Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on this 1998 budget.
I would first of all like to congratulate the Minister of Finance, the hon. Paul Martin, for producing a balanced budget, the first we have had in 30 years.
Balancing the budget has not been an easy task. We know it required fiscal prudence, the sacrifice of all Canadians and the commitment of the government to listen and to act on the social and economic priorities of Canadians.
In this budget, our commitment to provide a secure future for all Canadians is reinforced and reaffirmed. I am very pleased to see that the government has introduced new initiatives and has expanded upon existing programs to produce greater support to Canadians.
The initiatives outlined in this budget will provide support for families with children, support for people looking after family members and access to knowledge and skills along with support for persons with disabilities.
These are measures and initiates essential for economic growth in my constituency of Etobicoke—Lakeshore and other communities across Canada.
The budget is not an end in itself but a means to a better future for all Canadians. We must, therefore, continue to dialogue with Canadians to assess and to address the needs and concerns of all communities.
Last November I held a prebudget consultation in my riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In my discussions with my community groups and various individuals from the business community and others, I heard my constituents say that they want the federal government to do three things in this budget: continue on the path of deficit reduction, use the fiscal dividends to address the social and economic needs of Canadians and, third, provide tax cuts and support for young Canadians.
This is the message that I delivered to the Standing Committee on Finance and I am pleased to say to all of my constituents today that the government heard and responded to their concerns.
In Etobicoke—Lakeshore, reaction to the budget has been positive. I and those constituents who contacted me agree that the government has taken a step in the right direction.
My staff contacted community organizations such as the Lakeshore Area Multi-service project that provides front line service to constituents and their families, and Storefront Humber, which is an organization that provides service to senior citizens and others.
Those phone calls were made to gauge my constituents' sentiments on budget 1998. They understand that deficit reduction is the key to putting our nation on the right track to social and economic prosperity.
My constituents also understand that investing in our children's future has to remain one of the top priorities of the government. It is not surprising then that a balanced budget and increases to the child tax benefit are well supported.
I would now like to speak to the priorities of my constituents as they relate to the budget.
First, on deficit reduction, Etobians and all Canadians have every reason to be encouraged by the government's fiscal policy on deficit reduction which has brought us to this point.
In the budget speech, the Minister of Finance reaffirmed the Liberal government's deficit reduction plan. We made a commitment in the red book in 1993 to put our fiscal house in order. We have followed through on this commitment with a balanced budget that will remain balanced in 1998-99 and 1999 to the year 2000.
In 1993, Canada had a $42 billion deficit, the largest in our history. With this deficit, we were in a period of high interest rates and slow economic growth. Canadians were faced with the prospect of paying those higher interest rates on the debt with few job opportunities.
Thanks to the sound fiscal policy, this $42 billion will no longer be on the government's books. We have a zero deficit.
We are speaking about a zero deficit budget. This means that the government is making tremendous fiscal progress. It is creating a strong, vibrant economy where interest rates are low and economic growth is high.
A strong economy that is well managed is needed so that Canadians can compete in the global economy. Low inflation and low interest rates give Canadians confidence in their economy. Over the past three years the people of Etobicoke—Lakeshore have been able to reap some benefits because of reduced payments on mortgages and loans.
Canada will lead the G-7 nations in economic and job growth in 1998 and this is no common boast. Our debt to GDP ratio is decreasing. Our goal is to put the debt to GDP ratio on a downward track and to do so without borrowing and increasing the debt burden of Canadians.
We must stay the course, say my constituents. We have a balanced budget because of tough fiscal discipline and we must not let up.
Secondly, on the Canadian opportunities strategy my constituents agree that young people are the future of our nation. When we invest in their future we are building a stronger nation. There is no better investment in the future than investment in education, in knowledge and in innovation. We are living in a technologically literate, knowledge based economy.
I am the mother of two young women. I was an educator for over 30 years working with young people. I sat on a university board of governors. I know the plight of young people. I have listened to many young people in my riding who have talked to me about the difficulties they face in today's job market. They are in a vicious cycle of no job experience, no gainful employment. This budget will change this cycle.
Youth at risk, students and graduates want the government to take an active role in ensuring that there is equal opportunity to post-secondary education and assistance for debt burdens. The Liberal government is aware of this reality and this is why we are giving support to young Canadians through the Canada opportunities strategy, knowledge and skills needed for jobs now and in the future. Better jobs and higher standards of living for our young people in the 21st century is our goal.
The Canada millennium scholarship fund will remove the barriers for young Canadians to get the post-secondary education or advanced technical training that they will need to get gainful employment.
I want the young people in my riding to know that the Canada millennium scholarships will commence in the year 2000. They will be awarded to over 100,000 full and part time students every year over 10 years through an initial endowment of $2.5 billion from the federal government.
My colleagues across the floor commented that the start of the fund is not soon enough and that students would be better off if they were given the money now. We are putting the administrative structures in place so that the fund can be administered fairly and efficiently and this will take some time.
Our role is to support young Canadians and we will take on the responsibility of creating the measures to facilitate this role. The Canada millennium scholarship fund is an initiative that will benefit Canadians of all ages at various institutions who are undertaking studies under different terms.
The principles of fairness and equity are embodied in the millennium scholarship fund. I believe that this fund will lessen the financial stress that many Etobians face at present.
It is important that young Canadians leaving colleges and universities with heavy student loans which they are often unable to repay get the help that is needed right now. This budget does give them a break.
In conclusion, we must continue to build on our resolve to bring about fiscal order to our country while we focus on the needs of our young people. I call on my colleagues on all sides of this House to support this budget to ensure that all our young people have the future that is important for them.