Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into this debate.
Over the last month dozens of Canadians have come before the finance committee to tell us what their priorities are for the next budget. Just about every conceivable position has been expressed as to what should and should not be done. The prebudget consultations have demonstrated one very important point: that a consensus does exist among Canadians on the need to eliminate the deficit. It is no longer a question of whether, it is a question of how and when.
Last week I and one of my colleagues did something unique. We asked to make a presentation to our own committee. In that presentation we laid out a very clear goal to eliminate the deficit over a three year period. We listed 25 specific examples of expenditure reductions or cuts that could be made in order to move toward our goal.
We did not attempt to hide the truth from Canadians in a political or any other way. We levelled with them and told them this would mean cuts of approximately $25 billion after a revenue growth of some $15 billion to $16 billion to reduce our $40 billion current deficit. That would mean that $12 billion to $16 billion, most likely $15 billion, would have to come from social programs over a three year period, not all in one year but over a three year period.
We did not have to do this. We did not have to use this approach. Politically it would have been a lot easier to say nothing and then criticize the government when it released its budget. This is what most opposition or traditional parties have done over the years in their adversary role. That is the kind of game which is usually played. I am sure the members of the government who were in the last House were the best players in that type of game.
Reform members did not come to Ottawa to play games. Our country's finances are too important. They have become our number one priority in our pursuit and our objective in this House of Commons and in this term of Parliament. We came here to change the way politics are done in this country.
The proposal we made to the committee was not a superficial one. We began working on this project immediately following the government's last budget. Over a period of nine months the critics in the Reform Party have reviewed every government program in their area of responsibility. They have weighed those programs against five basic principles that were articulated in our presentation. This represents our best effort in proposing a constructive alternative to the government's fiscal agenda.
In the 10 minutes I have at this time I would like to look at the government's reaction to this presentation. In particular I want to address two specific criticisms that were levelled against us by government and other members of the finance committee. It is important to talk about these criticisms because they go right to the heart of what distinguishes the Reform Party from the governing party.
First I would like to address the question put to me by the member for St. Paul's who simply asked where I was coming from. That was an easy question. Our proposals and recommendations are driven by our conviction that the government's plan to reduce the deficit to 3 per cent of GDP by 1997 will not be enough to control or regain the control over our debt. We recognize even in the 3 per cent program the accumulated debt at the end of three years will be far over $600 billion.
What I think he really meant to ask was not so much where the Reform Party was coming from as where it is going. Everyone recognizes that eliminating the deficit in three years is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. What is that end for Reform? What is our vision of Canada?
Surprisingly in comparing what the government said in its grey book to what Reform said in its presentation to the finance committee not much difference will be found in terms of their fiscal and economic analysis. In fact the government's grey book is probably closer to the Reform position than it is to the red book that the Liberals campaigned on in 1993.
However there are some very fundamental differences in terms of our perspective of Canada. Reformers argue for less government involvement in the economy, for lower taxes, and for giving greater flexibility to local and provincial governments. The Liberals we believe are afraid of these proposals. Why? Where Reformers believe in empowering people, the Liberals still believe in empowering the bureaucrats. Where Reformers place their faith in individuals, the Liberals still place their faith in government. While the Liberals do not seem to think Canadians can take care of themselves, we believe they can.
While it is important to know what Canada's political parties believe in and what their vision is, they should not distract us from the more immediate problem, one which has nothing to do with partisan affiliation or political vision: the problem of our debt. It is a major problem.
The debt is sucking the life out of this country. It is killing jobs. It is killing innovation and entrepreneurship. It is killing our social safety net and our health care system. It does not care about politics. It does not set priorities. It does not discriminate against one problem or favour another. It is an equal opportunity killer and it will kill this country unless we do something to stop it. If we do not deal with the debt before our creditors deal with us, then Canada as we know it will cease to exist.
This brings me to the second criticism of our presentation. This one really upsets me. It was the contention that our 25 deficit cutting recommendations and the $12 billion to $16 billion of social program spending must be cut over the next three years. Committee members and others have said that somehow this is an abdication of our social responsibility to Canadians. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Reformers did not come to Ottawa to take away the bread from starving children. We did not come here to dismantle social programs and leave the vulnerable and the unfortunate in our society unprotected and uncared for. The debate is over how and when to eliminate the deficit. It is not about which party cares the most for Canadians. We all care. The debate is about doing what has to be done. The Reform Party is not going to apologize for telling Canadians the truth.
The truth is that social programs will have to be cut. The some $67 billion expended in that area will have to be reduced to some $50 billion to $60 billion whether we like it or not. If our social safety net collapses because of the failure of the government to plan for the future and doing what has to be done now, those most vulnerable will be the first to suffer and will suffer the most.
Members of the government say it is Reformers who have abdicated their social responsibilities to Canadians, but who has been in power for over a year and done nothing in that time to deal with the debt that is killing this country? In three years this government will have allowed our stock of debt to grow by another $97 billion. If Canada hits the wall, whose conscience will that be on? When international creditors tell the Canadian government and I say tell, not ask, who will be responsible? When international creditors tell a future Canadian government that they will only lend it money if it slashes every program across the board by 30 to 40 per cent, then who will have abdicated their social responsibility to Canadians?
At the present time we have been given an opportunity to put our fiscal house in order. While I do not pretend in any way that this will be easy, there are promising signs. The economy is expanding and Canadians from coast to coast have been telling us they are ready for the cuts. Some will debate whether or not this is Canada's best opportunity to eliminate the debt. I believe this is the proper time to do it.
We have a very simple choice: Either we decide where and how we will cut or somebody will decide that for us. If the government allows the latter to happen, it will be no consolation for me to point out which party truly abdicated its social responsibility for Canadians.