Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend to you belated congratulations on your appointment to the Speaker's chair. I wish you well as you and your colleagues guide the debate in this, the highest tribunal in the land.
I thank the people of Yellowhead for their support on October 25. I will endeavour to serve my constituents well.
In my comments I will be touching on two matters: first, a few observations about the riding I am privileged to represent; and, second, I will attempt to show what happened to countries that have attempted to spend themselves into prosperity. If we do not bring spending under control in this country, be it social or other spending, we may well find ourselves going down the same road.
First, I have a few comments on my riding. Yellowhead is a huge riding, the third largest federal riding in Alberta. It is interesting to note that geographically the configuration of Yellowhead is similar to that of the state of Texas. In addition, both are rich in oil and beef cattle.
Yellowhead also has huge deposits of gas and coal and an active forest industry.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains is the jewel of the Rockies, Jasper. Our nation's most spectacular park, Jasper National Park, attracts tourists from around the world every day of the year.
The 90,000 plus people who live within the borders of Yellowhead are generally an independent lot. Business deals are still clinched with a handshake as entrepreneurs engage in the time proven activity of human endeavour, the free enterprise system. In general, unemployment is not the concern that it is in other parts of the country.
I am at once proud and humbled in the opportunity to represent and serve these people in this place. These folks are saying to me, as other Canadians are saying to their elected people, that enough is enough; enough spending on programs they do not want, they did not ask for and certainly do not want to pay for. Increasingly, people are realizing that government spending is taking us all down a dead end road to the precipice, to the brink. The brakes must be applied so that this nation can edge back from the brink of economic disaster.
I commend the government for this social affairs debate. I am confident that it will seriously consider suggestions made in this House and elsewhere when the restructuring of these programs begin.
Overspending is not just a phenomenon of the 20th century. For centuries countries have overspent. History is littered with examples of great empires that have been reduced to shadows of their former greatness.
For centuries, economists, historians and observers have documented what causes dominant countries to experience economic decline. We need not go back to ancient civilizations, to antiquity for examples. We only need to go back to the early modern period, to the time of the gun powder revolution which set in motion some of the more profound changes in modern history.
There is no better example of a nation that underwent an economic crisis by spending itself into oblivion than Spain itself, the great power of the early modern period.
Leadership of the Spanish government was dominated by out of control spending on the military, the bureaucracy, the church and the nobility. Today in Canada, the tax consuming interests find their equivalent in big government as well as transfer payments and subsidies to businesses whether they are private or crown corporations. Long after it became obvious that the Spanish economy was in trouble, Spain's leaders resisted every effort to cut costs.
Like many American and Canadian politicians today they could not believe that the money would ever run out. Each new setback to the economy was treated as an occasion to launch a brand new program. Taxes were tripled between the years 1556 and 1577. The great country of Spain descended into bankruptcy and has not really recovered.
Holland which escaped Spanish rule followed a similar pattern of decline. The historian Jan de Vries wrote:
Increased costs, particularly in the last third of the 17th century, robbed Dutch trade of its dynamism.
That observation should ring familiar as should another. I continue quoting:
And as so often happens in societies when new conditions threaten their leadership, an inflexibility permeated Dutch institutions.
As Holland went into decline, Great Britain ascended to global dominance. After two centuries at the pinnacle of the world economy this empire too went into decline. British leaders like the Spanish and Dutch before them responded to the crisis not by cutting costs but by proposing new expensive spending ideas. As a result taxes and spending increased dramatically.
As he watched his beloved country facing ruin, Winston Churchill observed:
I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little further on there are our only flagstones, and a little further on still even these break beneath your feet.
After World War II the country that exceeded any other country in the world by any measurement rose to unprecedented heights in terms of economic and military might.
The superpower age was thrust upon the world with the United States leading the way. After almost half a century of unparalleled economic growth and world leadership, America now is showing symptoms of decline. These are high taxes, high prices, high budget deficits, a rapidly increasing crime rate, strong special interest groups, failures in motivation, a decline in education and everyday competence, a high tendency to import, moral breakdown, loss of civic spirit and an increasing diversion of energies to non-productive pursuits.
Is Canada showing similar symptoms? The question begs the answer.
Thousands of people, business people and professionals, are putting forth their ideas to bring our financial house in order. Perhaps more important, there are millions of Canadians, ordinary people who get up each morning and go to their respective places of work. They are the people who carefully and prudently manage the affairs of their households and communities, who pay the bills, who pay to all levels of government. After all, there really is only one taxpayer. These Canadians in a growing tide are asking governments to take bold action.
My home province of Alberta is once again leading the way as it has done in the past. Alberta's provincial government, to its credit, has recognized the folly of uncontrolled spending and program proliferation. Alberta is taking action now. Yes, there is and there will continue to be some pain as adjustments are made. As expected the special interest groups are protesting. As Margaret Thatcher observed a few years ago, they have the usual socialist disease. They are running out of other people's money. However the majority of Albertans, the people who pay the bills, agree that excessive spending had to stop.
A new Parliament represents a golden opportunity to change the way things are done. Now is the time to act. We must priorize spending to save our social programs.
I will close with this. For all the problems we face I believe this is the greatest country in the world, but let us keep it that way. By getting our spending under control, not only for our generation, but for our children and our children's children.