Mr. Speaker, this morning I am pleased to speak on the subject of Bill C-13, the bill to implement certain provisions—those concerning taxes—in the budget tabled by the Minister of Finance nearly two weeks ago.
In light of this bill, part of this budget is positive, but the Bloc Québécois considers part of it to be very negative. As we have said, eliminating the fiscal imbalance is, of course, not part of the bill to implement fiscal measures. Rather, it is a commitment on the part of the government—a commitment that seemed firm two weeks ago—to settle this issue by the next budget in spring 2007 at the latest.
When a friend or an acquaintance promises you something and puts it in writing, it is difficult for you to say you do not believe him. Spoken words may fade away, but written words remain. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The fiscal imbalance is Quebec's top priority. Reaching comprehensive, definitive, short-term solutions to this issue was one of the things we demanded from the new government. That is why we supported the budget. Otherwise, we would have been inclined to vote against it because the other measures it puts forward do not coincide with Quebeckers' top priorities and issues.
As for the fiscal imbalance, the Prime Minister's disappointing statements this weekend cast some doubt. We hope that this is only temporary and that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party will pull themselves together and speak more firmly about eliminating the fiscal imbalance.
On the weekend, the Prime Minister said that the provinces had not agreed among themselves, thus complicating the debate and making it harder to reach a solution. This is the first thing he said on the weekend. I remind him, simply, that there was no consensus because of one province, Ontario. That day, the representatives of Ontario left the meeting of the Council of the Federation whining that Ontario was not getting any benefit from its membership in the Canadian federation and that there had been a considerable shortfall every year. As Ontario does not receive equalization payments, it was shortchanged by the group statement, which concentrated on the reform of equalization payments.
I remind Premier McGuinty—I think everyone knows it—that, if there is one province that benefits from federal economics, it is Ontario. Year after year, it generates incredible trade surpluses, because Quebec, the Maritimes, the West and British Columbia buy goods and services from Ontario much more often than Ontario buys them elsewhere in Canada. Federal economics is very profitable for Ontario. It is not a poor province. It is rich thanks to its trade relations with Quebec and the provinces of Canada. So Mr. McGuinty can stop whining that Ontario is losing while the other provinces get special treatment. It is totally wrong. I hope the Prime Minister will put Ontario in its place when the day comes to propose a definitive solution to the fiscal imbalance.
In addition, the Ottawa area and the involvement of Ontarians in the public service and contracts awarded by Public Works and Government Services warrant an examination. There are more research centres on the Ontario side than on the Quebec side. Mr. McGuinty is bellyaching without cause. He has no reason to complain about Ontario being given poor treatment. Ontario wins on all counts through its membership in this system.
If Ontario continues to whine like this, the Prime Minister will have to be firm and come up with a solution that will be accepted by all Canadian provinces, including Quebec, to correct the fiscal imbalance.
The surprising thing about the Prime Minister's speech this weekend was that he was setting the scene by suggesting that the federal government has much less of a surplus than in previous years.
In that context, Quebec and the provinces would not want appear too greedy in their demands.
I would simply like to remind the Prime Minister that we are following him closely and we will stay hot on his heels until he finds a comprehensive solution to the fiscal imbalance. Such a solution will involve reform of federal transfer payments in the areas of post-secondary education, health, welfare and so on. They will be transformed into transfers of tax fields that are much more predictable and stable, and much more likely to deliver stable tax resources to Quebec and the provinces so that they may meet their core mandates.
Second, correcting the fiscal imbalance must be based on equalization reform. In calculating the per capita equalization payment for Quebec, the reform should ensure that the base is the average of the 10 provinces; that is, the tax capacity of the 10 provinces to collect income tax from their citizens and not the average of only 5 of the 10 provinces. If this is to be representative of our entire country's wealth, in order to determine whether equalization payments should go to any province, we need a true average, not an average that has been miscalculated for the past 25 years, based on only 5 provinces.
Parameters such as property tax must also be changed. Something is wrong here. For 15 years, Quebec has been fighting against Statistics Canada's calculation method, which makes for muddled, incredibly complicated assessments worthy of the cleverest economists I have ever known. Yet it is easy to determine the actual property value of a province or Quebec using the real figures. This approach shortchanges Quebec in particular and gives an unrealistic picture of each province's land wealth. Reform is needed.
We must be guided by these two parameters as we reform the tax system involving the federal government, Quebec and the provinces, in order to correct the fiscal imbalance.
Once again, if the Prime Minister tries to backtrack, he will hear from us. He has claimed since he was elected that he always honours his commitments, but this is the most important commitment of all.
I am also referring to a major disappointment directly connected to the budget: the payment of $1,200 for every child under six.
My colleague from Trois-Rivières worked very hard to try to persuade the government, and I did the same with the Minister of Finance. We would have liked the $1,200 to be converted into a refundable tax credit, simply because the government would not be interfering in the jurisdictions of the Government of Quebec and the provinces with a direct transfer that impinges on the prerogative of Quebec, in particular, with regard to family policy, and because families would not have to pay tax on the $1,200.
The government opted for the suggestion to pay $1,200 in cash, $100 a month, for every child under six. It exempted the national child benefit from the cuts in family benefits. But the national child care supplement, which helps the most disadvantaged families, will be abolished starting next year.
I was rather struck by the speeches of my Conservative colleagues, the Prime Minister, even the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, who stated that their principal clientele consists of families with a stay at home parent. When we examine the specifics of the budget, it is precisely these families who will suffer because of the elimination of the national child care supplement. The family without day care expenses and by implication the one with a stay at home parent—the family focussed on by the Conservatives--will be losing out on $486 per year, plus income tax, because of the disappearance of this program next year.
With one hand they are giving and with the other they are taking away. They claim to be helping this type of family, but really it is the main victim of this budget. If this $1,200 transfer had been a tax credit, three things would have happened.
First, the $9.6 billion budget for this measure would have been respected, without going outside the fiscal framework. Second, low, middle, and moderately-high income families would have paid practically no tax on the $1,200 per child. Third, the families targeted by this measure would have benefited from it. Now we are in the situation where richer households are the main beneficiaries. This is not acceptable. They cannot say one thing and do another. This is a major disappointment.
The Bloc Québécois has a message for families with regard to the $1,200: put aside a few hundred dollars because, next spring, there will be a nasty surprise when they fill out their income tax forms. At that point, after having spent the $1,200 per child, they will realize that they have to pay tax on that amount.
With regard to social housing, the Bloc would have preferred the government to be more generous. Clearly, the $800 million taken from the 2005 and 2006 surplus is a good start. Not a penny had been invested in social housing by the government since 1993. So $800 million is better than nothing. However there are billions of dollars—nearly $4 billion, I believe—going to waste at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. That money could be used to develop social housing. In any case, the Bloc has not waited for the government. My colleague from Quebec City, who has to compensate for the inertia and incompetence of the new members for the Quebec City region—in particular, Conservative members—will be tabling a bill which would put the CMHC surplus to use to build social housing.
Let us now speak of employment insurance. We were expecting at least some awareness of this issue on the part of the Conservative government. We know that it is not part of its core philosophy, but it seems to me that we have been fighting for employment insurance reform for quite a long time. When the Conservatives were in opposition, we even fought certain battles together. Sixty percent of the clientele, a figure which is rising where women and young people are concerned, has been excluded from the EI program since the previous government decided in 1996 to put the axe to it, tighten the eligibility criteria and set up a totally brutal program which strips the dignity from people already suffering from the scourge of unemployment. There is nothing on employment insurance.
The Bloc and the government have been discussing the POWA for three weeks. I myself have been in conversation with the Minister of Finance in particular. The aim was to persuade this government to reintroduce the program for older worker adjustment as it existed in 1997. This is urgent. In his budget speech, the Minister of Finance made a commitment to consider this program. It must not just land on his plate and stay ignored for years. He made a commitment to doing a feasibility study. As we see it, the purpose of a feasibility study is to estimate the annual costs of this program, to ascertain whether those costs could explode in more and more spending, year after year. This cost study must be done quickly.
In 1997, when the POWA was abolished, it was costing Canada $17 million per year. That money was used to rescue households composed of persons aged 55 and over who were victims of mass layoffs. Had this program been in place this year, its projected costs have been estimated at around $100 million for Canada as a whole. That is a generous estimate. In fact, the amount could be some $75 million or $80 million more than $100 million. That is not expensive, and it could help to prevent tragedies, especially in single-industry regions or regions that rely on virtually one industry, where there is only one principal employer.
Because of emerging countries and globalization, there are massive layoffs. It is obvious that companies have to re-organize, become more competitive, and prepare to face these new emerging countries and international competition. The victims of this, though, are often older workers.
Last week, a citizen from Acton Vale wrote to me about this. An Airbus employee, she had worked for 28 years for the same company. However, because of the need to upgrade and become more competitive, the company had to reduce its workforce, quicken the pace, and ensure that employees produced more than before, one and a half times more.
These people have given 28, 35 or 40 years of their lives to a company where the work is tough, like companies that manufacture textiles, clothing and footwear—military footwear in particular. They have devoted all those years to a company. They are tired out and on the verge of retirement at 55 years of age or more. They cannot find another job very easily because they have always done the same work—and their spouses have always done the same for the same company. So they find themselves in difficult situations. These people, who worked all those years, exhaust their meagre employment insurance benefits and are then forced to liquidate all their assets to survive the period between 55 and 65 years of age, when they can retire.
As a result, they lose all their dignity. After having contributed to corporate profits and to the development and growth of their regions, they find themselves terribly squeezed at 55 years of age. They are told they are on their own and no one shows any appreciation for them.
In my view, we should show more gratitude and compassion for them than we do now. I cannot believe that there is no way to find $100 million in a budget of $198 billion to help these older workers victimized by mass layoffs.
In the manufacturing sector, we expected to see an assistance plan to improve competitiveness and help these companies along. The sectors that are considered weakened, like furniture, clothing, textiles and softwood lumber, need a little help in view of all that has happened over the last few years. But there is nothing for them in the budget. That is a big disappointment for us.
The same is true for the Kyoto protocol. Canada is currently losing all credibility when it comes to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. In economic terms we have always referred to the Kyoto protocol as a minimum minimorum accord. Minimorum is the smallest minimum on a curve. The budget needed to go much further in order to ensure that future generations are not penalized for the way we have destroyed the environment in the past.
This is an urgent problem around the globe. Mr. Suzuki, among others, keeps saying so. We have to implement measures that go further than the Kyoto protocol. We currently have a government that thinks that the challenge of achieving this minimum minimorum is too great.
There is another irritant. I will not have enough time to go over it all. Let us talk about the Canadian Securities Commission. For 15 years now they have been harping on about the Canadian Securities Commission, which, as hon. members know, comes under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. The federal government needs to keep its nose out of it. The Canadian Securities Commission would only promote Toronto and Bay Street. In fact, it is the only province that has been completely stuck on this idea for about 13 years now.
I could have mentioned culture, which is also a great disappointment. My colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Lambert, said enough about it. We expected $150 million, but got $50 million for two years.
If it were not for the firm commitment on the fiscal imbalance, we would have gladly voted against this budget. For the rest, we hope the government will understand and not go back on its plan for the fiscal imbalance, that it will implement measures on employment insurance, and set up POWA quickly, including the special EI pilot project, which will end on June 30.