House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was union.


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3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member for Elk Island to continue his remarks?

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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


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3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is not unanimous consent.

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3:45 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure everybody would have preferred to have my hon. colleague carry on.

I will start off by recognizing the member for Wetaskiwin who worked so hard for our party on this bill and helped us prepare for today.

Bill C-19 has been a topic of discussion certainly in my constituency. I come from a constituency that is farming intensive, livestock, grain farms, dry land irrigations, especially crops. It has a city with manufacturing and service industries. There is some concern with this bill and some of its the flaws. The unfair balance of it has been pointed out to me by constituents and others. I will address my comments to them.

The member for Elk Island when he spoke of working for a dollar reminded me of the gentleman who was looking for a job and the boss told him he would pay him for what he was worth. He immediately turned and left. When the boss asked him where he was going, he said “I cannot live on that”. But I am sure that was not my friend from Elk Island.

We are trying to build up Canada and to get into more and more trade with the world. Across the prairies we are looking at secondary processing of a lot of products. We have to get those products to market, via the railways, trucking or whatever it takes to do that. In order for us to become a reliable source of many of these products, we have to gain a reputation of being able to meet our commitments. In order to meet our commitments we have to deliver in a timely fashion.

It was a year ago this winter when we saw the grain not being able to get market, the problems that created and the cost that was incurred by farmers across the prairies and in my constituency. It is important that we have a method in place to make sure that what is produced, what is manufactured can get to the markets. We not only have to address the west coast ports, but a lot of things can happen to a product from the time it leaves the plant or the farm gate until it gets to that point. Some of those aspects are missing in this bill. The government should have another look at that and address some of those issues.

On the definition of grain, I had a letter from an organization in the west that deals with dehydrated alfalfa. They pointed out to me that in this bill the grain is the product, and I will read it “the services they normally provide to ensure the tie-up, let-go and loading of grain vessels at licensed terminal and transfer elevators and the movement of the grain vessels in and out of a port”. They are concerned with what that means. Does it mean grain or does it mean other products? They are really concerned that their dehydrated alfalfa products are not included. They would like to see that done.

The whole idea that the government has control over grain was debated last week during the debate on Bill C-4. In that legislation the government markets the farmers' grain for them and not necessarily for the best prices. That was a concern and it continues today with this bill.

The record of tie-ups that have happened in the shipping industry goes on and on. In February 1994 there was a tie-up for two weeks. A year later Parliament had to bring an end to another dispute. Two weeks after that, Parliament passed another bill to end another dispute.

The Reform Party is proposing final offer selection arbitration as a method to keep everybody working, to do the same thing that these work disruptions have done but to do it in a way in that everybody can benefit. If we are truly to become a mover and supplier to the world of products that are produced right across Canada, we are going to have to do this. We cannot have these disruptions and our customers finding out that we have the product but we cannot deliver it to them. That just will not work.

We see trade missions going all over the world. The chamber of commerce from the city of Lethbridge was in Chile and elsewhere promoting products. If we are going to have these people show initiative and entrepreneurship to move forward in this world, we have to enable them to get their product delivered.

As I mentioned earlier, we are not only talking about grain here. We are talking about all products. I hope the government will take this to heart and will have another look to realize that some of these things are missing.

The cost of disruptions in shipments has been tried to be quantified many times. We are looking at indirect costs of up to $500 million in grain sales alone in 1994. It is wrong to take $500 million out of the economy of this country. We are not convinced that this bill will address all of those problems and we hope the government will take another look at it.

Another aspect of the bill that has brought a lot of attention today is the access to off site workers' records. We all have a strong opinion that what is ours is ours and nobody should have the right to access information about us unless we allow it. To have this in part of the bill goes against everything Canadians believe in. One has the right to keep one's information to oneself.

With all of these things said and the fact that certification can take place without a majority is undemocratic. There are a lot of things that need to be done. The government has fallen quite short in providing us with a piece of legislation that will work for us.

We hope that the government will take this bill back, have another look at it and bring it back in a better fashion.

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3:50 p.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know you have been waiting with bated breath to hear my comments about C-19.

In looking at the problems of this House, members know exactly the one I am going to zero in on. It is is going to be the top down nature, the way this place works, the way political parties work quite often, the way business quite often works and of course, the way unions quite often work. It is my hope to emphasize in the House that the public are sick and tired of the top down administration they get in all parts of life.

The public is asking for accountability. They are asking for transparency. They are asking for grassroots input into what is happening that affects their lives. Certainly when it comes to labour legislation, an area that affects many people across this whole country, they feel they do not have that input. A bill like this does nothing to reassure them that they can have their say about this legislation.

This government has a particularly bad record for listening to the people. This weekend the Alberta winter games were in my constituency. Thousands of people from all over Alberta were in our riding. It went extremely well. The only problem I guess was the plus-10 degrees and we had to haul snow in.

What the people said as I circulated around talking to them was first, to do something about that other place. Everybody is upset about what happens in the Senate. Second, they talked about the debt, about that noose around their necks and the necks of their kids and their grandchildren. Everybody talked about that. Third, they talked about taxes. What is this government—

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3:55 p.m.


Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am just wondering what this has to do with Bill C-19. The member is launching into a speech about the debt and about the Senate. I am here to listen to debate about Bill C-19 and members' concerns. I think it is really, really important that we do.

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3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Certainly the parliamentary secretary is correct. I know the hon. member for Red Deer is an experienced member and will make his remarks relevant to Bill C-19. I am sure he was about to get to the point of the bill. I am looking forward to hearing his remarks. After all, that is what he said he would speak about. We look forward to what he says.

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3:55 p.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, certainly I am getting to Bill C-19. One has to set the stage for the major points one wants to make in an issue like this.

We are talking about listening to the people. When it comes to labour legislation, obviously the government should be listening to the people.

What does Bill C-19 do? Bill C-19 is an example again of that top down, more government, more bureaucracy, more of the same that people are sick and tired of.

I was just trying to point out to the hon. member how many people have talked about so many issues which the government just will not listen to. In half an hour we will probably have another example of where the government did not listen regarding the debt and regarding taxes. That is what people are talking about. They are not talking about more spending.

The member made me deviate and I got off on this other tangent, but I will now get back to what I was trying to talk about which is Bill C-19.

What about democracy? This legislation allows the CIRB to certify a union without support from the majority. What kind of democracy is that where a government agency can certify a union even though the majority do not agree with it? That is not democratic. We have examples now of where the government will do this sort of thing.

As well, this legislation orders employers to release to the union names of reps who are working off site. Again they do not have to ask the employees about that. They do not have to get permission. This is an intrusion on a person's rights as a citizen of Canada.

This legislation does nothing to stop strikes. It does nothing to help the workers who are simply trying to improve their lot in life. This again will be more of the same. There is nothing here that will do anything to stop what both union members and citizens at large are opposed to.

I have an example in my riding. I have been asked to speak to union members. They have invited me but they got a decree from head office that they could not invite me. They were shocked by this. “What do you mean we cannot invite this person? We can invite anybody we want”. “No you cannot”. They cannot invite their member of Parliament to address them on the issues that interest them. That comes from the union, from the top down. The union members are pretty upset about that and I do not blame them. That is a lack of democracy. That is the top down stuff I was trying to talk about, trying to make a point of for the hon. member.

What about the world? Where are we at in terms of the world? Obviously in the world, we are in competition. The world has globalized.

I have been fortunate for 35 years to travel the world. I have been to almost every country. Most everywhere I have been they say “Canada has a labour problem, doesn't it?”

Most recently in Japan, China and Argentina I heard “Is Canada still producing grain? Is it still in the marketplace?” That is a pretty terrible question to be asked if you are a farmer in western Canada.

The unreliability of our transportation system, of our distribution system and of our sales system is putting us behind our competitors. Bill C-19 does nothing to help provide a fix for that problem. That is what the farmers are saying.

The bill does not address the area of investment. When investors are looking at Canada to invest money, to open businesses or to develop joint ventures which are so common in today's society they see antiquated, ambiguous labour laws. They will point out the ambiguities and tell us they do not feel secure investing or dealing in Canada or with Canadians on joint ventures. They do not know for sure how stable our labour force will be. They have real problems with that. It hurts us. It hurts job creation and the whole investment area which is so important to us as Canadians.

What is the solution? It seems to me that the solution is to get back to the grassroots. We must listen to the employees. There is no point in going after unions, saying they are good or bad. Most of the membership are a very positive part of our communities. The problem is the top down nature of labour legislation, the lack of working together.

We need government, business, experts and labour to work together for the good of Canadians.

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4 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, to begin with I would like to describe my riding because it is important to this debate.

Nanaimo—Alberni stretches right across the centre of Vancouver Island. We have fisheries, we have forestry and we have retirement. In the centre, Port Alberni, which is largely forestry oriented, a strong labour town. It is a town with heart. It is a town which has grown through the labour movement. It used to be a strong NDP community. Now it is a strong Reform community.

My background is that of a professional forester. I worked in the forest industry for 25 years. Yes, I was on the management side but labour and management together built a good union and a good foundation for that town.

Under this legislation a union could be certified with less than 50% of the employees being in favour of it. Frankly, it is nuts. I can see that members opposite are agreeing with me.

It seems to fit into the Liberal idea of what democracy is. If we can get about a third of the people, that is democracy and we will go with it. Unfortunately that does not work in the rest of Canada.

I am quite amazed at this government. Where are the Ontario Liberals? There are strong unions within Ontario. The auto workers come to mind.

I am amazed that this legislation has been allowed to get this far without Ontario labour unions being up in arms. They should be solidly against this legislation, and I am sure they are.

Members opposite are sitting there trying to decide why the labour unions are in favour of it when they are not. They are clearly in a dilemma. It is most interesting, in 25 minutes we are going to have a budget debate. I point out that labour unions are well paid people.

It is the taxpaying public. You should hear them muttering over there, Mr. Speaker. It is very difficult for most Canadians to hear because they sound like hens in the hen house busy cackling away.

It is about investment. Investment in B.C. requires a solid base. There cannot be a government that ignores unions, that ignores the investment potential of any province, be it Ontario, B.C. or Alberta, because it will be at its peril. In fact, in my home province of B.C. we are in difficulty because the NDP provincial government has tried that. It is now having great difficulty getting foreign investment.

This bill died in the Senate, which I am sure most Canadians will understand. However, the Senate does have its purpose. It killed this bill. It killed it for a reason. The reason was it did not work. So the new bill came in, and what have we got? Very much of the same type of legislation. It is a gloss over of the old type of legislation. I suspect that if this goes to the Senate it is not going to go anywhere either.

This government has to realize that it has to listen up. Even the Senate cannot take this type of legislation. But it is going to try it again, to keep pushing. Maybe if it pushes it harder it will go through again. It is not going to work.

This government has tried it on a number of types of legislation. Look at endangered species last time in the last Parliament. It did not go through. Why? Members on the government side could not vote for it. Look at the conference on global warming in Kyoto. Talk about a fiasco because this government did not have its groundwork in order. This is typical of this bill. Government has not done its homework. When other countries get together, where is Canada? We do not have our act together. We have not done our homework, very similar to this bill.

I suggest this bill needs major refurbishment and hopefully this government will listen up and do it before it introduces it again.

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4:05 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-19 today, an act to amend the Canadian Labour Code.

Again, it is interesting, this being the only party speaking to this bill, how so many of us have—

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February 24th, 1998 / 4:05 p.m.


John Nunziata Independent York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, the hon. member wants to be accurate and he just made a statement that is simply not accurate. He said that the Reform Party was the only party speaking to the bill—

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4:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, it does not sound like a point of order to me, it sounds like a point of debate. I think the hon. member for York South—Weston knows that.

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4:05 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for York South—Weston does make a good point. In the last little while the speakers have all been from the Reform Party. Certainly the member for York South—Weston has spoken to this bill and my credit to him for that. I am sorry for making that impression.

It is interesting how many members from this side have chosen to speak to this important labour bill, the biggest changes to the labour code we are likely to see in this Parliament, and how so many people have talked about the need for balance in labour legislation. I will add my name to the list with my little story.

I was a member of the IWA labour union for some 10 years. I also spent an equivalent amount of time in management with the same union. In the course of that 20 year experience working in the logging industry, much of it in a unionized setting, at the end of my career when I started on this career, if we can call it that, we never in the company's history had a case of a grievance going to arbitration in all those years of work. I know what it is like to work with a unionized crew. All my crews were unionized.

The word balance is important. I sometimes wonder when legislation comes before the House of Commons if there would be a preamble to it that would describe for us what caused this legislation to be brought forward. In other words, what was behind this bill, who was behind it. What presentations were made to ministers or which pressure groups, which groups of people were behind this bill, were in favour of this bill and pushed this bill forward, these amendments, and where did the bill come from.

When I go through this bill and the summary of it to see what it is trying to accomplish and what the government says it is trying to accomplish, I do not see a balance as I had hoped to see in labour code changes in this country. I have seen too many headlines from newspapers talking about Liberal labour code betrayal, last call to stand against the labour code, new labour code rules benefit unions, and on and on. There has been a whole series of stories in the press and from people concerned basically with the balance.

I would like to speak a bit about the need for that balance and why I do not think this bill contains it. First, one of the sacred parts of the union movement is an ability to organize. It is an ability that the Reform Party has as one of its basic platform principles. It is the right for unions to organize, to strike peacefully, to go about their business of representing workers if those workers so ask them to. It is the basic policy of this party and I think of every party in the House.

But this labour code amendment changes the balance from a secret ballot registration on who would represent a person at the bargaining table to if a person even signs a card that they are interested in it, it is taken as a fait accompli. Worst yet, when a certification vote is taking place those names are circulated without the permission of the employees to whomever would like to organize a union or a shop.

Mr. Speaker, if you sign your name to it or if you vote in an honest election, that is fair game. But when your name is given out without your permission to other people to use, for mail outs, for telephone calls, for what could even amount to harassment at times, that is not right. I cannot support that portion of the bill.

There is also the huge issue of what we call remedial certification. In other words, if some employer breaks some technical portion of the certification process, in other words they put up a poster on the bulletin board and they should not have done it or they said something wrong in their company newsletter and somebody feels that it is causing an affront to the union organization movement, if this board decides that has happened, it is a done deal. They are unionized whether 10% wanted it or 15% or 39% or 49%. It is a done deal.

That is unfortunate, given that most workers would rather have an honest vote in an honest situation where they can bring forward their complaints and also bring forward their union certification process without fear of intimidation or harassment on either side. This tips it in my opinion to the wrong side.

The whole issue of how we settle strikes in an industry that has a monopoly is not addressed properly in this bill. There are some improvements from times past. For example, if a train load of grain is on its way to Vancouver, to my neck of the woods, this legislation gives a period that allows that grain to work through the system and get dumped in the terminal and shipped off. The trouble is that the following strike could go on indefinitely, holding grain producers and the country hostage while we wait for something to solve it.

Whether it is a postal strike, a grain handler strike or whatever it might be, we have seen too often when a monopoly is involved that we have needed an alternative way of settling those disputes.

The dispute settling mechanism we have put forward is a form of final offer binding arbitration that is fair to the producers, the workers, the Canadian economy and Canadians affected by whether or not they are in the industry. The legislation does not give us the option other than to come back here and go to legislation again as we did in the case of the recent postal strike.

It would be far better to have a permanent dispute settlement mechanism in place where there is a monopoly to protect all segments of society: workers, producers, consumers and the Canadian economy as a whole. It would be far better to do it that way rather than to do it piecemeal every time there is a significant strike or problem in any industry like that.

The bill eliminates the need for unions to report on their financial status in a meaningful way. It removes an important protection for workers who want to know where their dues are being spent. They send a significant amount of money to unions. Unions use that money in the ways they see fit to promote their union organizations. The real problem comes when there is no financial accountability.

Was the money spent to promote another union? Maybe that would be something they would approve of. Was it spent to support a political party? Who knows? We have seen ongoing court cases in the land of people who sent in their union dues only to find they were siphoned off and sent to a political party.

That money may not have been used to elect you, Mr. Speaker. It may not have been used to elect me. However it has been used to try to defeat certain candidates and to elect others. I grant they were largely unsuccessful but it is an affront to someone who is sending $30 or $40 a month to a union headquarters, assuming that it will be spent for proper purposes, only to find out it has been used in many ways to vote against the very things that might be promoted in the union.

In general there is a need for balance in the legislation. The balance between union rights is very important. As I mentioned the blue book refers to the principle of union rights to organize, to strike peacefully, to look after its members, as well as the rights of the Canadian economy, the right to secrecy and the right to protection of workers who do not want their funds misused. That kind of balance is not in the legislation.

It is too bad that privacy rights are not being looked after. It is too bad that final offer binding arbitration is not offered as an alternative in this package. While there are some improvements, they are not enough to garner the support of the Reform Party and certainly not enough to garner my vote when the bill comes up for vote.

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4:15 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-19 concerning amendments to the Canada Labour Code, specifically grain loading at ports.

In my previous life I worked in a union environment in British Columbia, the most unionized jurisdiction in Canada. I spent 20 years on the coast of British Columbia working in logging operations. In the area I represent of Vancouver Island North union workers are the backbone of the communities in my riding. I very much appreciate the balance in the workplace between management and union.

I worked in logging. Safety is a major concern in that industry. It is one of the most dangerous occupations one would ever want to encounter. There are some specific jobs that are very demanding and hazardous. The union certainly has a very large role to play in terms of safety. Nothing brings us closer together than a serious accident and nothing can lead more to finger pointing afterward if there is not a strong balance—

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4:20 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am sorry to say that there is a general din in the House and I am having difficulty hearing the debate at this time.

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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. It is very difficult for members of the House to hear the debate that is proceeding on the floor of the House at the moment.

I would particularly ask that hon. members and members of the public who are present to tone down the volume of noise so that members can hear the debate.

We have a debate under way here and hon. members would like to hear it.

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4:20 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, usually we can blame our colleagues, but I think in this instance the gallery is filling with people in expectation of the budget. I appreciate the circumstances.

There is another very important aspect to what I did in the past in terms of the union environment I worked in. We had sort of a forerunner exercise which dealt with the environment in environmental committees and joint union and management committees. I became quite active in all of that because if everyone in the workplace is not on board we certainly cannot achieve or obtain the results we seek.

This became the basic building block in terms of bringing new practises into the forestry industry to introduce such things as proper treatments around stream sites, proper road construction, proper watershed management, and those kinds of things.

I recognize that there are very good workplaces and there are very bad workplaces. I like to think I worked in some very good workplaces.

We have to think about what the legislation is all about. Whose interest is at stake here? It is important to recognize that the public interest is at stake. We do not want to replicate what we have had up until now in many jurisdictions in Canada where the labour environment has led us to strikes or lockouts and to very insoluble power gains.

The community I live in is subject right now to a seven month strike or lockout, whatever we want to call it, at the Fletcher Challenge pulp mill. It looks intractable. It has a lot to do with the economics of business and some very important issues which divide union and management.

There has to be a better way. Although I recognize the bill deals with a specific federal jurisdiction issue, and not an area of provincial jurisdiction, certainly is not a breath of fresh air in this regard.

Will the bill create harmonious relationships? I do not believe there is anything in the new bill that will come anywhere near to accomplishing that objective. Does it ensure against any stoppages en route to the port facilities? No, it does not. There is nothing in the bill that deals with anything of the kind.

What we have is one more vague and ambiguous labour law that will lead to further investor uncertainty, which we do not need, and does nothing to create a harmonious relationship. I find this to be very contradictory or very ironic, given that we were in the House yesterday speaking about the multilateral agreement on investment which, if we listen to the members on the government side of the House, is intended to lead to investor confidence.

We cannot have contradictory philosophical underpinnings, but time after time we are seeing no philosophical or principled underpinning to any of the government actions. Whether it is a multilateral agreement on investment, labour legislation, fisheries legislation or aboriginal affairs, it is always the same thing. It is the Liberal fudge. That is what we are seeing.

When it comes to the Canada Labour Relations Board that is revamped and renamed under the bill, I hoped we would have seen something invigorating, something refreshing, something in tune with the times, something accountable, maybe even something elected or democratically arrived at.

What do we have here? We have one significant change. We agree that a 10 year appointment is too long. An appointment is probably inappropriate but the timeframe was certainly wrong. Ten years have been brought down to five. We certainly concur with that part of the legislation, but it is not going very far when we look at the length and breadth of the bill.

The labour relations board will have some basic powers. It is a quasi-judicial board. It is a board with a lot of power. The flexibility is so great that it leads to uncertainty about what it might or might not do.

The fact that board members are appointed by cabinet tells me that it can be skewed in any philosophical direction the cabinet wishes. There will be three members from management and three members from union. That is not much of a guideline when we think about how government can fulfil its agenda simply through the appointment process. We have seen it before and we know we will see it again from this government.

We know who appoints them. Do we know how much power they have? Yes, we do. The board can actually order an employer to release to a union representative a list of the names and addresses of employees who work off site. I like to think that my privacy and the privacy of Canadians is more valuable than to allow this non-accountable appointed board to overrule my privacy.

Another point concerns me. It has to do with the interpretation of representation. We know that is also left to labour.

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4:30 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 4.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Ways and Means Motion No. 5 concerning the budget presentation.

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4:30 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard Québec


Paul Martin LiberalMinister of Finance


That this House approve in general the budgetary policy of the government.

Mr. Speaker, I am tabling the budget documents, including notices of ways and means motions. The details of the measures are contained in the documents. I am asking that an order of the day be designated for consideration of these motions.

I am also announcing that the government will, at the first opportunity, table bills to implement the other measures announced in this budget.

At the outset, let me express, on behalf of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, our gratitude to the Standing Committee on Finance and the various committees of caucus. Their hard work has been invaluable.

Let me just say that this budget is in many ways the product of this caucus.

Let me also thank the many who have taken the time from their day to day obligations to come forward and present their proposals on the shape this budget should take. Yet again, they have proven the benefits brought to budget making by simply listening to the common sense of Canadians.

This is the first budget of a new mandate. But if the mandate is new, our mission is not. Our goals today remain what they were when Canadians placed their trust in us in 1993: first to build a country of opportunity, of jobs and growth, one where every Canadian has equal access to the avenues of success; and second to safeguard and strengthen a caring and compassionate society.

Canadians have always known that securing these goals would not be easy. Canadians understood that fundamental problems require fundamental change. They wanted clear priorities established and they wanted a long term plan to achieve them.

In 1994 that plan was put in place. We have pursued it for more than four years and it is paying off today. This budget marks a further stage in that plan. It makes it very clear that our resolve will not weaken.

This budget will demonstrate that we have left the era of chronic deficits behind and that we are now on an irrevocable course to reduce the debt. It is a budget that will expand opportunity for all Canadians by making access to knowledge and skills more affordable. It is a budget that begins to reduce taxes, starting with those who need it most, middle and low income Canadians.

It is a budget that ensures that the balance of actions we take reflects the balance of priorities that Canadians share and that the values we heed are the values Canadians hold. That is our commitment.

When we came into office, the country's economy was in disarray.

The turnaround today is very evident.

Job creation is accelerating. Over the last four years, the number of jobs has grown by over one million. In 1997 alone, 372,000 new jobs, all full time and in the private sector, were created.

In 1993, the unemployment rate stood at 11.2 per cent. It has fallen since then and is now below 9 per cent. While not satisfactory, the trend is clear.

Consumer confidence has rebounded. The economic recovery is now supported by strong domestic demand.

Business confidence is at record levels. Investment is surging.

Stimulated by lower interest rates and renewed confidence, economic growth reached a level in excess of 3.5 per cent in 1997 and, this year, continued strength is projected. This would mean the best back-to-back performance for Canada in over ten years, the strongest performance of any G-7 nation.

We live in a volatile world. Clearly the events in Asia will have an impact. Nonetheless, let me simply say to Canadian business, consumers, employers and workers that there has not been a time in the past 25 years when our prospects have been better. Furthermore, economic growth is helping to push the deficit down dramatically. What I am about to say is something that no Canadian government has been able to say in almost 50 years.

We will balance the budget next year. We will balance the budget the year after that. We will balance the budget this fiscal year.

For the first time in 50 years, we will have three consecutive zero deficits: a zero deficit this year, 1997-98; a zero deficit next year and a zero deficit in the year 2000. We are at a turning point in our history.

This achievement is the accomplishment of Canadians, not of government.

From the outset it was Canadians who knew the dangers posed by financial mismanagement. It was Canadians who called for firm action. It was Canadians who united in a strong consensus that government simply had to get on with the job. And it was Canadians who have shown great forbearance in shouldering the consequences of actions that have been very difficult. Canadians can be very proud today. This is their victory.

It is clear that a new era lies ahead. And because of that, we owe it to Canadians to repeat now what our principles will be as we go forward.

First, we will stay the course that brought us here. We will be frugal. The battle to root out waste and inefficiency can never end. Never again will we allow the spectre of overspending to haunt this land. Never again will we let old habits return defining bigger government as better government, of believing that every problem requires another program. Never again will we see Canadians undergo round after round of painful cuts in order to dig us out of yet another hole.

Canadians have paid to see the movie “The Deficit”. They do not want to pay again to see the sequel.

Second, we will be focused in everything we do. The core priority of government must be to set the national agenda. It can never again fall into the old trap of trying to be all things to all people, of having so many priorities that in fact it has none.

Third, we will be steadfast. The challenges facing the country are deeply rooted. They are not the stuff of quick fixes. That is why as before, each budget will build on steps taken previously so that what may seem like small steps at the time will in the end become much larger steps, for we must look to the longer term needs of the nation.

Fourth, we must work in partnership. Acting alone, in isolation, is no longer on. Working together respects the reality that we each have a role to play—whether as governments, business, labour or the voluntary sector. But we must work together.

Fifth, we must be balanced and we must be fair. Canadians know that there is more to taking care of the nation than simply taking care of the books. Canada is not just a marketplace. It is a community. Our country is anchored in shared risk and shared benefits, in lending a hand knowing that, some day, we too may be in need. That is the spirit that built this land.

It was that spirit we saw when the country came together to help those devastated by the Saguenay flood. It was there again when the Red River struck. And it was there as hands reached out from across Canada to offer assistance in the aftermath of the ice storm last month.

The Canadian spirit of coming together is not something that only appears now and then in response to great natural disasters or disruptions. It abides. It is there in every community. It is there in every corner of the country. It is there every day. And it is there in the great national programs that have come to define who we are and who we want to become.

That is why this budget provides resources for the national AIDS strategy. That is why we established a healing fund to address the terrible legacy of abuse suffered by so many aboriginal young people in residential schools. And that is why we are committed without reservation to sustaining and strengthening the Canadian system of health care.

In 1995 when the country's fiscal back was to the wall we took some very difficult decisions and we recognize this. That is why the very first action we took when our progress on the deficit became clear was to increase the floor under the cash transfers to the provinces in support of health and other programs from $11 billion to $12.5 billion annually. This is the single largest expenditure accounted for in this budget. Indeed, going beyond today's projections between now and the year 2002, the provinces will receive an additional $7 billion in transfer payments from the federal government for health and other programs.

Frugality, focus, steadfastness, looking to the long term, partnership, fairness, these are the principles that underlie our plan. What I would now like to do is to demonstrate how these principles will be applied to the sound economic management of the country.

First, we have said right from the beginning that one of the central economic priorities of government must be to ensure that monetary and fiscal policy work hand in hand so that they reinforce rather than run up against one another. To that end, upon coming into office the government and the Bank of Canada agreed to hold inflation inside a range of 1% to 3% to the end of 1998. That policy has worked. Inflation is under firm control and will remain so in the future.

That is why we are announcing today that we will extend the current agreement with the Bank of Canada for a further three years. Canada has now established a reputation as a low inflation country. It is a reputation and a reality we will protect.

Next, let me turn to the issue of the debt. We have won a major battle. We have not yet won the war. More than 25 years of deficits have left us with a debt burden that is far too high. Every dollar that goes to service the debt is a dollar that cannot go to health care or tax relief. Quite simply, the debt burden must be brought down and in fact that has already begun to occur.

The best measure of the debt burden is to consider the size of the debt in relation to the size of the economy that supports it. This measure is called the debt-to-GDP ratio—what we owe in relation to what we produce. The lower the ratio, the more manageable the debt.

In 1996-97, the debt-to-GDP ratio fell meaningfully for the first time in more than 20 years. It will fall again this year even more and, over the next two years, the pace of improvement will continue. Our commitment is to keep the debt burden coming down steadily, permanently, irrevocably.

It will be brought down through the implementation of a two-track strategy.

First, we will continue to follow policies that will pay off in better economic growth.

Second, we will bring down the absolute level of debt itself.

This is our debt repayment plan. First, we will continue as before to present two year fiscal plans based on prudent economic assumptions. We will continue to be consistently more cautious than our private sector forecasters. In the first two years of this plan as set out in this budget we are committed to back to back balanced budgets.

Second, we will continue to build into our financial plans a buffer, a $3 billion contingency reserve.

Third, if as in each of the last three years the contingency reserve is not needed, it will go directly to paying down the debt.

This is how since coming into office we have brought the deficit down year after year after year, and this is how in the future we will bring the debt down year after year after year.

Indeed, that process is already under way.

There are two principal ways to calculate the deficit.

The first, the method we use in Canada, is considered to be one of the most rigorous in the world. It includes all the liabilities the government incurs over the course of a year.

The second measure, used by other countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, includes only the borrowing that the government makes in financial markets.

According to this measure, Canada recorded a financial surplus last year.

And according to this international comparison, Canada is in the best fiscal health of the G-7.

Of even greater significance, as shown in the monthly numbers being released today, is the fact that, so far this year, we have actually paid down debt previously borrowed in financial markets by almost $13 billion.

Ours is a country of great opportunity. What we must do is strive to be a country of equal opportunity as well. All Canadians do not begin life at the same starting line. For some the race is virtually won before it is begun. For many others it clearly is not. Circumstance and privilege can create a playing field which is very uneven. What we must understand is that when individual Canadians are deprived of the opportunity of reaching their full potential, then the country is deprived of the opportunity of reaching its full potential.

Some seem to believe there is nothing government can do. Some seem to believe that we should just unleash the market, let loose the forces of change and abandon those whom opportunity has passed by. That view is not ours.

A rising economic tide does not lift all boats. There are many Canadians who for many reasons do not enjoy the opportunities that others do but who would grasp them immediately and lift themselves up if only given the chance. That is why in this and previous budgets we have enhanced assistance to those with disabilities, Canadians who do not seek special rights but simply equal citizenship. That is why we have increased support for charitable groups, given the enormous role played by the voluntary sector in helping Canadians and enriching our communities.

Equal access to opportunity is a question of fairness, of fundamental social justice, but it is also about the fundamental economic challenge we face, the challenge of jobs.

For 200 years in Canada prosperity and knowledge have gone hand in hand. However, let us understand the true nature of the dynamic that is at play. As a society we are not educated because we are prosperous. We are prosperous because we have extended the frontiers of education. Today more than ever getting a good job and achieving a higher standard of living require even greater skills and broader knowledge.

The creation of jobs in the new millennium will be anchored in two essential components: the infrastructure of innovation, and the infrastructure of skills and knowledge.

In today's evolving world—to get a job, to keep a job, to move on to a better job—there is only one resource that will equip Canadians to succeed, and that is to develop the very best skills they can.

Learning must be the central part of any national jobs strategy.

In a very real way, the ability to learn must be the central part of any national job strategy.

The facts speak for themselves.

For example, those who graduated from university, community college and vocational institutes enjoy incomes 45 per cent higher than those who did not complete high school.

During the last recession, for those with only high school, 640,000 jobs were lost. However, for those with degrees or diplomas, 450,000 jobs were gained.

Thus it is not surprising that the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is 15 per cent, while for those with a university degree, it is only 5 per cent.

However, this is by no means only about university. It is about every community college and every vocational and technical institute in the country.

The demand for knowledge and skills spans all occupations at all levels and in all sectors, from factory to farm, from software to sales and from medicine to mechanics. Nor is this only about young people, it is also about the need to upgrade skills and develop new ones consistently throughout all of our working lives.

Furthermore, if knowledge and skills underpin a strong economy, so too they underpin a strong society and a secure society.

The backbone of a country is the strength of its middle class.

There is no better way to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, no surer way to widen the mainstream, no more meaningful way to reduce the numbers of those left behind and no better way to provide a higher quality of life for Canadians than to facilitate the path to higher education.

Quite simply, every Canadian who wants to learn should have the opportunity to do so.

Yet today from Corner Brook to Coquitlam there are tens of thousands who do not have that opportunity. It is a fact that students from lower income families are under represented in our institutions of higher learning and the fault line widens every time a young Canadian is denied access to the skills they need, not because the courses are too hard but because the costs are too high.

Too many are deterred from pursuing higher education because of a fear of large debt. Too many who have made the decision to go forward are struggling with rising costs and too many parents worry that they will not be able to save for their children's future.

It is a great irony and a greater tragedy that at the very moment when the country cannot afford to do without higher leaning it is becoming more difficult than ever to afford.

Now, before proceeding further, let me be very clear on one point.

Education is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. It is the provinces that are responsible for the curriculum, for educational institutions, for quality.

We are not talking here of the content of what is taught. What we are talking about is equal access to opportunity. Indeed, what we are dealing with is the responsibility of all governments and all sectors of society to ensure that Canada builds on its strengths in an increasingly competitive and interdependent world economy.

Each of us must do our part. We will only be truly successful in creating opportunity for all if we act in partnership, a partnership of parents, of educators, of the private sector, and of provincial and federal governments. In that partnership, some roles are exclusive. Others are shared.

For decades, both the federal government and the provinces have played their part in providing equality of access to those in financial need.

Today, as demands evolve, we must strengthen and adapt that assistance to better ensure that all Canadians are provided an equal opportunity to participate in the knowledge-based economy of the future.

Why? Because the need is so great. Because the cause is so clear.

Let me quote directly from the communiqué issued by the Prime Minister and the provincial premiers at their meeting last December. “The First Ministers agree on the importance of lessening students' financial burden. Furthermore, it is agreed that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development will accelerate work in concert with provincial and territorial Education Ministers so that the Minister of Finance can take account of this work in the next federal budget”.

Today we are taking action in response to that consensus and that request.

I would like to set out the Canadian Opportunities Strategy—a co-ordinated set of measures building on the thrust of the last budget, designed to create opportunity by expanding access to lifelong learning.

Action is required on seven fronts.

First, promoting access by helping students in financial need cope with rising costs.

Second, helping those who have graduated manage growing debt burdens.

Third, providing Canadians with access to the financial resources required to upgrade their skills throughout their career.

Fourth, assisting families to save for their children's education.

Fifth, supporting graduate and post-graduate students so that they can continue to develop their skills and do the research that will pay off for the whole country.

Sixth, helping young people make the transition from school to work.

Finally, connecting Canadians, young and old, rural and urban, to the technology of the information age and all the knowledge it makes possible.

The Canadian opportunity strategy which we are outlining today helps move Canada forward on all seven of these fronts.

First, last fall in the House the Prime Minister said, and I quote, “There can be no greater millennium project for Canada and no better role for government than to help young Canadians prepare for the knowledge based society of the next century”. Then he went on to call for a major investment to provide thousands of scholarships to deserving Canadian students. In this budget the Prime Minister's commitment and vision become reality.

Today we are announcing the largest single investment every made by a federal government to support access to post-secondary education for all Canadians. The Canadian millennium foundation, a private independent institution, is being created. The government will provide the foundation with an initial 10 year endowment of $2.5 billion. As a private foundation it will be able to receive donations and bequests from across the country.

This investment will provide over 100,000 scholarships to low and middle income students each and every year over the course of the next decade. The scholarships will average $3,000 each per year. As a result, a student receiving a scholarship over four years will see his or her debt load cut by $12,000, half what it otherwise would have been.

These scholarships will be awarded to Canadians of all ages, part time as well as full time students. Those attending all publicly funded institutions, not simply universities but colleges, CEGEPs and vocational and technical institutions, will be able to apply. Canada millennium scholarships will be for the students at Durham College in Oshawa and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton just as much as they will be for those at Université de Montréal or Dalhousie.

Many Canadians would like to be able to attend college or university outside their hometown or home province at an institution of their own choosing, but today rising costs make that less and less of a possibility. We believe that more Canadians should have the opportunity to attend the institution that best meets their needs. We also believe that Canadians should get to know their country better.

Therefore. recipients of the Canada millennium scholarships who want to travel or study outside of their hometowns or home provinces will be provided with the help to do so.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation will be a private, independent body. It will be managed by a board of directors, each and every one of whom will be a private citizen. They, not the government, will decide how best to design the scholarships within the mandate they are given.

The Council of Ministers of Education, representing the provinces, as well as representatives of the education community, will be given a key role in identifying who the directors should be. We will ensure that a student is on the board.

Once established, the Foundation will consult very closely with provincial governments and the education community. The goal will be: to award scholarships by the Foundation to individuals in a manner that avoids duplication, to build on existing provincial needs assessment processes, to complement existing provincial programs. The legislation creating the Foundation will provide it with the administrative flexibility required to meet these objectives.

In particular, the Foundation will have the authority, subject to mutually agreed needs, merit and mobility criteria, to contract with appropriate provincial authorities for the selection of those recipients in a province to whom the Foundation will award Canada Millennium Scholarships.

Above all, we must significantly increase access to post-secondary education for low- and middle-income students.

This investment in the future of our country is the result of Canada's successful battle against the deficit. It is an investment that will pay for itself over and over again in the years ahead. The Prime Minister stated it best last fall:

I hope this can do in the 21st century for our economy and our country what the investment after World War II in post-secondary education for our returning soldiers did for our economy and our country in the last half of the 20th century—This will not be a millennium monument made of bricks and mortar, but when future Canadians look around they will see its legacy everywhere.

Canadians do not need to be told that student debt has become a major problem. Students know it. Families know it. Graduates must deal with it.

In 1990, only eight years ago, the average debt load after a four year program was $13,000. By next year it will almost have doubled to $25,000. At the beginning of this decade fewer than 8% of borrowers had debts larger than $15,000. Now almost 40% do.

Students are graduating with a mortgage before they can even consider buying a house and for many, before they have been able to land a job. There are few students who do not find the burden of loan repayment to be a difficult one.

Businesses are able to deduct the interest cost of buying equipment when investing in their future. We believe that individual Canadians should receive similar treatment when investing in their future.

Therefore, this budget announces that for the first time ever all students will be given tax relief on interest payments on their student loans. This will be provided through a tax credit which can be carried forward for five years.

Mr. Speaker, to simply give you an example, for students just graduating with a loan of $25,000 this will mean a reduction of $530 in their taxes in the first year alone. Over a 10 year paydown of the average student loan this could mean as much as $3,200 in tax relief. This measure will help one million Canadians who are repaying their student loans.

That being said, there are those who need even greater assistance in shouldering a debt burden that is simply too large for them to handle alone. To help these individuals, additional changes will be made to provide further interest rate relief on their loans and for longer periods of time. These changes will benefit up to 100,000 graduates in financial hardship.

Finally, for most, these measures will be sufficient. However, there will still be a very small minority who despite interest relief cannot cope with their debts. For these people, after careful examination of all of the circumstances, the principal amount of the loan itself will be reduced so that payments are more affordable. This form of help will be considered five years after individuals have ended their studies.

The measures we are announcing today will help greatly to ensure that Canadian students are not mired in a swamp of debt from which they can never escape. However, in order to ensure that Canada student loans continue to provide as much assistance as they can to those who need it, we will be taking steps to ensure that both educational institutions and students use the program as it is intended.

The costs of study are a challenge for many Canadians, but there are some for whom the problem is particularly acute. We all know young people who made the decision early in life to have a family and as a result were unable to continue their education. Many are women who are today heading single-parent families.

Today, many want to return to their studies to improve their prospects and those of their children. Given the family obligations they have, the road ahead can be a very rough one indeed.

Therefore, in order to expand opportunities for these Canadians, we are announcing today that new grants of up to $3,000 per year will be made available to over 25,000 students in financial need who have children. These grants will help them whether they pursue their studies full time or on a part-time basis.

Canadians know that their ability to continue earning depends on their ability to continue learning. There are a growing number of part time students, the majority of whom are having a very difficult time trying to manage the difficult balance between work, family and study. We have already announced that part time students will be eligible for Canada millennium scholarships and those with children for special grants.

Today we are announcing two additional steps to support part time studies. The education credit is one of the major ways government provides tax assistance to students. It helps with the living expenses of those in university, community college or vocational school. Up until now this has been available only to full time students. We are announcing today that for the first time part time students will have access to the education credit as well. This will assist 250,000 students who could not take advantage of this credit before.

Next, the 1996 budget enabled full time students who are parents to claim the child care expense deduction against all types of income. Today we are making part time students as well eligible for that deduction. Fifty thousand students will benefit from this action.

As a result of these two measures, the tax savings for a typical part time student with two young children will more than triple from $300 to almost $1,000 a year.

There is more to be done. Many Canadians already in the workforce need and want to upgrade their skills through full time study, yet many do not have reasonable access to the financial resources this requires. Today we are moving forward to help meet this challenge.

Effective January 1, 1999 Canadians will be able to make tax free withdrawals from their RRSPs to support full time education and training.

There are few things more critical to ensuring an adequate income in retirement than ensuring a good income when working. Providing opportunity to improve skills is an important way to make sure that happens.

The office worker who wishes to enhance their computer skills, the assembly line worker who wants to retrain as a machinist, these Canadians and more will now have access to a resource, their RRSP, that until now they were prevented from using.

Much of what we have announced so far concerns today's immediate needs.

But we must look ahead to the students of tomorrow.

Part of the answer lies in the over 100,000 Canada Millennium Scholarships that will be awarded each year. Part of the answer lies in assisting parents to prepare and plan for their children's future education.

Today, Canadians are already saving for their children in many ways. Some buy bonds. Some set up special bank accounts. Many simply set aside a bit of money whenever they can. Grandparents, aunts and uncles put money away at birthdays and at Christmas.

One way government assists Canadians in saving for their children's education is by supporting registered education savings plans—RESPs. Money placed in these plans grows tax free until the child is ready to go on to college, to a vocational institute or to university.

Over the past two years we more than doubled the annual contribution limit for RESPs. Today we are taking a significant further step.

Today marks the beginning of a new partnership with parents. We believe that government has a role to play investing alongside those who seek to save for their children's education.

Therefore, effective January 1 of this year the government will provide a Canada education savings grant to supplement new contributions made to RESPs. For every dollar contributed by a parent or other up to an amount of $2,000 a year the federal government will provide a Canada education savings grant equal to 20% of the total and this money will be paid directly into the child's plan.

If contributors are unable to save the full amount in any particular year they will be able to carry the unpaid amounts forward, allowing them to catch up in later years.

Let me illustrate the impact of saving with a Canada education savings grant beginning when a child is three. If parents were to save, let us say, $25 every two weeks through an automatic deduction from their paycheque, even if prudently invested, their child beginning at age 18 would receive $4,700 each year for four years to finance his or her schooling. Of that amount, almost $800 a year would be the direct result of the Canada education savings grant we are announcing today.

As a result of the initiatives we are taking, RESPs will now be among the most attractive savings vehicles available for a child's education. We believe that RESPs will soon come to be considered as essential for future planning as registered retirement savings plans are now.

They represent one of the best things parents can do for their children, one of the best things grandparents can do for their grandchildren. They speak to the partnership of generations.

There can be few things more critical to determining our economic success in the next century than a vigorous, broad based research and development effort. The fact is the more R and D that is done in Canada, the more jobs that will be created for Canadians. That is why, for instance, we created the Canada Foundation for Innovation last year, to provide the facilities at our hospitals, our universities and our colleges that will support world class research.

This year we are providing new support for researchers themselves so that the best and the brightest can realize their dreams and fulfil their promise right here in Canada. They will do so by opening up new frontiers of knowledge in medicine and in the natural and the social sciences.

For two decades, the government's granting councils—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada—have provided crucial support for these researchers and their projects.

For example, Dr. John Polanyi, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of the chemical laser, has been a recipient of such support throughout his career. So, too, has Dr. Fernand Labrie of Laval University whose research work on enzymes and hormones has opened up vast possibilities for the treatment of breast and prostate cancers.

As we brought the deficit down, many difficult choices were made. One of these was a reduction in funding for the granting councils. That is why I am very happy to announce today that, effective April 1, their budgets will be restored to their original 1994-95 levels. In the years ahead, these resources will grow further. Indeed, by the end of the year 2001, they will have received more than $400 million in additional resources and their budgets will be at their highest level ever.

The youth unemployment problem remains grave in this country. As we have just seen, an important part of the answer lies in higher education. However, too many of our young people still confront the dilemma they know only too well: no experience, no job; no job, no experience.

To help address this problem, the government launched a youth employment strategy in February last year. As part of that strategy, more than 120,000 career summer placements and over 50,000 internships are being created over a two year period.

Clearly the private sector is the engine of job creation and many employers are rising to the challenge of helping to hire and train more youth. However, much more remains to be done. Many more employers must rise to the challenge if it is to be overcome.

Therefore today we are introducing two measures that we believe will support the private sector and others in this endeavour. They, along with the measures announced today and others previously taken, are part of what we believe must become a country-wide effort to deal head on with the problem of youth unemployment.

First, we are announcing that over the next two years employment insurance premiums paid by employers will be eliminated for new jobs they create for young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24.

Second, we recognize that the challenge of finding a job is toughest for those who have dropped out of school. For these people the need for skills is great, and on the job training is often the best way to develop them.

Today Youth Service Canada is helping over 5,000 unemployed young Canadians get work experience in local businesses and community based projects. The results are there. One year after completing their Youth Service Canada work experience, 85% of participants had found work or had returned to school.

Therefore in this budget we are more than doubling the resources devoted to this program in order to assist those, particularly between ages 20 and 24, who have not completed high school. Wage subsidies of up to $10,000 will be provided to give them the kind of work experience that is key to long term employment.

Computer skills have now joined reading, writing and arithmetic as one of the basics of learning. Having access to a computer puts the world literally at one's fingertips. There are two programs in place to give Canadians access to the technology and knowledge that makes it all possible.

First, SchoolNet, introduced by the government four years ago, is bringing the Internet into the classroom, making it a vital learning tool in every school in Canada. It allows students to access huge volumes of material in a matter of seconds—making learning more satisfying and teaching more effective.>

The Computers for Schools Initiative, which is part of SchoolNet, donates thousands of computers to schools across the country, helping our children develop computer literacy at an early age, the easiest time to learn.

Second, the Community Access Program is bringing Canada on-line. Five thousand communities and libraries are being connected. Five thousand more sites await.

The goal of both these programs is to make sure that, no matter where Canadians live, no matter how small a town, how small a school, rich or poor, every student—indeed every citizen—has access to the same storehouse of knowledge.

To bring that goal ever closer to realization, the government is significantly increasing the resources available to both SchoolNet and the Community Access Program. There will be additional investment as well for CANARIE, Canada's world-leading research effort into next-generation communications networks.

This unique and extensive private and public sector consortium will enable Canada to put in place the world's fastest coast-to-coast information network, accessible to schools, communities and businesses. At the dawn of the information economy, this will provide Canada with an important leg up on the rest of the world.

Let me summarize what the Canadian opportunities strategy means for Canadians.

For the student at college or university or vocational institute, the Canadian opportunities strategy means a comprehensive system of scholarships, study grants, student loans and tax credits. For the graduate coping with student loans it means a new tax credit to support repayment and new loan relief if they are in a situation of financial hardship.

For the worker seeking to renew his or her skills, whether through part time or full time study, whether at university, college or vocational institute, it means increased support that will now be available for students of all ages, plus the opportunity to draw on RRSPs to increase earning capacity.

For parents and grandparents it means the Canada education savings grant which will make RESPs the best way by far to save for a child's future education.

For post-graduate students and researchers it means greater support of their important work through the granting councils.

For young persons having difficulty joining the workforce it means new opportunities to gain practical work experience.

For children as well as communities across Canada, it means new access to computer technology and computer networks.

The Canadian opportunities strategy is based on a very straightforward proposition: that people, regardless of their income level, who are serious about getting an education should have that opportunity. That is their right. It is our duty and it is a responsibility that we are acting upon today.

We have just been discussing the role of education in assuring equality of opportunity. But let us be very clear. The capacity to learn does not begin in school. It is dependent on the caring and the nurturing provided the smallest infant. The fact is equality of opportunity means a good start at home. That is why over the past year the federal, provincial and territorial governments have begun to build a national child benefit system which will play a key role in fighting poverty so as to help provide that good start.

As a first step, in our last budget we allocated $850 million to increase federal child benefits. This funding begins to flow in July of this year through the new Canada child tax benefit. It will increase support to over one million children and their families.

Last spring we said that as soon as we could afford to do more, we would. Today we are. As part of the national child benefit system, we are allocating a further $850 million to enrich the child tax benefit over the next two years: $425 million as of July 1999 and $425 million as of July in the year 2000. Details of these improvements will be announced after discussions with the provinces.

Next, we believe that government must recognize and support all Canadian families in their desire to provide quality care for their children. We know that the vast majority of working Canadians belong to two earner families. While those parents are away at work they want the very best care for their children. We also know that the costs of childcare can be high and that they are increasing.

Therefore, in this budget we are increasing the limit on the childcare expense deduction from $5,000 to $7,000 for children under age 7, and from $3,000 to $4,000 for children aged 7 to 16. For a parent earning $45,000 and paying $14,000 for the care of two preschool children, this measure will reduce their costs by $1,600 a year. The increased childcare expense deductions will provide needed assistance to 65,000 Canadians with children.

One of the defining features of a secure society is its will and capacity to provide a secure retirement income for its senior citizens. One of the most important policy initiatives ever undertaken in Canada was the decision over three decades ago to establish the Canada pension plan.

The CPP is about our values as a nation. It is about the sharing of risk and the security of benefits.

Last year we and the provinces as joint stewards came together and agreed on a package of reforms to preserve the CPP and enabling legislation was passed by this Parliament. The CPP is now secure.

We can say to every Canadian who is 60 years old, the CPP will be there for you. We can say to every Canadian who is 40 years old, the CPP will be there for you. And we can say with confidence to every young Canadian, many of whom have not believed that public pensions would survive, the CPP will also be there for you.

In the months ahead we will move on to the next stage of preserving our pension system. Legislation will be introduced to put in place the seniors benefit which in the early years of the next century will replace the current system of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, the second pillar of our retirement income system.

The seniors benefit will fully protect the pensions of all current seniors and near seniors. It will ensure that all those in need receive as much, if not more, than they would under the current system. We have consulted with seniors and other interested groups on the detail of this reform. They have raised some very important points concerning the package that was first put forward in 1996. We have listened very carefully. Their points are being given every consideration.

Let me now turn to the question of taxation. Let me begin by reaffirming our goal. It is to reduce taxes. It is to leave more money in the pockets of hard working Canadians.

A government's tax policy must be an essential element of its overall social and economic policy. Our tax policy is crystal clear.

First, our financial resources are limited. Therefore targeted tax reductions aimed at critical social and economic concerns must be the first priority.

Second, as financial resources permit, general tax relief will be provided, the priority being personal income taxes for middle and low income Canadians.

Third, the tax system must be fair. This means Canadians should pay taxes consistent with their capacity to pay. And we must ensure that all taxes owing are indeed paid.

From the beginning, we have provided targeted tax relief where the need is greatest and the impact the largest.

In past budgets, for example, we have increased tax assistance for students, for charities, for persons with disabilities, and for the children of working parents with low incomes. In this budget, the process of targeted assistance is being continued.

Many of the measures we have announced as part of the Canadian Opportunities Strategy will, in fact, be delivered through the tax system, as will the new support for families under the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the child care expense deduction.

In addition, we are announcing the following targeted tax measures.

First, the number of self-employed Canadians is growing daily. Many operate through unincorporated businesses. However, unlike those businesses that are incorporated, they cannot deduct the premiums they pay for their supplemental health and dental plans. This is unfair. Starting this year, self-employed Canadians will be able to deduct these premiums from their business income.

We recognize as well that there is an unprecedented number of Canadians, mostly women, who are today providing care for family members at home, very often an elderly parent or a disabled child. The support they provide is irreplaceable.

In recognition of this the government is introducing a new federal tax credit of up to $400. This will increase or extend assistance to well over 400,000 caregivers. Together with the GST/HST exemption proposed in this budget for respite care, our goal is to enhance federal support for Canadians striving to meet the growing demands of caring for family members with an infirmity or a disability.

Finally, as witnessed over the past year in floods and the ice storm, it is important to recognize the extraordinary service provided by the thousands of Canadians who register as volunteers in our communities, mostly rural, as has been pointed out by caucus, and who provide essential emergency services such as firefighting and first aid. They give concrete meaning to the concept of good citizenship. To support them, the tax free allowance for volunteer firefighters will be doubled from $500 to $1,000. This allowance is extended to all other emergency service volunteers effective January 1.

With the books balanced it is now possible to consider broader tax measures. Very clearly, at the outset these measures must be modest for the financial dividend that makes them possible is modest as well. We simply cannot put in jeopardy either Canada's regained fiscal health or the country's priorities such as health care, education and public pensions.

Equally clearly, as a matter of fundamental fairness, our first focus must be on low and middle income Canadians. The place to start therefore is with those least able to pay taxes.

First, personal tax credits serve the purpose of greater tax fairness by ensuring that no tax is paid on a basic amount of income. Therefore, as of July 1 of this year, we are raising the amount of income that can be earned by a low income single Canadian by $500 and by $1,000 for a family, before they pay one penny of tax. As a result, 400,000 people will be removed from the tax rolls completely.

Second, in 1986 the previous government subjected all Canadians to a 3% general surtax, a tax on tax, which it said would bring the deficit down. The deficit went up. The surtax remained on.

Today we are announcing the elimination of the deficit. Today, for 13 million middle income Canadians, we are eliminating the surtax.

Today, we are announcing the elimination of the deficit. And today, for 13 middle-income million Canadians, we are eliminating the surtax.

Effective July 1, taxpayers earning between $50,000 and $65,000 will see the surtax reduced and 83% of all taxpayers, those earning up to $50,000, will see it eliminated in its entirety.

Taken together, the last two measures will provide tax relief for up to 14 million Canadians and 90% of all taxpayers. In total, the general tax relief and the targeted tax measures that we are announcing today, primarily to low and middle income Canadians, amount to $7 billion over the next three years.

These tax measures are a first step. Looking ahead, we will build upon them as we can. We will do so with the nation's economic and social needs very much at the forefront of our consideration. We will do so in a measured and responsible way. Let there be no doubt, as soon as we can afford it taxes will be further reduced.

This then is our budget. It represents the second stage of the plan we put in place in 1994. It has three parts.

First, in previous budgets, we reduced the deficit. With this budget, we have balanced the books and have begun the process of debt reduction. In future budgets, we will stay the course.

Second, we have invested in the future. Over 80 per cent of our new spending initiatives reflect the highest priorities of Canadians—access to knowledge and skills, support for health and education through increased transfers to the provinces.

Furthermore, we will accomplish this while at the same time maintaining a tight control on our expenditures. In fact, in this budget, Canada's program spending as a share of GDP, will fall to its lowest level in 50 years.

Third, we have reduced taxes initially in a targeted way and, as soon as the country's resources permit, we will broaden and deepen the process.

This plan is not only simply a theme for one budget or one year. It has defined our approach from the beginning. It will define our approach in the future.

However, as I draw to a close, let me conclude not by summarizing the measures contained in this budget but by describing the challenges those measures are designed to meet.

Today we cannot pretend that our task is over. It is not. If Canadians have accomplished a great financial turnaround, there are greater things still that need to be done. We dare not coast now. We cannot let go.

The fact is that in this age of globalization and technological change we hear constantly about barriers that are being brought down, about new markets that are being opened up. This is true and it is tremendously exciting, but the fact is as well that Canadians have come to fear that our capacity to shape our own destiny is disappearing and that their country has become like a small boat sailing on rough and uncharted seas.

In an era of restructuring and downsizing, Canadians have come to wonder whatever happened to the once solid link between growth in the economy and growth in their incomes.

After decades of runaway deficits, Canadians have feared that their health care, their pensions, their system of education risked becoming mere shadows of their former selves—frail and fading, no longer strong and secure.

Well, there is a new destiny we must design for ourselves.

Globalization and technological change are a reality. They are not a religion. They are a fact. They are not a faith. We commit a very serious mistake if we ever come to believe that the global economy abroad means that there is no role, no responsibility on the part of government to provide opportunity and security at home.

In the era of great change our core programs, our core institutions, our core values are more important than ever. They hold us together. They give Canadians the security and the confidence they deserve. They equip the country to succeed, and succeed we will.

We believe on this side of the House that the strength of a nation's agenda lies in its balance, not in its extremes. The fact is we have not balanced the budget in spite of having taken a balanced approach. We have done so precisely because we have taken a balanced approach.

This is not about compromise. This is not about trying to be all things to all people. It is about meeting the diverse needs of a modern nation. It is about managing the present while at the same time preparing for the future. We do not believe that our society and our economy should be left to twist in the winds of globalization. We must make change work for us or else we will end up working for it. That frames our challenge.

Some countries have great natural resources, others have impressive technological capacity, still others have vast human resources. We have all three.

That is why our goal must be to make Canada, not just a participant in the modern economy, but a world leader. A country which provides its citizens with access to the highest standard of living and the widest scope of opportunities possible.

Our responsibility as we go forward is very clear. It is to balance the budget but it is also to bring forth budgets that are balanced. It is to work to build not simply an economy of growth but also to safeguard a society that is fair. Our challenge today is to put our values to work in new ways for a new century. It is to turn opportunity for some into opportunity for all.

That is what this budget seeks. That is what we will strive for in each and every year that lies ahead, for that is the foundation on which a great nation is built.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, in about three minutes I will formerly move adjournment of the budget debate until tomorrow, but before doing so I would be remiss if I did not say that congratulations are in order concerning the fact that for the first time in 28 years the federal budget is to be balanced.

Some members opposite, most of whom have resisted budget balancing throughout their entire careers, appear to feel that these congratulations are owed to them. What an illusion.

I half expect the finance minister to show up tomorrow with his arm in a sling, having patted himself on the back so many times that he has dislocated his shoulder.

The budget figures themselves plainly show that the federal budget has been balanced primarily on the backs of long suffering Canadian taxpayers, taxpayers who are now contributing more than $30 billion per year to the federal coffers than when the government took office.

If it is the taxpayers of Canada who have contributed the most to balancing the budget, then it is those taxpayers who should be the first to receive the rewards of a balanced budget and it is they who should receive the greatest reward.

One would have expected a grateful government, a grateful minister, to have first devoted any surplus to meeting the priorities of those taxpayers, which are debt reduction and tax relief. Sad to say, this budget does not provide that reward.

Hon. members have not heard this, but they will hear it now. The story of the budget in brief is that there is no serious effort to tackle the debt. Spending is up by $11 billion over the next four years. I would ask Liberal members to listen to the last point because they were not told this in caucus. While tax relief measures amounting to $7 billion are offered over the next three years, total taxes paid by all taxpayers increase by $46 billion over the same period.

In other words, the minister put $900 into the left pocket of the average family and over the next three years will take $6,000 out of the right pocket and hope that the taxpayers will not notice. The taxpayers are going to notice.

It is the intention and the duty of the official opposition over the next few days to fully disclose and expose the betrayal of the taxpayer in this budget and to present alternative measures to make real tax relief and real debt reduction the priorities of the 36th Parliament.

We can hardly wait for that debate in which Canadians will hear the other side of the story. But to give the government time to fortify itself by strong drink and other measures against the exposures of the weaknesses of its budget, to give the government its fleeting moment in the sun, I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

(Motion agreed to)

The BudgetGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 83(2), the motion is deemed adopted and this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m.

(The House adjourned at 6.01 p.m.)