Mr. Speaker, when I first came to this House in 1993, we were on the brink of losing Canada's economic sovereignty.
During the previous nine years, the Progressive Conservative government had grown the debt from $208 billion to $508 billion and left an all-time high annual deficit of $42 billion. More than 11% of Canadian workers were unemployed and the Tory Prime Minister of the day did not expect the rate to go below 10% in this millennium. Unemployment insurance premiums stood at $3 per $100 of income and were scheduled to rise to $3.30. Our nation was falling into self-doubt and we were the economic basket case of the western countries.
I want to remind the House of the bleak situation we inherited from the Conservative government so that never again will we go down the track of fiscal ruin as the Conservative Party did in the nine years it was in government after having campaigned with deficit reduction as a major plank in its platform.
To quote the Ottawa Business Journal editorial of February 23, 1998: “It is to the party's everlasting discredit that it held power during booming economic times yet boosted taxes to unprecedented levels and never ever made much of a dent in the deficit. That is a dismal record”.
As we have recovered the fiscal integrity of our nation, we must thank all Canadians for their support in this effort. We must also recognize and commend the leadership of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. Who would have believed that this day would come?
In order to complete this first stage of the recovery plan and balance the budget, we pursued a balanced program of reduction in spending, reducing transfer payments to the provinces and growing the economy.
In reducing spending the government was streamlined and the public service reduced by 20%. Our program spending has declined every year since we took office both as a percentage of our GDP and relative to the average for G-7 countries. We have taken it from 17.5% of the GDP in 1992-93 to 12.8% in 1996-97. The G-7 average is .09% in reductions.
Federal transfers to the provinces were reduced but we cut federal spending even more. In the case of my province of Ontario, the Canada health and social transfer was reduced by an amount equal to about 2.5% of Ontario's revenues or $1.2 billion less than they received the year we took office.
The revenue problem in Ontario was caused by the decision of the Ontario government to give a tax cut with borrowed money which would reduced its revenues by $4.9 billion. This amount was four times greater than the $1.2 billion we cut transfers by.
The slash and burn policies pursued by the Ontario government to deliver meaningful tax cuts for the rich have seriously impacted negatively on every community in Ontario. This hurting of the most vulnerable in our society is contrasted by the balanced approach of the federal government.
As an unswerving supporter of Canada's health care system, I am delighted that the cuts of previous years are now being replaced. Under the budget my province gets $308 million more than last year. There is an increase under the cash portion of transfers and tax points. In all, the provincial governments will receive an additional $7 billion over six years because of the budget and the increases will continue in the future.
We grew the economy. In constant 1992 dollars our GDP based on expenditures grew from $716.1 billion in 1993 to $769.7 billion in 1996. Last year's statistics are not in yet, but the rate of growth is expected to come in at 3.5%.
My time is limited and I want to talk about the importance of education to growing our economy and creating jobs. Statistics Canada produced figures on what most of us take as a given, that the more education one has the less likely one is to be unemployed. There is unemployment also among university graduates but at a lower rate than among those with a secondary level of education or less.
In 1995, for example, the general unemployment rate was 6.5% for people with post-secondary education, 8.5% for those with secondary, and 12.8% for those with less than secondary.
The Waterloo region is blessed with three excellent post-secondary institutions. I am proud to have served those institutions: the University of Waterloo as a two term student body president and member of the senate, and Wilfrid Laurier as a member of the board of governors. I served as a chairperson for a community reference group on basic job readiness training at Conestoga College.
More than 250,000 Canadians have attended these institutions over the years. If one multiplies that by the $50,000 a year of wealth generated by each of those individuals, we have a figure of $12.5 billion that the Waterloo region adds to Canada's economy each and every year by virtue of higher education.
Dr. James Downey, president of the University of Waterloo, describes the budget as a triumph for the minister and for the Government of Canada because it blends prudence with compassion and is a superb blueprint for the future.
Jeff Gardner, vice-president, education, at the University of Waterloo federation of students, also approves. He says:
It is a huge step forward not only for Canadians going to school but for other Canadians coming back to school.
He understands that education is a lifelong process.
Dr. John Tibbits, president of Conestoga College, recognizes that in the budget the government has “provided vehicles to students and families to invest in education”.
The president of Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Rosehart, called yesterday to say that this new budget makes a positive impact with the extension of tax credits and child care expense deductions to part time students. He is very pleased to see assistance offered to students with children, a group which has been overlooked in the past.
These individuals, and many like them, have had a role in preparing the budget. During the prebudget consultations the finance minister met with groups representing students, faculty and staff of post-secondary institutions and with representatives of the scientific and medical research community, in addition to the other groups that usually take part. I am very happy to have contributed to this process through the post-secondary education caucus.
I was one of the original members, along with the hon. member for Peterborough and Dr. John English, then member of parliament for Kitchener, who has now returned to teaching at the University of Waterloo. Having worked with the post-secondary education community for a long time, I knew the post-secondary education caucus would help them in putting their message across.
In the consultations before the last budget, the post-secondary education caucus helped to ensure that future post-secondary institutions and hundreds of thousands of students were given high priority. As a result, the last budget was good news for post-secondary education and that is why this budget works. The people had an influence in its preparation.
Canadians from coast to coast are working hard to better themselves and improve their prospects. In so doing, they are enhancing Canada's economic strength and furthering Canada's future prospects, enabling us as a nation to compete successfully in the new economy. Research and development are crucial to our economic well-being as we compete in the new economy.
It is more imperative now as we are undergoing an information technology revolution which has a greater impact on jobs than the industrial revolution. Millions of jobs across the country were lost in the old economy and the millions of net new jobs created in the past four years are a tribute to our ability to embrace the new economy, much of it a new economy founded on research and development.
Under the new budget the industrial research assistance program will receive $34 million in increased funding to enable NRC to reach and provide technology support to small businesses, according to Dr. Art Carty, president of the NRC.
Dr. Tom Brzustowski, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, hails the increased funding for the granting agencies as an extraordinarily important decision by the Government of Canada:
Canada's young people will be very encouraged by the increased allocation for university research. It will help many of them directly to pursue postgraduate studies in research and to develop their talents to the full.
I must add that this will also enable them to do these things in Canada and not elsewhere such as in the United States. This will help stop the brain drain.
I salute the pioneers who founded our post-secondary institutions. Let us be bold enough and forward looking enough to uphold their vision by continuing to invest in our future and our nation's future.
In wrapping up my speech, keeping our country competitive lies in affording an opportunity to our young people, and indeed all people in Canada, to participate in the new economy. Spending money on education, research and development is a fundamental investment in the development of our nation.
I think this budget more than any other has struck this approach. I think in the future that Canadians will be the beneficiaries of it as we continue to be the best country in the world.