We are rigorous and responsible says the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Let us do a bit history here. My father was a history teacher in Victoriaville, and I have always been interested in what happened in the past. We talk about mistakes in the past, but we should avoid repeating those mistakes. This is something that members opposite should understand.
It was 48 years ago already that the Tremblay commission proposed that federal and provincial authorities agree on a new distribution of tax fields to reflect the needs of the public and the public administration and to respect the spirit of federalism and of the Constitution. That was in 1956. To this day, we wonder what is going on. Since that time, Quebec has always asked for independent revenues to meet its obligations. It is still not the case.
In 1964, the year I was born—I did not want to say my age, but so be it—another federal-provincial conference was held, and Quebec asked for greater access to personal income tax to fund its needs. Lester Pearson and Jean Lesage came to the following agreement, and the current government should use it as a model: the federal government withdrew from certain shared-cost programs, with full financial compensation. When we talk about financial compensation in this House, we often refer to the issue of tax points. This is what we mean. Ottawa should lower its taxes to create more tax room for Quebec, so that it can fund its own programs. It is as simple as that. What was true in 1964 is still true 40 years later.
This is what is unfortunate. Considering all that happened with these commissions, it seems to me that the government should have learned. After all these years, it should have understood and solved these issues. But this was not done, far from it.
What is fiscal imbalance? There are revenues in Ottawa. We are talking about $60 billion surplus since 1997-1998 et $166 billion by the year 2015, according to the Conference Board, which is certainly not a sovereignist organization. Ottawa has too much money for its responsibilities, while Quebec and the provinces do not have enough to fulfill their own. We are talking about a combined deficit of $68 billion by the year 2015. These are the figures given by the Conference Board.
While it is difficult to understand such big numbers, we can reduce the whole picture to a more local perspective. I will tell you later what fiscal imbalance means in my riding.
If the Liberal government does not understand this definition, we can always read what the dictionary says under “imbalance”. I called my assistant a little earlier and asked him to read for me what the brand new “Petit Robert” that we have here in our central source in the House of Commons was saying under “imbalance”. We can all have a copy in our office. I do not think that it costs anything. We have that privilege. The members can go get one. I encourage Liberal members to do it. The dictionary talks about disparity, distortion, lack of proportion, inequality.
The Prime minister prefers to talk about financial pressures. The dictionary does not mention that expression under “imbalance”. However, if that can make him happy, we can talk about “financial pressures”. For us, it is the same thing as fiscal imbalance. Anyway, what really counts is that the Bloc Québécois succeeded in having the expression “fiscal imbalance” added to the Speech from the Throne in the same sentence as “financial pressures”. It is like six of one and half a dozen of the other. It is really the same thing. We are very pleased that the Prime Minister recognized it then. However, he does not seem to want to recognize it again.
As I was saying earlier, I would like to say a few words about the fiscal imbalance with respect to my riding. In my riding, there will be a shortfall of roughly $28 million a year until 2007-08. Imagine the positive impact an additional $28 million a year could have on health and education in the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska. We could do the same calculation for each of our ridings.
Too bad the member for Beauce has left. He blew up at my colleague earlier and said we were making things up. I am sure that if the people in Beauce knew there was a fiscal imbalance of roughly $30 million a year, he would not be so proud and use such fiery language. He has been representing the Liberal Party for a few years now. Too bad he was re-elected; we were close to winning that riding. I doubt people would be very proud to hear their MP utter such nonsense in this House.
He is grasping at straws if he is has to blame former PQ governments to make his argument. He should be telling people, the unemployed, that the fiscal imbalance in his riding of Beauce amounts to $29.9 million a year until 2007-08. I invite him to do so. He could make this calculation during the next break week, since everyone knows that a break week is not a week of vacation. We go back to our ridings to do work.
In Quebec, apart from Liberals in the Outaouais, everyone agrees that there is a fiscal imbalance. The three parties in the Quebec National Assembly, all the provinces in Canada, all the opposition parties in this House, everyone, except the Liberals, accepts and understands that there is a fiscal imbalance. We do not accept it, but we understand that there is a fiscal imbalance and we are asking that it be corrected.
On March 17, 2004, in the Quebec National Assembly, a motion was passed unanimously:
That the National Assembly demand that the federal government recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance and that on March 23, 2004, it adopt budget measures to counter the effects on provincial finances.
A few minutes later, during a press briefing, the Prime Minister of Canada stated that Quebec would not get one more penny in the March 23 budget. I have to admit that, this time, he kept his word, unfortunately.
Members opposite boast about the health agreement, but we should hasten to add that we can hardly talk about an agreement on equalization. Just ask the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador what he thinks. They suggest with great pride that enormous progress has been made in health care. The health agreement has not been bad for Quebec, but figures should be put in perspective. It gives Quebec about $500 million more this year out of an annual health care budget of more than $20 billion. This is just 2.5%. But we still have a major step to take, and that is to sort out the fiscal imbalance.
The federal government still has impressive fiscal resources, compared to those of Quebec and the other provinces. In the last fiscal year, it ran a $9.1 billion surplus, and we know that, in the current year, the surplus could reach $12 billion. It is up to its neck in surpluses. Federal health transfers, the fiscal imbalance and equalization are closely related issues.
To conclude, the federal government should make a commitment to improve the equalization formula soon to make it fairer and more generous, something it did not do on October 26. That is our request. The federal government should not take back through lower equalization payments what it gives in transfer payments.