Mr. Speaker, this debate is part of the process leading to the budget expected in February 1995 and in consequence we must presume that no specific measures have yet been decided by the government.
In scheduling this debate the government is asking us what direction the budget should take and what have Canadians been telling us about budgetary matters. Consequently I will make my remarks in that spirit, that nothing has been specifically decided, that budget policy is still open.
It is understood of course that the government intends to pursue the principles set out in the red book, to take the two-track approach, the first track being jobs and growth and the second track being deficit or debt reduction. In this respect, Mr. Speaker, the government as you know published several policy discussion papers. As part of its jobs and growth agenda it published the famous green book "Improving Social Security in Canada". Then it published two others. One is "A New Framework for Economic Policy" known as the purple book and "Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate" known as the grey book.
It has asked two committees to undertake consultations with Canadians, the finance committee on the last two and the human resources development committee on the other. Both will report to the House before the budget. I have to make clear that the two are very closely interrelated. One of the goals of the social
security review is to decide whether our present social programs are affordable.
The three goals mentioned in that document for the social security review are fairness, effectiveness and affordability. It is this question of affordability which links the social security review to the economic and fiscal questions and to the budgetary review.
I want to take this opportunity to state categorically, and I am speaking on my own, that our traditional social programs are affordable. They are not the cause of the deficit. They certainly need improvement. Inadequacies must be corrected, but they should not be cut. They must be improved and in some cases expanded.
In this respect the discussion papers are sometimes ambiguous. For example this one is entitled "Improving Social Security in Canada". On the other hand it questions the affordability of those programs. As I said, our social programs are not the cause of our deficit. They are not the cause of our national debt.
Most of our social programs were started in the post-war forties, fifties and sixties and were built during that period. During that period we had one of the strongest economic growths in Canadian history. As we built our social programs during those decades, we attracted very strong capital private investment. It is the same with other advanced countries. We must take note that the countries with the strongest economies, the highest standards of living, and the highest quality of life have also the strongest and best social programs: Germany, Holland, Sweden, Canada, Japan.
The fact that they built those strong social programs did not deter economic growth and investment in their countries. Nor did they cause the economies to go into decline once those countries brought in these strong and very important social programs.
I have been listening to the Reform Party members. I believe that if we did what they suggested we would bankrupt this country. Not only would they not solve the deficit problem, they would drive the country and send it in exactly the opposite direction. We would end up a third world impoverished country. There would be a few rich people. If we did what they suggest, we would not solve the deficit. We would drive the country into almost a third world status.
The causes of our deficit have not been the social programs, but have been on the other hand the general weaknesses in our economy, high interest rates, unplanned structural change, unplanned globalization, monopolistic practices and unfair taxation-a lot of tax is not being paid that should be paid-and several others.
In the red book we said that the Conservative Party was obsessed by the deficit.
I want to refer to some of the things we said in the red book. At page 10 we said: "Without a doubt one of the greatest failings of the Conservative government has been the tendency to focus obsessively on one problem, such as the deficit, without understanding or caring about the consequences of their policies in other areas such as lost jobs, increased poverty and dependence on social assistance. Social costs are real".
At page 85 in the red book we said: "Conservative government decisions to cut social programs were made without acknowledging the effect these cuts could have on crime rates. Access to health care, housing, jobs and training is essential if crime is to be prevented".
We said on page 20 of our red book: "The goal of deficit reduction would be to cut the deficit to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of the third year in office". We said: "In doing that expenditure reductions will be achieved by cancelling unnecessary programs, streamlining processes, eliminating duplication, and doing that in partnership with provincial governments".
We gave some examples of the things we would cut. We started off in the right way. We said we would cancel the helicopters, reduce national defence spending, reduce the $4.1 billion consulting and professional services budget, reduce grants to businesses, reduce the size and budget of cabinet ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office. Nothing about social programs in there. On the contrary, in chapter 5 of the red book we said that they should be strengthened and improved.
At the very worst the social security review should be revenue neutral. If we really mean to improve the programs the review should not be a means of attacking the deficit. That is not what we said in the red book, that is not what we said in the campaign.
So far the government has been good in honouring the commitments to the red book. It should not forget what it said in that red book about social programs and the deficit.
It is interesting to note that not all but many of the businessmen who say we cannot afford such things as pensions, health care, day care, training, post-secondary education, unemployment insurance, a living wage for those who cannot work, day after day try to convince us to buy, to buy, to buy, more cars, more cameras, more TVs, more holidays, pet food, jewellery, camcorders, cigarettes and liquor, with more and more credit cards and no down payment. Obviously they either think we can afford those things or they do not care.
Is there not something wrong with a society where we are closing hospitals and schools, where there are more people living on the streets, where the gap between the rich and the poor
is growing, when at the same time the business sector is pressuring or encouraging us to buy more and more goods which really are not in any way as important as the things I have just mentioned. More yo-yos and less hospital care.
Those who talk about waste in government sell us products with built-in obsolescence so that after three or four years we have to buy more and more again. That is waste. That is real waste.
The whole question about affordability must be looked at in a much broader context as to what this country can afford. Can we afford more and more consumer goods that do not really count in our lives or can we afford better hospitals, better schools, better training, better pensions, making sure people are not living on the streets and that people who want to work can work?
In conclusion, if the government wants the views of MPs and their constituents this is what I am trying to deliver today. I had a townhall meeting in Montreal just last week. What I am telling you today is what these people told me at that townhall meeting. Cut the deficit, yes, certainly cut the deficit, but do it as we said we would do it in the red book, not by cutting social programs. We do not want the status quo. We have to improve things, we have to make our social programs more effective and better, but do not cut them. Do not cut the deficit on the backs of the middle class and the poor.