Mr. Speaker, before and during the election campaign we in the Liberal Party, and several other parties as well, criticized the Conservative government for promoting high unemployment and pursuing the wrong policies for debt reduction. We said that the government's obsession with inflation and government spending was wrong. The economy went into recession, we had record bankruptcies, unemployment soared to 11 per cent and the national debt tripled.
We said that while some expenditures had to be cut, especially wasteful and non-productive expenditures, the principal emphasis had to be on job creation and economic growth.
Under the Tory approach, people were put out of work, tax revenue declined, welfare and unemployment insurance payments increased, and the deficit grew.
Under the plan put forward by the Liberal Party, Canadians would go back to work, companies would make profits, both would pay taxes and there would be less unemployment insurance, welfare and bail-outs to certain companies, and the deficit would be reduced.
In the speech from the throne the Liberal government committed itself to these goals, and I quote: "The government attaches the highest priority to job creation and economic growth in the short term and the long term."
We have put forward our commitment for the municipal infrastructure program; the residential rehabilitation assistance program, which is a program to restore our older housing and thereby create jobs and leave us with a better bank of housing; the youth service corps, which will help young people build the bridge between school and the workplace; better access to capital for small business; the Canadian investment fund to develop new technology; more research and development; and improved training and retraining.
These are only some of the things that have been put forward in the speech from the throne. During this debate the various ministers have come forward to explain in greater detail some of those programs.
While I am a strong proponent of training, retraining, advanced education and lifetime learning, we cannot presume that this alone will solve the unemployment problem. Some people have suggested that a greater percentage of the unemployment insurance fund should be used for training. However, I must remind them and others that a substantial number of unemployed Canadians are already fully trained. Their problem is not training but the lack of jobs.
Furthermore, we must assure that the training programs are directed to the real economic needs of the country. On the one hand too often we are training people for trades that no longer are demanded by business and the public sector and on the other hand we have no courses for trades that are often in demand. I have seen that very often in my own city of Montreal where people are taking training courses. They finish the courses and there are no jobs available. On the other hand employers and businesses are looking for people to train and there is no one being trained in those areas.
In any case I welcome the review of income support and social security programs such as proposed in the speech from the throne to be initiated by the Minister of Human Resources Development. I believe we will be debating that proposal on Monday.
I would now like to deal with some of the objections that we hear with respect to the government's economic program to create jobs and stimulate growth. First we heard during the election campaign, and we still hear it today, that the infrastructure program is simply a large scale attempt to fix potholes and will not create any permanent jobs.
To begin with this program has the support of all the provinces in Canada and the great majority of all the municipalities. It is much more than fixing potholes, which is a very simplistic response to a very important program.
The minister and the Prime Minister have said that the interpretation of infrastructure will be a very wide one. It will apply to roads, highways, ports, airports, sewage systems, public transportation, communications systems, water treatment facilities, bridges, and so on. These public works will create direct and indirect jobs while being built. The indirect jobs of course are those which will be supplying the construction materials, all the materials that are needed in bringing about the renewal and building of such infrastructure projects. We also at the same time create a better environment for private investment in the renewed, better equipped cities and towns.
This is what attracts tourists, attracts business and attracts economic growth. Such a restoration of our infrastructure will also help restore confidence which is an important ingredient in stimulating investment and growth.
Another objection was raised in this House, and it was raised by several members of the Reform Party, but in particular by the leader of the Reform Party on the first day that we had a Question Period. I refer to a question which he asked of the Prime Minister. He referred to a question which had been sent to him by Dr. Dean Eyre of Ottawa who said, and I am quoting from Hansard :
The government proposes to spend $6 billion on infrastructure and create 65,000 jobs. Has the government calculated how many jobs might have been created if that $6 billion were simply cut from the taxes of individuals, property owners and small businesses?
To begin with, as I stated a few minutes ago, all our cities and provinces need up to date infrastructure if they are to operate efficiently and attract private investment. We need highways, we need railroads, we need canals, we need the St. Lawrence Seaway. Mr. Speaker, that was a great infrastructure program many years ago and it is very close to your constituency. We need airports, we need telephone and telecommunications systems, we need schools, we need universities, justice systems and police forces which are all part of what might be called in a broader sense our infrastructure. If we do not build and keep our infrastructure up to date we become a third-class nation.
As I said earlier not only do we create direct and indirect jobs in building and restoring our infrastructure, but once we build a modern infrastructure system we attract investment for still further jobs.
However there is a supposition in the question put forward by the leader of the Reform Party on behalf of Dr. Eyre, that if we return $6 billion to the taxpayers we would have even more jobs. There is certainly no guarantee of that. Every society has to guarantee that it has the essential infrastructure to operate as a modern state.
We are not at all what sure would happen if we simply returned this particular $6 billion to Canadian taxpayers. I want to make it clear that I believe a very good percentage of our incomes must be left to spend as we wish as individuals and as consumers. On the other hand, as a society we have to ensure that we have the social capital to exist as a modern state.
Some of the people might spend a good percentage of that money, if we returned it to them, outside the country either as consumers or investors. Some might use it entirely for consumption, for consumer goods. Some might use it for illegal cigarettes or other types of illegal products, drugs and so on. Some might put it in their drawer or their sock. No doubt there would be some investment. There would be some private investment if that money were returned to taxpayers.
However there would be no guarantee that it would be invested in jobs, while society through its government can ensure that it is used for basic essential infrastructure that will attract business and in the long run will put more money in the pockets of our citizens.
We in the Liberal Party believe in a mixed economy. The greatest eras of prosperity in Canada, the United States and Europe have been accomplished under mixed economies. Experience shows us that the extremes of socialism or the extremes of free market systems do not work as well.
That is the message in the speech from the throne. Jobs and economic growth are our highest priority. We believe the Government of Canada, along with the provinces, has an important role to play with business and labour in achieving these goals.