Madam Speaker, I listened attentively to the hon. member opposite. I will try to ignore the interjections.
By 2003-2003, total CHST entitlements are expected to be $2.3 billion higher than the level set for next year, 1997-98. This funding arrangement will mark the first growth in transfers to the provinces for social programs. That is the first additional funding that can go to medicare, education and welfare since the era of restraint began in the mid-1980s.
Furthermore, as a result of this funding the cash component of the CHST will never fall below $11 billion. We expect the cash transfer to grow by the end of the period to provide additional assurance to Canadians.
However, this legislation sets a floor, an ironclad guarantee that cash transfers will be maintained above the $11 billion level. This proposed legislation also provides a new formula for allocating the CHST among provinces.
As you no doubt know, changes in the existing transfer system created increasingly greater disparities in terms of individual rights. Most often, these disparities resulted from the ceilings imposed by the previous government on money paid to certain provinces under the Canada assistance plan.
In my opinion, Canadians agree that the wealthy provinces need less assistance than those less well off. This concern for the welfare of our fellow Canadians is part of our unique social contract.
At the same time, Canadians are firm believers in the importance of action that is balanced and fair. This legislation puts those values to work. Under the new allocation formula, which will be phased in over five years, disparities in per capita funding will be cut in half.
Allow me to point out to the members of this House that progressive implementation-funding of the transfer over five years-gives the provinces time to adjust and the assurance of accuracy in their planning activities.
Let me now turn to the changes the bill proposes to make to the Unemployment Insurance Act, changes that will bring insurance coverage more in line with the average industrial wage for 1996. Effective January 1 of this year, the maximum insurable earnings are to be reduced to $750 per week in comparison with the $845 level that would have resulted under current legislation.
Similarly, the maximum weekly benefit drops from $465 a week to $413. These measures will save $200 million in the second half of this year and reduce the UI payroll tax burden on working Canadians.
Some might try to claim these measures are regressive, but this attack rings hollow, resonating more to political grandstanding than accurate criticism.Let us remember that the UI program when considered in its entirety is progressive. Lower income contributors tend to draw more in benefits than they pay in premiums, while higher income earners tend to pay much more in premiums-