Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to address the throne speech and review briefly the six years of effort that have been put in by the government to bring our economy and the state of the country to where they are right now.
I was particularly moved by the words of the hon. member for Cambridge who speaks from his heart about Canada and who, because of his life experience, is able to compare Canada with his country of origin. That says more about Canada today than any of the most eloquent speeches that could be made in the House.
I was very interested that the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition went on television after the throne speech and suggested that there were no specifics in the throne speech and therefore it was not acceptable. I do not know how long one has to be in parliament or how much one has to understand the parliamentary process to realize that the throne speech is not a speech of specifics. Throne speeches are never speeches of specifics. They are always speeches of vision. The specifics come afterward. The Prime Minister, in his response to the Speech from the Throne yesterday, began to put the specifics in place, but it was only the beginning. The next stage will be when the official budget comes out and that is due process. I hope that the hon. Leader of the Opposition over time and after gaining experience will realize that there are stages we go through.
It has been six years that I have had the honour of serving in the House. I can recall coming here with a brand new government and having to deal with a national debt that had gone out of control and with a deficit that surprised us all when it came out at $42 billion that particular year, and how extraordinary efforts had to be made to reverse the process to try to bring the deficit to a point where it might some day be eliminated.
We have now entered our third year of surplus budgeting and the deficit has been eliminated. That did not happen by accident or by magic. It happened with a very concerted effort and with the co-operation of Canadians from coast to coast. Through the wisdom of our Minister of Finance, it also happened probably in the least painful way it could have.
I must digress for a minute, Mr. Speaker, to advise you that I beg to share my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. I regret that I forgot to do so at the beginning of my speech.
It is six years later and where are we today? As the Prime Minister said, it is the first time in 50 years I believe that we have sustained a balanced budget or a budget that contains some surplus. We have been able to begin work on paying down the debt. We have made a commitment to never again allow the finances of the country to get into the state they were when we inherited them six years ago.
Personally, it has been a very challenging and satisfying time for me and I have been honoured to be here over this period.
Now we are in a new phase. It has been suggested that it is more difficult to govern with a surplus than it is with a deficit because once a surplus is seen then the demands come on to do certain things.
We have made a choice on this side of the House which is to share the surplus by increasing the financial strength of the country and, at the same time, restoring those social efforts that have been a hallmark of Canada over the years. We will continue in that direction. It will not be sudden, but it will be measured and it will be responsible.
Tax reduction will be part of the strategy because it will put more money into consumers' pockets. Debt reduction will be part of the strategy because that allows for more tax reduction. The maintenance of a strong economy is essential if we are to move ahead with the restoration of those things which are very important to us, such as health care which is at the top of the agenda at the moment in people's minds in this country, and rightly so.
The preservation of a universal health care system has proven to be the best system that we could possibly devise. With all of its warts and all of its weaknesses, it is still the best system. If we compare it first to the American system and see 40 million souls, greater than the whole population of Canada, without health care, or when we talk to some U.S. doctors, which I have had the pleasure of doing, and find out what it costs them to operate their health care system, we realize that we have never had it so good and that Canada has got something here. Yes, it may be flawed, yes, it may be incomplete and yes, it needs improving, but it is there.
I would remind those who would destroy our health care system of a very personal story about my mother who contracted pneumonia in 1941 and spent 14 weeks in the hospital, in the days before antibiotics I might add. My father spent the rest of his life paying off that debt. I suppose that is why I am considered to the right of centre in the Liberal caucus to a certain extent. However, I must tell the House that the health care system is paramount in the country. If we lost everything else, the health care system is a system we must maintain and continually improve.
Where are we going in the future? We have an economy that is sustaining a surplus budget. We have a bottom line that is stronger than it has been in many years which has enabled us to move on. That is why we consider a children's agenda, for instance, to be of paramount importance. If we understand that early childhood development is a key to a successful life, then we in government must understand that whatever we can do to support that is positive to the future.
I was also very impressed with our commitment to research and development. There will be 2,000 new chairs in universities to create centres of excellence which will allow Canada to express its brain power to an even greater extent than it does at the present time.
As my friend from Cambridge said, Canada is the best country in the world. If anybody does not believe it, I suggest they go anywhere else.