Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill.
Everyone in the House knows that our responsibility is the responsible expenditure of the people's money. It is not our money. It is not the House's money. It is the people's money.
When I watched the budget being introduced in the House, my heart sank. It sank because I thought that the government had an enormous opportunity to really close the gap with our major competitor, the United States.
President Bush has been spending money, I would say recklessly. The U.S. has turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit. The tax difference between us and the U.S. has been wide. Its competitiveness historically has been better. We had a grand opportunity when we were dealing with surplus budgets to close that gap dramatically, strengthen the Canadian dollar, improve investment into Canada and reverse the brain drain.
Sadly for all Canadians, the government chose to make the budget a political instrument. It chose to disburse money in an unfocused, shotgun approach, doling out money without firm objectives. That is utterly irresponsible on the part of the government. We missed a grand opportunity to strengthen our economy and thereby strengthen our social programs.
I will deal with just a few points which I think the government could have dealt with if it had chosen to. There are four major spending priorities the government ought to have addressed in 2003: health care, education, infrastructure and defence.
It is a good thing the government chose to split the CHST into two transfers. The Canadian public will know where the moneys are going from a federal perspective. The way to get around the moneys being spent irresponsibly is for the federal government to ask the provinces what their spending priorities are and to ensure that federal expenditures are congruent with that. In other words, the money would go to the sharp edge of patient care on the ground. It is simply intolerable for Canadians to have to wait a year to a year and a half for essential surgeries or for poor or middle class Canadians to do without essential health care services, but that is what is happening.
On education, we cannot build a strong economy without the people of our country having the educational opportunities to be the best they can be. It is not something that simply ends in their 20s; rather it is a process that will go on throughout most of their lives, given the changing demographics and our changing economy.
The government should have provided the provinces the flexibility to do that. It has an opportunity to ensure that workers have a chance to upgrade their skills without leaving their jobs and those who need to acquire skills can do so without being hurt. If we do not enable people to acquire the skills to be integrated members of our economy, those people will become a drain on our social programs.
People do not want that. People want to work. They want to use their talents to the best of their abilities. They want to contribute to Canada, but the system we have now is so ossified it does not enable them to do that. There is a chance through EI to provide that.
The government had a chance to change taxes. It had a chance to reduce payroll taxes and reduce personal and corporate income taxes. Instead it has kept them at an unacceptably high level.
The government continues to trot out the notion that Canada has a low tax rate. Anybody who has looked at the tax rates of the OECD or our G-7 an G-8 partners knows full well that we have the highest tax rates among the G-7 and G-8 nations. We are in the highest third of tax rates among the OECD nations. That affects our ability to be competitive. It affects our ability to contribute to the strong social programs that will enable us to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
On the issue of infrastructure, the pathetic and small investment in infrastructure will only hurt our country. The federal government has a role to work with the provinces to deal with the acute infrastructure needs of our nation. Our country has at a minimum a deficit of $130 billion yet the government has put in a paltry $1.2 billion into infrastructure, something that does not even scratch the surface.
No wonder the municipalities were beside themselves, as were the provinces. The chronic deterioration of our infrastructure in terms of our transportation is something that would substantially and significantly affect our ability as a country to have a strong, dynamic and competitive economy. This can be reversed. That is a choice that the government must make. I would suggest that it work with its partners at all other levels of government to ensure it happens.
I have a base in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I can tell the House that the men and women in uniform who give their lives to protect us here at home and abroad have been doing a yeoman's job. In fact, they have been giving much more consideration to our country than the government has given to them.
For the last 10 years the government has underfunded and disrespected our military by not giving our people the tools to do the job. As the PC member mentioned, the helicopter is but one issue. We can go through manpower, equipment and training. Our people are wanting at every level. They have the desire and the will to do the job, but they do not have the tools.
The Canadian public would be shocked to know that many of our service people are spending upward of 11 out of 12 months abroad, away from their families. Why? Because the government has gutted our military and our manpower is so low that it does not have the ability to put the people that we require into the field to do the job of our nation.
This is important not only on a security level. If we do not contribute internationally to security issues governed by the UN, NATO, and our partners, then when we come to the table in terms of our ability to negotiate on economic issues, we will be taking a back seat to those who do contribute. That is the cold, hard reality.
For too long we have been living off the coattails of our allies on the international security concerns that we all share. The NATO secretary general mentioned two years ago that Canada must come up to the plate and contribute. That, sad to say, has fallen on deaf ears on the part of the government.
There have been umpteen numbers of constructive suggestions from members across this nation and the military. The top levels of the military have said clearly that we should invest in our military now or we will not be able to do the job to protect Canadians here at home. It will affect us in our pocketbooks.
The $800 million that the government put forth is but a tiny sliver of what our military needs now. We will need even more in the future. I would strongly impress upon the government, and especially the Prime Minister's Office where a lot of this is held up, that it listens to the cold, objective analysis of the situation and make the investment that the Canadian public wants, that our military wants, and that our partners want.
What else can we do? Part of the responsibility of the government is to spend our money wisely. Unfortunately, it tends to have ill-conceived objectives or an absence of objectives. It does not know what it wants to do. It does not measure what it is doing. Therefore, it does not know what its output should be. Furthermore, a lot of moneys are spent to curry favour in certain ridings to make the government look good. This is a characteristic of governments everywhere.
Surely the government can do a much better job of ensuring that our moneys are spent effectively. The government should identify its objectives, measure its output, and ensure that the moneys will be spent wisely, efficiently and effectively. We have not, sad to say, seen this. From the gun registry to the Groupaction debacle to the HRDC $1 billion boondoggle, sadly Canadians have seen the abysmal mismanagement of their moneys for far too long.
It is not rocket science. The Auditor General, people in the public service, and people in the public who know how to manage money properly have given clear and constructive solutions to the government as to what our objectives ought to be to ensure that the people's money will be spent wisely and effectively.
They have not been listened to. Moneys are used to curry political gain. The government looks to see which way the wind is shifting and moves in that direction. It needs to show leadership and use public moneys wisely and effectively. Only then will we build a stronger country.