Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to participate in the debate on the borrwing bill to impliment the budgetary masures announced at the beginning of the week.
It is not only a pleasure for me to have this opportunity, but it is a great honour because officially this is my maiden speech in the House and my first formal opportunity to address my constituents from this place.
That, Mr. Speaker, is why I would ask you and my colleagues to allow me, briefly, to thank the voters of Hull-Aylmer, who supported me in my campaign and did me the honour of electing me to represent them in the House of Commons and speak on their behalf. I thank them sincerely for their support, and assure them that I will do my very best to live up to the confidence they placed in me.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell them that, as a member of Parliament, I intend to act in the best interests of all the voters in my riding, and not only of those who voted for me.
As we all know, the historic riding of Hull-Aylmer is on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, just across from the nation's capital. It has a population of 87,700; this number can be broken down as follows: 76,2 per cent are francophone, and 14,1 per cent are anglophone. Portuguese is the mother tongue of 2 per cent of the people in my riding.
I may add that 60 per cent of the people speak both official languages fluently.
Over 25 per cent of the workforce is composed of civil servants. Although I am a newcomer to active politics, I am no stranger to government and the workings of our democratic institutions.
As a career public servant I have had the opportunity to work closely with many governments of different political stripes. I have indeed been fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe up close how governments function. It is in large part because of this knowledge of government that I started to feel increasingly uneasy in the last few years about the way in which the country was being managed. I felt that the hackneyed, disjointed and visionless approach of the previous Conservative government was no longer working.
Canada and its public institutions are now at crossroads. It is urgent that our institutions, especially government ones, change radically and quickly if we do not want our country to be left behind by others. What is at stake here is that we do not become a small marginalized country with rigid structures, while other countries enthusiastically embrace the future.
In the Liberal Party, I found people who think the same way I do and who are determined, as I am, to be part of a government that is aware of its primary responsibility of fundamentally restructuring the state machinery in order to put it back in the service of the people so that they can regain both confidence and hope in their government.
Like other countries' governments, the government of Canada must tackle head-on the need to change fundamentally, because of the many forces that are in play in the world: a diminishing role for the state in modern societies, an expansion of international institutions, an increase in international competitiveness, developments in communication and information technologies, and an increase in the education level of people, who demand, rightly so, a greater participation in the decision-making process.
However, the need for reform also stems from a deep dissatisfaction by a good portion of the electorate regarding the effectiveness of government authorities. This dissatisfaction leads to a gradual loss of confidence in political leaders and the institutions. And this loss of effectiveness is obvious in a number of areas of the government apparatus. We occasionally see it as well in politicians who, once elected, forget their commitments to their constituents, and in elected representatives when they start acting mainly for narrow partisan reasons or showing favouritism.
We sense it also in our government institutions, tied by their own red tape, in organizations designed more to help those they employ than those they are supposed to serve. We can see it in outdated or inefficient government programs which might duplicate the work of other levels of government. Finally, we see it in the power struggles between levels of government seeking to protect their authority, their bureaucratic interests or their administrative preserves, regardless of the superior interests of their citizens.
The resolution of problems such as these requires us to set truly farsighted goals for ourselves. This is what our party has done.
At the heart of everything is a need to restore confidence in both the people and the institutions of government. We have to do this in the context of the imperative of the fiscal crisis which has given rise to some of the tough medicine contained in the budget and which will continue to condition the policies of this government throughout its mandate.
However, the goal of getting government right is not simply to save money. This initiative is animated by a much wider vision of the need to rethink and redesign government in response to profound forces, both external and internal, of which expenditure restraint is only one. Our intention is that the process of reform will be shaped by an evolving vision of the role of the federal government in society, of its relationships with its key partners and the part which its public service should play within that framework.
To reach these results we must proceed in a coherent way. Other governments have tried to deal with some of the problems I just mentioned with a random hacking at programs and services and costs of government. Problems of this breadth cannot be solved through an approach such as that.
Therefore one of our first objectives must be to try to define more clearly where each level of government can make its best contribution. If we can do this we should be able to improve the climate of federal-provincial relations in this country.
In addressing this matter we will be forced to ask some basic questions. Is government doing too much? Can government truly be asked to take on every issue and attempt to arbitrate, compensate or replace? Should government pull back and do less, leaving more scope to the individual, the private sector, communities and the voluntary sector?
A second objective must be to ensure that our programs are targeted as much as possible to the highest priority needs of our citizens and our country. We have to set priorities and we have to transfer resources from less productive to more productive uses. We have to make choices. In doing so we must see that as far as
possible we place the needs of the most disadvantaged groups in our society first.
Our third objective must be to refashion the programs of the federal government in a way that makes them more responsive to clients and more service oriented. We have to see that clients are substantively involved in the exercise to ensure that we look at the programs from their perspective, not just from that of administrative convenience.
Where federal programs touch those of other levels of government we have to achieve greater harmony and eliminate instances of duplication or waste of other kinds. Clearly an ongoing quest for greater efficiency and higher levels of productivity and performance must go hand in hand with these other goals.
Our fiscal situation is such that we simply cannot afford to see taxpayer funds misused or wasted. In all of this we have to bear in mind that the impact of the federal government depends enormously upon the public service. We need to preserve the best features of that service, encourage change where it is necessary, help the loyal people who work within it to adapt, and support them in the transitions that will be required. We must maintain Canada's reputation for having one of the best public services in the world.
The task of reforming government extends beyond the world of programs and public servants. It also imposes responsibilities upon those of us at the political level. Thus another objective must be to reassert some old-fashioned values such as integrity, reliability and accountability.
Our government has taken a number of steps already to reinforce these values. We have staked out a policy position in the red book. We have stuck to it in our throne speech and in this budget. We have encouraged Canadians to watch our performance and hold us to account for what we do. We intend to be consistent, accountable and honest in our dealings with Canadians. Old virtues and values need to be restored to public life.
The final objective associated with getting government right is to see what measures can be taken to encourage citizens more effectively to participate in decision making and to place relationships between citizens and government on a more positive footing.
Both at the political level and within the public service we hear continuous rhetoric about the need to consult more, to participate, to build a greater sense of partnership with the electorate, and so on. Most reform initiatives never get beyond that rhetoric. We have to do better. What practical steps can be taken by both politicians and public servants to achieve this goal?
I would like Canada to be seen as a leader among other countries in this sphere, open to new ideas and willing to experiment with new approaches.
So, it is obvious that the budget that was just tabled in this House is only a piece, but certainly a major piece, of a much bigger puzzle. It is only a step in the huge reform process that seems essential to us, and I would like to briefly remind you of some of these proposals.
The budgetary provisions will strengthen both the economic and the social union of the country. The deficit reduction plan laid out in the budget calls for a reduction in spending of $17 billion over the next three years. There is $5 of net expenditure restraint for every dollar of net revenue enhancement, a measure that will contribute dramatically to getting the deficit under control and allow us to reach our deficit target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product.
This budget fulfils our promise to tell the provinces what they can expect of the federal government for the next few years. They had told us that in order to plan their services they needed to know what the transfers would be. We listened to them.
Unemployment insurance premiums are really employment taxes. Their high cost is often a deterrent to job creation. We have therefore decided to solve this problem by lowering these premiums to create jobs now. This measure will translate into $300 million savings for industry; $300 millions which they will be able to invest in job creation.
Various measures are geared to helping small businesses, a sector crucial for our economy, specifically we will create a Canada Investment Fund to provide venture capital, set up a Canadian Technology Network to help small businesses gains access to new technologies, and expand the network of Canada Business Services Centres to concentrate access to government services in a single point.
Our national infrastructure program supports job creation. We have negotiated agreements with all 10 provinces and this means that the way is now clear. The projects can start to create real and productive jobs in all parts of the country. We will also set up apprenticeship training programs for young people to give them the opportunity to get a first an crucial work experience.
Measures in the budget also address important social issues. Full funding for the national literacy program is being restored. A centre of excellence for women's health is being created. The Canadian race relations foundation will finally be established. A prenatal nutrition program for low income pregnant women is being launched, as is the aboriginal head start program.
The budget also reinstates the law reform commission and the court challenges program.
I will not at this time, unfortunately, dwell on every single initiative outlined in this budget. The Minister of Finance on Tuesday, hon. members will agree, did an excellent job of that. Let me, however, mention that as part of our re-examination of the role of government I have been asked by the Prime Minister to review all federal boards, agencies, commissions and advisory councils. Once again, this is not an exercise simply to reduce expenditures. There are no predetermined targets for savings. The objective is to determine whether their raison d'être is still valid and whether they are consistent with current needs and priorities.
I would like to emphasize this point. The purpose of this review and all others that will be undertaken is not like it was under the previous Conservative government, a scorched earth approach to public policy. Any cuts, rationalizing or streamlining that results from reviews are intended to ensure that all of our activities and programs are delivered with maximum efficiency and meet the real needs of real people.
Likewise, it is in the same spirit and in the same context that the Prime Minister has asked me to proceed with the program review to assess the continued relevance and effectiveness of federal programs and services. In this review, we will identify options and resources for future programming geared to our changing society and the changing expectations and needs of Canadians.
It is my intention to see that as result of this program review our resources, both human and financial, are directed to the highest priority requirements and to those areas where the federal government is best placed to deliver services.
I spoke earlier about the need for governments to co-operate and co-ordinate their activities. With this in mind, the Prime Minister has also asked me to work with the provinces to achieve a better alignment of roles and responsibilities and, as a result, a more efficient and affordable federation. This should allow governments to reduce overlap and duplication while improving the delivery of critical services.
Of all the measures announced in the budget, I am particularly interested in those concerning the renewal of the public service. I know the federal public service and I can assure you that it is a credit to our country.
The government naturally needs and relies on the public service to help make the government's objectives and plans a reality. All Canadians must realize how fortunate this country is in having a world respected non-partisan public service, made up of dedicated men and women, which daily in hundreds of communities right across the country ensures the essential services to all of us.
To be the best and to maintain a position as the best, it is necessary for any institution to continually renew itself. Renewal includes questioning some of the basic assumptions which have guided our operations for years, even decades. It means constantly seeking better, faster, more effective and more efficient ways of delivering services. It means creating and recreating an organization that is sensitive to and responds appropriately to the needs of clients, in this case the Canadian taxpayer.
The public service is well aware of this requirement. We have to recognize the fact that it was able, over the last five years, to make difficult and comprehensive changes to its operations and methods. It is obvious that a transition period like the one it is going through right now is not only stimulating and motivating, but also a source of great tension.
I want to emphasize that the salary freeze announced in the budget will allow us to avoid massive lay-offs. The President of the Treasury Board has indicated that the government is determined to guarantee a high level of job security to federal public servants.
It is also important to view our decision to freeze wages in this context. First, it is evident from the other provisions of the budget that the public service is not being singled out for different or harsh treatment. In fact, in 1993 close to two-thirds of all employees under major wage settlements in Canada were subject to either a wage freeze or a decrease in their wages.
Second, the Prime Minister, the President of Treasury Board and I have been very clear about our determination to form a real partnership with civil servants. Everyone will agree that the climate has changed, that we have made genuine attempts to change our relation with the public service. This is not a replay of 1984 when the previous Prime Minister talked gleefully about giving public servants pink slips and running shoes.
The process of renewal of the public service has begun and will continue as all of us co-operate on forging a new definition of government, its role and purposes.
We are calling on all the members of this House, other levels of government and particularly on Canadians in every walk of life to join with us in finding new, innovative and more effective approaches to program and service delivery. United in our determination, we can steer this country toward horizons of harmony, social justice, tolerance and prosperity.
I say it again, these budgetary measures are only the first step in redefining the social and economic union that makes Canada an example for the world to follow, an example where differences are respected and the most vulnerable in our society are protected.
This was the wager of the Fathers of Confederation, a risky wager, a courageous wager and one that each generation of Canadians must win anew through a collective act of faith and imagination.
It falls to this generation of Canadians to preserve, indeed to fight to defend the precious legacy of previous generations so that we can pass on to our children not a damaged country, not a shrunken country, not a poorer country, but a greater, wiser, more generous country.
To those who are ready to give up on this country and who lack the creativity and stamina to reinvent a society of which the poor and the hungry of the world can only dream, I say no.
In the dying days of this century of unprecedented change, we have a responsibility to demonstrate that a small group of people that have come from all countries and cultures around the world can live in peace and harmony, in a spirit of mutual respect, and garner strength and courage from the sharing the experience of their vulnerability.
To those who would tear away the human face of this country and rob us of the right to be different, I also say no. Canadians have always been innovators and pioneers. Unlike our great neighbour to the south, we have resisted the temptation to homogenize our society. We have made room, often imperfectly and at the price of fierce struggles for diversity and for difference. This is what the world must learn to do and we must lead the way.
The challenge this government must meet is not any different from that of many other countries. A budget is not a simplistic deficit reduction exercise. Our mandate for change must result in fundamental reform, and this budget is but a first step in that direction.