Mr. Speaker, I rise to represent my own convictions, those of my constituents and millions of other Canadians.
I rise to voice my profound concern over an issue of the highest import. Other issues pale into insignificance compared with the substance of Bill C-14, an act to provide borrowing authority for the next fiscal year. If it is passed the bill before us will authorize the government to borrow up to $34 billion, adding still more to the debt that is already without precedent in Canadian peacetime history, an astronomical sum which is difficult for us to even comprehend.
It troubles me deeply that this bill has received so little attention and so little talk on the other side of the House. We need the attention of the nation today. We need all members in this House, members who are watching on television or reading Hansard to sit up and notice the incredible event that is taking place.
It is obvious that the government considers this bill a fait accompli, a routine proceeding, just a boring formality to thrust this legislation in the face of an indignant opposition, listen awhile to its useless tirades and then pass it without second thought. The government has adapted easily to the incredulous thought of borrowing $34 billion.
We all enjoy the ability to adapt to new situations. Adaptability is a coping mechanism and it allows us to live in truly abnormal ways and yet somehow develop a frame of mind which sees a situation as normal even though circumstances are far from it.
We see people with major disabilities get on with their lives and live happily. On TV we watch the kids in Sarajevo tobogganing the day after the shells stop falling. This is a good quality. It allows us to make the best of a bad situation.
This ability to adapt also has its downside. We can become desensitized, unable to detect the lowering of standards about things which would have shocked us just a few short years ago. That same adaptability allows soldiers to shell children in Sarajevo and find it acceptable.
Somehow I fear that this ability to adapt has enabled this government to descend into a fiscal frame of mind that allows us to think the unthinkable and accept it as normal. To illustrate, let me quote from the Auditor General's report of 1976. He said: "I am deeply concerned that Parliament and indeed the govern-
ment has lost or is close to losing effective control of the public purse".
The deficit in 1976 was $6 billion. The debt was just $37 billion but it was not considered normal at the time. The situation was regarded as nearly out of control.
Consider for a moment the Lambert commission, a royal commission on financial management that reported in 1979. The commissioners noted that our debt to GNP ratio was twice the figure of the U.S. government, and what was the deficit in Canada in 1979? It was just $13 billion. The debt was only $61 billion, a pittance today. The government was so alarmed that it appointed a royal commission to investigate it.
The words that this government speaks merely echo those that have been spoken over the last two decades of deficits, seeking to cast the deficit and debt in the light of normality, trying to save face, attempting to lull the electorate into believing that our situation is somehow acceptable.
Little by little, year by year we spin neat phrases and explain it with eloquent phrases and words and clever accounting tricks that merely hide the deadly truth a little longer. We are like frogs swimming in a pot of hot water. We do not know that we are going to be the supper until the water is boiling. It may be too late if this bill and this budget are passed by this House of Commons.
Governments often, for example, pull out their shabby comparison between debt to GNP ratio with our ratio just after World War II, saying that our situation was the same then, do not worry. They do not mention that the entire world was different. The baby boom was beginning. The U.S. was the unchallenged economic world leader with a burgeoning economy and an insatiable demand for our natural resources.
There was no global competition, no necessity for intensively trained workers as there is today. Our position today is uniquely perilous. A child could see it, but this House continues to hide its eyes.
In February this government brought in a budget and acted in precisely the same way as its old political enemy, the Conservatives, who took no real action against the deficit, and demonstrated that they had no will to change the status quo. What are the consequences of maintaining the status quo?
A few weeks ago I attended a seminar with the senior economist of Burns Fry Limited. After comparing our economy with the state of other world economies, he stated that he believes we may well have come to the point of no return. There is no way we will ever be able to pay our debt back. Our economy will become permanently hampered by our debt and we will become progressively poorer as a nation. That is the result of maintaining the status quo.
When we see the size of the debt and the size of the deficit, governments past and present should hang their heads in shame. It is a debt of $20,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada. The plan is to add another $100 billion to that debt. This is a virtual guarantee that future budgets will be able to offer Canadians even less in the way of essential services, even less in the way of job creation, less tax relief and even less of a future.
In the 10 minutes it takes for me to finish this short presentation we will have piled another four million dollars on our national debt.
How could we have come to this? I believe we are all sincere and reasonably intelligent men and women. Could it be a systemic problem, a deep rooted problem with our political process that in some cases derails the public interest?
I believe our problem is systemic. It is a difficult, pernicious problem that threatens to engulf this nation in a sea of debt. The problem is the strict discipline that political parties impose on their own members. It is a shame, really, especially since political parties were originally formed in response to the public demand for good government, government that would not cater to special interests or be bought with the taxpayers' own money.
Party affiliation has allowed Canada to have stable government, but in recent years it has also led to governments whose agendas have been set by a select few people at the top. Something has gone wrong. Voters have come to the conclusion that strict party discipline has paralysed Parliament, making a mockery of true democratic principles. Members are not free to vote for what they know is right. They have to vote for what their leaders tell them is right.
Today we are considering a historic bill, an infamous bill. It may be the bill that renders our fiscal situation truly impossible. We are grinding our economy into mincemeat and offering little to hundreds of thousands of desperate and frustrated workers.
I know that many members opposite and those watching on television disagree with the course of this government and I want to speak directly to them today.
Listen to the stinging indictment of the Globe and Mail editorial from last week: ``This generation of Canadians in this Parliament is imposing a lower standard of living on the next generation through sustained, profligate borrowing. The national government is turning into a large and feeble creature, sapped of the power to take initiatives, presenting a caricature of leadership. This budget makes a mockery of Jean Chrétien's promise of a return to the good old days. In the good old days the
future was not mortgaged to the selfishness and cowardice of the current generation".
This government speaks words, words and more words; words of calm assurance to its backbenchers that all is well. However, the backbenchers should be aware that those words are also accompanied by the not so subtle warnings of the school yard bully: "If you don't vote how we trained you to vote, no more favours. If you don't go through the motions, jump the party hoops, bow and scrape to our policy of disaster, you're out of the club".
Many government members will remember a few short weeks ago when they were told by their party how to vote on the selection of the vice chairs of the standing committees of this House. They will not quickly forget how some of the party veterans worked the committee rooms using their influence to ensure that backbenchers did as they were told, forcing them to vote for separatist MPs as vice chairs of every single committee.
How quickly the die is cast. How easily they have been poured into the mould that we had hoped was broken after the last election.
Now on Bill C-14 they have been told once again not to vote for what is obviously in the public interest, not to vote for their conscience, vote the party line even if it means stealing from their grandchildren. Members opposite have been lulled into a sense of false security by the calm demeanour of their party handlers. They have been deceived by smooth words and bullied by quiet party threats to think that borrowing $34 billion in addition to the $500 billion we already have is somehow acceptable.
I hope their adaptability serves them well. I hope they will be comfortable when the debt rises to $600 billion and the IMF moves in and imposes cutbacks on Canada. I hope they will be flexible when the dollar falls through the floor and Canadians begin to live with a crisis similar to the one that engulfed New Zealand only a few years ago. I trust they will calmly adapt when their grandchildren ask why they did not vote for their interests, why they thought only of themselves. I hope they have already formulated a plan to cope with an enraged electorate after it has experienced the effects of Liberal actions.
There is a way out. I understand and agree that the government is charged with bringing in a budget and ordering its legislative priorities. That is as it should be. Let there be no mistake. The vote on Bill C-14, and even the next generation will see it as such, is a vote of conscience as much as any other vote in this Parliament could be. It deserves the treatment that the Reform Party has been calling for for years. It deserves a free vote in this House.
I truly believe that if government members looked into their hearts they would say it is not in the public interest to add this much debt and deficit on to the Canadian people.
There is a simple answer. If only 40 backbench MPs wanted action and not words they could alter the course of Canadian history, they could defeat Bill C-14 and the Reform Party would not request dissolution. The government could try again and bring down a more acceptable budget. Those few members could revitalize this House and the economy and Canadians would be spared the shock that they will otherwise feel in the years to come.
We are engaged in a battle today, an economic struggle against poverty and want. At this critical time when we need to marshal all of our national resources for the fight, the Liberal leaders have laid down their weapons and ordered their troops to raise white flags. It is too soon for any member to surrender to anything but the national interest.
The Reform Party of Canada calls upon all members to take courage, to take up the power of the votes and fire an opening round against the deficit by defeating Bill C-14, not for any party or for any low political purpose. Do it because conscience compels it. Do it because the good of the nation demands it and do it because our children's tomorrow depends upon some discipline today.