Madam Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to the Minister of Finance whose leadership over the last five years has resulted in making this extraordinary feat possible. Prospects for Canadians have not been as good in a very long time. It is through the responsible stewardship of the nation's finances that we have reached the enviable position we find ourselves in today. One need not go much beyond the various countries of the world that are glowing in their praise of what we have been able to accomplish in Canada in very short order.
This remarkable turn of events required discipline in terms of the leadership of the country but, most important, it required a considerable sacrifice from rank and file Canadians.
What the government did to balance the budget under the leadership of the finance minister was not based on ideology. Rather it was based on sheer necessity.
In 1993 we inherited a $42 billion plus debt. The recovery process was hard on Canadians, was hard on Atlantic Canadians. As a progressive Liberal myself, I am reminded of the challenges faced by the government to secure the long term sustainability of our social safety net. It has certainly not been easy.
However it had to be done. Re-engineering, restructuring, downsizing, reorganization and ultimately the reining in of government spending were necessary. Now that the fiscal house is in order, the far-sightedness of government allows us to begin the process of recovery and building a secure future for all Canadians.
The budget speaks to two principal objectives in that regard, the first being prosperity. Job creation is recognized as the basis upon which Canadians will share in a more prosperous economy. Illustrative of the prosperity strategy in the budget of 1998 is the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation. By putting aside $2.5 billion this year, by the year 2000 funding will be solidly in place to provide 100,000 scholarships both full and part time for each of the next 10 years.
There are other important prosperity initiatives in the budget: the Canada study grants, tax relief for students to retire their debt, encouraging educational savings, more R and D, and helping Canadians upgrade their skills in the area of life long learning. Prosperity for this generation and the next is based on knowledge, skills and education infrastructure.
Canada is a generous country, more especially so when Canada is prosperous. If we take away prosperity, equity is no doubt affected. If we take away equity, prosperity is tainted. Both equity and prosperity are what Canada therefore must stand for.
The second objective in the budget is equity. The Canadian millennium scholarship foundation, for example, makes it possible for Canadians, regardless of their ability to pay, to access educational opportunities. This is equal opportunity at its best.
By introducing the scholarship fund this week the Prime Minister has helped raise the bar for thousands of Canadians who will now be able to attend our universities and colleges. If there is any doubt as to what I have just said, hon. members should ask the president of the University of New Brunswick student association, the student association president at St. Thomas University in Fredericton and students anywhere in Canada, what equal access to post-secondary education really means.
Hon. members should ask Cynthia Hilliard, Ontario community college student, parliamentary association president who said of the budget that at long last we were seeing a government make a commitment to life long learning instead of giving it lip service. They should ask Lucie Bohac Konrad, executive director of the Canadian Youth Foundation, who said that overall it was a good day for Canadians and with the budget young people could look forward to some relief from the crushing burden of almost a decade of youth joblessness and increasing shares of education costs.
The 1998 budget contains several other equity pieces as well: tax relief for interest on student loans, education credit for part time students, child care deduction for part time students, tax free RRSP withdrawals for life long learning, increased child care expense deductions, enriching the Canadian child tax benefit, helping those caring for families, eliminating EI premiums for students under the age of 24, deducting health premiums for self-employed Canadians, and tax relief for volunteer emergency service workers.
There is also an important feature in the budget in terms of its regional impact. All initiatives in the budget assist Atlantic Canada significantly but none of them marginalizes Atlantic Canada. Atlantic Canada benefits by the improved educational infrastructure. It ultimately will benefit by stemming the brain drain. This then is the prosperity and equity agenda at work.
Two weeks ago I announced through ACOA a $7 million technology initiative at UNB, putting it at the cutting edge in Canada.
Before Christmas I participated along with St. Thomas University in the establishment of a criminal justice degree program at that institution. A week ago I announced a project in New Brunswick that will allow young Canadians with disabilities access to the labour market.
These are national programs that make sense in Atlantic Canada. I want to emphasize how important ACOA is to our region. I say so because Canada has such diversity that regional development instruments are required and regional agencies are a way for us to make national programs tailor made for regional needs. ACOA is critically important to Atlantic Canada.
I would like to address briefly my own ministry, a ministry with an annual budget of over $2.6 billion. To our office, to our ministry, public safety is overarching. That is the business of the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
This year we have two major priorities, dealing with organized crime and effective corrections. On the organized crime front, it seems to me that only an organization as large and as national as the ministry, in particular in this case the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with that kind of breadth in Canada can take on a leadership role to deal with what is a significant issue in Canada, organized crime.
We have gone to great lengths in the last Parliament and in this Parliament to revive law enforcement agencies and the tools they need in terms of anti-gang legislation, proceeds of crime, the new DNA legislation. We have gone to great lengths to provide tools in law enforcement but we also have to recognize a huge obligation on the co-ordination side, given that we have access to all corners of this country.
In the area of effective corrections, we want to provide alternatives for low risk offenders so that those people who would be more appropriately dealt with in the community will be there, reserving of course the opportunity in the institutions available to the correctional service to deal with offenders whose crimes are more dangerous and more violent and who pose a greater risk to society.
By making that delineation more effectively, and great efforts have been made in the last Parliament to do so, we are going to get better and more efficient results.
We have to build up the infrastructure in communities to allow us to do that. That is a principal part of what we are going to be doing this year in the area of effective corrections.
Linked to these priorities of course is the all important matter of crime prevention. To break the cycle that leads to an overloaded justice system and overcrowded prisons, it is very important that we recognize the root causes for crime, be they poverty, economic circumstances or regional issues.
The fact is at the end of the day the country is going to be all the safer if we get to those root causes and not deal only with these issues after the damage has been done. The result of course will always be a safer, healthier community.
Also, inside the ministry there will be responsibility for aboriginal policing in corrections, national security and the integrated justice system.
The bottom line for the Solicitor General of Canada is the safety of Canadians. I am proud to say that Canada's law enforcement and corrections systems are among the very best in the world.
In conclusion, the 1998 budget symbolized by the Prime Minister's millennium scholarship fund is a perfect example of a national policy that pursues both prosperity and equity. This is the hallmark of the great Liberal Party.