Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.
It is worthwhile to take part in this debate on the motion by the Liberal Party, because it enables us to revisit the entire Conservative budget, a budget that the Bloc Québécois obviously considered absolutely inadequate and unacceptable for Quebec, which is why we voted against it.
As we know, the budget contains a government request for a special vote of $3 billion. That strikes us, when all is said and done, as tantamount to handing the government a blank cheque. It is of great concern to us, knowing the federal government's tendency to use similar funds in the past for purposes that were not all that acceptable from the point of view of political and socio-economic objectives. Sometimes, as we are also aware, funds were actually embezzled, as in the sponsorship scandal.
It is, therefore, extremely worrisome to see the Conservative government asking for this blank cheque, and worrisome as well to see that the official opposition is prepared to again hand over a cheque that, while not perhaps totally blank, is pretty close to it, just as it did for the budget it criticizes in every question period. Yet it voted in favour of the Conservative budget and is therefore complicit in its inadequacies and inequalities.
We will be in favour of this motion before us, nonetheless, because it is truly the minimum as far as accountability is concerned that one can require of a government. It seems to me, however, that the Liberal motion could have gone much farther and we will be proposing an amendment to the House as a whole, and the Liberal Party in particular. My colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain will be doing that shortly.
This motion does, therefore, strike us as insufficient, but it is nevertheless a step toward the necessity of requiring a far more serious accounting from the government. It is obvious, for instance, that the motion as worded by the Liberals means that we will be informed once the funds are allocated, when it will be too late to intervene and hold a public debate on how they will be used.
The wording of the motion would make it possible for the money to be spent not only on the measures announced in chapter 3 of the budget, but also on increasing other expenditures. We have been given vague information. I would note that all of the measures announced in the budget are in chapter 3, so the information provided by the Minister of Finance is really quite general. We have also been told that other expenditures might be increased. In light of the fact that the money has to be spent by June 1, I think that we have the right to know what the government has in mind before it spends the money.
There is no way that the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board do not already know which programs will be getting a share of the $3 billion. I do not understand why the government cannot provide that information right away. We are not necessarily asking for all the details, but I think that parliamentarians should be given at least some basic information because this is about taxpayers' money, after all. The role of parliamentarians, those from Quebec anyway, members of the Bloc Québécois, is to ensure that the money is spent in a manner consistent with the values and interests of those we represent, who are, in this case, Quebeckers, of course.
As I said, the budget is both inadequate and unacceptable. For example, half of the measures announced by the Minister of Finance are tax cuts. Not only have virtually all experts and economists condemned tax cuts as ineffective when it comes to kick-starting the economy in a time of crisis, which is where we are now, but that money could have been used to right wrongs.
I would like to list some of the ways in which Quebec has been wronged. That money could have been used to right such wrongs. First of all, the new formula in the budget will cut a billion dollars in equalization payments and also cap payments. That means a billion-dollar shortfall for Quebec. That problem could have been fixed and the previous formula left in place, as the Prime Minister promised. The building Canada fund will also be short $2 billion, and post-secondary education funding will have to make do with $800 million less. That is a very big deal.
Higher education, like education generally, is the key to the future of a nation and a country. Transfers to Quebec—and, indeed, to the other provinces—for post-secondary education have not been adjusted to make up for the cuts by the previous Liberal government. The result is that these transfers remain at the 1994-95 level.
I have another example. There is $600 million for the Canada social transfer, that is, for social assistance. There is $460 million invested in research infrastructure. There is $421 million for the ice storm, since the government still has not assumed its responsibilities in this regard. There is $250 million, which was announced on the sly just before Christmas. In that case, the revenues of Hydro-Quebec are not considered in the same way as those of Hydro One. I might add that the federal government has never paid its share of the harmonization of the Quebec sales tax and the GST, which it had undertaken to do with the other provinces. The Maritimes have already benefited.
The cuts to income taxes are poorly targeted and exaggerated. The $6 billion fiscal imbalance with the Quebec government could have been corrected. This situation has been criticized by all parties and observers. So, a lot more interesting things might have been done instead of what was actually done.
The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development announced this morning that she will add another $60 million to reduce delays in processing claimants' applications for employment insurance. At the moment, processing takes 55 days to 60 days in the regions where unemployment rates are still reasonable. I can imagine what it must be like in the regions hit by the forestry or fisheries crises. She has announced another $60 million to hire people who will process the applications and she thinks that this will bring results. She wants us to believe that it will bring results. It is a smokescreen.
The fundamental problem with employment insurance, its administration and its processing is the Employment Insurance Act itself, which, over the years, has been made so complex by the Liberals and Conservatives, simply in order to prevent the unemployed from enjoying benefits, that it is now unmanageable. This is the first time that, following cuts by both Liberals and Conservatives, their employment insurance plan—not mine—is running off the rails because it has been tailored with one objective only, that of cutting off as many potential claimants as possible. The bureaucracy of this plan is now bogged down.
We will not fix the problem by injecting $60 million. What will work and will help those who lose their jobs is a standard eligibility threshold for all unemployed workers. The proposed threshold of 360 hours is a criterion that can be easily applied. According to the current law, between 420 and 900 hours, together with all kinds of other conditions, are required. Although there are difficulties at present with the administration of employment insurance, this complex system could be fixed.
For instance, there is a completely unjustified two week waiting period when the unemployed are not entitled to benefits. Why? Are they responsible for having been laid off? We are in an economic downturn and there are not many people who have lost their jobs of their own accord. The two week waiting period is an anachronism dating back to the start of employment insurance, in 1942, when workers who paid into employment insurance did not pay premiums for the first weeks of work. Thus, the two week waiting period was put in place. It can no longer be justified and it should be changed.
I want to mention one last thing about the problems with employment insurance. I am referring to the belief introduced by the Liberals and taken up, perhaps even more energetically, by the Conservative government, whereby employment insurance claimants are potential cheaters. They should be trusted. They should be paid and investigations carried out later. The few dozen potential cheaters can be dealt with later so that the 200,000 workers who have lost their jobs over the past two months are not penalized. It is scandalous and that is what should have been addressed by the budget. Unfortunately, the Liberals approved it and the situation cannot be corrected with the motion they have introduced today. It is unacceptable.