Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-71.
Bill C-71 is an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on February 16 and other measures announced in previous budgets.
This bill is about spending money. Budgets are all about spending money and where the money will come from. Today we need to make it clear where the money is coming from. Sometimes when I hear people talk, in particular politicians, it is as if the government has a stash of money that in its wisdom it doles out.
This money really comes from Canadians and from the work of Canadians. It comes from taxi drivers who spend 12 or more hours a day sitting in vehicles and driving around their cities. It comes from hairdressers and barbers who stand on their feet all day cutting hair. It comes from nurses and teachers. It comes from people in sales who pound the pavement or drive all over the country to promote the goods and services that Canadians produce. It comes from all kinds of workers. It even comes from our pages who still do pay some tax on their huge earnings from this House. I see them smiling so I am not sure how huge that is. We are talking about Canadians' money, money earned from long hours, dedication and a commitment to production by Canadians. We need to keep that in mind.
This bill, as most budgets are, in particular budgets running into the billions, is very complex. It is difficult for Canadians to unravel the ins and outs of how their money is going to be spent. It is our job in this House and in a democracy to give Canadians that information so they will be able to judge whether their government is doing a good job and whether their money is being wisely spent. They have a right to that information and it is our responsibility, because we get paid to do so, to provide them with that information. They can then make the judgment as to whether they want to continue with that kind of spending.
This bill is divided into nine parts each dealing with some different aspects of spending. As one might expect, members of my party, members of the opposition, members of the government and I agree with some elements of the budget and disagree with others. Unfortunately the process does not allow parliamentarians to be specific in their vote on what they support or on what they oppose. The vote is on implementation as a whole, all nine parts and their elements.
The vote on the budget is about the whole budget. Even though there are things we will want to support and things we will not want support, we do not get to pick and choose. In my view the government plays on this dishonestly by sometimes saying “Reform does not support the national child benefit”. What it is really saying is that Reform, by not voting for the budget, does not support the national child benefit which was in the budget. We are now unjustly accused by the government of failing to support some things because we had to vote against the budget as a whole. There were too many bad things in it. Parliamentarians now find themselves in a quandary.
The opportunity today to speak on the specifics of implementing the budget is very welcome. We are able to talk about things we support, the things we think the government did right and to hold the government to account for things we think it did wrong.
What does this budget say to the average taxpayer? Liberal governments are very expensive today, as they have been for the past 30 years. That is number one. The Liberals plan on spending $156.7 billion in this next fiscal year.
From March 31, 1999 to March 31, 2000 the government will spend $156.7 billion. That is $5,200 for each man, woman and child in Canada. It is about $21,000 on average from each family of four. For those out in the real world who are earning money today, $21,000 from the average family of four will be taken and spent by the government. That is a lot of work. It is a lot of hours sitting on that chair, Madam Speaker. We need to take this seriously and be good stewards of that hard-earned money.
This is not only a lot of money but we have to measure it against the fact that $21,000 from the average family of four may be coming from a wage of less than twice that amount. The average wage in 1998 was $37,400. The government spends over half of what an average single income family of four earns. I guess the government is so brilliant it can spend our money better than we can. We are going to examine that premise because clearly that is the premise the government operates on.
Are Canadians getting value from the Liberal government for their money? Are Canadians getting a fair return from this really punishing tax rate that is necessary to maintain the government's lifestyle?
When we look closer at the numbers we see that the government will spend $156.7 billion. However, over $42 billion or 27% of that amount will be spent to pay for the overspending of the past. In other words, 27% of what the government spends is deferred taxes. We are making up for the fact that governments did not manage their money wisely in the past. For every dollar of spending the government delivers only 73 cents in the form of programs. Even that is often wastefully managed. This is hardly value for money for today's taxpayer.
If this Liberal government and previous Liberal governments, and Mr. Clark and Mr. Mulroney at the time of the free spending Tories, had been more sensible about spending Canadians would have had that $42.5 billion today for programs or tax cuts rather than paying this enormous amount of interest on the debt. Each budget we see from the government is a continued testimony to its incompetence as trustees of the taxpayers' dollars throughout most of the last 30 years. The enormous sum of $42.5 billion is not available to us to spend on the things we think are important today. Most of us would struggle to put $42.5 billion into any kind of an understandable framework. I would like to help us do that.
Forty-two and a half billion dollars is about twice the amount of all income tax paid by all businesses in Canada in a year. The interest of $42.5 billion represents about twice the GST collected in Canada in a year. In other words, if we had that money, if we had not overspent and if we did not have to pay interest we could eliminate the GST, something government members said they would do. We could eliminate the GST completely and still have another $20 billion left over to spend on things that are important to us.
Here is another way to look at it. Let us go to the farthest eastern point in Canada, Cape Spear, Newfoundland and start laying $20 bills right across Canada to the farthest western point, the Yukon-Alaska border. By that time we would have walked 5,514 kilometres. Each $20 bill is 15.3 centimetres long or about about six inches. One kilometre equals 6,536 $20 bills so every kilometre we walk we lay over 6,000 $20 bills. Just over 36 million, 36,039,504 to be exact, $20 bills would be needed to cover the distance from Cape Spear to the Alaska border. The total value of those bills would be about $720 million.
Seven hundred and twenty million dollars will pay 1.7% of the annual interest on our debt. In other words, if we laid $20 bills right across Canada, from its furthest point east to its furthest point west, we would have laid down enough money to pay only 1.7% of our total interest that we cough up every year on our debt. We would need 59 times those bills in order to pay the entire interest. There would be stacks 59 bills high all the way across Canada. That is how much our interest is.
Now visualize this. We would have to have 59 $20 bills in each stack, but if the bills were around the equator, which is about 40,000 kilometres, $5.2 billion would be required, about one-eighth of the taxes required in this budget to finance our national debt for the next year, to put $20 bills around the equator. The stacks would be eight high around the middle of the world to pay the entire interest.
What if we were going to the moon? The moon is on average 382,000 kilometres from the earth. That would take a lot of years to drive, but if we laid $20 bills to the moon we would need 2.5 billion bills. That is about $50 billion, which is about 14 months worth of the interest we pay on the national debt to continue our trip all the way to the moon. That $50 billion is only about one-twelfth of our national debt.
I go through these things because it is important to remind ourselves of how our overspending and our fiscal mismanagement in the past hangs over us today. It limits our choices both collectively and individually.
I do not often take editorial writers and columnists as unimpeachable sources but I was particularly struck by a piece that Jeffrey Simpson wrote in the Globe and Mail on March 10. I would like to quote a couple of the observations he made. They were very penetrating analyses of our situation.
Jeffrey Simpson said “Debt is the past's dead hand lying on the future”. It is the future of our children and grandchildren and the future of the pages here. We have mortgaged their future with this debt. He went on to say “The future is all about flexibility, human skills, innovation, investment, adaptability, yet only a fraction of total government spending points in that direction. Far more is spent on yesterday's obligations than tomorrow's opportunities”.
That is a sad, sad message with this debt, with this interest and with this Liberal budget. Far more is spent on yesterday's obligations than on tomorrow's opportunities. That is something we cannot be proud of and which we must rectify.
I am going to make government members happy by talking for a period of time about what we like in this budget and what we support.
We like the fact that the Liberals have been forced to put back some of the billions they slashed from their support for health care. Their support for health care was already pretty meagre. When the Liberals brought health care in, they promised to support it 50% with the provinces. Today their support is just over 20%. That is what Liberal promises are worth. But they did have to put some of that money back, about half of it. For every dollar they slashed, over the next five years they will put about half of that back in, which is good. We support that.
As far as our party position is concerned, we have consistently been committed to protecting support for health care. We were calling for urgent and significant cuts in government spending in 1990. Even at that time when overspending was rampant, there were deficits and overspending by billions and billions of dollars every year, we still spoke out strongly on the need to protect spending in the two critical areas of education and health care.
In 1993 we put out a zero in three budget. We made some adjustments to government spending so that the books would be balanced, but none of those cuts came from health care or education.
In 1995 we did something unprecedented in the House. We put out an alternative budget to the government budget. The understanding was that the overspending every year was just about $40 billion, nearly as much as we are spending on interest today. In spite of that enormous overspending, we took virtually nothing from health care and education in order to balance the books.
With the books being closer to being balanced leading up to the next election, our campaign was to restore some of the billions the Liberals had slashed from health care and education. Our support for these programs has been consistent in our documents. This is unlike the Liberals. I grieve to say this because government members got up in this House and with their hands over their hearts and talked about fighting to the death, going to the barricades for health care and the Canada Health Act. What were the Liberals doing in the back rooms? They were slashing $7 billion from transfers for that program. That is what they were doing.
We are glad to see that the Liberals have finally come to their senses and due to pressure from Canadians are putting some of that money back. We will continue to support the return of funds that were taken away from health care and support health care being given a high priority.
The Reform Party has always advocated increased government recognition of the importance of the family unit. We have called for several tax relief measures to ensure that families keep a larger share of their earnings to meet the needs of their children. We recognize the contribution that parents make to society and the future of all of us through the birth and nurturing of children.
Canada's birth rate is dropping. Many of our programs are premised on workers, a strong workforce with secure jobs and secure incomes contributing to the kind of social programs, the safety net which many Canadians say, and certainly the government has said, defines Canada. It is one of the defining features of our country. But with our birth rate dropping and, contrary to popular belief, not being compensated for by immigration, we are in jeopardy. We all have a stake, if our pensions and other programs are to continue, in having a strong workforce of younger Canadians. We believe that we have a responsibility to assist children.
I have spoken often in support of the national child benefit system as a good example of the co-operation needed among federal, provincial and territorial governments to improve the quality of our social programs. It is a good program, but more can be done.
There is a lot we do not like in this budget. I have left it to my colleagues, many of whom have already spoken and many of whom will speak, to outline some of our very serious concerns. I have confined my remarks to the interest, the mortgage on our children's future, on the social safety net and on our programs.
In conclusion, I ask the government to lift the heavy hand of debt on our future and to move ahead to something better for our children and grandchildren.