Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to stand here to say a few words on Bill C-32. Being a finance bill, it gives me a fair amount of flexibility. As it is my first speech in the House, I would like to thank the people of St. John's West who let me come here to represent them in this great institution.
Over the years Newfoundland has been represented by some tremendous politicians in this Chamber. I think of some great cabinet ministers. We had the Hon. Don Jamieson. We had the Hon. John Crosbie. Of course now in cabinet we have the hon. member for Gander—Grand Falls. As the great musical philosopher Meat Loaf would say, “Two out of three ain't bad”.
It is a great pleasure to represent such a great district. It is a province that has great riches but a province that has been treated very poorly.
I am very pleased to be with you all today, to share my vision, my hopes, my dreams and my aspirations for this great country.
However my dream of Canada is one where the provinces and the people are not only treated equally but are also treated fairly. Quite often to treat people equally does not mean that they are being treated fairly. As we look across this great country it is so diverse there is no way that a made in Ottawa or made in central Canada solution is one that works in other parts of the country.
Some people have asked me if being sworn in a few days ago or being able to make my maiden speech today will be my most memorable moment in politics. I have to say no. The one moment in my political life that will always stand out was the moment in the House of Assembly in Newfoundland on the night when we were debating the Meech Lake accord, the night when eight of the ten provinces had agreed to the accord. Out in Manitoba we had our friend waving his feather and holding up debate, yet knowing that the Manitoba legislature would agree to the Meech Lake accord.
In our own house of assembly, despite the fact that many of us fought for the implementation of that great accord so that all of us could come together as a nation, the premier of our province pulled the plug when he saw the support of his own party slipping away. He used the excuse that we were out of time. That was the night that I thought the future of Canada changed. I hope I am wrong but unfortunately I do not think I am.
Sometimes it is not that others are asking too much. It is that sometimes some of us are willing to give too little. I think in that case we lost a tremendous chance to unify this great country. It may be some time before we get another. However, if we treat people fairly rather than just say we are treating them equally, perhaps that chance will come again.
I will use some of the topics in this bill to illustrate how my province of Newfoundland is being treated extremely unfairly. We have CHST funding. Before 1993 when the present government came into power, health care and post-secondary education were funded based on need. Provinces that needed got. Newfoundland at the time was a province in need, and we received a sufficient amount of funding.
Not long ago the federal and provincial governments shared on a 50:50 basis in funding health care. Today in Newfoundland the federal input to our health care budget is only 15%. We can just imagine what that does to the budget of a small province.
When the funding formula was changed to a per capita basis rather than a needs basis, most of the other provinces at least held what they had, if we factor in the cuts. Many of them received increased funding because of increasing populations. Many provinces have increasing populations because the young people who are leaving Newfoundland and going to places like Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. These are young people of child bearing age who are not only adding themselves to the population but over the years will be adding their offspring to the population. The gain of other provinces is Newfoundland's loss. We are not only left with a rapidly declining population. We are left with an aging population.
When the CHST funding was changed we got a double whammy. We received fewer dollars and we have an aging population which eats up more of the health care dollars. The statistics show that about 60% of our budget is spent on people 65 years of age and over. Consequently we are suffering greatly from the change in funding.
This year we heard about the great one time supplement that was given to provinces. Newfoundland received $42 million over four years. That equates to a little over $10 million per year. Government members opposite will if that is not a tremendous extra addition to its budget. Over the last six years, because of a change in formula, we have lost $750 million in CHST transfers. Is it any wonder that health care is in the state it is in? The poorer the province, the worse off it is becoming.
CHST transfers also include funding for post-secondary education, an area where we have been extremely lax. The greatest resource in our country is our young people. We are forgetting that and we are ignoring them. We are forgetting to invest in their futures.
Because of the great demand on health care funding, much of the money designated to post-secondary education is swallowed up by the health care vacuum. The dollars have to be put into health care. The people who pay the price are those who should be the beneficiaries of post-secondary funding.
In countries such as Ireland and Iceland we see economies that have turned around tremendously. We can talk about the effect of the European common market on Ireland and how well it is treated in relation to holding on to its royalty payments, et cetera. However, if we talk to officials in the Irish government they will tell us that the turnaround started when they started recognizing their primary investment should be in young people.
Today, because of the investment and because of the opportunity that every young man and woman has to become educated without any great costs, and in some cases without any costs, the Irish economy has turned around tremendously. When industry beckoned they had a young, aggressive and educated workforce.
I ask where is our young, aggressive and educated workforce. In the case of Newfoundland, most of them are either moving to other parts of Canada or unfortunately along with our lobster friends in the other provinces are moving south of the border because they will make more money to offset the tremendous debt load upon leaving post-secondary institutions.
That is not the way to grow a country. The way to grow a country is to invest in our young people. It is something that the present government has to think about and then act upon. We are paying a heavy price now but we will pay a much greater price in the future.
Over the past year we have heard about the federal government having to pay the banks millions and millions of dollars because of their input into the student loans program and their inability to collect some of the money owed to them. Let us look at the horrendous service charges being suggested for handling loans for the government. If we add up the amount of money we pay the banks, if we look at the tremendous amount of service charges we pay, and if we look at the money lost that young people cannot pay back, which quite often drives them into bankruptcy, would it not be a lot more sensible if we took the dollars we are throwing away and invested them directly into the education of our young? It does not make any sense.
A few days ago I asked the Minister of Finance a question about CHST transfers. He basically sloughed it off by saying that the provinces were doing very well in equalization payments.
As I mentioned earlier, Newfoundland is a very rich province. It is rich in its resources, its people and its potential. Unfortunately, as it develops its resources every dollar received from royalties for the development of its mines, its offshore oil and other industries, the federal government is there with its greedy hands to claw back anywhere from 75 cents to 90 cents of every dollar.
If we went to work today and made $100 but on our way home someone took $75, $80 or $90 from that $100, how could we advance, progress and improve our lot in life? The answer is that we could not.
Let me use the European experience. As Ireland started to develop, the European common market had the sense to let it hold on to some of its own royalties so that it could invest in itself until it reached a certain plateau where it was equal with everyone else.
If Newfoundland was allowed to keep the money that its people earned, it could be a have province instead of being looked upon by many as the poor cousin in the country. Newfoundland is not the poor cousin. It could be a rich cousin. It could be a major contributor to this nation if this nation treated it fairly, not equally with a blanket rule made in central Canada, but fairly.
Labrador has major power developments. A contract was signed on the Upper Churchill years ago with our friends from Quebec. As we have been told by everyone, including the courts, a contract is a contract and we cannot blame our friends for that. Presently Newfoundland gets about $10 million out of that contract each year in profits. Quebec gets closer to $1 billion. Hopefully, as we negotiate the Lower Churchill and with the help and input of the federal government, the deal will be fairer and all partners will benefit. That is the way it should be in the Confederation of Canada.
Although the federal government allows provinces like Alberta to feed its pipelines through other provinces and have access to markets, it is unfortunate that it refuses to let Newfoundland have a power corridor through Quebec so that it can send power to the markets on the eastern seaboard. That is something for another day.
When we talk about fairness and equality let us look at the CBC. Yesterday my colleague from St. John's East and I had the opportunity to attend a rally sponsored by Friends of the CBC in St. John's, Newfoundland. Hundreds of people come out to tell the government that they do not want their evening news programs cut. Newfoundland and Labrador are spread out over a very large geographical area and the news coverage from that area is perhaps the only thing many of the hardworking people in Newfoundland get to see. Everyone looks forward to the evening news because it is local, it is relevant and it is news from all over our great province.
The government is now recapitulating a bit and is telling us that we can have half the program. It is saying that half a loaf is better than none and that we should be glad of it. Half is not good enough if the news program is very successful and very popular. Half or maybe none might be good enough in an area where the evening news programs are not even watched. I have no problem with programs being cut if nobody wants them. However, I do have a problem with programs being cut that are essential to the culture, the history and the people of the province when that program is one of the most popular in the province. Hopefully the government will get some sense.
I am not blaming the board of directors at CBC. They can only do what they can with the money they have. In this case the money comes from here. It is the federal minister's responsibility to ensure that the CBC has enough funding for areas, and there are many across this great country, rural areas in particular, where their needs are best served by local programming, and in many cases that is sponsored by the CBC.
Let us look at the infrastructure. We have a harbour in St. John's, the first harbour to which any boat sailed to the island, if we look at it from the time of the European discovery in 1497. It is the oldest city in the province. It wreaks of sewage simply because this government has failed to come up with its share of the money to clean up the harbour. The municipalities have come to the table. The province has expressed its willingness to come to the table. The hesitancy is from the one-third input of the federal government. If the federal government came to the table, this major problem could be solved.
The adjacent cities of St. John's and Mount Pearl are the first stop basically for most people coming to our great province, a province that has more tourism potential than any other place in the world.
My own district, which surrounds St. John's, the southern shore, St. Mary's and Placentia Bay, are the oldest settled parts in North America. Every few miles there are a variety of attractions. Walking along the shore we can see major icebergs sculptured as only Michelangelo could do. We can watch whales in their natural environment and caribou on the opposite side in their natural environment. There are birds, salmon rivers, historic sites, old fortifications and great archaeological digs of the colony that Baltimore settled in Ferryland. We have some 550 million year old fossils at Mistaken Point and the world renowned bird sanctuary at Cape St. Mary's. I could go on and on. These are all within a few miles of a major capital city, a city that with some help from the federal government could be a clean and beautiful city.
Those are the fair treatments for which we are looking. In transportation, Newfoundland, being an island, is now being held hostage by two monopolies. Marine Atlantic is the only ferry service to our island and over this last couple of years we have had our battles. This year a fast ferry has been serving us when the weather is good. Unfortunately, next year we will revert to a slow ferry.
A survey done during the week showed that everybody thought the service by Air Canada had been downgraded. It is more expensive and much worse than it was. There is a need for fishery research. We are a rich province but we need help, co-operation and we need to be treated fairly.
I hope that, in the days, months and years to come, we will continue to work together for a strong and united Canada and a better one.
If people think we cannot have a better Canada, I refer them to the words of Robert Kennedy when he said “Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?”