Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to participate in this afternoon's debate on the Alliance motion about what the Alliance Party feels should be contained in the upcoming budget. I must add that I quite enjoy these prebudget discussions and it is very important to have them, because they give us an opportunity to share with each other our constituencies' priorities, to compare them and also to learn about what the pulse of the country is.
The first thing the Alliance proposes in its motion is for the budget to:
reallocate financial resources from low and falling priorities into higher need areas such as national security;--
However, since the tragic events of September 11, the Liberal government has identified national security as an area of high priority and is committed to providing the financial resources necessary to protect Canada. In fact, since budget 2000 we have invested $1.8 billion in policing, security and intelligence. These measures are an important part of the government's $280 million anti-terrorism plan.
Also, on October 19 we announced a special allocation of $47 million to two of Canada's security and intelligence organizations; one is CSIS and the other is the Communications Security Establishment.
To go back to the first part of the Alliance motion, I have to say that at first glance the idea of reallocating financial resources from priorities in previous years to new priorities actually appeared to be quite appropriate and supportable at the outset. My problem is, how does one define what is a low priority and what is a high priority?
What frightens me is that the Alliance has always called for cuts in so-called wasteful spending areas. According to its 2000 election platform, such areas included Human Resources Development Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, including the CBC, and the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA. If these are what the Alliance calls low priorities, I can state that my constituency strongly disagrees.
I also conducted prebudget consultations in my riding this year, as I have done in previous years. This year I actually held those prebudget consultations after September 11. While in the past the top priority had been paying down the debt, this year, in addition to investing in the necessary security measures to combat terrorism, the top priority was preventing or at least ameliorating the effects of a possible recession. I have to say that there was also a general consensus that we should not go into deficit.
One of the things that my constituents specifically addressed was the importance of HRDC programs and retraining programs. HRDC programs work in my riding and they work very well. Let me give some specific examples and success stories.
There is an area in Parkdale--High Park known as the Junction. For years the area has been declining. Once the stockyards moved out, businesses started vacating, stores became empty and buildings became run down. It was not safe to walk on the street. People did not like to go out at night. Yet through the intervention of a group of concerned residents, the West Toronto Junction Team was born. With an industrial adjustment program grant of $100,000 from HRDC, it was able to leverage $2 million from the city of Toronto for streetscaping and matching grants for store owners to improve the facades of their stores, but $19 million from Toronto Hydro, which is the largest capital investment ever made, to bury the hydro wires. The area has become revitalized. Stores, art galleries and restaurants are moving in. The streets are safe. People are out at night. There is activity because prosperous communities are also safe communities and safe communities are prosperous communities. It is a wonderful example of where moneys were able to leverage and revitalize an area.
Another example in the area known as Parkdale is the Parkdale/Liberty Economic Development Committee. With an industrial adjustment program grant it was able to take on a strategic plan and revitalize the neighbourhood and streetscape.
In the Liberty area in Parkdale we have high tech companies moving in because it is a welcoming place, a safe place and part of a community that has worked together to revitalize itself.
One especially wonderful program that deals with youth and the creation of jobs is run by the All Aboard Youth Centre. It has established a restaurant in the riding called the River Restaurant which provides training in restaurant skills. It is integrated in the community and provides life training skills so youth can find work after leaving the program.
The program has a 79% success rate in dealing with youth at risk. The only youths who have not been successful have been those with mental handicaps. It is a wonderful program. The community comes out in full force. We support it. We love it. It is making a difference.
Last but not least, while I do not want to dwell on HRDC programs its summer student placement programs are a wonderful opportunity to help not for profit and charitable organizations get on with their work.
Another thing my community has found is that after September 11 charitable giving has shrunk, not just here but everywhere. People are putting off donations because they are afraid of what the future will bring. The charitable groups that do such wonderful work, and with which we must partner to address the needs of the less fortunate, are finding themselves strapped. We must do something to help the charitable sector.
I will speak specifically about the Department of Canadian Heritage. Arts and culture are important to the people of my riding. The May 2 announcement of $560 million was the largest reinvestment in the arts in the last 40 years. It was welcomed not just in my community but across Canada.
It was a recognition that the arts are at the centre of excellence. They are at the centre of our lives. The arts are integral to the lives of Canadians and Canadian communities. They are about investing in the creative process, innovation and research, our identity, our youth and our quality of life. The arts provide essential training for a more creative world.
It is the arts and not computers that make children creative. There is empirical evidence which clearly states that children exposed to music and the arts at an early age score much higher on scholastic aptitude tests in math and science than those who are not. I would go so far as to say it is the arts that foster our scientists.
Studies have shown that children exposed to the arts grow up to become better citizens. They participate to a greater extent in their communities. They volunteer and provide community service. At their very best our creators are social architects.
To share with members of the opposition why the arts are so important I will quote James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. Nine days after the tragic events of September 11 he said:
--there is a level in terms of music and the arts which I've long been privileged to participate in, which is a level beyond finance, beyond budgets, beyond economics, beyond politics, a level which is the inner resource that most of us don't talk about most of the time because it's sort of soft. And it's sort of a luxury, but when things really come down to it, it's the thing that really makes a difference in life. I believe that passionately. I've always believed it, and in periods of good and bad in my life, I have turned to the arts.
I will not be voting for the motion. While I agree that priorities have changed since last year and the reallocating of funds is necessary, the priorities the opposition considers low I consider essential.