That being said, my message is now addressed to the Conservatives.
During question period, I heard the Prime Minister say: “I am pleased to have the Bloc Québécois' support in our efforts to improve the Canadian federation”. The thought came to me that I hoped that the Conservatives would not become as arrogant as the Liberals were after 13 years in power, particularly not after only a few months in government.
The Conservatives must know that we would have rejected this budget had it not been for their formal commitment to solving the fiscal imbalance, with a specific timetable for a meeting of first ministers to discuss it and find solutions, and a specific timetable for the solution, that is, the next budget, in the spring of 2007.
We would have voted against it, with all the consequences that might have involved, but we would have voted against it.
Were it not for there being a solution to the fiscal imbalance, this budget, with a few exceptions, to which I will come back at the end, is unbelievably flawed in terms of the decisions the Conservatives should have made regarding the problems we have been working on for years. Decisions should have been made that could have had an even more positive effect on the welfare of the citizens of Quebec and the rest of Canada. Those decisions were not made, and I will take the next few minutes of my time to talk about them.
I suggest that the Conservatives put that in their pipe and not start being arrogant with us, because they will find us on their heels on every issue I am going to name. We will be in their face whenever they present bills dealing with matters that are fundamental for the citizens of Quebec. We will work relentlessly to achieve progress on these issues, and to win.
If they think they have found allies, they should know that we are temporary allies and that we are giving them the benefit of the doubt on the fiscal imbalance, one of the most important issues of concern to Quebec and one of the top priorities. They have been warned.
For the rest, and until then, we will be watching them closely. We will be on their heels. We will oppose their decisions when they do not reflect Quebec’s difference and our deeply held convictions.
I assure you that they will find us everywhere they go, and in particular to make sure that they reform employment insurance, the big thing left out of this budget. Have we not been talking about this for long enough? The Liberals sabotaged the employment insurance scheme.
We have at times worked with the Conservatives, who seemed to agree with some of our proposals for reform. Now that they are in power, they have nothing to say and they are not talking about employment insurance any more. Today, 60% of unemployed men and women are still excluded from the employment insurance scheme.
If we look to the budget tabled yesterday, the theft of the employment insurance surplus is still being perpetuated. This has got to stop.
The Conservatives are no longer talking about an independent employment insurance fund. And yet they made a commitment to create such a fund. The Bloc Québécois will continue to fight for justice for unemployed workers, so that the 60% who are excluded are covered properly and with dignity by the employment insurance plan and the systematic looting of the EI fund surplus stops.
As for the POWA, the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, it is not difficult to understand. I have an invitation from the Prime Minister. I met with the Minister of Finance several times to explain the priorities of the Bloc Québécois: employment insurance, followed by the POWA. An assistance program for older workers is not difficult to understand: there are older workers who have been victims of mass layoffs, especially in single-industry regions.
We are talking about regions where there is one dominant industry.
As soon as things go wrong on the international scene, for example, because the Canadian dollar is too strong and we have to reduce our exports to the United States or elsewhere, there are mass layoffs and even plant and company closures.
For older workers, retraining and job re-entry programs do not work. Ninety-five percent of workers over 55 years of age are not eligible for retraining and job re-entry measures. Why? Because when you work in a single-industry region, if the company closes, workers cannot be hired by another employer because there are no other employers.
As well, some employers will not hire workers who are going to work for only another five or six years before they retire. They will invest in younger workers, who will stay with the company for 25, 30 or 35 years, as the older workers who were dismissed en masse did before them.
In the regions, often couples have worked for the same company for 30 or 35 years. They have little education and have accumulated some assets over the years, such as a house and an RRSP.
Ten years or less from retirement, having run out of employment insurance benefits, these people are required to liquidate everything—house, RRSPs, etc. They end up going on welfare before they are entitled to their pension. What a terrible and tragic end. It is not hard to understand. I explained all this three times to the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Transport and the Deputy Prime Minister. I think it is easy to understand.
The human resources development committee worked very hard on this in order to develop a new aid program for older workers. This program existed until 1997 when it was abolished by the unfeeling Liberal government.
Since then, there has been nothing and we have been fighting to reinstate an aid program for older workers. This program is highly important, especially in a context of globalization. There is no mention of it except in the minister's speech when he says a feasibility study will be done. The word “feasibility” suggests looking at what it will cost to implement such a program. This is encouraging. At least the government recognizes the need to implement such a program and is looking into the cost.
We have had enough of feasibility studies. This program costs roughly $100 million a year. When it was abolished in 1997 it cost $17 million a year for all of Canada. It cannot cost $2 billion today. There is nothing on this in the budget. We wanted to have this immediately.
In terms of the allowance of $1,200 per child under six—my colleague from Trois-Rivières will say more about this—why could this amount not have been a refundable tax credit? This would have the same effect except that it would target low and middle income families. They would not have to pay a dime in taxes on this $1,200.
Yesterday, the Minister of Finance proudly announced that they would protect the national child benefit, that it would not be touched, even with the $1,200 per child under six. Yes, but what about federal tax? Federal tax will still be charged on that amount.
Our advice to parents receiving this $1,200, or $2,400 if they have two children under six, is to put the money aside to pay their taxes at the end of the year to avoid any surprises. This government did not agree to convert this $1,200 annual cash payment into a refundable tax credit, which would have avoided all these problems.
With regard to the Kyoto protocol, it seems to me that for quite a long time, while the Conservatives were in opposition, they criticized the establishment by the Liberal minister of the program for achieving the Kyoto targets. They said there was another alternative. They could have immediately put that alternative on the table, instead of driving everyone wild by shelving the $2 billion provided for in the previous plan, with no indication as to how it will be used.
The Conservatives will find themselves obliged to deal with the issue of Kyoto. If there is one issue apart from employment insurance and the POWA that deserves all of our energy, it is surely Kyoto, because we are in favour of protecting the environment. The Bloc Québécois, including my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, would even like to go beyond Kyoto. If the Conservatives think it will be easy, if they think they have bought us because of a commitment on the fiscal imbalance in the budget, they are mistaken. They have not bought us. They will have to deal with us as they move ahead. What is more, we are not for sale.
As for the manufacturing sector, we know that the Conservative philosophy dates back to the end of the last century, even the 19th century.
At that time, it was said that the market could solve everything, the market could regulate everything, nothing was necessary. It was said that we had to achieve balance between supply and demand, and then the labour market would organize itself.
That is not how it works these days. Draconian measures are necessary in the sectors threatened by globalization and by the emerging nations, sectors such as textiles, furniture and apparel. Now there is agri-food as well, for Brazil and Chile are entering the traditional markets, especially with the Canadian dollar above 90 cents.
We have to help these sectors survive. We were successful at this in the mid-1980s thanks to the free trade agreement with the United States. There were restructuring measures. In so-called soft sectors, such as furniture for example, certain companies did very well. They modernized their equipment and boosted their productivity. They are able to pull through. But it is not the market that is going to do it.
We cannot compete with countries on an uneven playing field, such as China for example, which does not have a market economy. It has a controlled economy where you can play with prices as you wish, and so push down the competition. Once the competitors are down and out, you take their market. That is not fair competition. The government has to assume its responsibilities in this area.
There is also the whole arts and culture sector. The cultural community had high hopes. My colleague, the critic on heritage issues, will address this more specifically later. Those hopes have been dashed. Instead of the $150 million increase for the Canada Council, this budget is content to invest an additional $50 million over two years in the Canada Council.
To my mind, an effort could have been made. I cannot believe that there is not one Conservative who has not gone to the theatre, who has not seen shows, who does not visit art galleries and who does not encourage artists. I cannot imagine that Conservatives are all calculators. They must consider culture to be important. It is one aspect of peoples' vitality, the peoples of Quebec and Canada, naturally. I cannot understand that greater priority was not given to the arts and culture.
Let us talk now about the Canadian securities commission. What a crazy and detestable idea. Since I have been here, since 1993, they have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes. They say a supranational body is needed to ensure the requirements for securities commissions are standardized and to encourage investors. Really. For 10 years, the securities commissions, including Quebec's Autorité des marchés financiers, have harmonized their practices. And they continue to do so. There is no need for a big league player to oversee everyone.
The fact of the matter is that a Canadian securities commission would totally ignore the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec in this matter and support Bay Street. Its head office would be in Toronto. Toronto would be on the investors' circuit. Everything would go through Toronto. Instead of individual traits reflecting the particularities of each of the provinces and Quebec, there would be one standard. They want the rules to be the same everywhere, just so it can all be centralized in Toronto.
We will fight, as we have since 1993, to prevent the creation of this Canadian securities commission. They cannot say, as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance are saying, that they will respect the jurisdictions of the provinces, and dare at the same time to propose a securities commission like that in opposition to Quebec. It will not fly.
This is why we asked the Prime Minister the question. If Quebec were the only one to oppose it, would the government still establish a Canadian securities commission? The government has given us evasive responses. Nevertheless, we know that if this were this case, nothing would change. Everything would happen in Toronto. Eventually, the Autorité des marchés financiers would gradually lose its power in an area of provincial jurisdiction.
I have said it before and I will say it again: if it were not for the Conservatives' pledge to correct the fiscal imbalance, we would have voted against them. We will be keeping an eye on the government and every move it makes between now and the first ministers' conference this fall. We will be keeping an eye on it as it puts together its next budget. Given all the negative effects of this budget, we are not their allies.
That said, in terms of that commitment, this side of the House, the Bloc Québécois, cannot demand—and employment insurance will be our first target—that the government move forward, make commitments, find solutions to this problem, develop a process and a set a deadline, and then say that we will bring them down anyway.That would be ridiculous. We are not electioneering.
Some members of this House are electioneering: the Liberals and the NDP. What did they do when they found out there was something on the fiscal imbalance? From the start, the Liberals were against correcting the fiscal imbalance, so they opposed the budget. The NDP, which is closer to the centre than any other party in the House, also opposes our suggestions for correcting the fiscal imbalance, which is by transferring tax fields and reforming equalization. The New Democrats' attitude toward the Conservatives' budget is natural, opportunistic, and entirely to be expected.
The budget sets out other positive measures that the Bloc Québécois has supported for years. We are pleased that the Conservatives have paid attention. It does not make up for all of the gaps and problems I mentioned, but it is a band-aid solution until the next budget. We think of it as a transition budget.
The budget provides $1 billion for post-secondary education. We had asked the government to take immediate, concrete action in this area, given that this sector was suffering from the drastic cuts made by the previous government, the so-called government of the common good. The budget now provides $1 billion for post-secondary education. We can applaud this measure.
The budget also allocates $1.5 billion to help farmers. This is also good news. These investments must be continued, however, for years to come. Until subsidies are restored, as long as the Americans and Europeans offer their farmers higher subsidies, we will not be able to compete with them on equal terms. This cannot be a band-aid solution; we need to maintain assistance until the question of agricultural subsidies on an international scale is resolved. This is, however, a good starting point.
The budget also provides $800 million for social housing. We called for a first step, an initial investment, which we see here.
As for public transit, on three separate occasions, the Bloc Québécois tabled a bill aimed at creating a tax credit to promote the use of public transit. My colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher tabled another one last week. We are pleased that the government understood the message being sent concerning public transit. This represents another battle led by the Bloc.
Action has also been taken in the budget on longstanding demands such as exempting scholarships. It was not right, in fact it was completely ridiculous that a student who received a scholarship from the Government of Quebec or Ontario would pay federal tax on it. It was absolutely ridiculous. These scholarships are no longer taxed. We fought for this for seven years.
With regard to microbreweries and the excise tax, we have also won after battling for five and one half years. Our microbreweries create hundreds of jobs in the regions. They can now compete favourably with their American and European competitors.
I repeat, no measures are planned for the following: employment insurance, POWA, changing the $1,200 allowance to a tax credit, the Kyoto protocol, arts and culture, the weakened manufacturing sector and the Canadian securities commission. I can assure the House that the Bloc Québécois will fight with all the energy for which it is known.The Bloc will oppose the government if it goes against the interests of Quebec in these matters. We will propose solutions for each one of them. We will convince the other opposition parties and the government. The Bloc Québécois' action and zeal will not stop at this budget. We will be on the heels of the Conservatives until the next budget.