Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today in connection with the Liberal Party motion concerning vote 35, that is the interim vote of $3 billion. Let us review the motion itself:
That, due to the extraordinary nature of the spending authority proposed in Treasury Board Vote 35 in the Main Estimates for 2009-2010, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, by April 3rd, 2009, a list of the departments and programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority;
on each occasion that the government uses Vote 35, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, within one sitting day of each such use, a report disclosing:
(a) the name and location of each project to which the funding is being provided (including the federal electoral district in which it is located),
(b) the amount of federal funding,
(c) the department and program under which the federal funding is being provided,
(d) what each project is intended to achieve in fighting the recession, and why it requires recourse to Vote 35 rather than any other source of funds;
that each such report shall be posted on a publicly accessible government website, and referred immediately to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Auditor General.
To begin with, the fact that the government wishes to appropriate the means by which taxpayers' dollars are to be spent is totally unsatisfactory and disrespectful of democracy. Let us start off by acknowledging that the Conservative budget is clearly insufficient and unacceptable for Quebec. I will take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to give you an example of this, since I know you are very attentive to the question.
In the last budget, the forestry industry is allocated an envelope of $170 million, while close to $4 billion in loans are offered to the auto industry. A rapid calculation if we put those two amounts together gives 4% for forestry and 96% for the auto industry. This is unequal and unacceptable.
I am thinking today of the workers at Abitibi-Bowater in Gatineau, who are waiting for another downsizing exercise. This paper mill employed 1450 in 1992, but the figure had dropped to 580 in 2007 and is now less than 400. Abitibi-Bowater, the biggest newsprint producer in the world, is now involved in debt restructuring. Its deadline for announcing its plan is tonight.
It is quite understandable for workers to be holding their breath, because they are wondering, quite simply, whether there will be more job losses. We have to feel for these folks. The budget does not.
We can certainly understand the remarks by Gaston Carrière, the president of section 142 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which has a membership of some 370 tradesmen at the Gatineau pulp and paper mill. In this morning's Le Droit, he criticizes the federal government's lack of intervention to help the forestry industry while the automotive industry in Canada is getting nearly $4 billion in loans. Pulp and paper in Canada has lost 25,000 jobs in the past two years or so. It is scandalous.
Mr. Carrière went on to say that they had been through streamlining, that the Gatineau plant was among the most efficient and that they had worked to increase productivity and competitiveness. He pointed out that the government helps the automotive industry and the oil industry in the west.
Mr. Carrière is not very impressed by the Prime Minister of Canada and his refusal to help the forestry industry.
In the light of Mr. Carrière's remarks, we reiterate that the Conservative budget is totally inadequate and unacceptable to Quebec. In addition, the Liberal party failed to assume its responsibilities and preferred to have the budget passed, a budget that did not meet Quebeckers' needs.
Out of concern for rigorous management of public funds, the Bloc québécois opposes giving the federal government a blank cheque for $3 billion.
The federal government has been negligent in the past in its management of secret funds, as the sponsorship scandal revealed.
The Liberal party will give the Conservative government the sum of $3 billion, which will not be under the control of Parliament.
The Liberal motion does not alter the fact that the Conservative government will be able to spend the $3 billion however it likes.
The Liberal motion obliges the government to be accountable, albeit minimally, in managing the $3 billion under vote 35.
Despite the passage of this motion, the Bloc will continue to hound the Conservative government to ensure that the money invested from this secret fund will be spent legitimately. The details sought by the Liberal party are a start, for sure, but quite inadequate. On the basis of this principle of accountability, we will support this motion.
After the 2009 budget was tabled, the Conservatives tabled with the main estimates, a request for a vote of $3 billion to be spent by June 2009, this coming June, by Treasury Board. So, 11/12 of this vote will be voted on this evening as interim supply.
The details surrounding this vote are unknown and that is the scandal. In other words, under the pretext of rapidly injecting money into the economy, the Conservatives are asking Parliament to sign over a $3 billion blank cheque.
Yet as the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities himself admitted, the political ministers of each region will be consulted concerning the allocation of the money made available by vote 35. This is what I would call favouritism.
In that regard, I would like to quote from a period of questions in the March 5 meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, that is, 19 days ago. My colleague, the transport critic and member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, asked the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities the following question:
My second question is about community recreational facilities. The Minister of State Responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, [the Conservative member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean], announced that his department was prepared to receive applications, but no forms are available. Earlier you mentioned that the [Minister of Public Works and Government Services, the Conservative member for Mégantic—L'Érable], was also looking after this file. Which [of the two ministers] will manage programs for community recreational facilities in Quebec?
The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Conservative member for Ottawa West—Nepean, replied:
I work constructively with all my cabinet colleagues.
Listen carefully, for all is revealed in his next comment.
The political minister in each region is obviously one of the principal advisers whom I would turn to for advice and counsel. [The Conservative member and minister from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean] works for the Regional Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec. Obviously that might be a delivery agent for one or more initiatives. We'll be coming forward in very short order with some specifics on that.
That is favouritism. Is that not scandalous? The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities will consult his colleagues in each region—the Minister of Public Works and Government Services this time and maybe the Minister of State responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec another time—to determine whether the project is worthwhile rather than examining the quality of the project, all without having any criteria. That is favouritism, that is taking taxpayers' money and doing what they want with it. And to do what? To put up a building here, in a riding that did not win a project last time, or to build a road there, in a riding they want to hold onto in the next election. This is an appalling and unacceptable way of doing things.
I am thinking of forestry workers, the paper mill workers in Gatineau today, who will find out tonight if they are still employed. The federal government has money and what does it want to do with the $3 billion? It wants to hand it out to friends because it is not in the least accountable to taxpayers. That is unacceptable and I understand Quebeckers' and Canadians' outcry and revolt against these types of proposals from the Conservative government.
It is shameful. We should be ashamed and vote against a government that acts in this way. We will support the spirit of the motion by voting for it.