Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate at the beginning that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Windsor—St. Clair.
It is a great pleasure to speak to this House in reply to the throne speech, which outlines the government's priorities for the first session of the 36th Parliament.
I would like to start by thanking the people of Simcoe North for renewing their vote of confidence by granting me a second term in the federal election last June. I would also like to mention the inestimable support I have received from my wife and family.
There are many positive elements in the throne speech. Thanks to the persistent efforts of the federal government and the support of Canadians, we can at last enjoy the fruits of our collective labours. Optimism is no longer the exception but the rule, since we now have regained the ability to address the priorities of Canadians fairly and equitably.
I would like to expand on three themes we find in the throne speech: social reform, economic reform and national unity. The legislation that will be introduced to implement the proposed changes to the Canada Pension Plan and the non-taxable seniors benefit will, I believe, ensure that our public pension system will remain sustainable for generations to come.
I may point out that when the seniors benefit comes into effect in 2001, benefits for our neediest seniors will increase. In fact, about 75 percent of seniors, which includes nine elderly women out of ten, will have an income that is either equal to or higher than their present income.
I support unconditionally the government's commitment to maintain a comprehensive public health care system that provides universal access to high quality care for all Canadians.
After the National Forum on Health tabled its report this year, the government had to acknowledge its conclusions, and it did so in the throne speech. Canadians, including many of my constituents, were worried about the restructuring of our medicare system.
The announcement that the government, working with its partners, will develop a national plan, time table and fiscal framework for setting up a system that guarantees access to medically necessary drugs, and will also support home and community care, shows that the message sent by Canadians about public health care has been received and understood by this government.
I am very proud of the government's economic record. The throne speech reflects our commitment to thoughtful economic management. I would like to mention some examples of this commitment, for instance a balanced budget no later than 1998-99.
This will be the first time in almost 30 years that the country has had a balanced budget. With a surplus debt to GDP ratio the current account balance has gone from a deficit of 4.2 percent of GDP to a surplus of .55 percent in 1996. The government achieved the first annual surplus since 1982.
All the spending contained in the throne speech is funded by budgetary surpluses. I want to be crystal clear on this point. The budgetary surpluses during this mandate will be the source of funding for new programs.
The government will not be relying on borrowing moneys. We will not be spending our children's inheritance. Fifty per cent of budgetary surpluses will go to investments in social and economic priorities and fifty per cent will go to tax reduction and debt repayment. This 50:50 split ensures that the Liberal commitments to sound economic planning and to social responsibility will go hand in hand.
In the second mandate the government will do more on job creation for young Canadians. In February 1997 the government announced the youth employment strategy. This strategy consolidates over $2 billion in new and existing programs and services for young people.
The government will also work with the business community and the provinces to forecast areas of job growth. This planning ahead is a concrete example of how the government will help young people meet the challenges of the job market.
I recently lead community consultation on job creation in my riding of Simcoe North. The citizens of Simcoe North felt that apprenticeship and training programs would help young people get into fulfilling and well paying jobs. They also felt that the perception of various kinds of jobs needs to improve. For example, the skilled trades should be valued for the contribution they make to a vibrant economy.
The government will be initiating measures similar to those suggested by the people of Simcoe North. Internship programs will be extended and expanded. The government will provide enhanced funding for student summer placements. A Canada-wide mentorship program will be created in partnership with the provincial governments and the private sector.
Once again the government has shown that it is listening to Canadians and working with them to secure a better future for young Canadians.
I am particularly encouraged by the government statement on national unity. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, I have had the opportunity to discuss national unity with Canadians from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia. The government's approach to national unity reflects the concerns I have heard from these Canadians.
First, the government is committed to the recognition of Quebec's unique language, culture and legal system. The government will work closely with provincial and territorial leaders to advance the progress made in the Calgary declaration. Recognition of Quebec's unique character, language and legal system will not entail any new powers, privileges or rights. This message must be carried to all Canadians in every province and region.
Second, the government will ensure that the national unity debate is conducted with clarity and frankness. It is critical that Quebeckers, especially francophone Quebeckers, understand the consequences and the implications of separation. It is equally fundamental that Canadians outside Quebec understand the same consequences and the implications.
In the words of the throne speech:
—the government will bring frankness and clarity to any debate that puts into question the future existence or unity of Canada. It will create a better understanding of the true complexity and difficulty for all of us in severing ties—
I congratulate the government on the commitment to deal assertively to bring clarity to this debate.
None of this government's programs could be carried out if our national unity initiatives were not successful. The government therefore views its mandate in that area in a global and encompassing fashion. Any measure that strengthens the country will have a unifying effect on Canada.
That having been said, we pledge to work in partnership with the provinces and territory. Our federation as we know it is flexible. This needs to be repeated over and over in the presence of separatists. Far from being fixed and immovable, our federation is one that keeps evolving.
During this second mandate, we will continue to reflect and meet the demands of every province and region. I am confident that, with such flexibility and the synergy fostered by this government, we will enter the new millennium with a new invigorated Canada.
I realize that Canadians have done a great deal to help the federal government put its financial house in order and strengthen the social and political fabric of Canada. We have come a long, hard way, but the end is in sight.
To conclude, I want to reaffirm my solemn commitment to represent my constituents to the best of my abilities and to co-operate with all members of this House to ensure our government reflects and is sensitive to the needs of all Canadians.