Mr. Speaker, I think all members of the House are pleased that the leader of the third party has joined in the debate, a debate which is very important. As he has quite correctly pointed out, it involves an incredible number of choices that as legislators, as representatives of the people, we have to make on behalf of Canadians from every region of the country.
It is constructive that Reform members have made the effort to put before Canadians an alternative budget, an alternative strategy, that they have thought it out, that they have put numbers to it, that they are offering that type of alternative. Just as our debate on the prebudget report is the subject of extensive debate throughout the country, I welcome that he has put forward their alternative budget as a serious element of debate.
I commend the third party for doing this. It is a departure from the traditional role that opposition parties have played. Traditionally opposition parties have simply criticized. They have nit-picked, they have gone after the chinks that they saw or thought that Canadians might perceive to exist in the other party's platform. The Reform Party has dared to be creative. I commend it for the
approach that it has taken. I know it has done that with a great deal of sincerity and a great deal of thought.
We have had on the finance committee through the excellent leadership of the Reform Party and its members very constructive debates from coast to coast throughout this country on many of the very important issues we face. I think members from all parties have been influenced by this exchange of philosophies and exchange of means of getting to a new end. All of us realize that we have to go beyond where we are today.
The Reform Party did a marvellous job over the past three years in pointing out the incredible problems that we face in Canada because for the 20 previous years governments of both stripes spent way beyond the means of Canadians and put us behind the eight ball. We are so far in the hole that our biggest expenditure today is $50 billion on interest, which is two and a half times what we spend on our next biggest expenditure, seniors' pensions.
I do not denigrate the approach which Reformers have taken but I do put forward with a certain amount of enthusiasm the approach taken by the Minister of Finance under the leadership of the Prime Minister. There are not too many people who five years ago would have thought that it was going to be the Liberal Party that had to come to grips with the deficit and the debt.
We took an approach which has reduced the deficit from 6 per cent of GDP when we took office down to 5 per cent, 4 per cent, 3 per cent and it will be below 3 per cent of our gross domestic product and heading for zero, be it in the year 1998-99 or the year that the leader of the third party would like to see it hit zero, 1999-2000.
We are not going to be far off from what the leader wants in terms of that objective if we continue to surpass the deficit objectives the way we have. We agree probably with the Reform Party that government does not have a role of intervening in every aspect of Canadian life even though we might like to or feel that we have an obligation to help. We can no longer afford this. This has been demonstrated by the fact that incredible cuts have had to be made in budgets. There is a difference between our parties and the approach that we have taken.
First, our cuts have been gradual, not the draconian cuts that were called for by the other party. This has allowed provincial and municipal governments to adjust. It has enabled Canadians to adjust over a period of time to the tough, harsh realities. This is not a disagreement on what had to be done, but it is the timing and giving Canadians the opportunity to adapt.
Second, I think our vision of what the country is about is slightly different, perhaps vastly different. For example, none of our budgets cut equalization payments which we feel are so critical to maintaining that confederation, that community of provinces, that community of neighbours, a country which is sharing and cares about every region.
This has been built on our history. It has been built on the fact that at the time of Confederation, Nova Scotia was the richest province. Before the big oil discoveries in the 1940s, Alberta was really a have not province.