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House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.

Topics

Main Estimates, 1998-99Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Main Estimates, 1998-99Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Susan Whelan Liberal Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Industry on Bill C-21, an act to amend the Small Business Loans Act.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 1998 / 10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table a petition concerning the Lévis railway station.

Although the decision was made this past Friday, I felt obliged to present this petition bearing 155 signatures opposing the closing of the Lévis station and supporting the continued use of the Montmagny subdivision trunk line between Harlaka and Saint-Romuald.

All told, the Minister of Transport has chosen to ignore 11,241 people.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to present a petition pursuant to Standing Order 36 on behalf of a number of residents of the great city of Kamloops.

The petitioners are concerned about unfairness in the Canadian tax system. They are calling upon the government, rather than to proceed with some minor tax changes like we saw in the recent budget, to phase down the GST as a means of ensuring fair tax returns as opposed to a few people benefiting. In this way everybody could benefit and the money could be reinvested in the communities.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a second petition I wish to present. It concerns retirement.

The petitioners from throughout British Columbia are concerned about the government's plan to change the seniors benefits package. They have heard all sorts of rumours and are concerned about what they have heard.

They are anxious to see the proposal tabled in the House or draft legislation that will be brought before the House so that there is chance for full and thorough debate before the government proceeds.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I suggest that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government; of the amendment; and of the amendment to the amendment.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Hon. members will recall that when we interrupted the debate for Routine Proceedings the hon. member for Burlington was on her feet.

The hon. member for Burlington has two minutes remaining for debate and five minutes for questions and comments.

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10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, during the hon. member's remarks she said there was not public support for broad based tax relief.

I am looking at a poll conducted by the Angus Reid group in the past month. In response to the question “What do you think should be the federal government's main priority in deciding what to do with any future surplus money?”, 45% responded that it should be used to reduce the accumulated debt, 29% said that it should be used to cut taxes, and merely 23% said that it should be spent on government programs.

In so far as the budget places much greater emphasis on new spending programs than on either debt reduction, with zero commitment to that in the budget, or tax relief with only a modest commitment, how does the member square that?

When she speaks of tax relief, how does she justify the continued tax increase of bracket creep which KPMG estimates will cost taxpayers over $1,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, on average, far outstripping any tax relief to be delivered to modest income Canadians in the budget?

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10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my speech I was reflecting what we heard in the presentations that were made to us as we travelled across the country and as we sat here in Ottawa. In fact there was not broad support for across the board tax cuts.

However, in terms of our commitments and the delivery we have made in the budget, the hon. member should present the facts as they are. Sixty per cent of what we have done in the budget will reduce taxes and the debt. That is more than our commitment to the public on that issue.

The issue of bracket creep is one we have to address seriously. I hope we can do it in the next budget. It is something that has concerned me for quite a while. It is something I hope we will be able to do as we get the economy in better shape. I hope the member for Calgary Southeast will support us in that initiative.

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10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member what she thinks of the fact that her government decided in the budget to put all its eggs in one basket.

By the year 2000, there will be a surplus of $25 billion in the employment insurance fund. Is it reasonable for the government to use this fund as one of its primary sources of income to the detriment of the objectives of the employment insurance plan?

Is this not risky? If we have an economic recession, fewer people will have a job, which means less money will go into the fund. Do you not think that the government and the Minister of Finance could put us in the same situation as the one we experienced before 1993, when the provinces and the unemployed were forced to make a major contribution to the fight against the deficit, which led us to the current situation?

Why create a $25 billion surplus in a fund, when those who are supposed to benefit from the program do not enjoy acceptable benefits?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has highlighted a very responsible move on behalf of this government. We have moved to reduce EI premiums in each of the years that we have been office rather than what the previous government did. In a time of great difficulty and a time of downturn in the economy, it increased the premiums and further exasperated the difficulties for finding employment.

He also opens up another opportunity. We built a nest egg and that is important for what is a cyclical turn in the economy. We have also reduced premiums for all workers and that is very important.

Third, in this budget we provide an EI holiday to all those who hire young Canadians between 18 and 24. That perhaps is one of the most interesting and creative ways to deliver job opportunities to young people from coast to coast. It is as important to the kids in Montreal and in the member's riding as it is to the kids in Burlington and the kids in Kamloops. It gives them an opportunity. It says to employers if they fulfill their side of the bargain in creating this opportunity and we will fulfill something for them, we will give them a bit of a break. That is a very important initiative. I am glad the member is supportive of those reduced premiums for our young Canadians.

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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am really happy to have a chance to participate in the debate today. If I can summarize my view and our view of the budget, from the New Democratic Party perspective, the government has decided for one reason or another to turn its back on large numbers of Canadians, to betray a number of promises that were made to large numbers of Canadians.

It has decided to ignore the plight of those Canadians who have successfully, not necessarily on their own volition, fought the deficit war. I thought it was somewhat inappropriate for the Minister of Finance to suggest that he or the Liberal cabinet or the Liberal caucus or the Liberal Party has somehow been able to balance the books to achieve a surplus budget. If he did that either directly or indirectly, he certainly assumed the responsibility for having achieved that. That is wrong.

The reason we have a balanced budget today is that a whole number of Canadians have been asked to sacrifice a great deal over the last number of months and years. There are people who have not been able to get the surgery they require, who have had to sit in an emergency ward for hours and hours waiting for a doctor. There are hundreds of thousands of children who have been required and forced to live in a state of poverty in this country. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who do not have a job at all, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who have two or three part time jobs so they can try to patch together a decent income to attempt to start a family or buy their first home or apartment.

We are talking about 1.5 million people who do not even have a job, who are out there looking day after day for decent employment and cannot find employment. We are talking about another million people at least who are working at minimum wage, part time jobs, 20 hours a week in this shop and 5 hours a week over here in the evenings and so on, trying to piece together a decent income. All these people were ignored in this budget.

The Minister of Finance often talks about values, how really politics is about values and we are asked to make decisions about who we support in this country. The government has to make tough decisions now. Now it has a surplus budget so it has to decide who to assist with the surplus, who to help out, who to show support for, who to nurture and encourage along. Is it the poor? No. Is it the unemployed? No. Is it poor children? No. Is it aboriginal families? No. Is it students? No. Is it education? No. Is it health care? No.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast have told us as parliamentarians, have registered in polls, have written letters, have presented briefs. When the finance committee toured the country at every stop we heard the same thing. The health care system of this country is in crisis. The doctors told us it is in crisis. The nurses told us it is in crisis. The patients told us it is in crisis. The administrators told us it is in crisis. From coast to coast Canadians are in agreement that if there is a problem that needs to be fixed in this country, it is our health care system and this budget completely ignored it.

There seems to be some oddity. I could not believe my ears. I know my friend from Calgary will feel the same way this morning. We woke up, turned on the radio and we heard the Prime Minister. What was he saying? There is no need for more money for health care. Our health care system is fine. I do not know where he gets his health care. He must fly down to some elitist hospital somewhere in the United States to get his treatment.

We have all been there. We have all talked to our constituents who have told us their experiences in hospitals. They went down to the emergency ward and had to wait hours and hours because there are too few doctors to serve the lines in the emergency wards. Then people tell of their experience when they are in hospital. There is no criticism against the physicians, no criticism against the nurses, no criticism against the caregivers. There are just not enough of them to go around. The infrastructure is not there. The technology is not there. The research facilities are not there. The personnel are not there.

And this Prime Minister has the gall to say this morning that the health care system in this country is okay and it requires no more support, no more funding. Yet the Minister of Health just hours ago said we will be bringing in a health care budget soon because there are problems. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Finance said not too long ago the hardest thing he had to do was cut health care. He at least was honest about.

The Minister of Finance at least said that there is a serious problem in health care. He made choices. I think they were the wrong ones. He chose not to support health care. At least he admitted that there was a problem, there was a crisis.

The Prime Minister says there is no problem. Yet the Minister of Health just yesterday said we will have to deal with this as soon as we can. Talk about speaking out of both sides of your mouth, but every conceivable orifice in your body has a different sound coming out of it. There is something drastically wrong here.

What value does this reflect? Canadians are calling out for one of the centre pieces of our Canadian society that distinguishes us from most countries of the world, a first class health care system, and now it is eroding on all edges. Do government members acknowledge that fact? No. Are they prepared to put their money where some of their mouths are? No. Are they prepared to assist the provinces in terms of providing decent health care? No.

It is immoral for the members of the Liberal Party to sit in their seats today and say they do not care if there are line-ups in our hospitals, if people do not have decent health care, that they do not care about the line-ups in emergency wards, about the hospitals that are forced to close.

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10:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Disgraceful.

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10:20 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

My friend says disgraceful. It is a disgrace. They should be walking out of their seats. They should not be sitting there. How can they sit there with such hypocrisy and say they care about Canadians when the proof of the budget demonstrates they do not? That is just health care.

If there is one thing the finance committee heard travelling across the country it was that we had a job problem that was of paramount significance in our country. As a matter of fact, just days ago the Minister of Finance was in Europe meeting with the G-7 countries. He said he was going to go home and deal with the unemployment problem, work to reduce the economic inequalities and put these in the budget.

We listened carefully to the minister and I do not think he mentioned the word job. I do not think he mentioned the word unemployment. He certainly did nothing that is going to change the unemployment problem in this country. We told him that he should at least do one thing, something he did for the currency, for interest rates and even in the budget for inflation: set a target. He told us that at least as a society we want to achieve that goal and that target. Is there a target for employment? Is there a target to reduce the number of unemployed within the mandate or within the year? No. The government does not set targets for that.

What the government basically tells us is that it is quite happy the way things are. It it were not it would do something about it. Other countries do something about it.

One of the ways to measure a country's value is to ask how that society, that country and that government treat its children. In this country when we all got up this morning, there were about 1.5 million children living in poverty. In one of the richest country in the world, 1.5 million kids woke up this morning in poverty because their parents are living in poverty.

Somehow the government decides this is something it has to accept, poverty is just a reality. We need to have a million children in one of the richest countries of the world living in poverty. However, that is not the case. There are many countries in this world where there are no poor children. We cannot find a poor child in Norway, in Denmark or in many countries because their governments have instituted programs to ensure that poverty does not exist in their countries. It is a reflection of our value.

I can only conclude that the Liberals sitting across the way, epitomized by the Minister of Finance, do not care about the poor children in Canada, could not care less about the poor families in this country and could not care less about the unemployed because if they did they would do something about it.

However, I will try to be fair and balanced. The Minister of Finance said that if a child is poor in Canada, the government is not going to do anything in this budget and, as a matter of fact, it is not going to do anything in next year's budget. But if the child waits until July 1999, it has a program that will enable the child to receive about an extra 75 cents a day. Image what a poor family thought of that news.

Why does this government not care about children? I do not suppose the Liberals are mean. I do not suppose the Minister of Finance is an evil, mean person. However, children do not have paid lobbyists in Ottawa. They do not make contributions to political parties. They do not work in campaigns. They are not at the Liberal conventions hammering away for attention. They are not schmoozing in the cocktail lounges of the government parties and so on to bring their case before the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party.

Children are voiceless and they are ignored by the government. It does reflect our value and tells us what importance the government places on certain Canadians. Children have been abandoned, particularly poor children. Their parents have been abandoned. The people who do not have employment have been abandoned.

Who else has been abandoned? The Minister of Finance waxed quite eloquently about his concern about education. Yes, we are going to enter a knowledge based economy and society in the 21st century, so he said he wanted to take some steps that would help students. There were steps that will help some students. The centre piece is the millennium scholarship fund, a $3,000 scholarship to 100,000 Canadians when it all gets into place.

Let us face it, that is going to kick in in a few years from now. If someone is a student today they can forget that, but sometime in the future there will be this millennium scholarship fund for $3,000, recognizing that it costs about $10,000 to go to school at the post-secondary level, and 100,000 people will get that.

Over 1.4 million people are in post-secondary education which means if everybody qualifies, about 7% of young people will qualify for the millennium fund. Seven per cent. Ninety-three per cent will not qualify by definition. It is just not enough. Seven per cent could qualify. Are they the young people who really need it? Is this a fund that will support young people or others who really need financial support? Not necessarily. It is based on marks and so on. It is not necessarily based on need.

As a country we have to be bold. If the Minister of Finance actually cares about the young people seeking post-secondary education, why does he not join with the other 16 OECD countries of which he is so fondly attached and do what they do. Have tuition free colleges, universities, technical schools and vocational schools across the country. That is what they do. They are tuition free, no tuition fees. And it is about time.

Let us face it. A few years ago we as a society decided that grade 12 was the minimum education necessary to become a productive citizen. We said that anybody would now have access to that level of education, grade 12. That was in the 1930s. Surely to goodness we can all agree that grade 12 is now inadequate. We need grade 13, grade 14, grade 15, grade 16. Let us be bold and say to young people and others that for the first 16 years of their education, we will at least eliminate tuition fees to remove that barrier to becoming a contributing citizen in the country.

It seems simple. I noticed with some encouragement today that the premier of British Columbia said it is about time we started to move in this direction. British Columbia is going to move to eliminate tuition fees in the first year of university and college. That is a progressive move. Twenty-seven other countries around the world do this. It is nothing new.

It is not a new idea. It has been practised for decades and decades in many countries, countries that put a value on their young people. They are countries that put a value on their most important resource, their human resources. They do not want barriers impeding their people from becoming productive citizens through education and training, but apparently we do.

I want to talk a little about poor children. We can no longer abandon the 1.5 million children living in poverty. I remember the Minister of Finance standing up not long ago saying that when growth in our country hit 3% for a three year period, the Liberals would introduce a comprehensive child care program. Remember that?

We have accomplished that. We are there now. Was child care mentioned in the budget? Not even a word. Was home care mentioned? That was the main plank in the Liberal platform. The Liberals were saying that they would introduce a comprehensive home care program to complement our health care program across the country.

Was home care mentioned? I do not remember home care being mentioned at all. Home care has been jettisoned. Not only that, there was no funding in terms of returning funds to the transfer payments for health care. We could understand perhaps that that would take place if the government had announced a major home care program to complement the hospital work, but it was not even mentioned.

We would understand that there might not be any transfer payments to health care if there was a pharmacare program introduced. Was pharmacare introduced? That was promised. I do not think that was mentioned either.

No pharmacare, no home care, no child care, no elder care, no care. This government does not care.

I guess the other highlight, what the government is trying to put a positive spin on, is that it will give everybody a tax break. Anyone who believes that would believe there are pink elephants floating around this Chamber. People would rather have a job than a tax break. And yes, they want decent access to education. They want a decent health care system.

Let us just talk about the tax break aspect. I give the previous Liberal speaker credit because I have a great deal of admiration for the work she does. But I guess what she was really saying is that the government should have addressed the whole area of bracket creep. I know bracket creep sounds like an odd term, but I think people who know taxes know what it means. It means the basic personal exemption has not been increasing because of the increase in inflation over the years. Consequently the government is collecting billions and billions of more money than it should be. Taxpayers should have that in their pockets to spend. But the government did not move on bracket creep.

Second, let us face it, we have changed the CPP system. The premiums are significantly increased. When we look at what people are paying out and the minor tax break, the reality is that Canadians are going to be paying a whole lot more than they did as a result of this budget. That is the reality, a whole lot more taxes of one kind or another. From CPP premiums alone it is $874 million this year.

This is a budget of hypocrisy actually. This is a budget of smoke and mirrors. During armed forces exercises they lob over a smoke bomb and it blurs the reality. That is what this budget is, a smoke bomb just chucked out all over Canada. Even some of the journalists for whom I have a great deal of respect said that there were some good things in the budget. We have to look long and hard to find some good things in the budget that will have any significant impact.

We have 400,000 young people out of work today. Talk about immorality. This ought to be enough to call an emergency debate in the House of Commons to find ways and means to find jobs for these 400,000 young people. What does the government do? It says “We are going to act”. Its concept of acting is pretty weird. The Liberals said “We are going to introduce a program that is going to create 5,000 jobs over the next two years”. For 400,000 people. That does not even register mathematically. That is it in the budget. The government is going to make some changes to EI which officials say might create an extra 6,000 jobs. Four hundred thousand young people in this country are desperately looking for decent employment and the government brings in a program that may create 11,000 jobs over two years.

This is pathetic. This is wrong. This is cruel. Yet my Liberal friends sit there on their benches—

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Friends?

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

They are friends. They are friendly people. Let us face it, the Liberal members have nothing to do with this budget. It is the Minister of Finance. Liberal members should be getting up from their seats and running out in humility saying “We are ashamed of what we have seen in the last couple of days in this House. We are ashamed of being associated with a budget that is so cruel to so many people, that has abandoned so many Canadians”.

I want to conclude by simply saying the following. Some are walking out. That is appropriate. I give them credit for doing the right thing.

At a time when we have a small surplus budget, this is the time when the values of political parties reveal themselves. When cutting is the modus operandi for everybody, cut, cut, cut, fair enough. But now it is different. Now we see the value systems begin to emerge.

To conclude, when you abandon poor children, when you abandon the unemployed, when you abandon people who are sick, when you abandon so many Canadians when you do not have to, it reveals a great deal about what your priorities are and what your values are.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, the reality which I think the member opposite should keep in mind is that his party has not gotten past the 1960s. It is so obvious that the New Democrats have no new policies as they relate to the new generation. They go back to the same old rhetoric I have heard for the last almost 10 years in this House, and we can tell why that party has now become irrelevant.

There are a couple of NDP leaders and governments in this country. Let us look at just two of them. We always like to remind the member and his federal party that those are the ones that have gotten past the NDP rhetoric of the 1960s. They have gotten back to the real basics of how a new global economy will work.

First there is Premier Romanow. He is one of the premiers who slashed and hacked and closed all those hospitals the member is so disgusted about. His government felt very strongly that it needed to make some changes because hospitals had become a political tool. There was a hospital and a clinic in every small town in Saskatchewan which was not necessary to meet the needs of the population. Obviously the government did some work to clean that up. Not too long ago Premier Romanow gave a little tax cut to the population of Saskatchewan. He felt it was a high tax area and it was affecting the economy of that province. Those are the two issues these people seem to be opposed to.

Let us consider Premier Clark who is closer to the member's home. Not too long ago Premier Clark did a complete 360 on NDP policy. He virtually said that his economy was falling apart because the assumptions the NDP had been making for years and years were not working. Taxes were too high, they were driving investment out of the province and the unemployment rate was up over the roof. The resource industry, which I am very familiar with being from Kenora—Rainy River, is right down in the tanks in British Columbia. The reason is the lack of policy of the New Democrats in British Columbia and they are now starting to realize where they are at.

I want to ask the member one other question because I know the NDP policies are so far from reality that we cannot expect too much from them. In Kenora—Rainy River we call the NDP the no down payment party because New Democrats do not understand that if you do not pay your way, somewhere down the line someone is going to have to pay for it. That is why they cannot seem to get anywhere in this country. They think you do not have to pay it back. You just throw it out there and somehow it just gets paid and everything is rosy at the end of the day.

The member said that this budget did nothing for the unemployed. He has been here a long time and he knows there are certain assumptions—

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10:40 a.m.

An hon. member

Order.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, he is taking all the time. He is not giving me the chance to respond.

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10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am getting to the question. If members will just quiet down, I will get to the question.

In the budget we have put a significant amount of emphasis on young people and their future in education. We all know in the new economy that for young people who have a university or college degree, unemployment drops to a low of 7%. Those at high risk have high school education or less and they bump right up to 15% or 17%.

We call this an education budget. All these improvements we have made in the education field are good news for Canadians in the long run and good news for Canadians in the short run. We also gave people the ability to do things with education part time. Does the member not think we deserve credit for our vision of where we must go for young people so they can get jobs, because that is where they lie only if they have the education level and the abilities to do it.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my friend getting up to ask that kind of question and providing me with an opportunity to respond.

I will address the last part of his question. There are two sides to education. One is the student side and the other is the educational infrastructure side. We can help students access post-secondary education but there must be post-secondary education for them to access. Therein is where this budget is sorely lacking. There are no transfer payments to assist in the development of colleges and universities, technical schools or vocational schools. That is one thing.

My friend raised the example of Saskatchewan. I will inform my friend of two or three elements he forgot to mention. After nine years of Progressive Conservative government in the province of Saskatchewan, the province was financially devastated. The debt loads were high. And which province was the first province in Canada to balance its budget? Was it a Liberal province? No. Was it a Tory province? No. Was it a Reform province? That does not exist. It was a New Democrat province. The New Democratic Party was the first political party in this country to balance its budget in recent decades. That is the first point.

There was a health care problem. The federal government cut hundreds of millions from health care year after year. Did the spending on health care in Saskatchewan decline? No. Because the provincial government backfilled all of the cuts to make up for all of the cuts by the federal government. The health care budget in Saskatchewan has been able to remain constant. No other province was able to accomplish that.

What about taxes? The provincial government decided that since it had a balanced budget it would be appropriate to reduce the provincial sales tax rate by 2%. It asked what it could do to help every Saskatchewan citizen whether they are in Lloydminster, Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Alberta or wherever. It said “Let's reduce the provincial tax. That will put money in people's pockets the next morning”, which it did.

That was its first balanced budget. It maintained health care, which no other province was able to accomplish, and gave tax cuts to the citizens of the great province of Saskatchewan.

My friend from Kenora—Rainy River should be on his feet applauding that government for setting the way, for being the beacon, for being the light, for showing what governments should be doing.