecutive tax cuts, companies have not made any structural investments to cope with the competitiveness of the emerging countries.
For years we have coasted on the value of the Canadian dollar to export, and export more, and never looked past the end of our noses.
I hope that, after everything we have seen in the past few years, we will ensure that further tax cuts in the budget will be used by business leaders for taking charge and making investments because the competitiveness—the productivity—of a company is not just about the employees. Make no mistake. It is a matter, above all, of equipment, of constant investment in high technology to compete with the best in the world. And that has not been done.
Businesses have not shouldered their responsibilities.
In my opinion, there needs to be a threefold strategy: require entrepreneurs to invest in new technology and modern equipment; support victims of rationalization—I am talking about older workers and POWA, among other things; and fight unfair competition.
Often the competition from our trading partners is unfair. However, Canada does nothing to fight this unfair competition the way other, European countries are fighting it so feverishly.