Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the hon. member's motion that the agreement reached in the Atlantic accord should be extended to all provinces.
I am pleased that the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has raised this issue today, because I believe that Canadians, when presented with the facts, will understand why such an agreement involving offshore oil revenues was reached with the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and that upon closer scrutiny we will realize that this motion represents at its core an attempt to divide regions against each other, not to bring us together.
I come from Nova Scotia, one of the provinces which, along with Newfoundland and Labrador, was a recipient of an agreement with the national government that resulted in Nova Scotia receiving 100% of revenues from the offshore with no clawback that would affect equalization. This agreement recognized the tremendous challenges Nova Scotia faces with respect to its provincial debt and the province's ability to deliver services.
I would like to speak about my home province of Nova Scotia and its crushing financial burden, which our Prime Minister recognized and went about improving.
Why is Nova Scotia confronted with such a high debt? It is a critical question. It goes back a few decades. From 1970 to 1978, the Liberal government of Nova Scotia under Premier Gerald Regan, finance minister Peter Nicholson and ministers like Scott MacNutt balanced the provincial budget every year for eight consecutive years. In 1979 the people of Nova Scotia elected a Conservative government, and from 1979 until 1993, some 14 years in a row, we had unbalanced budgets. We had deficits. Some have said that this Conservative government was the most irresponsible government in Canadian history. It would be hard to disagree.
Every year during that period the government would underestimate the deficit. If members think that underestimating a federal surplus is a problem, they should try to deal with underestimating a deficit year after year and compounding it and adding it to the crushing debt load of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians were left reeling under that burden.
In 1993 the Liberals returned to government in Nova Scotia and, after some tough decisions and sacrifices by Nova Scotians, the books were once again balanced within a few years.
The offshore deal signed recently by the Prime Minister was based on fairness for a region that has for far too long been absent from achieving its full economic potential. Now, as a result of the work done by Government of Canada and the province of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia is able to pay down its debt, a wise decision by Premier Hamm, freeing up some $50 million to invest in social programs and other necessary services.
Who made this deal happen? It was the Prime Minister and this government. It happened because in Nova Scotia there was an atmosphere of respect, where the goal was to help people, not to score political points, which is clearly the objective of the motion we are debating today. This motion is not about seeking the best for the people of Canada. I believe it represents division and disharmony.
It is the economic and fiscal challenges that are unique to these two provinces that led to this agreement. A look at the numbers tells us this. Newfoundland has the highest net debt of all provinces. As a percentage of GDP it almost 63% compared to the provincial average of about 25%. Nova Scotia is the second highest at 43%. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, it has a declining population, which means there are fewer people to help pay off its debt.
Clearly something had to be done to help these two provinces. After all, that is what is being part of the Canadian federation is about. We delivered on our commitment. The agreement reached in January with the federal government will allow Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to use the revenue from their offshore resources to help dig themselves out of their economic hole and will put them on a more equal footing with the other provinces, something that is in the interests of all provinces and indeed all Canadians. As a Nova Scotian, I am proud of that deal.
The agreement will also provide the provinces with substantial upfront payments of over $2 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador and some $830 million for the people of Nova Scotia, giving them immediate flexibility to address their economic and fiscal challenges.
That is not to say that other provinces will be left out in the cold. It is quite the opposite. Let us not forget that this government has significantly increased the federal transfers to the provinces and territories. For example, the 10 year plan to strengthen health care is pretty significant.
First, the deal that was signed by the Prime Minister and the premiers will provide over $41 billion in new health care funding. This plan goes beyond simple monetary commitments. It sets out clear objectives to achieve real results, results with patients in every territory and province. It also illustrates what we are capable of achieving when the provincial and federal governments work together in common purpose.
The commitment to meaningful reduction in wait times for health services came about because all participants agreed that this is the key to transforming the health care system. The plan reflects this shared vision by holding all governments to account by establishing a requirement for evidence based benchmarks, comparable indicators, clear targets and transparent reporting to the public on access to health care.
It also means that the needs of patients will drive change. The plan will accelerate reform and ensure better access to key tests and treatments. It will increase the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. It will be helped by quicker assessment and integration of those who have received their training abroad. As well, it will improve access to home and community care services and to safe and affordable drugs.
On the fiscal side, this plan commits to a 10 year track of substantial, predictable and increasing long term funding, more than closing what has been called the Romanow gap, attaching a 6% escalator to the Canada health transfer, and providing funding for wait times reduction so that Canadians can see tangible progress in key areas such as cancer and heart treatment, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.
The plan also addresses the unique challenges facing the delivery of health care services in Canada's north, including the costs of medical transportation, and encourages the innovative delivery of health care.
These initiatives illustrate that this government is committed to ensuring the viability of our health care system throughout Canada. In fact, we have gone beyond the $41 billion commitment. In budget 2005 we provide an additional $805 million in direct health investments to support action in the important issues of health human resources, wait times and performance reporting.
In concert with the 10 year plan to strengthen health care are the changes to the framework for equalization and territorial financing formula. These changes will increase the support provided to provinces and territories by over $30 billion over 10 years. The increased funding will assist Canada's less prosperous provinces and the three territories in meeting their commitments under the 10 year plan to strengthen health care as well as their other priorities.
This new framework reflects the most significant improvement in the history of these programs. By providing predictability, stability and increased funding, the framework will play an essential role in ensuring that all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have access to comparable public services. It will also provide considerable financial stability to provinces and territories in setting their own budget priorities.
One of the key tenets is the establishment of an independent panel to advise on the allocation of the legislated growing amounts among provinces and territories. This panel will be chaired by Mr. Al O'Brien and will include Fred Gorbet, Robert Lacroix, Elizabeth Parr-Johnston and Mike Percy, all of whom have extensive experience and distinguished careers in academia and public service.
Among other things, the panel will report on the new allocation formula to govern equalization for 2006-07 and beyond, including the treatment of various provincial and local revenue sources such as property taxes and other revenue streams.
I would like to assure the hon. member that one of the areas the panel will also be examining is the treatment of natural resources in the context of equalization and the territorial financing formula.
The panel will have time to do its job. It will draw upon experts across the country and it will consult provincial and territorial governments and Canadians from all regions. I look forward to seeing the results.
We all have our roles to play in this place. I did not come here to be a partisan person, though. That is not my style here, nor is it at home. I did not seek office in order to huddle in corners devising ways to embarrass people and ways that will divide Canadians. In my view, this will be the only result of this motion, for its intent does not seek the best in who we are as a country or as Canadians. This motion does not seek to strengthen the federation. It seeks to weaken our unity.
The fulfillment of the Atlantic accord is something I am proud of as both a Nova Scotian and a Canadian.