Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to discuss the Minister of Finance's March 6 budget.
This budget proves that the government is keeping its promise to put Canada's fiscal house in order. The 1996 budget consolidates and extends the actions taken in the 1994 and 1995 budgets. It continues our work to create the proper climate for economic growth and job development. It meets and even betters our fiscal targets.
It ensures the sustainability of Canadian social programs so that those who need assistance receive assistance. The budget relies on government expenditure cuts to meet our goals. There are $1.9 billion in cuts in 1998-99.
Program spending stood at 16.8 per cent of GDP when this government took office in 1993. It will be reduced to 12 per cent in 1998, the lowest level since 1950. Taken together this government's first three budgets have introduced seven dollars in cuts for every dollar of tax increases. Our borrowing requirements will drop from $30 billion in 1993-94 to $6 billion in 1997-98. As well the ratio of debt to GDP will drop by more than one percentage point in 1997-98. In other words, the economy will finally be growing faster than the debt in 1997-98. The hon. member asked that question just moments ago and I have just provided the answer.
The cuts we have made are strategic. We are remaking government to meet the needs of Canadians in a globalized high tech world. Government may be smaller but it is more efficient. Services are provided more quickly where and when Canadians need them.
I would like to review the budget measures relating to Revenue Canada. We are strengthening our ability to combat the underground economy. The underground economy is not a victimless crime. It hurts honest taxpayers who are forced to pay more than their fair share of taxes. It places honest businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Revenue Canada is undertaking new enforcement measures to address this. Some $3.8 billion of additional taxes have been assessed. More resources are going to our audit program aimed at unincorporated businesses and self-employed individuals and we expect this to bring us further net revenues of about $100 million.
Over two years ago the government consolidated revenue administration at the federal level. Sales, income and excise tax collection were integrated with customs and trade administration into a single department. The integration has performed as expected. By eliminating administrative overlap, considerable savings have been generated for the government. More important, the change has meant better service for Canadians. Administrative costs have been cut and the burden of compliance for taxpayers has been reduced.
There has been excellent progress, but the job is not finished. The budget confirms that the government will create a new institution, the Canada revenue commission. The new commission will enhance internal efficiency by providing increased administrative and financial flexibility.
The real gains for taxpayers, however, lie in the possibility of greater co-operation between the federal and provincial governments and the streamlining of revenue administration.
We must also ensure that our social programs are affordable and sustainable into the future. The budget contains measures to provide secure, stable and growing funding for health, post-secondary education and social assistance.
The Canada health and social transfer, CHST, introduced last year provides the provinces with enhanced flexibility to design and administer their own programs while safeguarding medicare and other social support.
Since the cash component represents a sizeable part of total federal spending, we could not put our finances on a sustainable basis without reducing the transfers. That is why funding arrangements for 1996-97 and 1997-98 decline.
Following consultations with the provinces, the 1996 budget now acts to extend the CHST but there are no further cuts. We have set out a five year schedule in which transfers grow and the cash component is stabilized and increases over time.
The budget provides additional protection to the provinces. A new cash floor will guarantee cash transfers of at least $11 billion in all years. We also want to ensure that Canada's retirement income system will be there for Canadians when they need it.
Over the next 30 years the number of seniors will more than double while the proportion of Canadians working to support the pension system will decline. Recognizing the wide public concern
over this situation, the Prime Minister has promised to protect the pensions of today's seniors.
Beginning in 2001, a new seniors' benefit will replace the old age and guaranteed income benefits. The new benefit will be tax free and fully indexed to inflation. Those most in need will receive $120 more a year than under the current system. The vast majority of seniors will be as well or better off.
Those 60 and older on December 31, 1995 can opt for the new system or the old one, whichever is more advantageous. The Prime Minister's commitment to our senior citizens will be met and surpassed.
There will also be fairer, more affordable tax assistance for retirement savings. The government is committed to assisting individuals to save for their retirement. At the same time, our fiscal position calls for reasonable limits on the amount that can be saved with tax assistance.
For this reason RRSP contribution limits will be frozen at $13,500 through to the year 2003 but then will increase to $15,500 by the year 2005. These measures will affect only individuals earning over $75,000. Thus, individuals earning less will continue to be able to save up to the full 18 per cent of their earnings.
This is consistent with the government's objective of directing tax assistance to the large population of modest and middle income Canadians. Because our younger population is facing different challenges we have eliminated the seven year limit on carrying forward unused RRSP contribution room.
The budget also introduces improved tax treatment, new guidelines and better enforcement to ensure that adequate child support is paid regularly and on time to the custodial parent.
We are now in a situation in which six out of ten children who live with lone parent mothers are living below Statistics Canada's low income cutoffs.
The Thibaudeau case in the Supreme Court simply brought home what many had been saying for years. We have to make it simpler, faster and more efficient to get child support into the hands of the parents to the benefit of the children.
The government consulted the Canadian public widely on this point. It became clear that few Canadians think it is right to tax child support as though it were the custodial parent's own income. Nor should the person paying the support receive a special tax break merely for performing the ordinary obligations of a parent.
For this reason, child support will no longer be included in the taxable income of the custodial parent, nor will it be deductible to the payer. Custodial parents will no longer have to worry about setting aside a portion of the support they receive to pay taxes on the amounts and payers of the support will not have to make high payments and then wait for the deduction at year's end.
The working income supplement of the child tax benefit is intended to help low income parents meet the costs of things like transportation and child care when they go out to work. It can also help to compensate for the loss of certain material benefits which parents lose when they go off social assistance to enter the labour force.
To encourage this type of initiative and to help low income families make the transition we are doubling the maximum annual benefit in two stages from its current level of $500 to $750 in 1997 and $1,000 in 1998.
When it is fully implemented, Canada's low income working families will have an extra $250 million annually to assist them with their child care expenses. About one-third of the families eligible for these benefits are single parents. We will thus be targeting what we have identified as a serious locus of child poverty.
The government has taken a number of actions to reallocate funds to increase Canada's investment in youth, technology and trade, all very important areas to Canada's future. To encourage education for young Canadians an additional $165 million over three years is being funded by reallocating money from within the tax system. We are increasing the limits on education tax credits, the limit on the transfer of tuition in education credits and the limit on contributions to registered education savings plans.
There will be more flexible child care expense deductions for low income parents who are in school or attending training programs.
We are creating new employment opportunities for youth by reallocating budget savings. We will double the funds for student summer employment to $120 million this summer. We will increase support for programs like Internship Canada and Youth Services Canada to help young people who have left school to find employment opportunities.
Canada is a nation at the cutting edge of high technology. To ensure our continued predominance in this field, the government is establishing the Technology Partnerships Canada. This new fund will encourage private sector investment in high technology products and processes and assist in technology diffusion. New equity capital will be made available to increase the lending efforts of the Business Development Bank in strategic growth sectors such as the new technology area.
When this government took office it was charged with a double task: to address Canada's increasing fiscal burden without destroying the social fabric that has made this country one of the most
admired in the world. We can achieve this only by ensuring the kind of economic health that made our unique social system possible in the first place.
The government has followed its jobs and growth agenda with one clear objective: to build an innovative economy that will mean prosperity for all Canadians. We are succeeding. Employment in the first quarter was up by 91,000, the largest quarterly growth in two years. The overall unemployment rate is down nearly two points from 11.1 per cent to 9.3 per cent. Interest rates are down and inflation is at its lowest level in 30 years.
Let us give credit where credit is due: to the Canadian people for their resourcefulness in a difficult time, to the private sector for its willingness to partnership and to explore innovative ways of doing business and sharing and joining with government, and to the Minister of Finance for his sure and measured handling of our national finances.