Mr. Speaker, in any country, when the tax rate reaches excessive levels, as is the case in Canada now, the ordinary, even traditional discontent of taxpayers towards taxation turns into resentment. And when the people learn that their hard earned money is mismanaged and wasted, such a mess transforms their resentment into frustration.
When taxpayers witness financial mismanagement in a country, there is always a threshold, a limit it would be dangerous for any government to cross.
When, in this country, people see part of the population break the law with complete impunity, they see it is necessary to act illegally to have an unreasonable tax reduced, they see that very rich people are legally exempt of income taxes while others are crushed under the tax burden, social uprising is not far. I am not saying we are there already, but I think, in spite of the infinite
patience of Quebecers and Canadians, it could very well happen. History is full of such cases.
Without going back to the beginning of times, let me remind you of an event we all know about very well. The French Revolution was triggered by nothing else but excessive taxes and the squandering of the royal court. Remember that the main point in the list of demands drawn up by the Estates-General was the existence of a privileged class which paid no taxes.
In Canada and Quebec we have our own kind of aristocracy, a class of people who pay almost no income tax. The marquesses of today are the family trusts. I do not want to get too sordid, but I suggest there is in our country, as there was in France in those days, a toiling and struggling population which is shocked by such injustice and incompetence.
Please do not misunderstand me, Mr. Speaker. Once again, I am not saying the two factors of frustration I mentioned, mismanagement and an unfair taxation system, will lead us directly to a revolution. We are two very patient nations, too wise to let the situation reach that point. In our country the individual is far from ready to attack the state, but to escape taxes, he is quite ready to hide from the system and hide his activities.
That kind of behaviour is spreading and, because of that, our government is losing control over, even knowledge of, a complete section of the economy. Civil disobedience is no longer reproved by public opinion. What a failure, Mr. Speaker, what a decline!
Year after year, the Auditor General, without succeeding in shaking the government out of its lethargy, displays for the public, who eventually becomes blasé, damning examples of carelessness, shortsightedness and waste on the part of previous federal governments. This year takes the cake. And, to my knowledge, the Auditor General, when reviewing our finances, stays strictly within the federal jurisdiction and consequently, does not look into this generous source of administrative abberation and squandering of public funds which is the overlapping of jurisdictions.
Here is a particularly painful example of this mess, in view of its victims, old age pensioners. Let us see what the Auditor General has to say about that. This meagre pension which is, as you know, the only source of revenue for a lot of people, could be increased, without dipping into the public purse, if the $200 million or so in overpayments were clawed back or, better yet, if they were never paid out, thanks to a better managed fund.
If, at least, old age pensioners could be heard by the government when they have a problem! But the Auditor General tells us that there are 17,000 inquiries on a waiting list and sometimes, it takes more than a year before they are answered. And that is not all. Service centres and regional offices receive 4 million telephone inquiries a year, but 7 million calls are either cut off or dropped by the caller, out of despair, I guess.
Overlapping and duplication of services are another source of waste and paralysis, exposed time and time again but always in vain.
A study done by the Treasury Board of Canada in 1991 indicates that in five provinces at least there was duplication in 60 per cent of federal and provincial programs. That situation being obviously profitable to some officials, it is doubtful they would readily propose to eliminate those duplications.
As for those elected, they have ignored to date a situation which they find politically beneficial since it enhances their visibility.
I would now like to talk about duplication, particularly in Quebec. The hon. member for Joliette recently made a declaration in this place and I find it useful to repeat it. "The Bélanger-Campeau Commission has estimated that the elimination of duplication resulting from the sovereignty of Quebec would allow a saving of $233 million in transport and communication costs. This is therefore a potentially important issue, although there is no recent study evaluating the cost of present duplications in provincial and federal programs". The hon. member went on to say that some sources estimate the total cost at close to $3 billion. Those figures come from the Bélanger-Campeau commission whose recommendations were accepted, namely by the provincial Liberals. It was five billion according to them. This is why we ask this House to give the Auditor General, without any political partisanship, the mandate to conduct a serious and comprehensive study on duplication and overlapping in all those spending programs.
In conclusion, it is imperative that we regain the confidence of Canadians in the government's expertise and sense of justice. If not there will be no revolution but we will see the rise of an underground economy in Quebec and Canada. Tax dodging would become socially acceptable, still illegal perhaps but legitimate. Elected officials would be despised. In a word, our model democracy we pride ourselves on, and rightly so, would slowly deteriorate.
To win back the trust of Canadians, we must first have a parliamentary committee review mercilessly all public expenditures, particularly areas of unnecessary overlap between federal and provincial jurisdictions.
Second, the government must put an end to undue tax privileges for the Canadian tax aristocracy. Like the aristocracy which once caused the fall of monarchy in France, these lucky few are not only undermining our finances but are also threatening our institutions, since the public feel treated unfairly in the face of these privileges.
Such is the double price we will have to pay, that is review of expenditures and suspension of privileges, in order to restore in the population the minimum of respect that institutions and governments should command. Without such respect, institutions are in danger.
A last word, inspired by this morning's newspapers. Put in headlines over four columns, La Presse states ``Martin's first budget will hurt''. We knew that. A lot of people are afraid the budget will hurt the have-nots, sparing the rich once again. If the awaited elimination of abuse-ridden tax shelters turns out to be nothing but a snow job, while social program cuts turn out to be too real, the resentment of taxpayers could lead to social behaviour that would make us all sorry.