Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to speak about our 2004 budget.
It is less than a month since the finance minister told Parliament what he would do for Canadians, but already it is a distant and fading memory for most of us. Why? Because it was so lacklustre, so uninspiring and so void of vision that it failed to set a new course for the Prime Minister.
Canadians had many hopes for this Prime Minister. They hoped that he would be different, better and more in tune with our needs and concerns, but it seems not. The budget failed. It failed to help those in need and it failed to provide a sense of direction for the government and for the country as a whole. In fact it only proved how much the change in the Prime Minister's office was merely symbolic. It has proved that the government, after a decade of absolute power, has become lost and ineffective.
The Prime Minister has proved that the budget was no more than a blank page as most funding announcements have come out in the weeks since.
Many of the problems highlighted in the speech are a direct result of mismanagement by the government. The government has made the mess and now it wants Canadians to crowd around it to watch it clean it up.
Creative funding schemes to students would not be necessary if the government had not gutted the education transfers to the provinces in the 1990s. Instead of creating bureaucratic programs that support students via a piecemeal approach, why not just restore the funding that was cut by this Prime Minister?
The same goes for health care. Instead of having photo op conferences, why not just restore significant health funding to the provinces to replace the $25 billion that the Prime Minister cut before?
The government has perfected the art of making simple into the complex. Unfortunately, it is the Canadian taxpayer who has to fund this short-sighted trial and error approach. Instead of cutting taxes for the working poor, the government wants to add extra layers of expense by sending out rebate cheques. Instead of making the hiring of additional employees affordable, the government taxes small business into bankruptcy.
The EI fund is perhaps the largest scandal we have, but it barely registers on the front pages. The government in every city on every day with every worker takes more taxes than it needs to. Then when those workers lose their jobs, the same government that has robbed them turns around and denies them the benefits they are forced to support.
Why did the finance minister not rise up and correct the overtaxation problem in his speech? The Auditor General has highlighted this overtaxation and so has the opposition and so have businesses, small and large, and so has every worker who has to pay into this over inflated program.
We have called on the government to correct this problem, but obviously all such requests are falling on deaf ears. The government has had 11 years of governing with a significant majority and still these problems exist. If it has not done it by now, we can fairly conclude that it never will. It has had 11 years with a majority government. What have the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance been waiting for? Why are they stalling?
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance personally have the economic means to wait for better government, but most Canadians do not. Statistics continually show that the poor, including the working poor, continue to become poorer every year. My colleague has mentioned that 105 million children are living in poverty in Canada. That is shameful.
The income gap is growing and those who are at the bottom cannot afford to wait for better government. They need help today.
Students struggling under a ballooning debt load need to see light at the end of the tunnel. They need relief now.
Dual income, working poor families need tax relief today, not on next year's income tax return. They need to buy groceries every week, not just the week that the GST tax refund comes in. Let us leave the money in the pockets of those who need it most.
Our seniors, for example, have been ignored and neglected for far too long. Their pensions should be indexed to keep up with inflation and to maintain their purchasing power. Our seniors need proper medical attention today, not in six months or longer. For someone with a shrinking life expectancy, two, three, four years of waiting is a cruel joke. By the time this summer's health meeting finishes, it will have been almost two years since the Romanow report was completed. Based on the government's record, we might be able to expect results no sooner than 2006.
We as Conservatives would fund health care in a responsible, transparent and accountable fashion that would lead to shorter waiting lists and better standards across Canada.
A Conservative government would bring the much needed reforms to the finances of the country. We would begin by ensuring that those needing help would be at the front of the line, not Liberal donors. We would focus spending on the core responsibilities of the federal government, instead of handing out ineffectual cheques on wasteful and dubious projects. We would heed the advice of the Auditor General and end the overtaxation of working Canadians in the EI fund. People earned their money and they deserve to keep it. We would stop playing favourites with regions and political friends. We would ensure government spending met with the higher standards of scrutiny and accountability.
A Conservative government would have a long term vision for Canada, which would focus on things like debt repayment and program sustainability. A quarter of all government spending goes to debt servicing. If 25% of people's income went to just paying interest on their credit cards, what would be one of the first priorities? Imagine how wealthy the country could be if we had 25% more money in our federal budget. Soon Alberta will be debt free and we will see what a difference that will make the lives of the citizens who live there.
A Conservative government would provide all Canadians with a predictable, stable, well planned future for Canada. When Liberal monetary policy basically consists of political favours and crisis control, we all lose. In my riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, we expected more and were disappointed with what we heard. We expected more and got less.
Before I end my speech, I would like to comment on the post-budget campaign tour being conducted by our Prime Minister and his cabinet. These campaign announcements and photo ops are costing taxpayers ridiculous amounts of money. When the Prime Minister came to Saskatoon to save his party's reputation, it cost taxpayers approximately $22,000 one way. That $22,000 was the cost of the jet alone. It did not include staff, hotels, security, audiovisual equipment and other related costs.
The median family income in my riding is $36,000. It is easy to see why my constituents are not pleased or impressed with the presence of the Prime Minister. Just think about it. Several families in my riding work 50 weeks or more at one or more jobs, being paid low salaries for an entire year just to be graced by the Prime Minister for a few hours. I am betting they would have appreciated a reduction in their taxes a lot more.
One definitely cannot feed a family of four on a front page photo op. It is time our high flying cabinet acknowledged the real cost of its taxpayer funded pre-election campaign. Maybe it just needs to be reminded at the poll.