Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-30.
I listened to the member for Medicine Hat and others. Normally the member for Medicine Hat, being on the finance committee and vice-chair, is quite lucid on these topics. I heard something about the budget, but I did not hear much about Bill C-30.
Bill C-30 is an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004. It deals with a number of the very specific ways and means to implement some of the very specific recommendations in the budget. The budget is followed at a later date with the estimates, which gets into departmental spending in a very specific way. We had the debate on the budget itself not too long ago in this chamber.
I am very excited about this particular bill because it implements a number of key provisions of the budget that was tabled by the Minister of Finance on March 23. One of them is the first down payment on the cities agenda, which will cause municipalities to be exempt from the GST, effective immediately. In fact, I think it was effective last month. That is the first phase of a new deal for cities that will be a real deal. As our Prime Minister announced just last week, he is hoping, and he will strive, to have a new arrangement with the provinces, the cities and the communities by the end of this year.
What does the elimination of the GST mean for cities? That is what is being enacted in Bill C-30. For a city like Toronto, where I come from, it means another $50 million each and every year for the City of Toronto. That is a fairly tidy sum of money. What can that money be used for? It can be used for a number of different priorities at the city level. It can be used to fight crime. It can be used to better fight fires. It can be used to put up affordable housing. It can be used to invest in public transit and improve the environment in the City of Toronto. Fifty million dollars a year in perpetuity is a very good start and I know that in working with the provinces and the municipalities in the months to come, there will be another arrangement.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have talked about a sharing of the excise tax on fuel. I am sure it will be something along those lines that will give more stable and secure funding for municipalities and communities. In the Province of Ontario, our municipalities, communities, and towns have been starved of funding by the former Harris and Eves government. It cut taxes, devolved responsibilities to the municipalities, the towns and the cities, but did not follow that up with the resources necessary to implement that agenda.
That is why we have to work with the provinces, the cities, the towns and communities to cut a new deal. This will be quite an earth shattering and revolutionary approach to better relations between the different orders of government.
The member for Medicine Hat seemed to forget the tax cuts that were implemented in the year 2000. There was a $100 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in Canadian history. It is true that the last year of that package is being delivered this year. In fact, in this fiscal year, it is a $30 billion tax cut. The government will have to consider what further it does with cutting taxes.
As chair of the finance committee, we will be asking Canadians that question: What should follow the $100 billion tax cut? Should we have more tax cuts? If we do have more tax cuts, at what should they be directed? Should they be directed at reducing personal income taxes? Should they be directed at reducing corporate income taxes? Should they be directed at reducing the GST, et cetera, et cetera? That will be a very useful dialogue and debate that we will have.
Against all that, the government has a number of very serious priorities to deal with, the biggest priority being health care. That is where I found the comments of the member for Medicine Hat again slightly at variance with the reality of the situation.
In 2003 the government, along with the premiers and the territorial leaders, signed the health accord putting $35 billion into our health care system through the CHST. That was recently topped up by another $2 billion per year.
What does that mean? That means that over the next few years our contributions to the provinces and territories under the CHST will increase somewhere in the vicinity of 8% per year, when the economy is targeted to grow at around 3% or maybe 5%, somewhere in that range. That is a very sizeable contribution to health care, and that is only the start.
The Prime Minister has indicated that he will be meeting with the first ministers this summer. He has said they are not going to leave the room until they come up with a new deal on a sustainable health care system. That is vitally important.
I do not know about members opposite or Canadians in general, but when I go into an acute care hospital in my riding of Etobicoke North or into any nearby acute care hospital, I see elderly patients occupying acute care beds. Some may ask, what is the problem with that? There is no real problem in one sense. Those patients will not be put out on the street if they cannot be put into home care or put into lower cost alternative care, but why are we housing elderly patients in expensive acute care hospital beds? That might not be the best care for the patients because they may prefer to be in a slightly different environment such as their own home where they could be cared for by a nurse or by their family.
Why is it that after so many years of debate and discussion in Canada we still have this problem? We do not have the capacity in terms of long term care, extended care, home care and homemaker programs. We have been talking about this for years. Let us get on with it. Let us provide lower cost alternatives. Let us provide care levels that are appropriate for patients. While we are at it, why not deal with the huge cost pressure that is emerging, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of prescription drugs? We need to look at this question in a much more fulsome way.
Collectively, we need to make some capital investments in capacity building. We cannot fool ourselves any longer. If we keep saying we need to have lower cost programs, then we have to build those programs. That might mean some one off spending up front. The provinces and the federal government and other orders of government need to work together to get the job done.
We have been talking for years about health education, health promotion, and lifestyle issues, but we have not been investing enough in those programs. We need to do some front end investment in those types of programs. If we do not deal with these types of issues, then we are not going to have a sustainable health care system.
A report recently came out that was commissioned by the Department of Finance. It was reassuring to some extent and indicated that the problem may not be as severe as we thought. However, the reality is that, given the demographics of our country, we do have more older people. I am going to be one of those at some point in time. In fact, some people may argue that I am one of those now. However, Canada has an aging population and we need to deal with that.
That is why we need to have a sustainable health care system. That is why we need to have a discussion with the premiers and the territorial leaders about how to get there. I look forward to that. That is really where we need to go. We need to provide sustainable, secure and stable health care funding to the provinces, but we cannot simply throw more money at it. We have to have a well managed system for the benefit of all Canadians.
The budget that was tabled by the Minister of Finance recently put into play more resources for public health. The member for Medicine Hat probably forgot that or maybe it was just a slip of his memory. Perhaps he is one of those individuals getting on in years as well. The government put another $400 million in new money into public health.
What will that new money do? It will provide a much more coordinated approach to the tracking and dealing with diseases such as the SARS outbreak that we had last summer. I think we handled it as well as we could but, unfortunately, there were different agencies and groups. This will bring that together in a cohesive whole, not necessarily in one building but in terms of a network and consolidating that expertise so that we are prepared for these viruses, epidemics and flus as they come into Canada. Hopefully we will not have them again but we have to be realistic and be prepared.
There also will be more money for municipalities for immunization programs, which is a very important feature.
Something often gets lost in this whole debate about our fiscal performance. We recognize that with the sponsorship program we have had some challenges that the government is dealing with. We will be centralizing and tightening up on the comptrollership function and we will be spending more money on internal audits.
When our government came into power in 1993 we had a $42 billion deficit and a lot of programs had to be cut. We tended to cut administration rather than programs. Programs affect Canadians on the front lines so we had to cut administration.
In hindsight I suppose the government might have said that maybe it had cut back too much of the administration, that maybe it should have left the comptrollership general's office there and all these accountants running around adding things up and making sure the controls were good. I suppose with the benefit of hindsight we could have done that but we wanted to make sure Canadians got the benefits of federal programs. However in this whole debate I am absolutely amazed that we take our eye off the ball and lose the big picture.
I want to remind members opposite here today of some of the big picture items. When we travel abroad and meet members of parliament from around the world, when they come here to Ottawa their first question is how we did it. They want to know how in Canada we dealt with the $42 million deficit in four years, that we are paying down debt, that we have such low interest rates and that the Canadian economy has generated so many jobs since 1993, in fact two million plus. Those are good questions which I think Canadians should be asking themselves.
The United States has had good economic performance until more recently. The economic performance in Canada has been equally strong. In fact, if we factor in job creation, there has been more job creation in Canada on a per capita basis by a long shot compared with the U.S. economy.
The U.S. economy has had some economic growth but with no jobs. In Canada we have had two million new jobs while at the same time paying $56 billion against the debt. What does that mean? It means Canadian taxpayers are saving $3 billion a year, each and every year moving forward. This is what we call an annuity. It is $3 billion into the future forever and the more we pay down we will be able to add to that.
What are the $3 billion being used for? They are being used for a variety of things. They are being used to put more money into health care, into post-secondary education and into national defence. I think my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, was very right in clarifying some of the defence expenditures over the last few years. Since December 2003 our government has put $7 billion more into our national defences.
The opposition goes on and on about $15 here or $20 there. We are talking about $7 billion into our national defence. Some of the members opposite say that was money already announced before. Well I am sorry, it is new money since December. They can talk about when it was announced, whether it was in the budget or whether it was announced again, but big deal. I think it is helpful when the Prime Minister or the Minister of National Defence visits our troops and talk about the realities.
I have been reading some of the press clippings and the troops are really excited about the new supply ships. They are also happy that we will not be taxing them when they go to dangerous areas. Not only will that be in areas like Afghanistan, it will also be areas like Bosnia and Haiti. When our troops go to those regions they will not have pay any income tax, which is a good thing.
I think the members opposite need to get their facts straight when they enter these debates.
We are debating Bill C-30 which would implement certain provisions of the budget. I am absolutely amazed that no one has talked about equalization because it is a big part of Bill C-30.
Equalization is a complicated program. What it achieves largely is to make sure that services and programs are available to Canadians in equal ways and forms no matter where they live in Canada. Therefore some of the have provinces transfer money through equalization to the so-called have nots.
There is a contentious issue. Let us take Newfoundland, for example. In the last few years we know that Newfoundland has come upon new resources in terms of its petroleum and natural gas wealth. The question on the table is that if Newfoundland is suddenly the beneficiary of new provincial revenues as a result of these newly developed resources, should it be penalized in terms of its equalization payment, which is moving money from the have provinces to the have not provinces?
That is a very fundamental question but I think that on balance we have to deal with it. I am perhaps using a poor analogy but if we are helping a family member, because that is what we are, a community, a family, and then suddenly the family member gets a job or has a new form of income, is it not realistic to say that we will reduce the amount that we were paying that family member? I think it is eminently reasonable. I suppose the debate would get into some of the details of that but I think in rough terms that is precisely the issue that some of the premiers have raised. Frankly, I think Canadians would be more inclined to agree with the government's approach on that.
The bill also entertains a number of provisions with respect to the Canada pension plan. This is an area that I find interesting and troubling in a sense. Many in my riding say that because people are getting old and the demographics are changing, the Canada pension plan will not be there for them.
I want to tell Canadians and those members in the House today that because of the actions of our government just a few years ago, where we did a complete review of the Canada pension plan with the objective of putting the plan on a sound actuarial footing, the last report by an independent actuary said that the Canada pension plan was actuarily sound until the year 2050. That was based on all the assumptions in terms of age, demographics, benefits and contributions, which is based on the package that we have implemented today.
Therefore Canadians should not be concerned about the viability of the Canada pension plan, and Bill C-30 would implement measures with respect to that.
The member also talked about high government expenditures. I think what the member for Medicine Hat perhaps forgot to point out was that we are now at a level of the lowest government expenditure in relation to GDP. In other words, if we look at federal government expenditures in relation to the size of the economy, today we are spending back to the levels of the mid-1950s.
I am sure some members in the NDP will argue that we should be spending more but I am of the school that says that we should spend when we can afford to spend. We know we have a lot of debt still to pay down and we know we have a lot of priorities. However for the member of the Conservative Party to argue that expenditure is out of hand, that is not aligned with the facts. Federal government spending, in relation to the size of the economy, is at a low; around the levels of the early 1950s. I think we should clarify that.
I certainly will be supporting Bill C-30 and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.