Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to take part in a debate in the House. I have been asked to give my opinion on the economic and fiscal update. I do not claim to be able to do it as well as my colleague from Joliette did last week, but there are still several elements I would like to address.
First, no one will be surprised to hear that the Bloc Québécois more or less supports this bill. My colleagues who spoke before me said that it contains good measures. We agree on that.
However, the text of the economic update itself was nothing to write home about. It is a little like the throne speech. It did not contain much, at least not enough to convince us that it was so important that the government had to dissolve Parliament and call an election so that it could have both hands on the wheel. The economic update contains no major reforms and ignores several sectors. In short, there is nothing in it to really reassure us about the future and the economic recovery.
First, the economic update offers no response to the labour shortage and no solutions for boosting productivity. The labour shortage is probably one of the main issues raised in my riding during the last campaign. Business owners are at the end of their rope because they cannot find anyone to work for them. It is unbelievable that their number one problem is finding workers. When they finally decided to invest in a last-resort solution, the federal government made it harder for them, despite the fact that the logic is simple enough to follow. Difficulty recruiting workers will inevitably affect the growth of our economy. Every business in my region that decided to take the huge step of recruiting internationally and using the immigration process to make up for the labour shortage ran up against one obstacle after another.
One of those obstacles is related to the percentage of immigrants a business can hire. However, I must admit that progress has been made in this area thanks to a partnership between the governments of Canada and Quebec. A pilot project launched last month raises the current limit of 10% temporary foreign workers per business to 20%. This is definitely good news, especially for farmers, who often need a large number of workers to help with the harvest. However, the measure does not apply to all sectors, even though I am pretty sure that every sector could benefit considerably.
The Quebec government also announced that the temporary foreign worker program would be relaxed to exempt businesses from having to advertise externally and provide proof of their recruitment efforts in Quebec in order to fill positions in certain occupations for which there is a labour shortage. This relaxation of the rules will allow many business to get reinforcements in by hiring temporary foreign workers. The process of getting them to Canada will also be streamlined, according to a recent announcement by Quebec's minister of labour, employment and social solidarity.
It appears that Quebec is being far more proactive in this area than the federal government. It has often been said that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is the federal government’s most dysfunctional department. Our proposal to repatriate all immigration powers to Quebec appears to be more topical than ever, when you see the efforts made by Quebec. I am not saying that everything is perfect, far from it, but at least something is being done, and, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Ottawa.
Recruiting students is also problematic. Foreign students have to pay a lot of money to access education in Quebec, and then they have to grapple with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and its red tape. Let me explain. When foreign students study in Quebec, some of them move to Ontario after graduating, because then they can get Canadian citizenship faster. This situation is very common and puts Quebec at a serious disadvantage, because we cannot retain the new graduates we need.
There are solutions, however. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada could, for example, improve coordination efforts with Quebec’s department of education and department of advanced education to facilitate the recognition of diplomas, degrees and equivalences. This might reduce the time it takes to process applications from international students and make sure that they are able to start their programs on time. The federal government could also give priority to the immigration files of applicants who already have a job offer and foster their integration in Quebec by ensuring that the time frame for obtaining Canadian citizenship is the same as in the other provinces. No, that is too complicated for them, and the result is that our entrepreneurs have to lower production, reduce their offerings and, as a result, cut their profits because of labour shortages.
At the same time, people who want to settle specifically in our province, in Quebec, are being rejected by the federal government. I am not even commenting on the issue of immigrants from French-speaking African countries, who are rejected en masse by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
That is what happened to Aurélien, a 29-year-old French-speaking Cameroonian with a degree in mechanical and production engineering from his native country. He enrolled in a diploma of vocational studies program in welding and fitting at the vocational training centre in Matane in my riding. There is a desperate need for welders in Quebec.
The Quebec government was very interested in his application and, through Éducation internationale, offered him a scholarship of excellence to cover his tuition fees. Despite this, an IRCC officer once again refused his application for a study permit. Why? The officer who handled his file said he was not convinced that the student would remain in Canada at the end of his stay. That is unbelievable and it is very unfair.
Aurélien is not the only student in this situation. According to Radio-Canada, applications from Cameroon are overwhelmingly rejected by the IRCC. In 2020, 88% of applications from that country were rejected, and the figures are apparently similar for applicants from Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Togo.
Aurélien had to give up his dream of living in Quebec. At the same time, the economies of Matane, the Gaspé, Quebec and Canada are all suffering. We urgently need workers. Why is the federal government being so stubborn? It makes absolutely no sense.
When our economy is suffering, I think we should find solutions or some way of getting the money that the federal government is letting slip away. I think that measures to fight tax havens would be more than welcome in this context. The Deputy Prime Minister announced last spring that such measures would be in this economic update. However, they have either been put on the back burner or disappeared completely. I guess this is not important enough to the government.
We are right in the middle of a recovery, and it is difficult to see any federal leadership when it comes to the economy.
Another element is conspicuous for its absence in the economic and fiscal update, namely health transfers. I cannot believe that the government is not yet tired of hearing the Bloc Québécois talk about health transfers, because we have been talking about them for two years. Even last week, the Conservatives and the New Democrats woke up and said that that would be something good to discuss.
Now all three opposition parties in the House of Commons are calling for action with respect to health transfers, as are the premiers of every province. The annual meeting of the Council of the Federation was held last week, and its members unanimously called on the federal government to do more to help the provinces and territories ensure the survival of the free and public health system. The health care system has been undermined by the impacts of chronic underfunding, which have been exacerbated in the past two years by the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Despite that fact, the federal government has categorically refused any increases to health care funding. Although there is growing pressure on the government to immediately pay out $28 billion to cover 35% of costs, indexed at 6% thereafter, the economic update is keeping the Canada transfer indexed at 3% until 2027.
The government's message is clear but totally oblivious, in my opinion, because the government can see the needs of Quebec's healthcare system as well as we can. It thinks it spent enough last year on the pandemic, so it is refusing to contribute. That is flawed logic. COVID-19 spending was a temporary, one-time expense, whereas the federal underfunding of health care is a permanent problem that has been squeezing Quebec and the provinces financially for years.
Not only is the federal government perpetuating the fiscal imbalance, it is ignoring the lessons it should have learned from the pandemic. If the three opposition parties and the Council of the Federation are not enough to convince the government, it might want to listen to the people who voted it in. After all, MPs are here to represent their constituents.
A Leger poll released last week revealed that a vast majority of Canadians want the federal government to increase its contribution to health care. Fully 85% of Canadians think it is urgent. Most respondents believe that health is one of the most important issues in Quebec and Canada. Almost four out of five Canadians think that the pandemic has had a large negative impact on the health care system. It could not be more clear.
I see that I am running out of time. There were, of course, many other topics I could have addressed, but this is really what concerns me right now. I spoke about the labour shortage and immigration issues. Last week, I spoke about employment insurance and our increasingly divided society. That is what concerns us right now, and there is a lot of work to do. Let us get to work.