House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.


The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laval—Les Îles.

Once again this year I am pleased to speak to the Conservative budget. Last year I raised many concerns with the budget and I have the same concerns this year. This budget, once again, fails to provide an overarching vision for Canadians.

The budget fails to provide any measures for medium or long term sustainability for Canada. It seems to be a budget that is catering only to the partisan interests of the governing party for a federal election campaign, which Canadians do not want.

I am familiar with the issues that the finance minister addresses in the budget. My background for over 20 years was in the financial services industry. I have sat at the kitchen and boardroom tables with families struggling to make ends meet and families looking to maximize their investments. This background and awareness gives me a unique perspective on the Conservative budget.

The budget does not really do much to help most Canadians in an effective way. This is certainly one budget that tries to be all things to all people and is nothing to anyone in the end.

Before I begin commenting on the budget today, I want to provide some context. Last year's budget increased taxes. Beginning in July, Canadians found that they were paying more in income tax because of the marginal tax rate increase and the basic personal exemption decrease. Not only do we find a budget that is high in spending, but we find taxes for individual working Canadians are still excessively high. This makes the finance minister's second budget a tax and spend budget.

Many of us were optimistic and hopeful that the Conservative tax increases would be rolled back and with very high income tax revenues and large surpluses, Canadians might even find their taxes lowered significantly. This did not happen. The tax relief that the minister pretended to deliver yesterday is very little when last year's increases are factored in.

The first item I wish to address today is child care. It was with great fanfare that the government shelved the national child care program, which the previous Liberal government put in place with the provinces. Instead, Canadian families are receiving, after tax, less than $100 per child per month. On the news last night, a family in Ontario was profiled and the parents said that they were able to buy a few packs of diapers with that money. This is not good enough for Canadians. How does this help single parent families? How does this help families that are struggling to make ends meet?

The government says that the budget is about families, but it has eliminated one of the best social programs in 50 years in terms of truly helping families. My daughter works part time at a child care centre. She witnesses first-hand the struggles families are facing and how they struggle to bear the great cost of child care.

Seniors were certainly one of the groups that was looking for some help from the minister yesterday. I often hear from seniors in my riding who are concerned about the sustainability of public pension plans, which they depend on for making ends meet.

To be sure, some seniors will benefit from the measures in yesterday's budget, but let us remember that hundreds of thousands of single seniors, many of them women, will not benefit at all from the policies of the government. The Government of Canada's tax plan for seniors should be one that benefits all seniors equally.

Closely related, another matter that has greatly concerned seniors is the government's income trust decision of October 31. The decision to tax income trusts has wiped out more than $25 billion in savings overnight and reversed the key Conservative campaign promise. Many seniors invested their money based on their promises and their faith in the Conservatives cost them thousands of dollars of their hard-earned savings.

I have repeatedly heard from many constituents that they are concerned about the state of Canada's environment. As I have mentioned before, residents in Oak Ridges—Markham have a particular interest in environmental matters for a couple of reasons.

First, my riding is the home of the beautiful Oak Ridges Moraine. This natural preserve is held dear to many in my riding and those who visit the area. Another reason why constituents are so concerned with the environment is their residency in the GTA. We seem to experience more and more smog days every year and longer and longer commute times to work in the city.

My constituents are disappointed. There is very little in the budget that will truly make a difference to the environment. The tax break on environmentally friendly vehicles is a good idea, along with corresponding tax penalties for large vehicles, but most important, there is no overarching vision or plan for how the government will address this serious issue.

I recall in last year's budget the minister announced that the government environmental plan was under development. Let us bear in mind that the environment was not an original priority for the Prime Minister, but as public opinion polls started to report that Canadians were increasingly concerned about this issue, he changed his tune. Still we have not seen any results and the legislation the Conservatives unveiled last fall went over like a lead balloon. In fact, the legislation was so bad it had to be sent to a special committee for improvement.

The government says that it is a party that wants to get tough on crime. The Liberal Party has taken a strong position on criminal justice matters so far in this Parliament and supports seven of the government justice bills, and the budget finds some strategies that target white collar and drug crimes as well as more money for CSIS and corrections. It is my view that rather than rhetoric, the government should get down to business and truly implement justice strategies that will make Canadians safer.

The Liberal justice plan provides safer communities to Canadians and frees up time for Parliament and its justice committee to carefully study the other bills in the government's justice agenda with which we have serious concerns.

Why does the government not accept the Liberal offer to fast track justice legislation originally offered last October as an attempt to get effective criminal justice legislation passed through Parliament as quickly as possible to protect Canadian communities? Why is the government choosing confrontation and partisanship over safer communities? Canadians have not seen results now in two of the Conservative budgets.

I will continue to do what I can to bring the concerns of my constituents here to the floor of the House of Commons and pressure the government to act in the best interest of Canadians.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned that this was an election budget, but I want to remind him, it was his leader who said, shortly after being elected leader of the Liberal Party, “We have to get back to power as soon as possible”.

Be that as it may, the hon. member knows that on television this morning the leader of the NDP was asked repeatedly whether there was anything in the budget that he could support. Could he support helping working families with the $2,000 family tax credit? Did he support providing extra help for parents with disabled children? Could he support something that would help the working poor over the welfare wall? He refused to answer the questions, despite repeated requests.

I will give the hon. member of the Liberal Party an opportunity to answer the question. Are there any parts of the budget that he supports at all?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, in terms of our leader saying that he would like to get back into government as soon as possible, Canadians are urging us to get back into government as soon as possible. They are not very happy with what is going on in Canada in the budgets that we are seeing.

Second, yes, I do see some good policies in the budget. Helping disabled children and those who are in need, absolutely I am in support of that. I support the item in the budget about mental illness as well.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the citizens of Laval—Les Îles, whom I am honoured to have represented in Parliament for 10 years now, I rise today to discuss the budget presented by the Conservative government.

After a year and two months, this government is still calling itself Canada's new government. This government is no longer new.

It is a government that has tried to walk and even run before it could properly crawl into the hearts, minds and pockets of Canadians.

This government has preached responsibility. This government has preached fiscal responsibility and a competitive and efficient economic union. However, in this budget the government forgot about women, retirees and seniors. It forgot about our humanitarian commitments to the most underprivileged. This government did not present a clear vision for immigration and the role of newcomers to Canada in the building of our society, whose population is rapidly aging. This government has a hidden agenda.

The hidden agenda is the government's eagerness to please everyone while trying to steal a little here and there from the wallets of Canadians, without any thought to the real impact of these last-minute attempts to please.

This government has no vision of Canada's future, because it has not stopped to think about it. It is short-sighted. This budget does not unite Canada; it divides it.

In the newspaper headlines this morning I saw:

“Families frown on measures”.

It was in the Ottawa Citizen.

This not so new government tells us it is investing in Canadians, preserving and protecting our environment and improving the quality of our health care system for all. Yet it ignores the plight of seniors who are falling through the cracks of Canada's medical system without proper home care for the elderly.

I congratulate the government in seeing the values of the new horizons program, which was established by the former Liberal government, and for expanding it. Let us not forget, and sometimes corporate memory is lacking in this chamber, it was the former Conservative government that attempted to deindex the pensions of seniors. If it had succeeded, that measure would have worsened the plight of seniors. This is a piecemeal budget that lacks direction, sound policy and practical options.

Missing from the budget is a more thoughtful and cohesive plan to ensure that the system responds to the needs of seniors, seniors as caregivers, seniors who are less and less able to provide for their daily needs.

In my riding of Laval—Les Îles, over 27,995 seniors, 15,000 of whom are women, are between 65 and 74 years of age. Thirteen thousand people are over 75 years old, and slightly over 3,000 people are more than 85. Only 920 of them are men.

Seniors have told me that they have to choose between eating and paying their electricity bills. Furthermore statistics show that 16% of women, compared to 13% of men, live in food insecurity, this difference being related to household expenses and family structure.

The majority of senior citizens are women, we all know that, women whom this government deems to be equal, as the Minister of Canadian Heritage has said. The Minister of Finance should read the Ottawa Citizen to see just how equal senior citizens are in this fine country of ours.

Budget 2007 is certainly based on the Conservative government's unreal idea of equality by the creation of a partnership fund with a miserly $20 million so there could be real action in key areas such as the economic status of women and combating violence against women and girls.

Where has the government been? Out of one side of her mouth the Minister of Status of Women says that women are equal, and the budget says that something is wrong with our economic status. So the government said to take $20 million and go and partner, in other words beg other federal departments for top ups, to improve women's economic status and reduce partner violence. None of this makes any sense, not to me anyway, and I am sure not to the 52% of women who live and work in this country.

This budget further compounds insult and injury to women of this country. The government ignored the recommendations of the federal task force on pay equity created by our Liberal government. The task force recommended the expansion of employment insurance parental leave coverage. On September 18 last year the Conservative government said no.

The government in its last budget saw fit to cut $45 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation budget. Various studies emphasize the link between stable, affordable housing and women's personal safety and economic participation, yet the Conservative government went so far as to reduce by $200 million in federal contributions those moneys over the previous year that would have helped to create new affordable housing.

According to the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, abuse in the home can drive women and girls into the streets. The lack of housing puts women and girls at even further serious risk of physical and sexual violence and early death. That is Canada's not so new government. The Conservative not so new government wants women, single women, self-employed women, isolated women, women and girls who are sexually exploited, immigrant women, women who are seniors, to no doubt thank it for these handouts.

Minority linguistic communities also lose out in this budget. As the Liberal critic for la Francophonie and official languages, I feel that this government has constantly ignored Canadians in minority linguistic communities in this bilingual country.

By getting rid of the early childhood day care programs set up by the previous Liberal government the Conservatives have at the same time swept aside the principle of increasing the number of day care spaces in these communities, which was at the heart of our agreement.

This government does not see Canada as a bilingual country. These measures, even though they sound praiseworthy, do not go far enough to achieve language development results. And certainly not in two years.

As the studies show us, it takes a minimum of seven years for a language to be properly developed in a child. I am talking about language development in environments conducive to such learning. Does the government really intend to fulfil its obligations under the Action Plan for Official Languages?

In committee I heard complaints from minority linguistic communities that are worried about not being able to offer services to parents and their children in their mother tongue.

We have heard about children whose mother tongue is that of the minority—French obviously—who have to go to an English-language high school because either the provinces are not fulfilling their obligations under federal-provincial-territorial agreements, or they are not allocating the funding necessary to ensure that the programs are maintained.

Budget 2007 allocates $52 million over the next two years in preparation for the 12th Francophonie Summit, taking place in 2008. This budget is actually offering very little, indeed no incentive, for francophones in Canada who wish to move to minority linguistic communities or even to encourage newcomers from francophone countries to settle in areas of the country where French is the language of the minority community.

Thirty million dollars will not change the situation. Canada needs a strategy planned by its government that shows Canadians the importance of maintaining, promoting and developing pride in Canada, whose distinguishing characteristic as a nation is bilingualism.

That means that services and the possibility of learning both official languages should be accessible and available where Canadians are living and where newcomers choose to settle in this fine country of ours.

While there are some good initiatives in the budget, this is indeed a piecemeal approach to governing Canada. I was going to mention several of the good initiatives, but I see that my time is running out. I will just say that I will wait to see if the government does what it said it will do in the budget and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the provinces under the labour market bilateral agreements. This cannot be underestimated.

I hope that part of the Conservative government's discussions, which I hope will also take place with business, will ensure that organizations proactively plan--

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. Questions and comments. Resuming debate, the hon. Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan


Gerry Ritz ConservativeSecretary of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak to budget 2007, our second budget in a minority government situation. We have gone a long way in the past year and of course we are looking toward the future again and dragging along some political parties that are either embarrassed or too ashamed to vote with us on some of these initiatives. Today we have heard folks talk about supporting certain parts of it but that it is a piecemeal approach and so on. That is what budgets are all about. Of course, nobody can agree with everything.

Mr. Speaker, at this point I should also say that I will be splitting my time with the Minister of Labour.

It is a successful budget. We already know that. Endorsements have been coming in from people from coast to coast to coast on what they like in the budget. Of course, in a lot of initiatives there are things some would like to see fleshed out even more. We will get to those. I think people are just absolutely shocked at the distance we have come and the amount of ground we have covered as a minority government and in the short time that we have been in government.

I congratulate the Minister of Finance and his team, the chair of the finance committee, all the members who sit on that committee and of course the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, the member for Calgary—Nose Hill. They have done yeoman service in putting together another very successful budget.

As have many members, I have been inundated by calls from the media at home as to what I like, what I do not like and what people are saying about the budget. Everybody is saying that the budget is very successful, with the exception of the premier of Saskatchewan who is looking for a hill to die on in the next election. He cannot seem to get a disagreement going with the leader of the opposition in Saskatchewan so he is targeting us. He has decided that he needs a fight that he can take to the people of Saskatchewan. The unfortunate part for him is that there is commentary and polls ongoing over the Internet and on talk shows and without exception, 60% to 66% of Saskatchewan people are saying that we did the right thing.

We followed through on our campaign promise which was to remove 100% of the non-renewable resources. We did that. We also said building on that, that no province would be left behind. There would be no more one-off politically stacked deals which the former Liberal Party finance minister made with certain provinces in order to try to stack the decks at election time. There are no more of those. We also said that it would take a consensus of the provinces to move ahead with changes. We could not put it in last year's budget. We gave them a year to try to come up with some sort of agreement as to how they wanted to proceed along those lines. All of us in the House know that they could not agree.

When it comes to the removal of the non-renewable resources, there are only a few provinces that have them to any degree that would make a difference and the rest have hydroelectricity and different things like that. They are saying they want it left as it is. What we did is we came up with the best of all worlds scenario by giving provinces like Saskatchewan the option of 100% exclusion of non-renewable resources in their fiscal plan, or 50% inclusion. That allows Saskatchewan to make that choice on a year by year basis, whichever is better for the bottom line and the people of that province.

Knowing Mr. Calvert, the premier of Saskatchewan, as I do, he is more inclined to shut down the burgeoning resource sector, sit back, hold his hand out and say that somebody has to help him. That is the socialist attitude out there in that province.

Saskatchewan people are pioneer stock. They enjoy the fact that Saskatchewan is a have province now. We finally jumped over that glass ceiling, as it were, and we are now playing in the big leagues with potential, second only to Alberta and maybe even equal to Alberta, because we have not tapped the resources that we know are still there.

I have a real problem with the attitude in Saskatchewan that somehow we have to look to Ottawa to help us all the time. I for one am thrilled and I know most of the people in my constituency are thrilled to be part of that have movement, to start to open up those oil and gas reserves, the diamond mines, the uranium, the potash and everything else that we have going in that non-renewable envelope.

We know that we will be able to bring our kids home when we develop those jobs in Saskatchewan like we would and should under a different regime. I have been having a bit of a running battle with them. They are saying we betrayed our promise, that we out and out lied according to some of them. I am here to tell them it is absolute hogwash. It is all election jargon. It is all politicking. If the premier and his finance team and government relations folks want to die on that political hill in the next provincial election, I would be more than happy to help them carry the flag up that hill and plant it for them.

There are a number of other things that are just great for Saskatchewan. It is actually the largest winner when we break it down on a per capita basis. There is some $230 per capita in new spending for the province of Saskatchewan alone.There is a lot of talk about Quebec always getting all the money, especially with an election in Quebec. The new spending in Quebec amounts to $91 per capita. We can see the disparity. The problem is when we talk economies of scale. Of course the NDP does not want to do that; it wants to be very selective. It says we are not getting enough, but when we break it down per capita, we are doing extremely well. I know most people out there are thankful for that.

There is a huge movement in this budget on something for which we have been asking, which is the biofuel strategy. It is there and rolled out. Producers in my riding are phoning in asking when and how and saying that we should get rolling with this. They want to get shovels in the ground and concrete poured this summer to start moving ahead with ethanol and biodiesel.

There is a bit of a shortfall in Saskatchewan. Only the provinces of Alberta and Ontario moved ahead with their components on ethanol and biodiesel. Saskatchewan is sitting back. I heard the provincial minister of agriculture say the other day that as a province Saskatchewan cannot compete. What a defeatist attitude. I categorically deny and will not accept that ever.

The farmers in Saskatchewan are some of the best in the world, bar none. We know they are looking for a role outside the Canadian Wheat Board to move ahead with a lot of products, specifically high starch wheats for the ethanol industry. There is talk of some new barley development. There is also the whole canola industry feeding into biodiesel. It is a win-win-win situation.

In our budget we came forward with a 10¢ on biodiesel and 20¢ on ethanol production subsidy, if one wants to call it that. Once we get rolling on that, we are asking the provinces to kick in their share to get close to what the Americans do. We need to parallel their system to make sure the factories and plants are built on the north side of the border.

We have done our share. Alberta has actually topped up its share. Ontario has done the same. They are buying market share right now. Saskatchewan is saying that as a province it cannot compete. It is time to get past that ideology, move on and say that we have rolled up our sleeves and are ready to do it. I know that people in Saskatchewan are ready to tell the provincial government to lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way. We know that an election will take place there very soon.

We are seeing infrastructure problems across the country. A few years ago the Canadian Chamber of Commerce identified some $65 billion in round numbers of an infrastructure deficit, roads, bridges, sewer, water, all those types of things. We have doubled infrastructure spending in this budget. Last time we came up with a four year program that said we would spend $16 billion. We have now upped that to $33 billion, the largest input into infrastructure which we know is crumbling in this country. We are trying to head that off and slow it down. We have seen overpasses collapse in Quebec. We have seen boil water advisories in way too many communities on and off reserve across this country. We are addressing those things in this budget. Of course Saskatchewan will be a beneficiary of a big chunk of that cash as well.

The ecotrust turns the corner on getting on top of pollution as a whole, not just the Kyoto accord. I have always been one of the most outspoken folks saying that Kyoto does not get it done. It does not go far enough. It was good that it brought the environment to the front of our minds, but it did not get the job done. Even the Liberal wannabe leaders were critiquing the leader who did win, saying that as the environment minister he did not get it done. We are. The money is there.

The new Minister of the Environment, whom I am happy to sit beside in this great House, has done an excellent job. The minister before him started to lay it all out. I see the Liberals across are nodding their heads in agreement, saying it is great stuff. The member for Toronto Centre is enjoying public transit in Toronto. He takes the bus every chance he gets. I bet, if we were to check, he has bus tokens in his pocket right now.

Municipalities in Saskatchewan are quite concerned that the money has to flow through the province. The province of Saskatchewan is alone in charging a stipend, a percentage on these flow through moneys. It is a bit of a ripoff. The municipalities' only critique of this budget is why it cannot be sent to them directly. They are tired of paying the godfather in Regina and would like to see the money on their own desks so they could do more with it. That is the initiative we are looking to see.

We are seeing the parties in the House playing politics with it. NDP members are saying they cannot support it. Today I happened to be on a talk show before and after the leader of the NDP and he went on with his predictable rant. I cannot understand when he says there is nothing in the budget for seniors. CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired People, has endorsed it saying it is a great step ahead and that we are moving the right way. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is saying that it is great for small business and we are finally getting on top of that. That and tourism are my portfolios. I am happy to say those businesses are looking at this budget with a lot of favour.

There are credits for the disabled that have been a long time coming.

The former Liberal finance minister had to have help two or three times to get a budget done. It still did not cover off any of the things that Canadians wanted. Canadians gave the Conservatives a new mandate on January 23, 2006. I am happy to be here delivering the programs that Canadians are asking for in a way they can make use of today and tomorrow.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Louise Thibault Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that one small step has been taken, but the journey is far from over. I see that my colleague, the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, is smiling. I heard him on the air, so I can well imagine why.

This budget does not even come close to correcting the fiscal imbalance. Many of us were surprised to see that nothing at all is to be done in several areas. For example, they completely ignored poverty.

This budget mentioned poverty in the third world and in Afghanistan. That is all well and good, but we do not have to look far from home to find serious poverty. The budget does not say a word about it.

Moreover, there is nothing about employment insurance. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas could talk about this at length. There is no immediate assistance for older workers who, more and more often, are becoming the unfortunate victims of massive layoffs.

There is also another serious problem: the government is still encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction.

I would like to hear what my colleague who just spoke has to say about that. I would like him to explain how he can defend the fact that this government is still spending money intrusively in a number of sectors, including training, education and research, to name a few.

I would also like to know why this Conservative budget sets no limits on spending power, even though they promised—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Louise Thibault Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

I would suggest that the minister wait until it is his turn to speak.

In order for something to be done to limit spending power—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member opposite talk about a small step forward. I prefer to think of it as an incremental step. As I outlined, it is a minority budget and minority budgets are a little tougher to deal with and wrangle these issues to the ground, as it were.

She knows full well that we are also starting 13 years back. We had a decade of drift. We are starting to get back on track. When I look at the record of the Liberal Party and the illustrious finance minister carving $25 billion out of the health and social transfers to the provinces over the number of years that he was the finance minister, that was much more intrusive than anything we have ever done in a budget. We are actually putting that money back. We are ramping it up at 6% a year and ensuring that the growth in population is reflected in government transfers.

She talked about older workers. We have done more about the manufacturing sector in here. In fact, I saw the quotes from Perrin Beatty today saying that finally we are recognizing that manufacturing is in peril in this country. They are saying that we have gone a tremendous way in addressing that, with the expedited capital cost allowance and the capital gains changes we are talking about. The business tax structure that we are putting in place will be so much more small business friendly, as they said. We had a great recommendation from the CFIB.

We are addressing the so-called welfare wall to get people off the welfare rolls and back into the workforce with programs that are very inventive and exciting.

When she talks about not sharing enough with the provinces, I am not sure how that comes across when the extra moneys we are putting into training and education will be administered by the provinces, when the extra moneys we are putting into child care spaces will be administered by the provinces and when the infrastructure moneys that we are doubling will be administered by the provinces. I am not sure how she gets at the fact that we are intrusive when we are working hand in glove with the provinces to build a stronger Confederation and a much stronger Canada.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We have time for a short question.

The honourable member for Chambly—Borduas.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the same vein as the comments of my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, I confirm that we support the budget for the reasons she mentioned earlier. However, there are certainly some major gaps and oversights in this budget.

I would like our Conservative colleague to tell us why there is nothing to correct the injustice to seniors. Earlier, he claimed there was support from leading representatives of seniors. But that is not what I have heard.

I could talk about two situations facing seniors, particularly one concerning the guaranteed income supplement. The government owes $3.2 billion to people who should have received the guaranteed income supplement but had not been informed of it. We know these people who have received nothing. There is nothing to correct this injustice to seniors.

Why did the Conservative government not address this injustice?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member to check the record to see the endorsement from CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, which says that this is a great budget and that it is the first time it has had issues specifically relating to retired workers worked on.

To that end, we have made some significant changes in the tax code. A tremendous number of people will be removed from the tax codes altogether. From the last budget, topping up with this one, we have seen some changes to the termination of RESPs, which has been lifted from age 69, which the Liberals kept ratcheting back, up to age 71. This allows them two more years of great budgets like this to come to grips with lesser taxes on their pension packages.

We now have pension splitting for people which is something we have never seen before. It is a tremendous advantage.

The member mentioned the supplement. The last time I checked, the biggest problem with the supplement is that most seniors do not realize they must apply for it. It is not an automatic situation. They actually need to sit down and fill out some forms. Part of my purview, as was mentioned in the budget, is to get on top of that paper burden and ensure people understand what the federal government can and should do for them.

I welcome the member's intervention and hope he will help us work to those ends.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec


Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin this debate by talking about the current budget, which I would describe as responsible and credible. It is also a budget that strengthens both Quebec and Canada.

Why is it that we can say Quebec and Canada will be stronger after this budget? First of all, because we have resolved the fiscal imbalance issue. While the party opposite, the Liberal Party, refused to even recognize that notion, we of the Conservative Party, through the voice of our Prime Minister, recognize that a fiscal imbalance did exist in this country. Indeed, the federal government had a lot more money than the provinces, which was affecting their flexibility.

I am going to focus on the province of Quebec right now, since I am a member from Quebec. What we have just done today is hand over $4.1 billion over two years to Quebec, which is additional funding to correct the fiscal imbalance. What is most interesting about all this is the fact that the Bloc Québécois was asking for $3.9 billion over three years. They have approximately 50 members here in the House of Commons. For 14 years, they have been making all kinds of requests, without ever getting any results, without ever being able to do anything themselves, because they are always in opposition. All they can do is complain.

In 14 months, with our Prime Minister and 10 members from Quebec, we have resolved the issue of the fiscal imbalance with this payment of $4.1 billion over two years. I would like to be in Quebec Premier Jean Charest's shoes today. If $4.1 billion over two years had just been added to my coffers, I would be very proud of the federal government. Indeed, that would give me plenty of flexibility to better meet the needs of the province of Quebec and its citizens.

I would like to talk about a few other aspects of this budget that I also find interesting. There is the issue of families. To the Conservative Party—as a member of this party—family has always been very important to us. Last year, the Prime Minister granted $1,200 for children six and under, for child care. It is up to the parents to decide how to use that money, whether they prefer to have someone come into their home to care for their child or whether they want to send their child to a day care. It is up to the parents and they get $1,200 a year for that purpose.

This year, we approached this from another angle to address children 18 and under in one family. A $2,000 tax credit will be given for every child 18 and under to help families better position themselves to meet the immediate needs of their children. A $2,000 tax credit represents roughly $350 in cash that people will receive per child.

The other thing we are doing for families involves RRSPs. We know that we will increasingly need older workers since there are fewer and fewer people in the job market and there will be a labour shortage. In that context, if our seniors want to continue to work on a temporary basis, and want to continue to be active in society and become involved, the age limit for RRSPs is being raised from 69 to 71. People will be able to continue to contribute to their RRSPs and not have to withdraw from them until they are 71.

The other interesting aspect as far as family is concerned, has to do with workers. A $500 benefit will help support workers in the labour market. We realize that these people have expenses to get to work, that they invest and need more help. In this context, we are giving a $500 benefit to our workers.

Often little is done for truckers. We know that the previous governments decreased their help. When truckers are on the road and have to stop at a restaurant for food, only 50% of their meal expenses were deductible. We are going to raise this from 50% to 80%. This is another step in helping our truckers.

As for the environment, some have talked about it. All manner of grand proposals were made. But when it came time to take action, they backed off. Our government decided to show that it is taking all this seriously. What are we doing about the environment? First, there is the $1.5 billion Canada ecotrust established this year to improve our air quality and also to clean up our lakes, rivers and oceans.

We also have about $4.5 billion in global environmental initiatives for this year.

One measure that may have particularly impressed citizens yesterday is promoting the purchase of energy efficient vehicles in order to reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality. This will be accomplished by providing a credit of $2,000 for the purchase of such automobiles.

Why are we doing this? If we do encourage Canadians to choose these vehicles when making a purchase, and we contribute to improving air quality, this in turn will encourage businesses to carry out even more research into renewable fuels and improving the environment in Canada. This measure shows that we are serious and that we want to push companies to really work harder in this area.

There is also something that not many opposition members probably even noticed. That is festivals. There will be an additional $30 million a year for them. As a result of the sponsorship scandal, this entire area had been overlooked. People were asking us to do something to support festivals in the regions of Quebec. There are big events in Montreal, of course, but there are also festivals and other events regionally. These people were asking for government support. Thirty million dollars will therefore be earmarked for them. I know that a lot of people will be very happy to hear this. When we see the budget breakdown, we will see how it will all work out.

I am Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and when a budget is introduced, I almost automatically look at what it means for the regions.

There are two aspects. First, there is the manufacturing sector, that is to say, the companies that produce goods and services.

We just told our companies—like those in the forest industry, for example sawmills, pulp and paper and various manufacturers—that they will be able to write off the investments they make in new equipment over the next two years more quickly and that they will be able to do so in just two years. If these companies do it in two years, it will mean a return on their investment. This will be attractive to them. If they take action—and we believe that they will thanks to this measure—the regions of Quebec are going to see new investment in sawmills, pulp and paper plants and other manufacturing. This measure should also make our companies more competitive on foreign markets, more productive, and therefore more profitable. It applies to small and medium-size companies, of course, but also to large manufacturers.

The other aspect to which I wanted to draw the House’s attention concerns our farmers. What are we doing more specifically for our farmers and for our fishers and small businesspeople?

The ceiling on the capital gains exemption had been fixed at half-a-million dollars per year for nearly 20 years. We have just raised that to three-quarters of a million dollars. As a result, our farmers will now have an opportunity to transfer a farm to their children or other people who could take over the business. The same applies to fishers, which is important, and also to small businesses.

Farmers were complaining about the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program. They wanted changes. We told them we would make changes; and we have done that. We will replace the program, so to speak, with a support system for farmers. This year, as a matter of fact, we are adding $1 billion in agricultural support.

Finally, there is the infrastructure program. People are more or less aware of what goes into an infrastructure program. First, there are big projects, such as major highways. We have set aside $16 billion for those; altogether, $33 billion over seven years to strengthen the infrastructure program.

In Quebec, more precisely, the federal government recently invested $40 million to support Phase III. At present, many regional projects are waiting to start. No doubt, shortly after its election, the new government in Quebec will match our investment of $40 million. That will enable us to support specific projects.

In substance, it is a good budget. It is not a show-off budget; it is serious and credible.

I understand very well why the Bloc Québécois has decided to support us. Indeed, they knew perfectly well that voting against this budget was not an option. At the same time, we have a right to question their presence here in this House of Commons, to the extent that, in addition, they confirm that they will support our budget.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister of Labour the following question. As he said, he is also responsible for economic development for the regions of the province of Quebec.

The minister bragged—and I can understand why—that this was important for the manufacturing sector, because the capital cost allowance will be accelerated for new investments. However, this applies particularly to big businesses, big companies.

He made reference to paper manufacturers and different types of industries. When we are talking about small and medium-sized enterprises, these are very big SMEs, very big industries.

He also talked about tax exemptions for capital gains. Once again, it is at the end of the cycle. Yes, the changes are made within SMEs and families. But it is disappointing that the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec was unable to get new investments, new money from his government to help develop new industries, especially if we consider all the employees in the manufacturing sector who have lost their jobs in the past year.

I think it would have been a good opportunity for the government to set aside new funds to help create new businesses, new SMEs, but this time smaller businesses.

I would like to hear the minister's excuses—or his reasons—to explain why he was unable to obtain these new funds.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, accelerated capital cost allowance over two years is primarily for big companies. That sector is targeted, but this measure is not just for big companies.

In my opinion, in the sawmill industry, if he were from the Saguenay—Lac Saint-Jean region, he would know that this measure is being very well received. Yesterday already, forest industry stakeholders were saying how much they liked this measure.

The other thing I would like to point out to the member, who is his party's regional economic development critic, is that investing an additional $30 million in festivals gives my department more room to manoeuvre.

Furthermore, giving $15 million to the National Optics Institute in Quebec City also gives my department room to manoeuvre. Who will benefit from these investments? The regions of Quebec.

As you know, I have implemented the Blackburn plan. The Blackburn plan includes six new measures to help the seven regions whose populations are shrinking to grow, to create new businesses and to diversify their economic activity.

Go ahead and laugh, but I am the one signing off on these files. Giving entrepreneurs a $100,000 non-repayable contribution to help cover start-up costs is not small potatoes. This money comes from taxpayers and we want to manage it very carefully. That is why we implemented six new measures to support economic development in the regions of Quebec. Those regions are: Saguenay—Lac Saint-Jean, the Lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, northern Quebec, the North Shore, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Mauricie, as well as 21 RCMs. We are supporting these regions because economic development's mission is to help vulnerable regions, regions with shrinking populations. I am proud of the six measures put forward in the Blackburn plan.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister questions the Bloc's presence here and I understand that. We are the ones who force him to have measures to help people in Quebec and to correct the injustices against Quebeckers. This bothers him and will continue to bother him until we have a country called the country of Quebec.

In the meantime, he is still required to fulfil his duties. He said it is important for people to have money in their pockets. For example, for the unemployed, the amount of money deducted by the federal government is significant.

Some $50 billion or more has been diverted from the employment insurance fund, when barely 40% of people who lose their employment are entitled to receive EI. The debt is being paid down with that money. It is the same story with older workers.

What is he doing about older workers who currently do not have any income and who have to resort to employment insurance? There are people like that living in his riding. Why did this not show up in the budget? When he takes pride in—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find the hon. member disingenuous. He knows very well that the targeted initiatives allowing older workers to learn new skills and return to the work force when they lost their employment were found by many to be incomplete. Therefore, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development decided to create a task force that is currently analyzing whether there is anything else we can do to help workers who lose their employment around age 55 and who need a little support until they can take full advantage of their retirement. This issue is currently being examined and we should have their report by this summer.

I would remind the House that we are proud of this budget. It is responsible, it is credible, and it strengthens both Quebec and Canada. I understand why this does not please the Bloc Québécois and why they feel they have their backs to the wall. This is why the Bloc will support our budget. I must ask again what it is doing here in this House. It has not achieved any results in 14 years, while on our side, in less than 14 months, 10 members from Quebec have managed to correct the fiscal imbalance.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. It will allow us to clarify a number of things being spread around by the Conservatives and the other opposition parties about the position taken by the Bloc Québécois.

First, when the Bloc Québécois was created to represent Quebeckers in this House, it remedied a deficit, the democratic deficit that meant that the 45 to 50% of Quebeckers who had chosen the option of sovereignty for Quebec, who believed that they had no future in the Canadian federal system, were not represented in the House of Commons. This was an extremely significant crack in the democratic system. That is the primary source of our legitimacy. Anyone who does not recognize this is opposed to democracy and has no respect for the 50% of Quebeckers whose choice is sovereignty for Quebec.

The second source of our legitimacy is the fact that we are the voice of Quebeckers in this House. We are the only ones who have the independence that is needed so as not to compromise our principles as all the other parties have to do, setting aside the interests of Quebec, of Quebeckers, often to please lobby groups, and in particular those from Western Canada.

I believe that these two factors are a sufficient and complete explanation for the legitimacy of our presence here. Anyone who questions this might really wonder about what their democratic vision of a country like Canada is based on.

In 1993, we made a breakthrough on that democratic deficit when we came here to Parliament, for what is hoped will be as short a time as possible. Yesterday, we made a partial breakthrough on the fiscal imbalance by making a number of gains that—and we must be very clear on this point—are insufficient, but are nonetheless significant enough that the Bloc Québécois is comfortable in supporting this budget.

There is nothing new in this, and it has nothing to do with the present state of affairs. Our position has nothing to do with the election in Quebec or the fact that a federal election is imminent. Even though the Prime Minister is going around saying that he does not want an election, he is still trying to provoke the opposition into bringing him down.

We are ready for a campaign. Everyone knows that in Quebec, our party is the one that is ahead in the polls. Our party is ready to go into an election. We have done this based on our game plan, which has been common knowledge for a year.

In the last federal budget, my colleague at the time, Yvan Loubier, who was the Bloc critic, explained it clearly. We supported the budget in 2006-2007 because it contained a promise to resolve the fiscal imbalance in the present budget. Since then, we have made known exactly what our expectations are. They relate to three things. Unfortunately, our first concern has been addressed only partially.

First, federal transfers to the provinces have to be restored to the level they were before the Liberal cuts in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Yesterday, a step was taken toward this goal, but it is still not enough. Everyone has seen how the university and college community reacted, from the presidents of universities to university and college professors and student associations. Transfers for post-secondary education and social programs have not provided the money that everyone was expecting, including the provincial governments. On this point, there is a weakness that will have to be corrected and that will be corrected, because the Bloc Québécois will continue to dog the Conservative government's heels to have transfers for post-secondary education and social programs restored to 1994-95 levels, which will take $5 billion more for Canada as a whole and $1.2 billion for Quebec. What has been announced is barely a few hundred million dollars, and that is quite simply not enough.

This is our first concern. The second deals with the power to limit and eliminate spending power in provincial jurisdictions, particularly in Quebec.

In the budget it was merely given lip service.

I would like to read, on page 141, where it says, “Budget 2007 reconfirms the Government’s commitment to limit the use of the federal spending power to—” But no provisions were made. Will this be a law? As Mr. Dumont asked, will the Constitution be reviewed to eliminate this interpretation that the federal government has spending power in provincial and Quebec jurisdictions? In 2006, we had exactly the same sentence. We got absolutely nowhere on that issue. It is just lip service. But that is not a problem, the Bloc Québécois will use this to force the government, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to introduce legislation so that provinces that do not want the federal government encroaching on their jurisdictions can opt out with no conditions and with full compensation. This is what managing and limiting federal spending power really is. This is what the Séguin commission asked for, it is what the governments of Quebec have asked for, and it is what the Parti Québécois government will ask for as of March 26.

This is why we are prepared to support the budget, as I mentioned. We will continue to strive to settle this issue once and for all, but we must also have a partner that can stand up in Quebec City and who is capable of making his demands known clearly. Yesterday we saw the reaction of the three party leaders. Only one of them said what was actually one of the solutions to the fiscal imbalance, and that is to limit and restrict the federal government’s power to spend in the provinces’ jurisdiction. It was Mr. Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Québécois, who said that.

We want to continue the fight on the fiscal imbalance but we need a strong ally in the Government of Quebec. So we hope that on March 26, the Parti Québécois can take up the torch of Quebec’s traditional demands concerning the restriction and limitation—and elimination in a way—of the federal government’s power to encroach on the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction. I reiterate this because we know what the solution is; it is simple. All it takes is the possibility to opt out unconditionally, with full compensation, of a federal initiative in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This is our second concern. As may be seen, we once again get just two lines, as in the previous budget.

The third issue unfortunately is completely missing from the budget. Members must bear in mind that that was not a gift we got yesterday. It is our money which is finally coming back to Quebec, money that the Liberal government had unfairly used for other purposes—and my colleague from Chambly—Borduas mentioned it—in particular to pay down the debt when there are plenty of other concerns and priorities in Quebec and Canada. This is the fact that it is not at all logical for Quebeckers to pay taxes to Ottawa that are then transferred back so that Quebec can assume its constitutional responsibilities in health, education, post-secondary education and social programs.

We believe it would be logical—and I think that anyone with a bit of common sense and no particular biases, a federalist bias, will understand this matter of federal visibility in Quebec and in the provinces—that the part that corresponds to the transfers for health, post-secondary education and social programs should be returned to the provinces and to Quebec in the form of tax points. For example, transfer of the GST to Quebec was the suggestion made by the Séguin Commission. This would be simple to do because the Quebec revenue ministry already administers the goods and services tax as it does the Quebec sales tax. This should be transferred to ensure that Quebec now has the autonomy, the partial independence necessary to assume it own responsibilities in its own areas of jurisdiction without fearing that, as in 1993-94 or in 1995-96, a government, whether Liberal, Conservative or—why not dream—New Democratic, will decide to cut these transfers unilaterally and thus cause huge problems. You know how all the Canadian provinces are experiencing financial problems and have trouble balancing their budgets.

When I see them saying in the document, for example, that the provinces, overall, had a surplus of X, you realize that about 80% of that surplus comes from Alberta. That is distorting the reality of the situation. In fact, when Quebec does manage to balance its budget, it is often because it has been forced to sell some assets. Mr. Audet was forced to sell $800 million of assets last year to balance his finances. He is already forecasting a shortfall of $900 million in his financial framework for next year. We believe that Quebec must have its own revenue sources that are controlled by the National Assembly, and that are not subject to the sword of Damocles, which is the unilateral desire of the federal government to do whatever it wants, in the belief that it knows better than others what they need.

We had another example. One might have said that it was under the centralizing Liberals, and so forth. But no, when the Conservatives took office, what did they do? They tore up the agreement on child care. That deprives Quebec of $270 million as of this year. That is the reality of the situation. Once again, we are talking about an area of jurisdiction that belongs to Quebec.

The fight that we want to lead seeks not only to limit the spending power of the federal government; not merely to ensure that transfers are restored to the levels they were before the Liberal cuts—with indexation, obviously—but also to ensure that, within its jurisdiction, Quebec and the National Assembly can make decisions on spending, without having to account to anyone but the citizens of Quebec. As I have said, we will continue the fight.

As we heard this afternoon, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Finance believe that it is a done deal. Well, it is far from it. Those who think it is a done deal are completely disconnected from reality. In any event, in my opinion, the Conservatives are disconnected from Quebec. They use a certain surface polish to try to show that we are a little different from the others; but when you scratch that surface, you realize that it is the same centralizing federal government. Red or blue, the national parties in Ottawa are all centralizing. When you read the budget carefully, it is full of intrusions into Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction. One need only consider the Canadian Securities Commission. There will be a major constitutional problem if the federal government wants to proceed. That is very clearly spelled out in the Canadian Constitution.

Those who think that it is over are mistaken. In fact, no one in Quebec said that it was over. Everyone may have said that the step is more or less of interest. However, no one asked the Bloc Québécois to vote against this budget: not the three leaders of the political parties who are in the midst of a provincial election, not the leaders of the labour unions, not the business associations or even the student associations. The latter could have said to the Bloc Québécois that there is almost nothing for post-secondary education and that the members should vote against it. They understood that there was something in the increased transfers for students. No one has asked us to vote against the budget. Yet no one believes that it is over and that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved and is a closed issue. Far from it. We will continue the battle. Quebeckers do not believe that the Prime Minister has kept the promise he made in the 2006 election.

Today, one step has been taken. It is a small step, but a step nonetheless. We must now continue forward. As I mentioned, in the coming months the government must make a commitment to increase transfers for health, post-secondary education and social programs. Not only do we need an increase in transfer payments but we also need a piece of legislation, a law, that will provide a framework for the federal government's spending authority. The government will also have to prove that it is willing to negotiate with the provinces—Quebec in particular—to transfer the tax room that corresponds to federal transfer payments for health, education and social solidarity.

For the time being, this small step is sufficiently valuable for the Bloc Québécois to feel comfortable in supporting the budget. However, we must realize that not only is it not over but that it is the beginning of a process initiated by the sovereignists. It is important to remember this. Personally, I had never before heard Mr. Dumont speak of the fiscal imbalance. Yesterday was the first time. However, it is true that Mr. Charest has pressured the federal government to resolve the fiscal imbalance.

While he did not use the expression "fiscal imbalance", Mr. Bouchard had also started talking about the problems caused by the unilateral cuts in transfers from the federal government to Quebec. However, it must be recalled that it was the Parti Québécois government of Bernard Landry that created the Séguin Commission, and that that commission achieved consensus in Quebec. I point this out because we are going to be hammering that theme. The Séguin Commission recommended three things: bringing transfers from the federal government back up to the level of before the cuts, taking inflation into account; circumscribing the federal government's spending power; and negotiating the transfer of tax room so that the Government of Quebec would have the independent revenues that it needs in order to meet its own responsibilities.

So it was Mr. Landry who took that initiative, and it was the Parti Québécois that took up the battle. Obviously, it was the battle of all Quebeckers, and all parties in Quebec clearly understood this, and there was one unanimous motion after another in the National Assembly demanding that the federal government respond to Quebec's expectations. Yesterday, we got a first step toward a response. However, and I repeat, I can assure you that no one in Quebec thinks that this case is closed.

If the Conservatives think that, they will have a serious surprise in the next election. I can assure you of that.

I would perhaps like to conclude my presentation by pointing out that we are not at all satisfied when it comes to equalization payments. Certainly, for this year, the figures are attractive. We are talking about $1.6 billion. That is not everything that Quebec had called for, however.

I remind members that Quebec had called for calculation of equalization payments to be based on the 10 provinces—which we have achieved—and on 100% of renewable resources. I do not understand why the federal government, with its new structure, with a two-tier equalization system, two choices, two options, has not given the provinces that want it the option to get amounts based on 10 provinces and 100% of revenue from the provinces, including non-renewable resources. That did not take anything away from Saskatchewan, Alberta or Newfoundland and Labrador, but it allowed Quebec to get its true share of equalization payments. Remember that equalization is not paid by Albertans or Ontarians, but by Canadians and Quebeckers. It is not a gift from the West. It is simply the concrete expression of what is written in the Canadian constitution.

You know that the spirit of equalization was distorted by the Liberals, but it is there in the Canadian Constitution. This is not something the evil sovereignists made up. It is a decision that was made by Canadians and Quebeckers in order to ensure, throughout the Canadian political federation, that for an equal tax burden, the revenue is equivalent.

That also needs work. There needs to be an equalization formula that not only takes into account the 10 provinces, but also 100% of revenues, including non-renewable natural resources. That is the work that lies ahead of us.

As I said in the beginning, a year ago we announced that our decision on whether or not to support the Conservative budget would depend on the response, or the beginning of the response, to the fiscal imbalance problem. Yesterday, as I was saying, we were able to announce our support for the budget because of that very aspect.

However, it is clear that a number of issues were forgotten in this budget and the Conservative government will also have to answer for that in an election campaign. There is a lack of assistance programs for older workers. We do not need a whole new series of studies, as the Minister of Labour was saying. I believe the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has done a number of studies on this issue. There was even a motion passed unanimously in this House before the last election. We now have to take action. We are talking about a program that costs practically nothing, between $75 million and $100 million. When we consider that the federal government's income exceeds $230 billion, this is a drop in the bucket and yet necessary for decreasing the economic insecurity that a number of regions in Quebec are experiencing.

Take, for example, my own region. In my riding, in northern Lanaudière, there is a municipality called Saint-Michel-des-Saints. At one time, there were two big Louisiana-Pacific plants there, a sawmill and a waferboard plant. Louisiana-Pacific closed these two plants for reasons related to economic conditions, namely, the slowdown in residential construction in the United States. The unemployment rate in that municipality and the neighbouring municipality of Saint-Zénon is around 40% to 50%. Those people will be collecting the last of their benefits in August. If the Bloc's bill had been passed, they would have been able to collect for at least five more weeks.

Many of those workers are over 55. Their only option now, because there is no other employer, is to leave the region. This exodus of older workers, on the heels of the youth exodus, will happen because they will be forced to go somewhere else to try to earn a pittance. We could easily enable them to exit the labour market in a dignified manner with a certain degree of financial security that would allow them to stay in their communities. With just a little money, we could keep all of these communities alive. This is about dignity, a concept that has been thrown out the window.

There is nothing here about social housing. Many of the programs cut during the $1 billion round of cuts have not been revived or have been revived in a way we consider unacceptable.

So there is a lot of work to do, and I hope nobody gets the wrong idea about the Bloc's support.

The Bloc's support will be limited, based on what we announced a year ago—and therefore no surprise—and based on what we read in the budget concerning transfers to Quebec for next year.

As I said earlier, much remains to be done. The fiscal imbalance issue is not resolved. I would like the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to know that it is not over. This is just the beginning.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Calgary Nose Hill Alberta


Diane Ablonczy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, while we appreciate the Bloc's support for this excellent budget that has been put forward by the government, I really think the Bloc members, to use my colleague's own words, are kidding themselves.

This good budget, and this good budget for Quebec in particular, is not the result of the work of the Bloc. It is the result of people who believe in the federation. It is the result of people who want to work together for a strong united Canada and that is why all citizens in all provinces will benefit under this new budget.

The member mentioned the desire to limit the federal spending power. We are talking the same language because the government believes that the federal government has areas of constitutional jurisdiction and it should be spending and looking after those areas. Provinces have areas of jurisdiction and they should be looking after those responsibilities.

Therefore, we agree with that, but what the member I think is talking about is for one level of government to make all the decisions with another level of government to provide the money. That is not the way it works. That completely tears at the concept of accountability. The people who make the decisions have to raise the money from the taxpayers who are affected by those decisions, so that there is real accountability.

The member mentioned funding for education and did not like the money for education. However, it is a 40% increase for education and that amount will grow by 3% every single year. The whole fiscal balance has been put now back on a principled long time reliable basis.

Does the member not think that having principled long term reliable funding going into the province is not a good thing for the people of Quebec?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's speech gives me the opportunity to remind the House of the Bloc Québécois' work. I spoke at length about the work of the Parti Québécois, the Quebec government and other parties in the National Assembly, but I forgot to mention the work of the Bloc Québécois. I did mention it briefly, but I would like to emphasize the fact that, if the Bloc Québécois had not been present in this House, no one would have ever said anything about the fiscal imbalance. How many times, on opposition days or during question period, did the Bloc Québécois call on the government to resolve this issue?

Still to this day, the leader of one party—the Liberal Party—refuses to recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance. I understand very well that, from his point of view, there is nothing in the budget, because he does not recognize the beginning of a solution to a real problem. Clearly, he cannot see that.

With regard to post-secondary education, the expectations of the provinces and the education network were definitely not met. The provinces were asking for $2.2 billion and the education network estimates that $5 billion is needed to cover national needs for post-secondary education. Quebec requires $1.2 billion. It is not even close. They are talking of a little over $100 million. This is quite unacceptable and some work will have to be redone. I do not wish to frighten the Parliamentary Secretary, but I can hardly wait until the Standing Committee on Finance meets to prepare the next budget—that will start soon enough, as she well knows—to see the reaction of the education network, whether in Quebec or the rest of Canada, to yesterday's announcement.

With regard to spending power, the following is found on page 142 of the budget:

The Government will continue to further clarify roles and responsibilities, and will explore with provinces and territories ways to formalize its commitment to limit the use of the federal spending power to ensure respect for provincial-territorial responsibility.

That was also in last year's budget. Quite frankly, not much progress has been made in this area.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member whether he agrees that aboriginal people are one of the big losers in this budget. The government not only cut the $5 billion for Kelowna and the aboriginal non-smoking strategy. It took most of the money from the aboriginal languages program, ANCAP for aboriginal environmental programs, and a number of other programs. It cancelled all these programs and only put in this budget less than $500,000 new funding for aboriginal people.

Does the hon. member agree that even though it is the largest spending budget in history, over $39 billion going into equalization increases to provinces that have taxing authority, yet the aboriginal people receive almost most nothing?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned that a lot was left out of this budget. The member is right. There is nothing in this budget for aboriginal peoples, the first nations. It is unfortunate because these communities are experiencing special difficulties and need special support.

Once again, I can speak about my own riding of Joliette. In Manouane, there is an Attikamekw community with which I work. They have a great need for social housing. This year, for example, I believe they were able to build 15 housing units because there was a surplus in the program. However, they need another 50 housing units.

The birth rate may be falling in the rest of Quebec and maybe Canada—I am not familiar with the figures—but not in this community. Unfortunately, their budget is insufficient to properly house or educate their citizens, or to provide the tools needed to ensure an adequate level of health services.

We have all heard about the tragedies that occur. In our case, in the past few years five young people have committed suicide in that community.

We expected to see a major effort by the federal government, especially since it is the fiduciary for the first nations. It has a responsibility to assume. It is somewhat like employment insurance: it is clearly a federal responsibility. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the budget on that.