Mr. Speaker, I certainly listened with interest when the former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was able to bring to the floor this morning some of the concerns that the federation and municipal governments have with this federal government of ours today.
Just over a week ago, the federation had its annual meeting here in Ottawa. I do not think I have ever experienced a meeting with more frustrated people in regard to how they came here to Ottawa to talk about the future needs of their organizations across this country and the response they got from talking with various members of the federal government.
In fact, when we look at their overall concerns in terms of infrastructure, infrastructure today has been put under the Minister of Transport, and I know he has a vital interest in this, but I am not sure he has the backing or the support of his colleagues in the cabinet to make sure that we have a viable and workable infrastructure program, so that not only the large cities but our smaller communities can benefit from the revenues we have here in the federal treasury.
With budgets, visions, directions and responsibilities, and with an attempt to look at the economy so that our people in the future can be prosperous, so that our country can benefit from the wealth of our nation, we have to assess what this present government is doing for our Canadian people.
We have to think about the many students who are attending our universities and who look for some source of relief in terms of the student loans they are accumulating from their years of study.
We have to look at research and development in this country in terms of what attitudes and what directions our government is taking.
We have to think in terms of productivity and how our government is encouraging our various companies in this country to invest in research, to look at forms of development and, above all, to see that we have a productive society from which all Canadians can benefit.
Members may say that our unemployment in this country is at one of its lowest levels. In fact, we are very happy to see that we are almost approaching the concept of a 5% unemployment rate, but we have to look at the types of jobs that we are creating in this country and at whether or not our people can get adequate incomes to support their families.
Too often in this country, we find that workers need to have two jobs, or that they need to have at least two family incomes and maybe three jobs to support a family. With that, we have to look at the transfer of jobs from one sector of the economy to another.
I speak in terms of our agricultural community. While some sectors are prospering, this past week we have had the pork producers and the beef producers here in our city looking for support. They are looking for help in terms of what those sectors are encountering.
We can think in terms of our forestry sector and what is happening there. The province of Quebec recently made some statements on that. We have certainly a lot of people with long term unemployment in our pulp and paper and long lumber industries. Only this morning, while looking in the paper, I noticed that a new company, AbitibiBowater, is closing a number of mills, and in fact one mill just across the way here in Gatineau, and another in my home province, in Dalhousie, New Brunswick.
This is not an easy fact to consider. Many of those people were earning some of the highest wages in this country. With this, the changes that are happening in our forest sector certainly will need to be addressed by the budgets and by the economic icons of the present government.
It is rather disappointing that when I look at the front bench I see a lot of former ministers from the Harris government. With that, I just wonder what happens in that big room upstairs when those people meet and as a cabinet attempt to look at our country and try to see what they can do to improve it and to make our Canadian society more productive.
Mr. Speaker, I know, certainly, that you are a resident of Ontario. You have experienced some of the frustrations of the previous government here in this province and I certainly hope that the decisions being made do not reflect the history of what happened in your own province.
The oil industry and the research and work being done in terms of exploring that oil sector in the west certainly is a very vital part of the Canadian economy. I am happy to say that in terms of even my own province we are seeing the results in the manufacturing sector back home in how it can compete and participate in Alberta and the great activity that is happening in that province.
However, we also have to consider other provinces and other sectors. Hopefully, with the surplus we have today, we can address some of the issues that are affecting people in other sectors.
The hon. member who spoke previously spoke at length in terms of 1993-94 and the difficulties we encountered as a government in the 13 years in which the Liberals governed this country. I think everyone can recognize the tremendous response that the Canadian people offered in terms of the sacrifices they made so that Canada today is the prosperous society that we enjoy.
It was not easy to look at the amount of debt, the annual deficit and the problems related to it. I know that all Canadians participated with our previous government in seeing that we reached a point where we had surpluses and annual balanced budgets and where Canadians could be proud of the fact that they were not accumulating more debt each year. It is interesting to note in terms of what has happened that we are approaching today the 25% ratio of debt to GDP which was the goal of our previous ministers of finance.
So today I express concerns in terms of what is happening with our surpluses. The previous members talked about how the HST or GST affects the future of our country. It is rather disappointing that we spend so much time trying to look at a 1% saving, which, for the average Canadian, saves a very small amount of money. In fact, the average worker probably would save only $100 or more per year, but somebody with a lot of wealth would save a great deal more in taxes.
We must salute the fact that personal income taxes have been at an all-time high, that corporations have been contributing to our revenues, and that overall the present government inherited a very sound and very stable fiscal arrangement from the previous Liberal government.