Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague, the Minister of Finance, on his excellent budget. The minister has once again reached his goal of reducing the deficit. This is the second time he manages to do that, thus succeeding where his predecessors of the last decade failed.
By targeting expenditures with determination, consistency and intelligence, the minister largely contributed to establishing a visible and sound financial environment. Indeed, a sound national balance sheet is an essential prerequisite to grow, prosper and improve our standard of living at the turn of the century. Such a balance sheet is the only durable basis that will allow us to maintain the best social security system in the world for future generations. Our goal is to achieve nothing less than that.
The United Nations, the OECD, as well as men and women around the world who seek to move to Canada all tell us that we have the best country in the world but here at home, Canadians need a reality check. We must challenge Canadians who do not agree that we are the best to tell us where countries do it better, more effectively and with better results, not where governments spend more money, but where they get more for their money.
We need to determine what nation allows low and average income seniors to retire with better security. What country has a better and more accessible post-secondary education system? What country has a better, more inclusive employment insurance system that balances the need for reasonable income benefits with active re-employment measures, including a basic income for low income families?
We must challenge Canadians who no longer have faith in our system to tell us in what country single mothers have better access to re-employment programs or child care assistance. What country has a more accessible and effective public health care system? Where in the world can disadvantaged citizens be assured of a stronger safety net to support their needs for food, shelter and basic services?
Canadians are going to have to learn to benchmark what we have achieved against the programs and practices of other G-7 and OECD countries, not against some phantom abstract notion of what we think we should have accomplished or deserve to have in the future.
The message that is fundamental in this budget is that the Liberal government is committed to modernizing and securing the Canadian social safety net and we make real strides toward meeting that goal. I do not hesitate to say that this is the first Liberal budget we have seen in this country in 12 years. We have reason to be very proud of it. The Minister of Finance had to struggle through his first few years cleaning up the mess that was left behind. Our objective is unmistakable: a Canadian social safety net that is affordable, effective and contemporary.
This budget is a major step toward a sustainable and reliable government pension plan for seniors in the next century. The new seniors benefit, which will take effect in the year 2001, is a practical and progressive solution to the costs related to our aging Canadian society. These costs must be contained, while also ensuring that most retired people will be as comfortable, if not more, than is currently the case under the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs.
Most retired people in the year 2001 will enjoy greater protection. A full 75 per cent of seniors will be treated as well, if not better, in the year 2001 than now. Given the demographic projections for the next 25 years, this is quite an achievement.
The second component of the reform is to design the Canada pension plan so as to make sure that all Canadians can rely on it when they retire. Negotiations are currently under way between
the federal and provincial governments to find a sound long term financial base for the CPP.
We must find the best and most sustainable balance between the necessary increases to the contribution rates and the amendments to the benefit structure, so as to ensure the plan's middle and long term viability.
The budget demonstrates the priority we place on helping young people find their place in an increasingly competitive and tough global job market. We are investing in jobs for youth. The budget provides $105 million extra per year for three years to assist our efforts to help our young people get jobs. As part of this new funding the Government of Canada will double to $120 million the support for private, public and not for profit partners to create summer jobs this year alone.
We are helping to make work pay by doubling the working income supplement by 1998 to $1,000 a year per family. This special supplement is targeted directly at our nation's low income working families and will give our children a better future.
The right of children of divorced parents to adequate financial support will be respected. Major tax changes linked to new standardized guidelines nationwide for child support will be brought into effect and will be backed by tougher enforcement.
At the same time, we are helping working parents, particularly single parents, by broadening the child care expense deduction. These are parents who cannot be at home and need child care because they are on the job or taking courses to help them get a job. Eligible parents with teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 will now be able to receive the deduction.
We are adding an extra $80 million a year to fund student tuition fees and education tax credits. The limits have been raised on registered education savings plans.
We are especially proud that this budget provides for a permanent floor for cash contributions to the provinces for health, post-secondary education and social services.
When the growing value of tax point transfers are included, worth some $14 billion this year, it means that overall the size of the CHST will stabilize next year and the two years following at $25 billion. By the turn of the century, the full value of these important transfers will begin to rise in a way that directly tracks economic growth. By putting these important transfers on a solid footing and establishing a growth path, we are demonstrating our unshakeable commitment to the Canadian social union.
We are ready to fulfil our responsibilities as a strong partner with the provinces which deliver the social programs and services to our citizens. This is the unique genius of the Canadian federation; this country was built by the national and provincial governments working co-operatively, recognizing and respecting the strains and tensions inherent to all federal systems. The implementation of the CHST marks a new era in the fiscal arrangements that support the Canadian social union.
The 13.5 tax points ceded to the provinces in 1977 to help pay for health and post-secondary education are now worth some $14 billion. They are every bit as important as is the cash component we hear so much about.
Indeed, in the speech from the throne as well as in last year's budget, our government committed itself to co-operate with the provinces to define by mutual consent the principles and rules of the Canadian health and social transfer.
Now that the long term funding rules have been decided upon, including the transfer distribution formula, we are going to have discussions on the principles. We have retained the five principles of the Canada Health Act with the proviso that provinces cannot discriminate according to the place of residence in the delivery of social services. Moreover, we are ready to discuss with our partners.
We are all increasingly aware of the unacceptable human deficit our society is confronted with.
This deficit can have all sorts of fiscal and other consequences for future generations of Canadians. But we do not have the means required to assess this human deficit, and we must understand the problem well in order to solve it.
We do not have a good system of social indicators similar to the economic indicators we all know-inflation, unemployment, growth, monetary aggregates, etc.-on which the government bases many of its decisions. This is a need that all governments should try and meet together. A lot of crucial work awaits us in this sector.
The budget clearly revives our plan to put our social safety net on a sound basis.
The employment insurance bill is before the House and it is hoped it will be implemented on the target date of July 1, 1996. This important pro-employment initiative is now being examined in committee where members will have an opportunity to make some adjustments that will improve the overall balance and fairness of the package.
Without prejudging the specific amendments that will be brought forward, I have already made it clear that we must have changes that will do the following. Resolve the problem of gaps in employment that unfairly affect benefits for workers in some
industries across the country where work patterns are irregular. The system must be connected much more closely to changes in local employment conditions. As jobs become available everyone should be obliged to take whatever work is available and must be well motivated to do so. The social safety net should be reinforced by ensuring an appropriate income floor for low income workers, particularly in our large cities where there are significant numbers of working poor who must have access to employment insurance.
A fundamental feature of employment insurance is the reinvestment in direct, results oriented re-employment measures for unemployed Canadians. We understand the enormous and turbulent impact of technological change on workplaces everywhere. Our intention is not to interfere with the provinces but to work in partnership with them.
As announced in the throne speech, the government is totally committed to accelerating discussions with the provinces to get agreement on how to best harmonize labour market activity. Already the draft report of the provincial Ministerial Council on Social Reform, the Quebec government statement of principles on a possible labour market agreement and part II of the EI legislation together provide for the orderly withdrawal of federal activity and training, and to explore new approaches and the appropriate roles and responsibilities of each level of government for strengthening national and local labour markets.
We plan to work closely with the provinces in the coming months to find a mutually acceptable way of strengthening access to child care services, thereby helping to reduce for many low income families and single mothers a serious barrier to jobs and economic independence.
However, I want to emphasize that as the throne speech stated, the Government of Canada will not use its spending power to create new shared cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction without the consent of a majority of the provinces.
To conclude, I repeat that the Government of Canada is determined to see to it that at the beginning of the next century this country offers its people the best social programs and the best tax and fiscal conditions in the world. The last budget tabled by my colleague the Minister of Finance will be a great help to that end, by giving us better control over our deficit while hastening the reform and the strengthening of the Canadian safety net.