Madam Speaker, congratulations to you on occupying that chair. It is a pretty face to see.
This is my first intervention in the 36th Parliament and I would like to thank the people of Durham who graciously have decided to send me back to the House.
We have been debating the Reform motion which refers to the returning to the last 27 years of our history. This is rather absurd because the reason we are here today debating the motion is the diligence the government has had toward its fiscal agenda to reduce the annual deficit. In my lifetime I do not remember another finance minister who not only set and met the targets but exceeded them. It is because of the orientation the government had toward its fiscal agenda.
It seems rather absurd to me that the second party is now thinking that somehow we are going to change all that again. The agenda is very clear in my mind. We are going to continue to keep our fiscal house in order.
There is some room to manoeuvre. This will be the first year in which we do not have any positive net borrowings in the capital market to support our annual expenditures. In future years we will be able to reduce not only the deficit but will also make a positive contribution toward reducing our outstanding debt.
I welcome the debate because it is very important to question what is a fair level of total debt. At approximately 75 percent of our gross domestic product the current level of debt is inoperative and must continue to come down. I believe most parties can agree with that.
Second, the throne speech clearly talked about tax cuts. Most of us will agree that Canadians are fairly heavily taxed and that they are probably entitled to some kind of rate reduction in the future. The operative word is future. More important, what is the nature of the tax cut? How is it physically done?
This whole debate talks about spending. The motion of the Reform Party talks about irresponsible spending as though we all know what it is. According to Reformers all spending, as far as I can understand from listening to them, by the government is somehow bad. It is very simple.
It is very interesting to be in the 36th Parliament because we have another group of parliamentarians at this end of the House who stand day after day and say that all spending by government is good. It is interesting to sit between these two arguments and try to find out what makes any sense.
Time and time again member after member of the Reform Party says that money in the hands of consumers is far better than money in the hands of government. I have heard their speakers suggest from time to time that we also live in a period of high consumer bankruptcy. It may actually occur to members that some people in society spend too much. The negative impact is the consumer bankruptcies that occur.
When we talk about tax cuts I am very interested in exactly what we are talking about. We are talking about rate reductions. The income tax system in Canada is called a progressive system. As income increases, tax rates also increase. This is something that has been accepted in Canada for a long time.
I have heard the Reform Party indicate from time to time that everybody should have a flat tax and everybody should pay the same. That is a reallocation of taxes from the wealthy to the middle class. That seems to be part of its agenda as well, although I have not heard much about it in this parliament.
When we start talking about how to direct a tax reduction in a progressive taxation system, we have to take into consideration that the people who will benefit most are the very wealthy, which is why the Reform Party supports that group of people.
There is another point missing from the debate. When we start talking about tax cuts and hitting higher income groups more efficiently, we do not consider the demographics of our population. Everyone knows that Canada's population is aging. Almost a third of our country consists of what we call baby boomers, of which they tell me I am on the leading edge.
If baby boomers today were given a choice and were told that they would be given an extra dollar from taxes, chances are they would save if for their retirement. That is not so bad. That is good because we know we are having trouble with some of our retirement programs as well.
The reality is that tax cuts will not necessarily lead to job growth. There is no stimulation in the economy by people who simply save and do not go out and spend.
In other words, there is a great elasticity. We may well give more money back to people, and well we should. I believe our rates are too high. However the argument does not follow that somehow the economy will be stimulated and jobs will be created.
We have a premier in Ontario who ran a whole election based on giving a 30 percent rate reduction across the board. Of course what happened is that most of it went to the same group I am talking about, the relatively wealthy, sometimes and often the baby boom population.
Jobs were created although during the period in which he made this announcement jobs were lost in Ontario. Jobs have subsequently been created in Ontario, but I suggest that almost all jobs creation was created by lower interest rates which are directly related to the government's commitment to reducing its deficit. In other words, all rate reductions in the world do not stimulate the economy and do not create any new employment.
We might consider that the same generation of people today, once again thinking about investments, are thinking about foreign investments. I have heard members of the Reform Party talk about not making Canadians invest in Canada and allowing them to invest all over the world. Essentially the agenda of the Reform Party is to promote capital flights: give them a tax reduction and let them take the money out of the country.
Many people will say that for every billion dollars of direct foreign investment in Canada 45,000 new jobs are created. Similarly it must follow that for every billion dollars removed from our economy 45,000 jobs may well disappear. The Reform Party's agenda may indirectly result in reductions in jobs and not the increase Reformers constantly tell us about.
It is a delight to be in this new parliament because we have two parties that are diametrically opposed. I listened to members of the NDP who constantly think the simple answer to all our social problems is to spend more money.
As a nation we have to spend money wisely and efficiently. In my riding I have a program called CAPC, a federally funded social program to assist young teenage parents with a nutritional program and prenatal care. I am proud to say that this coming week the program is being expanded in Port Perry in my riding. They have expanded it in many communities. It is amazing that it has been done with the same budget it has had for the last five years. More services are being delivered to assist these people.
We cannot create smart parents. I do not think everything we do will create better parents. We need people in the communities who try to assist these people. We can help in the delivery of the system to assist with child poverty.
I am very proud to be part of a government that recognizes the importance of some of these building tools and building blocks. I am also very proud to be part of a government that recognizes there is such a thing as child poverty, especially in working low income families. The government has changed the working income supplement to breathe more financial strength into parents who are trying to work and at the same time support their young families.
This is the balance we need. The word spending has been going around and around this room the past two or three days. What is missing from the debate is that there is a difference between consumption and investment.
I will give a definition. To consume is simply that we pay out the money and it is gone tomorrow. Some people might say that seniors are entitled to their old age pension cheques. When they get the money in their hands they usually spend it and the money is gone. There is no money coming back into the economic system. We owe these people the support. They have entered into a trust agreement with us.
The other side of the spending equation is investment. I heard the member for Kelowna talk about investments in the technology partnership program. That program is oriented toward some very positive things. When the money comes back in, all Canadians will benefit from it. The money did not actually disappear. The money is still out in the system and will come back not only in its original form but also added to it will be some of the benefits of the growth that has actually occurred in the economy.
When we look at government expenditures the problem is that we do not think about these two different factors: the difference between investments and consumption. I am very proud to be part of a government that talks in the throne speech about investment spending and investment in people.
If we can solve some of the child poverty problems that investment will come back to us. Those people will be less of a threat to our criminal justice system. More important, they will have the tools and the skills to live useful lives.
The government has been very concerned about investment in the area of science and technology. I heard some members opposite talk about the fact that many people with technological skills were being hired south of the border. The average master's graduate in science and technological earns $45,000 to $50,000 in Canada. In the United States they will earn $65,000 to $70,000. That is a great incentive. Members opposite blame our tax system. There is some relationship between our tax system and that of the United States.
Another aspect of the economy is that our supply of those graduates is very low. When the supply is low pure economics bids up the value of labour. There is a bidding war. Similarly when there is a shortage in the United States they bid up their costs and they are removed from our country.
We have companies in Ottawa such as Newbridge Networks which needs 4,000 workers. It will only hire half of them in Canada. Nortel needs 5,000 workers. At best it can only hire 700 here because that is all that is available. In my own riding Durham College has a science and technology program with an enrolment of 700 students. The bottom line is that they could all get those jobs twice over. In other words, there is an emerging science and technology community which we are not filling.
What can governments do to invest in their people so that they will have the opportunities and that Canada and our standard of living will be better for it?
I am proud of a government that recognizes this is how the economy is evolving. The throne speech talked about the new millennium fund of $1 billion to help low income people who want a post-secondary education, hopefully in the areas of science and technology.
This is a very positive statement about how we want to invest. I keep coming back to the word invest as opposed to spending. Members opposite probably think this is frivolous, that money should have been given to higher income groups through rate reductions rather than by helping people to get the opportunity to better their positions in our society.
As in the previous parliament we have the Canada Foundation for Innovation. I am working with some of my community colleges to ensure they can access these funds to build their programs. They have indicated to me that their biggest problem is not having enough money to run their programs. They need more top grade scientific equipment to teach their people, to give them the skills to become competitive in the 21st century. I am happy to be part of a process that recognizes we have to give these people the tools to compete in the new millennium.
At the same time as we have this problem going on, we are going through a process of studying our immigration laws that satiate some of the demand of high tech companies in Canada. In this labour market the total immigrant population in 1990 was 1,900. By 1996 the figure was 6,600. These people were brought in from other countries because we did not have the skills to fill these jobs. It is very important that we as a government take the initiative to give our people the skills.
In conclusion, I think what is really missing from this debate is when somebody stands up and says that spending is bad and tax cuts are good. That is a very simplistic argument. The reality is we need to do more investing in people and I am very proud to be part of a government that recognizes that. Yes, we are going to reduce the deficit and debt, but at the same time we are not going to forget the opportunities and challenges facing our people. We are going to give them the tools to meet the 21st century.