Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the discussion on the Liberal Party's motion today, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.
The Bloc Québécois supports this motion because to do otherwise would be to deny the obvious. As we have said in the past, we did not agree with the Atlantic accords in principle, and we still do not agree with them. However, it is perfectly obvious that the government has broken its promise, and we will not argue with that whether we like it or not. No matter what we think of the promise, we do, in principle, agree with the motion.
Unfortunately, this is not the only commitment that this government has broken since coming to power. This government calls itself the “new government” and promised to do things differently from the previous Liberal government. Unfortunately, it seems that the government has learned quickly and has wasted no time following in its Liberal predecessors' footsteps. This government has broken a lot of promises.
The Atlantic accords we are talking about today are a prime example, even though—and I will come back to this later in my speech—we do not agree with these accords and we do not think the government should move forward with them.
According to this motion—or at least according to the Bloc's interpretation of it—the government is being criticized for, deliberately or not, making irresponsible election promises. I would hope it did so out of incompetence and not with the deliberate intention of misleading and fooling the electors. The fact remains that a promise was made and it is not being kept. The Bloc Québécois denounces this irresponsible promise.
Among the many other areas where the government has not kept its promises is the matter of the seat at UNESCO. Once again, the government is playing with words and repeating the same thing ad nauseam—that it made good on its promises— in the hope that by constantly repeating the same thing, whether it is true or not, the public will believe it one day. That is what happened with the seat at UNESCO.
During the election campaign the Prime Minister promised to give Quebec a seat at UNESCO, like the seat Quebec has in the Francophonie. That is what he said, verbatim, what he repeated, what he wrote down and has never denied. Obviously, when we talk about a seat in the Francophonie, we are talking about a full seat, a voice and a vote. That is what all Quebeckers were expecting. That is what everyone was talking about. The Prime Minister never said to Quebeckers during the election campaign that what he was really promising was a small folding seat, a little stool at the back where they could whisper their agreement, or stay quiet should they disagree. That was never the case.
When the Conservative government proposed this accord, it was saying to Quebeckers that it agreed to bring its delegation along, that it would be allowed to participate and give its opinion provided that this opinion fell within the general position of the federal government, or something to that effect.
In other words, Quebec would have the right to indicate its agreement, but if it does not agree, it would not be allowed to say so. More importantly, unlike what was promised, Quebeckers would have no right to vote, as it does at the OIF. That is another promise that was completely broken. It is so true that nothing has been done. When the government made that proposal, even my predecessor in Jeanne-Le Ber, who was once the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said that, in any case, that was already how it was done. No one ever stopped Quebec representatives from coming along, sitting in the background and whispering comments. We are really no further ahead. This has been nothing but smoke and mirrors, with basically nothing new to indicate that this promise, giving Quebec the right to vote, will be honoured.
The Prime Minister resorted to false arguments concerning the issue of Quebec's right to vote, saying that, at UNESCO, only independent states have the right to vote. First of all, with all due respect, I would point out that, when the Prime Minister and the Conservatives made this promise to Quebeckers, they knew that. Second, they could have allowed for a mechanism by which, when the two positions are at odds, Quebec would abstain, which would mean the same result. That is another broken promise. For people in the maritime provinces, there was a broken promise regarding the Atlantic Accords, and for Quebec, it was our seat at UNESCO. Income trusts have been discussed at length in this House. The structure of these income trusts allowed certain legal entities to get out of paying taxes, and we saw more and more businesses convert to income trusts under pressure from their shareholders to pay less tax.
The Bloc Québécois had asked for a moratorium on the conversion to income trusts. It has always said that the conversion of businesses to income trusts for tax purposes was not a good thing. This was its position before, during and after the election campaign. Naturally, when the government decided to tax income trusts to partly close this loophole in Canadian taxation, we thought it was a good idea and we supported it. Nevertheless, that was another promise that the Conservatives did not keep. The Prime Minister had personally promised, in black and white, during the election campaign to never—and not just maybe—never tax income trusts. Consequently, some Quebeckers and Canadians, taken in by the Prime Minister, invested in income trusts believing that they would realize large returns. The value of income trusts continued to climb on the premise of the Prime Minister's good faith. The mistake made by these investors was that they probably believed the Conservatives would keep their promise. They did not. The day the government announced that it would put an end to the special tax treatment for income trusts, they dropped sharply in value, placing many investors in very unfortunate circumstances because they suffered huge losses. And all this because the government, to get elected, made unacceptable and irresponsible promises resulting in this situation.
And that is not all. Many other promises were broken by this government. I would like to speak in more detail about the promise regarding the fiscal imbalance. This has been a long fight for the Bloc Québécois
Here again, the government seems to think that it only has to continue repeating the same thing and the public will end up believing it.
I was amazed to see how the Minister of Finance “corrected the fiscal imbalance” in his latest budget. He just tabled a budget, increased cash transfers to Quebec and the provinces and then got up in the House and said that the fiscal imbalance had been fixed. To him, just saying that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, was enough to convince people. When the Conservatives promised Quebeckers to correct the fiscal imbalance, Quebeckers expected that the solution would be along the lines of the consensus that had formed in Quebec, which had been built around the Séguin commission on the fiscal imbalance. When the concept of fiscal imbalance was put forward, the phrase “fiscal imbalance” was not chosen at random, out of a hat, it was chosen deliberately, because there was an imbalance between the federal government and the provinces and this imbalance was fiscal in nature. Otherwise, it would have been called the budgetary imbalance or the monetary imbalance. But it was called the fiscal imbalance.
When the Conservatives promised Quebeckers to correct the fiscal imbalance, Quebeckers had reason to expect a fiscal solution. Yet this budget contains no tax measures. I asked the finance committee, officials and the minister himself. The minister admitted quite candidly that his budget contained no tax transfers to Quebec or the provinces. At the same time as he is saying that the budget contains no tax transfers, no tax measures to correct the fiscal imbalance, he is telling us that it has been fixed. Something is wrong there.
We voted for the budget because it represented a step forward and transferred significant amounts to Quebec and the provinces. But there is no guarantee that those amounts will still be there in one year, two years or three years. Quebec and the other provinces that receive equalization transfers, for example, are still subject to the whims of the federal government. The equalization formula has just been amended, but it could be amended again in the next budget, whether that budget is brought down by this or another government.
Quebec wanted financial autonomy, it wanted to receive stable, predictable revenues which would grow over time, and over which it would have control, so that it would not be at the mercy of the federal government's choices. It is so true that the fiscal imbalance is not permanently corrected and that Quebec still depends on the federal government, that even the Conservatives' Quebec advertising says—and I want to get this right—that the Leader of the Opposition, if he became prime minister, could take back the money. This is what the Conservatives are saying. Their advertisements in Quebec say that the fiscal imbalance that they claim has been permanently corrected, could return if another government were elected. This is not a correction. It would have been corrected if tax fields had been transferred, GST for example, to the Government of Quebec. It could have had complete and total control over the revenues, which would be predictable over time, and all this with no chance of the federal government backtracking. It could have been the transfer of tax points, as was done in the past, but this was not the case.
A number of promises have been broken by this government, and the government before it. We can objectively say that it is fortunate this is a minority government, because it is breaking just as many promises despite the fact that it is a minority. I cannot imagine what would happen if it was a majority government and could do what it wanted in the House.
We can imagine that the number and importance of the broken promises would increase significantly.
Today's Liberal motion has the advantage of being a reminder to Quebeckers. They must send as many Bloc Québécois members as possible to Ottawa to ensure that their voice is strong. No matter which party is in power, we are crossing our fingers that it is a minority so that it cannot do whatever it wants.
I have made a list of some election promises broken by the government. I would now like to get down to specifics and talk about the Atlantic accords, which the Bloc Québécois does not agree with. On the one hand, these accords violate the equalization principle, which should ensure that all provinces can offer similar services to all their citizens, with a similar tax rate, regardless of how rich the province is. On the other hand, Quebec has already contributed financially to the development of the fossil fuels industry. Now that this development has taken place, we absolutely do not agree with continuing to contribute to it.
For example, from 1970 to 1999, Ottawa gave $66 billion in direct subsidies to the fossil fuels industry, including coal, natural gas and oil—an industry that for all intents and purposes does not exist in Quebec. During the same period, a paltry $329 million was given to the renewable energy sector. Of that money, not a penny went to hydroelectricity. While Quebec was investing in hydroelectricity, Ottawa was supporting the development of polluting energy sources instead.
The oil and gas industry was developed in large part with the taxes paid by Quebeckers, even though this development went against the fundamental interests of Quebec, economically or environmentally speaking, since polluting energy sources, as their name suggests, create more pollution. Some $66 billion has already gone toward this development. In the case of Hibernia, we can talk about $5 billion, roughly a quarter of which came from Quebeckers' taxes. Now that we have paid for this development, now that the companies have become profitable and the development of these non-renewable resources has become lucrative for the provinces, Quebeckers are being asked to keep paying for this development? It seems completely illogical to me to give a bonus to provinces for developing non-renewable energies, but not for renewable energies.
This exclusion of non-renewable resources is completely arbitrary. Why was this choice made when there are hardly any such resources in Quebec and other tax fields could have been excluded? Excluding the aerospace industry, for example, would have benefited Quebec greatly. Excluding renewable energies such as hydroelectricity would also have represented billions of dollars in equalization, but no. Non-renewable resources were chosen and are excluded from the equalization calculation. This seems completely arbitrary and unjustified.
I want to close by dispelling a myth I have heard far too often in this House, that Quebeckers were the main beneficiaries of equalization. It is true that the amount is greater. That said, the population of Quebec is larger and, per capita, Quebeckers receive the least amount of equalization. Just take the amount and divide it by the number of people in Quebec.