Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join the debate on Bill C-48 which would authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments.
However I believe in this debate we cannot just look at this bill by itself standing alone. It must be seen in the larger context of the entire budget, Bill C-43, the budget presented by the Minister of Finance. From everything I have seen, read and heard, it is a budget that meets with almost the unanimous approval of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Budget 2005 is this country's eighth consecutive surplus budget. It is a good budget, a solid budget and a budget that Canadians want this House to pass.
For almost four months now, Canadians have been telling us three things. First, they have been saying to pass this budget. Second, they have been saying that they do not want an election. Third, they have been saying that they do not want a Conservative government. Those are the three things that Canadians have been telling me and other members of this House.
Canadians have been saying that this budget addresses not all aspects, that it is not perfect, that it is not 100%, but, by and large, it addresses their values, their concerns and their priorities. Canadians have also been saying that they want their elected officials, each and every one of them, to work together in committee, in this House and in the Senate to get together to get the budget through.
I cannot stress how important these two budgets, Bill C-43 and Bill C-48, are to Canadians. They contain major initiatives that people all across the country have applauded. Canadians expect and have ever reason to expect these initiatives to be put into place, such as a national system of high quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental early learning and child care. This government has committed $5 billion toward this initiative which aims to give all Canadian children the best possible start on their future.
There is the gas tax revenue sharing initiative which will be worth $5 billion over five years, with $6 million of that due for this year alone. This is a much needed investment that will help Canada's cities, towns and communities to meet their needs with long term, reliable sources of funding.
Much has been said in the House about the so-called notion of a fiscal imbalance. I personally do not agree with it. We have two levels of government. We have the federal level and the provincial level. The provincial level of government has more taxing powers than the federal level. If the provincial level needs additional sources of revenue, it is very easy for them to raise taxes, if that is their desire or their wish.
When I analyze the situation I see a fiscal imbalance that is here and is growing between the federal and the provincial government on the one hand and the municipalities on the other hand. By the municipalities I mean the cities and towns. These incorporated communities do not have the capacity to raise taxes. I see that as a true imbalance. This provision would go a little way, although I will not say all the way, but it takes one step to help correct that imbalance.
I would also like to highlight this government's commitment to regional economic development. In 2003, I chaired the Atlantic caucus subcommittee on regional economic development which produced the Rising Tide report. This report, among other things, emphasized the need for the creation and growth of a knowledge economy in Atlantic Canada. I was very pleased that this government responded with a $708 million investment to the Atlantic Canada region.
The Atlantic initiative will include a renewed $300 million Atlantic innovation fund that will support university research, commercialization and innovative companies. The Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will be making a further announcement on this initiative a week from Friday. It will also be supported by a $41 million permanent increase in ACOA's annual budget, totalling $205 million over five years.
Atlantic Canadians have even more to look forward to in this budget. For example, there is the new funding of $110 million over a period of five years to the National Research Council of Canada. In my home province of Prince Edward Island, construction is underway on the National Research Council Institute for Nutriscience and Health, which will anchor a worldclass research cluster. This is an investment not only in the region but in Canada.
Prince Edward Island is also recognized as a leader in alternate energy sources, most notably wind power. There is an existing facility in North Cape, Prince Edward Island and there is a second facility being planned for construction in the eastern part of the province. That is why I am especially pleased to hear of a $200 million investment in wind power, which includes the government's promise to quadruple the wind power production initiative.
The government has also been responsive to the needs of seasonal workers with significant and meaningful changes to the employment insurance program being tested by pilot projects. These include taking the 14 best weeks of work or since the start of the last claim, whichever is shorter. This will mean that for individuals with sporadic work patterns EI benefit levels will be more reflective of their full time work patterns. It removes a certain disincentive in the system and will not only help seasonal workers but also some of the seasonal companies.
Pilot projects are also testing an increase in the working while on claim threshold that will allow individuals to earn the greater of $75 or 40% of weekly benefits in an effort to work without reducing benefits. These changes were called for and needed. As long as we have seasons in this country we will have seasonal workers and these changes were fair, equitable and, in my view, took out of the system a certain disincentive that existed.
When we look at the entire budget package, Bill C-43, Bill C-48 and some of the announcements that precluded the last budget which took place last fall, there are issues I want to speak briefly to because they are all part of a continuum and are vital to Canadians living in every region of this country. The two I want to speak to are the accords on health care and equalization, which of course, as everyone in the House knows, continue to be priorities for all Canadians.
Canadians stand to benefit tremendously from the new deal on health reached between the federal government and the provincial first ministers. This historic agreement was reached last fall just a few months into this government's mandate.
Over 10 years more than $41 billion of new funding for health care will go to the provinces and territories, which in turn have committed to produce information on outcomes so that Canadians can be assured their money is being spent where it should be. The new deal recognizes the need for flexibility by allowing provinces and territories to target specific provincial health care needs.
Provincial and territorial needs are also being met through a new framework for equalization that will see an increase in payment by over $27 billion over the next 10 years. This represents the most significant improvements in this program in the history of it. It introduces and provides stability, predictability and increased funding which will assist the provinces and territories in meeting their social and economic development needs.
Last June, Canadians chose a minority government and they expected that government to work, and rightly so. This government, I submit, has worked. I have said before, when the budget came out in February, that the handprints of all parties were on it. It contained elements from every party.
The leader of the official opposition supported the budget. However, for some reason, whether it was a poll or some other development external to this House, he and his party changed their mind and they indicated that they would defeat the government on the budget.
However the government continued to work. It continued to work with everyone and with the NDP to bring about improvements, which is what Bill C-48 before the House is. It is an example of the type of cooperation that Canadians expect from their government here in the House of Commons.
However, when the Liberals and the NDP started working together for Canadians, suddenly the other parties did not like that.
It is unfortunate that I do not have more time because I could go on about the whole issue of the allegations from the other side about fiscal irresponsibility, but Bill C-48 is a good bill. It is very much part of the budget package, part of the continuum, and I urge every member of the House to support it.