Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak in this House on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, on the subject of Bill C-50, the Budget Implementation Act, 2008.
When a political party sets about analyzing a budget, it always does so responsibly. That is what the Bloc Québécois has always done in recent years, in considering the various budgets that have been introduced in this House. The position we take as our guide, and in fact what has always been our one and only position, is whether the budget presented in Ottawa is in the interests of Quebeckers. The Bloc Québécois has no ambition other than to stand up for the interests of Quebeckers in this House, every day, and every time its members rise to speak. And Quebeckers have rewarded us well for that work, because since 1993 a majority of the representatives of Quebec here in the House have been Bloc Québécois members.
Once again, we have analyzed this budget and its history, because this most recent budget in fact has an extraordinary history. As far back as we can remember, the crisis in manufacturing and forestry that has hit Quebec, and also Ontario—Quebec is not alone—is one of the biggest crises that those industries have experienced in their entire histories.
It is huge. I recall that 150,000 jobs have been lost in Quebec in the last five years, 70,000 of them in the last two years, since the Conservatives came to power. Thus, when governments are investing or preparing a budget, they need to make an effort to tackle that crisis or problem.
In terms of the brief history of this budget, we have to remember the prebudget episode when the Conservative government decided not to deal with the forestry and manufacturing crises in the budget. In fact, that was clear in the prebudget consultations initiated by the Minister of Finance.
The political pressure brought to bear on the government by the Bloc Québécois, for one, but also by some other parties in this House, prompted the government to decide to create a trust fund even before the budget was introduced. The fund consists of $1 billion taken out of last year’s surplus, the surplus for 2007-08. That surplus was originally $11.2 billion, and now stands at $10.2 billion.
Unfortunately, this money is not allocated based on the percentage of job losses by province, but on a per capita basis. This was the introduction to the Conservative philosophy. In other words, while this crisis affects Quebec and Ontario, the money for solving this problem was not allocated as it was for the mad cow crisis at the time. In that case, the money was given to the provinces where farmers were affected, primarily in western Canada. But no, this time the government decided that the money would be allocated on a per capita basis. And thus, when we consider population numbers and the minimum amount to be paid to each province, Alberta received more money than Quebec.
When each province receives a minimum of $10 million, since Alberta has fewer people than Quebec, the per capita amount is higher. So more money per person was paid to Alberta than to Quebec or Ontario. Lastly, it has been shown that this crisis was not overestimated. Although the crisis was acknowledged, the government said that it was not just taking place in Quebec and Ontario, but that jobs were being lost elsewhere as well. So it tried to minimize the crisis by allocating the money this way.
And the terrible thing is not just how the money was allocated but that it was made conditional on the passage of the budget. The Conservatives took it one step further. And this is recent history; it happened in the last three months.
We saw that pressure from the Bloc Québécois made them back off. As it turned out, the condition for passing the budget was no longer a condition, except for the fact that it paved the way for the budget.
It should have come as no surprise that the budget did not include anything else for the forestry and manufacturing sectors, except for a few small adjustments to tax deductions that I will read out later on.
Among other things, the budget includes accelerated capital cost allowance for equipment purchases. When businesses are allowed to amortize a larger portion of their assets, they have less net income and therefore pay less income tax. That is how these measures end up being tax cuts. However, for a company to accelerate its capital cost allowance or to use these deductions, that company has to have made a profit. But the problem with the forestry and manufacturing sectors in Quebec is that nobody made a profit. So it turns out that the only thing the Conservative government put on the table was its $1 billion trust divided by the number of residents, which means that Quebec will receive $216 million—$71 million per year—to make up for the loss of 150,000 jobs in the past five years. That is nothing, nothing at all considering the size of the problem.
The Minister of Labour was talking about a piece of steak and how people had to be able to eat it. Watching him talk about it was quite something. Let us eat this piece of steak. Except that what he said he wanted to do with the money was diversify the economy. The Conservatives are quite a sight to behold when they get going.
Trees will keep on growing, but jobs will be created in industries other than forestry. That is more or less the message he was sending, the same message he sends us every day: the government wants to diversify the economy.
Municipalities are watching their mills close and their forestry and manufacturing businesses shut their doors. All of these people have acquired skills and experience over the years. Many of those who lost their jobs were 50 years old or older. It is not easy for people to retrain and get new jobs in a diversified economy. Often, these people are coping with difficult family situations in monoculture regions where the forest has always been there. I repeat, the trees will keep on growing.
Once again, what the Conservatives are proposing is that the entire segment of the economy called the forest disappear. They will do other things, and one day, it will reappear. There is no short-, medium-, or long-term strategy. Sorry, they do have a short-term strategy: they are trying to win an election. They want to become a big strong government, a majority government with a lot of power. Having that power but not being able to help our citizens facing problems accomplishes nothing.
I look at the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the member for Pontiac. Six plants have closed in his riding. But he has a lot of power; he is an important minister, a very important minister. They want to create all kinds of jobs, except that Pontiac is a bit like part of my community, where more than 45% of jobs are in the forestry sector. They will try to transform all of that. Into what, I am not sure. They will create call centres; they will transform the economy.
I said it earlier, the trees will keep on growing, and forestry should continue to be the economic mainstay of Pontiac. They should be able to modernize and adapt businesses, help them to become better in order to face international competition. The trees in Pontiac, like those in Papineau and many other regions such as Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, Mauricie, the Eastern Townships, Bois-Francs, and all regions in Quebec, will keep on growing. They deserve to be managed responsibly and put on the market with added value. We should be able to sell our products worldwide.
But, that is not what the Conservative government wants to do. No. They are diversifying the economy. They are not trying to strengthen these businesses. With these employees who have all of this experience gained from generation to generation, they will change everything and they will try to diversify the economy. They will inject $71 million a year into Quebec, a total of $216 million, and that will solve all of the problems. How nice.
You will not be surprised to hear that we are voting against this budget. It is a budget that lacks vision for the medium and long terms and completely abandons the manufacturing and forestry industries. The government has not completely turned its back on the manufacturing industry. It is still generous to the manufacturing sector called the oil companies. It grants the oil companies accelerated capital cost allowance. It is in the budget. The government is helping those who are making exorbitant profits and does not care about the rest. It is terrible and not very subtle, but that is their way of doing things.
Right now, they do not care about anything. They are just trying to get support from those who make money. Currently the oil companies are making money every day to the detriment of taxpayers by selling fuel for more than it is worth. That is the reality. We have been fighting for years in this House to have a strong competition bureau to prevent this collusion, which, since the Conservatives have been in power, has made gas more expensive than ever. The oil companies have never made so much money and there is no end in sight.
Every time a budget is tabled—we see this in the environment—the Minister of the Environment wants to introduce measures to give the oil companies credits because they are going to make great efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is not the oil companies, but the taxpayers who should pay. Those poor companies do not have any money, they are going through tough times and if we want them to stay, we have to do something. Canada is the only country in the world that does not regulate its natural resources.
These oil companies are exploiting a resource that belongs to the public. The oil in the ground does not belong to them. It is public property that should belong to the state. However, once again, the Conservatives have decided to give the oil companies everything they want and allow them to exploit this natural resource. They can do what they want with it. They can even sell it to whomever they want. It is quite surprising to realize that out of everything that is produced in the west, absolutely nothing is sold to Quebec. Because of the Borden line, not a single gallon of gas or a single litre of oil from the west is sold in Quebec, which imports fuel from other countries. That is the reality.
Once again, Quebeckers pay 25% of all the tax credits granted to the big oil companies that exploit petroleum in the rest of Canada, and for which they receive no economic benefit because the oil is not sold here in Quebec.
That is the reality and that is the Conservative way of operating. Like us, some people are not surprised because that is the history. Obviously, the Conservatives have always been like that. They let free enterprise have its way; they let the markets take over and they say that things will right themselves. It is not important that segments of the economy are disappearing. Some day, these will come back. They do not know how. They, in particular, are the ones who want to know how it will work.
As far as the manufacturing and forestry sectors are concerned, it is very important to look at what was in the budget. For the manufacturing and forestry sectors, the first measure is an extension of accelerated depreciation for production equipment and rolling stock. That is what I said earlier. Depreciation is an expense that can be entered on a balance sheet; it is an accounting expense that is not necessarily money. Someone bought equipment, but the expense cannot be written off in the same year because the equipment will be used for a long time. It used to be depreciated over 10, 15 or 20 years, but now it can be depreciated more quickly.
Here, again, they add an expense that reduces income. This all very well when you are making a profit. One can increase expenses with write-offs, which will reduce income. However, that does absolutely no good when a company does not produce income, as is the case for most of the forestry companies and many manufacturing companies that we have seen close their doors. It does not help.
It would be rather difficult to make depreciation refundable since it is a company expense. However, if they were given a tax credit that could be refundable, that would be quite different. The company would then be entitled to a tax credit. If it had no income, it could not reduce its expenses and pay less tax; and if it was decided since they had not made a profit to issue them a cheque to refund that tax credit, that would be interesting.
That is not how the Conservatives do things. This is probably because they only deal with lobbyists who have lots of money, while those who do not are of little interest. That is the reality.
I want to turn now to the second measure in the budget. Some $250 million will be available over five years to subsidize investments in research and development, but only in the automobile industry. There has evidently been an economic downturn in Ontario. And so there is a measure to invest $250 million. I am not an Ontario member and so I will leave it to the Liberals who represent many of the Ontario ridings. Even if they wanted to try to challenge the budget, they would not have the strength to rise and vote against this. That is the reality and we will have to live with it. It is up to them to judge this $250 million for Ontario. One thing is clear though: there is nothing to help the manufacturing and forest sectors to modernize and do some research and development. It is specifically for the automotive sector.
The third minor change is a tax credit for research and development. Once again, the government is increasing the ceiling, but these famous tax credits are strictly for companies that are making a profit. The government is allowing an increase in the tax credits. This means that the more money a company makes, the less it pays in taxes and the more research and development it can do. There is a problem though: many forestry and manufacturing companies did not make a profit last year and therefore cannot benefit from tax credits. If a company does not make money, tax credits do not do it any good. If the tax credits were refundable—as the Bloc Québécois has always suggested—things would be different. Even if a company did not make money and did not have any profits, it would still be entitled and would get a cheque to allow it to invest in research and development. But once again, that is not how the Conservatives do things.
There is also $10 million over two years to promote Canada’s forestry sector as a model for innovation on international markets. This is the only direct assistance for the forestry sector in the budget, only $5 million a year. That is the reality.
The Conservatives wanted to get $250 million out of the budget for the automotive sector—$5 million a year—and $10 million for the forestry sector. The rest was in their famous $1 billion trust negotiated before the budget. It was conditional, though, on the budget being passed. That was their first threat: if we wanted to help people, we would have to pass the budget.
The Bloc brought the necessary pressure to bear and the government finally backed down. So what did Quebec get out of it? The money was divided up not by the number of jobs lost per province but by the number of inhabitants. Everybody knew it was Quebec and Ontario that were suffering. Their premiers said so over and over. Mr. Charest and Mr. McGuinty loudly proclaimed that they were most affected. But no. The Conservatives were squarely opposed and decided to distribute the money on a per capita basis, with a minimum amount for each province.
I will say it again because it bears repeating: As a result, Alberta received more money than Quebec because there was a minimum of $10 million per province plus so much per inhabitant. Given that Quebec's population is greater, Quebec was given less money per capita than Alberta.
That is strange. At the time of the mad cow crisis, money was distributed where the problem arose. The western provinces were affected and no one from the Bloc stood up to say that all the money was paid out west. That is not true. We asked that a portion be paid to Quebec because the crisis affected the sale of culled cows in Quebec. Therefore, we asked for some compensation. We did not protest because all the money was going out west. That is not true. There was a crisis and it had to be dealt with. We were always very fair.
However, when the Conservatives are making the decisions, it is not the same. When Quebec and Ontario are involved, things are never the same. They have to be able to give something to everyone. It is impossible for Quebec to receive more money and so forth.That is really something. When we try to ask the question, even of the Quebec ministers, they simply answer that Quebec has the equalization formula and that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved.
The fiscal imbalance and equalization apply to all provinces and not just Quebec. Equalization is entrenched in the Canadian constitution: wealthier provinces will support poorer provinces. The Conservatives have impoverished Quebec over the years by eliminating Quebec's automotive industry and concentrating it in Ontario. They are doing the same thing with the aerospace industry. When I first became an MP, 62% of the aerospace industry was in Quebec; that has now dropped to 51.5%.
The Conservatives are steadily transferring all the good jobs to other provinces with the result that Quebec will be perennially impoverished. That is the reality. After the fact, Quebec is criticized for having equalization. There should be no equalization. They should not get more. Let us leave and we will do just fine.