That the House regrets the attitude of the Prime Minister of Canada at the First Ministers' Conference on October 26, 2004, and that it call on the federal government to recognize the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada and that, to this end, the House ask the Standing Committee on Finance to strike a special subcommittee to propose tangible solutions for addressing the fiscal imbalance, and that its report be tabled no later than June 2, 2005.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to present this motion of the Bloc Québécois concerning the attitude of the Prime Minister at the latest first ministers' conference. The conference was meant to address not only equalization payments but also the other financial pressures, to use the Prime Minister's terminology.
This motion also faults the government on its inertia, given its campaign promises, in coming up with any tangible measures to address the fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the governments of Quebec and the Canadian provinces.
It would be worthwhile reading the motion again, so that it will be sufficiently clear for the members on the other side of the House, because we have noticed that they need to hear a credible and well-documented message repeated for several years before finally getting it.
That the House regrets the attitude of the Prime Minister of Canada at the First Ministers' Conference on October 26, 2004, and that it call on the federal government to recognize the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada and that, to this end, the House ask the Standing Committee on Finance to strike a special subcommittee to propose tangible solutions for addressing the fiscal imbalance, and that its report be tabled no later than June 2, 2005.
In addition to finding the Prime Minister's attitude regrettable at that conference, the motion also expresses the desire of my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, and likely in other parties as well, for the government to come up with tangible solutions.
We want the government to pay more than just lip service to the existence of the fiscal imbalance, even if the Bloc Québécois has managed to introduce this concept into the throne speech, with some nuances. We want things to be made clear now. We want the government to recognize the existence of a fiscal imbalance and the House to reach a decision on this question, if the government is incapable of doing so alone, and we want them to get at it. A deadline of June 2005 has been set.
That may seem soon, but in fact we have been working on it for years. We were working on it even before Mr. Séguin began chairing the commission, the Séguin commission, three years ago.
Even before that began, as early as 1997, the Bloc Québécois saw that the system was dysfunctional, such that resources in Ottawa were overabundant in proportion to the federal government's constitutional mandate. The provinces and Quebec in particular, however, did not have enough resources to carry out their fundamental missions, especially in health care and education. We have been talking about it since 1997.
In 1997, the year of the first surplus, we proposed a solution. We proposed that the federal government remove itself from the tax fields it occupied with respect to the Canada social transfer—as it was then called—and return GST revenues to Quebec and the provinces so that they could, alone and independently, carry out mandates such as those of health, education and income support. That was already in the air in 1997.
We are aware, and all these years we have tried to make our colleagues aware of this, too, with varying degrees of success. Still, I think that today we can be confident that some other colleagues have finally understood that we cannot go on this way.
Now the debate is being heard, not only in Quebec and in this House, but all over Canada. The two recent conferences, on health and equalization, which were also supposed to consider financial pressures, have proved beyond a doubt that there is a problem, a disparity in the fiscal resources available to the federal and provincial governments.
During the campaign, when the Prime Minister found himself off balance with the rug slipping out from under his feet, he made a promise to solve the problem of what he calls financial pressures and what some people call the fiscal imbalance. I would remind him that the “some people” are all of Quebec, all the Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, and now all of Canada.
In the Bloc amendment to the amendment to the Speech from the Throne, instead of “financial pressures” we should have said, “what some people call financial pressures and what the vast majority call the fiscal imbalance.” In this case, “some people” would mean the Liberals, the only ones who speak of fiscal pressures on the provinces. Everyone is convinced that there is a fiscal imbalance and that change is needed.
It would not be the first time we have seen this. In 1964 already, at the time of Mr. Pearson, and Mr. Lesage in Quebec, a problem of fiscal disparity existed.
There was already a problem, given the mandates that the Government of Quebec had in education in particular. In 1964, education was the focus of the Quebec City Conference. The existence of a disparity was recognized. It was so evident that, exactly 40 years ago, Mr. Pearson, who was also at the head of a minority government, transferred tax points which, to this day, are used for health, education and income support.
Forty years later, we are facing a similar situation. The current Prime Minister lacks Mr. Pearson's finesse, of course. I think everyone recognizes that. In time, the Prime Minister himself will recognize it as well. The facts have to be recognized.
While promises were made concerning the financial pressures, the Prime Minister said he would be ushering in a new era of cooperation with the provinces. He keeps saying that over and over. What new era is this? The same old one, the one of confrontation. At the first ministers conference in September, he had no choice, he was cornered. One the one hand, his government is a minority government and, on the other hand, the provinces presented a united front to demand more funding for health.
Now, he has gone back to the Liberals' bad habits. We were told that we had to be careful because, for a few years, Ottawa would no longer have a huge surplus, that fiscal prudence was required. That has been going on for seven years. For seven years, the Liberal government has been fooling the public about its financial capacity to meet such basic necessities as education and health. For seven years, it has been telling us that it does not have any financial leeway. Yet, every year, as if by magic, the rabbit is pulled out of the hat, or the cat is out of the bag, depending on how we want to look at it, and there is always a big surplus, which keeps growing year after year.
While he was finance minister, the current Prime Minister made the worst forecasting errors, in the neighbourhood of 500%. A 3% or 4% margin of error might be acceptable, and maybe as much as 10% for a very lousy forecaster but, really, 500% is too much. The Prime Minister and the current finance minister are giving a bad name to the budget forecasters in the Department of Finance. These experts are highly trained professionals. How likely is it that they feel comfortable with the charade of the last seven years? They know perfectly well that the politicians across from us in the House are simply lying to Canadians. In so doing, they are making a mockery of democracy.
I just came out of a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance that was attended by the Minister of Finance himself. He talked about prebudget consultations and mentioned the importance of coming up with new ideas and new means of managing public finances and forecasting federal government spending next year. However, on what basis would the public be consulted? That is what we need to ask him. It is imperative to know what we are consulting people about. We need a clearer idea of the amounts involved. We need to be told what the surpluses will be for the next few years. The last thing we need is distorted forecasts that have no basis in reality.
This, however, is what they have been telling us for the last seven years. This is a disservice to democracy. How can we evaluate, for example, the federal government's ability to meet the needs of the people if, to start with, the true picture of public finances is completely distorted? They are talking through their hats when they tell the people that Canada is not as rich as they think it is and that it will not generate great surpluses. They were predicting a surplus of $1.9 billion for the fiscal year ending on March 31. And we now have learned that the surplus is $9.1 billion instead. This year, the government is predicting a surplus of $2 billion or $3 billion. That is the figure we are hearing, since the economic growth anticipated by the governor of the Bank of Canada could be a bit too high. The government is saying that he is being more prudent and it believes the numbers will be different. We are heading straight toward a surplus of between $11 billion and $12 billion.
They should stop having us on. They should stop misleading the people and lying to their face about the true state of public finances. This makes no sense at all.
I noticed today something that is symptomatic. The finance minister appears so rarely before the finance committee that journalists and cameramen usually come to interview him there.
This morning there were none. Not a single journalist. Not a single camera. Do you know why? Because the government, and the Minister of Finance in particular, have lost all credibility. What he says cannot be trusted. Journalists are no longer interested in covering his presentations to the Standing Committee on Finance on economic forecasts. They are no longer credible. He has become a laughing stock.
What exactly do we know about the surplus? It is estimated at between $11 and $12 billion next year. That is what I believe. That is what the Bloc Québécois is forecasting, between $11 and $12 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31. A few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance asked the Conference Board to review the forecasts it issued a few months ago for the Séguin commission, regarding the federal surplus over the next 11 years and the deficit of the provincial governments over the next few years.
The Conference Board was given an extremely conservative framework. One must be prudent. However prudence becomes a lie when it is overdone. If you cry wolf too often, nobody will believe you eventually. Even with extremely conservative parameters, the Conference Board concluded that over the next 11 years, the federal government will post a $164 billion surplus. We are not talking peanuts. We are talking about a $164 billion surplus. On the other hand, the provinces will post a deficit topping $60 billion and this is a conservative estimate.
I bet the federal surplus will be around $200 billion over the next ten years. The Conference Board used as a starting point the federal government's own forecast for last year, which was around $2 billion. Using as a starting point such an abnormally low forecast, which proved to be off by 500%—the real number being more than four times that—to assess what might happen over the next 11 years, the Conference Board's forecasts will obviously be well below the actual surplus.
That is the picture. That is what makes us say that for the past seven years the public has been duped. The federal government is swimming in surplus, will continue to do so and has far too much money in proportion to its responsibilities, while the government of Quebec and the governments of the other Canadian provinces do not have enough stable and predictable funding to provide for the basic needs of the public, which is what we are asking for.
When a government comes into power, in Quebec as in the Canadian provinces, the public expects the government to serve it in those areas under its jurisdiction. Those jurisdictions include health, education, income support, and public services such as road maintenance, and so on. Governments have a mandate. However, if they do not have adequate resources to carry out their mandates, because the federal government denies them the means they should have, is that not dysfunction? Is it normal to have a $9 billion surplus here when most of the provinces, except Alberta, which is swimming in oil, of course—here they are swimming in surpluses, there they are swimming in oil—are suffering from the fiscal imbalance? Is this situation normal? No, it is not.
There are three other consequences to the surplus apart from the fiscal imbalance we have been dealing with for many years and will continue to deal with in the coming years.
First, the needs of the public are not being met.
Second, the federal government is using these surpluses to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. In the past four years alone, intrusions have totalled $16 billion. In other words, the federal government has taken money from the taxpayers, accumulated surpluses and used the surpluses to invade jurisdictions that, under the Constitution, belong to the provinces. I am talking about $16 billion just to confuse matters. A ship has one captain, not two. The Prime Minister should know that since he has been in the shipping industry for a long time. He should know that we cannot have two captains running the same ship. That is what the federal government is doing. It is interfering in health and education and is using surpluses to do so.
I can give you examples of intrusion. Federal intrusions amount to $16 billion in the last few years. Incidentally, the Bloc Québécois leader set up a committee on which I had the privilege to sit, along with my colleague from Joliette and Mr. Léonard, a former president of the Quebec treasury board. The committee found out that since 1994-95, and more particularly in the last five years, the federal government has spent more in areas under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec and the provinces generally than it did in areas under its own jurisdiction.
In the last five years, this spending totalled a hefty $16 billion.
There are many examples of this: the youth employment strategy, the health transition fund, the community action program for children, the Canada prenatal nutrition program, the Canadian health information system, the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation, strengthening communities in the voluntary sector, and the Canadian institutes of health research.
Let us talk about foundations, and especially the Canada foundation for innovation. Each and every time money is put into foundations, the Parliament loses all control. In the areas under Quebec jurisdiction, again, we have the nurses using the research and service evaluations fund. What does the federal government know about that? It manages two hospitals, one for aboriginals and one for veterans, and they are a complete and utter disaster. They have no business telling us how health services should be managed. We also have the supporting community partnerships initiative for the homeless. All these areas are under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
This is what happens when you have too much money. You invest in provincial jurisdictions. Conditions are imposed for cost shared programs. This is how you end up in a situation like the one we are in right now. While the provincial governments do not have enough money to meet their essential, basic and fundamental needs, the federal government has too much money.
What else besides these intrusions does a surplus situation produce? It produces waste and corruption. Talking about waste, there has been an unprecedented increase in the federal government's operating expenditures since 1998. This was ongoing while this Prime Minister was Minister of Finance. He was the good manager who pretended to be managing public funds in a prudent and responsible manner. Between 1998 and 2003, there was a 39% increase in the operating expenditures while the inflation rate was about 10% for the same period. Is increasing the operating expenditures three or even four times the inflation rate really a responsible way of managing? Hardly.
Is he a good manager? This is easy. How do you think he could accumulate a surplus? The employment insurance fund surplus and the cuts in the Canada social transfer had no effect on the federal government operating expenditures. They were measures dealing with the services offered to the public and concerned their welfare.
I do not think there is doubt in anyone's mind that there has been corruption. The sponsorship scandal is probably just the tip of the iceberg. This is what happens when there is too much money. When people have access to so much money that they do not know how to spend it, it increases the risk of corruption and even promotes it.
This motion seeks to set the government back on the right track and to get the Standing Committee on Finance working on a solution to the fiscal imbalance problem.
They talk about the two conferences. They say it is wonderful; they solved a good part of the problem. Let me say that after the conference on health and the other that concluded the day before yesterday, Quebec will receive $800 million more this year. Do you know how much the transfer of tax points, such as transfer of the GST to the Government of Quebec, could represent? An extra $2.4 billion. In order to solve the fiscal imbalance problem we were talking about $3.3 billion this year alone for the Government of Quebec. With this $800 million, there is a shortfall of $2.4 billion. They are giving us $800 million and forgetting to mention that they have already taken $2 billion in taxes out of the pockets of Quebeckers, as part of the surplus. Our share of the surplus is $2 billion of the $9 billion. Quebeckers have paid $2 billion too much in taxes to the federal government. Now they are giving back $800 million and we are supposed to applaud.
It is time that this trickery, this clowning around, this foolishness stops. Right now, it is the taxpayers, sick people, students, and people on low incomes who are paying for the government's negligence and lies.
Madam Speaker, I have noticed something. The former Minister of Finance did not know how to count. Now that he is Prime Minister, he still does not know how to count. The current Minister of Finance does not know how to count either. There was another one, Mr. Manley, who did not know how to count either. The same goes for the parliamentary secretary.
Are we to assume that no one in this government knows how to count? There is a limit. They are supposed to represent the public, but most members of the public know how to count. I cannot believe that this would be any different for the Liberals.
With respect to everything my hon. colleague just listed as responsibilities, such as federal government spending, there is something I think he did not realize and I am going to point it out to him.
On March 31, after it had paid everything, that is all expenditures relating to its responsibilities under the Constitution, to its intrusions in provincial jurisdictions, to its own little business, such as flooding the country with Canadian flags, and after reducing the debt, the federal government ended up with a $9.1 billion surplus. Is this clear enough? A surplus is what is left after everything has been paid. It is a simple principle. It does not take an accountant to understand that. It is the same thing every year.
Will the government stop harping on about those darn tax points? These points were allocated in 1964, during the Quebec conference, and, to a lesser extent, in 1971. They were essentially created in 1964. Now, the Liberals would have us believe that the 1964 redefinition of tax fields has become an expenditure for the current federal government. That is not true. This is something that was given, something that was allocated.
If a person sells his house and is immediately paid the full amount, it is no longer that person's house. If the house is sold, it belongs to the buyer. In 1964, tax points were allocated; these points no longer belong to the federal government.
If there is something to remember from the 1964 conference, it is that we should hold a similar conference again, because the situation has become plain intolerable.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Yvan Loubier: I hear the member for Outremont. He too should learn how to count, because I think he has problems in that area. Some might say he has other problems too, and I agree.
We should repeat the 1964 exercise. We have reached that point, because revenues are disproportionate and it is indecent for the federal government to keep telling us, year in and year out, with a sheepish grin, that it has surpluses, that it was wrong in its estimates, because the economy...
Madam Speaker, do you know what this is? This is a calculator that costs about $50. With it, we can calculate surpluses within a 3% margin of error.
An hon. member: No, it costs $10.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: The calculator costs $10; this is even worse. If necessary, we will provide each one of them with such a calculator, so they can learn to calculate. With a simple calculator like this one, we can estimate surpluses within a 3% margin of error, one year in advance.
That is why I was saying just now that the government, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the parliamentary secretary, the member for Outremont are all sullying the reputation of the Finance economists. They are not comfortable with the totally abnormal forecasts we have been presented with over the past seven years. I am sure of that. I know some of them personally, from university days. They can count as well as I can. Their marks were as good as mine. If I and my little team from the Bloc Québécois can predict a surplus within a 3% margin of error, I cannot believe that they cannot do likewise at Finance. This is an attack on their reputation.
Now, for the debt. The member's question was a pretty longwinded one, and my answer will be as well. Good managers can understand this. If there are two debts, and a single taxpayer, one starts by paying down the debt that is costing the most. But here the opposite is being done.
They are quickly paying down the one that costs the least to carry—the federal government's debt, because it has a more favourable interest rate—while letting the provincial debts, including the debt of Quebec, build up at a less advantageous rate. That debt is being allowed to grow.
Where is the proper management in this? There is still just the one taxpayer, but part of that taxpayer's money is being wasted by paying down less costly debts and letting the more costly ones mount up.
So, to continue with my longwinded answer, the third part is this. The Minister of Finance himself asked the Conference Board to review the surplus for future years. Their very conservative estimate suggests that the total of the federal surpluses for the next 11 years would be $164 billion. This was not at my request, but the finance minister's.
The member ought perhaps to look into the actions of his Minister of Finance, because he appears not to know what actions were taken that yielded analyses as off as this one is.
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to be able to participate in today's opposition day debate. Indeed, that provides us with the opportunity to evaluate the measures taken by this government since its recent election. In the few months since the election, this government has delivered the goods in terms of major commitments.
As we know, the main theme of the election was health care. We knows this is the major concern of Canadians. Our Prime Minister, in collaboration with provincial premiers, succeeded in negotiating a historic agreement. It was a historic agreement because of its scope and because of its flexibility. The Prime Minister had promised, during the electoral campaign, to deliver additional amounts in order to reduce waiting lists and to enable provinces to inject more money in health care operating costs.
It's such a pleasure to rise today and to say: mission accomplished! Over the next few years, the provinces will receive an additional $41.3 billion. That's a lot of money! It has enabled all the provinces to sign the accord. This is an important aspect, because a lot of agreements were concluded in the past, and somebody always hesitated or left early. In this case, all the provinces, including the Quebec, signed an accord and came out of there with an agreement where everybody was a winner.
However, the real winners of this agreement on health care are the weakest members of our society, those affected by disease and who, today, can hope to receive quality health care, and in a timely fashion. Indeed, we know that in the area of health care, it is not only about getting access eventually. Often, it is about receiving care as quickly as possible. Thus, the problem posed by the disease is reduced and, often, prevention is also helpful.
The provinces now have enough money and predictability to be able to set up an effective and well-funded health care system.
An hon. member: Say that with a straight face.
Hon. Jean Lapierre: I am saying it with a straight face, because the Quebec minister of health, a very respected specialist, was quite happy: he applauded this agreement. Indeed, he applauded this agreement because he will now have leeway to modernize some facilities, to purchase new equipment and to hire the required staff. In this respect, I am surprised not to have heard the Bloc Québécois members congratulate the government, applaud the government for having succeeded in signing this historic agreement. Just consider how sensitive this government is to the needs of the provinces!
A few weeks later, upon request from the provinces, we had a meeting on equalization with a set agreement. When the conference on health took place, the provinces had reached a consensus. They had requested $10.9 billion in equalization. The Prime Minister, who is mindful of the requests of the provinces, said: “Excellent, the matter has been settled!” The provinces said: “Would it be possible to hold a meeting, since we have to discuss the distribution of this money. So, could we meet a little later?” Once again, the Prime Minister, who is sensitive and mindful, said: “Excellent, we will have a meeting in October.”
That meeting happened. The $10.9 billion were on the table. The Prime Minister had held his promise once again. Of course, the provinces thought that, perhaps, if they had another meeting, they could try to receive a little more. That is human nature. We know that between the health accord and the equalization deal, it was announced that we had a major surplus, but not a surplus to allow us to waste money. No. This is a surplus that we used responsibly to reduce the debt. We did not decide to spend that money thinking that we had a surplus and that the economy was going very well. No, not at all. It is when things go well that we must pay off our debts, not when things go bad.
Because of our economic successes, the Canadian economy finally led to more revenues for the Canadian government, which we couple with good management. Every day, when I hear that we have a surplus, I am very pleased, because I tell myself that this government manages things well and is not a big spender. We know what it means for the taxpayer, on Thursdays, to have money taken from his pay. We tell ourselves that, when the economy is good, for the future of our children and grandchildren, let us try to reduce the debt. Let us give them a decent legacy.
That is exactly what happened. An amount of $9.1 billion was used to reduce the debt. However, we certainly cannot say mission accomplished. When we are being asked to spend to our heart content, we must keep in mind that we still owe $500 billion. This is a lot of money. We have no right to leave this as a legacy to our children and grandchildren. At this time, because interest rates are low, we can create an optical illusion, but we do not know what awaits us or what the future has in store for us. We have been responsible. We have used that amount to reduce the debt.
There is this equalization agreement. Once again, our colleagues will no doubt say that it is not enough. Still, an additional $33 billion will go to the provinces over the next ten years. That is not peanuts. When we think about it, and I know that my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are not crazy about it, Quebec will receive $477 million more in equalization payments this year. This means that Ottawa must have done its homework in recognizing the financial pressures. And that is to say nothing of the additional $1.121 billion that will be paid next year. That too helps reduce a province's financial pressures.
The Government of Quebec, beginning with Minister Séguin, asked for a degree of stability, to prevent large fluctuations in equalization. Mission accomplished on that count as well. We have delivered; in the future, we will guarantee a floor level, as well as 3.5% in growth. How can an income be any more stable and secure? The Prime Minister has responded very responsibly to this legitimate demand of the provinces, which were looking for greater predictability. We recognized the flaw, and that is why we renewed the system to make it more reliable and more predictable.
On a percentage basis, Quebec is coming out of this conference with 43% of the budget. That is not a small amount. Naturally, we all hope—at least I do, as a Quebecker—that the day will come when Quebec will no longer need to rely on equalization because its economy will have reached a level that will allow us to do without it. I hope so.That is what we are working on. That is why we are developing an aerospace policy to ensure that a vital sector of our economy does even better.
For the time being, the equalization program is extremely generous. We can never expect the moon, but one thing is sure: the amounts involved are substantial, and that is nothing compared to what is coming.
We have delivered on health, and met our equalization commitments. Now, watch how we do on our agreement with the municipalities and provinces. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that we would refund up to 5¢ per litre of gasoline over a five year period.
It will be the greatest infrastructure program Canada has ever had. Year after year, up to $2 billion will be invested to help the municipalities. Add to that the GST transfer.
Look at the spirit in which our colleagues—among others, my hon. colleague responsible for infrastructure—met with the provincial representatives to ensure the necessary flexibility under the Constitution, acknowledging of course that the municipalities are provincial responsibilities. Once again, we will be able to deliver the goods in harmony and agreement. This promise, made before the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, will be kept.
We are talking about reducing the financial pressure on the Government of Quebec. I know they are waiting impatiently for this agreement to be signed. We hope this will happen in the coming months so we may, once again, deliver substantial funding in the finance minister's next budget.
Mayors and municipal councils across the country can say that the Prime Minister, once again, is going to keep his word. Health, equalization and cities are the three formal promises and for which it will be “mission accomplished” in a few months.
There is another promise that will further reduce the financial pressure on the Government of Quebec. The Government of Quebec has an exemplary child care program, which is very expensive, much more expensive than the government had anticipated at the time. One thing is certain, this program should serve as a model to benefit children throughout the country.
We made a promise to give up to $5 billion over five years for this program. The Government of Quebec has already done its homework. This will translate into a financial transfer, which, again, will reduce financial pressure.
Every program, every agreement that is signed, negotiated and delivered is good news for Quebec's finance minister. Every agreement will make finances less tight. We cannot be responsible for Quebec's finances—the minister has his constitutional responsibilities—but we can make an effort. We made a promise and we are going to keep it. However, we also have needs at our level of jurisdiction.
Some think that we can simply spend our time sending money, but there have to be legitimate reasons. For instance, in our areas of jurisdiction, I can tell you that, everyday, I resist pressures in the field of transportation. I have colleagues here who would like me to help small airports. Others call for improvements to the rail transport system. Others have needs in the area of ports. Everyday, we must be strictly disciplined. I have colleagues who would like us to spend for all kinds of studies in the area of transportation. It happens every day. I have to restrain myself, because we are fiscally responsible.
When we look at it, my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, receives requests every day for his area of responsibility. My colleague in Canadian Heritage also receives daily requests, particularly for special events. All big events would like to find financial support. We resist.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
An hon. member: Or we accept.
An hon. member: We resist when we can't buy everybody off.
Hon. Jean Lapierre: My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, is under huge pressure. All across the country, people would like him to spend more on parks. Once again, he says no, because we have to honour our current priorities, to which we are committed.
We made a commitment to health care. We also made a commitment to day care. We committed to equalization. We committed to municipalities, and we deliver on our promises.
However, it goes without saying that each time we deliver in those areas and commit to substantial amounts, we have less leeway in our own departments. We are so disciplined that we are presently revising our expenditures in view of reducing them by 5% in our own departments to better accommodate the provinces. Just think, everyday, I have to look at my department's expenditures and wonder if I could cut this or that. We really want to help Quebec, Ontario, the Maritime provinces, western Canada. We have to do that everyday. This is what fiscal discipline is all about.
If at the end of the year, after having managed irreproachably, we have surpluses, then our children and grandchildren will be better off! We will make no apologies for having surpluses, on the contrary. We will make no apologies for good management. We will make no apologies for paying off the debt. I will never be ashamed to say to my children and grandchildren that, under this administration, more that $60 billion has already been applied to the debt. Paying off your debts is not a sin, it is a quality.
When we look at the current state of our relationship with the provinces, if we put the rhetoric aside, when we look at the facts objectively, we must say that, in general, we are doing a darn good job. We must say that no government has ever been as mindful of the needs of the provinces, and as generous. This government is currently creating a trademark for itself. It is an attentive government, but above all a government that fulfils its promises, and that is what is annoying the opposition.
Indeed, we know that people are aware of the tenor of our promises, and of what we will deliver. We are currently delivering. It is true. This being said, I know that the opposition will have little to attack the government on. Indeed, the opposition will look at the electoral platform, the accomplishments, and then Canadians and Quebeckers will say: “What a good government in Ottawa!” When they have a chance, in the next few months, in the next few years or perhaps in the next few weeks, people will be able to look at our promises and our accomplishments, and we will have nothing to be ashamed of. We will not be ashamed to go back to the people at any time, because we are building an extraordinary record of accomplishments.
I know that this bothers the opposition. Even as a minority government, in an even more difficult context, we still deliver. When they look at what is happening, when they look at upcoming agreements, not in the distant future but in the coming months, provincial governments will realize that they have an ally here in the person of the Prime Minister. Provincial governments will realize that every commitment made during the election campaign is going to be fulfilled.
Incidentally, I can quote a more neutral and objective source than myself. This morning, André Pratte wrote the following in the daily La Presse:
However, the substantial improvements to the amounts and operations relating to federal transfers are making the theory of a tax imbalance much more questionable.
He added, in reference to various agreements signed by our government:
For the Quebec government, this represents an increase of about $3 billion per year.
This is from a credible source, namely Mr. Pratte, who took a close look at the whole issue. He is making these comments very objectively. He also added:
More importantly, the federal government has undertaken to correct the most serious flaw in the equalization system, namely the fluctuations in the payments, which was driving provincial finance ministers crazy. From now on, the program will simply be indexed, to the tune of 3.5%.
It is obvious that outside observers are pleased by what they are seeing. The only ones who have not congratulated the Prime Minister on the health accord, the only ones who are not pleased about our agreement with municipalities, the only ones who are not happy to see that we will have a national daycare program with the necessary flexibility, while respecting the Constitution, are opposition members, because they know that the well-being of the public and the success of this government are closely intertwined, and that they will eventually look like real fools.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's East. As the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and members of the House know, the Conservative Party believes a fiscal imbalance exists in the country, and we support the motion. We also know the Liberal government caused this fiscal imbalance. The fact that the very existence of the fiscal imbalance is up for debate shows the arrogance of the government.
I will begin my remarks by suggesting that the first thing the government should admit is there is a problem. It should recognize fully that there is a fiscal imbalance and that it should be addressed and fixed.
Simply put, the fiscal imbalance results from the fact that the federal government is collecting more taxes than it needs to fulfill its obligations. This results is recurrent budgetary surpluses at the federal level and deficits at the provincial level.
While the federal government is raking in surpluses that are always larger than anticipated, the provinces have a hard time providing essential health and social services.
This widening gap between the federal and provincial budgets prevents the provinces from making long term planning and forces them to always depend on federal transfers for their programs.
This is too little, too late. And this assistance is often tied to conditions such as the achievement of federal objectives. If the provinces do not achieve these objectives, or if they wish to pursue other important goals, they do not get the funds that they were promised.
Thus, the provinces find themselves in a situation where they cannot refuse to contribute financially to new federal initiatives. They are then forced to implement programs that do not meet their local priorities.
While it is enjoying huge surpluses, the federal government's only solution is an increase in provincial taxes to pay for social programs. However, collecting new taxes and accumulating deficits are not the solution.
It is clear that the current tax structure no longer meets the needs of the provinces and territories.
The motion itself raises the arrogance of the Prime Minister at the equalization meeting on Tuesday and I would like to address this for a minute.
The meeting on October 26 was supposed to come to a new arrangement on equalization. At the first ministers meeting on health in September, the provinces asked that a separate meeting be held to address the issue of fiscal imbalance as well as equalization. The Prime Minister told the Premier of Quebec and the other provinces that such a meeting would take place before the next budget and would address the fiscal imbalance.
The Prime Minister did not keep his word. He continued to deny the existence of the fiscal imbalance and refused to have a specific discussion about the fiscal imbalance at the October 26 meeting.
At the meeting, it became apparent that there would be no give and take between the provinces and the federal government. The meeting was a take it or leave it offer and there was no discussion about solving the equalization concerns of the provinces today. There was also no addressing of the fiscal imbalance. There was also no greater conversation of the larger fiscal climate in which federal-provincial-territorial fiscal arrangements are operating. There was no flexibility from the Prime Minister. In fact he was so inflexible that he reneged on a deal he made with Premier Danny Williams to give the government and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador 100% of their resource revenues with no equalization clawback.
Those are nice words to say and promises to make during an election, but they are a little harder to follow up, especially when one has built one's career as a finance minister by saying no to the aspirations of Newfoundland and Labrador and other Canadian provinces.
As the Leader of the Opposition asked on Tuesday, what is the rationale for not allowing the provinces to have full access to their resource revenues and why is the Prime Minister holding back Newfoundland and Labrador?
There are other problems because the government knows that a deal with Newfoundland and Labrador would only be the beginning. If it exempted natural resource revenues from Newfoundland and Labrador, it would have to do the same for Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan which have the same concerns. At that point, northern territories would ask for the same, as would resource economies in every other province. Instead of using an equalization program as a means of taking back resource revenues out of the provinces, the federal government would have to let them prosper.
Then I ask, what would the government do if it stopped interfering in provincial jurisdictions? Would Canadians maybe turn their attention to things that are truly a federal jurisdiction? Would the lack of respect the government has shown to our military become a bigger story? Would our abysmal trade record and the growth-stifling policies of the Liberal government become perhaps a more pressing concern?
The government is holding provinces back in two ways. The most obvious this week is the way it claws back resource revenues from provinces. The second is in its persistent denial of the fiscal imbalance. The fundamental problem with the Liberal government is that it does not respect provincial jurisdiction with equalization, resource revenues and the fiscal imbalance.
The government will suggest that it has corrected the fiscal imbalance by providing equalization top ups and by seeking to bring more stability to the equalization program. It will also suggest that equalization and transfer payments are what corrects this fiscal imbalance.
Equalization and transfers do not correct the fiscal imbalance. These transfers are part of federal revenues that are used really to coerce provinces and force federal priorities on to provincial areas of jurisdiction.
This is the key issue. Instead of allowing provinces to meet local priorities, we have situations where the federal government alters the priorities of provinces by dangling more money in front of them. Of course, as the provinces have been starved by the federal government for cash, they cannot help but say yes to these federal conditions. Again, I stress that these conditions rarely meet local priorities.
As well, the federal government is hooked on the fiscal imbalance because it is addicted to its large surpluses. The government does not want to give up the surplus because it needs it to pad its own books. The government again and again uses the surplus as a carrot to dangle in front of the provinces for health care, equalization and now for cities and child care.
The fiscal imbalance goes deeper than a simple distortion in financial accounting. It provides the basis for the government's entire way of operating. The government knows that the more it holds provinces down economically, the more it can push them around and worm its way into their budgets and distort their priorities.
It is pretty clear why the federal government will not allow Newfoundland and Labrador the freedom to prosper from its offshore oil revenues. It is exceptionally clear why the Prime Minister will not hold meetings on the fiscal imbalance and why he will not finally correct the fiscal imbalance. If the Prime Minister were actually to give provinces the promises he made while he was struggling in the polls, he would be unable to hold the provinces hostage at health care meetings or equalization meetings.
When I first addressed the House early this month, I mentioned that addressing and correcting the fiscal imbalance would be something very difficult for the government to do. It has no faith in other governments or in individual Canadians. This lack of faith is even more apparent after yesterday and after the dyslexic surplus of a few weeks ago. The government has no faith in provincial governments and services and Canadians are suffering. The government has no faith in individual Canadians and it feels the need to control every aspect of their lives, even in those areas that are not in its constitutional jurisdiction.
Canadians deserve better and they deserve two orders of government working together, each competent and successful in their own jurisdictions. They do not need the federal government duplicating the work of provinces and they do not need the federal government to keep playing the role of big brother.
It is time to correct the fiscal imbalance.
Madam Speaker, I too want to say a few words on the Bloc motion on Canada's fiscal imbalance, a motion which I do support. It has also been said that Newfoundland and Labrador has been the victim of too much money; too much money in Ottawa and not enough back home.
I think we all realize that over the last couple of days this whole business of the fiscal imbalance, as it applies to Newfoundland and Labrador, has been driven home quite well. Over the last few days we heard the Prime Minister of the country say to Newfoundland and Labrador “here is the deal, take it or leave it”, an offer that does not see the province get 100% of its resources. It is an offer that breaks, in a very significant way, the Prime Minister's promise to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador during the election campaign.
The people of Newfoundland and Labrador were offered, as all hon. members are aware, a $1.4 billion deal over an eight year period. If we failed to take that kind of a deal we were to have 100%, up to a $234 million cap, neither of which, incidentally, is 100%.
Given the current price of oil, which is more than $50 a barrel, the province's minister of finance has said to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that if we were to sign that kind of a deal we would be leaving on the table billions and billions of dollars each year. I am given to understand that the people of Nova Scotia have rejected this offer as well, saying that it falls far short of what the federal government promised to the people of Atlantic Canada.
I want to give the House some idea of how far the deal falls short of what the Prime Minister actually promised to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. For instance, in a year when the province takes in say $500 million in oil revenues, it would get to keep $234 million. That is less than 50%, which is a far cry from the 100% that we were promised.
Right now, after pumping oil for 10 years in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province only receives 14% of the revenues from its offshore oil while the Government of Canada and the oil companies get a whopping 84%.
Yes, what has been offered is an improvement in the current situation because wherein the lion's share of the offshore revenue is clawed back by Ottawa through reductions in equalization payments, but it is not 100%. Let us make no mistake about it, 100% of the offshore oil revenues is what the Prime Minister promised during the election campaign.
What happened between the Prime Minister's election promise and his very different written offer of October 14? Rising oil prices is what happened; rising oil prices and the unwillingness of the federal government to let any cash windfall accumulate in the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The federal government is somehow of the opinion that if Atlantic Canada is kept dependent upon the federal government then come election time it will have a lever to use against the people in these areas. Somehow it is a positive and the government will be the recipient of the seats in Atlantic Canada by keeping Atlantic Canadians dependent on the federal government.
In his public statements during the election campaign, the Prime Minister talked only of Newfoundland and Labrador receiving 100% of its offshore oil revenues. However, with oil at more than $50 U.S. a barrel right now, the Prime Minister saw fit to introduce a few constraints on his election promise.
We are talking about a very complex issue here. I am convinced that the minister who represents Newfoundland and Labrador does not really understand the offer that has been made by the federal government. If the minister understood what the federal government was trying to do to Newfoundland and Labrador he would not be considered today, back in his home province, as the Benedict Arnold of Newfoundland and Labrador politics.
If the minister is listening, let me explain to him in 60 seconds what the federal deal is all about. The Prime Minister said that we can get 100% only until our province's fiscal capacity equals that of Ontario, but Ontario's fiscal capacity is based entirely on the performance of its economy. If the fiscal capacity of Newfoundland and Labrador were based only on the performance of our economy, we would be getting 100% of our offshore oil revenues forever and a day. It would never kick in.
However, what the Prime Minister has done in his offer, is he has artificially jacked up Newfoundland's fiscal capacity by adding in our current equalization payments and the modest offshore revenues that we get right now. He has added all that to our fiscal capacity to try to bring our fiscal capacity up closer to Ontarios. It artificially puts us closer to Ontario's fiscal capacity. It takes only a modest gain in offshore oil revenues to bring us up to Ontario's fiscal capacity, at which point the clawback provisions of the equalization act would kick in again and all our revenues would be flowing right back to the federal government.
Ontario's fiscal capacity is based on its actual revenues. However when the Prime Minister artificially jacks up our fiscal capacity by adding in our equalization payments and adding in the modest revenues that we receive in offshore oil revenues now, then our fiscal capacity comes very close to what Ontario has right now.
The Prime Minister made his offshore revenue promise at a time in the election campaign when things looked pretty bleak for the Liberals, when even our seven seats in Newfoundland and Labrador meant a whole lot to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Today I am calling upon our five Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador to take their lead from the provincial Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador and the NDP of Newfoundland and Labrador which have both come out behind the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in his quest to get a fair deal for our province.
I give full marks to the Liberal Party provincially but I give zero marks to Newfoundland's federal MPs who do not have the courage of their convictions, do not have the courage to stand up for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We were never in a better position. We now have a minority government in the country. Before this time our seven seats meant nothing to the federal government because it always had 170 to 180 seats. Today, however, our five seats from Newfoundland and Labrador mean an awful lot to the federal government. The five Liberal MPs representing Newfoundland and Labrador can make or break the government if they want to use their clout effectively.
I am calling upon those five Liberal MPs to do what is right for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have been the victim of the government for far too long. It has ruined our fishery and it has broken its promise on custodial management. Ten per cent of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador have moved out in the last six year period.
This is our only chance to get a fair deal in Confederation. How dare the Prime Minister of this country tell the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that they can get 100% of their offshore revenues, and then turn around and do something different. This is not fair to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. The five members will pay if something is not done to make this deal a fair one.
Madam Speaker, the New Democratic Party will be supporting the Bloc Québécois motion. It is an excellent initiative, and we congratulate the Bloc on the introduction of this motion.
Liberals keep denying any fiscal imbalance, but the average citizen knows it exists, because he can see it in everyday life. It is obvious to the homeless on the street, and it was even more obvious when homeless people died in our communities because the federal government stopped building public housing. Waiting lists in hospitals are another sign. Citizens are affected in their daily life by the fiscal imbalance. This is not a discussion for professionals only; it concerns the average citizen.
Setting up a special committee to look into this matter is a good idea. We will want to contribute and help find the truth and suggest the viable and specific remedies we need now.
It is not the first time that such a committee has been established. I have with me the committee report on federal-provincial fiscal arrangements which was established in the early 1980s and reported out in 1983. All of the documentation is here. My colleague from Elmwood--Transcona represented our party on that committee at the time. That investigation came to some very important conclusions, the first of which was that the fiscal arrangements between the federal and provincial governments at the time needed some fine tuning but were working reasonably well. The committee concluded that the task force did not interpret current challenges to the system as calling for fundamental change in existing arrangements nor did it consider dramatic innovations necessary or appropriate at present.
About 10 years later the Liberals came to power and ignored the study's recommendations. Through the 1990s they engineered the most fundamental transformation of the financing of services to Canadians that has happened in several decades. The Liberals exercised what I would call cruel brilliance.
Under the guise of defeating a growing deficit and attacking the debt, the federal government passed responsibilities to the provinces and the municipalities at a rate that had never before been seen in this Confederation. In fact, the consequences are still being felt in our communities today, and that is the very reason why we are having this debate and why we are facing a critical situation.
The Liberals managed, through unilaterally transforming the entire structure of federal-provincial financing relationships without consultation, to leave provinces with, on the one hand, more responsibilities, and on the other hand, fewer resources available to attend to those vital responsibilities.
Some provinces, intent on implementing exactly the same ideological position that the federal government and the finance minister of the day in particular was pursuing, simply passed on exactly the same kind of fiscal transformation to the municipalities.
As a result, over the last decade we have seen a growth in indebtedness at the municipal level across the country. We have seen the provinces struggle to manage the responsibilities that have been left to them by the federal government with inadequate support. Mostly though, Canadians have experienced in their daily lives a deteriorating quality of life because of those very decisions. We must take a look at some of the examples and I will get to those in a moment.
The Liberals in power took the whole concept of the trickle down philosophy of economics and transformed it into force it down their throat economics. The provinces in this federation and the municipalities in our country had never asked to be charged with the responsibilities left to them by the federal government. That is why we have a growing crisis at the municipal and provincial level.
I salute Quebeckers for having brought this issue forward in such a forthright way. I salute the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who are now standing firm for their rights, calling for the crisis that they are facing with the federal government to be attended to.
Before I go further into the issue of the fiscal imbalance and the impact it is having on people's daily lives, I want to draw to the attention of the House remarks concerning the crisis in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was shocked to read the following statement about the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in today's newspapers:
He may get some short-term gains but he'll pay for it in the long run.
It went on to say:
The problem that the premier will have eventually is that the truth will get out. And $1.4-billion or twice that perhaps will not end up in the pockets of Newfoundlanders for the sake of his ego and his political ploy.
What an outrageous statement for a spokesperson from the Prime Minister's Office to make about a premier of the country. This is bully politics. This is arrogance at the highest level. This is a slap in the face to a whole community which is trying to come to grips with the fact that there are resources offshore that could help take the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador out of the terrible situation in which they have found themselves for so many years. They are suffering under an economic maldistribution that leaves their citizens in a troubled situation.
Much of this applies to other provinces in Atlantic Canada. Right now we are singling out the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have seen similar consequences in provinces such as Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, where fully one-fifth of the population now lives below the poverty line. Why? As the member for Acadie—Bathurst has mentioned to me, because the federal support and transfers for the social programs, the social infrastructure that gave us a high quality of life relative to other countries, has been decimated.
Let us come back to the consequences of these cuts. First, let us talk about education and finance.
The federal government unilaterally, without any agreement from the provinces, has withdrawn funding from post-secondary education financing at a horrifying rate. Approximately $7 billion has been removed. The results end up on the shoulders of our students, our youngest and our brightest. They are the people who we are trying to send forward into our economy, our communities and our society with some sense of optimism and hope and with the capacity to use the education they have just received. Instead, because of the federal government's unilateral actions, students are arriving in the workforce with a debt on their shoulders which is absolutely crushing.
The Prime Minister and his team may be proud of the fact that they have transferred debt from the nation as a whole, which resides on the shoulders of each and every Canadian and our great assets, to the backs and shoulders of the youngest and the brightest students. This is placing a millstone around their neck as they move from their educational career and training into trying to become contributors in our society.
The federal government may be proud of that. It may want to trumpet on a day in and day out basis, especially tiresomely during election campaigns, that it has wrestled the deficit to the ground. However, the cost of that effort was transferred to the shoulders of young people. It is now transforming our society into one where we have to seek out trained and skilled labour because our young people are increasingly becoming incapable of responding to the needs of the modern economy. This is short-sightedness at its worst.
When we turn to the issue of education, we see that the consequences of the fiscal imbalance has ended up affecting our youngest, our brightest, those to whom we should be giving as much hope, enthusiasm and support as possible. Instead, as a result of this situation, we are doing the opposite.
Second, let us turn to child care. Great hope was put in the minds of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in the election campaign of 1993, when after years of New Democrats being the only ones to really talk about child care on a pan-Canadian basis, we finally had the Liberal Party promising Canadians that it would initiate a program. In fact the candidate for prime minister at the time put considerable emphasis on this campaign promise. Little did Canadians know that he would turn right around and ignore that promise for 11 years and leave them in the lurch.
As I have mentioned before in other commentaries, I spoke to a young man who answered the phone when I called for a cab. He described the situation where he and his wife were very excited about the promise of a national child care program in 1993. She decided to study early childhood education. They had decided to have a family because they thought they would have access to child care.
Eleven years later he said that I should do whatever I could do to hold the Liberals to their promises because they had let his family down. His wife was unable to work as an early childhood educator, as she was trained to do, and ended up having to stay at home to look after their kids. They could not afford child care.
This is the kind of impact the failed promises, the broken promises and the transfer of responsibilities or leaving the responsibilities to the provinces and the municipalities, without the additional financial wherewithal that is required, has had on thousands of lives. It is not an academic exercise. This is not something for debate only between economists as though it is too esoteric for the average person to understand. The average person understands this very directly.
Let me turn to another example, the investment in communities and their infrastructure, such as public transit.
In the 1993 red book there was fanfare about the investment programs and infrastructure that would follow. Indeed, there were a number of programs. They would be announced in one election and would be delivered just before the next election so there could be some ribbon cuttings for the various members who wanted to take credit.
What we saw at the municipal level over the years was a steady decline in the size of those infrastructure programs. Meanwhile, there were rapidly increasing requirements for infrastructure across the country as our cities grew. The consequence of this was that people's property taxes had to go up. The federal government might have been claiming credit for wrestling a deficit to the ground and it might have been very happy announcing the largest tax cuts to the affluent and the large corporations in the history of the country. However, on the backs of ordinary Canadians, it was building up a property tax burden that it could not sustain.
In addition to that, what communities began to face was a deteriorating infrastructure, sewers, potable water, public transit systems and roads, housing and other forms of infrastructure, so much so that our cities began to be removed from the lists of the prime places to invest, the prime places to have conferences internationally and the best cities in the world. We began to fall off of those lists.
Did the federal government pay any attention? Did it reverse the trend? Absolutely not. What we saw once again was a fanfare, an election promise, 5¢ per litre of the gas tax. I know quite a bit about this 5¢ per litre. I was the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities at the time the promise first began to be made. We demanded it. What we have seen is a steady erosion ever since election day on the 5¢ per litre of the gas tax. We are now down to some small portion of the gas tax that may flow at some point in the future once agreements and talks are finished.
For heaven's sake, that sounds a lot different than what we heard from the Prime Minister during the election campaign. He gave Canadians his absolute word that they would receive 5¢ per litre of the gas tax. That is only half of the excise tax. Let us remember there is a GST on top of that which the federal government is pocketing and using for its tax cuts for its friends or misspending, as we have seen in so many ways this government do. No wonder Canadians are coming to grips with this and saying, “Something has to change”.
The investment in the cities has to be transformed and that can be done in collaboration with provinces. It should address issues like housing, water, other forms of pollution to cut back on smog, transit systems, et cetera.
In the investigation that this committee conducts, we will be ensuring that the voices of communities will be heard, as well as the voices of provinces. That is absolutely vital. It can be done in the context of the responsibilities of our provinces without difficulty. We saw that happening, precisely, around the issue of housing when finally we were able to extract a few pennies from the federal government after a long effort at the municipal level and provincially. We were able to come to a workable relationship, including a very creative approach that was adopted in Quebec, which then became the leader on the production of social housing using the federal moneys.
Anyone who says that federalism stands as an obstacle to the achievement of these kinds of goals involving asymmetry to recognize and salute the achievements and possibilities in Quebec and anyone who says that we cannot accomplish such things is not looking at our best examples of achievement.
I hope that in addition there will be some attention paid to the way in which the federal government has stolen the employment insurance surplus year after year, billions of dollars of money that were there to protect workers when they fell on hard times and lost their jobs. If we look at the fiscal imbalance, a big part of it is represented by the way in which those funds, instead of being made available to workers and their families when they needed them, were stolen by the Prime Minister. They were stolen in a metaphorical sense by the government, placed against the deficit and the consequence of this was very severe.
First, people fell into poverty much more rapidly. They were unable to feed their kids. Second, provinces had to come back in with welfare and social assistance programs to backfill the funds that were not available because employment insurance payments were not available. That drove up the costs facing the provinces.
I remember this well because I served on the council of Metropolitan Toronto at the time. It was responsible for making out these payments. The consequence of the unilateral action of the federal government on employment insurance, by cutting off the benefits to which workers were entitled therefore generating a surplus that it could lift and put against the tax cuts for their affluent friends, was that welfare bills rose dramatically and people suffered. We had to raid the account that we had put aside to get new landfill and new waste management facilities to pay welfare. This is the kind of consequence that the downloading, the ramming down the throat approach to fiscal management the government, has produced.
I could mention a number of other areas. Certainly, we could focus on the issue of health. The government adopted a particularly cynical approach. Cut back the funding of health so dramatically that people will begin to notice the consequences in their daily lives and wait until the hue and cry has risen to a point where people demand that it be fixed and then come in and offer some cash to attempt to fix it. This is the most cynical manipulation of public opinion in Canadian history. Cutting the funding of these essential services, creating the waiting lists, creating the pressures and problems, only to come back and offer a solution later. Create the crisis, offer to solve it. This is not the way to go.
The New Democratic Party of Canada will be there, active on the committee. I hope the House will decide to adopt the recommendation of the Bloc Québécois. We certainly intend to do our share to raise these issues and others and generate the reforms that are required.
Mr. Speaker, this morning, in the Standing Committee on Finance, we hosted the Finance Minister. I heard our Liberal friends rejoicing, naturally, over budgetary surpluses. They were rejoicing particularly over the unexpected surpluses.
It is my intention, soon, to pay a brief visit to Laval University to meet with some of my former professors. Indeed, I feel that I could ask for a revision of some of my marks, because some of my mistakes were on the positive side, not on the negative side. I don't know, though, whether that will be allowed.
Fiscal imbalance has very significant consequences, on both democracy and accountability. What are the effects of fiscal imbalance? One of them, among others, is to put us in a situation where the federal government no longer knows what to do with its money. We are looking at more than $60 billion since 1997-1998. These are numbers often repeated in this House, but I think it is important to repeat them. I hope that one day, our colleagues in government will finally understand them.
The Conference Board talks about $166 billion over the next 10 years. If they were to be revised today, these numbers would continue to increase in light of the unexpected surpluses, which we had in the last budget year.
I spoke about democracy and accountability. The federal government has so much money that it does not know what to do with it. Instead of fully assuming its responsibilities in its own jurisdictions, the federal government invests in jurisdictions that come under Quebec and the provinces.
What is the result of this? During the years 1995-96, the federal government was making cuts everywhere in joint programs, with the result that all the provincial governments, and particularly the Quebec government, were blamed by their population, because they lacked money for health, municipalities and infrastructures.
To a large extent, the problems were not caused by how the Quebec and provincial governments were managing things; they were caused by the drastic cuts made by the federal government. This is really a lack of democracy. It was mentioned earlier that the taxpayer is the same one at every level. Our fellow citizens should know who deserves to be praised and who should be blamed. This is important.
The fiscal imbalance has a significant impact on the provinces' shortfall, particularly Quebec's. The most recent evaluation of the shortfall caused by the fiscal imbalance, and Quebec's most recent demands are presented, along with the dollar figures, in a document entitled “Correcting Fiscal Imbalance”. That document was released when Quebec's most recent budget was presented, in March 2004.
The demands relating to equalization or social transfers are quite similar to those of the Séguin commission. However, while advocating the transfer of tax fields as a basic solution to the fiscal imbalance, the Quebec finance department proposed, as an interim measure, to significantly increase transfer payments for health and education, and equalization payments. In total, the Quebec finance department proposed a $7.2 billion increase in federal transfers across Canada.
As regards equalization alone, the federal government should invest over $5 billion. This is taking into consideration the restoring of the 10 province rule, and a number of other amendments to the formula, to restore some tax fairness between Quebec and the provinces.
For Quebec, these proposals would amount to an additional $3.3 billion for 2004-05 alone. This is, in essence, the shortfall caused by the fiscal imbalance in Quebec, as calculated by its government.
What we are proposing is relatively simple. We did not reinvent the wheel. First, as the Quebec government is requesting, there has to be a significant increase in funding, in the CHST, for example. It is indeed an option, but it is a short term one and it is far from perfect.
The best solution would be to stop the transfer of tax points to the Quebec government. This would give us a much better choice. Such a solution would enable the Quebec government to better predict in it budget planning, because it would have its own revenues. This formula would help to balance the ability to generate revenues for the two levels of government.
These propositions would result in a global return of 26.7 tax points on the personal income tax. Quebec would then have an effective hold on the personal income tax field. The Quebec government would control 57.5% of personal income tax rather than the 42% it is controlling now. It is a very nice solution, but additional measures complement that.
We continue to say that it would be important to adjust the equalization payments calculations. Transfer of tax points alone would not do any good for some provinces, particularly for the Atlantic provinces. This is why we suggest that the increase in the ability to generate revenues created by a transfer of tax points not penalize the provinces by reducing the equalization payments. Those provinces have to have access to additional revenues to be in a better position to meet the challenge of growth and increase in the public expenses.
Myths about equalization abound. Unfortunately, it is often said that Quebec is the one benefiting the most from this program. True enough, Quebec gets 31.5% of federal transfers to the provinces, 43.7% of equalization payments and 24% of transfers for health, higher education and welfare, but when you figure out the per capita payment, it is about $500, which is, as mentioned this morning by Michel Vastel, much less than what the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are getting.
Although 24% of total federal spending is in Quebec, which reflects Quebec's demographic weight in Canada, we are not as elated when we look at the nature of this spending. Quebec does not get its share of job and wealth creating spending. For example, it does not get its share of grants to businesses. It is far from getting its share of federal spending on goods and services. Research and development spending generates jobs and knowledge and brings quality jobs and wealth to the communities. I will not even mention federal jobs, which are concentrated in the Ottawa and Ontario area.
Those policies have made Quebec poorer, and we are now receiving more equalization. If the federal government had implemented other policies, Quebec would not be getting as much equalization and I, for one, would be very pleased.
For instance, if the number of federal public servants in Quebec were in accordance with its demographic weight, $812 million more in salary would be paid to about 15,500 civil servants in Quebec. Those are good jobs. I would not call equalization what is grudgingly granted to us at a conference where such figures are used despite important consensus in Quebec on this issue.
In research and development, the federal government has set up 57.7% of its research centres in Ontario, compared with a mere 19.6% for Quebec. The difference is $800 million. Ottawa needs to change those policies if it truly wants to be fair to Quebec and the provinces.
Quebec companies are receiving 18.5% of federal assistance to businesses, that is $3 billion less than what is granted to Ontario companies. We are not talking about peanuts here—and I am sorry if that expression is unparliamentary—but about $3 billion. So, it comes down to a $200 million shortfall for Quebec also.
These policies have to change. Quebec must gain control over all its economic and fiscal policies and its programs to help businesses and constituents alike.
Tax point transfers were mentioned earlier, and I said that we had not reinvented the wheel. Canada faced a similar situation at the end of the second world war. At the time, the fiscal imbalance issue on which Ottawa and the provinces disagreed led to the 1956 report of the Tremblay commission. It is nothing new.
That commission proposed to the federal and provincial authorities that it agree to a new division of tax fields better suited to the present needs of the public and the public administration, and more respectful of the spirit of federalism and the Constitution. That was 48 years ago.
Unfortunately, even then the government did not always heed commission recommendations. For a number of years, rather than follow that direction, the government began to set up a number of cost-shared programs. It did not take long to realize that the solution did not lie in injecting funding on a cost-shared basis.
This led to the 1964 federal-provincial conference, where at the insistence of Quebec, which once again—with the credit going to Jean Lesage—demanded more access to income tax, tax points were indeed transferred. This solved the problem for thirty years or so. Now for the situation we find ourselves in today.
I believe that one of the major causes of fiscal imbalance is the federal spending power. The government has used that power for several decades to interfere in jurisdictions belonging to Quebec and the provinces. For evidence of this, one need look no further than the Speech from the Throne.
Where do the priorities of the representatives of this government lie? They tell us often enough, and delight in doing so. I do not delight in hearing them; they are a disappointment to me, but not to them. These are all areas over which Quebec has jurisdiction: municipalities, early childhood services, health, education. Even without our signature on the Constitution it seems to me that, if there is one area of jurisdiction that clearly belongs to Quebec and the provinces, it is education.
This federal government absolutely must take action on the fiscal imbalance, must start transferring tax points so that Quebec and the provinces are able to properly administer the services for which they are responsible and properly serve their citizens, within a system that is both more transparent and more democratic, one where people can see whom to praise and whom to blame. Unfortunately, that is not the case at present.
I am not at all used to giving 20 minute speeches in the House, so I must admit that I have rather lost track of time. I have no idea how much time I have left. I believe I may have quite a lot.
An hon. member: Quality is what counts.
Mr. Guy Côté: Quality indeed, thank you for that.
The thrust of my speech is that we need a system that is more transparent and more democratic. It was incredible to hear the Minister of Finance, this morning, tell us, “Yes, indeed, estimates are not an exact science and there may be errors. A small error of 2% may have an impact of $300 million”.
Since I see that I have six minutes left, I think that I will start to speak much more slowly. It has often been said that experience is the sum of our errors. I will tell you that I am getting a lot of experience at this time.
Indeed, if estimates are not an exact science, we are still seeing a systematic underestimation of revenues by the government. If, during the 1970s and 1980s, we saw most optimistic forecasts that brought repeated deficits, year after year, this government has taken exactly the opposite direction by both constantly underestimating its revenues and overestimating its spending.
There is only one taxpayer. This taxpayer must know what will be his contribution to the various services that the state will provide him. For example, we talked about employment insurance. This is incredible. Employment insurance has become a hidden tax, an employment tax.
The employment insurance fund has huge surpluses year after year, while these surpluses should go to workers, to people who contribute to this fund and who need it when they go through much more difficult times.
Through accounting gymnastics, the Liberal government manages to get these surpluses and to use them, among other things, to reduce the debt. This is outrageous. It is attacking people who are at a disadvantage and in a crisis situation, who have families and children, who have mortgages, and it tells them, “You have not asked for employment insurance for a number of years, because things were going rather well. You had a job, you do not meet the requirement of 910 hours and, thus, you will not get an income”. The government has huge surpluses. It does not know what to do with them anymore.
The federal government must take care of its own jurisdictions, and not intrude in Quebec and provincial jurisdictions. We see this again here in this House. In the last couple of days, we have heard a lot about the Canadian armed forces, and many parliamentarians have talked about the shortfalls in their financing. I am telling you that if the government was taking care of its own jurisdiction without intruding in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, the armed forces would probably be much better equipped and the Liberal government would focus on solving the problems that are truly Canadian instead of intruding in Quebec and provincial jurisdictions.
We attended a federal provincial conference on equalization yesterday, and I must say that we were quite disappointed with the Prime Minister's attitude. Under the guise of openness and cooperation, the Prime Minister made a speech in which he is not giving one more cent to equalization compared with the figures given at the last conference on health held in September. There is no change in the calculation formula, which penalizes Quebec and prevents it from making consistent forecasts and knowing exactly what its budget will be in one, two or three years. This forces the Quebec government to beg the federal government for money, and this is not healthy.
Quebec, like the other provinces, must be able to manage the areas under its jurisdiction and tell its fellow citizens “this is what we have to offer in the areas of health, education, social assistance and early childhood services.”
We are talking about a national child care program. For seven years, two of them as chairman, I sat on the board of a day care in Quebec. It was a fantastic experience. It is a fantastic model. I will never stress enough how afraid I am that the Liberal government across the way might barge in with a one size fits all program that will undo all the progress we have made in Quebec since 1995, if my memory serves me right.
Not only it is planning a one size fits all daycare program, but if we go back a few years, when the $5 dollar a day daycare program was introduced in Quebec, Quebec families lost their federal tax deduction. Since 1995, around one billion dollars has been taken out of Quebec tax payers' pockets. The Liberal government is aware of the fact. Nevertheless it has done nothing to address the problem. It would not take much though. If the government really cared and wanted to cooperate and help, it would help those people get back the money owed to them.
I understand I have about one minute left. Let me conclude by reminding the House that the fiscal imbalance is not only about money, it is also about democracy and accountability. People must know how their tax dollars are spent.
Mr. Speaker, a lot of discussion is taking place in the House and in the media right now regarding the fiscal pressures of the provinces and federal transfers. There is no question that these issues are very important to the governments of each of our 10 Canadian provinces and to all Canadians right across the country.
It is for that reason that we must be very clear when we use the term fiscal imbalance. I believe it is being confused with the whole term of horizontal fiscal imbalance, which does exist between the provinces. The government has been dealing with that issue very aggressively by ensuring all Canadians have access to equitable essential services. To do that the federal government contributes significant amounts to the provinces, including the province of Quebec, allowing them to better fund their provincial responsibilities.
However there is a significant difference from what is being proposed in the motion. What the motion suggests is that there is a vertical imbalance between the federal government and the provincial government. Simply put, this is not the case and cannot be the case under our present Constitution.
When the country was formed in 1867, certain powers were devolved to the federal government, such as defence, fisheries and oceans, and certain powers and responsibilities were devolved to the provinces, such as health and education. I will admit that in recent years a lot of the areas of the fastest growing responsibility are those areas under provincial responsibility.
However the important point that is being lost in this whole discussion is that under our Constitution the provinces and the dominion basically have the same taxing powers. If the provinces want to tax corporate income they can do so. It is the same for the federal government. Both levels of government can tax personal income, impose capital tax and impose taxes on consumption. In fact when we look at it, the taxing powers of the provinces are greater. They have lottery revenue and property taxes, but again, that is not a significant item for this debate.
In Canada, both the federal and provincial governments have access to all major sources of revenue. If the federal government and the provincial government can access the same tax bases, it is impossible to see how a vertical fiscal imbalance can exist.
The example I gave in a question to the previous speaker was that the federal government, whether it was right or wrong, decreased corporate and personal taxes over the past five years. If any of the 10 provinces wish, in their wisdom, to raise taxes they can do so. One can make the argument that taxes are too high, that federal taxes are too high or that provincial taxes are too high, but that is a policy issue. It has nothing to do with the whole concept of fiscal imbalance. There is no limit to the taxing power of any province.
Still, from province to province there are significant differences as to how much revenue they can potentially generate. That is where the imbalance exists, but that is a horizontal imbalance, which I suggest is being addressed very adequately by evolving federal programs. One clear example of this is the new health care deal which will see billions of federal dollars going to the provinces for improving health care across the country. As well, the government recently announced a new framework that will increase the support provided to provinces through equalization programs by $33 billion over the next 10 years.
The new equalization framework will provide predictability, stability and increased funding, all aimed at decreasing the horizontal fiscal imbalance that exists between provinces.
There are further programs that target areas of inequity such as child care, early childhood education, money for post-secondary education, cities and infrastructure. These plans have been developed in the framework of fiscal responsibility--
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to today's debate. In considering the question of a supposed fiscal imbalance, let me begin by suggesting that we should all take a break from rhetoric and reflect on economic reality and national responsibility.
As was highlighted in the recent Speech from the Throne and the Prime Minister's reply, Canada has acquired an outstanding record of economic achievement. In fact, our federation and its federal government are doing many things right.
Over the past 10 years we generated over three million new jobs. Since 1997 we have led all G-7 countries in the growth of living standards. Low interest rates have made home ownership easier than it has been in decades.
This has not happened by accident. It reflects the virtuous circle we have worked hard to achieve, where fiscal discipline and balanced budgets have led to increased confidence, lower interest rates and falling debt. Our better financial results have permitted the government to reduce and improve the fairness of taxes, and make new social and economic investments.
That is the central point we must recognize in today's debate. Our government has indeed made vital tax cuts, and social and economic investments. This spending underscores the obligations and opportunities that the House and Canada's federal government must continue to embrace for the continuing benefit and future prosperity of all Canadians.
It is simply not true, as the advocates of imbalance try to argue, that the needs are with the provinces and the resources with Ottawa. The clearest thing is that we face national needs. Canadians want a federal government that plays an active, accountable role in addressing those needs.
Let me remind my hon. friends of the action agenda and spending pressures that must be considered in any analysis of available federal revenues and the balance between federal and provincial resources.
To start, we must not take for granted our current economic success. In the face of advancing technology and accelerating global competition, Canada must now invest in elevating our performance to the next level.
That is why the throne speech highlighted a five point strategy to build an even more competitive, sustainable and prosperous economy.
First, we must invest in people, our greatest source of creativity and economic strength. This means investing in workers, helping them continuously enhance their skills to keep pace with constantly evolving workplace requirements.
Second, we must strengthen Canada's ability to generate and apply new ideas. We must continue our support for academic and industrial research and scholarships. We must never forget that education and R and D are just starting points for economic success.
The equal challenge is to turn more Canadian bright ideas into dynamic businesses, great jobs and growing export earnings. That is why our government wants to ensure a supply of venture capital particularly for early stage businesses in key enabling technologies such as biotechnology, information and communications, and advanced materials which will be drivers of innovation and productivity in the 21st century economy.
Third, we must invest in providing smart government to make it easier for businesses to do business in Canada. This includes a transparent and predictable regulatory system that accomplishes public policy objectives efficiently while eliminating unintended impacts.
Fourth, the government's overall economic strategy maintains a commitment to regional and sectoral development. The simple fact is, Canada's regional economies are a vital source of economic strength and stability. Support for regional and rural economic development will target the fundamentals, such as skills upgrading, support for research and development, community development and modern infrastructure such as broadband communications, by employing regional agencies and tools, such as the Atlantic innovation fund.
The government's regional objectives are being complemented right now by the most fundamental reform of the equalization program in its 47 year history. This new framework will see provincial and territorial transfers increased by some $33 billion over 10 years and provide them with the greater stability and predictability in payments they have sought so they can better plan and manage their own budgets.
Fifth and finally, our economic strategy must include the promotion of trade and investment. Canada has always been a trading nation, but never more so than today. It is therefore vital that we secure and enhance our access to markets both in North America and around the world.
To this end, the government will build on the successful smart borders initiative and also on measures designed to develop a more sophisticated and informed relationship involving business and government officials in the United States.
This is an active agenda and it is an essential one that must be backed by the funds needed, because only a growing economy can deliver the government revenues needed to meet the significant social challenges we face today and in the years ahead without forcing us back into destructive deficit spending.
This requires that all parties recognize that each level of government has fiscal pressures to deal with. Only by acknowledging this and working together constructively will all levels of government be able to best serve Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, as I begin, please note that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.
Since this is the first opportunity when I will have a longer time to speak here, I would also like to thank my constituents in Saint-Lambert, who have elected me to defend Quebec's interests on their behalf on Parliament Hill.
The fiscal imbalance, the financial pressures, the systematic retention of money by the federal Liberals for more than a decade—this has been told and retold and will be repeated and repeated over again because it is a big story—have a great impact. The human costs and harm done by the fiscal imbalance and the way it has shredded the entire social fabric of Quebec and the provinces are known to all.
Nevertheless, the federal Liberals, in their nihilistic approach and their stubborn denial that the fiscal imbalance exists, have inspired many of us to diagnose this as a behavioural problem rather like political autism. Everyone here, all the political parties represented here, recognizes the existence of the fiscal imbalance—except them. Everyone in Quebec, all political parties in the Quebec National Assembly, recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance—except them. If that is not political autism, what is it?
As is the case in many areas hurt by the fiscal imbalance in Quebec and other provinces, the situation in the cultural area is critical. It is an emergency, because the fiscal imbalance creates a lot of precariousness and disarray in this field.
This fiscal retention deprives Quebec and other provincial governments of their ability to implement their choices, their specific short, medium and long term visions and their policies with peace of mind and a concern for fairness.
The federal government uses fiscal retention to increase its intrusions in areas that are not under its jurisdiction and that beyond its capability, thus weakening the Quebec nation and imposing on Quebec disembodied choices made in Ottawa. There can be no democracy under these conditions. Some will probably question the relevance of culture in the fiscal imbalance debate, along with other recurrent issues, like health, education, social housing and so on, which of great public concern.
I would say it is very relevant. Indeed, culture, far from diverting our attention from other files, can help us deal with them to their full extent and with every resource of our soul and mind. Quality of life necessarily includes culture, which is the dignity of life. When the financial means are lacking, culture is absent from the lives of our fellow citizens when it should rightly be part of it.
I remind this assembly that it would be absurd to envision culture without arts and letters, theatre, music, dance, literature, art crafts, and visual and media arts. Culture, arts and letters are the soul, the psyche of nations, the heart of every people.
For your information, in Quebec, the Mouvement pour les arts et les lettres, the MLA, which represents 15,000 professional artists, has been campaigning since the very beginning in favour of increased support for artists. It has been waiting for a long time. It too is very hopeful that the Liberal government will act with wisdom and foresight and will not be so tightfisted. Right now, the majority of those 15,000 professional artists are living below the poverty line. The money is here, the needs are there.
It might be that for the Liberal government culture is only a tool, an instrument of propaganda. Only the least enlightened dictatorships we know see it as such. This is not Quebec's view of culture. Life teaches us that to cultivate is to be born, work the land in the hope of reaping a harvest, it is to endure by conveying, it is to protect in order to receive.
Societies find their place in history and in the hearts of the people only through culture. However, in Quebec and the other provinces culture is jeopardized by fiscal imbalance.
Mr. Speaker, since the beginning of today's debate, we have come to realize that the fiscal imbalance is recognized by the whole society. We think of the current minister of finance, Mr. Yves Séguin, who in 2002 chaired the fiscal imbalance commission in Quebec—the report was made public on March 7, 2002—all political parties in Quebec and all Canadian provinces. The imbalance is thus recognized by all opposition parties in the House of Commons.
These last few years, the fiscal imbalance has been of such a magnitude that it is literally choking Quebec and the provinces. However, the federal government continues to deny that there is a problem. The Bloc Québécois must then continue to demand that the federal government recognizes this imbalance, but mostly that it solves it. The federal government collects revenues that widely exceed its responsibilities with regard to programs. It accumulates significant surpluses despite the reduction of the debt burden as a percentage of the domestic gross product. The provinces administer health programs and other social programs whose costs are very much on the rise and they have to deal with an increasing demand for services. In other words, as the member for Saint-Lambert and many others have said, it is Ottawa that has the money and the provinces that have the needs, and the gap between the two is widening.
The consequences are significant. This imbalance jeopardizes health and education systems. Service delivery is not as effective as it should be, due to a lack of funds. The decision-making and budgetary autonomy of Quebec and the provinces is compromised.
Every year, Quebeckers send tens of billions of dollars in taxes to Ottawa. They are entitled to demand that this money be managed properly. But, as was clearly demonstrated by the first part of the Léonard committee's report, this has not been the case over the last five years. This is the symptom of a much deeper ill. The federal government, we repeat, has too much money for its responsibilities.
In this whole issue of fiscal imbalance, I would like us to talk a lot about children, the impact on children, parents and seniors.
We know that social development requires, among other things, a stable financial situation and recurrent budgetary envelopes, so that all social stakeholders can work in a calm atmosphere and efforts can be targeted to the real needs of young families, of vulnerable people and of seniors. In a situation of budgetary instability, concerns may very well prevail over primary objectives.
I will mention three social measures that are either very popular or very much in demand in Quebec, because they are fulfilling an obvious wish of a good part of the population.
The Quebec affordable day care network, recently recognized in an OECD report, represents about 40% of the regulated child care spaces. Its experience will be very useful when Canada sets up a public and universal early childhood system.
To be able to continue its good work, the Quebec government must have the necessary resources. The federal government must grant Quebec an unconditional right to opt out with full financial compensation. Such compensation would certainly be appreciated particularly since the government has saved close to a billion dollars in tax credits not given to families benefiting from the Quebec program.
We have to understand that beyond the figures, a day care program can also have a tremendous impact on the quality of our children's development. In the medium and the long term, we will avoid very high social costs. Just think of the learning and delinquency problems that these children might avoid through quality attention in day care centres. This affordable day care network should thus be considered as a solution to many of our young families' social problems.
Let us now turn to home care for seniors. This is recognized as an effective measure because it reduces hospital costs and is more beneficial to many people who prefer to recover at home after an illness.
Here again, a more equitable distribution between the federal government and the provinces could help ensure that long-awaited progress is made. Home care is best, for the seniors as well as for the support workers, who are often overworked, and for the caregivers, who need respite. Whatever the case may be, it is well known that home care for seniors is much less expensive than hospital care.
In education, there are growing needs. They can no longer come after health needs. We must keep improving health services, but it is essential to help young people receive the best possible education so that they are able to meet the challenges of our time. The future of our society is at stake.
There is a crying need for special education teachers, books and computer equipment. It is indecent to be accumulating extravagant surpluses in Ottawa when school boards are struggling to trim already very lean budgets. It is unacceptable for there to be surpluses here in Ottawa when there is a shortage of books in our schools. The needs in the areas of health, education and community organizations are in the provinces. It is there that decision-makers who are closest to the needs of the people must be found.
We must have budgets that permit the priorities set to be carried out. There is currently an imbalance between Quebec's capacity and its legitimate aspirations. This has to stop.