Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address the budget that was brought down the other day by the hon. finance minister. This is probably the eighth or ninth budget that I have had a chance to address, and it is a pleasure to stand and represent my constituents and, to a large degree, express their feelings about these budgets.
In particular, I want to comment on this budget and on what I think is the government's attempt to cover over the problems of the past. It is asking, in a way, for forgiveness and is promising that it will not do things the way it has done them for the last 10 years. It is asking for another chance. However I think many Canadians are very concerned with how the government has conducted itself in the last number of years, and I want to speak about that right now.
The bottom line is that the government is asking for another chance but it is pretty clear that the Liberals cannot be trusted to manage taxpayer money. If there is anything that the last few weeks have shown us, it is that they are very poor money managers.
I have been here for 10 years and I can tell members that in that period of time we have seen many of the problems that face us today only get worse over the period the Liberal government has been in power.
When I came here In 1993, I would argue that the health care system was in better shape than it is today. The military was in better shape than it is today. Education funding was in better shape than it is today. Today a lot of Canadians would agree that waiting lists for critical surgeries and treatments of various kinds have only gotten longer since the government came to power. I think people would argue that the military is far more thinly stretched and under-equipped today than it was when the government came to power. I think a lot of people would argue that students are far deeper in debt today, on average, than when the government came to power.
If the Liberals cannot get it right after 10 years, despite all the money they have thrown at problems, then maybe it is time for a change. Maybe the Liberals should not be in power any more, but they are asking for a fourth term. After all that has happened, I think we would be crazy to go along with that.
I want to offer some evidence to support my argument that the government has made all kinds of promises in the past and has failed to live up to them. I will do that by making reference to some previous speeches delivered by the Prime Minister when he was the finance minister. What I am doing here is arguing that the Liberals have had many chances in the past to fix things. They have recognized that there are problems and say that they will address them but the problems do not get fixed.
One of the big issues facing the country today is whether or not the public has confidence in the government's ability to manage money. The government, way back when, recognized that was an issue and the finance minister of the day, the current Prime Minister, made some commitments in order to buttress public confidence in the government's ability to manage money.
I want to quote now from the 1995 budget speech. This is what the current Prime Minister said back then:
Canadians want their governments to spend money and secure savings in ways that make sense, that reflect their values. To do that, it is essential that our effort be guided by clear principles.
He went on to say:
The third principle is frugality. Governments don't have money. They are given money--money from the pockets of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. And so, governments must behave as if every dollar counts. Because every dollar does.
That was said by the Prime Minister when he was finance minister in 1995, the same year he brought in program review.
Program review, as members remember, was a program. The Prime Minister made a big deal about that. However, 1995, the year he brought in program review, was the year he used program review to eliminate the office of the comptroller general. What does that person do? That person oversees the processes surrounding government spending to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Obviously that was the wrong thing to do. When we eliminate spending controls like that, we kick the door wide open to the types of abuses we have today in the ad scandal.
In 1995 not only did he use program review to get rid of that comptrollership function, when the government was trying to root out waste and spending, the Prime Minister sat at the cabinet table and voted to start the sponsorship program. I would argue that the Prime Minister's words and his actions were at odds when it came to the issue of spending taxpayer money properly. I do not think anybody can dispute that today.
What the government embarked upon in 1995, with the sponsorship program, was a disaster. By the way,1995, despite the words of the Prime Minister and the Treasury Board President yesterday, was the year the national unity reserve was established as well, that shadowy fund of money that we only learned about in the budget speech. This fund of money was basically a slush fund that did not appear in the estimates anywhere and did not appear in the public accounts.
According to what we hear now, somewhere around a quarter of a billion dollars was spent over the last nine years. The Prime Minister denied he knew anything about it. If he did not know anything about it, how good of a finance minister was he? A third of a billion dollars was spent, but he claimed he knew nothing about it. Obviously he was not paying attention or he knew about it but does not want to talk about it because there was something funny going on with that money. Either way, to me that underlines that he should not be the Prime Minister today.
The hypocrisy gets worse. In 1998 the finance minister of the day, the current Prime Minister, said:
Frugality. Focus. Steadfastness. Looking to the long term. Partnership. Fairness. These are the principles that underlie our plan. Let me now demonstrate how these principles will be applied to sound economic management for the country.
The one thing we did not get from the government was sound economic management. That is why we are embroiled in this ad scandal today. It is not just the ad scandal, there are many other things, and I will touch on those in a moment.
The thing I think is really important to me is that people understand that the government is not capable of managing taxpayer money very well. We have seen spending go up $41 billion over the last seven years, and the problems only get worse. The problems have been getting worse and worse. Students go further into debt. The military is stretched more thinly. We see waiting lists get worse and worse in hospitals.
The money is coming in, and taxpayers are doing their part. They are kicking in billions of dollars toward taxes for the government to use, supposedly in the best interests of the Canadian public. However, those problems are not getting addressed, and I am wondering what is going on.
On the other hand, we do know that those things that the public has never set as a priority are getting funded. We know that if one is a good Liberal, one is being looked after by the government. That is one of the messages of the ad scandal, where government officials, supposedly getting political direction from ministers in the government, were kiting cheques, basically laundering money, and some of that money certainly found its way back into the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada. There is no question about that. It is very clear, based on the Auditor General's report. That is exactly what has happened. Taxpayers are sending in billions of dollars. The big problems that face the nation are not being addressed, but Liberal friends are doing very well.
Then there are all those other programs and pet initiatives of the government for which the public has never asked, but are turning out to be huge spending boondoggles like the useless firearms registry. The government has already spent a billion dollars to register duck hunters. On the other hand, we know that if the billion dollars had been used for health care, for the purchase MRI machines, for cancer research and treatment, all those things would have saved far more lives than the firearms registry ever would. In fact I do not think the firearms registry will ever save the life of one person. I think it will be a disaster in terms of how it affects the reputation of the government forever. It is one of the government's most embarrassing legacies.
Therefore, I argue again that the government is misusing taxpayer money. That money is not getting to the things to which it should get. I am arguing that even when the government tries to apply it to the things to which it should be applied, it is not effective. The government is not getting the results that it claims it wants to get.
There are many other examples of how the government wastes money. People often ask us what we would do differently and where would we cut spending. One thing I would do is quit giving billions of dollars to corporations. That is absolutely crazy.
The average family in Canada today making an average income pays about 50% of that toward taxes. I wonder if anyone in this place, on the Liberal side or on the NDP or any side, would argue that it makes sense to take moneys from a family earning the average income of around $64,000 and have 50% of that goes to tax. Does it make sense that people should be paying taxes, a family that is making $64,000 with two or three children, to a government that then gives it to large corporations, many of them very profitable? Does that make sense? I do not think it does. I think it is absolutely crazy. It is outrageous that that occurs.
It is outrageous that the government allowed millions of dollars to be spent by the Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, which went to his friends at Earnscliffe in untendered contracts. Again, people pay money. They work their hearts out to make money for their family, to put food on the table, to save money for their children's education, to save for their own retirement and to go on vacation. I think it breaks their hearts when they see their tax dollars go to the finance minister who then turns around and gives it to his friends in the form of untendered contracts, lobby firms like Earnscliffe. That is completely wrong. It is wrong when the government wastes money on all kinds of unnecessary spending.
In Canada today we spend not a few million, not tens of millions but hundreds of millions of dollars producing television programs, producing sitcoms. If we were to ask taxpayers whether their tax dollars should be spent on producing television programs or should they be allowed to keep that money themselves to look after their families, they would say that they wanted to keep the money for themselves and that if they wanted to watch a sitcom, they would watch it on a television network they subscribed to or one of the television networks that would be free. To me, it is crazy that we spend money on those kinds of things.
One issue that makes people very angry back home right now is how the government refuses to draw a line when it comes to the spending by the Governor General. I respect the Governor General. I think she is trying very hard to portray Canada in a dignified way when she meets with very important people from other parts of the world. That is a good thing. However, we have to draw some lines when it comes to the spending of the Governor General, but this government just allows her to spend more and more.
Last year the Governor General's spending was double what it was the previous year, somewhere around $41 million. Her budget the previous year was about $25 million or something like that. That is outrageous. That cannot continue to happen. Those kinds of things are unacceptable. It just makes my point again. The government is not doing a good job of managing the finances of people.
I want to say a bit about some of the other problems that are not being addressed by the government. I touched a bit on health care, but I want to make a point further.
When Canadians are asked what their top priority is for government services, I think most of us in this place would agree that they say health care. Since the government came to power in 1993, it has made a couple of big mistakes. When Liberals started to address some of our fiscal problems, because there was a deficit, the first thing they did was make two big sets of cuts. One of them was in health care. The deepest cuts in Canadian history for health care came from the Prime Minister when he was finance minister. He did not cut government operations anywhere close to the degree that he cut health care. Therefore, it was a higher priority to preserve government operations, funding for sitcoms and all the other things I already touched on, than it was to preserve funding for health care.
Then the Liberals started to put some money back into health care, but they have not come close to making up for what they cut out. If they had continued to allow the spending to grow at the same rate it was growing, health care in Canada would be far better funded than it is today. However, they cut dramatically into health care. Then they started to ratchet the funding up since that time, and that is a good thing, but it is nowhere near where it would have been had the Prime Minister made cuts in other areas that were far less critical to the well-being of Canadians.
The second point I want to make with respect to health care is that the government has huge enemies of the provinces. Really it is not just health care. It is equalization as well. Equalization is another stream of income that the provinces use to fund critical services like health care. We know right now that the government basically has entered into a civil war with the provinces on equalization. It is starting to do the same thing now when it comes to the fuel tax, but I will save that for later.
Suffice it to say, we are nowhere near where we need to be in order to give the provinces, which have to deliver the services, a reliable source of funding for health care. Why does the money have to come from the federal government? Because the federal government raises two-thirds of all the revenue in Canada. The provinces and municipalities are responsible for providing the services that cost about two-thirds of all the revenue that is raised in Canada.
The federal government has to come up with a plan and work with the provinces to allow them to fund critical services like health care, education and others, but certainly health care is the highest priority today. Liberals have failed to do that. In 10 years they have not been able to come to some kind of a permanent understanding and agreement with the provinces with respect to funding health care. The Liberals have thrown lots of money at it over the years. They have tried different things, but it has not worked. It is time for a new approach and, frankly, we think a new government when it comes to health care.
On the issue of education, students are going further and further into debt. We know that in order to have a chance to get those new jobs that the economy produces, they have to have some kind of college or higher education through a tech school, university or whatever. To do that, they have to spend an tremendous amount of money. Tuitions are going up and up. Again, I would argue this is a case where the federal government has failed to get some kind of an agreement with the provinces on how to fund education. That is another example of its inability to cooperate with the provinces and to really address problems after all these years.
I touched briefly on the military. The second biggest cut the government made after health care was to the military. The Liberals cut the heart out of the military in 1995. Today we have troops all over the world who are underequipped. My point, and I will end on this, is that the Canadian military has been cut to the bone by the government, but it asks the military to do more and more, and that is completely unfair.
In the end, the bottom line is we cannot trust the government to manage our money.