Mr. Speaker, we are at the report stage for the budget implementation bill. In the group of proposed amendments today, there are two types of amendments that do not belong in the budget bill. In terms of equalization, the federal government has tabled an economic stimulus budget that, with one hand, is taking from Quebec what it is giving with the other.
The equalization system, as Canada has developed it, is financed entirely by the federal government with the help of taxes paid by Canadians and Quebeckers. It is based on a fundamental commitment to equality, so that citizens have access to public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. In other words, the formula that has been determined over the years aims to measure a province's fiscal ability to offer public services. But it does not take into account the various factors that could influence the volume or cost of public services in a province, with the exception of its size and population.
In this case, the decision was made to unilaterally change the procedure. Quebec ends up with a shortfall of some $1 billion, while Quebec, like the other provinces in Canada, is coping with major problems, reduced consumer spending, and a need to jump-start the economy. On the one hand we are told that money will be invested, in infrastructure for example, in order to stimulate consumption, while on the other they are taking away the leeway Quebec was counting on in order to be able to have access to it. Moreover, the Quebec finance minister wrote a letter objecting to this and calling upon the federal government to reconsider its assessment of the situation and to put on the table what was really important. To that end, the Bloc Québécois has introduced some motions to get that part of the bill deleted.
The fact is that the Conservatives can count on Liberal support. This coalition of the blue and the red is a bit like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. No matter which one is in power, we have the same centralizing federal government steamroller. This is particularly the case for this matter of the cuts to equalization, which will hurt Quebec a great deal.
Another important aspect concerns the whole issue of pay equity. In this block of amendments, there are also ones aimed at restoring the important status of pay equity. We are, moreover, amazed to find measures like this in a bill to implement the budget. We have seen this sort of model in the U.S. Congress, particularly under the Republicans, when they were adding amendments onto omnibus bills with undesirable results.
The Bloc Québécois is, of course, in favour of pay equity and considers it a non-negotiable right. In order to ensure that pay equity exists for all Quebec and Canadian working women, proactive federal legislation is necessary that will cover all women in areas under federal jurisdiction.
In the present bill, rather than give each worker equal rights, an additional category of women is created who are not covered by the same conditions. One protection is given to women in the public sector, and another to those not covered by this bill. This strikes us as unfair to the women affected by this bill.
The Bloc Québécois opposes the part that makes pay equity a negotiable right within a collective agreement. The Bloc would rather see the creation of sectoral committees on pay equity, as has been done in Quebec. We take exception to the fact that this bill creates a third category of workers in Quebec. As I was saying earlier, one category falls under Quebec pay equity legislation, another falls under federal legislation on equitable compensation and the remaining category is in the federally regulated private sector and certain crown corporations and has an ineffective complaint system.
Thus, there are three different categories of citizens in this pay equity legislation. Something does not make sense here. The federal government should not have ventured into this territory. It has put forward measures that will create more inequities, rather than solve any problems.
We believe that the gaps, omissions and false premises, including the notion of a market economy in this bill, make it unacceptable and out of sync with Quebec's values.
If the Conservative government believes that equitable compensation is necessary in the government, why would that not also be the case for private businesses under federal jurisdiction, unless it believes that this principle is too costly and harmful to private enterprise?
Equity is established not based on the rights of the workers in question, but rather based on the interests of the employers who hire them. This is a very unacceptable practice and I believe the Conservatives should have reversed their position. That is why we, particularly as members of the Bloc Québécois, have strongly held beliefs on the issue of pay equity in Quebec, a practice that has not been sufficiently developed. We would like to see the Conservative government reverse its stance on this issue. Otherwise, it will have the public to answer to.
Part ll of the bill deals with equitable compensation and enacts the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. The term pay equity never appears in the bill. It speaks instead about equitable compensation, without ever defining it. This terminological fuzziness could well present problems when it comes to legal interpretations and we may find ourselves facing one of the obstacles that the Conservatives claimed to eliminate, that is to say, endless battles before the courts which will ensure that female workers never get justice.
The bill applies strictly to employers in the public sector: Treasury Board, the RCMP and certain agencies and crown corporations. Companies under federal jurisdiction are not covered, nor are certain other crown corporations, for example Canada Post and the CBC. They are therefore creating a great muddle that ultimately will do nothing to improve the situation.
The government could have forged ahead in this budget with steps that would have really helped Quebec’s economy, especially forestry and manufacturing. We see once again today how much these sectors need help but have been abandoned by the government. We need action, loan guarantees, and some original thinking. The Bloc Québécois suggested some measures last fall. It was also the only opposition party to come up with some specific suggestions.
In addition to the things that are missing from this stimulus budget but are so important to Quebec that the Bloc Québécois must oppose the bill, the government has included various measures that are not really related to the budget and, most importantly, should not be changed in any case in the way they want to right now if we want to be fair toward the provinces and if we say they have the funding they need to jump-start their economies.
When the Finance Minister boasts of having invested billions of dollars in infrastructure to boost the economy while at the same time he cuts Quebec’s equalization payments, he creates a situation in which Quebec will not have the funds it needs to activate the tripartite programs requiring federal, provincial and municipal participation. If Quebec had been left some leeway with its equalization payments, there would have been a lot more positive effects on the economy and we would really have had a stimulus package to counter the economic downturn.
In that regard, the Conservative government has not been able to kick its old laissez-faire habit. Even when told that a change in approach is needed to deal with the situation, we see several typical Conservative behaviours. One of them is to penalize Quebec by cutting equalization payments. This has draconian consequences for the Government of Quebec, which will have particular difficulty preparing its budget.
I am being signalled that I have only one minute left. We also realize that this approach is one of main factors that has led an increasing number of Quebeckers to consider that if they controlled all their taxes—an important aspect of sovereignty—they could make decisions as an adult nation. They would not be required to conduct such debates or to depend on a government that, from one year to the next, changes the funding provided by equalization. In my opinion, both Canadians and Quebeckers would be much happier with that sort of arrangement.
While waiting for the time when the Quebec people decide to pursue the sovereignist project, the Bloc Québécois is here to defend the interests of Quebec. We are doing so again with the proposed amendments to the bill and by the Bloc Québécois' position, which is unlike that of the Liberals who have chosen to be associated with a Conservative budget that is harmful to Quebec. We have clearly defended the positions of Quebec and we will continue to do so.