Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to talk about the implementation of the 1999 budget. I want to make several points, but since it has been dubbed the health care budget I will start with that.
Perhaps just as an aside to the member for Fundy—Royal, and I do not want to get into a big debate about this, but the record will show that the first provincial government that eliminated its deficit was not Mr. Klein's in Alberta or Mr. Filmon's in Manitoba. It was in fact the Romanow government in Saskatchewan.
All across Canada the years of federal neglect and cutbacks have taken their toll. The fact that the Liberal government felt compelled to come up with a health budget is a credit to the thousands of Canadians, some of whom may be actually watching, who have written, or faxed or phoned their members of parliament in recent months.
We do not forget on this side of the House that the government only a few months before the introduction of the budget refused to admit that the health system needed an infusion or a transfusion of cash. It is only with constant public and political pressure together with a relentless stream of individual horror stories that the government was forced to put some money back into our ailing health care system.
What is striking about this budget when we strip away the hype is that it really does not offer very much at all. It is really a lesson in underachievement. It may abet the Liberals' political crisis but it does not come close to solving the larger health care crisis. If there was ever an opportunity to have taken dramatic steps to set things right, we had it in this budget.
The deficit was gone and there appeared to be enough surplus money to make a difference, but by holding back, Canadians will actually have to wait for several more years before the money that has gone out of the system is put back into our health care system. I remind the House that the Liberals with the introduction of the Canada health and social transfer back in 1995 cut more than $21.5 billion out of health and social funding.
More than half of that $21.5 billion was in the health care funding. This year the budget put back only $2 billion, not quite the cause for celebration that some on the other side would have us believe. Members of the government keep repeating $11.5 billion. We heard it this afternoon. That is what they want us and Canadians to remember about the budget. What they want us to forget is that the $11.5 billion is spread out over five years.
It gets worse. We do not get the ongoing benefit of that $11.5 billion because it is not cumulative. By the end of the next five years only $2.5 billion will have been permanently added to the transfer, $15 billion per year, up from the current $12.5 billion. It is like a wage bonus instead of a wage increase. It is a one time fix that leaves us no further ahead.
More important, the federal share of health spending is not going to change significantly either. When medicare began, the federal-provincial ratio rate was 50:50 funding. When the Liberals came to power in 1993 the federal share had dropped all the way to 18%. Now it is down to about 11%. In the next five years it is going to go up only 1.5% to about 12.5%. How much clout will 12.5% buy us when some provinces would like to slide into a two tier American style health care system?
Our look at the federal budget has helped us realize that much work lies ahead for all Canadians who care about our public health care system. New Democrats certainly do. We cannot count on the government. It is now obvious that only continued public pressure will keep the government from backsliding on its commitment to health care. Will next year's budget just be another corporate affair?
There has been some conversation in this debate about the previous prime minister. It was interesting to see not long ago that Mr. Mulroney was congratulating the current Prime Minister for his success in implementing the Progressive Conservative agenda for Canada. I remember the former prime minister used to say that in 20 years we would not recognize this country. After nine years of Mr. Mulroney and now six years of the Liberal administration we do scarcely recognize our country.
We saw it again today in the House of Commons during question period. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance gave us happy talk about all the good things that are happening across the country, how the dollar is strengthening, the deficit has been eliminated, and the debt is being managed. That is not what they are saying behind closed doors.
The other day I read an economic summary of a report written for the use of federal deputy ministers. This report discovered what most of us already know from our very personal and family experiences. That is that the average income of Canadian households has declined in the 1990s. In fact in 1996 family income was a full 6% less than it was seven years previously. This is the legacy of the government: falling incomes, rising uncertainty, and fear about the future.
Members may ask why this is happening. The report I referred to says that this decline was mainly due to loss in market income, in other words, income from employment. Remember this was a report done for deputy ministers of the government. The authors warned of their growing fear that after 15 to 20 years, income inequality is now very much on the rise. The stage is set for a growing gap between the affluent and the poor in our society. There is plenty of evidence around to suggest that it is already happening.
I do not have to tell the House of Commons or the folks who live in many Canadian cities of the homelessness and the lack of affordable housing and the crisis proportions this has resulted in. What I found most interesting in talking with an economist about this recently was the observation that if it had not been for Canada's social programs, the decline in household income would have been much greater than it was between the 1989 and 1996 period.
If it were not for programs such as health care and social assistance, as wounded as these programs currently are, the inequality among the rich and other Canadians would be much greater.
At the same time this economist told me that there have been what he calls massive increases in the economic insecurity being experienced by Canadians because of deliberate cutbacks the government had made to employment insurance, health care and other programs.
Canadians know, for example, that if they lose their jobs it is difficult if not next to impossible for them these days to get employment insurance. That is not the way it used to be, but that is the way it is now since the government has changed the rules so severely.
Health care is under attack, as I have said, and people know that if they get sick they have to pay for many of the services that used to be provided from tax revenues.
With regard to employment insurance as it is now known, or unemployment insurance as it used to be known, the government has raided the employment insurance fund. It was at $26 billion at the end of March. The government has placed the surplus in the employment insurance fund as a nest egg to spend as it pleases, rather than provide adequate benefits to workers, increase the benefits, or help more people to utilize the fund.
In the city of Regina where I live only one unemployed person in five is now eligible or actually receiving any form of employment insurance. In fact, the two cities of Regina and Ottawa share the distinction of having the lowest percentage of unemployed receiving employment insurance benefits.
This is clearly a deliberate government policy. The result is insecurity and hardship for thousands of individuals and families, and the loss of millions of dollars to small businesses that the unemployed can no longer afford to patronize by purchasing groceries, gas or children's clothing.
These policies are callous and unacceptable. People do matter. They pay into employment insurance and when they lose their jobs it has to be there for them. Our caucus has made this issue a priority and we will push hard for improvement.
We have talked in the House in recent days about Bill C-78. I believe it was before the committee today. It is another $30 billion tax grab that the government wishes to take out of the pension plans. Last week we heard the parliamentary secretary talk about the fact that the government was responsible for losses and therefore should enjoy the benefits of the surplus. He said in his response that the government had dipped into the plan by some $13 billion, which therefore justified it being able to take out $30 billion.
We simply do not buy that. We have talked to the retirees. We have talked to the current employees. They are not saying that the $30 billion all belongs to them, but they are saying that it needs to be shared. That is a message the government is not interested in hearing whatsoever.
On homelessness, Canadians know only too well that the government has done little or nothing for the homeless in our country and very little for the poor. The United Nations last fall published an in depth study which was not at all flattering to Canada.
Although it was referred to earlier that the United Nations has said that Canada is the best country in the world in which to live, this study said that in addressing budget deficits the federal government had not paid attention to adverse effects for the population in general. In other words, the government had balanced its books on the backs of ordinary families and those hurt most were those most at risk.
The committee says that homelessness in Canada is an area of grave concern. The report states that it is of grave concern that little or no progress has been made to improve the lot of aboriginal peoples, especially in the areas of housing, unemployment and safe drinking water.
The world's poor is also worthy of some attention in this budget address. The Liberal government has demonstrated a lack of concern for the poor not only in this country but the most vulnerable in many other countries. The budget introduced in February provided only a modest increase of $50 million for development assistance. This amounts to a mere 0.2% of our gross domestic product.
In the 1960s a more generous Liberal government set a target of 0.7% of GDP.
We are providing about one-third of what we actually promised more than 30 years ago in developmental assistance to the third world, despite the fact that Canada remains one of the richest countries in the world.
Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian High Commissioner to the United Nations and a social justice advocate at the international level, said last year the fact that Canada was not meeting even this modest 0.7% of its GDP was an international tragedy. This overseas development assistance, according to Mr. Lewis, is used for health systems, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, the things we cannot get private sector investment to undertake.
Along much the same line, I was disappointed that the finance minister was silent in the budget about any commitment to forgive the debt owed to our government by some of the world's poorest countries. Many thousands of Canadians are involved in the Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel the bilateral debt owed to Canada by 50 of the world's poorest countries. These countries are so indebted that they will probably never be able to repay us.
Our gesture in forgiving that debt would have both generous and symbolic importance. Leaders of the Jubilee 2000 campaign met with the minister last fall. They felt he was sympathetic. They came away encouraged, but they and the poorest of the world's poor came up empty handed when the budget came down.
In conclusion, we are very concerned about the direction the country is going in. We will be watching vigilantly human development and continuing to ensure that Canadians are protected against sickness, against unemployment and against poverty.
We are certainly in favour of creating wealth but we want to see that wealth shared in a fair and equitable manner. Too many of the Liberal government's policies in Ottawa are both callous and unacceptable. People matter and we on this side of the House are prepared to work with Canadians to fight for things that matter most to them and to their families.