Mr. Speaker, today, in responding to the budget speech, I would have liked to be able to say that the government had listened to what we said. The Bloc members held consultations that took us to all parts of Quebec, where we met with unions, employers, municipal groups, individuals and community representatives. What we called for in the budget represented the consensus in Quebec.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not listen to that consensus, especially on the issue of using the current surplus for the budget. The government decided to continue taking a purely ideological approach and use more than $10 billion to pay down the debt, even though money was urgently needed for the manufacturing and forestry industries and to deal with issues such as equity for seniors, social housing and many other short-term emergencies. The Conservatives decided not to act on these issues.
The Bloc Québécois has therefore decided not to vote in favour of this budget. The leader of the Bloc Québécois was clear about this yesterday. However, our consolation is that our position reflects the consensus in Quebec.
This morning, in La Presse, Quebec's finance minister, Ms. Jérôme-Forget, had this to say about the Conservatives and the Minister of Finance:
The choices he made do not reflect Quebec's priorities.
I am disappointed, because he had a $20 billion margin at a time when we are in the midst of an economic slowdown. We would have expected a greater effort to help older workers and the forestry and manufacturing industries in Quebec.
For his part, the leader of the ADQ, Mr. Dumont, who recently referred to himself as a friend of the current Prime Minister, had this to say:
The aid for economic sectors like forestry and manufacturing is not enough. I expected more.
He also said:
Post-secondary education still has not been dealt with. On the issue of the fiscal imbalance, there is a fly in the ointment, despite what Jean Charest thinks. Quebec needs another $1 billion for education.
The leader of the Parti québécois, the sovereignist party in Quebec, has also taken a position. Sovereignists have long understood that the two-government system was not a system for the future for Quebec. We have to go and get the money that we would otherwise have had if we collected all the taxes we were responsible for. So sovereignty would be the best solution for Quebec. Ms. Marois said that the federal budget neglects Quebec. She said that the document presented by Ottawa on Tuesday contained measures that primarily favoured the energy sector in western Canada, where the highest economic growth rates have been seen. She criticized the failure to provide measures for workers, for the forestry and manufacturing sectors and for post-secondary education.
So when the Bloc members rise in this House to say that the budget the Conservatives have introduced in no way meets the expectations of Quebeckers, that is not just the position of the Bloc members, it is not just the position of our sympathizers and people who support us, it is the position of all parties in the National Assembly of Quebec. The three parties represented in the National Assembly of Quebec—the party in government, the official opposition and the third party—are all saying the same thing: this is a budget that was written for Ontario and the West, that was written to allow for nuclear power production to be started back up. Unbelievable!
The decision was made to target economic development efforts to the auto industry, which is located almost exclusively in Ontario, and none of the same benefits were given to other manufacturing industries and the forestry industry, which has been hard hit by the crisis.
Very recently, in my riding, in Saint-Pamphile, the Maibec company closed down. It was a very well managed business, which cut American lumber and had good market penetration. Now it is just about finished, because this government has not been persuaded to put positive measures in place to assist Quebec.
One of the things that the Bloc Québécois has called for, all of which are just as relevant today, is a fund to establish Technology Partnerships Canada. What has the answer been? A fund for the auto industry in Ontario, but no identical fund for Quebec. The decision to eliminate that fund has been maintained, and the initiative and innovation we had hoped to see for our regions have been killed.
There were also calls for refundable contributions to businesses for buying new equipment totalling $1.5 billion, money that could have been taken out of the $10 billion surplus. Instead, we are going to pay down the debt. The ratio between Canada’s debt and its gross domestic product is already one of the best among the G-7 members. But in spite of that, no investment is being made where funds are needed to give our businesses a chance to be competitive.
I will say it and keep saying it: this is not a question of subsidizing business, it is a question of giving them a chance to get the equipment that they need in order to be competitive, to get contracts and to provide products that will find buyers and that will get market share. These kinds of measures have not been proposed. Instead, they have decided to put that money into paying down the debt. They have decided to reduce Canada’s debt, and therefore thousands of jobs will continue to disappear. Already, 150,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector have been lost in the last five years.
Already at the time of the Economic Statement last fall, we were telling the minister about the reality out there. However he already had his rose-coloured glasses firmly in place and was saying that things were going very well and growth would be over 3%. Yesterday, he was forced to say that the growth rate would fall to 1.8%, and he was not even sure about that. While growth declines, he goes on behaving a bit like the government in power before the great depression.
Not many people in the House will remember personally, but history tells us that, before 1930, the government in power in the United States tried to spend as little as possible and limit its outlays in order to pay off the debt as soon as possible. The country sank deeper and deeper into the depression at a time when they should have been taking measures like those introduced later by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was his New Deal that turned the economy around.
We should learn from history. We should be able to understand things like that. There is a $10 billion surplus this year. Even if another $3 billion were spent on paying down the debt, enough would be left to provide the necessary assistance and still have a balanced budget. We would not have this artificial situation the government is creating. It is paying down the debt this year while not entirely sure that there will be a surplus at all next year. If it decided instead to invest this year, it would have a lot more revenues in the years to come.
The Bloc’s position is also Quebec’s position. It is Quebec’s position in regard not only to the manufacturing and forestry sectors but also to how we treat the most disadvantaged people in society.
As we know, a terrible injustice was done in regard to the guaranteed income supplement. For years, the federal government deliberately saw to it that as few older people as possible got the guaranteed income supplement because those who were eligible were not automatically registered. There were 280,000 older people in Canada who were not registered, including 70,000 in Quebec. A huge amount of pressure was applied, especially by a former Bloc member, Mr. Gagnon. He worked tremendously hard to reduce this number.
The legislation is designed in such a way that when money is owed to older people under the guaranteed income supplement program, the maximum retroactive period is 11 months, but when a taxpayer has problems, the tax authorities can go back forever and collect money that was owing from the last four, five or ten years. When money is owed to older people, there is no full retroactivity. In our view, the Conservative government should have fixed this injustice.
These are the kinds of choices that figure among Quebec’s values. We clearly want to share the wealth. Instead, we are treated to what seems a rather squalid gesture on the part of the Conservative government.
In yesterday's budget, older people, people aged 66 or 70 or 72 or 74, were told that if they wanted a bit more money so they could make ends meet, they could go to work and earn up to $3,500 a year, and the money would not be applied against their guaranteed income supplement. Think about it a minute: in a village in my riding, or in a neighbourhood in Montreal, having to tell people who are 68 or 70 or 72 years old and who have worked all their lives, or a retired senior couple, that they are going to have to go out and earn extra money. Obviously, these people will not be earning high wages and they could be taken advantage of. They will have to go out and try to get jobs. This is a completely unrealistic approach.
And yet the federal government had ample resources to fix this injustice, by paying the guaranteed income supplement retroactively and increasing the amounts so that these people could get just above the poverty line. That would have provided them with the minimum income to be able to meet their basic needs.
In Quebec, in Canada and in our society, one of the richest societies on the planet, it is absolutely unacceptable that we do not give our seniors this kind of treatment.
That is what the Bloc Québécois would have hoped for, and what it will continue to stand up for until it wins and these seniors can get respect in this society. They have certainly earned it: they have worked all their lives. And this is something we will have to win, at the end of the day.
The Bloc made its positions very clear in advance. We said that if the government did not listen to us, we were prepared to vote against the budget and go to the polls. We are still ready; there is no problem.
We hope that justice will be done for our industries, our older workers and our senior citizens, as quickly as possible.
Let us talk about older workers, for example. Do you know how much it cost so that these workers, who are 56 or 58 years old and who cannot find jobs despite their best efforts, could have some support while waiting for their old age pension? It cost $60 million a year. During that time, this year, $10 billion is being put toward the debt. But we are unable to provide fair treatment for people who have worked 25 or 30 or 35 years in a company, and who have paid taxes and employment insurance premiums.
The Conservatives are following the same reasoning when it comes to both older workers and senior citizens, in terms of the guaranteed income supplement: they are trying as hard as they can to create a cheap labour pool, people who will work for nothing. Because if you are 58 years old and you have found nothing, and ultimately you are receiving social assistance, then you are going to be tempted to work under the table to make ends meet.
This is the government’s responsibility. If a society is capable of creating wealth and handing out very large tax cuts to business, tax cuts that will total huge amounts of money in the next few years, that is fine. If we are able to do that, we should be able to make sure that we are treating these people fairly.
The Bloc Québécois takes a responsible approach to this issue. It recommended partial payment of the debt and measures to use this year’s surplus, and it made proposals that would still have provided for a balanced budget next year. The federal government did not honour that wish.
There are reasons why, unfortunately, we are faced with the current situation. One of those reasons is that the Liberal Party has been unable to define its position, the position of the official opposition, and to make demands to force the government to act. On the contrary, today, the Liberals introduced some kind of an amendment. So, even though they claim that the budget is uninspiring, they will not take their responsibilities and they are going to let the government continue to do as it pleases.
Today, a federal Liberal or Conservative candidate in Quebec must feel very much alone and terribly lonely. The position of the Liberal Party of Canada and that of the Conservative Party are identical, in that they are irresponsible in light of Quebec's needs. Quebeckers will remember that, and they will make those parties pay the price at the next general election. Indeed, we absolutely cannot accept that elected members, who said they would look after Quebec's interests, come in this House and suddenly agree to support a budget that does not meet Quebec's needs in any way.
If Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec will not listen to Bloc members, then they should listen to what the Quebec Liberal Party's minister of Finance said in Quebec City, or to what the leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, Mario Dumont, who is a friend of the Conservatives, also said yesterday. They should listen to all the opinions that have been voiced. The Quebec federation of chambers of commerce said that, as regards the manufacturing sector, this budget makes no sense, that it is unacceptable. The whole union movement, which is a significant force in Quebec, also said that it is imperative the federal government realize that it has the means to take action, and that, in this budget, it has really made its economic decisions with only the energy sector in mind.
Take a look at the budget papers. There is a nice table showing the link between the increase in the value of the dollar, and the increase in the value of oil. Next to it, another table shows the impact on the manufacturing sector. It is quite clear. This is what we are confronted with: On the one hand, the dollar is going up, because oil prices are increasing, while on the other hand the manufacturing sector is slowing down, because we are not as competitive. We have nothing against the economy being in good shape, against energy prices that are acceptable, but we must ensure that there is a redistribution to help spread and generate wealth.
It is the government’s responsibility. This is a Quebec value that the Conservatives, unfortunately, do not seem to share and are not capable of supporting.
Our responsible position on the budget is based on broad consultations. We announced it very clearly yesterday and reiterated it today in question period.
To conclude, I want to make one last point before introducing an amendment to the amendment. The government still has time to change course. It has until March 31, 2008 to do what it did with the $1 billion trust.
We all remember the Prime Minister saying that the billion dollars would only be available if the budget was passed in full. There was such an outcry in Quebec because this did not make any sense that we succeeded in forcing the Prime Minister to change course. He agreed to separate the billion dollars from the passage of the budget. The billion dollars are therefore available.
This shows that it is quite possible to do things without tying them to the passage of the budget. It was possible before the budget was tabled and will still be possible for this year’s surpluses until March 31.
I hope the Prime Minister will listen to the consensus in Quebec. There is still a consensus on the family trust issue. All three parties in the National Assembly agree. The labour unions and employers associations in Quebec all agree, as do the various social strata. There is a consensus in all parts of Quebec, where people want senior citizens treated fairly again, a decent future for our regions, and all parts of Quebec occupied through our forestry and manufacturing sectors. This is the consensus that the Bloc members champion in the House. It is why we will vote against the budget and introduce an amendment to the amendment.
With the support of the hon. member for Montcalm, I move the following amendment to the amendment:
That all the words after the word “contains” be replaced by the following:
“initiatives that do not meet the expectations of Quebeckers who have asked that the current year’s surpluses be used to help workers and industries in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which are facing a serious crisis in Quebec, to help seniors living below the poverty line and help individuals improve the energy efficiency of their homes, calls on the government to implement these measures before the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2008, and deplores that this Budget ignores the fiscal imbalance by not transferring $3.5 billion to Quebec and the provinces for post-secondary education and by not eliminating federal spending power.”.