Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle.
It is a great honour for me to rise in this place at the beginning of my third term to express my heartfelt gratitude to the constituents of Calgary Southeast, who elected me again, with 72% of the vote, to represent them here. It is a humbling mandate and I hope that I can fulfill the expectations of my constituents.
It is perhaps the greatest honour a Canadian can have, I believe, to be elected by one's fellow citizens to stand in this place and participate in the highest forum of democracy in our land. The former leader of the Conservative Party, John Diefenbaker, once said, and his close friend John Turner often echoed him, that next to the pastoral ministry of faith this is the highest calling. It is something that we must all recall from time to time, this special responsibility we have.
A debate on the motion in reply to the Speech from the Throne is a special opportunity for members to address first principles. That is what I intend to do.
I believe that perhaps the most succinct and compelling statement of the appropriate role of government in Canadian society was made by Father Athol Murray, the founder of a school in Saskatchewan, Notre Dame College in Wilcox, where I grew up. A great Canadian folk hero, he once said that the aim of government should be to provide for “freest human action under the natural law”. Those are words and a concept not often uttered in this place: freedom, liberty, “freest human action under the natural law”.
When I read the throne speech, what I see is a smothering vision of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present government that has grown far beyond what was ever conceived of in the original constitutional order of this country, a government which proposes a program for every conceivable electoral interest group and which sees no proper limits for the size of government and its imposition on and restriction of human freedom.
Economic freedom is expressed by the degree to which individuals are able to retain and use according to their own priorities the fruits of their labours. But under this and previous governments, the average Canadian family continues to pay nearly 50% of its annual income in taxes to all three levels of government. That is to say that from an economic point of view Canadian families are only half-free and, in a certain sense, half their economic choices are captive to the decisions that we as political leaders take.
I think that is a disordered priority. I think that this Parliament and any Canadian government which respects human freedom should leave a much broader ambit to economic freedom by allowing people to make their own economic decisions by keeping more of what they earn to reflect their own priorities.
How is this applied? One of the principal engagements the government makes in this throne speech is to reiterate for the umpteenth time its I think deeply troubling commitment to establish a national program for child care.
I can tell members that I have been a member of Parliament for seven years and before that was involved in public life. I stand to be corrected, but in that time I do not recall hearing from a single constituent or Canadian voter pleading for the federal government to establish a national child care program. But in that time I have heard from literally thousands of constituents and other Canadians asking for tax relief, particularly tax relief for families with children, families that are struggling under a crushing tax burden to do what is best by their kids and to make the right choices to raise their children.
It disturbs me deeply when I hear the new Minister of Social Development refer to the choice made by millions of Canadian parents to raise young children at home as an obsolete model of custodial child care that is 50 years old.
I find deeply disturbing that kind of dismissive approach toward at-home parenting, which laces the throne speech, and I can tell hon. members that my constituents do as well. It is of course true that the vast majority of couples with children, even young children, have both parents in the workforce today. It is equally true that the vast majority of those families would choose to have a full time dad or mom at home if they could make it work financially, if they had the economic freedom to make the choice they believe is best for their children.
However, this government, reflecting a political philosophy which has become dominant in much of western civilization, has decided that it knows better than parents how to make economic choices and child-rearing choices for children. That is why, for instance, the government opposes the policy recommended by my party to allow for a $3,000 per child tax deduction, which exists in other developed western democracies.
It would be a tax deduction that would say to parents they could use the $3,000 per child economic break to decide whether to pay for third-party day care out of the home or give up a secondary income and have one of the parents stay at home. That is what I mean by economic liberty, which builds a stronger nation by allowing people to make choices that are best for them. But this government thinks it knows better than parents, which is why it chooses to create a multi-billion dollar program that will be funded in part from the taxes that come from the second parents in those homes with young children, parents who are in the workforce, away from their kids, in order to pay the tax bill.
In 1962 the average Canadian family paid a total tax bill of roughly 28% of its income. That is now up to 46%. In other words, the second parent in many of the homes that I represent is now working to pay for the incremental tax burden, which families were not facing 40 years ago. That, I think, is a profound violation of economic freedom and the right of parents to choose. That is a fundamental issue for me.
My time is limited and I also want to say I am distressed that in the throne speech the government spends very little time addressing the principal responsibility of a federal government, which is of course the protection of our national sovereignty and national security.
There are pages upon pages of areas detailed in the throne speech whereby the federal government would encroach upon areas of constitutional jurisdiction reserved for the provinces, but there is virtually no vision about how the country can rebuild its role in the world, a role which is best expressed by our investment in our military, which of course represents in a concrete way our ability to project our values abroad.
Under this government, Canada has the second lowest defence expenditure in NATO, at less than half the NATO average. This is a country which, in the words of former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, is willing to sit around the table of world decision makers but gets up and goes to the washroom when the bill comes due.
I think we have a moral obligation to make the investments that are necessary and to stand by our allies, as we have done so proudly in the past in this country, so we can be true to our heritage as a country that does not shirk its international responsibilities. If we are true to our values, then I believe the government should fundamentally change its priorities to, as I say, expand economic liberty and restore pride in our military and our role in the world.