Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that I agree with my colleagues in their concern for the debt and deficit. The deficit has reached a crisis proportion. I also agree with their concern for children.
I believe that we must move urgently to balance the budget but we must not use the budget crisis to deal with other pressing problems.
I commend the government for its commitment to lower the deficit to 3 per cent of GDP within three years of taking office. Believing that this goal is achievable, I also urge the government to move to balancing the budget in as short a time as is reasonably possible thereafter.
Some people ask why is the debt a problem. Annual interest on the debt is $44 billion; that is $44 billion that we do not have to spend on education, industrial infrastructure, research and a host of other important programs. Just as serious for more subtle reasons is the fact that the debt drives up interest rates for everyone.
Because of the size of our debt international lenders demand and receive a risk premium to hedge against a potential drop in the value of the Canadian dollar. This risk premium or extra cost affects the whole market for money and the cost for borrowing consequently is reflected in it. Consumers, homeowners, students and all other borrowers also pay this premium.
The size of our debt makes our nation extremely sensitive to a rise in interest rates in the United States. Canada is forced to pay a premium over American rates in order to attract foreign capital. When rates go up in the United States we have no choice but to raise them in Canada. Thus our sovereignty has been severely curtailed as we lose control over our monetary policy.
We are hampered from finding made in Canada solutions to Canadian problems. Losing control over our economic house diminishes our nation and everyone in it. All we can do is hope that international forces co-operate with our deficit reduction program.
Furthermore, as bad as our situation is now, it will be much worse if we do not act now with discipline and resolve.
Having outlined my views on the seriousness of the problem, I would now like to address the solution. The following remarks can be entitled a good way to balance the budget versus a bad way to balance the budget. Everyone agrees that government should cut waste. Cutting waste is a good way to contribute to balancing the budget. More often than not waste is designed right into programs and as such is not so readily apparent.
For example, the coast guard, Transport Canada and fisheries and oceans maintain separate fleets with overlapping duties. My own riding of Elgin-Norfolk covers approximately 100 miles of Lake Erie shoreline. One of the harbours in Port Stanley is operated well by Transport Canada. The other smaller harbours are managed by small craft harbours of fisheries and oceans. These harbours are often neglected due to shortage of funds. Regardless, we have two sets of bureaucrats managing a similar resource side by side. I would like to suggest that a single authority could manage the Lake Erie shoreline, do a better job and do it cheaper.
The military has recently been highlighted as having some waste. In the past this waste was designed in as we kept bases open only for political need rather than serving military purposes. While this is starting to change we need to go further to identity waste.
We spend large sums of money on high tech advanced equipment such as the CF-18. The CF-18 is not used in peacekeeping but would be used in the unlikely event of the breakout of world war III or as a token contribution to a gulf war like crisis.
Canada is currently the 12th largest military spender in the world. I believe we can cut military spending and find a large peace dividend, all the while maintaining our contribution to peacekeeping and our security needs.
The reserves offer great potential for a cheaper alternative to CF-18s and other high tech expensive weapons. In my riding the Elgin regiments have contributed nine people to the army who are now currently serving in Bosnia. These young men offer skill and commitment that represent a great value for dollar as citizen soldiers. Unfortunately the reserves often appear to be under equipped and generally under resourced.
I would now like to speak for a short while on tax policy. I accept as a given the government's apparent indication that a general tax increase is not in the cards. Certainly the middle class of this country will not tolerate a general tax increase. However, I need to point out that within this country there is a great inequity of income. The top 20 per cent of income earners receive over 44 per cent of national income annually while the bottom 20 per cent have approximately 2.7 per cent of national income. It is within this context that fairness in tax policy needs to be considered. There is nothing contradictory in fair taxation and deficit reduction. An increase in taxes on the top 20 per cent of income earners in this country I believe would entirely appropriate at the current time.
Furthermore, the government should look at tax expenditures. The government forgoes $860 million by not taxing lottery winnings. This should be changed. The marriage credit costs over $1 billion. The government should design it so that it benefits the lower and middle class primarily.
RRSPs have received considerable attention lately. My own view is that the annual contribution rate should be limited to $9,000 with corresponding change to private pension plans.
The people in my riding have just come through the worst recession since the 1930s. Very few of them can even consider saving $9,000 a year to put into an RRSP. The benefits of RRSP contributions fall most favourably on the rich, those within the highest marginal tax rates. This by itself is unfair. Without change to the current law the contribution limits are set to rise to $15,000 annually. This limit will have little benefit to the factory worker or the farmer in Elgin-Norfolk.
Lowering the limit will raise government revenue by an estimated $750 million to $1 billion annually. It will also restore in small part fairness and integrity to the tax system.
As we work toward a balanced budget there may be instances when for very good reasons spending more, not less, on a program is entirely appropriate. I would like to recommend that the government treat child poverty as an urgent crisis that requires more resources, not fewer, nor even a freeze. This may appear like a contradiction. I would like to assure the House that it is not.
The government has said that it needs to find over $6 billion in annual cuts within the next two years to meet its target to balance the budget and another $30 billion to $35 billion in increased revenue or decrease in expenditures. Within this context how difficult can it be to find an extra billion dollars for hungry Canadian children?
The Department of Human Resources Development has produced a supplementary paper to its green paper that outlines as an option an enhanced child tax benefit that would raise the benefit to $2,500 per child and be clawed back starting for incomes of $15,000 and dropping to zero for family incomes at $55,000. The cost of this program would be approximately $1 billion.
I would like to remind the House with the greatest respect that all Canadians are not participating in the recovery, nor are they likely to. If the government does not play a fair role in redistributing income this recovery will drive a wider wedge between the well off and the disadvantaged. Families that cannot compete in a quickly changing, knowledge based economy will be unemployed and their children will suffer the worst of the consequences.
In absolute terms over 1.2 million Canadian children, nearly 20 per cent of the child population, live in poverty in this country today. In most cases their parents are working. Even worse, in some provinces one-quarter to one-third of all children are poor. This is an obscenity. Even in times of cutbacks the issue needs to be addressed. The consequences of child poverty need to be addressed just as the consequence of the deficit need to be addressed.
Poor children are often poorly nourished. The Canadian Institute of Child Health states that without adequate nutrition children will suffer from stunted growth, intellectual impairment and a variety of infectious diseases. They will put an extra burden on health care and on prisons as they grow up.
To sum up, I agree with my colleagues that the debt and the deficit are serious problems. So too are a host of other problems and the one I have identified most significantly is child poverty. That is why I ask everyone in this House to join with me and ask the government for an increase in the child tax benefit and for some real solutions for child poverty.