Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest because probably unknowingly in his speech he gave credit to 40 Liberal MPs who sat in the House between 1984 and 1988 for scaring the blazes out of 212 Tories in the House. Then he gave credit to some 80 Liberal members who sat here between 1988 and 1993 for polishing them off and putting the government in place to run the country.
No matter when budgets are delivered in a parliamentary session and regardless of the fiscal issues surrounding a budget, each budget in turn has its impact on various segments of society.
The last two budgets have been aimed at getting federal finances in order. This budget is no exception to recent fiscal policies because there are benefactors and then there are others who get hit negatively.
The Minister of Finance does not have an easy role. Unlike his predecessors in the Tory days, when he sets a target he has every intention of meeting it. With all this scenario, it behoves us not to lose sight of those things in our economic structure that have served us well in the past and which will build a good future in the days ahead.
Sometimes there is a very thin line between cost cutting to save money and cost cutting which in the long run does not serve as well as hoped.
These are the challenges that face the Minister of Finance and the government today. There are a host of positive things in this budget and there are other items that lay the groundwork for difficulties to come.
We are ensuring a secure, stable and growing system of federal support for medicare, post-secondary education and social assistance through the Canada health and social transfer to the provinces. There will be no further cuts in the transfer to the provinces. We have announced a firm funding commitment for a five-year period beginning in 1998-99.
For the first two years the Canada health and social transfer will remain constant at $25.1 billion and for the next three years it will increase each year. For the first time the federal government has set a cash floor for transfers. The cash component of the Canada health and social transfer will never be lower than $11 billion a year during this period.
We are acting to restore confidence in the old age security system by creating a new seniors benefit to take effect in 2001 designed to help those who need help the most. That is the way it was when I first came into the House.
As promised, current seniors will continue to receive the benefits they receive now. The changes will ensure the sustainability of the system for years to come. Canada's future depends on our ability to show innovative technology leadership, and the government's commitment to jobs and growth was reinforced in both the speech from the throne and the budget.
The budget outlined priorities for investing in our future in three strategic areas: creating better ways to get young Canadians into the job market, expanding our efforts to increase international trade, and accelerating the development and use of technology. Technology is a priority because it is fundamental to increased economic growth in this country or any other modern day country.
In his budget speech the finance minister spoke about investing in the future, about providing hope for jobs and for growth. He
said: "If our future is to be brighter, we must invest in it". Clearly this is good business and it is also good government.
Although not specifically mentioned in the budget speech, one outcome of the prebudget program review has been a 42 per cent cut in the annual allocation to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. The cut, to be administered over two years, was apparently the result of a purely business assessment, by government and by a firm brought in, of the short term needs of that crown corporation. It was based on bottom line logic from a consulting firm, not the vision for the future.
The government, through the Minister of Natural Resources, is attempting to find a new home for this one-half century of proven basic research that was started at Chalk River, Ontario about 50 years ago. What has only now become clear is that this 42 per cent cut in the business support spread out over two years has been transformed by AECL into the complete removal of all its basic research activities, some immediately and the rest within a year. It is cashing in on the very investment on which the future depends.
Basic or fundamental research is the search for scientific knowledge without a specific application in mind. This generalized search for knowledge is essential if real innovation is ever to occur because tomorrow's application of today's research usually cannot even be imagined today; we cannot command what we do not know.
A good example is about 170 years ago an accomplished British scientist was asked by the Royal Society to improve optical glass, a task which he felt he could not refuse. After 10 years of fruitless labour he wrote in 1831 to ask permission, "to set aside the glass work for a while that I may enjoy the pleasure of working out my own thoughts on other subjects". In other words, he wanted to do some pure research.
Within two months Michael Faraday had discovered electromagnetic induction and built the first prototype dynamo in world history. From those two months of basic research have come today's mammoth electricity generators that supply our industry and give us lights in the House.
There are two important questions that arise from this story. First, would the world today have been a better place if the Royal Society had insisted that Michael Faraday continue his efforts on the more practical application of glass? Second, is it likely that any government committee or task force in 1831 would have arrived at electromagnetic induction as a strategic technology worthy of public support?
The answer to both these questions is a resounding no. This historical observation is not lost on the G-7 countries today. For example, a document entitled "Science in the National Interest", issued and signed by President Clinton in late 1994, states: "We understand that the fruit of fundamental research initiatives may not ripen for some time. The time scale can be long and success may hinge on facilities and interdisciplinary research teams that take years to assemble. Even in the face of current budgetary pressures, considerations about fundamental science must remain integral to the agency planning activities. We cannot allow a short term mission focus to compromise the development of the intellectual capital vital to our nation's future".
Even more emphatic is the example of Japan. Its response to the recent downturn in its economy has been to double its spending on basic research.
In light of these facts, it is astonishing that we are now threatened in Canada with the dismantling of one of the best examples we have of a marriage of basic research and economically successful applications.
Basic research in nuclear science has been an essential part of the country's nuclear program since the mid-1940s when it was started under the National Research Council. It has supplied the fundamental knowledge required by the industry, provided many of its leaders and given lustre to the national effort by its international reputation for excellence.
As a result AECL and its partners have produced the best performing and most versatile reactor system in the world. They have done so at a fraction of the research and development cost of any of their competitors. The industry now employs 30,000 Canadians, contributes more than $3 billion per year to the gross domestic product and generates over $500 million in federal tax revenue.
In addition to its role in launching and sustaining this industry, the basic research components of AECL are also serving as national laboratories for university researchers and Canada around the world. They foster research in nuclear science and other related fields throughout the country. They offer facilities no one university could operate and maintain on its own. They give many university professors access to the frontiers of world science they could not otherwise find without going abroad. They train students who form the next generation of Canadian researchers.
These labs at Chalk River perfected the O ring for the U.S. shuttle when the previous shuttle had blown up. They manufactured and developed radio isotopes which are used in hospitals around the world today. I emphasize that at Chalk River our scientists and researchers handle radioactive wastes from hospitals across the country.
These national laboratories for basic research at Chalk River have been centres of excellence for decades. They have been examples of a partnership among government, industry and the universities. In short, they are exactly what the Canadian government seeks to create as we prepare for the next century.
I am hoping, and so are many others, that the Minister of Natural Resources will find a new home for such physics organizations as TASCC and Neutron Scattering and that environmental research will not be scaled back at Chalk River at this time.
These are the 260 letters that have been received from top scientists from across Canada and from approximately 30 countries around the world who respect the basic research that is going on in Canada today. I lay this before the House today because it is an important matter for the future of Canada.
The stress testing of aircraft parts of the aircraft we fly in has been done in these labs. The aerospace industry has benefited greatly. Bertram Brockhouse, our 1994 Nobel laureate, worked in the physics labs at Chalk River. His award was granted because of the work he did in the 1950s and 1960s.
My message today is: Let us find a new home for these facilities so that they are not lost, so that Canada's science community does not have a brain drain and that we continue to lay the excellent groundwork for years to come for basic research and development in Canada.