Mr. Speaker, budget 2004 represents a continuation of our government's record of sound fiscal management. We have produced a seventh consecutive balanced budget, a first since Confederation, with more projected for the next two years.
We have gone from a deficit position of $42 billion in 1993 to a surplus of $1.9 billion for this year. Eliminating the deficit and reducing the debt is not an end in itself. Rather, it is about keeping control of the fiscal sovereignty of our country.
Debt financing is still our largest expenditure. Let us think of what we could do with this money if we had no debt and did not have to manage the horrendous $42 billion deficit and $520 billion debt left by the previous Conservative government.
The strongest testament to our progress is when we consider that in the early years of debt management we were in a deficit position and had a horrendous debt. As soon as we tabled a budget, our economic ministers would have to go to the financial capitals of the world, to London, New York, Paris, Bonn, and Tokyo, to plead our case to 28 year old whiz kids in red suspenders who set the rate for bonds so the cost of financing our foreign debt would not go up because of higher interest rates.
Not one of our economic ministers had to go anywhere once we brought the deficit and the debt under control.
Budget surpluses have reduced the national debt by $53 billion, which has saved Canadians over $3 billion in interest charges. From 1993 to now, there has been a drop in prime interest rates from 7.5% to 2.25%. The cost of servicing our debt went from 38¢ on every dollar in 1993 to 21¢ on a dollar today. There was a drop in our foreign debt from 44% to 16% of gross domestic product; what this means is that more of what Canadians earn is staying at home. There has been a reducing of the debt to GDP ratio from 68.4% in 1995 to 42% this year. The unemployment rate is down from 11.5% in 1993 to 7.4% today. There have been significant increases in employment with 271,000 new full time jobs created in 2003 and over two million since 1993.
Fiscal turnaround over the past 10 years exceeds that of all other G-7 countries, and we are the only members of this organization to maintain surpluses this year despite the global downturn. We expect economic growth of a healthy 2.7% this year even as we recover from significant shocks to our economy from SARS, BSE and avian flu.
Budget 2004 directly addresses the concerns that Canadians have regarding the management of their hard-earned tax dollars and provides concrete measures to re-establish their confidence. To this end, we have implemented a comprehensive plan to improve accountability and expenditure control. We have reintroduced the Office of Comptroller General of Canada, which the Conservatives eliminated, to oversee government spending. New corporate governance rules for crown corporations will also be implemented.
The expenditure review committee, established the day the present government took office, is dedicated to improving public sector management and ensuring that government programs are effective and affordable. To this end, it has begun a line by line review of expenditures with a view to generating annual savings of at least $3 billion within four years, savings that can be used in priority areas such as health care and education.
For 10 years I have been calling for a change in the way we do moving for the government so that we can save $30 million to $40 million a year. I fully expect that under this process the waste in government moving will finally be eliminated.
My riding of Kitchener—Waterloo is at the heart of Canada's technology triangle with Communitech and is an area that has shown exceptional employment growth and export activity. It is also the home of a community college and two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. The growth in our high tech companies' exports and sales and the increase in post-secondary education research capabilities have been facilitated by government support.
This has translated into higher profits for companies and higher personal income for their employees, which provide a real net return to government. A recent study in our region indicated that taxes paid by residents exceeded government grants and transfers by close to a billion dollars.
The success of my community is based on education, which is also the success of Canada. Education is a key factor in securing a higher standard of living, a better quality of life and Canada's success in the 21st century.
Social programs are important to Canadians. Early learning and child care are crucial to intellectual development, and we are increasing our significant funding in these areas by $150 million.
This budget makes access to higher education more accessible to Canadians from low income and middle income families, with targeted measures such as the provision of a Canada learning bond at birth to children of low income families as an incentive to encourage savings for post-secondary education. As well, beginning in 2005, the Canada education savings grant will be increased from 20% to a maximum of 40% for low income and middle income families.
There is also help for students, with new grants provided for 20,000 students from low income families to cover part of their first year's tuition. Student loan limits will be increased, parental contribution from middle income families will be reduced, and we will increase the threshold for eligibility for interest rate relief on unpaid loans.
Significantly, we have increased the advancement of opportunities for aboriginal Canadians, with $150 million going to support the aboriginal human resources development strategy and $50 million to support the urban aboriginal strategy.
Since balancing the budget in 1997-98, investing in research and development has been one of our top priorities, with research totalling $13 billion this fiscal year. Our government spending on research and development is the highest per capita in the G-7.
These investments will reap significant and ongoing rewards for Canadian companies, their employees and the communities they support.
One of the problems in giving a speech on the budget is that we do not have enough time to tell all the good news. One thing that is very clear is that this government, since it has taken office, has adopted a balance approach. We have again invested in health care for Canadians and it again is a priority of Canadians. The meeting that is coming up with the Prime Minister and the first ministers of this country is going to set the course for sustainable health care in Canada. It is a position that Roy Romanow supports.
We are going into the new millennium on a sound financial footing. It is the ability to manage our finances that enables Canadians to achieve their potential.