Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy taking part in debates in the House and sharing the thoughts and views of people in Edmonton--Strathcona. I know a lot of people back home are very disappointed in the government, especially in light of the fact that we had opportunities with the current budget, and I will address a few of these issues, given the fact that we had a larger surplus in the budget than we probably saw, especially a larger surplus than the finance minister let on about in the fall.
There was a host of things that could have been done for the priorities of Canadians. The government talked about debt relief. More effort could have been made on that. We feel this is important and we are glad the government has finally followed the advice of our party on reducing the debt. However, there is absolutely no mention of tax relief, and I will come back to that. We would have liked to have seen the government balance a few issues when it came to the priorities this time around, but it failed Canadians.
I find one thing really ironic, and I want to take this from my colleague from New Brunswick. He spoke specifically about the abuse by the government of taxpayer dollars and how things had gone awry over there because of a lack of accountability and transparency and proper procedures for oversight. It is incredible that in this day and age we have these sorts of problems in a government that seems to be so out of touch with how it should operate the finances of the country.
What I find most ironic in the budget is the way the government has tried to position itself in light of all these problems. It has tried to position itself as a government that is prudent, that is respectful of taxpayer dollars and that now is trying to deal with the debt. It is really tough to take the government seriously when we evaluate its track record over the course of the last 10 to 11 years.
My colleague from New Brunswick mentioned some of the things we have seen. I remember the big problems. We saw the HRDC boondoggle with over $1 billion being wasted. As well we saw a surplus in EI. The government could return some of the money to the workers and employers. We estimate that surplus is now over $43 billion, which the government refuses to recognize. It could have moved on that. Quite frankly, that is another theft from the taxpayers. Finally, as my colleague mentioned, we have the gun registry, which is now approaching $2 billion, and still there is no real value from any of these programs and no real results for Canadians to see whether they are getting value for money.
It comes down to the fact that the government has no respect for those programs or the deliverance of services to Canadians. That is why I find it so ironic. In light of the Liberals trying to position themselves as being prudent, how can they even claim that, especially with their track record under the leadership over there?
On the straight numbers, the government claims this theme of trying to be prudent, but obviously it is far from it. Let us just look at the budget and the amount of growth in spending over the course of its term. Since the 1996-97 budget, budgets have gone up by over $41 billion, or over 40% in the last eight years, which is just an incredible growth of government. There is no prudence in that.
In this budget alone, I think the program spending jumps over 7% to close to $10 billion. Over the next two years we will see program spending increase by over $13 billion. The government talked about prudence, but more could have been done instead of increasing spending. In some programs the government still has not tightened its belt, areas such as corporate welfare. The government should not be in the business of dealing with handouts to these groups, but it continues to do so, and it has refused to tighten its budget in the areas where it could.
I mentioned areas where money could be given back. There is still a host of other areas where we could have seen reductions or at least a return of some of that money back to the stakeholders, Canadians, who deserve that money, who are hard-working and hate to see their money squandered by the government.
A host of issues is important to people in Edmonton—Strathcona and important to Canadians. I want to focus in on three issues which I know are very important, and I hear about them on a regular basis in Edmonton—Strathcona.
The first is education. We have a number of post-secondary institutions in Edmonton, and the University of Alberta is located in my riding. Obviously, health care is the top issue for many Canadians. Finally, I want to chat about a missed opportunity, and that is the issue of tax relief. We have seen absolutely nothing, especially in light of the surplus. The government could have done a lot more.
On education, there are some good measures, and we are not opposed to saying that. When the government does something that is on the right track, we will admit it. While the government increases money available for students under the Canada student loan program, it does not address their debt. That is one of the biggest problems students face in this day and age. Tuition costs are rising across the country. Rather than continuing to add to that debt, the government should be trying to reduce it. Raising the loan limits is a good thing so students can access money, but if it cannot counter that by ensuring they have either opportunities or some flexibility in the loan program once they graduate, they will be stuck paying a huge amount of interest. Many students are forced to default on their loans. That is not acceptable. The government could have done a lot more when it came to addressing the issue of flexibility, not just the issue of debt.
One solution we have put forward, one on which I am open to feedback and debate, is the idea of the income contingent loan program. We would take the money in the current millennium scholarship fund, which unfortunately only helps about 6% of students. Obviously it has done some good for the students it has helped, but consider how many students are in need of money. When a program that large is only helping 6%, that money could be taken and applied to interest relief for more students. This would allow some flexibility in the student loan program, which would help a larger number of students. That is one proposal we have for education, one that would speak specifically to that debt issue, which has not been addressed in the budget.
Another issue we spoke about was the idea of how to co-ordinate. I know there is a difference of opinion in our party on this, and I have been encouraging the government to take some leadership on it. The government still does not have anyone in charge of education. Think about the differences in education and approaches to it across the country. I will continue to debate this in our party, but we need to address it. We need to have someone in charge to deal with the provinces in a proactive way.
We understand there is the issue of differences of power and that education is a provincial responsibility. However, there is no reason why we could not have someone co-ordinating efforts from the federal government, working with the provincial education ministers, to address issues on differential tuition and how to get some standardization across the country. Students should be allowed to move from one side of the country to get an education, plus it would give them the experience of living in a different part of the country.
These things are important and the federal government should demonstrate some leadership on this. Yet we have not seen any form of leadership when it comes to education. Because of that, funding, especially the transfers for education, has suffered under the government. We have seen health and education budgets slashed over the last 10 years by the Liberals. Even with the increases in each budget since then, we still are not up to the levels of what is acceptable for many post-secondary institutions.
On the issue of health, I know Canadians expected a lot more. Once again, when I talk about the issue of surplus, maybe I will tie in the issue of tax relief, because I know my time is limited.
In the last budget the government allocated a one time spending shot of just over $5 billion. In this budget it hid that. It did not take it out of the mix. We had a surplus in the area of about $7 billion, and it obviously was not reported properly. Imagine the increase we could have had in the area of spending for health care? Even the provincial premiers have been saying that they are very disappointed there is no new money.
We have seen some effort on debt relief, but Canadians deserve to keep more of their money in their pockets. We have seen how that side of the House has treated treat taxpayer money.
I trust Canadians to keep their money and do better good with it than the government will ever do. That is something I wish the government had addressed in the budget, but of course it failed Canadians.