Madam Speaker, Bill C-32 has more bulk than substance. My colleagues were right in saying so earlier.
Bill C-32 contains 25 different tax measures and a dozen or so non-tax measures. That may seem like a lot, but there are in fact two kinds of measures. Some are minor amendments, like the ones this Parliament adopts on a regular basis to comply with court rulings, treaties and new accounting policies or to correct an unintended effect of an act, while others were already announced in the spring 2022 budget but had not been incorporated into the first budget implementation bill in June.
Simply put, like the economic statement of November 3, 2022, Bill C-32 does not include any measures to address the new economic reality brought on by the high cost of living and a possible recession. It is a bill that does not do any harm but does not deserve much praise either. At the same time, it is not a total disappointment, because it does contain a few positive measures.
The Bloc Québécois takes issue with an economic update that mentions the inflation problem 108 times but offers no additional support to vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those who have lost their jobs. It offers no solutions, despite the fact that a recession is expected to hit in 2023. Quebeckers concerned about the high cost of living will find little comfort in this economic update. They will have to make do with what is basically the next step in the implementation of last spring's budget.
The Bloc Québécois asked the government to focus on its fundamental responsibilities toward vulnerable people, such as increasing health transfers, which I will come back to, adequately supporting people aged 65 and over, and immediately reforming the EI program, which is the best stabilizer in times of economic difficulty. The government dismissed our proposals. We can only denounce this as a missed opportunity to help Quebeckers deal with the tough times that they are already going through or may face in the months to come.
With respect to health care, there is an ongoing standoff between the federal government on one side and Quebec and the provinces on the other. The Bloc Québécois asked the federal government to agree to the unanimous request of Quebec and the provinces to increase health transfers immediately, permanently and unconditionally. Let us not forget that, in 1993, former minister Paul Martin decided to erase the federal deficit by cutting health transfers from 50% to 25%. The provinces were in crisis. Since then, no government has been interested in getting funding back up to that 50% over time. We would be happy with a boost to 35%, but the government has not only failed to restore funding to where it was, it has reduced it to 22%.
That is unacceptable. This injustice must be corrected. Sick people and health care workers are the ones suffering. ER doctors are warning that our hospitals have reached the breaking point, but the federal government is not taking action. Obviously, it would much rather prolong the health care funding crisis in the hope of breaking the provinces' united front so it can convince them to accept less than they are asking for.
I would remind the House that sections 92 and 93 of the Canadian Constitution state very clearly that the only role of the federal Parliament is to transfer money to the provinces without any conditions. When I look at the various political parties here in Ottawa, I often wonder if they are proud to be Canadian. I am very proud to be a Quebecker, and if there were a Quebec constitution, the first thing I would do to express my pride would be to respect it. At the federal level, the Constitution is abundantly clear about health transfers. Why, then, does Ottawa choose not to respect the Constitution? Are those members proud to be Canadian, yes or no? Anyone who is proud to be Canadian would respect the country's Constitution.
Let us now talk about the two classes of seniors. This is the first time we see an attack on the universality of health programs. People between the ages of 65 and 74 continue to be denied the increase in old age security, which they need more than ever before. Seniors live on fixed incomes, so they cannot deal with such a sharp rise in the cost of living. Seniors are the most likely to have to make tough choices at the grocery store, the pharmacy or the gas pump. The government continues to penalize those who are less well-off and who would like to work more without losing their benefits. Unlike the government, inflation does not discriminate against seniors based on their age. Currently, Canada's income replacement rate, meaning the percentage of income that a senior retains at retirement, is one of the lowest in the OECD.
The increase in old age security should prevent demographic changes from significantly slowing economic activity. Contrary to what the government says, starving seniors aged 65 to 75 will not encourage them to remain employed. That is done by no longer penalizing them when they work.
There are several solutions that could help seniors. I would like to quote from a letter I received from Robert Bernatchez, who lives in my riding. His proposal is very acceptable, very simple to understand and very simple to implement, but for the time being the government is turning a deaf ear.
His letter reads as follows:
Dear Mr. [MP], allow me to share with you an initiative that may help seniors 65 to 74. They do not benefit from the increase to old age security, since the federal government increased the age of eligibility to 75.
Whereas the 10% increase to old age security is reserved for individuals 75 and older and this is unfair to individuals who have not reached that age. It should be noted that we had a universal plan starting at 65 for the old age security pension.
Whereas there is currently no permanent government measure that allows retirees 65 to 74 to increase their income to cope with growing inflation.
Whereas the message sent by the federal and provincial governments to retirees 65 to 74 is that “if you want more money then get a job to help address the pressing labour shortage and/or to increase your income”.
Whereas many retirees 65 to 74 do not want to return to work or they would have already done so.
Whereas these are the same people who helped build the Quebec and Canada of today. They have made invaluable contributions and now want to receive some help.
We, retirees aged 65 to 75, are calling on the federal government to change the eligibility criteria for the guaranteed income supplement to include the following.
When inflation exceeds 3%, the following measures will apply:
Retirees aged 65 to 75 who earn less than $50,000 in income, as entered on line 199 of their income tax return, can withdraw up to a maximum of $2,500 from their RRIFs without any reduction to their guaranteed income supplement. This measure will apply for the 2022 tax year. An adjustment will consequently be made to non-refundable federal tax credits to increase the amount of deductible pension income to $2,500.
Sir, I hope you will defend this new measure like you defended the earnings exemption for self-employed workers in 2019....
I hope the government will get the message.