Madam Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to set the record straight and to discount this most unworthy motion. I will not attempt to teach the opposition member the fundamentals of economics.
As my hon. colleagues have so eloquently stated, it is hard to find fault with an economy that boasts a disappearing deficit, low interest rates, low inflation and high confidence in one of the most robust economies in the industrialized world. The fiscal facts speak for themselves.
I want to remind the House that this progress was achieved without compromising our core values of fairness, generosity and compassion. This government recognized that deficit reduction did not come down to a choice between economics or people. It was a question of making the right choices in order to build a better and stronger society.
That is why we cut defence spending and agreed to develop a national children's agenda, making our first down payment by establishing a national child benefit that increases support to low income families with children. It is why we reduced subsidies to business, but increased spending on youth. Over three years overall government efforts will help nearly 300,000 young Canadians find their place in the labour market.
It is why we closed tax loopholes for wealthy Canadians, but launched an opportunities fund and employability assistance program for people with disabilities to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy the dignity and financial rewards that come with employment.
We have made wise investments, investing in the future, creating incentives for life-long learning, encouraging self-reliance and ensuring financial support for those in greatest need. Each social program is more target, more results oriented and more responsive to Canadians' needs than ever before.
I stand proudly before this House as a member of the government that believes profoundly in social investment. We know it is the right thing to do. It is the Canadian way.
It is with a mixture of disbelief and dismay that I address this illogical opposition motion. I am at a loss to understand what the hon. member considers to be “reckless spending”. I must admit to being curious about which social programs he believes imperil the economic and social security of Canadians.
Does he suggest we put the brakes on our campaign against child poverty, a co-ordinated national strategy to improve the well-being of children that sprung from productive partnerships with provincial and territorial governments? Does he realize that ensuring children have a strong start in life is critical to Canada's future? Study after study concludes that a failure to invest in early childhood development negatively affects our economic prosperity. Children in economic poverty encounter more difficulty and experience more emotional and behavioural problems throughout their lives.
Maybe the opposition believes it is better to pay later, when the social burden would be even greater if we attempt to rebuild shattered lives and when our country will find itself incapable of competing in the global economy because of a lack of healthy, productive work-ready young adults.
Perhaps the hon. member believes we should forego the millennium scholarship fund which will ensure that students who want to pursue an advanced education, regardless of their financial circumstances, have every chance to realize their career dreams.
I wonder if the opposition is suggesting we should not fund the Canada student loans program which supports 370,000 full-time students, almost one-third of full-time students enrolled in Canadian universities this year.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadian young people are able to attend post-secondary institutions where they acquire the skills essential to become employable in our knowledge economy because of the $1.3 billion available in student loans to subsidize the costs of their education. Canada has the highest percentage of youth with a post-secondary education of all the OECD countries.
In light of current and worsening skill shortages in the high-tech sector, does the opposition recommend that we cast off the Software Human Resources Council which works to increase the supply and quality of workers entering this rapidly growing area of labour force? Can we afford not to fund initiatives such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation which supports economic development in knowledge-intensive sectors? This partnership with the private sector, the provinces and universities is essential to rebuild the research infrastructure of Canada's universities and teaching hospitals.
I would ask the hon. member this. Would his party have us abandon the senior citizens of this country whose initial investments built those institutions and whose hard work has provided us with the high standard of living and the quality of life Canadians enjoy today?
Surely my colleagues on the other side of this Chamber recognize the moral responsibility, necessity and economic value of providing a source of financial stability and security for retired Canadians under the Canada pension plan. Demographic demands dictate that we secure the future of the CPP.
This government does not apologize for a single one of the many progressive social programs funded through federal tax dollars. Collectively they help define who Canadians are as a people. They shape the country we share, a nation that is the envy of the world.
Each of the worthy initiatives I have named is crucial to both Canada's social and economic stability. These investments in Canada's human capital are an invaluable investment in Canada's continued economic growth and social well-being.
Whether it is the employment insurance plan which helps workers who lose their jobs get back to work, the transitional jobs fund to create jobs in high unemployment areas, aboriginal strategic investments which improve aboriginal peoples' employability and create meaningful employment opportunities in aboriginal communities across Canada, or labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories that allow each region to tailor its active employment measures to respond to local priorities, these programs are making a real difference in the lives of individual Canadians and the overall welfare of our great nation.
Let me assure the House long gone are the days of passive income support. These are active, concrete measures that are getting people into the workforce, enabling them to provide for their families, giving them a reason to continue to believe in themselves, their country and the future.
Canadians are unequivocal in their insistence that we have a responsibility to look out for the most vulnerable. They tell us they want a Canada where parents are able to give their children what they need to flourish, a Canada where youth can find and keep rewarding work; a Canada where unemployed people can count on temporary assistance to tide them over until they get back on their feet; a Canada where Canadians feel secure and confident that the Canada pension plan will provide the income support they require to retire in dignity.
I ask the hon. member exactly who is it he would leave behind. What Canadian is not worthy of these fundamental human rights? Only when he is able to come up with the answer to that question should Parliament seriously consider this motion. Until then I urge all members of this House to focus our sights on the real priorities, continuing our balanced approach to fiscal accountability and social responsibility and ensuring that Canada will retain the title of number one nation in the world each and every year of the new millennium.