Mr. Speaker, it is no small feat to forge social policies for the people of this country. Our society expects that government will take care of the elderly, our young people, our workers and other individuals facing personal crises and needing a helping hand.
These are values Canadians are not prepared to sacrifice. Yet they know they come at a price. The challenge for any government is to balance these values against fiscal responsibility.
You may think this is patently obvious, but as I read the budget, I realized these fundamental principles were well worth repeating.
These concepts and values have been ignored by this government. This government claims to be sympathetic, yet it threatened seniors with a hidden project it never unveiled as part of its platform. This government claims to be concerned about workers, but the budget has nothing to say about job creation measures for the young and the not-so-young people of this country.
Finally, this government claims to be fiscally responsible, but that responsibility is at the expense of the businesses and workers whose contributions to employment insurance continue to add to the Minister of Finance's coffers.
Not to mention that the finance minister in the hopes of polishing his own image has downloaded many of his cuts to the provinces. The provinces were expecting concrete measures to match the federal government's rhetoric about reinvesting in health care and education. What they got was a serious reality check.
The Liberals have failed to restore the $6 billion they have taken out of transfers to the provinces for health care, education and social assistance since they came to power. Not only will most provinces lose out on cash transfers over the next five years, but the federal Liberals have had the arrogance to undertake what they call a major initiative in education without consulting with the provinces. I will say more on that later.
In the maritimes where I am from not many provincial politicians are applauding the federal government. In fact I think the only one who thinks this budget is good for his province is Russell MacLellan, the premier of Nova Scotia. Talk about being out of the loop. His province will lose about $14 million in cash transfers over the next five years. Reality. But Nova Scotians need not worry too much. Within a couple of weeks they will elect a new premier who will actually fight for their best interests and get them off their knees.
In New Brunswick, which is not too far from P.E.I., the Liberal provincial Minister of Finance who is from my hometown had no praise to sing. This is a guy who has sheepishly accepted the federal government's cuts over the past few years. He finally woke up to find “one-third of what we spend in this province is devoted to health care and this particular budget adds no new money to that area”. There are no new dollars being directed to the provinces for health care as a result of this budget.
With this budget this government has shown once again that it is without vision and is satisfied with piecemeal solutions. A perfect example is the proposed millennium fund, a public relations exercise at best. It shows just how much the government just does not get what the problems are.
Today students are faced with tremendous debts because of tuition fee hikes. The student debt load ought to be of primary importance to all Canadians. Student debt affects more than just students. It is an obstacle to the sustained economic growth of our country. Canada simply cannot allow so many of its young people to be crushed by their debts.
Reductions in post-secondary education transfer payments by the Minister of Finance have forced provincial governments to reduce the financial resources of their colleges and universities.
They in turn have been forced to raise tuition fees. This has led to such a rapid increase in the student debt load that it has become a serious threat to the economic future of our young people. In 1997 students owed an average of $25,000.
The Liberals are making a great song and dance about the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation. A problem of this size will not be solved by putting a little more money in the pockets of a very small number of students. Only a very limited number of students will be helped by these scholarships. In fact, 93% of them will not get a red cent.
To add insult to injury, the millennium fund only kicks in in two years. This government's philosophy is that young people are the future of our society. It keeps forgetting that they are also very much a part of the present with needs that must be answered today.
The program does not deal with structural problems such as transfer reductions and the cost of education, which are the fundamental causes of the debt load.
We must make sure young Canadians stay in Canada, and we must give them the same opportunities their parents had. We must absolutely put an end to the tragedy called the brain drain.
Taxes are too high in Canada. They kill initiative, they make investors look elsewhere, thus depriving our country of jobs, and they push enterprising Canadians to seek a better future abroad. I urge the government to set aside partisan politics and to listen to reason. Payroll taxes kill jobs.
Reducing employment insurance premiums is a sure way to promote job creation in small and medium size businesses, in every economic sector. It only makes sense, and everyone agrees, except of course the federal government.
The Minister of Finance's tax cut for low income Canadians is an insult. The only thing this tax cut is going to do in my hometown is maybe drum up some business for the coffee shops, because for many of my constituents all they are going to be able to afford with the minister's tax cut is an extra cup of coffee a week. It is absolutely ridiculous.
Fiscal balance was primarily achieved because of the sacrifices made by the workers, employers and taxpayers of this country. Canadians are the real heroes in this budget. It is thanks to them that our finances are in better shape.
Even though the budget does nothing to thank Canadians for their efforts, I can to assure them that a nice blue sky is looming on the horizon.