Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on the budget speech. As some of my colleagues might expect, I have a number of comments to make on the budget measures that impact specifically on persons with disabilities.
The budget tabled in the House by the Minister of Finance this week contains a number of measures aimed specifically at persons with disabilities. The Bloc Quebecois will look at these measures to determine whether or not, in our opinion, the proposed measures meet the expectations of the organizations representing persons with disabilities and address to a reasonable extent the problems faced by persons with disabilities in Canada and Quebec.
Let me preface my speech on persons with disabilities by a few more general remarks. All observers agree that the budget tabled by the Minister of Finance this week is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The primary purpose of this budget is to be used as an election platform in the next campaign, to show all our fellow citizens across Canada and Quebec that this government did fulfil its commitments, so that it can, in all good faith, ask the voters to put their faith in it again and get re-elected.
In fact, the finance minister's budget is part of an advertising campaign launched by the government. Unfortunately, on closer scrutiny, we realize that it is misleading advertising. If the Minister of Finance, and his budget in particular, were subject to the Quebec consumer protection act, charges could be laid for misleading advertising.
What we must realize about this budget is that, what is important in this budget is not what it says, what it does not say or anything that was said previously. We know that the budget before us is nothing but a good news budget, aimed at convincing our fellow citizens that the problems are solved and that the deficit will be eliminated within a few years, thanks to the government's efforts within its own administration.
The reality is that the cuts made to social programs in the past three budgets, the cuts made to transfer payments to the provinces, will limit the provinces' ability to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged and, as a result, make our fellow citizens poorer than they were when this government assumed power in 1993.
That is the reality. That is not what the budget says, but it is the reality. The government acknowledges this, because it acknowledges that today there are 1.5 million children living in poverty, 500,000 more than when it came to power in 1993. The measures announced, moreover, do nothing to solve this problem in any way. We shall return to this point.
Essentially, this is a smoke-and-mirrors budget, which has only one objective: to convince our fellow citizens on the eve of an electoral campaign that all of the problems are settled and that we are now entering an era of prosperity. Two days after the tabling of the budget, nobody has been taken in.
We saw the reaction of most analysts, and I am convinced that the public's reaction will be similar. These people realized that, even though the finance minister tears his hair out every day during oral question period, even though he whines a lot, the plight of our fellow citizens is not getting any better.
Think about the disabled and take a look at the impact of the decisions made in that budget. Requests tmade for years by just about every organization representing people with disabilities were behind the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in a unanimous report tabled in this House in December 1995. In other words, the official opposition and the Reform Party essentially supported the recommendations contained in that report.
It is worth taking a look at these recommendations, to see whether the government delivered. These recommendations provided, among other things, that the Government of Canada should designate a minister or a secretary of state to be responsible for the status of persons with disabilities. What was the government's response to that request? The Minister of Human Resources Development was designated as the person responsible for this issue.
Given the decisions made by that minister, and particularly the conception he has of his department's role, we can only conclude that people with disabilities are even worse off than they were when there was no one to speak for them.
Another recommendation provided that, each year, a report should be tabled in the House to review the status of requests made by people with disabilities. We are waiting for that report. I certainly hope that in the coming months we will see a document from the government explaining what has actually been done.
We also requested that a more liberal, in the good sense of the word, interpretation be allowed in the application of the tax credit so that the disabled could truly benefit. What we saw, and unfortunately continue to see, is a somewhat restrictive application, with the result that a good number of the disabled are not able to take advantage of the tax credits offered by the government.
It is one thing to say: "We are going to propose new tax credits, to improve existing credits". It is quite another to see how these measures are applied. In other words, how many people can take advantage of them? And, more to the point, how many people cannot take advantage of them, despite the fact that they are recognized as disabled.
Then, there are other recommendations concerning, for example, grants to disabled persons organizations; I will come back to this. The recommendations we made were partially taken into account.
Following this report, the then Minister of Human Resources Development, now Minister of National Defence, who must have been getting ready for his new role, literally threw the human rights committee's recommendations out the window. Not only did he not take them into account, but he literally gave them the axe. And since he is now the defence minister, I should say he used a bazooka to completely eliminate any grants to disabled persons organizations. This was the decision taken by the former Minister of Human Resources Development, now the defence minister, over a year ago. The disabled community was utterly dismayed.
Following protests by representatives of organizations and by the official opposition, which hounded the government in this House, a committee was formed. This committee tabled its report last fall and recommendations are also contained in the present budget.
Unfortunately, although the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury, who headed this committee, worked in good faith, and showed considerable openness to organizations of disabled persons, we in the official opposition spoke out against the committee because it included no representation from either the official opposition or the Reform Party. In our opinion, therefore, it was a partisan committee to which, fortunately, representatives of organizations for the disabled were added, and this has made it possible for it to come up with some recommendations which reflect reality.
Today, then, we find ourselves faced with a certain number of measures I would like, if I may, to comment on one by one, since that is the main purpose of my speech.
First of all, it is stated that the tax credits of the past will continue unchanged. They will continue, and the disabled will be able to take advantage of them, as in the past. But, as I have just said, if the Minister of Revenue and her officials continue to apply the various tax credits in a restrictive way, the net result will be that the disabled will be as badly off as they were in the past.
What we want from this government-and the Minister of Finance has not given us any reassurance in this area-is for someone to tell us how the tax credits referred to in this budget will be applied. This was recommended by both the human rights committee and the Liberal committee set up later. It had been decided to improve the tax credit for medical expenses.
Naturally, four or five measures are referred to. They speak of adapting vehicles, where expenses will be exempt up to a ceiling of $5,000, and the purchase of an air conditioner, to a ceiling of $1,000. By the way, the recommendation made by the committee chaired by the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury wanted this tax credit to apply to any kind of material assistance and not just to air conditioners, for instance. Surprisingly, the Minister of Finance took the example used in the recommendation and included it in his speech or his budget, without considering all the other equipment that is absolutely indispensable for people with disabilities.
I do not know whether this was an oversight or ignorance of the needs of people with disabilities, but air conditioners are fine, except that right now air conditioners are not terribly useful. There are a lot of other material aids that are just as important.
There is also a reference to access ramps. The purpose is, of course, to help people with disabilities when they have to leave their homes to go about their usual business like anyone else. If they have to go to class or to go work, they have to be able to do so.
There is also a reference to those who care for people with disabilities. These measures will be an improvement for all Canadians, with the exception of persons with disabilities in Quebec. Why do I say this? Because I know Liberal members will say the Bloc Quebecois is complaining again, that it thinks Quebecers are being mistreated by the federal government. Well, it is true. Today, during question period, I heard the Minister of Human Resources Development say that Quebec was getting more than its share of
federal funding, that Quebecers were cry babies and spent most of their time complaining with a full stomach.