Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for those words on the progress of this debate and how it will be carried out and when it will end.
Certainly in talking about the time to debate these issues, the more time the better. The more fully they are explored by all parties and the more ideas that come in, the greater the benefit is to the government of the day as to where its priorities should lie and how it should handle the money taken from the taxpaying public.
Earlier on, an hon. member discussed a figure from the past. I believe it was the fellow who discovered America, Columbus. The member suggested that he was kind of lost. He related that to the government of the day.
What we have is more like Dr. Livingstone in Africa. It is a government that is wandering around in the bush, in the forest and the jungle, not really knowing which way is out. The only way the government is able to survive is to have a gigantic increased flow of taxes. By having this gigantic increase in taxes, it can wander around the jungle and continue to survive. Hopefully at some future date, which could be referred to as election day, someone from the Reform Party would come along and show the government the way out of the jungle.
In any event, we will talk about the jungle of taxation in this budget. It is not unlike a jungle because it is very difficult to comprehend the whole thing at once. I will touch on some of the highlights. We will see where the budget has some strengths and where it has some weaknesses that could have been improved.
Its is expected to be a balanced budget, something that is absolutely vital to any small business and to any government. We never learned in the past the lesson that we have to pay our bills, that if we borrow money we have to pay it back. The situation we find ourselves in now is having a balanced budget and having to pay it back.
The budget was balanced on the backs of Canadians. There is only one taxpayer, the average Canadian who earns an income in the business world or on the farm. The balanced budget indicates an underlying surplus of some $3 billion for 1998-99. By subtracting the $3 billion contingency fund, the budget balance, the surplus, is expected to be zero for this year and future years. There is some dispute in the financial world between the finance minister and the private sector. The two do not seem to jive. One is saying there is a budget surplus while the other is saying in essence that it is barely a balanced budget at zero.
With the high spending levels of the government we cannot stand any bit of a downturn in the Canadian economy. The surplus of funds which keeps the government in operation would start to dry up and be much smaller. Without a corresponding reduction in spending we would end up borrowing and going deeper into debt.
The time to start reducing spending is not once the downturn comes. The time to start spending reductions is when we have a vibrant, strong economy. One of the big failings of the budget is the big reductions in spending that should be happening. The government would still end up with more tax dollars to spend because it is going from roughly a $130 billion to a $156 billion budget.
This kind of thinking is what we in the opposition parties are trying to put across to the government to ensure that it looks at it, not as a high spending money grows on trees type government but as some prudent common sense average citizen would handle his or her business affairs.
The budget announced $7.7 billion in cumulative tax reductions over the next three years which sounds good. Excluding the employment insurance rate reduction of $1.54 billion in 1999-2000, $2.81 billion in 2000-01 and $3.4 billion in 2001-02, in reality taxes will increase by just over $2 billion in the next three years.
I always get interviewed in my home riding after a budget comes out. People ask me if it is a good budget for them or a poor budget. My advice to them is always very simple. When a budget is in place and has been implemented for six months or a year they should keep track of their paycheques to see if at the end of the day they have more money. That is the bottom line for the average Canadian. The figures being thrown around by the government often do not tell the whole story.
I talked about how some of this budget money is used.
I would like to talk for a moment about the millennium scholarship fund which was raised at an agriculture committee meeting I attended this morning. Five deans and presidents of universities gave presentations. They talked of more funding for research and more funding for the operations of their universities.
I took the liberty of asking one of the presenters if the $2.5 billion that will go into these scholarships was the best way to move that money into the education system. Having good graces, these people did not criticize the government straight out and say that this was about the worst way we could fund education. However they certainly made it well known that their wishes, their desires, their way of funding education, would be to have that $2.5 billion go directly to the universities for all students to have an opportunity to get the highest possible levels of education.
It is a good example of the priorization being right, that money is needed in education, but the vehicle by which the government decided to do it was wrong. I assessed it on behalf of my constituents. By giving the money directly to universities the government would not receive the accolades and the votes it would get from buying individual voters, individual people who would receive these scholarships.
More or less if you vote for me we will give you a scholarship. It would not be that direct, but the suggestion would be that the government had done something great for the person getting a scholarship and he or she should feel indebted to the government and vote the right way the next time. That is a very poor way. I felt a bit reinforced in my thinking on this subject by these university professors and leaders in education.
When we talk about priorizing spending, once again a lot of the spending that is not being properly priorized should be rethought by the government. Agriculture is one area that could use some additional spending by the federal government. The reason I say that is not so much that it should give subsidies straight to farmers, but the priorization of spending on agriculture should have greater emphasis.
We know that agriculture creates tremendous wealth for the country by bringing in hard offshore currency. Many internal domestic industries simply recirculate cash inside the country. When we see something that is a real big export dollar earner, that sector deserves strong government support.
When we take away the $900 million AIDA package we end up with government support of agriculture to the tune of $600 million or certainly less than $700 million from the federal government. That is insufficient for such an important industry.
Some will ask for ideas on where to find some of that money. I do not intend to go through everything today, but certainly CBC television is one area that could be handled very well by the private sector. As Canadians we spend a lot of money on it every year.
We need a bit of gun control in terms of handguns but we do not to spend upward of $1 billion over the next year to register lawfully possessed private property like rifles and shotguns.
I ranch and have a hired man. I will have to pay not only for me to have all these permits but I will have to pay for his training. That adds an absolutely unnecessary cost on to a business.
The rural development secretariat working in the health care field, which I raised in committee and bears repeating again in public, is trying to find doctors for remote areas and that sort of thing. In each province across the country the health care system is working very hard and spending millions of dollars to find doctors for remote areas. We are wasting money duplicating what is a provincial responsibility. They are doing the best job that can be done. This is something that could be repriorized by the government and the money used for something else.
The transitional jobs fund is one of those programs which has good projects and bad ones. A small remote town in my riding received a health care facility which was partially paid for by money from the jobs fund. People no longer have to travel close to 100 miles to visit relatives who have Alzheimer's disease, for instance.
The structure of the program is like the structure of the millennium scholarship fund. It has a built-in opportunity for the government of the day to abuse it. I think we saw some of this abuse with regard to hotels in Montreal having a strong connection to the government and to the Prime Minister himself. According to my last accounting some $1 million went into that particular transitional jobs fund project, which I can only refer to as a patronage, slush fund type payment.
I have a final comment to make on where money could be saved rather than wasted. Newspapers indicated today and yesterday that $83,000 had been paid for an assistant to the justice minister to deal with the CHST, the Canada health and social transfers system. The government should repriorize its spending.
Canada health and social transfers have been cut drastically over past years. With the government's announcement in the past budget we see that money has been put back into the health and social transfers. That will only bring it up to the 1993 level of funding, which is clearly insufficient for the health care needs of today.
Once again I encourage people to contact their members of parliament and ask them for more details on the budget, on the funding, on the spending and on the priorities. It must get message out to Canadians on what the budget is about. In closing, I can only say that by having an informed Canadian public we can have better government.