Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to the economic update. I have a lot to say, but I will have to narrow it down.
Let me start with health transfers. This is important to me as a member for the Bloc Québécois, and it is important to Quebec as a whole, to my riding, Manicouagan, and to Canada as a whole.
Obviously, these transfers are not included here, and we are disappointed about that. We have known for a long time that the transfers are crucial, but the government may not have realized that yet.
Earlier, I heard several colleagues from different political parties say that this is the second year of COVID-19 and there may be a third, though I hope not, but that there is hardly anything about COVID-19 in the economic update.
My colleague from La Prairie brought it up again this afternoon. Some 85% of Canadians and 86% of Quebeckers are calling for these health transfers. For many years now, the government has limited, or, I should say, gutted, health transfers. It still refuses to index these transfers, which means that the 22% of expenses that the government currently covers is not enough. We want the government to provide 35% and index the transfers at 6%, but there is absolutely nothing in the economic update to that effect.
Everyone knows that COVID‑19 kills. That is one of the things that it does. It kills because the health care system cannot provide the services required and this is because the health care systems in Quebec and the other Canadian provinces have been damaged. When the money is not there, even though it is our money and we have responsibilities, it is hard, virtually impossible, to meet everyone's needs.
The federal government loves to boast and act the saviour when it claims that 80%, or $8 of every $10, as they like to say, of COVID‑19 spending came from the federal government. It is far from being a saviour, though, since we will never forget that this is taxpayer money and taxpayers want health transfers. I am using the word “taxpayer”, but I want to remind members that all provincial premiers and Quebec's premier, Mr. Legault, are calling for this as well.
I want to point this out because the government has presented an economic update that does not reflect reality and does not take these demands into account. The government likes to boast, though. It is happy, it struts around, acting proud of what it has achieved. I could also talk about two other measures that have not seen much progress. Not only is the economic update weak, but it might also be counterproductive in some cases.
To conclude, I would like to speak about jurisdictions. I am again asking the government to do its job. It needs to look after its own affairs and provide the provinces and Quebec with the money to look after theirs.
I spoke about responsibilities earlier. There is a huge fiscal imbalance, and Ottawa has so much money that it does not know what to spend it on. It should spend it on health, by sending the transfers and letting the provinces and Quebec manage that money for their own people, because they want to get out of this pandemic. It is not by crippling health care systems that the government will help Quebec and the provinces get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the Prime Minister stated, there are vaccines, yes, but there is all the rest too, including the health care system. The system needs substantial support. There was and still is a shortfall, and it only continues to grow because transfers are frozen.
I would also like to talk about the SMEs in my riding of Manicouagan, which is a vast, remote area covering 350,000 square kilometres of forests, fisheries and mines. There are obviously many natural resources and people all over the riding. SMEs make up a significant segment of our economy. In Quebec, approximately one-third of businesses are SMEs, but I note that the government has not really listened to them.
Of course there is the Canada emergency business account, but the government needs to listen to what small and medium-sized businesses want. The situation is evolving as we enter the third year of the pandemic. For example, SMEs had a hard time accessing the wage subsidy. They needed accountants and tax experts, but many of them could not afford those professionals, so they could not ask for help. All the business support programs in the world are useless if entrepreneurs cannot access them because of red tape and impossible criteria. The wage subsidy is great for people who already have enough money to access it, but that does not include small businesses. Members of the chamber of commerce in my riding, Manicouagan, would like to apply a third time. They would not necessarily need $60,000, but even $20,000 would help them stay afloat and survive. It would not be too hard to set up that mechanism.
It would have been easy to listen to these businesses and implement the measures they were asking for. The Bloc Québécois has proposed many other ideas for supporting small businesses, particularly with regard to loan forgiveness. The Bloc proposed that the percentage be increased in order to support these businesses based on their revenues at a time of great uncertainty. I am thinking of outfitters in my riding and their revenues. No one was visiting the outfitters during the first year of the pandemic, and the second year was extremely difficult for them because certain health measures prevented people from coming to the region.
I am pleased that the repayment deadline is postponed until 2023, because these businesses would not have been able to repay their loans quickly. The year 2023 may not be the right year either. I am therefore warning the government right now that it may have to extend that deadline as well, in order to give these businesses time to rebuild their financial health and get enough revenue coming in to be able to repay the loan and receive forgiveness. The Bloc is in favour of loans. However, we really want the percentage to increase.
We are also thinking about e-commerce. Of course this is very important where I come from. People in certain parts of my riding do a lot of their grocery shopping using the postal service. As I have often said in the House, this is very important to me. People have the right to live in remote areas and to occupy the land, and they need to be supported. We already have a great deal of inequity in our postal services compared to the rest of Canada. Northern regions, very remote regions, islands and places with no roads at all really need this service. We want to be able to increase this kind of trade. It would be good for small businesses to be able to import and export. It would also stimulate our economy. The Bloc proposed this, and it is feasible.
I would like to talk about several other measures, but I will end with some criticism. As I said earlier, we sometimes need to think about the negative effects of certain measures.
Let us talk about the travel tax credit. As I mentioned, I represent a large riding, and I have to travel a few thousand kilometres to get to the House. For someone taking a flight out of the North Shore, the tax credit would cover about one trip a year, and perhaps only one way. The $1,200 will not make it into anyone's pocket right away. For individuals struggling to pay for airfare, waiting until the end of the year to receive the tax credit will not help them. The tax credit will go to people who already have money, people who can afford to put that amount on their credit cards and pay the interest afterwards, which is terrible. This measure will be ineffective.
Then there is the issue of commuter workers. People come work in my riding and then leave again. They do not necessarily want to live there because it is hard. They do not spend any money and do not contribute to the economy of the North Shore, but they are the ones who will likely benefit from this tax credit. I am glad they can work. I want everyone to be able to earn a living. At the same time, we have to think about not adopting measures that will ultimately harm the regions. This is incredibly important to me. We have to look at all the policies and these measures in relation to remote regions such as the North Shore.