Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure and an honour to address the budget delivered last week, and on behalf of the residents of Simcoe--Grey and I believe on behalf of the majority of Canadians, to indicate how they feel about this budget and how this budget has impacted them.
In Simcoe--Grey the budget will have widespread positive impact. Certainly it will provide excellent footing for me to continue to work closely with municipalities, to continue to work closely with student groups, to continue to work closely with all those in my riding who are truly interested in providing a brighter future for many generations to come. The budget, in some of the things that I will articulate, does that very thing.
We have to put into context how this budget was delivered and compare it to other G-7 countries as well. It is important that Canadians do not simply listen to the opposition, or for that matter listen to the government, but clearly look across the board, look at our competitors, look at the industrialized nations of this world and see what their economic track records are compared to our economic track record. The results are stunning. The results are not only stunning simply because of our track record as compared to theirs, but also because of the impact it is having on Canadian society. That is the true measurement.
We can sit here today and we can reflect back over the last few years. Not that long ago, for example when I ran, we were dealing with an unemployment rate that was almost 12%. In many regions it was far beyond that. As members well know, it was not that long ago when we were sitting here looking at youth unemployment rates of 15% to 20% in this country. The unemployment rates were even higher than that in some areas, such as in northern Ontario.
We have to have some measuring sticks. We have to look at where we were, where we are, and most important, where we are going. I would propose to members and to all Canadians that there is only one party in this House that is focused on where we are going and how to get there for the betterment of all Canadians.
It is no secret that this government has run seven consecutive balanced budgets. Under the stewardship of the former finance minister who is now the Prime Minister, this government has turned around the country's economic situation, the likes of which no other country in the world has accommodated.
Not that long ago one of the major financial daily newspapers in New York called Canada a developing third world nation. It talked about us in terms of moving toward a developing nation by way of our finances, by way of our debt, and by way of our $43 billion deficit. The rest of the world looked at our country not as a ripe environment for investment, not as a ripe environment for business expansion or to maintain existing business. Double digit interest rates, families paying huge amounts of money on relatively small mortgages, the car market, the auto sector, people trying to finance cars with double digit interest rates; these things were all having a catastrophic impact on the economy.
Under the stewardship of the former finance minister who is now the Prime Minister, that changed. It did not change simply because of the people on this side of the House. It changed because Canadians bought into that vision. It was done on the backs of hardworking Canadians and we were able to change the economic status of this country.
Then all of a sudden in 1997-98, in that same financial newspaper out of New York we read of the G-7 economic miracle. Imagine that, a country like the United States with all its wealth and all its power, recognizing Canada out of the OECD or out of the G-7, saying that we are the economic miracle, that we were able to turn our economy around. That is where we were and this is where we are.
We now flutter around a 7% unemployment rate. It is important to recognize that 93% of this population's workforce is working. Is that not an incredible thing? When unemployment rates are rising in the U.K., rising in Germany, rising in France, rising in the United States, and we compare Canada as an investment opportunity for foreign and domestic businesses to keep their dollars here, what better than to sing the praises of what Canadians have accomplished over the last seven years? They have accomplished a lot.
I commented earlier about the $43 billion deficit, the $586 billion debt that had accumulated over a period of 30 some years. What a thing to leave to our children, that kind of debt to GDP ratio. It is unacceptable. It is not unacceptable simply from my vantage point, the Prime Minister's vantage point or the finance minister's vantage point. It is unacceptable to the next generation. We owe them more than that.
I cannot speak highly enough about the commitment the finance minister has made with regard to keeping our debt to GDP ratio on a downward track. What that means to Canadians is almost difficult to comprehend. Ten years from now we very well may be at a 25% debt to GDP ratio.
We are already in tremendous shape and moving in the right direction. These accomplishments cannot go unnoticed, because when we notice these accomplishments, we do a couple of things. We establish consumer confidence in this country. People have a sense of confidence that this is a good economy and a strong economy. When we are able to do that, they feel comfortable investing their money in retail. They feel comfortable putting their money into investments. They feel comfortable with a stable political and economic environment. That is exactly what we have created.
My constituents have been loud and clear in the numerous town hall meetings that I have held over the last number of years that we need to focus on debt reduction. The debt to GDP ratio is very important.
It is also important to recognize that we are saving $3 billion each and every year in carrying costs because we have reduced the hard debt as well. That $3 billion allowed us to do some pretty exciting things in this past budget.
There is $2 billion for health care, which is new money. Not only was the $2 billion there, but there was also a commitment by the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Health and certainly the Prime Minister to continue to work with the provinces on tackling the major issue we call health care to make sure that the country has a sustainable medicare system, a universal health care system that is enjoyed by all. I do not think we can put a price on that. That is one of the cornerstones of Canadian society.
This government has invested over the last three years over $30 billion more in new health care spending. What are the results of that? We are seeing a new era in federal-provincial relationships.
When the Prime Minister came to office in December last year, he made some fairly significant commitments. He had been speaking about them throughout his tenure as finance minister. He certainly spoke about them leading up to the Liberal Party leadership convention in the fall of 2003.
He talked about the dawn of a new era when federal, provincial and municipal governments would work together. At the end of the day the taxpayers do not care whether it is at the provincial, municipal or federal level. What they care about is services. What they care about is three levels of government working together to achieve a better Canada and that is what is happening. We are witnessing things the likes of which we could not have dreamed about, other than on this side, 10 years ago.
I remember when people were renewing their mortgages at 11%, 12% and 13%. The carrying costs on those mortgages were astronomical. For a moderate middle income family in my riding, the difference in four or five basis points is huge. It is absolutely significant. We have to understand the positive impact that a difference of 4% or 5% has on our economy. It cannot go unsung. It is not about singing the praises of the Liberal government. It is not simply about singing the praises of the former finance minister, the present finance minister or the Prime Minister. It is about instilling a sense of confidence, a sense of recognition in the hard work in which Canadians have participated to right a wrong, to create an economy that is an absolute leader. Canadians know that. They need the opposition and government to buy into this kind of promising new future.
Clearly, I come from a rural riding, the riding of Simcoe—Grey. The largest municipality in my riding of about 25,000 is New Tecumseh. A number of the smaller communities within my riding need the support of the federal government.
I was the chair of the southwestern Ontario caucus for two years in 1997 and 1998. You were there, Mr. Speaker, when our caucus pushed so aggressively for a sustainable long term commitment for infrastructure in the country, to recognize that the government had an obligation to work with municipalities because of their limited tax base and to partner with them to see some of the very critical things moves forward within their respective jurisdictions.
We yelled loudly in the House. We yelled loudly in caucus. At the time we told the finance minister, the industry minister, the prime minister and cabinet that we had to do this, not for our political fortunes. We had to do it for the fortunes of the young people in our riding and to provide opportunities for them. If we are supposed to grow in rural Canada, ridings like my own need help. We need help from the provincial government and we need help from the federal government.
When I saw the GST announcement come forward in the budget that had a widespread and positive impact in my riding, I thought once again what a great step in the right direction. However, I have to emphasize it is only a step. There are many more to go.
We hear about an infrastructure deficit that could be as high as $60 billion. We require a strategic approach, partnering with provincial and municipal governments and, quite frankly, the private sector in many areas as well to address that deficit. As we begin to address that deficit in a more aggressive fashion, what will we see? We will see opportunity for our youth.
For years, certainly my generation and ones before me, in the rural communities of Wasaga Beach, Town of the Blue Mountains, Collingwood, Essa and Clearview, saw a mass exodus of young people once they finished high school. They moved on to post-secondary education or employment opportunities in larger urban centres. Why did they do that? Because these larger urban centres were experiencing growth and development.
As a result of those budgets in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998, which were significant infrastructure budgets of over $12 billion federally, we are starting to see rural areas like mine expanding. We are starting to see investment. We are starting to see expansion to the tune of several billions of dollars even in my own riding.
I think of Honda. Honda has done an incredible job of providing a massive industrial employment base within my riding, with good paying jobs and hard-working associates. It is on the map not simply in Ontario and in Canada, but all around the world as a world leader in automotive production. That comes by way of partnership. That comes by way of instilling a sense of confidence in what was effectively a Japanese based auto manufacturer. It says that this is the place to do business, that this is a place to provide opportunities for young people.
We now have a Honda employer in our riding that employs over 4,500 people in good paying jobs. It is not simply the 4,500 who are employed at Honda. Let us take that a step further and talk about the seven or nine to one job ratio that comes from an auto assembly plant. There are auto parts manufacturers throughout my riding. Gas stations, builders, plumbers, electricians are all reaping the rewards of such significant economic investment.
Why did Honda decide to invest in Canada when it had the choice of Mexico or the United States? Why did it decide to become a Canadian corporation as well? It is very proud of that, and it considers itself every bit as much a Canadian manufacturer as anyone else in this country. It decided to do that because of a right, sustainable, economic environment. It knew the potential was there to grow, and grow it has. The opportunities that it has provided goes beyond words, particularly when I think of the employment opportunities provided in my riding over the course of the last 10 years.
It is also important to recognize this giant investment that came by way of Honda, and so many others came by way of a number of different things, was not simply because of the economic environment across the country or in Ontario. It came by way of things we were able to do federally.
We partnered with the town of Alliston over a term to the tune of $8.3 million federally on infrastructure to service that plant. Not only does it service that plant, it services satellite plants and small businesses in the downtown core as well. It did things that the town of Alliston, now township of New Tecumseh, simply did not have the financial wherewithal to do itself.
When I hear the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister saying that we have not seen anything yet, that these steps have been positive and that they are prepared to do more as our finances permit, I get quite excited about those opportunities, especially in rural Canada. When we look at the makeup of the House, where else should we be investing our dollars and providing support than rural Canada? That is a critical element within my riding. We have measured the successes and we will continue to measure them. It is absolutely critical that we continue to invest in that which is our most precious asset and resource, our young people.
How do we do that? We do it in a number of different ways. We do that through creating this economic environment that allows the kind of expansion and investment. We do it by creating opportunities and partnerships with municipalities. We do it by supporting learning. I do not think we have witnessed a budget in the House for some time, which has focused in on learning opportunities for young people, like this one.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, with a special emphasis on the Canada student loan program, I could not have been more proud when I sat here and listened to the budget as it focused in on the access and financial aid issues surrounding post-secondary education and lifelong learning.
Since the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has come to office, he has been an absolute champion in this regard. I have met with him on many occasions and he has but one agenda and one focus in his mandate in dealing with this and in supporting me in dealing with it. That is to ensure that the environment is better tomorrow, that is better 5 years from tomorrow and that it is better 10 years from tomorrow than it was yesterday.
Yes, we have seen some very measurable steps come out of the recent budget. It was not invented in the House. Nor was it invented in the caucus chambers or in my office. The solutions that were presented as a vision within the Speech from the Throne and that were articulated by way of numbers within the budget came from people in the lifelong learning sectors and in the post-secondary education sectors.
When I stand and recognize the Canadian Federation of Students today, it did not go far enough. I am the first to recognize that. We have to take other steps, but the steps we have taken are good, long and are in the right direction. We have had countless meetings with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, not only here in Ottawa, or in Ontario or by visiting universities and post-secondary education centres. Keep in mind that post-secondary education and lifelong learning is not simply about universities. It is about trades, it is about technical schools, it is about community colleges and about many of the things that provide opportunity for young people in ridings like mine in Simcoe—Grey.
It is imperative for the government to remain focused and buy into the vision in the Speech from the Throne by providing access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning. That is the exact responsibility with which the Prime Minister and the Minister for HRSD have charged me.
I have been a very busy person over the course of the last number of months. We have met with over 20 different organizations, from Minister Ottenheimer in Newfoundland to UBC in British Columbia. We have met with universities and colleges, their faculties and student groups across the country. One thing can be said and said clearly: we listened, we acted and we included it in the budget. That is the kind of vision Canadians want. That is the kind of government Canadians want. I could not, as I stand here today, be more proud of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and my caucus colleagues for creating this kind of bold vision and a budget that supports it.
I extend my thanks for the opportunity to espouse my beliefs on the budget on behalf of the residents of Simcoe—Grey.