Mr. Speaker, the bill before us now is very odd. The adoption of a budget is typically accompanied by a budget implementation bill. If the measures in the bill match those announced in the budget, those who voted in favour of the budget generally support the bill. That is the logic that parliamentarians apply—logic that the Bloc Québécois was prepared to apply.
However, the Conservatives made a truly partisan decision to combine completely different elements. On the one hand, we have the 2007 budget, which the Bloc Québécois supported and continues to support. On the other, we have some elements from the economic statement, which we did not support, and the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil agreements, which we also did not support because they are unfair to Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois will therefore vote against this bill because on the whole, it is not in the best interest of Quebeckers. The economic statement is the main reason we have taken this stance. The government made a unilateral decision to use $10 billion to pay off part of the debt. They made that decision without holding any debate on the subject and despite the fact that our people have serious, urgent needs, which I will list briefly.
First, the Bloc Québécois believes that $3 billion of this year's $11 billion surplus should be used to pay down the debt, not the whole $11 billion. The ratio of debt to Canada's gross domestic product has been improving steadily over the past 10 years. We have now reached a point where the government's desire to use the entire surplus to pay down the debt looks a lot like a homeowner's obsession with paying off the mortgage as quickly as possible. That same homeowner is ignoring the fact that the deck needs a coat of paint and is kind of unstable, and he is failing to ensure that his children or parents who live with him have enough income.The Bloc Québécois does not share the government's obsession with paying off the debt at any price and does not want this bill to go through.
The Bloc Québécois feels that, instead of using the full $11 billion to pay down the debt, the government should pay it down by $3 billion. This is a reasonable amount, and it would let Canada meet its goal of reducing the debt to GDP ratio to 25%. The remaining $8 billion could be spent on urgent issues such as the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.
In an affluent society like Canada, it is important to do justice to our seniors. We currently have an old age pension system that includes the basic pension and the guaranteed income supplement. This system is supposed to protect seniors against poverty. However, the total monthly benefit amount is still $100 below the poverty threshold.
Instead of using the full $11 billion surplus to pay down the debt, the federal government could at least start by paying the retroactive benefits it owes people who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement but did not receive it because the system did not provide for automatic registration. When you come right down to it, the federal government took advantage of our seniors' lack of knowledge to pocket as much money as possible.
As a result, today some people are living below the poverty line. Last week, we heard the incredible but sadly true testimony of someone living below the poverty line. With retroactivity, this person, who is over 65, would receive $12,000. Since 2001, this person has been living on very little money. She was entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but the current act does not allow more than 11 months of retroactive benefits.
Each one of us has had to deal at some point with the Canada Revenue Agency. When this agency reassesses tax returns to recover unpaid taxes, it can go back not only up to 11 months, but up to five years. That is why we would like the government to make fully retroactive payments to the people entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. This would cost an estimated $3 billion.
Then, $1.5 billion should be invested in the workers. Of that, $60 million would go towards a support program for older workers. That is not an astronomical sum, but it would allow many workers affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis to bridge the gap until their retirement and to live with dignity until they receive their old age pension.
In addition to that, a reserve of $1.4 billion must be given to employment insurance.
As we know, for the past 15 years, the federal government has made a cash grab of $54 billion from the EI contributions paid by employers and employees. It has used this money for all kinds of expenditures, including the deficit. There has never been any return on investment for unemployed workers, for people who paid into the system and all those who were affected by the stricter criteria.
One would think that, with this year's $11 billion surplus, the government could make a one-time payment of $1.4 billion to a reserve, in order to improve the conditions of the employment insurance program.
Of that $11 billion surplus, $3 billion should go towards the debt, $3 billion should go to seniors, $1.5 billion should go to workers and $2 billion should be invested in the manufacturing economy. There is unanimous consent on this in Quebec, not only within the Government of Quebec, but also within the manufacturing associations, the Quebec federation of chambers of commerce and the forestry industry, which has been sending us congratulatory letters, telling us not to give up and that policy changes are definitely needed in the manufacturing sector.
The economic statement included some nice tax reductions for companies that are making profits. The problem is that those who are making profits, the oil companies for example, are going to pocket a lot of money. However, all the businesses that are not making as much profit, or almost none at all, will not benefit whatsoever from this uniform tax reduction. They would earn a lot more if refundable tax credits were offered. That would allow companies to draw the maximum benefit from the higher dollar.
If a manufacturing company had the means today to buy machinery to increase productivity, and it bought that machinery, that would be its way of having a competitive product. To do that they need money. Without profits, that is not possible. If it had a refundable tax credit for research and development, that would be possible.
I know that the government, especially the senior public service, is saying that it is too great an expense. But estimates have been made; people have studied this; it is a reasonable amount of money.
This year, thanks to the surplus, the government could allocate $1.5 billion to that end and $500 million to reinstate Technology Partnerships Canada. What is that? It is a program that encourages innovation in aerospace and a number of other sectors. For example, in La Pocatière, Premier Tech used that program to develop new products from sphagnum peat moss. This helped develop an industry that is carving out a place for itself in the Rivière-du-Loup area. It is a major driving force behind the economic development of that region. I want to give credit to the Liberals for creating that program, which I always defended. The Bloc Québécois defended it as well. The Conservatives abolished the program.
In today's economic conditions, with the higher dollar and global competition, this program is an investment for the federal government, not an expense. Reinstating this program for $500 million, out of an $11 billion surplus this year, would be one way of encouraging productivity. This would also allow money to be invested across Canada in companies that develop new products.
We have the means to allocate the reasonable sum of $2 billion to the manufacturing economy, and that money could come from this year's $11 billion surplus. We also have the means to put $3 billion toward the debt.
And what about the regions affected by the forestry crisis? During the election campaign in the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, I had the opportunity to see the serious impact of the forestry crisis on the regions. Last week, at the Standing Committee on Finance, the mayor of Hearst, in northern Ontario, told us the same thing. I also live in a region struggling to cope with the forestry crisis.
If we apply the $11 billion surplus to the debt, that will only decrease Canada's debt. Instead, we could establish a $1 billion fund for regional economic diversification. With that money, this year, right now, in the coming days and months, we could breathe life into our regional economies. We have the means to do it. This would not be borrowed money; it would come from the federal government's current surplus.
Finally, we could allocate $1 billion to the environment for the purchase, for example, energy saving appliances. That would improve our ratio of fuel oil versus electricity consumption, enabling us to move increasingly towards clean energies.
We see that there is a fundamental difference between the bill the government wishes to pass today and the 2007 budget that we supported. The latter resulted in a partial solution to the fiscal imbalance and we supported that bill. I believe that Quebeckers are pleased with that.
But with regard to the other part that has been included in the bill on the economic statement, it clearly is not in the interests of Quebeckers. This is significant enough for us to vote against this bill.
In addition, the bill now includes the agreement with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador concerning offshore oil resources. For the Bloc Québécois, obviously, that aspect is neither relevant nor positive because it creates an unfair advantage in terms of equalization.
Let us briefly review the facts. With respect to the Atlantic accord, Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil resources, and the whole Nova Scotia question, it was rather difficult to follow the Conservative government. It had initially made a commitment that satisfied the Atlantic provinces. Then they refused to consider all of the revenue related to energy in the equalization formula. The bottom line is that there is now an agreement to try to put things back together and correct a blunder.
However, the final version creates more inequities and, for us, that is not appealing. The Bloc Québécois believes that this measure should not have been incorporated into the same bill that implements the 2007 budget because they are different matters.
The government has an opportunity to correct the situation, but the way it is presenting this bill is really unacceptable to Quebec. They cannot, on one hand, seek approval for the 2007 budget and, on the other hand, incorporate measures that are clearly contrary to the interests of the Government of Quebec.
In truth, one can ask the question whether, after Quebec had paid for the development of fossil fuel energy, the province should pay for its exploitation. That is out of the question. These grants and federal investments have cost Quebec dearly. They have, in part, amounted to more than $10 billion over the years. This agreement amounts to giving a bonus to the provinces that produce oil and making the provinces that produce hydroelectricity pay for it. That is turning the world upside down when there is an increasing demand for the development of clean energy. The federal government is doing the opposite with this measure.
There really is an almost unhealthy connection between the petroleum industry and the Conservative government. Most of Canada is paying the price, especially Quebec, which has developed hydroelectricity over the years without any support from the federal government.
Accordingly, the government will have to revise its position before we can vote in favour of this bill.
Why do I think the economic statement is so odd? It is now fall of 2007. Since February 2007, the federal government has been in possession of a unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology entitled “Manufacturing: Moving Forward—Rising to the Challenge”, which clearly stated that we needed a quick action plan to help the manufacturing sector. The committee chair, the member for Edmonton—Leduc, had this to say in the foreword to the report:
While the rest of the Canadian economy is generally very robust, many industries within the manufacturing sector are struggling to remain competitive against the backdrop of a Canadian dollar that has risen in value by more than 40% in just four years in comparison to its American counterpart, rising and unpredictable energy costs, increasing global competition, particularly from China and India, and excessive and inefficiently designed regulations, to name but a few challenges.
Further on he said:
The Committee believes that the Government of Canada should make the preservation of a competitive Canadian manufacturing sector a national goal, and that given the gravity of the challenges facing the sector, the recommendations presented in this report should be implemented in a timely fashion.
If this report had been produced in October or the beginning of November 2007, it could be said that the government had not had enough time to prepare, and that it would do so for the next budget. However, this report was published in February 2007. There was time to prepare for the 2007 budget, and especially to prepare for the economic statement, to propose a real program to help the manufacturing sector. Yet it was not until yesterday at the Standing Committee on Finance that a motion was finally passed, with the support of the Liberals and the NDP, calling on the federal government to implement as soon as possible all the tax measures set out in the report.
What is really significant here is that the Conservative members did not vote. The motion was adopted unanimously because the Conservatives did not oppose it. These were the recommendations in a report that was adopted unanimously in February 2007 by all members of the committee, from all the parties. By their abstention yesterday, the Conservative members acknowledged that they really should have done something. What I want to say to them today is that they need to act now.
Insofar as the economic statement is concerned, it is amazing to see the attitude of the Minister of Finance, who is from Ontario and can see the devastating impact on job creation in his province. I remember the committee going to the Windsor area a year ago. The catastrophe could already be seen looming. We know now that the effects of the rise in the dollar this fall—not the rise three years ago but the one four months ago—will be felt a year from now. If the government does not act, another 150,000 or 200,000 jobs will be lost in addition to the 130,000 already lost since the Conservatives took power. There is a disaster out there, but the government just closes its eyes.
The approach they are taking is an ideological one. They want to reduce taxes across the board and let the market adjust on its own, but we know very well where that leads. It means that more and more industries in the energy sector will reap enormous profits while more and more industries in the manufacturing sector will be unable to keep pace with the competition. The tax recommendations in the report, on the other hand, were to give companies refundable tax credits, create a fund for them like Technology Partnerships Canada, for example, and in this way give them a chance to diversify the economy in our regions. These were very specific, practical recommendations that the government could have included in its economic statement but chose not to.
Our vote today against Bill C-28 is largely due to this inaction on the part of the federal government. I thought that with the change in the industry minister, the department might take a more pragmatic approach, but it is sticking to the same theoretical line.
It is always good for the Minister of Finance to go out and consult people. The newspapers tell us today that he is going to consult with the manufacturing industry in the Quebec City area. I hope that when he returns, he will have changed his tune and will take action as quickly as possible in accordance with the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Finance, which was adopted unanimously not only by the Bloc—it was our proposal—but also by the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservative members, who told the government through their abstention that it should take action and implement these tax measures.
Decisions need to be made quickly. If we wait for the next budget, we will have lost several months in the fight that is going on at present. The Canadian dollar is at par with the American dollar. The crisis is not over just because the dollar has gone down from $1.05 to $1. The Minister of Finance's arguments on this point are simplistic. The dollar may be at par, but its value has gone up by more than 40% in the past few years. The manufacturing sector has adapted to this reality as best it can. It has adjusted its productivity as much as possible, but now the federal government needs to take action.
When the minister places responsibility in the provincial ministers' hands, he is not doing his job. It is his job to make sure that, in its industrial strategy, the federal government can take real action as quickly as possible to help companies. The Canadian system is a bit complicated; you always have to convince two governments of everything. It would be simpler if we had just one government instead of two. At least, that is what we have to do as long as we are still part of the Canadian system. We know what the Government of Quebec has done. People may criticize its actions, but at least it has an action plan and it has asked that the federal government give this issue priority.
For all these reasons, in order to send a clear message to the Conservative government, the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-28. Obviously, we were in favour of the budget tabled last fall, and we continue to be. We believed that we had to support it, if only because of the issue of the fiscal imbalance. However, it is impossible to include in the same bill both the whole issue of the economic statement and the accord with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador on offshore petroleum resources.
I believe that we represent exactly how Quebeckers are feeling. With our vote, we are sending a clear message to the government that it needs to go back to the drawing board, come up with an action plan for the manufacturing sector as soon as possible and waste no time in using the surplus for something other than just paying down the debt.
The time for putting everything on the debt is over. The federal government must use a portion of the surplus tax it takes each year to pay down the debt, but it must also use a significant portion to correct inequities and lend a hand where needed to go forward.