Mr. Speaker, this morning I am pleased to speak about the bill to implement the budget, particularly because this is my first time addressing the House as the Bloc Québécois' new finance critic. The member for Joliette was appointed leader of the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons, succeeding the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, whom I would like to thank for his competence and experience in helping me learn more about the work of parliamentarians over the past few years. The member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean passed on a lot of knowledge and know-how, and I wish him every success in his chosen pursuits. I also have complete confidence in the member for Joliette's ability to fulfill the leadership role the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie has entrusted to him. I would also like to thank the leader of the Bloc for entrusting the finance critic portfolio to me.
I am therefore happy to rise today to speak on the budget implementation bill. I would just like to say that this appointment comes at an especially good time, seeing as the budget process is just starting. Consultations for the next budget will begin in the coming weeks and months, even if the budget is not tabled until next year. I plan to make sure I have solid support in my riding and to hold a consultation. Then, I will speak for the Bloc and listen to all the people who want to have their say about the next budget, in order to get the same results the member for Joliette helped us get in this budget.
We need to remember that the bill before us today follows on the passage of the budget. We agree on the principles of this budget and on the government's proposed funding mechanisms. Other bills will be needed to effect legislative change as needed and implement individual measures.
The Bloc Québécois has fought very hard on the issue of the fiscal imbalance for a number of years. It believes that the government has made significant progress on spending and that this will at least give the Government of Quebec additional fiscal flexibility. The fight will continue, and, in light of past experience, we hope that the arguments we have made about the principle of the fiscal imbalance will lead to measures that go beyond strictly financial promises. In the near future, the current government must take real steps to correct the fiscal imbalance permanently. This means tax point transfers and possibly also GST transfers, but the solution must be enshrined in legislation and must not come about simply because the federal government's finances are healthy enough that it can afford to pay Quebec more money without changing how things are done.
The Conservative government itself admitted this was the situation. In advertisements criticizing the leader of the Liberal Party, it said that if the Liberal Party regained power, decisions could be reversed and the money could end up no longer allocated to Quebec. We have it from the government itself that there is a contradiction between the position of the Minister of Finance when he says that the fiscal imbalance has been corrected, and the Conservative government advertisements saying that the Liberals could undo all this.
The Bloc Québécois wants a permanent solution to this problem so that Quebec and the provinces, which need money in order to be able to provide services, will be able to go ahead and provide those services with confidence, knowing that the money will be available over a period of several years and they can do some sort of financial planning. Right in the middle of the last election campaign in Quebec, we saw how a federal budget dictated the money available for Quebec in a last minute kind of way. This situation will have to be resolved at some point, and I am sure a lot of time will be spent on doing so in the coming weeks and months.
The bill before us deals with the implementation of certain provisions of the budget. It covers five main areas. First, this is a bill that implements various personal and corporate tax measures. I will discuss this later on. Second, it amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, to introduce the new equalization formula as well as a per capita distribution mechanism for Canada health and social transfers.
It also includes an annual escalator of 3% for social programs, through to 2014. This is the second focus of the bill.
Third, the bill creates three new trusts and authorizes the Minister of Finance to contribute amounts set out in the bill according to guidelines he deems acceptable. He will be able to contribute these sums from the 2006-07 surplus if he thinks that is appropriate. In other words, legislation is needed to allow the federal government's surpluses to be allocated to foundations that have specific objectives.
We must also ensure that these foundations are accountable for the way in which they manage the money. We have to make sure the Auditor General has all the necessary information. When it comes to the environment, we think it is important for this to be included in the bill.
Furthermore, the bill establishes a legal framework to ensure that all the savings from paying down the debt are translated into tax cuts. This other aspect of the bill will allow that to happen when the bill is passed. This is one of the things the Bloc Québécois took into account.
The fiscal imbalance is the cornerstone of this budget. Quebec has been very supportive of the Bloc's decision. Instead of triggering an election on the eve of the budget, which would have prevented money from being paid to Quebec, there was no election and Quebec will get its money.
The Bloc Québécois did the responsible thing. In the current context of a minority government, this is a significant insurance policy for Quebeckers and the Bloc. It allows us to ensure that the Conservative government's decisions are supported by the Bloc before being accepted. In my view, this model has been somewhat effective. It may even partially explain the election results in Quebec. During this provincial election, Quebeckers felt that a minority government could also lead to something positive for Quebec. I am not saying I was pleased with the results, but this is nonetheless a consequence.
These are the measures under five broad headings. There are personal and corporate tax measures.The budget implementation bill includes 500 categories of tax measures announced on March 19.
First of all, there is the tax fairness plan, along with some tax relief and continued GST refunds for conferences and tours. I would remind the House that the Minister of Finance had announced an ad hoc plan to eliminate the GST-HST visitor rebate. This sudden decision was criticized by the entire tourism industry in Quebec and in Canada. The Bloc Québécois spoke out on behalf of those individuals. As industry critic, and together with the finance critic of the day, I personally wrote to the minister. Now, the new budget remedies the situation.
I also recall the opposition expressed by the Quebec Outfitter Federation, for example. As a direct result of the Conservative government's misguided policy, that organization was losing an important tool for attracting tourists. With this bill, that measure is at least partially corrected and the Bloc Québécois is pleased with the results.
This issue must be closely monitored to ensure that tourists who do not come as part of an organized tour are not penalized. At least one important benefit results from the action taken. At the outset, the government was entirely opposed to the idea of any corrections to the bill. In the end, there have been some corrections.
The Bloc Québécois is very pleased to have so constructively and effectively represented an industry that very much relies on government measures to help it—and not the reverse—and to have achieved the results we did.
In the area of tax measures, there have also been some changes to the rules regarding RRSPs and RESPs. An RRSP allows individuals to save for their retirement. More detailed changes will be outlined later. An RESP allows parents to set aside some money, to which is added a contribution from the government, for their children's future. It was also important to make improvements to this area.
Finally, there is a surtax on inefficient vehicles, even though the government told us that that the environment was not a major problem in Quebec and Canada. In recent years, Quebeckers and Canadians, as well as all manner of experts, have been pointing out that there is a real, far-reaching and significant environmental problem that everyone on this planet should be worried about. By hammering the message home, we are beginning to see the introduction of measures such as the surtax on inefficient vehicles.
This is merely one aspect that the federal government should be addressing to achieve a quality environment. In my opinion, it should start by recognizing the Kyoto accord. We are not there yet but at least some measures have been put forward as a result of pressure by the opposition parties and the environmental movement. Furthermore, I would say that the general public is more aware of the gravity of the environmental situation than the government, which is now coming up to speed. Let us hope that, at the end of the day, we will achieve tangible and global results.
There are four tax fairness measures in the part of the bill dealing with taxation. There is a $1,000 increase in the age credit, which will further reduce taxes for older individuals. This is a worthwhile measure. Matters pertaining to seniors must be studied in more detail. It is often said that their pension is indexed to the cost of living. I believe that their basket of goods and services—the market basket for seniors—is not necessarily appropriate. Seniors often need certain types of equipment, for example a handrail to help them get in and out of the bathtub.
Furthermore, with respect to prescription drug costs and other additional expenses, the cost of some items is rising much faster than the general rate of inflation. There should be a special basket of goods for seniors that takes into account the rate of inflation for their cost of living. That said, today's measure—increasing the age credit by $1,000—is a step in the right direction, albeit a rather weak one. It is like using just one crutch, not the pair. We have to resolve the underlying issues to ensure that seniors are completely and truly protected with respect to the cost of living, especially women living alone who have to absorb extra costs, particularly when their spouse dies and they transition from life as a couple, in a house or apartment, to single life. The government still has to improve the Canada pension plan.
Next, there is the implementation of spousal income splitting, which came into effect January 1, 2007. I would note that taxpayers will not feel the impact of these measures until they complete their 2007 tax returns. Unfortunately, this will not show up in this year's tax return, but eventually, this measure will ensure better income distribution.
Beginning January 1, 2011, the tax fairness plan will reduce corporate income tax by 0.5%. The Bloc Québécois made recommendations in the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to offer incentives such as accelerated capital cost allowance. We are very pleased that the government decided to act on that recommendation. However, the government must ensure that it is in companies' best interest to go ahead and use these tax measures. We think this is a better way to go than reducing corporate income taxes across the board. In my opinion, the government has done the bare minimum to satisfy industry lobbyists who made representations. I think that there is more to be gained from encouraging businesses to invest in their own productivity than from simply lowering taxes.
Lastly, the government is implementing the new income trust tax regime. Everyone knows that the Minister of Finance did not follow the script on that one. In-depth studies and a better solution to the problem are needed so that small investors do not get hurt. Perhaps this work should go on during the new round of consultations for the next budget.
Second, there are two tax measures providing tax savings for families. A child tax credit for $2,000 was introduced, which will enable families to save up to $310 per child per year. In addition the government is increasing various basic personal amounts, providing up to $209 in annual savings for a supporting spouse or a single person supporting a child or relative.
Following pressure from the Bloc, the government decided to rethink its decision to abolish GST refunds for conferences and organized tours. I spoke about this earlier. I think that all tourism sectors are very happy with this decision.
The fourth area, which we already talked about, deals with the retirement and education savings plans. Then, there are measures for the fiscal arrangements with the provinces.
The equalization payment formula has been changed. More money will now be available. However, this does not address Quebec's historic demands. For example, the equalization formula does not take into account all of the revenues from natural resources—which is a step backwards—and it contains loopholes that favour provinces producing fossil fuels, by allowing them to remove natural resources revenues from the distribution formula. The 2007 budget does not set a termination date for the underwater oil agreements in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.
More work is needed on these issues. Quebeckers can count on the Bloc Québécois to ensure that budgets are as reasonable as possible and meet Quebeckers' needs. I believe that that is one of the reasons why Quebeckers formed a political party like the Bloc Québécois, which has accounted for most of the members from Quebec in the past five elections. The federal system in Canada may not be perfect, but with the Bloc Québécois, Quebec can at least make its voice heard and get results in the end.
I would like to continue talking about trusts and new funds and draw members' attention to the ecotrusts. Thanks to this bill, the government can use up to $1.519 billion of the 2006-07 surplus to create ecotrusts. The money will be divided among Quebec and the provinces according to their demographic weight and will help improve environmental management.
The government is providing $614 million to fund post-secondary education in some provinces. The distribution method will be set out in the trust indenture. We will see how things work.
Speaking of trusts, the government will also invest in human papillomavirus immunization by creating a $300 million trust to provide Quebec and provinces with money to support HPV immunization.
The bill also covers a wait times guarantee, payments that will be made directly to the provinces for child care spaces, payments to the territories and payments to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Canada Health Infoway.
As the former industry critic, I take a special interest in one provision of the bill, and that is the money for CANARIE Inc., which is spearheading work on the next-generation Internet in Canada. We have to continue making this sort of investments if Quebec and Canada are to increase their productivity in this sector. I believe it is important that we move forward.
The measures in this bill will allow us to move forward, especially on the fiscal imbalance and other issues, which is why the Bloc Québécois supported this budget.
Nevertheless, we find these improvements insufficient, because we still need to see a definitive solution to the fiscal imbalance issue, one that involves the transfer of tax points. This bill—the budget—does not provide such a solution.
In closing, the Conservative government has an obligation to govern and an obligation to follow through on its commitment to correct the fiscal imbalance. It has demonstrated this through financial commitments. However, it must now take concrete action that will translate into a true resolution of the fiscal imbalance issue, through the transfer of tax points.
A lot of work remains to be done. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to have supported the budget because we believe that this is what Quebeckers wanted and that it is in their best interest. However, this in no way means that we are giving up on obtaining real equity, particularly in terms of the fiscal imbalance. I can assure this House that, in the new phase that is beginning and with next year's budget in mind, the Bloc Québécois will remain equally committed to achieving better wealth distribution and creation.