Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in this debate on the funding and future of social security programs.
For Canadians and Quebecers, these programs include a set of services ranging from an income security policy to the Canada Pension Plan and a host of other services.
As I prepared this speech, I reflected that one could not engage in this debate without considering a number of circumstances that make this debate a rather painful exercise. The government that tabled this motion belongs to the same party which was elected nearly 25 years ago on a promise to build a just society that, at the time, under the leadership of former
Prime Minister Trudeau, would be based on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, principles that inspired me and probably inspired you as well, Mr. Speaker.
I reflected that after 25 years, it was time to consider what has been accomplished, because if we examined our social programs, we must also consider the people who at some time in their lives may need government assistance. And it is sad to have to conclude that 25 years later, poverty has not dimished. Not only that, it has started to affect groups in our society which were normally assumed to be immune.
Of course, when I talk about poverty, I use the term as defined by Statistics Canada. In other words, being poor means having to spend 56.2 per cent of one's income on food, shelter and clothing.
As parliamentarians, we are being asked to discuss restructuring social security programs at a time when Canadian and Quebec society are in very bad shape. Granted, poverty has changed. In the seventies, when the Senate did its wide-ranging study on poverty, being poor was associated more with the elderly in our society. This was so true that the cover of the Senate report showed an ailing, toothless, elderly woman, and that was more or less the image we had of poverty.
In the 90s and as we approach the turn of the century, poverty has changed. It now has a new face. It affects young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who do not necessarily lack training. Single parents are particularly affected. It is also a fact of life for those workers who, after spending part of their lives as active members of the labour market, are suddently excluded because of technological change. There are people who worked for 15, 20 or 25 years as part of the so-called labour aristocracy and who made a good living.
I think that the government's role is to provide these people with generous, accessible and transferable services, and I was delighted when I heard the Minister of National Health and Welfare announce her position during the reply to the Speech from the Throne. That is how she defined social security programs and that is also my understanding of what they should be.
What I find rather disturbing, and this is where I disagree with the government, is that for the past ten years, in any discussion on public finances and government policy, there has always been an attempt to reduce the debate to mere dollars and cents. For the past ten years the government has been proposing spending cuts as though that were the only game in town. Of course there are ways to save money and of course there is too much fat in the government administration, but I think we are asking the wrong questions.
If we are convinced that providing social security programs is not a matter of choice but a reflection of our level of civilization, the question should be how we can access additional sources of revenue.
Even in a zero deficit situation, we will need more resources to be able to fund social programs at the levels that will be required in the years to come.
We in the Bloc Quebecois realize there are several alternatives for obtaining additional revenue, and we think that this exercise is not just a matter of making spending cuts haphazardly without being overly concerned about the repercussions. One alternative that should be considered is that of tax reform. As we have said repeatedly, we are talking about a review of the corporate tax system. We know for a fact there are people in our society who are not doing their fair share.
On the government side, there is a consensus that Canada has done everything humanly possible to tax corporations. However, when we look at what Canada raises in the way of revenue, when we look at the tax rate for corporate profits and compare it with the rate applied in other countries, including the OECD countries which we often use as a benchmark, you would be surprised to hear that the tax rate for corporate profits in 1990, for instance, was 39 per cent in France, 50 per cent in Germany, 46 per cent in Italy and 50 per cent in Japan. Meanwhile, in Canada it was 29 per cent.
To me it is clear that if we want to discuss the viability of social security programs, we also have to talk about the tax treatment of corporations.
Furthermore, and at this point I want to recall some comments one of our colleagues made with a great deal of conviction, and although I did not agree with the substance, I must say it was very well said, I believe that the ultimate test for any changes that are made in the years to come will be that they will have to help people find jobs.
Putting people back to work has to be more that a few empty words with little backing: jobs, jobs, jobs. Some countries manage to have 80, 90 even 92 per cent of their population in the work force. Can you imagine having 92 per cent of the labour force actually working! And strangely enough, these are small countries. These are countries which decided to implement a full employment policy. Such a policy is not an irrelevant concept. To make it work, it has to become an obsession. The government must make the decision, get all the partners together-unions, employers, corporations, professionals, students-and ask them to endorse the choices made for our society and to help achieve them. Naturally, you are going to tell me that Canada has a special problem, because it has two levels of government and ten regional labour markets competing with each other, and I agree. This is why I am a sovereigntist. This makes it very
difficult to set up the elements, the goals, the main guidelines of a full employment policy.
I would say that in the years to come, we will not have a choice, we will have to aim for full employment, and this will mean more involvement of government in people's lives. What we have been hearing for ten years, and what the government side is still more or less advocating, is that the best government is the one that governs the least. I do not agree with that. I think a government has responsibilities and must take action. I am going to give you the example of an area in which it would be useful that the government not only did not cut its spending, but rather increase the resources, because it is an area which creates jobs and has a high rate of return, and that is social housing. When you build a thousand units, you create 2,000 jobs. This is a good investment with a high rate of return.
Yet, we are in situation-and this will be my conclusion, because my time is almost up and I would not want to break the rules-which shows that it is not true that the best government is the one that governs the least. I believe that the best guarantee we can give to people that we will maintain strong, accessible and generous social programs is to target government spending towards areas that generate large spin-offs because one of these areas on which we can bet for the future is social housing.