Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on the prebudget debate, following my friend from Newfoundland who did an eloquent job. He did not need to put anybody down in doing it.
I would like to congratulate the members of the finance committee for their comprehensive report and many excellent recommendations. The committee has tabled a thoughtful report and has offered many positive and tangible actions our government can take to help improve the economy and help reaffirm our commitment to the principles of social equity and fairness.
When we look at the financial record of our government the numbers speak for themselves. Let us look at the facts. When our government took office the deficit was $42 billion, 6 per cent of our gross domestic product. In three years we have reduced that number to a figure below 3 per cent of GDP. Recently the Minister of Finance confirmed that this figure will be down to 1 per cent of GDP, or $9 billion, by the year 1998-99. This is significant because it will mean that our government will no longer have to borrow from the markets to fund the deficit. This, combined with low interest rates and a strong economic growth rate, will allow us as Canadians to have greater sovereignty over our economic affairs. As a result of our tough fiscal actions we now have broader options to set our own economic agenda rather than being at the mercy of international financial institutions.
In the past, it would seem that the deficit targets were never met. Governments would table budgets offering rosy financial outlooks and would then proceed to miss their targets year after year.
Our government, however, has reversed that trend. We are restoring Canada's fiscal credibility. Our government has shown that when we make a commitment, we keep it.
There are two specific issues raised in the report that I would like to focus on, child poverty and the need for active job creation measures.
In a country as prosperous as ours, it is unacceptable that 20 per cent of our children still live in poverty. I sit as a member of the Standing Committee on Health and in recent months we have been conducting a study on the health of Canada's children. As part of our efforts we have heard from health groups and child advocacy organizations from across the country. These groups have raised many serious concerns and put forth many excellent recommendations.
I am pleased, and I think many children's organizations will be pleased to see that the committee has recommended an increase in the working income supplement in order to target the children of working poor.
The chair of the finance committee stated in his remarks in the House Monday that families among the working poor often have benefits of $3,000 a year less than those on social welfare. In many instances this creates a disincentive to work.
I would strongly urge the Minister of Finance to accept this recommendation as a means of working to alleviate child poverty. But I do not believe that we can stop there.
I want to take this further and recommend that our government target increased assistance toward federal programs that deal directly with the issue of child health and child poverty. One such program I am sure members are familiar with and which I believe is worthy of increased investment is the community action program for children, CAPC.
I noticed in the finance report that the future of CAPC was addressed during public consultations. I agree with the recommendation that government funding intentions for CAPC be made clear and that the support for CAPC continue.
In communities across Canada 450 community based groups are using CAPC dollars to provide families with parenting education and support and children with opportunities for early learning experiences. I have seen firsthand this program and how it strengthens families and helps children achieve their goals.
However, in April 1997 the CAPC program is scheduled to face a 51.9 per cent reduction in federal funding. This could in turn threaten the very viability of this program at the community level.
Recently I hosted a meeting where members of the Nova Scotia Association of Family Resource Projects briefed members of Parliament about the important role CAPC programs play in their communities. At this meeting members of the organization played a cassette recording of comments by parents who have benefited from the program. There was no question in our minds that this cassette left members with a firm understanding of how a government can positively affect the day to day lives of people.
I would like to read for my hon. colleagues one of the comments that I was particularly touched by. This message was left by a young mother of two. She said: "I was trying to do the best I could
with the resources I had, but they were limited. I felt helpless not knowing where to find the skills, but I knew they were out there".
Once she started attending the family resource centre, a CAPC funded program, she said: "I have learned so many new skills that I have been applying not only with our children but with other relationships in my life. Our family is much happier since I have been coming to the centre. I feel that the programming offered at the centre for our children is doing all that is necessary for our children to be prepared for school".
We are making a difference through programs such as CAPC. I would urge our government to commit targeted resources toward this program and other similar proactive programs aimed at assisting poor children and families. By focusing on the elimination of child poverty now, we are making a direct investment in our own future as a nation.
I would now like to turn for a moment to the issue of job creation. In my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants, job creation continues to be one of the most important concerns I am hearing. Even the finance committee's report states that Canada is faced with a situation where employment growth remains strong but unemployment continues to persist at unacceptably high rates.
It is true that during the last three years jobs have been created. At last report there were some 670,000 new jobs created in Canada. While this is no small number, unemployment numbers across the country clearly show us that more needs to be done. I believe in the position put forward by our government that our primary responsibility is to create the right economic climate for job growth.
When I say that our government must play a greater role in job creation, I am not referring to costly short term, make work projects that have little long term benefit. Instead our government must continue to focus on creating new partnerships with the private sector, research and educational institutions and other levels of government. We need to be an active partner in those areas where we can help create new jobs.
A perfect example of this type of partnership is the national infrastructure program. The first tripartite agreement was a tremendous success. In my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants a total of $22.3 million was invested in order to address local priorities. This program showed that when governments are working to achieve common goals, our communities reap the benefits from this co-operative spirit.
I was pleased therefore to see that in the finance committee's report there is a recommendation calling for a new infrastructure program. I was also pleased that as a part of this program the committee has recommended that we refocus our infrastructure dollars toward research and development. This is a recommendation I fully support.
I would like to also add that as well as partnering with universities and health institutions, we should focus greater attention on R and D in the agriculture and natural resources sectors. These sectors are extremely important to rural communities like those in my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants.
As well focus must be given to our transportation and communication infrastructures. This is particularly true in Atlantic Canada. By focusing more attention to these areas we can help create sustainable jobs in our rural communities.
There is a lot more I would like to say on this issue but I see that my time is running short. I will close by once again commending the work of the finance committee and the many excellent recommendations it has put forward. This document offers a thoughtful analysis of the many serious issues still facing our government and all Canadians.