Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my first formal speech of this 35th Parliament with a message to the constituents of my home town of Hamilton who put their trust in me to represent their views and concerns here in the highest court of the land. I thank them. I consider it a privilege and an honour to serve.
To you, Mr. Speaker, I extend my congratulations and to the man we call Gibby. People in the Golden Horseshoe are very proud of him because we know him to be a man of patience and kindness. I pledge my full co-operation and support.
On the bill that is before us, Bill C-14, the task of keeping Canada's fiscal house in order should have nothing to do with merely preparing oneself for re-election. On the contrary, the fiscal responsibilities facing our government today require us to have the courage to make prudent decisions that are in the long term social and economic interest of our nation. In doing so, as stated by the right hon. Prime Minister, government should be lean but not mean.
After conducting the most exhaustive and open pre-budget consultation in Canadian history the federal government has managed to substantiate its commitment to job creation and economic renewal while reversing the trend of tax and spend economics that has gripped Canada's economy.
During the past nine years of careless government spending under the previous administration Canadians have watched the public debt balloon from $168 billion in 1984 to over $460 billion in 1993. This represents an increase of almost $300 billion or an average of about $30 billion per year.
To give everyone an idea of how enormous that figure is, picture the public debt as a hole in the ground. A $1 coin is a mere two millimetres thick. Two millimetres is rather thin in comparison with the thickness of the earth, for example, which is 6,411 kilometres from the surface to the centre.
However, if the previous finance minister were to dig a mere two millimetres into the ground every time the deficit increased by $1 he would have reached the centre of the earth after his first month in office. If the former finance minister continued digging at that rate until 1993, he would have tunnelled right through the centre of the earth, would have penetrated the opposite surface and would have continued flailing hopelessly in outer space for another 587,178 kilometres. Of course the space odyssey would have been cut short by the October 25 general election.
The government has an obligation to ensure that both the public debt and deficit are kept under control. We can no longer continue to mortgage the nation's future and the future of our children.
By restructuring and streamlining various government operations we will be able to reverse the growth trend of Canada's spiralling deficit and reduce it from $45 billion in 1994 to $32.7 billion in 1996.
In the process of reducing the debt the Minister of Finance has taken some serious measures by cutting government expenditures by $5 for every $1 of net revenue increases. That is worth repeating. Through reductions in defence spending, reductions in government handouts and the creation of a responsible social security system, we will achieve our goal of $2.1 billion in spending cuts by 1995, $5.4 billion in 1996 and $7.3 billion in 1997.
Although these are bold measures they appear to be supported by the majority of Canadians. I raised this issue in the House a little earlier. The following appeared in the Ottawa Citizen of February 18, 1994:
Canadians show a high support for the federal Liberals even after a budget that tightened restrictions on unemployment insurance and closed military bases across this country.
The Gazette of February 26, 1994 indicated: ``The Angus Reid-Southam News survey says that 55 per cent of respondents nationally believe the Liberals are on the right track with the February 22 budget''.
How about the Canadian Medical Association news release or communique? It indicated: "Budget provides health care stability, says doctors. Canada's doctors are pleased with Finance Minister Paul Martin's decision not to make any changes to existing federal government health transfers to the provinces". It is so much good news I am not sure members opposite can stand it.
As part of our commitment to deficit reduction we have gone so far as to freeze our own wages for the next two years. The extended public sector service salary freeze announced by the Minister of Finance on February 22 also applies to the Prime Minister, all cabinet ministers, every senator, my 294 fellow MPs in the House, as well as all appointed federal officials and employees of various crown corporations. Clearly the government is putting its money where its mouth is. As a result we will save over $3.1 billion during the next three years in government operations alone.
What about investing in people and stimulating the Canadian economy? I am proud to say that the budget presented by the Minister of Finance has stayed true to the so-called red book platform on which we were elected.
Under the $6 billion Canada infrastructure works program the federal government, in co-operation with the provincial and municipal governments, will be able to accelerate economic recovery by creating short and long term employment through investment in local communities while enhancing Canada's infrastructure at the local level. Speaking of which, the following appeared in the Gazette of February 23, 1994: ``Provincial Finance Minister André Bourbeau is giving the federal budget a passing grade because of Ottawa's job creation plan''.
Through the infrastructure works program my riding of Hamilton West and the surrounding region of Hamilton-Wentworth will see an investment of over $27 million in federal funding. This will translate into hundreds of new jobs created in the region.
The government is committed not only to job creation but also to education and the training of Canada's youth. Last summer youth unemployment reached a startling 22 per cent for young Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24. Through the Canada youth service corps and youth internship and apprenticeship programs, we will provide thousands of young people across this great country with meaningful work experience through public service in their local communities. Furthermore the budget will provide $800 million over the next two years to test innovative new training techniques in co-operation with the provinces for re-entry workers. This can only strengthen our human resource base in the long run by providing Canadians with valuable skills and retraining. When we said we would invest in jobs and in people we meant it.
It is a well established fact that a key component of a strong national economy is a well educated workforce. In light of this the federal government will be restoring $5 million in funding cut from the national literacy program by the previous administration. We will also maintain regular levels of EPF funding for post-secondary education over the next two years.
As we approach the 21st century it is becoming increasingly apparent that Canada must remain on the cutting edge of science and technology in order to stay competitive in the global economy and to tap into the emerging high-tech growth industries. To this end the government will be investing $60 million in new science and technology programs.
The government has also decided to maintain funding for Canada's research granting councils. The Ottawa Citizen of February 25 indicated:
"They (the Liberals) appear to understand the importance of science", said Howard Dickson of the Coalition for Biomedical and Health Research- "Overall it is good news", said Claude Lajeunesse, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. "Research has been identified as one area-and there aren't many of them-where the government will put additional money in over the next few years", Lajeunesse said.
In keeping with a fair and balanced approach to fiscal policy the government has shown support not only for science and technology but for the arts as well. The Globe and Mail of February 23, 1994 pointed out:
"The government has affirmed the importance of the arts", said Keith Kelly speaking from the Ottawa office of the Canadian Conference of the Arts. "It appears the art community's message has found receptive ears. It is almost too good to be believed. Ottawa seems to have kept its promise to give the CBC stable multi-year financing".
In terms of stimulating the economy one area that is often overlooked is small business. The government believes in small business and recognizes the important role played by small businesses in the national economy in terms of job creation and innovation.
By initiating the creation of a task force to address lending policy for small business the government has proven its willingness to exercise leadership and challenge the banks and other financial institutions to develop concrete ways to help small and medium sized Canadian businesses to find the capital they need.
My time is short. I want to conclude by saying that people across the country told us not to place a new tax on group health and benefit plans and presented us with compelling and well researched reasons to support their arguments. We listened. Canadians advised us that lowering the RRSP contribution would harm those who have insufficient levels of funding for their retirement. We listened. We were told to close off tax
loopholes and try to eliminate frivolous government handouts. We listened.
The people who elected us did so on faith, that we would stay true to the platform, to the agenda we outlined in the so-called red book. It seems only fair that we should be reflective of our commitment to those principles and ultimately to the people of this great country.
In closing I simply point out this is not a budget for a single province, a single region or a single interest group; this is a budget for Canada.