Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak on behalf of the government in support of Bill C-28. This legislation has many parts, as you so clearly outlined a few seconds ago, but its actions are bound by a single consistent dynamic: a strong economy, a strong society.
The relationship between a strong society and a strong economy was highlighted in last fall's federal economic and fiscal update. It has been at the heart of our government's action agenda from the beginning of its first mandate.
We committed ourselves to a historic turnaround in Canada's federal finances because we understood that sustained deficit reduction was the key to lower interest rates and higher economic growth. We also understood, and made quite clear, that lower rates and higher growth are not ends in themselves. Instead, they were the best way to achieve the real bottom line benefits which Canadians deserve, more jobs and the national resources to make strategic social investments where and when needed.
As we near a new millennium Canadians are even closer to the threshold of a major change in our economic history, the day the federal government is deficit free. This progress, coming faster than we originally dared hope, is indeed delivering benefits we always expected. It has created the conditions for lower interest rates and sustained economic growth and these have set the stage for further milestones.
Last year 363,000 new jobs were created. That is the best record since 1994. In December the unemployment rate was the lowest in seven years. This is one important human aspect of the rewards which come from faster than expected fiscal progress.
Another vital dimension is reflected in today's legislation. We are now in a position where we can make key social investments, investments which respond directly and concretely to the concerns of Canadians. Just as important, we can make these investments without jeopardizing our continued advance to a balanced budget.
The most significant part of this legislation clearly is the measure to increase the cash floor of funding to the provinces under the Canada health and social transfer. Bill C-28 increases the guaranteed amount of federal cash funding—funding for health care, post-secondary education and social assistance and services—from $11 billion to $12.5 billion a year through to the year 2002-03. It starts applying this higher cash floor one year earlier than originally slated.
This means the provinces will receive close to an extra $7 billion in cash over six years. That is by far the largest new spending commitment we have made since first coming to office.
The CHST measure represents by far the most financially substantive measure in Bill C-28 and the one ultimately affecting the lives of most Canadians.
Before I get into the specifics of that measure, let me address the other parts of this wide ranging bill and, in particular, the two tax measures that also reflect our commitment to strengthening Canadian society.
First, Bill C-28 follows through on our 1997 budget pledge to help and encourage Canadians to save for the post-secondary education of children. Under this legislation we are increasing the amount that Canadians can invest in a registered education savings plan from $2,000 to $4,000 a year for each student beneficiary.
As well, Bill C-28 will allow someone who has contributed to an RESP but who then sees the intended student not go on to post-secondary education to transfer the income from the plan to an RRSP. This will reduce the risk and the disincentive that parents may face that the benefits of the RESP investment could be completely forfeited if their child chooses not to pursue higher education.
Indeed education is the equalizer, the instrument by which a level playing field can be created for all Canadians to help them compete in a fast paced changing economy. This important change will continue to support the task of improving access to post-secondary education for our youth.
Bill C-28 also takes important steps to encourage and support charitable giving by Canadians. It increases the amount of donations for which the charitable credit can generally be claimed to 75% of net income from the previous 50% mark. This 75% limit will apply equally to all charities, eliminating the previous advantage enjoyed by donations to the crown and crown foundations.
The legislation also reduces the income inclusion rate on capital gains arising from certain donations such as stocks, shares and bonds from 75% to 37.5%. This was an area where the existing tax law in Canada was much less generous than in the U.S. Now, with Bill C-28, Canadian charities will enjoy an equal footing with those in the United States.
Each of these three measures which affect the CHST, registered education savings plans and charitable giving provides concrete bottom line support in areas that contribute to the individual well-being of millions of Canadians and to our nation as a whole.
Using the resources of a strong economy to ensure a secure and compassionate society is a key obligation of government. However, we must not put aside our work to maintain and expand that economic strength. One of the foundations of a well-functioning economy is an effective, fair and transparent tax system, a system that allows companies and individuals to focus on the work of building and growing their companies or personal endeavours through real value added, not through manipulation of tax rules.
That is why Bill C-28 includes a range of technical tax measures, including rules relating to transfer pricing. These rules are based on international standards established by the OECD and will ensure that when goods are transferred cross border between elements of a multinational corporation, the pricing involved is based on the principle of arm's length dealings. In other words, companies will not be able to avoid or manipulate taxes by setting a transfer price that is artificial or arbitrary.
Rules that restrict the transferability of losses between affiliated persons will ensure that the federal tax base is not eroded by, for example, one company selling its tax losses to another unaffiliated company.
Also included are rules that apply when a corporation becomes or ceases to be exempt from income tax. This ensures that a tax exempt crown corporation is not able to store up tax deduction and credits if it does not need them and then use them to reduce its taxable income and tax payable after it has been privatized and becomes taxable.
Finally, it includes a measure that ensures that there will be no tax penalty for Canadians receiving disability benefits should the insurance company paying the benefits become insolvent and an employer takes on the responsibility for paying those benefits.
I should point out that these technical provisions of Bill C-28 regarding taxation were made public long ago through draft legislation and ways and means motions. As a result they have been closely scrutinized by private sector experts. The legislation before us truly reflects the revisions and improvements brought to us by such consultation and expert commentary.
I am confident that these sections of Bill C-28 carry the support and acceptance of the sectors involved and deserve the same support from this House.
Let me return to the subject of the CHST as it is undoubtedly the part of this legislation which touches most broadly on the public interest.
It has been claimed by some, and will likely be said again during the debate in this House, that Canada's provinces have contributed an unfair share to federal deficit reduction. The opposition parties may get up today to belittle the enrichment to the CHST floor that Bill C-28 provides, arguing that we are merely restoring some of the funds that we have taken away. Let us be clear. The fact is that as we launched our deficit reduction strategy a contribution from virtually all areas of federal spending was the only way to get Canada's financial house in order.
Reductions were made in transfers to provinces under the CHST when it took effect for 1996-97. This action was not unfair. It was very necessary. It is because we took the necessary action when we did that we can now say that the era of cuts is over. If we had not taken the tough action that we did, today's legislation might be very different.
Rather than providing renewed funding for key social programs, we might be coming before this House to ask for new cuts and additional restrictions. We do not have to look very far. The Ontario government is today looking for billions of dollars more out of its education programs to finance its premature tax cuts and increased spending. Because we did what had to be done, when it had to be done, we have been able to achieve the federal fiscal success that is beginning to pay real dividends, dividends of solid benefits to each province and all Canadian citizens.
Remember it was the strong majority of Canadians who demanded that the deficit problem be resolved. They have supported our action plan. Without their support our success would not have been possible.
No objective observer can question what had to be done. The hard truth is provincial transfers represent about 20% of all our federal program spending. That is one dollar in every five. There was simply no way we could meet out deficit commitment to Canadians without touching transfers. We worked hard to make these cuts as fair as possible. This deficit cutting exercise was transparent. It was done in consultation with Canadians and their provincial governments. We gave provinces a full year's notice of our plans so that they had time to adjust their priorities and programs.
There is another aspect of the CHST that demonstrates our commitment to fairness and to positive partnership with the provinces. In response to the provinces' request for flexibility we restructured the previous system with its separate targeted components into a single Canada health and social transfer. This addressed the longstanding provincial concern that the inflexible conditions associated with the previous transfer systems did not allow them to meet specific regional needs and opportunities. We instituted the CHST to deliver greater flexibility while still firmly upholding the principles of the Canada Health Act.
Mr. Speaker, you do not bring down a $42 billion deficit by nibbling at the margins. This government tried to be as fair as possible and that meant hitting ourselves harder than we cut anyone else. Let us look at the facts. And as I said earlier, the opposition parties will soon get up to talk about how we have not cut any spending.
In 1996-97 total provincial entitlements including the CHST and equalization amounted to $35.7 billion. That was a drop of $1.7 billion or 4.5% since 1993-94. I had better repeat that just so we are very clear. The facts are that in 1996-97 total provincial entitlements including the CHST and equalization amounted to $35.7 billion. That was a drop of $1.7 billion or 4.5% since 1993-94.
In contrast, our own program spending declined $6.9 billion over the same period. That is 12.5%, more than double the transfer ratio. Some provinces and some in this House may try to give a different set of numbers. That is because they refuse to recognize that tax points are an important component of the total provincial entitlement.
These tax points have been provided to the provinces over the years. They mean real money in their hands and a real loss of money to the federal government. In fact this year alone the value of tax points we have ceded to the provinces is nearly $13 billion. That is why the total support to the provinces under CHST today exceeds $25 billion.
An interesting point which needs to be made over and over again is that the value of these tax points will grow as the economy strengthens. That is why the total value of the CHST to provinces is slated to increase 2.5% annually on average. This means that the CHST is projected to reach more than $28 billion by 2002-03.
There are two final points I want to offer concerning the enrichment of the CHST under this legislation.
First, the cash floor it sets is $12.5 billion. This was not devised by some bureaucrats in the back room. This was not a figure that was pulled out of the air. It is the precise amount recommended by the National Forum on Health.
Some hon. members may remember that in last fall's economic update the Minister of Finance said that the increase in cash floor would mean an extra $6 billion for the provinces. Today, as I said earlier, this cumulative gain will be nearly $7 billion.
Some may be wondering where the extra money came from. The fact is that transfer payment schedules are re-estimated twice a year as economic data moves from the realm of preliminary estimates to final results. What this does is it again highlights the benefits of the tax point component of the CHST. It is because economic growth has been stronger than originally projected that the tax point portion of the CHST is worth more.
When the discussion surrounding CHST occurs in the House, I hope that members will continue to articulate the importance of the tax point portion of the transfer because the tax point portion will continue to increase as the economy grows. We have just seen that in a very tangible way by an additional $1 billion flowing through the CHST because of the increase in economic activity.
Under the previous circumstances, before Bill C-28, before the cash floor was put in, the increase in tax points would have triggered a reduction in the cash portion of the federal funding that provinces would receive. Because this legislation sets the $12.5 billion cash floor, it cannot drop. The provinces get to keep the extra dividend. That is the source of the additional $1 billion.
This legislation guarantees that the future growth in the tax point component of the CHST will not see the cash portion decline below $12.5 billion over the next five years. In other words, at least $12.5 billion in federal funds will be there each and every year. It will be there to help provinces provide the national health care system which is cherished by Canadians. It will be there to support the post-secondary education that gives young Canadians new opportunities for the future. And it will be there to support social assistance so Canadians in need will not be abandoned or betrayed.
Canada's fiscal progress has been won by the hard work and the shared commitment of the vast majority of Canadians. Now that this progress is making possible renewed investment in key social areas, it is only proper that such a dividend go where it does the most good, toward helping the most Canadians. Surely the Canada health and social transfer honours that criteria. Just as surely, Bill C-28 deserves the support of each and every hon. member of this House.