Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burlington.
I would like to follow up on the remarks of my colleagues, the member for Vancouver Quadra and the member for Kitchener—Waterloo.
In this budget, after many decades, we saw the elimination of the federal deficit. At the same time that elimination was announced we also announced new investments in health care and higher education and a new look and a redesign of the Canada pension plan.
If we look back on all the budgets since we were elected in 1993, difficult budgets for Canadians, difficult budgets for members of Parliament like me, we will see in those times when we were downsizing and redesigning government, in each budget some seeds were planted to help in the areas of health care, higher education and research and help with respect to the basic support supplied by Canada for senior citizens.
I am delighted that the deficit is now behind us. We can move on from that. I am also delighted at the way in which the deficit has been eliminated. We have been able to reinvest as we were redesigning and downsizing.
With the time I have available I cannot speak about the health care side or the Canada pension side of the budget. I would like to speak about the higher education part which has been the subject of discussion between members on this side and representatives of the Bloc.
Since I was elected to the government caucus I worked with a group of MPs from all regions of the country in a government caucus on post-secondary education and research. We have tried to listen to students from all over the country and their national representatives in Ottawa. We also went out to the regions to speak to them. We have met with presidents of universities and the AUCC, the association which represents the universities in the national capital.
We have met with individual members of faculty, from colleges and universities, all across the country and with their representatives, the CAUT and the other associations which represent university faculty. We have met with research groups from universities, from colleges, from institutes, from hospitals and researchers in the private sector.
This government caucus on post-secondary education, having listened over these years to the concerns of these groups, students, university and college groups, is truly delighted with the announcements in this budget and with the response of the government to these representations which have been made over the last three or four years.
I would like to put on record the letter to the Minister of Finance from this caucus group on post-secondary and research, a letter that was the basis of our discussions with him some weeks ago when we took the concerns of all those people I have mentioned to the Minister of Finance. We said to him that post-secondary education and research should be a priority for all Canadians in this budget. This is the sense of the letter which we sent to the Minister of Finance prior to our formal discussion with him:
As you know, the caucus on post-secondary education and research was formed during the last Parliament. Our executive consists of MPs, from all regions, who have a keen interest in the role of the federal government in higher education and research. We greatly appreciate the support you have given us over the years. Without your enthusiastic involvement, the millennium scholarships, the RESP program, the foundation for innovation and the increase in student loans and the extension of the grace period for those loans, would not have come into being.
We look forward to meeting with you next week.
During the meeting, we would like, with your permission, to develop two main themes. The first of these concerns is the importance of increased funding for basic research, particularly through the grants councils.
Those are the SSHRC, the Medical Research Council, and NSERC, the science grants council.
The letter goes on:
Like us, you have undoubtedly received a great deal of input from the research community. Their arguments, particularly with respect to levels of funding in other jurisdictions, are compelling.
We feel that it is time to move on support of the operational side of research to complement our investment in the research infrastructure through the new Canadian foundation for innovation.
That was one of the two main themes that our caucus on post-secondary education and research picked up from hundreds of representations that we have received from across the country, that basic research in the country, the actual performing of research in the hospitals, in the colleges, in the universities, now needed important support because the government in the previous budget had moved on the infrastructure side of research.
The letter goes on:
Our second theme concerns improving accessibility of students to college, CEGEP, university and other post-secondary training institutions. We believe that this is something which goes beyond further reform and revitalization of student loans programs (important though they may be). We would like to canvass topics such as student employment, further support for students' families and special provisions for disadvantaged students.
We would hope that you will address these themes in your upcoming budget—
That was the letter which was the basis of a discussion some weeks ago with the Minister of Finance. I want to thank the minister on behalf of the students, the professors and the researchers of our colleges, CEGEPs, universities, hospitals and institutes across the country for his response to these well supported requests from the higher education community.
I have always believed that the way you do things is as important as what you do. This is true in everyday life for each of us as we go about our business and our social affairs, but it is particularly important for governments.
I believe it is very, very important that the deficit has been eliminated. For me, the way it has been done is equally important. We have tried over the last three or four years to eliminate the deficit in as humane a way as was possible. That is very important. From the beginning we had a plan which, while downsizing was going on, involved reinvestment in various areas such as higher education as I have been discussing, but also with early childhood education, prenatal and postnatal programs and things of that type. In that sense it has been done well.
It was done well in the sense that when we cut the federal system, we cut it strategically, targeting some areas for large cuts and some for small cuts. It was also done well in the sense that we timed the cuts, for example we gave the provinces notice and time to adjust to the changes.
I am delighted with this budget and with the results that we have achieved. I am equally delighted with the way in which we have arrived at this point.