Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to participate in this very important debate.
February 24, budget day, was a very good day, a good day for Canada and a good day for the people of Thornhill.
I am proud to stand in my place today in this Canadian House of Commons where I have the privilege of representing the people of Thornhill and the opportunity to support this balanced budget, a very balanced achievement.
The previous Conservative government had brought this country to the brink of financial crisis. Our deficit was $42 billion, the largest in Canadian history. Now for the first time in almost 30 years the budget is balanced, the deficit is gone. In just a few years this country has gone from what was described as an economic basket case to the country leading the G-7 nations of the world in economic and job growth, and this year we will be the first country in the G-7 to balance the books.
Yes, I am proud. I am proud that we are now able to make strategic investments in our priorities, our children, our youth, our health and our communities. We are preparing for a secure future.
The budget is our vision. It reflects our values and our plans for that secure future. By investing in knowledge and creating educational opportunities we can complete the transition from an industrial economy to one that is information based.
The key component of our plan is the Canadian opportunities strategy. The centre piece of our strategy is the Canadian millennium scholarship endowment fund. Our plan will provide more young Canadians with access to post-secondary education than ever before. It will provide post-secondary scholarships for tens of thousands of deserving young Canadians in the next century. It will help ensure that Canadians can fully benefit from the new jobs and the new economy of the 21st century.
This government has also introduced the Canada study grant to assist students with children or dependants, which is so important. We have also included new tax credits for interest paid on student loans and a Canada education savings grant which will provide a grant of 20% of the first $2,000 of annual contributions to RESPs for beneficiaries up to age 18. That will ensure that people save for their children's education.
Beginning next year, Canadians will be able to make tax free withdrawals from their RRSPs for lifelong learning. These approaches will help address the burden of student debt as well as enhance access to educational opportunities.
This government understands the importance of education. We also understand the importance of research. That is why over the next three years we will increase the budget to the three research granting councils by $400 million. This will create jobs, generate economic growth and establish Canada's position among world leaders in research.
In this budget the government has acted on our commitment to add an additional $850 million to the Canada child tax benefit, bringing our total commitment to $1.7 billion. This is important progress in the battle to end child poverty.
The riding of Thornhill is a new riding, created in the federal riding redistribution before the last election. Thornhill has two municipalities within its boundaries, Markham and Vaughan. The riding is bordered on the east by 404, on the west by 400, to the north by highway 7 and Rutherford Road, and the southern boundary is Steeles Avenue.
On the east side of Yonge Street is the town of Markham which was founded in 1794. Markham is a remarkable community which combines the charm and atmosphere of a small community with the amenities and business advantages of a cosmopolitan centre.
On the west side of Yonge Street is the city of Vaughan, a growing and thriving young community. The area of Vaughan which falls within the riding of Thornhill is commonly referred to as Thornhill-Concord.
Thornhill is like this wonderful country. It is a mirror of the world. For example, in the town of Markham over 40% of the residents were born outside Canada and there are some 65 languages spoken. In the last election the people of our community were given a clear choice. Thornhill overwhelmingly chose the balanced policies and fiscal prudence that the Liberal plan offered.
Thornhill also had a chance to judge the record of the first Liberal mandate. I had the honour to be elected as the first member for Thornhill, another reason why I am proud to speak today in this House of Commons.
Let us for a moment review the Liberal government's record. More than one million jobs have been created since 1993. In 1993 unemployment was 11.4%. In January of this year unemployment was at 8.9%, still too high but the lowest level in seven years.
Canada has gone from having the second highest debt to GDP ratio to the lowest of the G-7. In 1996-97 Canada's debt to GDP ratio recorded its first significant decline in 25 years. This government is committed to moving in the right direction, keeping the trend on a downward track.
I am happy to stand here today and proudly tell my constituents that by any international comparison the Canadian economy is strong and we have earned the United Nations ranking as number one in the world, as the best country to live in, to work in and to raise our families in.
I want to maintain that quality of life. There is still work to be done. That is why I wanted to come here to Ottawa to do that work. I can assure my constituents that this government will continue to work on behalf of all Canadians as we move forward toward the millennium and beyond.
The Minister of Finance told this House and this country that we have won a major battle. However, we all know we have not won the war. Yes, the deficit is gone but the heavy legacy of 25 years of deficits remains and Canada's debt burden is too high. Through the debt repayment plan and other fiscal measures we will bring down the debt.
Our fiscal plan is clear and balanced. Over the course of our mandate half of any budgetary surplus will provide debt and tax relief and the other half will be invested in our social priorities. Why? This government is committed to taking the necessary steps to reduce unemployment and social inequities in our society.
Youth unemployment at 16.5% is too high and we are taking steps to ensure that all Canadians can get a first job and use their skills and talents to help build our economy and secure not only their future but our future. Yes, we have cut taxes but the impact from those taxes is going to the people who need it the most. Why? It is simple fairness.
We have reduced the unemployment insurance contribution by $1.4 billion for 1998, our fourth consecutive reduction of employment insurance premiums. Furthermore, we have created an important incentive, an employment insurance premium holiday for employers who hire young Canadians in 1999 and in the year 2000.
Over the next three years $7 billion of cumulative tax relief will be provided. Nearly 400,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls and another 4.6 million taxpayers will pay less income tax. Almost 13 million Canadians will no longer pay the 3% general surtax and another 1 million people will see that surtax reduced.
I am proud to repeat the commitment of the leader of our party, the leader of our government, the Prime Minister of Canada, when he said we will never allow the finances of the nation to get out of control again.
I am happy to tell the people of Thornhill that not only will this year's budget be balanced but so will next year's and that of the year after.
To conclude, I thank Thornhill for its confidence. I will always do my best to act in its best interest, the public interest. I am proud to support this 1998-1999 balanced budget on its behalf and on behalf of the public interest of Canada. I am proud to stand in my place today.