Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the budget.
First, after listening to our Conservative friends across the way, or our “Alliance lite” friends, I want to say they really demonstrate that they are high on rhetoric and very weak when it comes to substance. In fact, I think they demonstrate more than ever why they should never be trusted to form a government.
The Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, continue on a daily basis to say “spend”. They say to spend billions on this and billions on that with no accountability. Then there are days when they come in and say “cut”. They say to cut this and cut that without really analyzing the impact of those cuts.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is a party, a group, that when it came into office in 1993 inherited a deficit of $42.5 billion. That deficit was because of overspending and lack of accountability. This government came into office and said, “We are going to get the fiscal house of this nation in order”. We know that over the years it took a lot of work, a lot of hard work from Canadians, supportive Canadians, in order to eliminate the national deficit.
We know that the Conservatives really have not improved much since then. Their kissing cousins in Ontario left the incoming government of Ontario with a $5.6 billion deficit, this from a party that said it could in fact reduce taxes, spend less and deliver more. All it delivered in the end was a whopping deficit to Ontarians. The fact is, they could not manage the purse strings, and there is no indication from that party across the way that it has matured enough to be able to do it.
In fact, accountability is what this government has been all about. In fact, when the $42.5 billion deficit was eliminated we said we would not spend and we would not reduce taxes until such time as the fiscal house was in order.
It has almost become routine now, but the finance minister announced last week that this is the seventh consecutive balanced budget or better. There were times, I am sure, when we would have heard the opposition members telling us we were still in deficit. Now that we are at seven balanced budgets or better, we do not hear anything from them. In fact, the silence is deafening. Maybe it is because they do not have the words. They do not know what to say because they are dumbfounded that any government, the only government in the G-7, is able to balance seven years in a row. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. Again, the silence on the other side is deafening.
They are not deaf when it comes to saying spend in this area and cut in that area, but they have no fiscal plan. This government has a fiscal plan. We said we would get our house in order. We have done that with seven balanced budgets or better.
We have listened to Canadians. They said they wanted expenditure controls to make sure that when we spend a dollar we know where that dollar is going. They said to make sure we bring in smart investments. That in fact is what we have been all about.
Reducing the national debt used to be something that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, used to talk about all the time. They do not talk about it anymore and again we hear great silence on the other side. Why? Because we are the only G-7 state paying off the national debt. In fact, we have now hit a target. We have now said we are going to go below 40% of the GDP. It was as high at 71.5% five years ago. Now we have said that the target in 10 years will be 25% of the GDP.
There were times when the other side used to say we did not have a target. Opposition members asked us why we did not have a target for debt reduction. Now we have announced a target for debt reduction and obviously it is too much for them to handle. There is no comment from the other side about the fact that we are now paying off over $52 billion in debt.
What does that mean? Our friends in the NDP say debt reduction is not that important. The NDP believe, I think, that the saving of $3.5 billion in interest payments is extremely important. Why is it important? It is important because social programs in this country can be and are funded because we are saving on interest.
To me, just those two areas alone demonstrate the fiscal management of the government: seven balanced budgets or better and the GDP going down to 25% in 10 years, something that could not even have been visualized 10 years ago and something that they still cannot grasp today, which only goes to prove that if one is a member of the opposition one's CV is very light. The opposition members clearly do not understand economics. They do not understand how to manage budgets. They are good at rhetoric but they are not good when it comes to the delivery of what Canadians want in terms of the fiscal management of Canada. We have delivered.
In fact, they do not have to take my word for it. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that Canada will do again this year what no other state has done: balance the books or better and pay down the debt. Again, we did this last year, which was a very difficult year: SARS, forest fires in British Columbia, hurricanes in the Maritimes, and the mad cow crisis. Yet because of the prudent fiscal management of the government, we were able to deliver a balanced budget or better for the seventh year in a row.
The fact is that we practice what we preach. We do not go out and spend moneys that we do not have. We again have shown the importance of the contingency reserve, that cushion against unforeseen economic circumstances. That $3 billion is important, and another $1 billion, again so important in terms of being able to set those moneys aside in case there are unforeseen circumstances that buffet the Canadian economy. We were able to respond in spite of all of those challenges of last year and we are still able this year to deliver a balanced budget or better. I think that is an impressive record.
Also impressive, I think, are the prudent investments we have made. Again, we have a resilient economy. We have the support of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, which again this year has applauded us for the work we have done in terms of dealing with debt and in terms of balancing the books.
Also, our friends across the way talk about the fact that we did not do enough in this or that area. Simply let me say that having balanced the books and having again reduced the debt, if that is not enough, what else did we do? We made an accord with the provinces. In that accord, we invested over $34 billion and another $2 billion, for over $36 billion, in health. This Prime Minister has said that in this particular case we are prepared to do more; in fact, we are prepared to give a 10 year commitment. But we cannot and will not continue to put in money without structural changes and, as we all know, it is up to the provinces, which administer the health care system, to make those changes.
The Prime Minister has said very clearly that this summer in a first ministers meeting he is prepared to go all the way in terms of making sure that we make those structural changes in cooperation with the provinces and provide the long term funding for 10 years, but the fact is we cannot continue to provide money to the provinces when the accountability is not there. Again, it is very important that there is accountability in terms of where those tax dollars are being spent. It is important to know that when it comes to the health care system the government supports a publicly funded health care system. We are going to continue to support it and we are going to continue to work with the provinces.
Of course our friends across the way, particularly the Conservatives, our Alliance lite friends, would like to see a two tier system. They of course are champions of Mr. Klein. In fact, that is not what Canadians want. They want to know that the system is there today and for the future.
In regard to the long term, we agree with Mr. Romanow, who has said not to put more money into it until there is a substantive agreement on the structural issues. That is what we are going to do. That what the Prime Minister has said he will do, and hopefully--not over lunch, not over dinner, and if it takes three or four days, whatever it takes--it is going to be done and done right.
One of the most interesting attacks we have had from our friends across the way has been on the issue of the urban agenda on the municipal file. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite party, would have this audacity. In fact, I cannot believe that they would even mention this issue since they have never supported this issue. Being a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I know what I am speaking about. I know that they used to say no all the time.
In fact, having been in the House over the last number of years, I remember Bill C-10. Bill C-10 was a bill in which we said we were going to deal with the issue of payments in lieu of taxes. What does that mean? In 1992, the Conservative government did a unilateral tax cut. It said that crown corporations would pay 10% less than private corporations. In theory, we could have had a CTV building and a CBC building in our city and the CBC would have paid 10% less. That was unacceptable. What did we do? The Liberal government worked with the FCM and municipal governments across the country and brought in Bill C-10.
Bill C-10 essentially said that we would pay our taxes on time, and that if there were a dispute it would go through the normal dispute mechanism available to the average taxpayer and we would pay interest if we were late. That party across the way voted against it and voted against it because that party was consistent in that it has never supported cities.
Lately, of course, that party goes on about the gasoline tax. It has discovered the gasoline tax, heaven forbid. These members are the champions of provincial rights and yet the party across the way, our Conservative, Alliance lite friends, ask why we did not bring in a rebate in this budget and assist the municipalities today. It is pretty obvious. Anybody who knows constitutional law knows that under section 92 the provinces are responsible for municipal governments, which are creatures of the provinces. Therefore, we need to get a tripartite agreement. We at least need to get the provinces on board, because we are not going to simply turn over money to the provinces and then say that hopefully it will go to the cities, towns and villages across the country. That will not work.
We have given a solid commitment. The Prime Minister gave a solid commitment that he will in fact work with municipal governments and the provinces in order to ensure that the moneys, either those from the gas tax or a similar amount of money, will go to our cities, towns and villages.
It was this government in 1993 that brought in the national infrastructure program. That party across the way opposed it. Those members are so shallow when it comes to the cities file. It is incredible to suggest for a moment that they are now the champions of the urban agenda in this country.
When it comes to the government, we implemented the national infrastructure program in 1994. Since then, this has been a very important and successful program for cities, towns and villages, over $25 billion of it. The fact is that it has helped the infrastructure in our cities, towns and villages across this country.
Going further, in 1991 when Brian Mulroney brought in the goods and services tax, he wanted municipal governments to pay 100%. The FCM, of which I was a part, said it did not believe that cities should be taxed, simply because the provincial and federal governments did not tax each other. In fact, we came up with an agreement, eventually and reluctantly, for a 57.14% rebate.
What has this government done? The government has now brought in a GST rebate of 100%, something for which municipal governments and municipal leaders have been asking for years. What does that mean? It means a $7 billion saving over a period of 10 years. My own municipality of Richmond Hill is going to save between $500,000 and $1 million a year. That is a significant amount of money, money that Richmond Hill can use for other projects. Again the fact is that the GST rebate is a very important initiative and again we are in consultation with our municipal friends.
We have gone further. We have said we are going to work collaboratively with cities, towns and villages in this country to make sure that if federal legislation comes in that is going to have an impact on them, we are going to have them at the table. We would like to have them at the table with the provinces and with the territories, or we will do it separately if in fact the provinces and territories do not agree.
We are committed to working with our cities because of course they are where 80% of Canadians live. The fact is that on the infrastructure file we had a 10 year program. We now have speeded it up to 5 years. We put aside $1 billion last year, spread out over 5 years instead of 10, because municipal governments of course have their capital works projects and devise 5 year and 10 year programs. This helps to assist them whether they are large or small.
A billion dollars has been invested in affordable housing, which is another important initiative. Even though some provinces have not picked up the ball on that, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that needed housing is constructed. That is important.
To ensure that there is a strong voice, the Prime Minister has again said that he wants to start those discussions. He has been very open, as was the former prime minister with team Canada missions. Municipal representatives worked with business leaders and the federal government. We have continued to work in collaboration on this city file.
The former premier of British Columbia, a good friend of the NDP, Mr. Harcourt, has been brought on board on an external advisory committee on cities and communities to ensure that concerns of communities are heard. I know my NDP friends would be happy to see that. We do not talk about these issues; we deliver.
Contaminated sites is another important issue with which cities have been dealing. The government in the budget said that it would provide $4 billion over 10 years to do just that. That is very important. There are 3,800 federally controlled contaminated sites. We will respond to that, working in conjunction with municipalities, just as we did with the green enabling fund where we initially put $250 million in, then doubled it because it worked so well, showing a leadership in that regard.
On the issue of immigration and settlement for cities, $15 million annually was allocated there to deal with language training issues, another important incentive. Our friends across the way are silent on these issues because these are good initiatives. These are important things, but they are mired in the politics of cheap rebuttal. They want to talk about scandals. Yet they do not want to look at how this government has responded to expenditures and how we responded effectively.
The government has responded. The opposition is very weak when it comes to substance. It is high on the rhetoric. We are interested in ensuring, in listening to Canadians, that we provide not only a balanced approach, but also ensure that the investments made are made effectively for Canadians.
On taxes, our friends across the way complain. This is the $100 billion tax cuts, the largest in Canadians history. It is the fifth year in a row, and is assistance for small business.
In any event, I know members opposite do not like to hear the truth. I know it bothers them, and I am sure they will all get up ready to make comments which will have very little bearing on the budget.