Madam Speaker, I would like to lend my voice to the support of Bill C-48. This bill reflects not only my personal philosophies but those of this government and I believe those of Canadians.
We as Canadians sometimes forget how fortunate we are to live in this country. We hear a lot of bickering and complaining in the media and indeed in the House, more so recently, about this government policy or that government proposal.
When it comes right down to it, though, Canadians are proud of who they are and where their country is going. I believe Bill C-48 builds on that feeling of pride Canadians have, that diversity and compassion, and that belief that we are stronger when we help those who are weak and we are better together than we are apart.
Let us look at the areas to which this bill targets funding. One is $1.6 billion for affordable housing. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be in my riding when we announced cooperation with the province of Nova Scotia on some very important initiatives. One in particular in the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour was with Affirmative Industries, a project that will help mental health consumers and not only give them a place to live but allow them to build up a bit of equity and increase their dignity.
In my own province of Nova Scotia, a lot of money from the federal government has not been used; it has not been matched by the province. We are taking steps right now to make this more flexible so that the province can in fact build those houses.
There is $900 million for the environment and $1.5 billion for post-secondary education following the massive investment of the federal government on research in universities, Madam Speaker, which I know you are familiar with. We are now the highest public investor in research in the G-8.
There is also a $500 million increase in foreign aid.
How can one argue with those initiatives, initiatives that build on the priorities that are already in the budget?
I do want to address one issue, though. People say the budget is no longer our budget. The enhancement of certain measures as a result of the agreement with my colleagues in the New Democratic Party was the right thing to do in this Parliament, because Canadians want to see this Parliament work for all Canadians.
Let me be clear. The minister's budget as introduced in February was an excellent budget by any measure, a budget that is widely supported by Canadians and by the many stakeholder groups. In fact, the budget was immediately supported by the Leader of the Opposition, who said there was nothing in this budget that would necessitate a second election within a year. Shortly after that, the member for Central Nova said that “Canadians want to see Parliament work”, an interesting comment.
One of the key items in this bill calls for an increase in foreign aid, a particularly important issue for Canada. We are respected around the world and well known for our generosity when it comes to helping the less fortunate. It is to this portion of the bill that I would like to direct my comments this evening.
In recent years, the Government of Canada has significantly increased the amount of assistance that we provide to developing countries. Budget 2005 builds upon previous increases in aid by providing an additional $3.4 billion in international assistance over the next five years.
With these commitments, Canada is well on its way to meeting its goal of doubling its international assistance budget by 2010-11 and supporting the ambitious poverty reduction agenda of the United Nations millennium development goals. Clearly we are moving in the right direction.
There is no question that there is more we can do. On a personal level, I think we need to reach the Pearson goal of 0.7% as soon as we possibly can. It is our duty to the citizens of the world who need our help. I have spoken to that issue in the House before and I suspect I may again, but we are making great strides.
Canada's efforts are very much centred on helping the poorest countries, particularly those in Africa. This budget, in addition to increasing international assistance over the next five years, provides an additional $342 million for African health issues. This funding is helping to eradicate polio worldwide and to reduce AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Furthermore, the budget commits Canada to double our assistance to Africa by 2008-09 from our 2003-04 levels.
International assistance also involves helping countries and regions affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. Afghanistan and Haiti are examples. Stability and the absence of conflict are necessary for effective development cooperation. Accordingly, budget 2005 announced $500 million over the next five years to focus on promoting global peace and security.
Let us not forget the countries affected by the tsunami just after Christmas. Canadians were deeply affected by this tragedy and, in true Canadian style, responded generously with personal donations of approximately $200 million to help the victims begin to rebuild their shattered lives.
Immigrant communities in Canada were also galvanized into action. I had an opportunity to meet with the Sri Lankan community in Dartmouth a few weeks ago and talked to people whose relatives had been washed away in the tsunami. This money has been remitted to relatives and friends in the region and has played an important role in early efforts to build new homes, schools and businesses.
For its part, the Government of Canada recognized that these recovery efforts required both immediate and long term commitment of resources and responded with disaster relief and rehabilitation assistance. I am proud to say that Canada was also the first country to offer an immediate moratorium on debt payments owed by these countries.
Speaking of debt relief, Canada will continue to provide leadership on this issue. Our Prime Minister has a long record of international acclaim for his role as finance minister.
Most recently, on February 2, 2005, Canada announced a debt relief proposal that aims for donors to provide 100% debt service relief on all payments owed by up to 56 low income countries to the International Development Association of the World Bank and the African Development Fund until 2015.
Canada has committed to provide $172 million over the next five years to implement our share of this proposal. Our new proposal builds on a legacy of Canadian action on debt, such as the Canadian debt initiative. Under this initiative, Canada has gone beyond the international consensus and has put in place a debt moratorium on all payments owed to Canada by eligible poor countries.
In total, 13 countries have received over $600 million in bilateral debt relief and a further $600 million will be forgiven once the initiative is fully implemented. This past April, for example, the Minister of Finance announced the cancellation of all debt owed to Canada by Zambia, Honduras and Rwanda.
If I may, I will say a few words about the Minister of International Cooperation. She has led her department with but one overarching purpose: to help people in the developing world. I can think of few others as committed to the cause of justice as this minister.
The proposal in Bill C-48 authorizes the government to spend an additional $500 million on foreign aid. Canada is making its contribution as part of the global community. Passage of this bill will allow us to do even more.
The Minister of Finance has said that too many resources in developing nations are being soaked up to pay for yesterday's debts. That is true. Would it not be better for these countries to be able to invest in social and economic initiatives today so they can have a better quality of life tomorrow? The government has shown its commitment to help developing countries overcome the terrible burden of debt so they can reinvest in their own growth. Bill C-48 is a great step in that direction.
The bill is about making Parliament work and about making Canada better. It is the fiscal dividend of an economy that has been solidly managed over the past 12 years. The bill builds on a budget that reinvests in Canadian priorities, because we are now strong enough to do so and because it is the right thing to do.
This morning I was present when the Prime Minister and the premier of my province, Dr. Hamm, signed the Nova Scotia child care deal, part of our national child care strategy. The woman who acted as MC for this event is a long time child care champion from Dartmouth, with over 20 years of providing care to children, who runs a centre for those who are most in need. She spoke to the federal budget and said it is the most significant advancement that she has seen. She is not a partisan person by any means, but she said that this budget must be passed and she was right.
The federal budget is the most important investment in Canadian social and international priorities in recent times. Bill C-48 builds on that success and reflects the values and the beliefs of Canadians.