Let me say from the outset that we will be pleased to support the motion of our Bloc Quebecois colleagues.
It is too easy for the government party to criticize the principles that brought Bloc Quebecois members to Ottawa, and to discredit their motion today and other motions. The parliamentary spirit displayed in the replies given by the government party will not promote a solution to the situation.
First, I would like to state a fact. The issue is the credibility of the existing tax imbalance. There is a lot of talk about the Séguin report. I hope that the majority of government members from Quebec took the time to at least read the summary of that report. I think they will learn a thing or two.
However, they should be careful when they criticize the Séguin report on the grounds that there is a PQ or sovereignist flavour to it. I remind them that, in October, the Quebec Liberal Party, which, as far as I know, is not sovereignist, said the following regarding the tax imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, on page 86 of a document:
This is why we believe that it is critical that the federal government and the Canadian provinces, particularly Quebec, agree on a new distribution of the tax base. Indeed, new fiscal arrangements would ensure a better balance between the revenues and the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments.
I continue reading from page 86. This is not from the Séguin commission, it is from the Quebec Liberal Party. The expression “tax imbalance” is not used only by one political party, but by all the stakeholders in the Canadian provinces, with the exception perhaps of the government party. The Quebec Liberal Party says:
This is why, in order to address this tax imbalance between the federal and provincial governments, the committee is asking for an in-depth review of tax fields, particularly as regards personal and corporate income tax, and a transfer of tax points, without reducing equalization payments.
This is from a document released by the Quebec Liberal Party, in October 2001. The Séguin report says essentially the same thing.
Before talking about the Séguin commission and the motion put forward by the Bloc, let us ask ourselves what the other provinces think about that.
The Atlantic provinces called for adjustments in the equalization system. The poorer provinces want to become richer and are asking to be given the tools they need to do so. The government said no. The former premier of Newfoundland, Mr. Tobin, who came back to the federal cabinet and then made a hasty exit to go to the private sector said, “I promise you that, in returning to the federal scene, I will deal with the issue of equalization to eliminate the ceiling for natural resources, so that the provinces have access to this development tool”. The provinces say that there is a fiscal imbalance. That is what we hear.
The government always shows the same kind of arrogance. It says, “Of course, the provinces want our money. The federal government has money and the provinces want it. But it is ours. It is our responsibility”.
However, we have to understand the provinces. When the federal government decided to slash, who had to bear the brunt of the cuts? The provinces. Now they say that the federal government has more money than before and that it would just be normal for them to get their fair share.
In 1997 and in 2000, we, in the Conservative Party, were in favour of restoring transfer payments to the provinces to their 1993-94 level. We did not want a piecemeal approach. We wanted a long term vision. The federal government said that tax point transfers were not a solution. However, as soon as we talk to it about the CHST, it replies that we also have tax points. This means that tax points are a development tool for the provinces.
That requires cooperation. During question period, our leader asked “Could the government, the Minister of Finance, sit down and examine the issue with its provincial counterparts?” They are completely sidestepping the point when they say there is no fiscal imbalance.
In Quebec, two separate reports, published within six to eight months, prove the contrary. Atlantic provinces premiers have said the contrary, and so do all the premiers of the country. At the federal level, people are blind to that. All opposition parties are saying it. The truth is on the other side of the House according to them.
As I said to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, each time they move forward one row, their arrogance increases exponentially. Each time the federal government talks with the provinces, it displays the same arrogance. They discredit the provinces. If that is what federalism is all about for the Liberal Party, it is high time for a change.
They could at least look at the report and say that it is not so easy to transfer the GST to the provinces. They could even have a dig at the Quebec government and talk about the provincial sales tax rate, because it is a well-known fact that, in 1979, the Quebec government took part of the sales tax from the municipalities of the province. They could say that. At least there would be a debate. As things are now, there is no debate. The problem is only being swept under the rug.
It is relatively easy to summarize the conclusions set out in the massive report of the Séguin commission. The provincial governments are calling for a reform of the tax base to enable them to meet the needs under their jurisdiction according to the constitution. That is all. They have suffered cuts of tens of billions of dollars since 1993-94. They are now saying “Listen, we have been fleeced for almost a decade. We will not ask for money anymore, but we will call for a total reform of the tax agreement in Canada. We will write it down”.
This is why the provinces are asking for tax points They are afraid of being tricked again. The federal government always uses its spending power to say it invested in health. It criticizes the Bloc, as I was saying earlier, it criticizes the Conservatives and all the parties when it says that the 14¢ is not true. Even the government does not know. Can we talk?
We can put other solutions on the table. We suggested that the total amount of the Canada social transfer be eliminated. At the health standing committee I asked Mr. Romanow if he thought it would be a good idea that before making a major change we agree on figures so that our friends, the people opposite, could have the same figures as everybody else. It might be a good idea to separate the envelopes that are reallocated so that we know where exactly the money is going. That being said, there is a great need to review the agreements.
Incidentally, I wish good luck to my hon. colleague for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot in his reflection over the next few weeks, not knowing whether his riding will be faced with federal byelections. Surely, whatever the hon. member does, he will always have something useful to contribute and will always be an ace in politics, at both the federal and provincial levels. The hon. member has done and continues to do a very good job here in Ottawa. I am sure that if he decides to run in Quebec, even though we do not share the same point of view about the country and Quebec within Canada, he will be an asset for the government of Quebec.
That being said, let us look at what some other provinces have asked. Earlier on, I was talking about the Atlantic provinces. On March 23, 2001, Premier Hamm said, “For Nova Scotia to be successful, first, we have to enhance our Canadian colleagues' understanding and awareness”. I think the Premier of Nova Scotia is right. Here in Ottawa, we should be more open-minded toward the provinces, stop being arrogant and show some leadership. We have been asking the government for a long time to show leadership when there is a problem.
As an aside, wait and see what will happen if pressure is applied, if the pressure is strong enough. Before the House is prorogued, if it were to be prorogued, the government will start talking about it, but in different terms. We will see what will happen then.
If ever the House were prorogued and there was a Speech from the Throne, I cannot bet on it as it is illegal, but I would still take you out for supper, Mr. Speaker if the government were to talk about new tax arrangements for the country and seize the opportunity for all kinds of good and bad reasons.
The pressure is mounting. It is not partisan. It does not come from Quebec only. It comes from everywhere. When we talk with our colleagues across the way on an individual basis they acknowledge it. Taking away tens of billions of dollars from the provinces is not something that goes unnoticed. In their ridings Liberal members are being chastized for having a Minister of Finances who cannot count when it comes to surpluses.
The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot explained it quite well. They say there is no surplus, and that times are tough. I remember back in December when the budget was introduced, the Minister of Finances said they would establish a foundation with a budget of several billion dollars for major infrastructure projects if they had any money left. I remember everybody burst out laughing saying he had money hidden all over the place. Nine months later, $13 billion appeared out of nowhere, times were not that tough after all. He is hiding it for two reasons. He knows his Liberal friends well: they want to spend the money too. We know how they like to spend, not invest, spend. Second, he wants to avoid too much pressure from the provinces, so he hides it all over the place, one billion here, one billion there; they would use so many billions should this or that happen—
Mr. Yvan Loubier: He is a squirrel.
Mr. André Bachand: My colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot is saying the minister is a squirrel. I do not know whether he is a squirrel or a chipmunk with a big tail, but this is another issue.
We are asking the federal government to sit down with the provinces in order to examine the fiscal issue. Call it an imbalance, or a modernization of fiscal arrangements within a country, it does not matter, but the existence of a problem must be recognized. When, for all sorts of reasons, a central government decides to divest of an area, to divest financially, and to divest indirectly of areas which, by the letter and the spirit, come under provincial jurisdiction, there is a problem, and a serious one.
The Séguin Commission strictly underlined a reality which exists, and not only with Quebec. Indeed, as I said a moment ago, I appreciate the fact that the Bloc added “and in the other provinces”, because this is a reality. However, the problem is different. After the Séguin report came out, some provinces said: “We are now experiencing a more difficult time than other provinces; what is happening with equalization?”
For the time being, equalization is the answer for some of the poorer provinces. This is why, when discussing the new fiscal arrangements, the new fiscal agreement that should be discussed and negotiated between the federal government and the provinces, each party can have satisfaction.
For instance, if Quebec can have more leeway to do things in a certain way, so much the better. If Newfoundland and Labrador need something else, why not? The “à la carte” was used, and why not? Canada is such a vast country that trying to standardize everything might be difficult. However, we on this side can complain all we want, move all the motions we want, ask all the questions we want, if the need for a new fiscal arrangement is not recognized, we will get nowhere.
One thing has to be understood: if the federal government had been in the provinces' place and had experienced a huge and unilateral cut in its revenues, the Liberals would have protested vociferously. We maintain that this fiscal rebalancing is more than needed.
To get back to the Séguin commission, some people are sure to play politics with it. We all are political animals.
We have to look at the basics of the report. Basically, and there is a consensus everywhere in Canada on this issue, it asks that the provinces be given the same revenues as in fiscal 1993-94 and that these revenues be adjusted over a certain period. The Bloc Quebecois talked about a five year period. In our campaign platform, we also talked about a five year period to review this.
Actually, we said that it made no sense to hand out a cheque right away. In our campaign platform, and even before, we had mentioned five years. Five years would be sufficient to determine the effects and to find new mechanisms for fiscal arrangements between the federal government and the provinces.
So, clearly, everybody agrees to ensure that the same amount of money should be made available and that the federal government cannot pull the plug on these revenues, as we know what it is like. So, we are talking about a new agreement including a protective clause.
Protection can take two forms. Transferring taxes is one thing, but transferring the GST is another. However, a dispute settlement mechanism is needed. Within the federation, we need to be able to communicate on a permanent basis. The House will recall that this is what we said in our 1997 election platform as well. There needs to be a permanent entity so that the federal government and the provinces can communicate with one another and reach agreements.
The Séguin report makes the point that there must be consensus. Quebec cannot go to the bargaining table alone. All the provinces must be there. Quebec has allies in Nova Scotia, in New Brunswick, on Prince Edward Island, in Newfoundland, in Alberta. It has allies everywhere. The richest provinces will benefit from a new fiscal arrangement. All provinces will.
It will provide our western friends with an opportunity to talk about issues that have frustrated them for years and to do so at the same table. There is consensus on this in Quebec. Quebec will become a leader with the other provinces. It is up to us, here, to convince the government to sit down with its provincial partners. If there is consensus in Quebec, I am sure that there is consensus in Nova Scotia and in all the provinces, all the way to Alberta.
If there is consensus in the provinces, all that is missing is national consensus in this parliament. Again, one player is missing right now; the Liberal members opposite. They are denigrating what is being done. They are playing with the figures. Whether the federal government is putting 14¢, 20¢ or 25¢ into health—we cannot even get accurate figures—that is not the problem. It is a consequence of a problem. The problem is the way the federal government handles its fiscal relations with the provinces. It must review and reinvent its entire approach.
I ask the House to consider the motion put forward today. I urge the government opposite to vote in favour. Why would the government not vote in favour? What a wonderful message it could send. The best signal the government could give would be to say, “Yes, we are going to review that. We barely avoided a recession and we are going to review the fiscal arrangements in this country”.
D'emblée, j'aimerais dire que nous appuierons avec plaisir la motion présentée par nos collègues du Bloc.
Il est trop facile, de la part du parti ministériel, de critiquer les principes qui ont amené les députés du Bloc à Ottawa et de discréditer leur motion d'aujourd'hui et d'autre motions. Ce n'est pas dans cet esprit parlementaire que les réponses du parti ministériel vont faire avancer le débat.
Premièrement, j'aimerais établir un fait. Il s'agit de la crédibilité ou non de la question du déséquilibre fiscal existant. On parle beaucoup du rapport Séguin. J'espère que la majorité de la députation québécoise du côté ministériel a pris le temps de lire au moins le sommaire. Je pense qu'ils vont apprendre des choses.
Cependant, il faut faire attention lorsqu'on critique le rapport Séguin comme étant un rapport qui est à saveur péquiste et souverainiste. Je rappelle qu'en octobre dernier, le Parti libéral du Québec, qui à ce que je sache n'est pas souverainiste, stipulait à la page 86 d'un document, en faisant allusion au déséquilibre fiscal entre Ottawa et les provinces:
C'est pourquoi nous croyons qu'il est primordial que le fédéral et les provinces canadiennes, au premier chef le Québec, s'entendent sur une nouvelle distribution de l'assiette fiscale. En effet, des arrangements fiscaux renouvelés assureraient un meilleur équilibre entre les revenus et les responsabilités du fédéral et des provinces.
Je poursuis la lecture de la page 86. Ce n'est pas la Commission Séguin qui le dit, c'est le Parti libéral du Québec. Le «déséquilibre fiscal» n'est pas un terme qui appartient seulement à un parti politique. C'est partagé par l'ensemble des intervenants dans les provinces canadiennes, sauf peut-être au niveau du parti ministériel. On peut lire, et je cite:
Voilà pourquoi le Comité demande que, pour pallier le déséquilibre fiscal entre le fédéral et les provinces, il y ait une révision en profondeur des champs d' impositions, particulièrement en ce qui concerne l'impôt sur le revenu des particuliers et des sociétés, et un transfert de points d'impôt, sans pour autant réduire les versements effectués au titre de la péréquation.
C'est un document du Parti libéral du Québec d'octobre 2001. Le rapport Séguin dit essentiellement la même chose.
Avant de parler de la Commission Séguin et de la motion du Bloc, demandons-nous ce qu'en disent les autres provinces.
Les provinces de l'Atlantique demandaient qu'en ce qui a trait à la péréquation, il y ait des ajustements. Les provinces les plus pauvres veulent devenir des provinces plus riches. Elles demandent des outils leur permettant de faire cela. Le gouvernement a dit non. L'ancien premier ministre de Terre-Neuve, M. Tobin, qui était redevenu ministre de la Couronne et qui est parti comme un éclair dans le secteur privé, le disait: «Je vous promets, en retournant sur la scène fédérale, que je réglerai la question de la péréquation pour enlever le plafonnement en matière de ressources naturelles, pour donner cet outil de développement aux provinces.» Les provinces disent qu'il y a un déséquilibre fiscal qui existe. On le dit.
L'arrogance du gouvernement est toujours la même. Il dit: «On sait bien, les provinces veulent avoir notre argent. Le fédéral a de l'argent et les provinces veulent l'avoir. C'est à nous. C'est notre responsabilité.»
Cependant, il faut comprendre les provinces. Quand le fédéral a coupé, où a-t-il majoritairement coupé? Ce fut chez les provinces. Les provinces disent maintenant que le fédéral a plus d'argent qu'il n'en avait auparavant. Il serait peut-être normal qu'elles aillent chercher leur part, leur juste part.»
Nous, du Parti conservateur, préconisions en 1997 et 2000 de rétablir les paiements de transferts aux provinces au niveau où ils étaient en 1993-1994. On ne voulait pas de saupoudrage. On voulait une vision à long terme. Le gouvernement fédéral dit: «Les transferts de points d'impôt ne sont pas une solution.» Toutefois, aussitôt qu'on lui parle du Transfert canadien, il nous dit: «Oui, mais vous avez en plus des points d'impôt.» Cela veut dire que les points d'impôt sont un outil qui permettraient aux provinces de se développer.
Il faut de la collaboration. Notre chef l'a demandé à la période des questions orales: «Le gouvernement, le ministre des Finances pourrait-il s'asseoir avec ses partenaires provinciaux pour se pencher sur la question?» On évacue complètem