Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the pre-budget discussions.
Budgets are about choices, about making decisions that will affect the lives of Canadians across the country. Over the last nine years Canada has seen a remarkable change in the turnaround of its economy.
The sound fiscal management and prudent economic policies of the government over the last nine years have led us to a point today where we are the envy of the G-7. I point out that this has come about because of the support and sacrifices of Canadians. Canadians have made sacrifices in order to make sure that the economy grows and that we have the kind of prosperity that we all enjoy.
There was no question that when we took office we inherited a $42.5 billion deficit, so getting the finances of the nation in order was the top priority of the government. As I said, when we are dealing with the development of budgets there are tough choices that we have to make. The government made some tough choices in the mid-1990s.
With the support of Canadians we were able to eliminate the $42.5 billion deficit. I know that this is good news and I know some of my friends on the other side are not used to hearing good news which is why they keep yelling.
However there is no question that Canada has recorded five consecutive balanced budgets or better. That has not happened in this country for 50 years. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.
We have paid down more than $46 billion of the national debt. Our debt to GDP ratio has dropped from 71% in 1995-96 to 49%. That again is the largest debt to GDP ratio of any G-7 country. I would compare that with Japan, which has been going up, and is now up over 130% of GDP. We are obviously, as a government and as a country, doing the right things.
The government's fiscal policies have been prudent and they have demonstrated a clear and unwavering commitment to make sure that we do not go back into a deficit. There is no one on this side of the House that wants to see us go back into a deficit. The last short term deficit we had lasted 24 years. Therefore there is no such thing as short term deficits. The days of deficit spending are behind us.
Canadians want us to continue with balanced budgets. They want us to continue with debt reduction and they want us to invest in key sectors of the economy, including health care, children, families and our environment.
The basic facts are that the second quarter growth in 2002 was 4.3%, annualized rate after a 6.2% growth in the first quarter. It was very significant.
The IMF and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development both predict that Canada will lead the G-7 this year and next year in terms of economic growth.
Employment for the month of November rose by 42,000, bringing job gains to over 502,000 for the year, an increase of 3.3% in manufacturing employment, 33,000 new full time jobs in November. Real GDP grew at a slower rate but it was still a healthy 3.1%.
Exports and residential investments picked up strength and business continued to invest in machinery and equipment. Compare that situation to other G-7 countries and south of the border. In the first three quarters of 2002, the Canadian economy grew at an average rate of 4.4%. It was a full percentage point above the United States.
If my colleagues across the way would listen for a bit they might learn that the economy and the government have ensured we have been on the right road. We are ensuring we have a balanced approach in terms of responding to the needs of Canadians.
I mentioned the OECD and I would like to make a comment here. The OECD expects that Canadian real GDP growth would be about 3.1% for next year. It is positive about Canada's economic growth and notes that the Canadian economy is doing extremely well to date. The OECD predicts that Canadian growth would rank number 1 in the G-7 in both 2002 and 2003; not number 7, not number 10, but number 1. I know this is too much good news for some of my colleagues across the way, but these are the facts.
This reflects sound economic policies and I am sure my colleague here would agree that it is those kinds of policies that are sending out the right signals to Canadians.
We must look at the economy and realize that the support we have received across the country from Canadians has made possible the economic gains that we enjoy today. The government brought in a $100 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in Canadian history. This year alone $20 billion of that cut was put into the system. That means more money in the pockets of Canadians. That means more opportunities for Canadians to invest, to spend, and to use for their families. It is important that the government has taken that initiative.
I am sure my colleagues would all agree that putting money back into people's pockets has resulted in more consumer confidence. As we are into the Christmas season we see people showing that confidence by spending and investing. That is really very important.
Governing is about choices. As we move toward the 2003 budget we must make some decisions as to what kind of Canada we want to see in the future, in terms of where we want to invest our priorities. I mentioned that one major area was health care.
The Prime Minister and the premiers had an historic agreement back in September 2000. An additional $21.5 billion was pumped into the system over five years. Although the federal government is responsible for the five principles of medicare it is not the deliverer of health care services. That is up to the provinces.
Recently we have had the Kirby report and the Romanow commission. Those are two important documents in evaluating the direction of where we will go in terms of ensuring that health care services remain number one. It is what has identified us as a nation compared to the United States, where 44 million Americans have no form of health care insurance of any kind, and where over 12 million poor American children have no coverage. In this country we do not ask for Visa, we ask for a health care card. That is important.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that, at his upcoming meeting with the premiers at the end of January or early February, we will sit down and deal effectively and responsibly with the issue of health care. We will be there to do our share, along with our provincial partners. Investing in health care is extremely important and the government is committed to it. These investments cost money and we will ensure we do so in a fiscally responsible manner, not going back into a deficit.
It is too bad that some of my colleagues across the way had not listened earlier about fiscal management. They would have learned how positive the economy has been and how the government has managed very effectively the finances of the nation.
I will not go into Kyoto because there is enough hot air across the way, but I would point out that the environment is another important area. Canada has again stepped up to the plate rather than sitting back. We are doing our part in the area of the environment. That will require support and another choice that we must make.
Members in opposition can, on the same day, call for billions of dollars of spending cuts while at the same time call for billions of dollars of expenditures, because they do not have to account for a dime. That is one of the problems. On any given day in the House I often hear some hon. members across the way calling for us to spend and at the same time saying that we need to reduce in an area. That is certainly a role that the opposition has, but on this side of the House we want to ensure that we continue the strong performance that has made this country number one in terms of economic growth.
Other areas of investment would include the military. Over the last three budgets $7.6 billion has been added. Defending Canada's sovereignty and ensuring that our troops have state of the art equipment is important and that is why there have been increasing investments, over the last three years in particular, in national defence.
One of the most important initiatives of the government over the last nine years has been the investment in our cities through the national infrastructure program. This is a program that languished for 10 years under the Tories and that the Alliance did not support. However the government, in collaboration with our cities and provincial partners, developed a strong national infrastructure program investing in sewers and water, and ensuring that we had roads and bridges. Transportation is very important.
In 1983, when the national infrastructure program was proposed, we had a $17 billion deficit in infrastructure. Today there is over $40 billion and that is why we have been responding now. Had the previous government responded when it was originally proposed, we would have been able to reduce that even faster. This has been one of the most effective and important programs, particularly for communities across the country, whether they are in Alberta, Ontario or Nova Scotia.
In the Speech from the Throne the government committed to another 10 year national infrastructure program. Why? Because it would help our communities plan effectively for investments in the infrastructure field, which is important to the quality of life for Canadians, whether they live in rural or urban areas.
I would point out that we have the strategic infrastructure fund, which is also important in terms of ensuring that we look at investing in major projects in this country. There are spinoff effects in ensuring we are putting people to work and that businesses are able to grow because of those important investments.
I know this is a lot of good news that some of my colleagues across the way find difficult, but again the facts speak for themselves.
One of the areas that I wanted to mention which is important is research and development. Canadians have been asking that we pay more attention to research and development and we have responded. Investing in research and development, ensuring that Canadian ideas and know-how are developed in this country, is extremely important. It is important to our universities, businesses and communities. It is also important for young people to know that as they go through the educational system there would be opportunities in the research and development field. Many of them would be able to do that. In fact we have committed over $4.5 billion, the highest level ever in terms of R and D development. Our priority is to ensure that we respond to the needs of Canadians.
Nearly $3.5 billion since 1997 was put in the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada. This is extremely important because it is helping to put in world class equipment for research. The chairs of excellence across the country, CIHR, are strategic investments which make opportunities for Canadians. That is a very important commitment.
The government, in a balanced approach in terms of tax reductions and strategic investment, has demonstrated that it is a world leader. We have been attracting not only the best and the brightest to stay in the country, but attracting people from overseas to come here.
Hon. members should not take my word for it. They should look at the University of Toronto and what the president of the University of Toronto has said in terms of the research dollars that have meant so much to that university in the fields of science and medicine. It is important to the government and to Canadians that we continue to respond effectively in those areas.
The budget is about choices. We will be faced with the fact that we will have all of these issues on the table. A responsible government will have to ensure that we prioritize. I can tell hon. members, having been involved in the prebudget consultations both here in Ottawa and across the country, that there have been more than 400 presentations by people who are commenting about what they would like to see in the budget. Because of this debate, we will also be able to hear what our colleagues on both sides of the House would like to see in the budget.
The watchword is no deficit. It is important not to go back into a deficit. My colleagues on this side of the House support that. I am sure my colleagues across the way believe in a responsible approach and that whatever we decide to do, deficits are off the table.
In terms of the debate we will be conscious of the fact that as we move forward, health care, environment and investing in families are key issues. Continuing the personal and corporate tax cuts that we have been implementing is important. In fact, corporate taxes would be down to five points lower than the United States by 2006.
The good news is that a lot has been done and accomplished, but there is much more to do. That is why we would never break the confidence of Canadians by ensuring that we again respond effectively and appropriately in terms of the upcoming budget and obviously future budgets.
I would like to conclude by saying that on this side of the House we have received a lot of input. I have heard from my colleagues and I know that they are reflecting the issues in their communities. Whether it be Winnipeg or Peterborough, we have listened and we will respond. We are ensuring that cities like Toronto are able to continue to be the economic engines of this country and that rural communities, whether they be in British Columbia or Alberta, again have the economic tools. The role of government is to create the economic environment so that people would invest and businesses could grow. That is what has been the watchword of the government.
I remind all members that we must not forget the social deficit in Canada. We must continue to invest in the lives of Canadians and Canadian families. One of the most important initiatives that the government has taken in the social policy field was the child tax credit. The initiative of this particular government has meant so much to so many Canadian families.
I look forward to the debate and the comments on both side. As we move forward, I trust we will keep in mind that we will continue a balanced approach, no deficit, and that we will continue to invest strategically in terms of tax reductions, R and D and ensure that the quality of life of Canadians remains very high. We will continue to look at organizations like the OECD and the G-7 and say that Canada has moved right to the top and that it will stay at the top because of the commitment of the government and working Canadians.