Mr. Speaker, I wanted to speak about the budget again. Although it was passed unanimously this morning, I think it has some deficiencies.
We in the Bloc Québécois voted for the budget because it contains a promise to correct the fiscal imbalance. That is the only reason we voted for it, because we have numerous concerns about it.
We have serious concerns and strong reservations about the correction of the fiscal imbalance. Days and weeks have gone by since the government introduced this budget. We are starting to see some backtracking. The promise is no longer as firm as it was. We have seen the minister backtrack. We have also seen the Prime Minister backtrack in public.
We are also concerned about the weak surpluses set out in the budget. We are wondering where the money to correct the fiscal imbalance is going to come from. That is what we are talking about, that is what the Conservative government promised: to correct the fiscal imbalance. That means $10 billion to $12 billion a year, approximately $3 billion of it for Quebec. We are wondering where the money will come from.
Equalization is another thing that concerns us a lot. We see that to please the oil-rich provinces the Conservative government plans to exclude—we do not yet know whether this will be in whole or in part—non-renewable resources from the equalization calculation. What does that do? It is not abstract. It represents hundreds of millions of dollars for Quebec and the other provinces. The provinces that are rich in natural resources appear, for the purposes of calculating equalization, to be less rich. This means that they are less able to contribute to the redistribution of money to the provinces that need it most.
What is a shame is that it is being done for non-renewable resources, which often produce pollution, but it is not being done for renewable resources. For example, why would the federal government not exclude from the calculation of equalization all revenue derived from hydroelectricity in Quebec? And yet this resource has the advantage of being renewable and non-polluting.
What is going on? Between 1970 and 1999, the government invested $66 billion in the development of oil and non-renewable energy sources. During the same period, a meagre $329 million was invested in renewable sources of energy. Of course Quebeckers had to pay a quarter of the $66 billion to develop the energy and the economy of other provinces. Today, now that it has become profitable, when the time comes to distribute the wealth, the Conservative government says, no, thank you. When it is time to pay, we are asked to contribute, but when it is time to collect, we are told we can do without.
In any case, the real solution to the fiscal imbalance does not rest solely in equalization and transfers to the provinces, but basically in real transfers of tax fields to the governments of Quebec and the provinces. That is the solution. Quebec should be able to benefit from the foreseeable revenue it controls. This way, we would not always be at the mercy of a new government that might play the 1995 trick on us again. We should not have to lose everything we have gained because the government has decided to backtrack.
We will be very vigilant with the Conservative government to make sure that the solution provides for a transfer of tax fields. Whether this is short-term or medium-term, it has to be done. It is not true that the government should give out a few treats, call an election and then try to take the treats back if it unfortunately wins a majority vote.
Something else in this budget is disappointing. During the election campaign, this government promised to take a new attitude towards Quebec and to respect its areas of jurisdiction. Unfortunately, we see the good old federalist habits making their way back in a hurry.
We got the universal child care benefit program, when child care falls within Quebec’s jurisdiction. We have suggested a solution that would avoid this problem, but the government is obstinately refusing to give in.
There was the government’s intention, for the nth time, to create a Canadian securities body, when this is in Quebec's exclusive area of jurisdiction. All Quebec governments have always been opposed to any interference in this area.
The government still wants to proceed. Even in the budget addenda on the fiscal imbalance, there was frequent reference to accountability and pan-Canadian standards. They said they wanted to adopt the model of the social union, even though Quebec has rejected that principle. It is obvious that the attitude of the federal government is always the same. Canada Foundation for Innovation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council: all instances of interference in Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction. The Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control duplicates what is already being done in Quebec.
In immigration, the recognition of immigrants’ professional credentials is a very good thing, but once again, this is something that is decided in Quebec and the provinces. It would be better to give provinces the money so that they can exercise their own jurisdictions.
In immigration, however, there is one responsibility that falls to the federal government which it continues to refuse to act upon, and that is the establishment of the appeal division for refugees. About $10 million would be sufficient to permit refugees who are not satisfied with the decision of a board member to appeal that decision and be allowed real justice.
In my riding, there is a very concrete example of this. Mr. Abdelkader Belaouni is presently in the basement of a church rectory because he does not want to be deported. He firmly believes he has been the victim of an injustice. He has never been able to appeal the decision of board member Laurier Thibault, who in the last two years has allowed only a single refugee claim. That means a refusal rate of close to 100%. So you see what is happening in this area.
We could talk at length about the process for appointing board members, but that is not a matter that relates to the budget. However, since board members are not always appointed on the basis of competency and knowledge of the field, sometimes there are bad decisions.
In our legal system, when an authority renders a bad decision, that decision can be appealed. That is provided for by law. However, since the government has refused to provide money in this budget for the refugee appeal division, that division has still not been set up, and people like Abdelkader Belaouni find themselves in extremely difficult situations. Therefore the government must create this appeal division and allocate it the necessary funds. In the meantime, because there are human tragedies going on, the government must regularize the situation of Mr. Belaouni and all those who are experiencing difficulties in Canada.
I would also like to speak about the universal child care benefit. There has been a good deal of discussion about this, and I must say that it is a subject with which I am particularly concerned, as I plan to have children myself in a few years. I asked a lot of questions in committee, but did not receive all the answers I wanted. I find that a little unfortunate.
First of all, in its present form, this program constitutes interference in Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction because it is a social and family measure. Second, the way that this program was designed is unfair. The benefit itself is taxable only on the lowest family income. That creates some absurd situations. For example, consider two families. In the first family, where there are two parents, one parent earns $213,500 per year. This example might very well apply to a federal minister. The other parent stays at home. What do we find? The entire benefit will be reported on the tax return of the person with the lowest income—i.e. $0—who, for all practical purposes, would pay no income tax.
However, in the case of a single parent family with an income of $28,000, since the benefit is related to the income, there will be an additional $800 in combined federal and provincial taxes. Obviously, things are upside down. The families with the greatest need for help from the government will get the least and the reverse.
And yet we made a proposal in good faith to the government, which said it wanted to consult the opposition parties. The proposal was to provide a refundable tax credit to all parents. It could be sent monthly by cheque—with a Canadian flag on it if that pleased the federal government. That is not a problem. However, our proposal involved using the family income as a basis to avoid the absurdities I described earlier. This benefit would have been reduced as a function of the family income, starting with the full allowance of $1,200 per child for families with an income of $25,000, for example, to a universal floor of $700. The proposal cost the same. It respected provincial jurisdictions. It was fairer and truly met people's needs.
I asked questions in the Standing Committee on Finance. Everyone who came to testify supported the Bloc's proposal and said it was better. I heard no member of the Conservative Party say our proposal was not a good one or that theirs was better for whatever reason. We still have no explanation why our proposal was rejected. It is too bad.
As regards the matter of child care services, there has been a lot of talk of parental choice. However, the Conservative government still refuses to accept and recognize the choice made by Quebeckers. They chose to set up a universal day care service and to pay for it through their taxes for the welfare of our children and future generations. It means the federal government saves $250 million annually in taxes at the expense of Quebec parents. Over the past six years, it has meant a total of $1.5 billion.
How this works is quite simple. All Canadian taxpayers complete their income tax returns. On line 214, there is a credit for child care. Parents in Quebec enter $7 a day on this line, instead of the $25, $30, or $50 they would have to enter if they had not chosen this form of child care. This means, of course, that Quebeckers receive a smaller tax credit than people elsewhere in Canada. Yet, they have paid for their child care service through their provincial taxes.
In a true federation that operates as it should, the central government would respect the choices of Quebeckers and return to the Quebec government the money it saves, rather than saying, as in this case, “Too bad, you made your choice. We will invest the $250 million in the Treasury Board coffers and do what we like with it”. Such as giving gifts to Alberta oil companies.
This situation has been a reality for Quebeckers for years. This is one of many examples of what it is costing us to not have full control of our destiny, not being a nation, not having our own country.
The Bloc Québécois, of course, is working hard for Quebec sovereignty, but in the meantime, we would really like the federal government to recognize the choices made by Quebeckers and to transfer this $250 million a year to Quebec.
Another program that is very important to us is the POWA, or program for older worker adjustment. The Bloc Québécois presented a sub-amendment to the Speech from the Throne for the government to implement this program. The sub-amendment was unanimously adopted and the federal Conservative government promised to implement it.
We still have not seen that program put into effect.
So what does it involve? It is for older workers who have been the victims of mass layoffs, to provide them with financial support until such time as they reach retirement age, so that they can reap the full benefits of their retirement.
The Conservative government has often replied that there were labour force re-entry programs. We have seen, however, that there are limits to what those programs can do. It is very difficult to re-enter the labour force when you have worked for a company for 30 or 40 years, often in a one-industry town, where there are really no other businesses. This is particularly true given that companies often prefer to hire young people rather than people who will be having to retire in a few years.
We therefore have a situation in which often both partners in a couple work in the same company. They have worked all their lives, they lose their jobs, they are not able to find other jobs, and they are not entitled to employment insurance for long enough. Once their employment insurance is exhausted, in order to receive social assistance in Quebec, they have to sell everything, lose everything they have spent their lives building.
I submit to the House that this is a very sad end to a working life and that we are wrong to abandon these people, who have contributed to society all their lives, particularly when this program would cost a maximum of a few hundred millions. It existed in the past; it was the Liberals who abolished it. So I implore the Conservative government to act as quickly as possible.
The final point I would like to talk about is one that is also of great importance to me, as a young person perhaps, because people talk to me about it a lot since I am the youth critic for the Bloc Québécois. I am talking about the environment, and in particular the Kyoto protocol, which the Conservative government has quite simply dumped. And what did this government say to justify its actions? It said that it was not capable of achieving its objectives.
Let's get something clear. We have a government that uses its own incompetence to justify its policy decisions. For years, we had the Liberals, who were in favour of the protocol, except that they did nothing to implement it. Now we have the Conservatives, who say they are incapable of implementing it. Ultimately, the only difference is that the Conservatives know they are incompetent, while the Liberals were unaware of their own incompetence.
And yet large numbers of countries are succeeding in doing it everywhere in the world. England is even making money by implementing the Kyoto protocol.
If we had a good, responsible, competent government, we would be capable of doing it, but the Minister of Oil—of the Environment—simply has no plan; she is much too busy with other things. That is a good one, “the Minister of Oil”, that is; in the end, I am not offended. So the Minister of the Environment has no plan. In any event, she could very well put together a Canadian plan that would comply with the Kyoto protocol. The Kyoto protocol, after all, is first and foremost a set of commitments made to the international community.
I believe we have a moral obligation to achieve the Kyoto protocol objectives. We have to succeed at this. We have to do it for future generations, for our economy and for our environment. Failure in this is unacceptable; we have to get it done.
I invite all members of the public to support the Bloc Québécois and the parties that genuinely support the Kyoto protocol. In Quebec, the Save Kyoto coalition has been formed. I invite people to visit their website, to sign the petition, to wear the little pin in the shape of a green K—for Kyoto—to say that they find it unacceptable for this government to renege on international promises, on Canada’s international commitments, and sacrifice our environment to please a few oil companies that for decades have been shamelessly filling their pockets at the expense of Quebeckers.