Mr. Speaker, the Liberal motion before us today is a perfect example of how poorly Canadian federalism is working. By making piecemeal agreements, by creating a patchwork of claims and promises all over the place, we completely lose sight of the essential element of this issue. What is before us now, among other things, is the equalization issue.
Let us review the fundamentals of the equalization principle. What is it all about? Equalization is a system that redistributes tax revenues from all citizens—Quebeckers, Maritimers, Westerners, Ontarians and everyone else. The government puts all those tax dollars together and then redistributes them to some provinces to give them similar fiscal capacity. That is the goal. The goal is that no matter which province a person lives in, the provincial governments can provide services similar to those offered in the other provinces. Each province makes its own choices, but they should all be able to count on having similar fiscal capacity.
Normally, the process should be pretty simple. Average fiscal capacity is calculated according to how much each province can collect in sales and income taxes and fees of all kinds. Then, provinces that fall below the average fiscal capacity are given enough money to reach that capacity, without penalizing the provinces that are above the fiscal capacity average. This system seems very simple and should work very well, but it is not working properly. Why? Because the government has lost sight of the essential elements of the system and has signed on to a bunch of piecemeal agreements for preferential treatment for various regions.
The Liberal motion and their position on these piecemeal agreements that were already in place are a concrete example of how the government will try to sign individual, piecemeal agreements to show favouritism to various provinces over and above the principle of fairness provided for in the equalization program.
So much for the Liberals. However, we note that the Conservative's proposal in the budget also goes down the same road in that, regardless of the principle of equity, regardless of the principle of wanting all provinces to have a similar fiscal capacity, arbitrary rules will be established that will change the formula and benefit or disadvantage certain provinces. The rule found in the current budget excludes half of tax revenues from non-renewable natural resources.
That may seem technical, but really it is not. It is very, very concrete. The end result is that provinces that produce a great deal of non-renewable natural resources appear to be less rich than they are in reality. When their capacity is calculated, their ability to raise tax revenues is understated and their overall fiscal capacity is then changed accordingly.
For Quebec, among others, this represents billions of dollars in losses year after year. That would not be the case if all revenue from non-renewable natural resources were included. It should be noted that we were not asking for preferential treatment for Quebec.
We were only asking that the basic principle of fairness be applied so that all provinces have the benefit of the same fiscal capacity.
Why exclude non-renewable natural resources? Since the debate began no one in this House has been able to answer this question. The reason is simple: there is no rational reason; the only reason is quite arbitrary. It was decided, just like that, to exclude this area of tax revenue because it was in the best interests of certain provinces. Furthermore, it allowed some politicians to defend their provinces. And very well, indeed.
So why, for example, were renewable resources such as hydroelectricity not excluded? The Government of Quebec earns significant revenues from its hydroelectricity. Excluding this resource from the equalization formula would have generated much more money for Quebec.
Why not exclude revenues from the aerospace industry? As if! Why did the members from the Bloc Québécois not stand up and ask for that? Honestly, why did my fine colleagues not think of that? They should have thought of that. Let us exclude the aerospace sector from the equalization calculation. It just so happens that this sector is in Quebec. Well, that would be great! Why did none of the Bloc Québécois MPs ask for that? Because it is completely arbitrary. Why exclude sectors of the economy from the equalization calculation? There is no reason other than to unduly disadvantage one province. For that reason, I believe that the Liberal motion is off base.
Even though the government's proposal in the budget gives Quebec some supplementary money, it does not go far enough to fully respect the principle of equalization, which is to ensure the same fiscal capacity for everyone by taking into account all the revenues the provinces might benefit from.
There is another adverse effect to excluding non-renewable resources from the equalization calculation. When it comes to the Kyoto protocol and reducing greenhouse gases, there will be incentives for provincial governments to develop these industries at the expense of other industries.
We already knew there were incentives for companies, for the oil companies and so forth, but now there will be incentives for governments. A provincial government is better off developing non-renewable energies since the revenues the province earns from those resources will not be included in the equalization calculation. That government will therefore earn twice as much money.
This is not productive at all. It is unfair and should be changed quickly, in the next budget, I hope. In any case, the Bloc Québécois will continue to fight for all natural resource revenues to be included, whether the resource is renewable or not.
Some will say that this represents a lot of money for Quebec. Nonetheless, out of all the provinces that receive equalization, Quebec receives the least per capita. In this group of provinces that receive money under equalization, Quebec is by far the most populous. Therefore, the total amount of money should be greater.
Nonetheless, we must not be fooled by this figure. It is normal that, in all the transfers, the more populated provinces receive more in total than less populated provinces. That is the very principle of equalization. The principle aims to ensure that all provinces can provide the same services to their citizens. It is therefore only normal that more populated provinces need more money to provide the same services.
The question of equalization is only one aspect of the larger problem that is the fiscal imbalance.
The Bloc will support this budget because we see the beginnings of a move to correct the fiscal imbalance. The money is on the table and, since a good portion of that money belongs to Quebeckers, of course we will take it. However, the government must go even further.
Let us get back to the basics. The expression “fiscal imbalance” exists for a reason. In Quebec, the Séguin commission is the basis for a consensus that transcends all political parties. Everyone subscribes to it. When Mr. Séguin and the members of his commission decided to name this problem the “fiscal imbalance”, they did not pull these words out of a hat at random. They did not believe that, by putting together the words “fiscal” and “imbalance”, they would baptize the problem.
There is an underlying reason for the expression “fiscal imbalance”. It is simple. They called it that because, first of all, it is an imbalance, and secondly, because it is a fiscal problem. they did not call it the “budget imbalance”, the “monetary imbalance” or the “financial imbalance”. They called it the “fiscal imbalance”. Thus, we are talking about a fiscal issue, a taxation issue, here.
The imbalance arises from the fact that the federal government takes too much in income tax to provide the services it is constitutionally bound to offer. And on the other hand, the provinces do not have enough tax revenue to be able to offer all the services they are bound to provide.
The problem continues to grow because the provinces’ independent tax revenue remains stable while federal government revenue increases significantly. At the same time, the provinces’ expenditures are steadily increasing because education and health account for a large part of provincial budgets. They cost a lot. The increase exceeds inflation, while the expenditures of the federal government are much easier to control and increase much more moderately.
What conclusion can we draw from this? Only a tax solution will make it possible to settle the fiscal problem once and for all. It means transferring some tax fields from the central government to the provinces. To my mind this is obvious.
This week the Minister of Finance said that the fiscal imbalance was over. My goodness, he has not understood what the fiscal imbalance is. He demonstrates perfectly that the presence of the Bloc Québécois in this Parliament is more necessary than ever. He claims to be solving a problem but he is showing clearly that he has not understood.
If he had not understood the word “déséquilibre”, I would have said to myself that, since in English the term is imbalance, perhaps the translation was not right. However, the word “fiscal” is written the same way in English and in French.
So there are no reasons to explain why the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister do not understand the meaning of the word “fiscal”. There is no reason for them not to understand that they cannot claim to have settled the problem once and for all as long as they have made any fiscal transfers?
And what would those be? What the Séguin commission most enthusiastically recommended was a transfer of the GST, probably because that would be the simplest thing. For example, the federal government could stop collecting the 6% tax in Quebec, and in return, the Quebec government would collect 6% more for itself. For the taxpayer this would have no impact, but it would have an impact on Canadian federalism. This would enable Quebec to have independent revenue, revenue it can control, that it can plan on and that is not subject to the vagaries of the federal government’s decisions.
Such is today’s reality: Quebeckers, even with this beginning of a settlement, remain dependent upon the federal government.
It is dependent because, on March 27, after the election, the government can change its budget if it wants to. It can change the equalization formula. The fact is that for the past five years, the equalization formula has changed nearly every year. It is time to escape from this dependence, and in the short term, under the current federal structure, that can only be achieved by a fiscal transfer.
I spoke of the example of the GST, which could be used. There could also be a transfer of income tax points. That has already been done in the past. The federal government could agree to a reduction in income tax for residents of Quebec, and, in return, the Government of Quebec could raise more income tax from its taxpayers. This was done during the time of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque. When the Prime Minister told us yesterday that he would not negotiate with a sovereignist government, he revealed the extent to which he does not understand reality and also how contemptuous he is of Quebec democracy.
In my opinion, there is a message that must be drawn from the Prime Minister's remarks this week. It is that this government believes it can get away with anything. He scorns Quebeckers when he says, “We have settled the fiscal imbalance. We have decided that the fiscal imbalance is resolved and those who are not happy can go back home”. Then he says, “From now on, we will negotiate only with those we choose. If the government that you elect—that Quebeckers elect—does not suit us, we will not negotiate with it”. That is intolerable and unacceptable because it denies Quebeckers the right to choose their own government.
I am convinced that the Prime Minister's remarks will arouse Quebeckers, because they know that having the Parti Québécois in power in Quebec will best defend their interests. That is certainly obvious and we saw it clearly in the reaction of the party leaders after the unfortunate remarks by the Prime Minister. Only André Boisclair stood up and said that no one can tell us whom to choose as our government. The choice will be made by Quebeckers and the federal government will have to accept that choice. That is all that we ask of it.
This is not the first time that the government has interfered in the decisions made by Quebeckers. It did so in the last two referendums, and in 1995 it did so in a particularly shameful way, spending millions of dollars during the referendum campaign to promote its option in violation of Quebec’s referendum law. So the federal government has obviously learned nothing. It is still the same dominating, centralizing, paternalistic government that tells Quebeckers what to think and do. It still does not understand the Quebeckers want to take charge of their own affairs. That is where I am headed.
What we see here is an inability to resolve the fiscal imbalance and develop an equalization plan in keeping with the basic principles of a normal federation. That shows us one thing: the only way forward for Quebeckers is to take charge of our own affairs and have a country of our own, not because we do not like Canadians—I like most of my colleagues here with whom I have had a chance to go out, have a beer, and so forth—but simply because we are obviously bad for each other. We are bad for each other because in wanting as many powers as possible for our National Assembly, in wanting to make all our own budgetary choices, and in wanting to pass all our own laws, we Quebeckers prevent Canada from becoming what it really wants to be, that is to say a country with a strong central government that gets involved in education, health care and a multitude of other areas outside its own jurisdiction.
The choice that Quebeckers are going to make next Monday is to say that we are going to make the right decision, we are going to choose to pass all our own laws, to control all our budgets, to sign all our international treaties and to make our voice heard in the rest of the world. This choice means giving ourselves a country and achieving sovereignty, and that starts by supporting the Parti Québécois next Monday.