Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today given that the subject of the opposition motion being debated is extremely important.
The use of public funds is inevitably a highly charged issue and one that became the rallying cry for the American Revolution: no taxation without representation.
This issue was one of the main grievances of the American colonies with respect to the British Empire. It established what was to become a basic principle for all democracies: public funds belong to the people and it is up to them, through parliamentary representation, to decide their use.
The motion before the House raises essentially the same issues raised in those times because stating “no taxation without representation” is tantamount to stating that taxation is only legitimate if supported by the people.
Obviously, a number of the expenses referred to in the motion would not fly with the majority of families who, in many cases, must tighten their belts in order to make ends meet in these economic times.
My colleagues have discussed at length today the famous ten percenters, the mailings that parliamentarians are entitled to send every day to 10% of the residences in their riding. Conservative members have clearly used them for partisan purposes, which has tarnished our reputation, and this usage has lowered the tone of debate because both the arguments and the accusations made are unfounded or completely out of line.
Naturally, as we say in Quebec, we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. A very useful tool should not be abolished outright just because certain parties abuse it. We believe that we should take the time and make the effort to review the rules governing their use and to make the necessary changes. For example, all members, except for the whips of each party, should be prohibited from using this parliamentary privilege to send mailings to other ridings. In this way, we would ensure that these mailings are used, first and foremost, to inform the people we represent of the legislative work being done in Parliament and action taken in our ridings, and not to inundate citizens with partisan propaganda.
Furthermore, while no one can deny that misusing or abusing parliamentary householders is a waste of public funds, the fact remains that the large amounts of money involved—around $10 million in 2008-09, or four times more than what was spent four years earlier—are unfortunately just a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of federal government squandering.
If anyone needs convincing, they just have to glance at the government's finances and the huge structural deficit that the Conservative government created by giving tax breaks to its friends in the oil industry and its cousins, the big banks. That $10 million suddenly does not seem to weigh so heavily in the balance, because the burden is so massive.
What does weigh heavily is the staggering 88% increase in government operating expenditures over the past 10 years. In that time, federal revenues have increased by only 45%.
These operating expenditures reached $55.6 billion in 2008-09, $26 billion more than in 1998-99.
Yet ostensibly, everything suggests that the government has no intention of seriously attacking this problem, except through flashy populist measures. Band-aid solutions will not conceal the awful structural deficit, for which this government is solely responsible, and which it underestimates year after year despite warnings from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, among others. In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed again last week what we had known for some time: the Conservative government is obviously just as skilled at hiding numbers as it is at censoring reports.
In any case, the government discredited itself during the 2008 election campaign, when the current Prime Minister said unequivocally that Canada would avoid the recession, that the people had nothing to worry about and that, on the contrary, they should be happy that they would be able to take advantage of the stock market crash to add to their stock portfolios.
Later on, that same fall, the Minister of Finance predicted that Canada would not only avoid the recession, but not run a deficit the following year. He then changed his mind and predicted a $39 billion deficit, only to change his mind again and predict a $56 billion deficit. So much for financial credibility.
The government was the only one surprised by this deficit, and the worst thing is that it is trying to download this deficit onto the middle class, those who have been hardest hit by this economic crisis we are just emerging from. The middle class must now deal with this waste of public funds.
Since we are talking about public funds, I cannot ignore the absolutely scandalous and shameful use of funds that do not even belong to the government. I am talking about employment insurance contributions. The government shamelessly admits, without even trying to justify its actions, that it plans to copy its Liberal predecessors and plunder $19 billion from the EI fund. That is not a waste of public funds. It is worse than that.
There is a word in French to describe “the taking of another person's property...by force or without their knowledge”, but it is not a parliamentary word. If the word is not parliamentary, then I wonder how we should classify this action, when the only way to describe it in the House is by using circumlocutions.
We can add that $19 billion between 2012 and 2015 to the $57 billion that the Liberal and Conservative governments took from workers against their will and without their knowledge.
Although they promised not to act like the nasty Liberals and to put a stop once and for all to this despicable practice that penalizes employers just as much as employees, the Conservatives are once again going after the middle class, since instead of increasing taxes on big corporations, banks, oil companies and the wealthy, they have chosen to dip into the pockets of workers and their employers, making employment insurance nothing more than a hidden tax.
It is one of the most regressive kinds of taxes. Because there are maximum insurable earnings beyond which workers no longer pay premiums, it seems that for the rich, these premiums represent a tiny portion of their salary, while for a worker who earns a regular wage, they currently represent 1.73% of that wage and soon will represent 2.33%.
It is also regressive for employers because a company, whether it is profitable or not, must contribute to employment insurance. This is not the case with taxes.
It is the same for both workers and employers. In these cases, it is a question of indiscriminate tax measures that in no way take into account the taxpayer's ability to contribute. The government would rather fire into the crowd, as they say.
And speaking of guns, we should talk about the gun registry, a registry that the Conservatives would like to get rid of because they say it costs too much. How much does the gun registry cost taxpayers each year? It costs $10 million, which is the exact amount spent on ten percenters sent to opposition ridings.
Essentially, the government is trying to tell us that it is more important to be able to inundate Quebeckers and Canadians with the worst kind of propaganda than to maintain a gun registry that is supported by police, lawyers, judges, Quebec's National Assembly, and many others.
It would rather take part in cheap attacks than maintain a tool that has proven its worth, that is consulted thousands of times a day and that has had a positive effect on the number of homicides committed with long guns, according to statistics on this issue.
It seems to me that the choice is obvious. It jumps off the page. It goes without saying. However, it does not seem to go without saying for the Conservatives, among others, who voted to scrap the gun registry. It is a choice they made and one that bears witness to their values.
It is not the Bloc Québécois's choice, nor is it what our electors, the people we represent and who contribute to the public treasury, want.