Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-28, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007 and to implement certain provisions of the economic statement tabled in Parliament on October 30, 2007
First of all, I would like to reiterate my colleagues' comments that this bill does not address the Bloc's five priorities, which we all know are as follows: complete elimination of the federal spending power, tax measures for regions affected by the forestry crisis, maintaining in full the supply management system for agriculture, withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2009, and full respect for the Kyoto protocol and Quebec's interests.
In this bill, the rich continue to have the biggest piece of the pie. Oil companies benefit the most from corporate tax reductions. Because Quebec manufacturing companies make no profits, this bill does nothing for them.
The bill does not include any measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which are in crisis. Yesterday, in response to a question, my colleague from Trois-Rivières said that it would take shock treatment. The Conservatives are not here to provide that sort of treatment.
This bill also has nothing for seniors. Since this is an issue I feel strongly about, I am going to talk about it.
The bill does not provide for indexing the guaranteed income supplement or for fully retroactive benefits for seniors who were cheated for years. It does not include an assistance program for older workers who have lost their jobs and cannot find work. This bill enhances a side deal benefiting Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, which cuts the heart out of the equalization program, and Quebec is paying the price.
That is why we are opposed to this bill. Whether we are talking about tax credits or the decrease in the GST, the people who are benefiting from these measures are still the richest members of our society, while the others are continuing to sink deeper and deeper into poverty. Yet these are the people who need help.
I have been sitting in this House as a Bloc Québécois member for a year now. When I look at how the government operates, I sometimes get the feeling that we are the only ones who are defending the poor.
With regard to the 1% cut in the GST, which will cost the federal government $6 billion and the Government of Quebec $100 million, we wonder who really benefits. I talked to other people about this, and the example I was given is totally absurd. I was told that someone who buys a $300,000 house will benefit from the 1% decrease in the GST. I wonder who can afford a $300,000 house. Are most people in Canada and Quebec buying $300,000 houses? I doubt it very much. Surely not. Who benefits from the decrease in the GST?
I would like to talk further about seniors who are living in dreadful conditions and whose income puts them, in large part, below the poverty line.
I toured Quebec in the spring and I saw to what extent certain seniors live in extreme poverty. In 2004, a study established the low income cutoff at $14,794. That was in 2004 for a single person. In 2007, even with the $18 increase from the Conservatives, the maximum income under the guaranteed income supplement was $13,514. That means that a poor senior who receives the maximum guaranteed income supplement is living below the poverty line. That person is $1,280 a year, or $106 a month, shy of reaching the low income cutoff.
There is something scandalous about that. Once we know about it, then we have a moral and human obligation to do something. The government is up to its neck in surpluses: $11.6 billion this year and $14.5 billion next year. The government should be doing something for the least fortunate in our society, but it is not.
What is more, we know that in Quebec, and even in Canada, a good number of seniors are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement even though they are entitled to it, quite simply because they are not receiving the necessary information. Seniors are not aware of this program and the government is not doing anything to reach them. In Quebec alone, an estimated 40,000 seniors are poor—and therefore eligible for the guaranteed income supplement—but are not receiving the supplement for lack of information.
A few years ago, an MP from the Bloc Québécois, Mr. Gagnon, did an extraordinary job of finding these seniors. He reached thousands of them, but unfortunately many more remain.
A few weeks ago, we all saw the story on Radio-Canada television of the woman in Toronto, Mrs. Bolduc, 78, who was living on $7,000 a year. She was entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but did not know it. A social worker took up her case. Once again, we would have liked Mrs. Bolduc to receive five years of retroactivity after being cheated by the government for years. However, she was granted just 11 months of retroactivity even though five years of retroactivity would have amounted to just $12,000. The reporter asked her what she would do with $12,000. She said she would buy winter clothes, because winter was coming.
I called Mrs. Bolduc the day before yesterday, and I spoke to her for an hour. She was just leaving the hospital after breaking her arm last Friday when she fell in a Toronto subway station. I asked her if I could talk about her today, and she gave me her blessing. As I priest, that was all the encouragement I needed. I am usually the one giving people blessings, but in this case she gave me her blessing.
Mrs. Bolduc said something to me that I would like to share with the House. She said that in a country as rich as ours, it is shameful to deprive seniors of a decent income. I think this bears repeating so that the Conservatives will really hear it. The worst of it is that the government knows about the situation but is not doing anything to fix it. The government would rather spend its surplus on the debt than enable our to seniors live with dignity. I find that scandalous and immoral.
It is indecent to be treating our seniors like this. They are the people who built this country. They are not asking for handouts. They are just asking for their due. We know that seniors are getting poorer and poorer. We know that there is not enough housing and that much of it is inadequate. We know that suicide rates among seniors are climbing. It is scandalous that nothing is being done to help them.
Members of the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill because it perpetuates gross injustices upon older workers, the manufacturing sector and seniors. It is important to speak out against it.
I have two minutes left, so I would like to share some lines that Georges Lalande, the president of the Quebec seniors council, included in a document that was sent to Quebec seniors. He quoted Victor Hugo to illustrate how important seniors are in a society like ours. Here is what Hugo wrote:
All things found upon this earth
Rich tradition gave them birth
All things blessed by heav'n on high
All thoughts human or divine
These things, if rooted in the past
Bear leaves that will forever last.
I think this means that seniors are important because they represent where we came from and help us to see where we are going.