Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to this motion.
The members of the Conservative Party have raised an important issue. They have referred to relieving Canadians of the onerous tax burden in Canada today. They have spoken of interest relief on student loans, an important issue, the brain drain crisis which is forcing Canadians to move to the United States where they have lower unemployment rates, income tax rates and student debt levels. The Conservatives have also referred to the fact that the standard of living in Canada has fallen like a stone in the last several years. The standard of living is now 25% higher in the United States than it is in Canada.
These are important issues. I am glad my friends across the way in the Conservative Party have raised them. I do believe that when we address these issues and talk about them, we have to talk about them in the context of who is best able to address them. When we are in Parliament we are supposed to be providing leadership to the country. That is a pretty important point. The only way to determine that is to look at the records of the various parties in the House of Commons.
My friend from Skeena pointed out that we had the Liberals and the Conservatives fighting over who had done the best job of managing the economy. It is an interesting spectacle, a little like sending an arsonist out to fight a fire.
In this case let us review the historical record. Let us start on the issue that is most obvious. Let us look at the national debt. There is the absolute record as to the ability of successive governments to keep their spending in line.
What we have seen since the early 1970s is the federal debt rise from about $13 billion. It took a 100 years for the debt to accumulate to $13 billion. Starting at that point, under the Liberal government, we saw the debt start to mount and mount. It went up and up for years. When the Liberal government left office in 1984, it was in the range of $160 billion to $170 billion. In that short period of time, over a dozen years, it had mounted to somewhere in the range of $140 billion. It had gone up a tremendous amount.
In 1984 Canadians across the country said they had had it. They did not want to have anymore debt. They were tired of this government getting ever bigger, providing all kinds of programs that amounted to intervention in people's lives. They were tired of the mounting tax burden that was necessary to feed this voracious government.
At that point they decided to elect the Conservatives. They said they would give the Conservatives a try. In Alberta a lot of us put our faith wrongly in the Conservatives. We had Conservatives around the cabinet table from Alberta. We thought that perhaps now we will finally have some sanity when it comes to making economic decisions.
What happened? We saw the debt continue to mount. We said in Alberta with one voice you have to stop this. But the debt continued to mount. Pretty soon, by the end of the nine year mandate of the Conservatives, it had gone up $300 billion. These are facts that occurred under a government that is supposed to be conservative. What does conservative mean? What does it mean in that context. If it is there to protect the finances of the country and be conservative with people's money, obviously it did not do it. We saw the debt mount by $300 billion under its watch alone. Obviously it was not the answer.
Liberals jump in and say they have done a wonderful job. They have added another $100 billion to the debt. Now we get to the point in the country where the government is balancing the budget on the backs of taxpayers and on the backs of the provinces by cuts to health care and social programs. What is their plan? Their plan, after 30 years of deficits, is to start spending again. I find that extraordinarily frightening. It is absolutely imprudent. It is reckless. Furthermore, it betrays a trust that the government should have established with Canadian taxpayers which is that it recognizes and understands how much taxpayers are suffering today under staggering debtloads.
The Conservative Party has pointed out that the standard of living in Canada has fallen like a stone. It started under the Conservatives. We should point that out.
I refer to an article in the Ottawa Citizen from December where World Bank statistics show the standard of living in Canada for decades was on par with the United States. For per capital income we were two and three in the world. Ten years ago it started to fall. Canada has fallen from third spot to twelfth spot in the world. I am amazed that this has not been more of an issue today.
Sadly, for reasons I do not understand, a lot of people have not picked up on this. The fact is the very people this government is supposed to be serving are suffering tremendously under Liberal and Tory governments.
The article talks about the difference in unemployment rates. It points out that the real unemployment rate in Canada is 18.5% counting all the people who are discouraged and who have given up looking for work. I know my friends opposite will talk about job creation. They have created some jobs.
However, imagine if we would have kept the participation rate the same as it had been 15 years ago in the economy in terms of people participating and looking for jobs. We would have a million more jobs today than we have.
I simply want to say that what we have heard here today is an argument between two different political parties that have both demonstrated by their actions that they are completely unable to grasp the concerns of Canadians and to do anything about it.
Now we are here today in a situation where we have a huge debt, $600 billion, where the average per family debt is $77,600. We have a situation where Canadians pay income taxes, taxes of $6,000 a year just to pay the interest on the debt. That is what the average family has to pay. The average family in Canada today pays $21,000 in taxes, more than what it puts out for food, shelter and clothing combined.
Surely it will start to dawn on my friends in the Liberal Party and certainly on my friends in the Conservative Party after the horrible government they brought us that we must start to reverse this trend.
That is why I was so disappointed to hear the finance minister say in an interview on CBC that they are not going to keep their 50:50 promise, tepid though it was, to start to reduce debt a bit, to start to pay down taxes a bit.
They said “no, really we meant it for later on and now what we want to do is start spending”. I think that is unbelievable. Perhaps the worst thing of all about this is the people who are most vulnerable in Canada today pay the highest price.
I am talking about low income people, people who do not have a lot of skills in many cases. These are the people who are paying the highest price. My leader in December pointed out that he had received a letter from a family in New Brunswick trying to get by on $32,000, a pretty modest income.
Those people were doing their level best. They decided that the mother in the family would stay at home to look after their four children because they believed their children were more precious than anything. They were barely making it. They were still paying $3,000 a year in federal income tax.
The answer is to come to grips with the fact that this debt is killing the country, it is hurting people and we should start to pay it down.
If we do that, the interest payments drop and then we can start to cut taxes. We can ease the tax burden on low income Canadians. That is the answer to helping Canadians. It is the answer to keeping more Canadians in the country instead of seeing them flow south of the border as my friends have pointed out. We need to start doing that.
The answer is not more government programs. Surely by now, after 30 years of spending evermore, we will come to grips with that important point.
I urge my friends on the other side to vote in favour of this motion so that we may once again return to that tradition in Canada that we had of limited government and people who can stand on their own two feet.