Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member, the chairman of the finance committee, for his generous comments. Perhaps the Christmas spirit has permeated this place, and we reciprocate.
However, let me respond to three of the points he made. He mentioned that one difference between the government and Reform is the pace at which we would balance the budget. The government has proposed to take the gradual approach. What he did not mention was the price that is paid for going too slow. Part of the price has been that the government has accumulated over $100 billion in debt because it has gone slow on deficit reduction. That is the other side of the story.
The interest charges on that debt have resulted in the government having less money to spend on social services. That is another part of the price. And the biggest part of the price of going slow on deficit reduction is not being able to get quickly to a surplus position. Therefore, the government cannot offer substantive debt retirement, it cannot offer substantive social reinvestment and it cannot offer tax relief. We say the price the government paid for gradualism is too high. It would have been better to have gone
faster, to follow the timetable followed by the majority of the provinces.
With respect to equalization, let me say that we support equalization, but we support a true and focused equalization. Right now under equalization, three provinces are carrying seven. We believe we ought to strive more to a situation where there will be four or five carrying six and five rather than the current situation, and target equalization even more steeply to the most disadvantaged provinces.
The third point is on health care. The Reform position, as I argued earlier, is to increase the funding for health care. We are able to do that because we have a plan that gets to surpluses faster than what the government is doing. We would argue that is a more sound approach to preserving health care than the approach that the government is taking. It is the government itself, not Reform, that has reduced federal transfers for social and health programs by over $7 billion.
My last point would be to respond to the member's question. He asked how we can hold the provinces to spending transfers that the federal government may say are targeted to health care, education or something else when there are no strings attached to those transfers. There is one simple answer to that.
If both levels of government listen to the public they will find the public has a set of social spending priorities. If both levels of government listen to the public that is where they will get their direction as to how social dollars ought to be spent and they will both hear the same message because they are talking to the same taxpayers.