Mr. Speaker, I understand the impatience of some hon. members with antique customs. The speech from the throne is a remnant of the 17th century constitutional struggles, down to that knocking on the door by an official to demand that the commons come to the lords and hear the speech from the throne. Antique customs are preserved, and you know this very well, Mr. Speaker. You sit in that very uncomfortable chair which you have inherited from many generations of people overgrown on roast beef and port wine and various other things.
Let us face it, there are traditions. The value of the speech from the throne today is simply that it gives a larger vision of a governmental program that necessarily will be computized when we have those financial figures, when we know how much of a surplus there is and the battle over the distribution of it can be carried down to the details.
This could be upset, but it is generally agreed that if there is a surplus, and we think there will be a very considerable surplus, as a result, as hon. members might say on this side, of government policies, it will be split at a principle of 50% for tax reductions and amortization of the external debt, and 50% for social programs.
This is something that my constituents have strongly favoured. They have also asked that tax reductions extend to the working middle class who are very capable of creating the jobs, more perhaps than any other section of the community. That is something I will be working on for my constituents. I think it is a necessary part of our program of creating jobs.
The Speech from the Throne outlined the three main areas of our policies on the government side as we go into the new century. One is, as I say, the work on tax reduction and the amortization of the debt. The second is spending on health and social programs. The third, and I will say a few more words on this, is the investment in knowledge as the key to the next century.
My first assignment as a member when I was elected was to get $167.5 million from the finance minister, who had just inherited in 1993 a $42.8 billion budget deficit. How does one make the argument? I had to go to the rounds of my colleagues and ministers and explain that there was a thing called pure research, that it did not necessarily bring results tomorrow, but five or ten years down the line it opened jobs and industry. Pure knowledge can be translated concretely into factories, into production and into the creation of skilled jobs. We won that particular battle.
It was easier to do it than in relation to some of the things we are doing now because, of course, education, research in a strict sense, on old fashioned constitutional views, is outside federal power. However, once we made the case and demonstrated that the federal government would provide the leadership, I think we were on our way. We were very tired of giving money to provinces for education and research and finding it being used to build highways into the never never land that had no ending and no beginning.
Education is our investment in the future. I take great pride in the achievements, in the centres for excellence, in the centres for innovation and in the culmination of scholarships for the 21st century. Of the professorships there will be 1,200 immediately and 2,000 afterward.
The actual idea was put forward by the president of the University of British Columbia and by the recteur de l'Université de Montréal. The idea was “arrest the brain drain”. In certain areas like biochemistry, particle physics, pharmacology, and I could go on, we lead North America. We have world standards, but we run the risk of losing our best and our brightest. These two university presidents put forward the idea of linking this to the centres for innovation that would be presided over by the former president of the University of British Columbia, Dr. Strangway.
This is the idea. Look at the rave headlines from around the country with the president of the University of British Columbia saying it is the answer to the drift in science; it makes us world leaders in science. I see the president of the University of Toronto saying that it is clearly a magnificent blow in favour of science, in favour of research and a recognition of the fact that knowledge is the key to the next century and it is the key to creating jobs, creating skilled jobs for young Canadians. We are very proud of this.
I would pay tribute to caucus, my own and those of opposition parties. I did an informal poll in the last parliament and found that 50 MPs had colleges or universities in their constituencies and 18 or 20 had been professors or teachers. That is a powerful lobby and a group that has brought this emphasis on knowledge, on the investment in knowledge as the key to the new century.
The Speech from the Throne covers many things. I have highlighted the quest for knowledge and the investment in learning as the key to the next century. There are several other matters that I will touch on very briefly, such as hands across the border. I had a letter today from American Senator Voinovich. We are moving more and more to removing that barrier with the United States, those irritating delays in customs and elsewhere for Canadian citizens. This in spite of some pressures put on us in terms of problems in controlling our own entry to Canada from elsewhere. The movement is there. It is part of the Speech from the Throne. It is part of the exchanges between the Prime Minister and President Clinton.
We have built on the record in the difficult area of reconciling our tradition as a country that receives people who want a better life. There are the boat people we have taken in the past. There are the Vietnamese admitted by a decision of a Conservative government. That community is one of the best communities in terms of low rates of unemployment and investment in new job creation.
I look at the Ismailis who came here in 1971 under Prime Minister Trudeau, and the people who came from Cyprus when it broke up. We have a commitment to receiving people who have the talent and the will to make a better life.
There are aspects here that are in terms of our international obligations. There is nothing inhibiting the Canadian government under international law from applying appropriate controls to our immigration for speeding up the process of determination of refugee claimants. These are in part touched on in the Speech from the Throne. They will be fleshed out in concrete legislation. I ask all members to address that in the future.