Mr. Speaker, every year after the happy holiday season the people of Canada and Quebec enter a period of fear. In fact, at this time of year, people fear two kinds of disasters: snow storms and the federal budget.
In both instances, they are unable to forecast the extent of the impending disaster and they feel they have no control over what is going to happen. The only thing they know for certain is that the two events, whether of natural or ministerial origin, can be costly and have an impact on their quality of life.
To a certain extent, we can protect ourselves against the meteorological vagaries of winter, and we can be philosophical about them, knowing that everything will melt away in the Spring anyhow. The storm raised by the federal budget is another story. The fiscal and budgetary whims of Canadian Finance Ministers are getting less and less predictable and more and more painful.
This year, people were expecting a very severe winter and a very hard budget. In both instances it is as if the sky had fallen. We can get used to the snow and the cold, as we known it is going to end eventually, but the budget has inflicted severe injuries to the country's economy and the scars could be permanent.
The Minister of Finance and the government he represents have demonstrated a total lack of imagination and creativity. Once more the axe fell on the unemployed and the aged who are submitted to dreadful cutbacks by this budget. The reason of this is that the Minister of Finance did not want to tackle the real economic problems of the country and cut into useless spending by the government.
Yet, the Minister of Finance had only two responsible things to do before preparing his budget. First, he should have used the long cold evenings of January to read the report of the Auditor General, and I doubt he did.
Second, he only had to listen carefully to the concrete and progressive proposals brought forward by the Official Opposition. This would have prevented him from racking his brain in search of a scheme that would allow him to attack once again the poorest people in our society.
The Auditor General tabled his report to the House of Commons for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1993. All 800 pages of it! Eight hundred pages of horrible findings on the appalling management of public funds in Canada. Eight hundred pages of concrete recommendations on ways to better manage the Canadian government machinery. I will say it again, I doubt that the Minister of Finance took the trouble to go through such a valuable document as the report of the Auditor General, because the provisions contained in the budget do not reflect in any way the expectations expressed in the Auditor General's annual report for 1993.
The auditor managed to summarize in one sentence the expectations and aspirations of the Canadian people, and I think it is important to quote it in this House so that the government cannot plead ignorance when the time comes for it to find out the
effects of such a pitiful budget on the economy. Here then is the Canadian taxpayers' message that the Auditor General wanted to convey to the government, and I quote: "Today it is clearer than ever, to both public servants and parliamentarians, that Canadians expect them to demonstrate sound and prudent management rather than finding new ways to spend borrowed money".
I must admit the Report of the Auditor General of Canada is not an appealing document. I can see why the Minister of Finance would try to keep away from it as much as he can since the truths we find in there do not always make for pleasant reading. Journalists call them the Auditor General's horror stories and rightly so. Indeed, his report is full of pathetic examples of mismanagement and particularly unwarranted government expenditures which are all equally reprehensible. I will mention only two such stories, two unfortunate situations which show how careless the government can get when it comes to spending public funds.
One of the great government extravagances noted by the Auditor General concerns the use of Challenger planes by ministers or other parties close to government. Flying these airplanes costs almost $20,000 an hour. In 1993 alone, the total bill for these travels came up to $54 million and the example given by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in that respect is certainly not comforting. Just imagine. For one day in the United States, not six months in Japan, but one single day, the travelling expenses of the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs were in excess of $170,000. Our ministers are travelling in flying palaces while the government takes away a wheel from the inexpensive scooters of the unemployed. Such a situation is totally absurd!
Speaking of absurdities, how can they explain that the new President of Investment Canada has refurbished her office for a total of $132,000? That is the outrageous cost of the new bathroom and new kitchen in the office of Madam President of Investment Canada.
Was there no one in the government who could have put a stop to this foolish waste of money? While the government is busy installing deluxe toilets in the offices of senior officials, it is also literally taking the toilet paper away from senior citizens. Do these two groups not have the same needs, Mr. Speaker?
In all, the Auditor General identified in excess of $5 billion annually in overspending and shameful waste. It was really not necessary for the Minister of Finance to raid the pockets of ordinary taxpayers in order to recoup these billions of dollars. But, that is what he did and the people feel betrayed by this Liberal government which had nevertheless stated in its red book, and I quote: "We want a country whose governments are efficient and innovative".
When we see the results, it is not surprising that this government has already lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. In a mere six months' time, the Liberals have managed to alienate Canadian and Quebec taxpayers, a feat which the Conservative needed many years to accomplish. That is saying something! Were the Liberals really expecting to maintain their popularity rating by leaving family trusts alone, while at the same time targeting the unemployed and seniors and doing nothing to eliminate instances of administrative overlap?
I find it rather alarming that expressions such as "overlapping jurisdictions", "federal interference" and "administrative duplication" have become commonplace, even the norm in Canadian political jargon. We have come to trivialize these expressions because the federal government has, over the years, used its famous discretionary powers to excess to interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This has been going on since Confederation and has slowly become the traditional way of conducting federal-provincial relations.
This year's budget carries on this nice Canadian tradition. The Minister of Finance strove to perpetuate the federal government's great centralizing tendency, whereby this government has the power and the duty to interfere more and more in provincial jurisdiction or at any rate never to withdraw from provincial jurisdiction, all in the name of maintaining Canadian unity, of course.
This façade of national unity is starting to cost us dearly. A study by Treasury Board in 1991 showed that 67 per cent of all federal programs overlap provincial programs to some extent. Besides the tens of billions of dollars spent unnecessarily every year, we have a huge bureaucratic and administrative machine that is so complex that these federal and provincial programs become redundant and inefficient when they are not simply incompatible.
The Canadian bureaucracy is like a big beached whale and the federal government is doing nothing to save it. The most striking proof of this lack of federal will is still the issue of manpower training in Quebec. While the Conservatives at the end of their term recognized the need to return all powers for manpower training to Quebec, the Liberals have stopped the process under way. For the Liberals, it is unthinkable to take any action which would reduce the federal government's prestige, even if it meant saving $250 million a year. I think that the federal government's ego is as big and immovable as the beached whale mentioned earlier. We well know that even a dying whale is not easy to deflate.
Yet, the Bloc Quebecois had asked the government to cut the fat. Unfortunately, the government has once again opted for a miracle diet which promises results without pain. Putting our
financial house in order will require real austerity measures, accompanied by painful cuts that are inevitable if we are to achieve our economic aims.
The federal government continues to get into debt, and gets away with it. One fourth of this debt is incurred in Quebec's name. But beware, Quebec will not wait for liposuction to become necessary before doing what it must to ensure its future economic development. The only way for Quebecers to get rid of all these horror stories is still sovereignty for Quebec.