Mr. Speaker, since this is my first speech in the House of Commons, let me first of all thank the women and men of Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead for their support in the election on October 25, 1993. On the American border in southeastern Quebec, Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead is a rural riding with great economic, industrial, agricultural and tourist potential.
In the Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead riding there is an important English speaking community, not living outside the French community but side by side fully respecting who they are.
Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead is much more than a mere electoral district established by law. Its people are proud and hard-working and, like many others in Quebec and Canada, they are likely to be affected by the economic policies and decisions that will soon be made in the first budget tabled by the Liberal government. My constituents recently told me that they are skeptical and concerned about the sorry state of the government's finances. I must admit that I share these fears and these doubts. Indeed, many signs suggest that the budget which will soon be presented will just be more of the same. That is very disturbing, because we need change. We must react to a deficit which has reached gigantic proportions. This year's deficit is more than 6 per cent of the gross domestic product.
What is even more worrisome is that a steadily growing share of our debt is financed by foreign funds. This reduces the government's room to manoeuvre and mortgages the future of generations to come. In fact, the federal government has quite simply lost control of its debt and large amounts are being used to pay interest on borrowed capital. This money is not invested in economic recovery. I will come back to this point.
In the past, the federal government tried to control its deficit by reducing spending through cuts in social programs and in transfer payments to the provinces. A cut in transfer payments would, in an indirect way, reduce the federal contribution to the social programs provided by the provinces.
Also, the government has increased its tax revenues by taxing more heavily the middle class. These measures are inequitable and should no longer be resorted to.
We recognize that the deficit is a major problem which has to be addressed urgently. Nevertheless, the government cannot cut social programs when unemployment is at 11.2 per cent, and even 12.8 per cent in Quebec, and when the number of welfare cases is growing as lay-offs continue.
Although experts say that the recession is technically over, the recovery is painfully slow. The people of this country would like to see tangible signs of economic recovery. In fact, they are losing hope and faith in their government, if they have not already done so.
The various Canadian governments promised year after year to sort out overlapping jurisdictions, to solve unemployment problems and put an end to the erosion of our standard of living, but they never delivered. This is irrefutable proof that the federal system cannot be changed. In this regard, the Bélanger-Campeau Commission stated in the conclusion of its report: "The relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada, within the present political system and constitutional framework, has reached an impasse." This was confirmed by the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. For the future, the present government is offering very few worthwhile alternatives.
But what is even worse is that the last 30 years of centralizing federalism have created a debt of over $500 billion due to the government's lack of initiative and financial mismanagement.
The logic of successive federal governments was to make this federation that was envied all over the world work at any cost. What they forgot to tell people who believed that the country was prosperous and stable is that this wealth and national unity only existed in the books of those who wanted to artificially preserve the federation without taking into account the price that future generations would have to pay.
The effects of this mismanagement of public funds by the federal government are huge and negative, both for Quebec's economy and the economy of the rest of Canada, because the country's debt has also reduced Quebec's financial leeway. So, Quebec has been long contributing and is still contributing considerably to Canada's debt financing. The cost of this federal debt is astronomical for Quebec and the whole of Canada. This phenomenon is all the more frustrating that the decisions which caused these federal deficits were all taken by federal governments and, more often than not, they infringed upon provincial jurisdictions with the stated objective of putting Quebec in its place.
But let us see how much this federal debt can cost Quebec's Treasury. The calculation is very simple: the total interests paid on the debt are roughly equal to Canada's annual deficit, which is over $40 billion. During a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's special program on the debt, someone said that interest paid to foreign lenders was $28 billion. And using that as an example, I will simply say that the $28 billion given to foreigners in interest payments on the debt means a share of about $6 billion for Quebec and that is approximately the amount we pay in unemployment insurance benefits.
All that money leaving the country helps to create jobs and support social programs outside Quebec. In fact, it is money the federal government sends outside Canada in our name while Quebec, more often than not, is in minority at the Canadian table where all great decisions are made.
Quebecers have clearly showed during the last federal election that they had enough of their representatives defending the interests of their Canada-wide parties instead of defending those of Quebec. They decided they should send to Ottawa representatives who promised to speak loud and clear when the government makes decisions contrary to the best interests of Quebec.
And I admit it must be disturbing for the federal establishment so used to Quebec members abiding by Canadian policies. The era of subservience is over for Quebec. The time for shady deals behind caucus doors is gone. We have a country to build and we will take whatever measures are necessary for Quebec to become a sovereign and prosperous state, with full control of its economic levers and full respect for its partners.
But before Quebec rises to full sovereignty, the federal government will have to act quickly if it wants to save our social programs.
To conclude, I would like to say a couple of words regarding income security program redesign. This is an example of overlapping which, if avoided, could save a lot of money. This week, the minister of Human Resources announced, in his speech on social programs, a far reaching reform of social security, including of course, unemployment insurance and old age security. Whether you want it or not, when you embark upon negotiations regarding social security, you have to talk about the Constitution since it is an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Mr. Speaker, I will end by saying that we must indeed tackle the deficit which is endangering our future, but that we must do it while preserving our social safety net which provides those in need with the basic minimum.