Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the budget. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Toronto--Danforth.
The Minister of Finance, the Secretary of State for International Financial Institutions and many other members on this side of the House have talked about the importance of this budget. Let me reinforce their arguments by saying that the reason that we have such a successful, balanced, strong budget from the government is because of the extraordinary strength of the Canadian economy. This is not just coming from members on this side of the House. Our extraordinary strength has been identified by the IMF and the WTO. PricewaterhouseCoopers has identified the high level of foreign equity investment in Canada. KPMG in terms of low business costs in Canada. The growth of our economy is noted as the highest of the G-7. Taxes are continuing to lower, and more lowering of taxes was announced in this budget on top of the $100 billion tax reductions announced in the 2000 budget.
Canada has a strong and growing economy with surplus after surplus, ending up in paying down the debt to GDP ratio from 71% to below 45%, almost a 50% reduction. These are strong fundamentals which have allowed us to present the strong budget we have for the benefit of all Canadians.
Let me briefly speak to a few specific aspects of the budget that are particularly important to my responsibilities in Western Economic Diversification and Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
With respect to Western Economic Diversification, this budget and the strength of our economy has allowed the Western Economic Diversification budget to be stabilized over the next four years. This will allow me as minister to enter into western economic partnership agreements with each of the four western provinces whose premiers have all indicated their desire to enter into these multi-year agreements for the economic diversification and development of the western economy, as well as urban development agreements and northern provincial development agreements. This stabilization over four years gives us all the chance to plan together, to work among levels of government, to identify together interests of common objectives which is economic diversification of the west.
I would like to speak about the close to $3 billion, with other sustainable development initiatives, dedicated to the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. When we look back at this ratification late last year from 10 years out, we may see this as the most important public policy decision of perhaps the last 30 years, since the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an extraordinary act of leadership by Canada, and it is leadership in a number of different areas: as a moral ground first and most important. We are talking about the rights and the quality of life situation of our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. We are also talking about the impact of climate change being felt most severely by the most impoverished people in the world, and that too is a moral issue.
It is also a scientific issue. The overwhelming preponderance of the evidence from scientists around the world is that the climate change consequences are severe. They are based on human action they will give severe costs to economies around the world.
Therefore it is an economic issue. It is an economic issue because the major climate change events, the unforeseen and catastrophic, in some cases, weather events cost all of us through increased insurance premiums. It is also an economic event because if we can reduce our consumption of energy and develop environmental technologies to decrease energy consumption, we will lower the costs of our industries and be more competitive. We will also be able to export these environmental technologies to the rest of the world as countries develop the same standards that we are developing and look to us to provide the technologies to do so.
It is also a health issue. The carbon pollution which causes climate change also relates to other types of air pollution and causes respiratory health problems. We must address those. Most important, it is a leadership moral issue and we are in a position to lead the world on this.
With respect to the cities in the budget, we have heard some complaints from mayors across the country that this does not given them enough money for their agenda. In fact it does a great deal for the urban areas of this country. These are not federal issues of municipal affairs, those are for the cities and the provinces. This is a national urban agenda.
Eighty per cent plus of our population lives in cities. The $3 billion on top of the already committed $5 billion over the last successive infrastructure programs is available to cities in concert with provinces and the federal government to build infrastructures, which will relate and improve the lives of people living in cities. Of course 80% of Canadians who live in cities will benefit from the $35 billion in additional expenditures on health care. People live in cities, people get sick and that is where that money will be predominantly spent.
Universities and research centres exist in cities. We have more than $1 billion of increases to the granting councils, to the Canadian Foundation For Innovation for graduate scholarships and for research and development which will to assist cities. Universities and research centres are engines of growth in our cities.
Also children live in our cities. For children who live in poverty, we have $965 million in additional spending in the budget to double the child tax benefit for those families with children living in poverty. We are also adding $935 million to early childhood development and child care facilities over five years.
These Canadians live in cities and will benefit, as does the urban agenda nationally, from these spending initiatives, and there are many more.
While I am speaking on cities, I would like to speak to an extremely important event that will come forward in 2006, and that is the world urban forum which will be held in Vancouver. That forum will bring together international NGOs, country representatives, people from major cities in the developing and developed world. They will display in Vancouver the best practices, everything from urban agriculture in developing country cities, to high tech and public transit in developed countries, to green space planning to density consideration. These are all things that will improve the lives of the 80% of people who live in cities and by reflection, outwards to all Canadians.
I would like to speak for a moment about the aboriginal side of my ministerial responsibilities. More than $2.2 billion is identified in the budget to assist and improve the quality of life of aboriginal people, which I know is the objective of all of us in the House and Canadians across the country. Of that amount, $1.3 billion is to provide better health care for aboriginal people and $600 million on top of the $225 million a year will be spent on water and sewage systems in aboriginal communities.
However an especially important part to me is the $72 million over the next two years which will be directed specifically to helping to improve the educational outcomes of aboriginal children in their school systems, on reserve or off reserve. This is on top of the $1.3 billion that is spent every year on post-secondary, secondary and elementary education for first nations students. This is extremely important. A national working group of 15 aboriginal professional educators are advising the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and myself and will be working with the provinces and the first nations leadership to improve these educational outcomes.
We all appreciate that when we get right down to it, a sound education for all children is the basis of a high quality of life and will continue to be the basis of a strong and growing economy.