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View Yves-François Blanchet Profile
BQ (QC)
Madam Speaker, when I was a little boy, my father used to do something that impressed me immensely. He would take a chicken out of the chicken coop, tuck its head under its wing, and swing it back and forth. The chicken would go to sleep, he would put it back on its perch, and it would stay right where he put it. I have grown up a lot since then, and I am not so easy to impress. The Liberals may have a harder time hoodwinking me nowadays.
It seems to me that we are going to have to shift from a vigilant collaboration to a guarded collaboration. It is accurate to say that, over a certain number of weeks, there was a collaboration that turned out to be reasonably effective. The public knows very little about the role that the Bloc Québécois played in developing crucial programs. The wage subsidy program, which is clearly getting so much love from the Liberals and now from the Conservatives, was implemented by other countries before we suggested it. The Minister of Finance was not too keen on the idea, but the Liberals eventually adopted it, and it is a terrific idea.
There have been unforeseen knock-on effects, but now people are coming to realize that the government does not necessarily do what it tells Parliament it will do. Sure, it is never too late to do the right thing, but facts are facts, and the fact is that the Deputy Prime Minister and our leader's office agreed on a question and an answer whereby the government promised everyone in Canada and Quebec that it would give students and CERB beneficiaries an incentive to work. That is crucial to the necessary next steps of recovery and reopening. We need to connect workers and businesses, not widen the gap between them. The Liberals made that promise, but now they are no longer interested, so they are not doing it.
Similarly, the government voted in favour of a motion calling on it to help small businesses with fixed costs. If members talk to any chamber of commerce in Quebec, they will see that it is not working.
The parliamentary leader said this was a first step. I look forward to moving toward a sprint, in other words, taking several steps in very little time because we are in great need of that. Beyond all this dithering, there are businesses saying that they will not survive, that they will close. That seems quite serious to me.
We have to be ever more vigilant because, as is stands, instead of keeping the promises it makes in Parliament, which should be solemn, the government rigged an agreement to move forward without keeping its word.
The Bloc Québécois did not say that we would prevent the government from doing that. We said that we would not take part in the discussion because our priorities are seniors in Quebec, small businesses, CERB claimants who want to and must return to work, fishing and tourism businesses, and more.
Journalists are doing a great job, but what struck me at the press conference is that most of the questions were on the negotiations, on what is happening behind the scenes, what we thought and what was in the email. Unfortunately, that is time that is not being devoted to the good of Quebeckers and Canadians. That is what we want to focus on, but if every party agrees on one thing and the Bloc Québécois does not, we will not stand in the way.
We will share what we hear and call for what we believe that Quebec workers, seniors and businesses need whenever and wherever we can. That is our job, and we must always keep health concerns in mind when doing it, since it is beginning to seem like this situation could last for a long time. We cannot let anyone fall through the cracks. Every day and every week counts for businesses.
When I am not here, I participate in video conferences with commercial development groups, chambers of commerce and RCMs, among others. We are hearing things that are very worrisome from all of the regions of Quebec. I am talking about the regions in the broader sense because, just a few days ago, I met with people from Hochelaga in Montreal who have some serious concerns.
The government wants to hold consultations. That is very noble. However, this morning, I read in The Globe and Mail that the Prime Minister consulted six banks; indeed, just because a person does not speak a certain language as much does not mean that he does not read in that language. What a great idea. It was so wonderful to hear. I am ready to sit down with the Prime Minister any time. I will give him all kinds of ideas. He went and consulted with institutions that are richer by far than the Liberals and the Conservatives. These institutions are so rich that it is a major financial advantage to them to put their money in tax havens and to not pay their fair share of taxes in the country led by the Prime Minister, so that is convenient.
I do not know if it is necessary to consult the banks. Of course, there are expert economists working in banks, but I think that there are economists working for the federal government who are just as qualified. To me, it seems rather callous toward people in difficulty to consult with the banks.
The Bloc Québécois will continue to focus on the real issues for Quebeckers. In general, these issues are also good for Canadians, so we will keep the course. We get all kinds of messages from across Canada. Sure, some are not very polite, but many people tell us that we are not doing a bad job. To do a “not bad” job today, we need to point out a few facts. It is good that we have the time to address this, because the planned formats chip away at people's right to speak. I strongly believe that the people who are receiving the CERB or the CESB want to work. The proof is that they have to have lost income in order to be eligible. These are people who want to work.
We know that a lot of businesses need workers and are wondering where they are. The problem is that the recipients can get their $1,250, $1,750 or $2,000 cheque and still earn $1,000. With current wages, this is equivalent to 12 or 15 hours of work, but if recipients earn one dollar more, they lose their $2,000 in benefits. They may want to be good, engaged citizens, but they are not crazy. Clearly, this problem needs to be fixed.
We proposed that those who work more would always keep more of their money, and we ensured that this principle was accepted. That is an incentive to find employment. That is an incentive to work. The Deputy Prime Minister responded to this proposal by stating “certainly”, which I believe means “yes”. That is my opinion. They could and should have done so. The argument that it is too complicated does not hold water because that is what happens with employment insurance. This is a real and serious concern. Workers need to work and businesses need labour. We have to reconnect them.
Seniors need answers. One measure was announced in a strange way. Seniors found out that they would receive a cheque representing a temporary increase in their old age security pension. The government decided to send a separate cheque so that seniors would not get the impression that it is a permanent increase. This created a lot of confusion. Seniors wondered about the $300 amount compared to the $2,000 benefit.
Major communication fails like that aside, seniors may still have some questions. For example, they may wonder when the three-month period starts and ends. That amount is for three months. It seems like it should have started in mid-March like the other programs, which would mean that the first three-month period for which seniors receive $300—and potentially an additional $200—would end in mid-June, but we do not have a clear answer on that. Instead of answering, the government is cutting deals to make Parliament work without talking to the Bloc. Imagine that.
What happens after the three-month period? We were all really hoping the crisis would last three months, but it is going to last longer than that. No matter how long it goes on, we must not leave anyone behind. What are the consequences? A senior who gets the pension top-up and who also receives the guaranteed income supplement will have a higher income and could get bumped into the next tax bracket, which would mean losing part or all of the guaranteed income supplement.
Is that the case or not? We do not know. When will the cheques go out? This is a fairly basic question. I was originally told it would take up to eight weeks. It makes no sense to think that a crisis could last three months, to provide a measure two months after the crisis begins, and to have the cheque arrive two months after that. Obviously, that is just wrong.
When will they get their cheques? A few weeks have already passed since the measure was announced, and we still do not know when the cheques will arrive. This is a basic, straightforward question. We do not have any answers. This issue must be addressed.
We have also raised a number of questions about the tourism industry and seasonal industries. We need to address the arts, cultural and event sectors. The stakes are enormous in all those sectors, and, I repeat, we must not leave anyone behind.
The parliamentary cafeteria is closed, but we have little brown-bag lunches prepared for us. It occurred to me that maybe I should save my lunch and offer it to the Conservatives and the Liberals, since they seem to be having serious financial difficulties. They are having such serious financial problems that they have to dip into a program created to protect individuals and businesses from bankruptcy. They figure they might as well take advantage of it themselves. This is despicable and entirely unacceptable. Members here have replied on social media that these are Canadian workers who are entitled to the program. No, the program is there for workers who need it. The question then becomes: Who really needs it?
Does the Liberal Party, which took in $2 million in the first three months of the year, need to seek hundreds of thousands more? Does the Conservative Party, which took in $3.9 million in the first quarter, need to go looking for hundreds of thousands more? Come on. The Liberals are presenting a united front, but I know they have had time to prepare. First they create a program that they qualify for, and then they apply for money from the program that they themselves created. It is worth pointing out that this was the political party that pledged, on its leader's honour, to restore public funding for political parties. They are not restoring public funding for political parties, but when a program with public money comes along, they are right there with their hand out.
To top it off, the Liberals are applying for $200,000 from this program. That money is going into the Liberal Party's war chest. Come election time, they will have an extra $200,000. They will spend $200,000 more, and Elections Canada will reimburse half of the extra $200,000 that they got from the Canada emergency wage subsidy program. Could they be more shameless?
To be generous and fair, I do not want to leave out our Conservative friends. They must have meetings among themselves. They want a full Parliament because they do not want committees. I hope that they will have a small meeting among themselves because there are two candidates who are ahead of the others in the Conservative leadership race. That being said, I do not mean any disrespect to the other candidates.
Mr. MacKay said that he would never allow the Conservative Party to take money from the emergency wage subsidy program and Mr. O'Toole said the same thing. However, the Conservative Party leader—leader being a very flexible notion—is in favour of doing just that and so the Conservative Party is too. They will have to come to an agreement among themselves, which I am sure will be a very enjoyable way for them to spend a few hours.
That does not bother me because I am very clearly against that practice. However, I am not completely against the principle. On a good day, I would be willing to discuss the principle. However, in their case, they cut public funding for political parties. They go on and on about the merits of carefully controlling the public purse, but when they see a bag full of cash, they stick their hand in it. Enough is enough. They do not even discuss it among themselves before doing it, but that is something that must be done. I want to qualify my remarks a little because I do not have access to the Green Party's or the NDP's books. Perhaps they need that money.
Programs are designed for those who need it; conversely, programs are not designed for those who do not need it. It is possible that the NDP needs it; it is possible that the Green Party needs it; it is possible that others will need it in future. As for us, we will be getting more love from our donors because we do not need it. This year is similar to previous years. We believe that we will move forward. In fact, we never even considered the possibility of getting more money by applying to this program.
Before it is too late, I believe that the parties that do not need it but are using it should reconsider. In any case, it is likely that the next Conservative leader will want to return the money. At least that is what they have committed to doing. It is possible. It is not too late to say that we are right. It is not too late to acknowledge that they should not be using it because otherwise we will not stop calling them out on it. They will be right: We will not stop calling them out on it. They should perhaps reconsider while they still can. They should acknowledge that they will not take the wage subsidy and that those who need it will get it.
That dulls the shine. As everyone knows, the image gets a good shine. Every morning, at 11 o'clock, in front of a big house, the image gets polished. At some point people are going to wonder what is going on. In the history of the Liberal Party, there have been two or three cases, and I am not just talking about calling the banks in the morning. There have been a couple of situations involving the public purse. I would not draw attention to that if I were them because we are used to seeing that sort of thing and calling it out rather loudly.
The ultimate challenge in a crisis is trust. Is the government behaving in every way it can to earn the trust of Quebeckers and Canadians? I am not claiming that we are perfect, far from it. If I ever made such a claim there are a lot of people who would set me straight, but we are trying to be worthy of the trust of Quebeckers.
Is the government doing everything it can to be worthy of the trust of Quebeckers and Canadians? In a time of crisis when people need to feel reassured by the measures put in place, the government cannot afford to compromise, to chip away at the trust that people have in their institutions. This seems like a major issue here. I invite the government to do a number of things. I invite it to ensure that the formula it is negotiating with its friends from the other parties will guarantee the most accountability and openness on the maximum amount of topics.
I read the paper, and there is something there. We want to come back this summer. We would have liked to make up the days that the House did not sit, but this is a start. We would not be too unhappy if some things passed. That is not ideal. Ninety-five minutes a day is rather short. We already have such little time to speak in this chamber, designed for exactly that purpose. There are some parts that are not too bad, but let us move on.
Over here, we will perhaps use a few minutes of this debate to talk about issues, seniors, tourism, the fisheries, or small businesses that will shut down. We may use this time to discuss those topics, but we will make full use of our time to advocate for Quebec.
In the meantime, I call upon the two largest parties in this Parliament to do the moral and the ethical thing, to forgo money from a program they do not need and to call Parliament back to study the real issues.
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