Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in today's debate on the most recent federal budget.
First, I would like to point out some of the strong points of this budget, and then elaborate on three aspects that I would call the general nature or thrusts of the budget. I will also discuss issues relating to science and express one minor reservation.
First, one of the strong points I support without any reservations, and which was mentioned by most of my colleagues since it is the fundamental and core issue of this budget is of course the renewal of health transfers to the provinces.
We are talking about a massive transfer of $34.8 billion over the next five years, in addition to existing transfers. There is also the transfer of tax points, which goes back to the late seventies. These transfers seek to ensure that we can maintain the health system that Canadians want, namely a publicly run health system that is accessible, portable from one province to another, quite comprehensive and, ultimately, a system that does not involve direct costs to users.
Everyone has noticed that there have been some failures over the past few years, to the point that we felt it necessary to address this situation, which is most definitely a priority for Canadians.
We received recommendations from many people, including the former Premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Romanow. As a result, all the provincial and territorial governments and the federal government were able to agree on the Accord for Health Care Renewal.
I think that everyone can already say that we want to keep this system and we will keep it with this additional $34 billion in transfer payments over the next five years.
There are also very important programs for families, including a significant increase of $965 million annually, hardly peanuts, in the National Child Benefit.
There is also money for daycare services. Furthermore, an agreement was announced last week. Once again, all the provincial and territorial governments reached an agreement. Improvements and upgrades can be made, in some cases, to daycare services. I think that this is very good news.
There are also new initiatives for families who have to take care of disabled children for instance. I think the budget has allowed for substantial progress in this area.
The same goes for housing. I am pleased to see that an additional $320 million will be added to the $680 million already set aside, for a total of $1 billion in funding over the next five years from the Government of Canada to obtain and build affordable housing. I think that is fair.
The envelope for the homeless has also been renewed. Once again, this announcement was made in the past two weeks. It involves $405 million over three years, which is a renewal of what existed before. I admit that as a member of parliament from one of Canada's large cities, namely Ottawa, we are not exempt from this type of problem. We also have homeless people.
I have seen in the past three years how well this program has been used in our community. Incredible work has been done by all the stakeholders, and hundreds of new shelters have been added. We are now able to help people who probably need it the most.
I will refer to one particular project, the inner city health project, which has demonstrated that when we care about people and care about them actively, we not only make a difference in the lives of these individuals and improve their situations, but we reduce costs to our community and to the health system as well.
I would hope that the inner city health project in particular would be one that we would continue to fund through the mechanisms that have been established with the city of Ottawa and so-called SCPI federal money, if I can call it that.
All that to say that some good initiatives are under way.
When we are at the notion of initiatives that are continued, I would be remiss if I did not salute the government's decision to add a total of $3 billion over the next three years to our infrastructure programs; $2 billion to the strategic infrastructure program, which makes a total of four that will be spent starting next year and for the next 10 years, notwithstanding whatever else could be added to it in future years, as will be determined if we have surpluses in those years; and another $1 billion for municipal infrastructure, perhaps of a lesser level. In total $3 billion has been added to the municipal infrastructure program. I am very happy that has been done.
I was happy to be appointed to the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues and our core recommendation was indeed that we commit to this kind of infrastructure program on a longer timeframe. We had recommended at least 10 years, perhaps even as long as 15 years, to allow municipalities the time to plan and to have an integration of these two programs; this program and their own needs. The announcement made in the September throne speech and the confirmation in the budget of an additional $3 billion in overall infrastructure money bodes well for our capacity to renew the existing infrastructure.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the environmental envelope, so to speak. The government has earmarked $2 billion to follow up on the ratification of Kyoto. That is an excellent initiative, and I hope progress will be made in advancing this whole issue.
I must admit that I am having difficulty understanding some things. For instance, I have learned that in the next month or two, in Europe, 10 municipalities will each receive three buses fuelled by Ballard cells, courtesy of Ballard Power Systems Inc. and DaimlerChrysler. Since this technology was developed in Canada, I wonder why no Canadian city will benefit from this program.
I urge the government to take money out of this $2 billion envelope so that we too can benefit from this technology and continue to develop it here, in Canada. I cannot understand why this program currently applies only to 10 European municipalities. I hope that some of the $2 billion will be used to take a similar initiative in Canada, so that our comfortable lead on the overall fuel cell industry is maintained.
I want to quickly move on to the issue of international aid. I applaud the initiative to double, by the year 2010, our international aid and, of course, the additional yearly amount of $800 million for the defence budget, on top of the $270 million earmarked for this year.
I want to congratulate the government regarding the general thrust of the budget. I notice that, over the past several years, we have reduced our deficit by $47.6 billion. This year we will probably reduce our debt by more than $50 billion. This achievement deserves to be praised and I hope that the government will properly point it out.
Let us compare this with what is going on south of the border. Over the past 18 months, the Americans have accumulated a debt that exceeds $600 billion. This is more than our cumulative national debt throughout our whole history. Therefore, I can only congratulate the government for the course and the thrust that it has chosen for our country. If we stay that course, we will see a continuous increase in the value of our dollar, in our economy, and we will be better off. Hats off to the government.
I also want to thank the Minister of Finance and all my colleagues who supported a project that is dear to me. I am referring to the long range plan of Canadian astronomy and astrophysics and, in particular, to a specific initiative.
The government has announced that it will support the Atacama Large Millimetre Array project, ALMA, which is part of the long range plan of Canadian astronomy and astrophysics. In the year 2000 the NRC and NSERC both set out a 10 year plan to maintain Canada's leadership position in astronomy and astrophysics, and with this commitment we will do so.
I am very happy that we have been able to carve out the money required for the National Research Council to commit to this project. It is a project that involves the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Chile and of course Canada. It consists of 64 antennae, each 12 metres in diameter, arranged on the 10 kilometre diameter circle at Chajnantor, the high plateau in the Chilean Andes, which is essentially the largest ground based project in the history of astronomy. Congratulations on that.
I now wish to express a minor concern. I fail to understand why the government reduced by $25 million the budget for the television production fund. To my knowledge, Canada is the world's second largest exporter for both English and French television productions. This industry is expanding in Canada. I find it hard to understand why, at a time when the government is generating surpluses, it feels the need to cut $25 million from this $100 million budget.
I am not saying that this will prevent me from supporting the budget. On the contrary, I will support it. However, I do hope that the full budget for this initiative will be restored as soon as possible. Our English and French television production capability and our export capability in this area deserve to be supported. I hope that we will succeed in convincing the government to restore this budget at the earliest opportunity.