Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the House for the opportunity to participate in the debate today on the Speech from the Throne. I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg South Centre.
I want to associate myself with the great majority of speakers in the House, the great majority of speakers from civic and non-governmental organizations, and the great majority of Canadians, in saying that the statements, the messages, and the directions contained in the Speech from the Throne are embraced and welcomed.
It is my belief that the Speech from the Throne and the subsequent speech which we heard from the Prime Minister on Tuesday of this week reflect the actions that Canadians want the government to take. These actions include: living within our means, investing as we can afford, and laying the plans for the future. This is an aggressive and realistic agenda.
I like the general themes set out in the throne speech. I support the Prime Minister's objectives of dealing with our health care system. I support the new deal that was laid out for this nation's municipalities.
The statement and subsequent legislation introduced to the House changing the way things work in Ottawa is a major step in the right direction. Parliament is a tremendous institution but like every institution change is needed every now and then, and that time is now. I embrace these changes with confidence.
I fully support the statement that the government is launching a process of expenditure review. This is not something that should be launched. It should be an ongoing process. Every government, company, organization, family, and individual, should continually reallocate resources to present and emerging priorities. Taxpayers expect nothing less from us as a government.
I fully endorse the goals within the throne speech to strengthen Canada's social foundations. It has long been proven that there is a very strong connection between a strong social foundation and a strong economy.
The best investment, and it is not the only one from a social foundation point of view, is early childhood education. The government's goal to accelerate some of the initiatives under the early childhood development accord, already announced, will pay dividends down the road.
With regard to dealing with persons with disabilities, I support the goal to work with provinces and the territories to do more than what is being done now, to fill in the gaps in our educational system and skills development, and to put in place workplace supports to accommodate Canadians with disabilities.
The federal government ought to be a leader in this regard as the biggest employer in this country. The continual problem with the tax system--the fairness in which persons with disabilities are designated by CCRA--is going to be dealt with.
It is an aggressive agenda but it is also a progressive agenda. It is an agenda which I support and a direction which I believe all Canadians will support.
There is one area which I would like to dwell on and one area that I am particularly pleased with and that is the government's announcement to deal with the whole area of student loans and post-secondary student financing.
Right now the government is doing a lot in this whole area. A lot of money has been put into research right across Canada, funding for the granting councils, research chairs, and millennium scholarships. There is also the educational tax credit, the RESP system, and the Canada student loan program.
There is a whole continuum of support and a lot of money being spent. Despite that, there are still very significant problems. As a member of Parliament who deals with these issues on a daily basis, I see these problems. There are problems with young Canadians deciding whether to attend post-secondary institutions and making this decision on financial considerations. There are problems with young Canadians within post-secondary institutions deciding whether to remain in a post-secondary institution, and financing becomes a part of that consideration.
There are also problems after a person graduates from university, making that leap to the job market when the person has a certain amount of student loan debt.
I was so pleased to see that some of the directions set out in the Speech from the Throne will make the system fairer, especially for lower income Canadians. It is my belief that the education tax credit, the RESP system and the millennium scholarship system are working well but only working well for middle and higher income Canadians. It is perhaps the situation that we do not need a lot more money going into the system but the system can be improved considerably by reallocating the money that is already in the system. I would have a long look at the educational tax credit. Perhaps more of that money could be redirected to students from lower income families.
The objective set out in the Speech from the Throne to modernize the Canada student loan program, which means increasing loan limits, expanding the whole definition of expense deductibility and increasing income thresholds, are welcome initiatives, but loans are not the total answer. That is why I support the whole continuum of announcements that were set out in the Speech from the Throne.
Many young Canadians are having difficulty making that connection between the university degree and the job market. They do this with a student loan, which leads to a considerable amount of stress. I would like to see the system fairer for these young students who are having difficulty finding a job.
Another welcome announcement is the announcement to provide first year grants to lower income students and also to create incentives for lower income families to invest in the RESP program. It will depend on how the system evolves but I view these as tremendous announcements which I think will make the system fairer and level the playing field for everyone.
This is what I consider to be a tremendous announcement and one which I urge the government to move on with haste. I would like to see these announcements, these directions and these programs in place for the students who graduate from high school this June and enter post-secondary institutions in September.
In closing, I applaud the government for the directions, the programs and the initiatives announced in Monday's speech. I, like a great majority of Canadians, fully support the direction the government is taking and I am proud to part of it. I look forward to the tabling of the budget some time in the next month or two.