Madam Speaker, I wish to advise you that I will be sharing my time with my worthy colleague from Joliette.
I am pleased to be here today, Madam Speaker, and to wish you good luck. I congratulate you on your appointment to your new position.
I would like to say how proud I am to be the first sovereignist member elected in the new riding of Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all the voters in my riding who enabled me to be in this House. I would especially like to pay tribute to my family and to the hundred or so volunteers who worked so hard throughout the campaign. Without their support, the results might have been different. I firmly intend to vigorously defend their interests and those of the people of Quebec, whatever their religion, their language, their culture or their country of origin.
I come now to the motion before us. Like all my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, I must say I support the government's objective of eliminating the federal deficit by the year 2000. However, I disagree totally with its means to this end.
Fifty-four per cent of the cuts were to provincial transfers. In the end, thousands of people paid the bill, and the provinces bore the political pressure. And with this money it has saved on the backs of the provinces, the federal government is now going to finance new initiatives in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as literacy, university and hospital research infrastructures, etc.
Our friends across the way have got it all worked out to fool the public. I am not making this up. The current President of the Treasury Board gave it away when he told Le Soleil on March 8, 1996, and I quote: “When Bouchard has to make cuts, we in Ottawa will be able to show that we have the means to preserve the future of our social programs”. This is nothing but demagoguery, the kind of deceit that hurts the most disadvantaged and the workers who foot the bill.
This is how we, the Quebec people, have been forced in recent years to help lower the federal deficit, to the tune of 72 cents on every dollar contributed.
It is all so much trickery, like using the five billion dollars—five billion, that is 5,000 million dollars—from the employment insurance fund to reduce the federal deficit. Not only has the federal government failed to create the jobs it promised in its red book, but it has used the unemployed to reduce its deficit.
In addition, by changing the eligibility requirements for employment insurance, the federal government is forcing unfortunate unemployed workers onto welfare, with no regard for how terribly traumatizing this can be.
As for the increase in tax revenues, where does the money come from? Certainly not from the wealthy taxpayers who take advantage of tax havens, but rather from the middle class, whose tax burden is getting heavier and heavier.
The Liberal approach to putting our fiscal house in order is totally unacceptable. Year after year, the squandering of billions and billions of dollars by the federal administration is denounced in the auditor general's reports.
Yet, during the election campaign, the Liberals promised they would root out waste. Did they deliver on their promise with our dear heritage minister's one million flags and the television propaganda from all government departments? I wonder how much it has cost the government to tell Quebeckers: “We love you. We love you”.
Four years later, the people of Quebec and Canada as well as the auditor general are still waiting for this shameful waste to stop. But the Minister of Finance is skirting the issue because he obviously does not want to cut in that area as he does without hesitation in social transfers to the provinces.
It is not as if he did not know what the people want. I sent him a copy of the August 26, 1997 resolution the City of Saint-Eustache sent to the Prime Minister of Canada, informing him of its opposition to the federal government's cutting transfers to the provinces without reducing taxes by the same amount. This resolution comes from the City of Saint-Eustache.
Departmental spending was cut by 9 percent even though, in his 1995 budget, the Minister of Finance had promised to cut it by 19 percent. More empty promises!
The Liberals are incapable of honouring their commitments, and I still wonder just what gives the Minister of Finance cause to boast? Next year's budget surpluses will be attributable to the efforts of Quebeckers and the provinces. It is therefore his duty to distribute them equitably.
Given what I have just said about the government's mismanagement, my party and myself consider his announced 50/50 policy to be a crock. Investing 50 percent of the surpluses in social programs and using the other 50 percent to reduce the debt and taxes is unacceptable.
Under this formula, the federal government is perfectly free to spend the surpluses in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
We have examples already, with the announcement by the Prime Minister of a $1 billion merit scholarship fund. We must not be fooled. This $1 billion was taken from cuts in transfer payments for higher education.
Here is what the taxpayers want. And this is what the government must do: first, return $5 billion to the provinces; second, stop borrowing wholesale from the employment insurance fund; third, lower the rate of contributions to the employment insurance fund; fourth, increase the benefits that were drastically reduced in 1997 under the new employment insurance plan; and fifth, stop all intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction.
For these five reasons, no doubt different from those of the Reform Party, I will nevertheless vote in favour of their motion.