Debates of March 29th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- Older Adult Justice Act
- The Budget
- Research and Development
- Whistleblower Protection
- Vince Ryan Memorial Tournament
- Montréal Games
- Government of Canada
- Union des cultivateurs franco-Ontariens
- François Bourque
- RAI International
- Government of Canada
- The Environment
- Softwood Lumber
- Social Housing
- Recreational Fishing Awards
- Natural Resources
- Student Loans
- Sponsorship Program
- Sponsorship Program
- Older Workers
- Sponsorship Program
- International Aid
- The Environment
- Sponsorship Program
- St. Lawrence Seaway
- Sponsorship Program
- Airline Industry
- Sponsorship Program
- National Defence
- The Budget
- National Defence
- Sponsorship Program
- Ways and Means
- Government Response to Petitions
- Criminal Code
- Income Tax Act
- Copyright Act
- Breast Implant Registry Act
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 45
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 36
- The Budget
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON
I know he is trying to harass me so I cannot get my words in, but in all fairness I will continue because sometimes the truth is better.
Permit me to quote the Auditor General, if I may, Mr. Speaker. She was asked in committee, “Is this $100 million what you people, as the auditors, can't justify? Further paperwork may be able to justify it...”.
This is the question that really is important. The Auditor General was asked, “...Is it absolutely a fact that $100 million has disappeared illegally into somebody's pocket?”. The response by the Auditor General was, and I quote, “No, that is not a finding of the audit”.
The Auditor General said no, that it was not a finding of the audit. I would ask the Auditor General, with the greatest of respect to her and her office, to come forward and say this publicly, to say what she said before committee.
My time is up. I will wait for questions.
Roger Gaudet Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to know why my colleague, when he talks about paying down the debt, does not say a word about tax havens. Apparently, the Prime Minister has a few for his former companies, and I think there should be fewer tax havens. Would it not be faster for the debt to be paid down by all those who benefit from tax havens? Last year alone, I think about $20 billion went into them.
I would like to have the hon. member's comments on this. I would like to know whether we would pay down the debt more quickly if all those who benefit from tax havens paid their fair share.
John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I do not know what planet my colleague is living on. If our nation is to compete in a global economy, we must compete and play with all the rules. If we are going to be the boy scouts of the universe, then we will take a back seat to others. I am not prepared to see this nation be second fiddle to none. We will compete out there with the rules that are there and available to each and every one.
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the budget debate. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Peace River.
I do not want to get into an awful lot of detail tonight because I think it is more important to look at the broad picture. That is what is really important, how the various issues that the government has addressed in the budget actually impact Canadians across the country.
I give the government members full credit for one thing and that is being masters of spin. They can take something that really does not amount to a lot and make it sound like a lot.
I want to look at half a dozen things that are most important to Canadians, look at what the government said, and then look at the reality of these things. I think that is what really counts. I have had the media ask me on many occasions, since the budget was brought down last week, what I think about the education component, the health component or this or that. I told them it was no use getting into the detail because I have done that for 10 years. I found that what the government said and what has actually been delivered were two entirely different things. That is what I will talk about today.
The budget was no doubt, as the media portrayed, a clean up of the corrupt government. The Prime Minister and the finance minister are trying to portray it as a new government just because they have a new leader. They are saying they will clean up all the corruption that they were involved in as the finance minister and public works minister, the two key portfolios that were supposed to be guarding taxpayers' dollars.
They are trying to make Canadians believe that somehow when they were in these key positions of financial responsibility, positions which were to guard taxpayers' money, that it was then. They let taxpayers' money be spent in corrupt ways on scandals and stuff, and now they are saying that they are a new gang. They are the same people, but they have reorganized the gang. They have a new leader so this is a different issue. That simply will not wash.
This is the same gang that was there before. A different leader does not change that. They are still the same corrupt group. That is a fact. They will have a hard time convincing Canadians otherwise.
In terms of the economy and fiscal responsibility, what do they say? They say they have managed the economy very well and been very frugal with taxpayers' dollars. They say they have cut spending, reduced taxation and cut the debt. Let us just look at those things.
First, in terms of fiscal responsibility, what are the facts in that area? The facts are that from this budget the Liberals are increasing spending 7.6% this year alone. That is hardly fiscal responsibility. That is more than double the inflation rate, which is completely unacceptable.
This year there will be $143 billion on program spending. When I came here a little over 10 years ago, program spending was around $100 billion. The Liberals have accelerated spending taxpayers' dollars. That is your money, Mr. Speaker, and my money and my neighbour's money. They are spending it like drunken sailors. That is not fiscal responsibility. They have not shown fiscal responsibility.
They say they have balanced the budget seven years in a row. I know that if my neighbours at home were given an unlimited pool of income, they could balance the budget every year too. If they were allowed to go to their neighbours on the block and say they needed more money because they wanted to spend more, and if they could take all they wanted, of course they would have a balanced budget, but that would not make them prudent managers of money. That is the same with the government. The Liberals are not good managers of money and what they are doing is unacceptable.
I want Canadians to think about the reality in terms of what has been said by the government versus its record. That is what is really important. The 2000 budget was what the Prime Minister, then finance minister, called his tax cut budget. He said he would make huge tax cuts that would just be unprecedented. He would reduce taxes at a remarkable rate over a five year period.
Has he delivered that? The answer is no. Canadians look at their paycheques and ask, where are those tax cuts? The government is taking more from their cheques than ever before. They are asking, where is that tax reduction that was put in place back in 2000? This is the fifth year of that five year plan. I look at my paycheque and I have more taken from my paycheque than ever before. That is the reality. The government says one thing but reality is another thing.
There is no more important issue than health care in the country. I am sure most people would agree. The government over the years has portrayed itself as the great guardian of health care and is always saying it will spend more money on health care. What is the reality? The reality is that it is spending less money on health care now than when it came into office 10 years ago when I was first elected. That is the truth.
What it says and what the truth is, is entirely different. In fact, the Prime Minister, who was finance minister through most of the 10 years, cut $25 billion in transfers to the provinces for health care and education. That is the reality. He has not even started to make that up in a meaningful way. The Liberals say all these nice things about being protectors of health care, but the reality is that they have slashed money transferred to the provinces for health care.
It is the same story with education. The Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, came out in 1998 with what he called the education budget. I have had five children in post-secondary institutions since 1998. Three are currently involved in post-secondary education. The reality of what they found out is that things are getting worse every year.
The Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, came out with this wonderful post-secondary education budget. He called it the education budget it was so good. However, student debt is increasing every single year. Tuitions are increasing every year. In fact, students are worse off than they were before that wonderful education budget. That is the reality.
Members from the other side will say that tuition is a provincial jurisdiction. It is, but the money that used to be transferred to the provinces for post-secondary education has been cut back dramatically. Where are the provinces going to get the money from? They simply cannot come up with it. This increase in cost and increase in student debt, and the fact that students have been put in a worse situation than they were when this wonderful education budget came out is a sad reality.
The few little tidbits that were thrown at students this year are simply not going to solve the problem. In education, the government makes it sound wonderful, but the reality is that students are worse off. There is a gap between what the government says and reality.
We could go into a lot of different issues on the environment. I will talk about the Sydney tar ponds. When I first came here in 1993, we were talking about the Sydney tar ponds. In the 1995 budget the government talked about cleaning up the Sydney tar ponds. It had the money in the budget to clean up the tar ponds. The money is in the budget again this year to clean up the tar ponds.
What is going on with the environment here? The government has never been serious about cleaning up the environment. That is one example we can point to that the government should have dealt with. It could have told Canadians that it had at least dealt with this one very specific and terrible situation. Here it is almost 10 years later and it is throwing money at the tar ponds, and still it has not cleaned it up. Again, what the government has said on the one hand, which sounds good when it says it, is quite different from what it has done.
It is the same with seniors. When the Prime Minister was finance minister, he was going to slash seniors' pensions. Certainly, talking to seniors now they tell me that they are worse off than they were 10 years ago. The reality of what the government says about seniors and what it has delivered is as different as night and day.
We could go right through the list. As for the military, the government slashed more than 30% in spending on the Canadian forces. It has sent our men and women into mission after mission with improper equipment. The Liberals always talk about what a wonderful job they are doing. The reality is something different. The government has a credibility gap. What it says always sounds so good, but what it delivers is something entirely different, and it is not good. Canadians can see that. The government is simply not going to fool them anymore.
Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague, could he relate some of the things that seniors in his riding have been telling him about what the federal government has done for senior citizens in western Canada?
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, if the question is about the seniors in my riding, I met with a group of them just last week when I was in the constituency. They expressed some very serious concerns. If they were looking to the federal government, and what the federal government has done for them, it would be a very short list.
They made it clear to me that there are two types of issues. There is the pension issue itself. They have lost ground when it comes to pensions, their buying power, what they can do with and how they get along on their pensions. I want to make it clear that seniors in my part of the country, like seniors all across this country, do not want a lot. They do not want to take money from young people who are paying income tax. That is not what they want. However, they do want an acceptable standard of living. They are losing ground on that account and in many cases they simply do not have that anymore.
They said their housing costs are going up. If they live in their own homes, there is the cost of various types of inputs: heating fuel, electricity and income tax. Even seniors who make just $10,000 a year still pay income tax. That is unbelievable. They ask if the income tax could be reduced? That is the same complaint we hear with other groups of people.
Really, what seniors are saying is that they do not want to be the forgotten group. They are making up a lot larger percentage of the population all the time. They know that causes some problems; however, they just want some foresight from government in dealing with some of these issues. They want some planning and they are not seeing it, and they are concerned because of that.
March 29th, 2004 / 4:55 p.m.
Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Mr. Speaker, my colleague hit the nail on the head when he said that the essence of this budget was the lack of trust that Canadians had in the current government, given what has happened with the sponsorship scandal. It has been renamed the sponsorship issue by many Liberals, but it is a scandal because $100 million was ripped off from Canadians and disappeared into Liberal-friendly advertising firms. I would like him to comment on that part of his speech.
How can Canadians possibly trust a government that has mismanaged and diverted taxpayers' dollars into the pockets of its friends, and Liberals who say that they are now going to fix this mess and that they can be trusted with taxpayers' hard-earned dollars?
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, the member always has a very good question. It is the kind of question we have come to expect from this member.
The question is, how can Canadians trust the government on this issue. They cannot. We have been pointing out this particular issue for years now and the government has been trying to bury things by trying to cover them up.
Today, again, we saw the Prime Minister trying to cover up information and trying to keep information from the public accounts committee which is examining this issue. The Liberals have put off their public inquiry until who knows when, at least until the summer, until after the election, and they think Canadians are going to be stupid enough to vote for them again when they pull that kind of a stunt.
The fact is that this corruption has been there for a long time. There is scandal after scandal after scandal. We have had the HRDC scandal, the gun registry scandal, and now we have the sponsorship scandal, ad scam. In the military, we find out, unbelievably, that out of a $160 million contract, $80 million has just disappeared. The Liberals are trying to blame the company involved. They are trying to blame Hewlett-Packard, but the blame rests right with the government.
Political interference is what causes these scandals and until the Liberals will acknowledge that and come up with a plan to really deal with that, we are going to end up with the same problems.
Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC
Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member what his opinion is in regard to the budget where the government has decided to give certain parts of the armed forces a tax exemption.
I have talked to a number of people in the forces who have served overseas, and they said that everybody should be treated equally over there, but more than that, it goes a little further. They said that the last thing they will be thinking about is a tax refund as they are being shot at. They would sooner have equipment to shoot back with.
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, the member has made an excellent point. The leader of the new Conservative Party on many occasions has pointed out that our troops are most concerned about not having the proper equipment and having to go overseas on deployments too often. Their families are suffering. Those are the kinds of things they are concerned about.
This tax break is important and it is a good start, but the way it has been done is so messed up. Soldiers are arguing. They are divided about which groups should get it and which groups should not. The government should not do things like that. It should plan it through, think about it and then put it in place. It should make it fair so that it covers all of our troops overseas.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate in response to the budget that was brought down last week.
A lot of Canadians were looking forward to the new Prime Minister's vision. Since he had been campaigning for almost 15 years for the job, we had expected to see a visionary budget from the Prime Minister with new ideas on how to get the country back on track and rolling again. We have had a decline in the standard of living over the last 30 years under this regime and flat growth in the economy. In fact, the growth was down last year quite a bit over the year before. I think it was about 1.7% GDP growth and it was 3.3% the year prior to that. Exports are down and are not recovering.
In my capacity as the critic for international trade, this is a concern to me. It is a concern that Canadian companies are not able to compete on the world market, especially in the United States, in the way they should be able to. The government is a huge drag on their productivity. It is productivity that is being costed because the government taxes Canadian companies too heavily. There is too much regulation.
When I was the critic for industry, we had a series of studies on lack of competitiveness and on productivity. I am sorry to have to say it, but over the last 30 years Canada has fallen very badly. Thirty years ago the United States was number one in productivity and Canada was a very close second. That is how it should be. We have a country with tremendous potential and natural resources. We have a tremendously educated population. We should be doing far better than we are.
I am sad to say that while the United States is still number one, we have fallen to 15th in terms of productivity. We are behind countries like the Netherlands and Ireland, the southeastern United States and it goes on and on. I can only blame the government across the way for its intrusive policies that have grown the size of government in this country to about 12% higher than that of the United States.
If that was all productive growth and the government was building bridges and roads and so on, that would be one thing, but it is not. Some people would argue that the cost of health care should be reflected in that. That is about 2% of GDP, so that needs to be reflected. That still leaves a long way between the 42.5% and the 29.5% the United States has.
The reason I mention this is that trade has become a very productive engine for the Canadian economy. We rely on exports for 43% of our GDP. That is not a small number. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will know that a lot of that trade has been developed in the United States in the last 10 years. That is where the big growth in agriculture trade has developed.
It means that the United States is our biggest trading partner. We export something like 85% of all of our goods to the United States. That is a trend that has continually gone up. It does not make any sense to me that the government across the way in the last two years has been antagonizing our major trading partner, saying very disparaging things about the administration and the U.S. population. That has hurt us in the last couple of years.
I would expect that we would have seen tax relief in this budget in order to help Canadian companies that are trying to compete. We have seen some tinkering at the edges. There was small corporate tax relief for people depreciating computers and data network systems and the airport tax was reduced by $2, but this is just nibbling at the edges.
That is not the bold innovation we would expect from a government under a new Prime Minister. He pretends he is new and has new ideas. He has had 15 years to hone his skills in presenting this new agenda. No, I am very disappointed. There is no vision, no new ideas. It is a very tired administration.
Worse than that, the government does not seem to have a handle on the wasteful and corrupt spending that has been happening. The Prime Minister says he is in favour of getting to the bottom of it. It sure does not look that way during question period in the House. The Prime Minister is not asking his committee members to divulge information to the public accounts committee that is looking into the matter.
Some of the waste which is really hurting our productivity and which costs Canadians tax dollars are things like the billion dollar gun registry. It is fast approaching $2 billion and basically there is nothing to show for it. We only have to think back a couple of years ago to the billion dollars that was blown out by the Department of Human Resources Development.
I remember that the riding of the minister at the time got a pretty good grant. One of the businesses, a potato chip company, got something like $70 million to move from Niagara Falls to Brantford, 50 miles down the road so that it could be in the minister's riding. The company was able to update its equipment. What did that do for the Canadian economy? It cost taxpayers a lot of money.
The Auditor General has suggested that the sponsorship scandal has cost about $250 million with about $100 million of that missing or paid in commissions that we will never get back. Some of it seemed to be laundered through the Liberal Party itself. That is the kind of thing that is costing our productivity. It is hurting our ability to compete. We simply cannot afford to let that happen.
I would expect that the new administration over there, which is what they like to call themselves, would try to get to the bottom of it. We have not seen that and that is a real concern to me.
The budget has spending increases. My colleague from Lakeland talked about a 7.6% increase in discretionary or program spending. This is not really new. Since the budget was balanced in 1997 we have seen those kinds of increases each year. We believe spending has to increase but it only has to increase based on the inflation factor plus the growth in population. That is roughly 3.5%. This far exceeds the level of program spending that is required.
Even worse, we see again in this budget a kind of fancy footwork being done for projecting low surpluses. Room is always left for special spending for the government's friends. I want to take a moment to talk about that special spending.
Why would the Government of Canada be in the business of giving grants to companies like Bombardier Aerospace, international companies like Pratt & Whitney and General Electric Aerospace? These are the kinds of companies that get hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
The government says it has to have an industrial policy. If Canadians want to support these companies in their expansion endeavours, they have the ability to do that. They are publicly traded companies. Canadians could buy shares in the stock market and show their confidence. What we do not want is the Government of Canada making these investments for us. I hear it all the time from taxpayers.
That is one of the reasons we cannot get the kind of tax relief we need to make the rest of our companies competitive. The government has picked sectors that it is championing and it just happens that the aerospace sector is one of them.
We understand that Bombardier is about to develop a new wide body 100 passenger jet probably in the next year. I suppose it will be asking government for more money. That seems to be the way it is being done, to ask the taxpayers for more money.
When Canadair, a publicly owned crown corporation, was in the business of developing these jets, the Mulroney government said it wanted to get out of the business. The government of the day did not think government should be in business and it privatized Canadair. It seems a little incredulous but according to the government, the company that came forward with the best offer was Bombardier at about $170 million.
Canadians can be excused for thinking that it was going to be the end of the Canadian government's involvement but that was not to be the case. Hundreds of millions of dollars later, we are still going down that road of economic development. The government should get out of the business of being in business and lower taxes so that all Canadians can take advantage of that, and we will find out where Canadians want to spend their money.
We are being hurt by these policies. Another policy in the budget is to provide some $250 million of venture capital money, but who is going to have the ability to put that out? A crown corporation, Business Development Bank of Canada is going to be the only one disbursing the $250 million. I can just see five or 10 years from now, if the government is allowed to continue on, we will be asking questions about where that went.
There is lots of room for Canada to realize its potential. We can get back to where we were in terms of our productivity and competitiveness. We can regain our standard of living throughout the world. We can raise Canadians up by the bootstraps by allowing them some tax relief and letting them decide what to do with the money that they get to keep, rather than a tired, old administration spending their money day after day, recklessly in a lot of cases without the hope of it ever coming back. We must end the waste and corruption that we have seen in programs such as the sponsorship scandal.
Canadians were hoping for a lot better. However, considering that it is the same administration and the Prime Minister was the finance minister for almost 10 years, we were expecting too much.
Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC
Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague who was discussing the budget, and I am a little surprised.
His speech seemed excellent to me, but there is a question that intrigues me when the Conservative Party of Canada is speaking. I consider that the budget before us is an extremely conservative one. I think that the Conservative Party could not have done a better job. In terms of providing services to the people, particularly to the poorest in society, it appears to me that there is absolutely nothing in the budget in this regard. There are no policies when it comes to services to the poorest.
Let us take for example the guaranteed income supplement refund. When I talk about the refund, I am talking about the full refund of the guaranteed income supplement. We are talking about $3.2 billion that was taken from the elderly over the years. The government is only refunding one year retroactively.
When you owe taxes to the government, it goes back 10 years. Indeed, the government will change the Income Tax Act to be able to go back up to 10 years to collect unpaid taxes. However, when the government owes money to people such as seniors living on a small pension, the retroactive period is one year only.
I would like to hear my colleague's comments on this issue.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague from the Bloc, the best example I could use of the problems on the other side is that the Liberals seem to always look for more and more money out of the general population. I call it shaking the tree to see how much they can jar loose.
I think back to a short time ago when the RCMP uncovered some huge frauds with respect to the GST. Some of them were being run out of prisons in Kingston and other places. Hundreds of millions of dollars were missing. At the same time, if any mom and pop corner store was a week behind, the GST police were out there harassing them.
I agree with my colleague that there is very little in the budget for average Canadians. Even this year the employment insurance overcharge continues. How is it that the government has built up a $40 billion reserve in the EI account? We all know that there is no actual surplus. The government spent it long ago. It continues to overcharge Canadian workers and Canadian families to generate more money. The government has an addiction to spend more and more all the time.
As I have said, there is almost 8% more spending this year. It is simply not sustainable. Canadians are beginning to realize that they cannot trust the government. The Liberals have crossed the line on trust. People do not trust them any more because of the wasteful spending and the sort of money laundering operations that are completely out of control. This will be reflected in the next election and the present government will not be coming back as the Government of Canada.
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, I wish to engage in some dialogue with the member for Peace River, but if that is not possible, I have quite a different perspective on this budget than he does.
One of the key themes of the budget clearly is not spending beyond our means. It is spending within our limits, ensuring that we do not go into deficit again. Those of us who have lived through that once do not want to have to go through it again: the cuts, the damage to programs and the impact on lives of people that were necessary to get us to the point of balanced and then surplus budgets.
There is no question that in recent months the issue of management of public money has been at the forefront of the public's mind. I would like to reflect on the history.
The member for Peace River talked about the need for fiscal prudence. The party for which he was originally elected, the Alliance Party, recently merged with the Conservative Party, a party that never could quite manage fiscal prudence.
I sat in the House in opposition through five Conservative budgets. Terrible cuts were made to programs and to the jobs with the promise that it would get the deficit under control. Well, the deficit did not get under control. That party kept adding more and more every year to the debt and more and more to the amount we were paying out in interest, leaving less and less for programs that were important to Canadians.
Let me contrast that five years up to 1993 with what happened since. We no longer have a deficit. We have begun paying off our debt to the tune of $52 billion. We are now paying $3.5 billion less in interest every year, leaving money available for things like health care, education of our young people and investment in research and our economic future. We now have low interest rates. We have low inflation. We have three million more Canadians working now than were employed in 1993.
We are the only G-7 country since September 11 that has managed not to return to deficit financing and adding to our debt. Notwithstanding the struggle to get to a much better fiscal situation for the country and establish a sound foundation for the future, we have been able, through two provincial agreements with the provinces and the territories, to put over $60 billion back into health care. That is in addition to the $2 billion added through this budget.
We have been able to start the first new national social program in a generation, the national child benefit. In the budget, notwithstanding new investments that are being made, we have been able to restore a contingency fund that has provided a cushion to ensure that unexpected circumstances, SARS and BSE through this past year, and unexpected downturns in what we think will be economic growth will not again force us into taking decisions that would put us back into deficit financing.
These are important accomplishments. They are the foundation on which this budget starts. Yes, it is a modest budget. People have criticized us for what we are not doing. However, the essential message of this budget is we will live within our means. We have a program. It was delivered in the Speech from the Throne, and we will deliver it as we can afford, as most Canadians do with their own personal and household budgets.
There has been much made of the fact that there are no tax reductions in this budget. May I remind Canadians and those in the House that we are in the fifth year of a five year tax reduction plan that has reduced taxes by $100 billion. In this year alone, personal income tax will be $22 billion less than it would have been had these changes not been made.
The member for Peace River spoke about the employment insurance fund. He seems to be unaware that every year employment insurance premiums have gone down. The reduction in employment insurance premiums this year alone is $15.2 billion.
Let me talk about what this tax reduction plan means for Canadians, particularly for Canadian families.
The actions taken on taxes since 2000 have removed one million low income Canadians from the tax roll completely. I make no apologies that our emphasis has been on low and modest income Canadians. For instance, a typical family of four, with one individual earning $40,000, will pay $2,000 less in annual net federal income tax, a saving of 60%, over what they would have paid this year had the changes not been made.
Full indexing of income tax brackets is something that has not happened for a number of years. For families with children, these changes have been especially important. In combination with the child tax benefit, for a family earning under $35,000, in general their child benefit exceeds any tax payable. This is not only an investment in the income of households. It is an investment in our children, especially those children living in families with the most modest incomes.
There is another important message in the budget. A sound economy depends on investing in our social infrastructure. A sound society depends on a solid economy. The two are interdependent. We cannot have one without the other, as the old song goes.
The budget continues some of the themes of the Speech from the Throne in firming up our social foundations. I am particularly pleased about the investments in children and in more early childhood programs. As a former teacher and as a mother, I know that a child's prospects for life are shaped in those first years before they begin school generally.
We are investing more in those early year initiatives, and we have already started in partnership with the provinces and territories. We are investing more in identifying children at risk at an early age so we can do the best to ensure that when they are finally school age, they will be able to benefit from the opportunities that education offers and to become productive citizens.
There are a number of measures in the budget for Canadians with disabilities, and that is extremely important. The proposal to focus on public health is vital to the long term sustainability of our health care system. We all know we face an aging population and increased health care costs. A smaller proportion of our population will be working and contributing through taxes. The initiatives in the budget to establish a chief public health officer for Canada and a Canada public health agency are vital.
I will admit that one reason this is happening now is because of the experience with SARS and the need to be better prepared to address unexpected epidemics. However, in my view the goal has got to be to promote a healthier population. Hopefully, what we do this year, by investing in a Canada public health agency, will lead us to focus on developing a healthier population and prevention programs. In the budget alone we provide money for immunization programs for children. By developing a healthier population, we will be able to reduce the burdens on our health care system and continue to offer fully publicly funded accessible health across Canada to every Canadian who needs it, not just to those who can afford it.
There is a fair bit in the budget as well about strengthening our economy. We all know how important research is to creating the knowledge on which our future prosperity depends. We also know, however, that a good proportion of research is done in Canada. It is excellent work, and it is something that the government has invested in quite generously. However, that research by and large is not getting developed and commercialized in Canada by Canadian companies to the benefit of Canadians and the Canadian economy.
One of the themes in the Speech from the Throne and one of the things on which we deliver in the budget are measures to help the commercialization of research in Canada.
My friend from Peace River made disparaging comments about the venture capital fund of $250 million. I am not sure though if he has talked to small and medium sized companies in his constituency or in his region about the difficulty they have in bringing their products to market or about the difficulty companies with bright new ideas have, in a country that does not have a huge market, in going that step from brilliant ideas, and the research that has gone into it, to getting them on the market. The investment in research can pay off in jobs and in prosperity for those companies and for their communities in which they are located, and for the Canadian economy.
I encourage the member to speak a little more to the companies in his riding and in his region about how important venture capital is. This is not just government money. This money is intended to leverage another $750 million in venture capital; in other words to generate a total of a billion dollars for investment in those companies.
There are a number of measures in the budget as well to assist small companies. Smaller companies still provide 80% of the jobs in Canada. There are measures to assist them by speeding up the increase in how much money can be earned before it becomes taxable, better access to the scientific research and development tax credit for small companies and a more economical tendering process for small and medium sized companies.
Finally, in the few minutes I have left I want to speak a bit about a subject that is important to me and to all my constituents. As I said earlier, the budget recognizes that a sound economy and a sound society are interdependent. It also recognizes we cannot have economic progress at the expense of our environment, that we have to invest in a way that is sustainable.
One of the key measures to be taken in terms of more responsible decision making is to incorporate environmental indicators into all decision making. That is a landmark decision that will change how government programs, decisions and legislation are founded. If we cannot breathe the air, drink the water and have clean soil in which to grow our food, and if we destroy the biodiversity of our planet, then we will be leaving a poorer future for our children.
The money we are putting into sustainable development technology in the budget is extremely important; investing in the technologies that will help solve our environmental problems, that will help prevent environmental problems so we can leave our children a better world.
Developing these technologies is a good economic investment because the world is looking for these technologies. It is a theme of mine often when I speak about this country that Canada does well in the world by doing good in the world and encouraging the development of sustainable development technologies, and a way to clean up or prevent damage to the environment is one of those.
Our Kyoto commitments are crucial because we are destroying the atmosphere on which life on this planet depends by our activities as human beings and particularly by our use of fossil fuels. The $3.7 billion we have already allocated for meeting our Kyoto commitment is vital.
What we have done in this budget, by committing an equal amount to clean up contaminated federal sites, is extremely important. I am particularly happy about the $500 million that has been set aside to share with others in the clean up of other sites that are not federal sites. This means we will leave many communities with a cleaner neighbourhood in which to live and less concerns about health problems. I only need to mention the Sydney tar ponds as the priority site for this funding and Canadians will know that this is an important initiative. We have left federally contaminated sites across our north and this fund will help clean up those sites.
Socially, environmentally and economically, I am proud to talk about the budget today and I am proud that this is the budget we have produced for Canadians.