Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate. I have sat here in amazement listening to the debate on the budget. I cannot understand fully although I can understand partially why members opposite do not describe the budget in December as one of the most extraordinary budgets of all time. We know their partisan nature. We know they would not say that, particularly if we look at the context of budget 2001.
The Minister of Finance had to stand in the House after the events of September 11 and with an economy that was declining and in trouble. Any objective analysis would show that the budget he delivered on December 10 was an excellent budget, particularly in that context.
Members opposite talk about how the budget was not responsive to the views of Canadians. I can tell the House why they say that. It is because they are on the opposite side of the House. That is why they are on the opposite side of the House. It is because they do not listen to Canadians. As a member of the finance committee I travelled across Canada and listened to what Canadians had to say. They said a few important things.
First, they said they know the government must deal with the security agenda. They know the government must respond and it must be a top priority. They said they would like the government to protect the $100 billion tax cut announced in 2000 and the $23.4 billion agreement with the provinces for health care and early childhood development. They said they do not want to go into deficit.
Second, there was some debate at the edges about whether the government should get into stimulative spending. That point seems to have eluded the hon. member for Medicine Hat. There are many bright economists in Canada and around the world who would argue that we should stimulate the economy and go into deficit at a time like this. However the government said no. The government listened to the caucus and to many Canadians who said they did not want to go into deficit.
Having said that, the minister and the government were able to provide $3 billion in stimulus to the economy. As a result of those actions and as a result of protecting the tax cuts announced in 2000, there will be about a 2.4% stimulus in the economy this year in relation to the GDP. Next year it will be 2.8%. That is more than the stimulative measures that have been announced and some that are still being debated in the United States senate.
With that kind of stimulus, the monetary policy of the Bank of Canada and the fiscal stance of the government we are starting to see the economy turn around. This is because of the budgets of the Minister of Finance and the monetary policy of the Bank of Canada whose interest rates are at their lowest level in many years. There has been a reduction of 350 basis points this year which is causing businesses to invest and consumers to spend. I think in the year 2002 we will start to see the economy grow again and in 2003 we will be back on track.
Amidst all this, and unacknowledged by the members opposite, the country has low inflation. Canada is the only G-7 country that will balance its books this year. For the first time in 17 years our debt to GDP ratio, the size of our federal debt in relation to the size of the economy, will be below 50%. In 1995-96, soon after we came into power, it reached 71% of GDP. In other words our debt in relation to the size of our economy was 71%. It will now be less than 50%.
Is it still too high? Of course it is, but the performance has been spectacular. The paying down of our debt in relation to our economy is the best of any industrialized country. We have low inflation.
Our unemployment has crept up to 8%. That is something none of us enjoy, appreciate or tolerate. However we now have the mechanisms in place to move forward and reduce the unemployment rate again.
We have heard much in the Chamber and elsewhere about health care. Canadians deserve more than the partisan debate and points that have been made in the House and by the premiers of some provinces. They throw out numbers and say the federal government is contributing 14% of health care when it agreed and committed to 50%. That is hogwash. The federal government never agreed to contribute 50% of health care costs. It agreed to participate at the rate of 50% in terms of insured programs such as hospital care, medical services plan, et cetera.
I concede that there is a growing area of prescribed drugs and home care that is uninsured and is starting to eat up more health care dollars in the country. It is an issue the federal government, the provinces and all Canadians must face. I am looking forward to the report of former premier Romanow, as are many of us on this side of the House, when he looks at health care in depth instead of offering the superficial analysis we tend to hear in partisan debate.
The contribution the federal government makes to health care in terms of direct expenditures, whether in research or aboriginal health, is even greater. We all know that everyone who gets into the debate, apart from members on this side of the House, conveniently ignores tax points. They say it is a technical issue and maybe Canadians do not fully understand it so we will conveniently forget it.
I will take this opportunity to remind Canadians what tax points are. If we add tax points to the federal contribution and the direct expenditures the federal government makes on health care, we get very close to 50%. A figure of 14% is totally scandalous to even mention.
What did the federal government do? Some time ago it transferred 13.5 percentage points of personal income tax room to the provinces. In other words, the federal government said it would tax 13.5 percentage points less and the provinces could tax 13.5 percentage points more. To average taxpayers it is totally seamless. They would not know the difference. Instead of the federal government taxing them the province would tax them.
Why did the federal government do that? In retrospect it was a huge mistake. The money still flows to the provinces, yet in partisan debate it is ignored and Canadians get a wrong picture. Why did the government do it? It said the provinces and territories are responsible for the delivery of health care, post-secondary education and other social programs and that it should transfer the tax points closer to the source. It was done in the belief that the funds would be used for health care, post-secondary education and social programs. To suddenly say we do not factor it in is totally disingenuous. Canadians deserve better than that.
I was happy that in the budget there was stimulative spending on infrastructure. This does a couple of things. We know we are getting behind with our infrastructure. We have an infrastructure deficit, if one likes. At the same time as we are increasing our infrastructure capacity, which makes us more competitive, we are providing jobs and economic activity. I was happy to see that. We will need major investments at our borders, national highway systems and many other national projects to help stimulate the economy and get out of the downturn.
I was glad to see provisions in the budget for mechanics' tools. Some things may seem small to us here in the House but are perhaps not so small to average Canadians. The government responded to many members on this side and to private members' bills that had been circulating in the past to give a tax break to mechanics who must fund their tools.
Rather than the lavish programs and fiscally irresponsible proposals that were presented on the other side of the House, the caucus worked with the finance minister to include a mechanism in the budget for mechanics to get a break on their tools up to a certain limit. It is the apprentices who are targeted. Apprentices are the ones who need help with their tools.
The budget also delivers $680 million for affordable housing. This is desperately needed, especially in the Toronto area and other urban centres where the need is great.
The budget has incentives for renewable energy. That is a positive thing. We heard the remarks of the hon. member about the natural resource sector. I am sympathetic to his views but tax incentives are available to those sectors that are not available to other industries.
Through the granting councils the budget will deliver $200 million to universities to help with overhead and administration costs relating to research grants. The government has put much into research and is now helping universities with overheads and administration.
In summary, the budget was an excellent response to the circumstances. Given the context it was a superb budget. I wish members opposite would be more objective in their analysis.