Mr. Speaker, of course as Liberals we would have much preferred not
to tackle the deficit and concentrate on social programs. Of course as Liberals we would have much preferred to keep the research budget as it was. Of course as Liberals we would have preferred to beef up social programs. However, we were faced with a deficit of over $44 billion that was crippling the country and making it bankrupt.
All Canadians regardless of their political stripe, regardless of their ideology recognized that something had to be done. This is why today people have so much respect for the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister for having set the direction toward balancing our finances and for having reduced the deficit of $44 billion by 57 per cent over the last three years. Today we can see daylight. Our finances are getting back into shape and we are now getting back to our roots as Liberals and we are looking at social programs again.
I would like to concentrate on two programs especially dear to my heart. First, I would like to talk about persons with disabilities. With my colleague Andy Scott, whom I congratulate sincerely on his extraordinary work, I had the privilege of participating in a working group on persons with disabilities. Because of this group, we based our approach on a broader perspective in society for persons with disabilities, in terms of independent living and access to work. Of the measures tabled by the Minister of Finance, some seem pretty basic to us, but to people with disabilities, they are vital to their independence.
There are tax credits of 20 per cent for vehicle conversion, and 50 per cent for the installation of an air conditioning unit vital to a person's ability to breathe and carry on his or her life. There are also the costs of adapting a residence, of assistants for those with severe handicaps, of customs duties, which are now eliminated for goods sent for people with handicaps really needing them.
These measures include an opportunities fund of $30 million annually to ensure that the disabled are entitled to financial and personal freedom and to full citizenship.
I know our detractors will say that $30 million annually is peanuts. It is, however, a big step forward, a beginning. It is a new start given that, in the past, we could not afford this luxury. Now, as we see some balance in our finances, our thoughts turn first to people with disabilities, children in poverty, research, innovation and students-all needing our support.
The second measure I wish to talk about is our research and development program. There is no reason to hide the fact, Canada has fallen far behind the other countries in the OECD in terms of research and development. If we look at the statistics, it is no secret that Germany, England, France, the United States and Japan are far ahead of us in this area.
This budget at least gives us a start. It shows the way the government wants to go in the future. It is all very well for the opposition to say that $180 million a year is nothing. However, the $180 million will be spent in partnership with private enterprise, with universities and research institutions so that it will be doubled each year.
It has been said that we will be able to set up a research fund of $2 billion in five years. They say this research fund is paltry. However, according to Dr. Simard, the rector of the University of Montreal, it is the response they were waiting for. According to Dr. Shapiro, the president of McGill University, it will be of significant help in the area of university research.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of spending some hours at the Montreal Neurological Institute, the famous institute founded by Dr. Wilder Penfield. There I could sit with Dr. Murphy and Dr. McPherson and Dr. Baxter and find out how much they crave for research funds. Our research funding has been cut. We had no choice. Now we must restore it. We must give the young scientists who crave funding for grants a chance to shine again. We have in Canada among our young research scientists the most brilliant in the world.
I visited the Montreal Neurological Institute and found that what they are working on today is at the very forefront of progress in medical research. They want to continue their work, to perfect it. The only way they will perfect it, because funding is always a problem, is to seek partnerships.
In the past, in their traditional sense, universities never sought out private enterprise but today the university system is joining with private enterprise. The Montreal Neurological Institute is going to the Royal Bank for a partnership.
The funds which the government is extending will give a sense of direction, a sense of leadership that we want to restore our funding in research. We want to restore our funding in medical research, in environmental research, in research in high technology.
I salute the government for having taken this very forward step. I know we need more research grants, more funding, but it will only happen if we restore our finances first. Within the next few years, once we have a budget deficit of $9 billion or less, we will be able to fund research even more.
The budget will restore the faith of many people, many small l liberals who want government to go back to its roots and fund social programs. I am extremely proud that the government has taken that route. Henceforth, all the funding that we will be able to spare will be geared toward programs to help those who are most in need.
It is a Liberal budget. One that points the way to the future for those who need us most. I am very proud of this budget, and I strongly support the direction taken by the Minister of Finance. My colleagues and I will push for continued movement in this direction, for a return to our Liberal roots and for remembrance of those who need us most.