Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate of Bill C-93, the budget implementation act, 1997.
With all the election fever in the air, this may be the last opportunity in my political career to share with you and others some experiences I have had since the introduction of the last budget.
It is peculiar that this last budget statement invoked very little response from my constituents in Parkdale-High Park who are as conscientious as they are diverse. As usual I received many representations from constituents before this year's budget presentation, but since the minister's statement I have had few comments that came to my attention.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the hon. Minister of Finance on a local television station and I explained to him the
situation. In response the minister explained that the reason why Canadians have not reacted adversely to the last budget is because it was the result of a process that incorporated the wants and needs of Canadians. The budget is proof that the government has listened to Canadians and responded accordingly.
For this reason we can be proud of the popular participation of conscientious Canadians as it has reaped rewards like the child benefit act, expanded financial assistance for students in post-secondary studies, an extended interest in the Canada infrastructure program, and the list goes on.
During my interview with the minister I asked him the questions I thought my constituents would ask him if they had the opportunity. Of particular interest in my constituency is the Canadian infrastructure program. One of the larger projects that has been undertaken as a result of the federal funding is the Western Beaches tunnel. This $57 million project will provide a conduit for the area's storm sewage so that it may be diverted to treatment plants, keeping Lake Ontario free of materials that prevent adults and children from enjoying the city beaches every time the temperature goes up above 25 degrees Celsius.
Thousands of constituents and visitors are making excellent use of the new Western Beaches boardwalk, built not with boards but with a recycled plastic substance, making the boardwalk almost indestructible. Furthermore, the infrastructure works program has provided improved lighting and new paved roadways for High Park, a major attraction for the city's walkers, picnickers and tourists.
Projects like these have had an impact on long term and short term employment as well as on relations between the federal, provincial and municipal governments in investing in our future. I emphasize the word "investment" as it is the predominant theme in the budget.
An additional issue that has held the attention of many of my constituents is that of small business promotion. Parkdale-High Park is home to many small family run businesses. These businesses have multiplied over the years and have created communities that are renowned for their shopping and services.
Throughout my riding one can find business improvement areas and associations, known as BIAs, that have engaged the interests of local business people to pool their resources in order to improve the local environment and attract consumers. Members of these BIAs, including the Parkdale Village BIA, Junction Gardens BIA, Bloor West Village, Roncesville Village and Bloor by the Park BIA, depend on programs like the Small Business Loans Act and the quarterly remittance of withholding amounts in order to stimulate their operations and assist them in reaching their markets. The presidents of the BIAs that I contacted for input on the recent budget statement were all pleased with the actions the government had taken and encouraged the minister to stay the course.
Speaking of staying the course, I assume that one of the fundamental reasons for Canadian support of the last budget is because they are pleased that the minister has committed to deficit reducing measures, and has not been swayed by the recent success of overachieving deficit targets. I am sure that everyone here is aware that the government surpassed its goals and reduced the Canadian deficit to the lowest among G-7 nations. This level is the lowest Canadians have experienced in 15 years and it is a testament to the excellent job the government is doing in controlling its spending and taxation activities.
Canadians are proud to be in such economic good health but they are also wary that there is still a long way to go. For this reason the government has shown its prudence in not reversing the current trend. However, due to a combination of success and prudence, the government made no new program spending cuts in its last budget announcement. Instead it created new outlets for assistance to Canadian students, children below the poverty line and Canadians who are searching for jobs. These programs will cost the government less than $1 billion to implement and the result will be a great profit for all Canadians in the form of a preserved social safety net and a growing commitment to investment in Canada's future.
The idea of investment takes on the guise of a theme throughout the budget. On this particular theme two initiatives spring to mind. The first is a child tax benefit for impoverished children and Canadian families, and the second is the government's commitment to post-secondary students, a demographic that is essential to the continued growth and prosperity of our nation.
The issue of the child tax benefit is of great interest to me because I spent many years with the Toronto Board of Education where I was challenged to stimulate the attention of young children who came to school with hunger pains and the troubles associated with living below the poverty line.
With the child tax benefit the government is increasing its current level of spending of $5.1 billion to $6 billion with the intention of increasing services and programs for poor working families such as child care, drug and dental benefits. This is a clear investment in the children who will one day grow up to be contributing members of society.
Finally, I would like to spend a moment on the issue of post-secondary education and initiatives by the government to ease this pressing concern of students and parents across the country. Students are currently facing tuition increases in most post-secondary institutions. The fear of increased debt loads by students who need to borrow money to complete their studies is a great deterrent to potential.
As a government we must do what we can to ensure that Canadian educational institutions will continue to produce highly educated adults who will be the next professionals and teachers for future generations. Through tax assistance and changes to the registered education savings plan, the RESP, student and parents will be better able to save and provide funds for those important years of study.
The government has announced its intention to extend the interest free period for students facing hardships in repaying their loans from 18 to 30 months. Furthermore, the Minister of Human Resources Development will be looking into the possibility of negotiating with the provinces to alleviate part of the burden of a payment schedule for students.
The initiatives I have discussed are the ones I have gauged to be of the most interest to my constituents in my riding of Parkdale-High Park. These initiatives are clear responses to representations from my constituents and other Canadians who have shared their views with the government throughout its mandate. Canadians are content that their voices have been heard and they feel as if they have had a valuable hand in formulating the budgetary process.
I would like to conclude by applying this public confidence and participation to a more global context. I recently had the honour to represent Canada at the Liberal International meeting, hosted by China. This nation has indicated that it is open to the ideas of liberalism which guide many North American and European national policies.
During the nine day meeting, I spent a great deal of time discussing the virtues of public participation in Canada's democratic society. The Chinese were interested to learn how our budget process works, along with the decision making process for deficit targets and monetary policies. I believe that the Canadian system stands as a perfect example of how the public can become involved in the political process by speaking up and being heard. What Canadians have been saying and what the government has been hearing is: Stay the course.
My course will be to exit this Chamber after the 35th Parliament is dissolved. Before doing so, I wish to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for ensuring objectivity and fairness to the democratic process. You protected the rights of every elected member in the House, regardless of party affiliation or sitting as independent members. You also brought into the House outstanding Canadians, such as former parliamentarians, well known artists, outstanding athletes and photographers. You made all of us feel at home in our House of Commons.
I would like to express my appreciation to the table officers, the pages, the interpreters and the Library of Parliament for making my work easier and more effective.
During each of the four terms that I was elected, I was sent here to serve my constituents, to make Canada a better country in which to live and to represent Canada abroad. I was able to do so effectively, thanks to the support resources on the Hill, within the House of Commons and outside the Chamber, especially in committees.
To all individuals, departments, researchers, media, staff and all the others who I would like to mention but do not have the time, my sincere appreciation for all of their support.