Mr. Speaker, before I was interrupted by the question period, I was making a parallel between the throne speech and the budget speech. I was outlining some elements of rhetoric, still believing that the budget speech is intended to update, clarify and give shape to the throne speech. I will then continue, in my presentation, to refer to the budget speech.
The Minister of Finance claims in his speech to ensure our financial future. He says that to us with a straight face. Given our current situation and also the fact that we are in a world where the economy is open, where major changes are occurring rapidly, I think it may be somewhat pretentious for the finance minister to say that he will ensure our financial future. Perhaps we would have preferred to hear him say that he would do his best to ensure that Canadians can benefit from the development of the world economy, without giving too many assurances that he cannot pay, as I believe to be the case.
I noted in the budget speech and also a little in the throne speech that many things are muddled up. The finance minister is playing over several years, 1994-95, 1995-96, and goes back to 1993-94 for some statistics. He even goes up to 1999. For all the issues relating to the deficit, the figure goes from 3 to 2 per cent, but it is 2 per cent in 1999. We see that the finance minister muddles many things up.
He muddles up concepts of financial needs, he adds numbers and talks about the GDP, the past one and the future one. After reading all of this, we get the impression that the minister knows what he is talking about and that we have no other choice but to trust him, because it is sometimes hard to check the debt levels and the financial requirements that he mentions for 1999. What can we do but trust him.
I think the Minister of Finance is not really sure that everyone trusts him, which is why he has laid down some principles. The throne speech, for example, contains a number of principles, which the previous speaker, the hon. member for Shefford, listed. First, the Minister of Finance said his mea culpa. He stated that governments are responsible for the deficit. This is very interesting coming from a Liberal minister whose party has been in office for 36 or 38 years over the past 50 years. He was probably talking about the Conservatives, and forgot about the Trudeau years.
The minister also talked about jobs and growth, just like the governor general. This is all fine, except that the average citizens and the economists have now realized that job creation does not necessarily keep pace with growth, and this is a very serious problem. I am not blaming the Minister of Finance for not having the solution to this problem. If he had the solution, Ministers of Finance from around the world would be in meetings in Ottawa, right here, right now.
The minister talked about a frugal, trimmed down government. It is all well and good to say that the government is too big and involved in too many things. Maybe what we should say is that the government has been mismanaging some of these areas. However, the fact that the government is withdrawing from some areas might cause problems in the years to come.
The Minister of Finance even implied that some government operations may not be efficient. I think everybody knows that some government operations probably need to be reviewed. Like in any other area, when we keep doing the same thing, even though it is a good thing, we become inefficient because their is no innovation. It is high time the minister decided to innovate in the area of finance, as the governor general asked us to be more innovative and creative in the throne speech.
In terms of principles, the finance minister talked about justice and compassion, as did the governor general. It is with a tear in his eye and his heart on his sleeve that the minister then proceeded to make his budget speech.
But I noticed that he did not talk about money right away. He lingered on the perspectives. He used a new trick, which I have seen different finance ministers use in several provinces. They go as far ahead as 1997, 1998, 1999. They confuse people. We think we no longer have debts, but they are talking about 1999 or 2000 or 2002.
In a way, these budgets become what I would call crystal ball budgets prepared by people who try to predict the future, but when we read newspapers from previous years, we can see that most finance ministers, as well as economists from the major banks and from the academic world, were wrong in their predictions. Some have received the Nobel prize in economics, but we notice that it is often given to people who have worked in the field for a very long time. That minimizes the risk of error.
The finance minister mentioned two urgent needs. I am talking about the throne speech and I keep referring to the finance minister because I was under the impression that the throne speech was supposed to state certain principles, to tell us where we are headed as a country, and that, since we are in the economic age, the
finance minister was supposed to provide us with the solutions, to translate into reality the general directions outlined by the governor general.
We heard about the need to increase revenues and to cut expenditures. Of course, the official opposition agrees with these objectives. Regarding the need to increase revenues, we might perhaps have expected the minister to announce a reform of our tax system, but he talked about tax equity instead. Then he went on to talk about the banks, about the progressive tax, and said a few words about tax loopholes. He talked about family trusts, but that was before we learned that $2 billion was taken out of Canada before Christmas without any taxes being paid on it.
The minister did not talk about keeping the surplus in the unemployment insurance fund, which has become the employment insurance fund. Of course he knew that a reform was forthcoming, that the fund was growing and that he needed that money. But he never told us how he would increase the revenues without raising taxes. I think that, today, a minister of finance who would propose raising taxes directly, rather than indirectly, by asking taxpayers to make a certain contribution would be severely criticized rather than congratulated.
As for expenditure reduction, cuts are never mentioned and the role of the government is never openly questioned, although its role is under review and things are changing. Basically, a throne speech or a speech by the finance minister are always optimistic and little concerned with issues.
Last weekend, I heard a reporter put this question to the President of the Treasury Board: "Sir, are there problems in Canada?" The minister was flabbergasted. In Canada as a whole, in Quebec or in my own area of Chicoutimi-Jonquière, there is still a huge unemployment problem.
Unemployment rates are 9.9 per cent in Canada, 12.6 per cent in Quebec, and a staggering 14.6 per cent in Chicoutimi-Jonquière. Thus I would say that the throne speech as the budget speech are only rhetoric, claptrap and fine words that lead to naught. It has been six months since they were delivered,-the figures I have mentioned were for September 1996-and Canadians are still unemployed. Both these speeches propose no solution to put Canadians and Quebecers back to work.