Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the budget.
I heard the member for Acadie—Bathurst say that the Liberal government had balanced the budgets. That is odd. We have heard over the past year that the our government did nothing.
I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
I have followed the debate, and I listened to the Minister of Finance yesterday outline his budget. There were a few areas with which I was pleased, and I will touch upon those. Overall, the budget did not just fail Ontario, but it failed other provinces in many ways. Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, was very explicit with his comments the other day.
Earlier today in question period the Minister of the Environment talked about how he had not heard anything from Ontario members. The debate has just started.
Let me quote what Premier Williams had to say. He said, “The Prime Minister has betrayed the people of Newfoundland and Labrador” and he commented about Conservative MPs in his province. I think we got the message very well.
Premier MacDonald made the same kind of comment, but he was a bit more diplomatic in his choice of words. He said that the Conservative government had fundamentally been unfair.
When it comes to Ontario, the government has reneged on its commitment to transfer $6.9 billion to the province. That was tossed out. I am disappointed that the voice from the provincial legislature has not been what it should have been, but a few crumbs were thrown its way, so it seems to be satisfied for now.
When the new Conservative government took over, it simply threw out all the commitments that had been made. I mentioned the one with respect to Ontario. Now I will mention the Kelowna accord, which is important to all of us as a nation. It reflects on what we are as Canadians, looking after the needs of all Canadians, especially our first nations people. A $5.1 billion written commitment was literally tossed out.
Our health care system is probably the most important issue to each and every one of us in this place. As we have an aging population, we must ensure that programs are supported and that sustainability and long term funding is there.
Let me remind members what we did in our budget of 2005. The current Minister of Health was asked not too long ago about funding and his response was that the government would continue to support the efforts that the Liberals had put forth in their last budget. Therefore, no new money per se was put into health care delivery.
On that subject, I must compliment the Conservative government for putting $300 million toward cervical cancer treatment. This is similar to the immunization program the Liberal government brought in two budgets ago and it was applauded throughout the country. I must give credit where credit is due and for me. Given what is going on internationally, I think this is a very wise investment.
Earlier today in question period a member from the Conservative Party asked a question about how the government would address the environment, the carbon issue, CO2 emissions, et cetera. When the Conservatives were elected, for a year or so the then minister of the environment was continuously asked by us what her plan was since her government had tossed out our recommendations. The current leader of the Liberal Party had put a plan in motion, offered it to the new government, but that plan was tossed aside. Every time we asked a question about the government's program, we were told we would have a made in Canada solution.
Then we did a bit of research and asked where the Conservatives stood. We had always had this feeling that they just did not believe in the science. We knew they did not believe in Kyoto.
Then, of course, we realized where the Prime Minister of today stood on it. I would like to quote for the record his idea of carbon dioxide. He said, “Carbon dioxide does not cause or contribute to smog, and the Kyoto treaty would do nothing to reduce or prevent smog”. That is the Prime Minister's statement of June 10, 2004. He also made another statement on October 11, 2002. He said, “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant”.
As for the Minister of the Environment, I believe he was positioned there because he seems to be a very good speaker, and I compliment him for that, but suddenly today the Conservatives are up on their feet and they believe in the science, they tell a good story, and they seem to be camouflaging it with a few dollars here and there.
As I said in my opening statement, whenever we ask constructive questions their rebuttal is that we have done nothing. I was pleased that it was not I but the New Democratic member who said that we balanced the budgets. He used the analogy of the EI, which is another area I want to touch upon.
I recall what we inherited. We never entered this chamber and criticized the then Conservative government for creating high debts, high deficits and high unemployment. We just simply pulled up our socks and did what we had to do. I recall the corporate community out there saying to lower the unemployment premiums and give them a break and they would invest in creating jobs.
Let me remind all of us here, both those who are new and those of the class of 1993, that since 1993 we kept on reducing the EI premiums year after year. I heard nothing in this budget to address that area. At that time, members will recall, there was an unemployment rate of about 11.7% or 11.8%. As recently as 2006, when we lost the government, the unemployment rate had been reduced to 6.2% or 6.3%. Indeed, it was the lowest unemployment rate in well over 30 years.
Yesterday the Minister of Finance rebutted that in his comments. He said that we are at 6% unemployment. I compliment him on the fact that we have gone down 0.2%, as we are headed in the right direction, but I am very disappointed as a former employer to know that these rates have not been addressed. I believe he has an obligation to address that area.
When it comes to tax relief, I asked a question some time ago. The lowest rate that we as the Liberal government had at that time was 15%. What did the new Conservative government do when it assumed office? It brought the rate up to 15.5%, yet again the Conservatives stand up and say they have been lowering taxes. According to the math I was taught, 15% is less than 15.5%.
I had the privilege of chairing the Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment for Canada. In those recommendations, we talked about our CAN-Trade initiatives. Canada can compete internationally. Yes, we produce goods and services to address the needs of our people here in Canada, but part of being competitive and part of creating new jobs within our country means that we go outside our borders to market our goods and services, thus creating economic prosperity for people.
At that time, through the recommendations, the Liberal government committed $485 million over five years. In their budget the Conservatives committed “$60 million over two years”. I am just amazed at how they are able to camouflage it and present it to the nation as a great thing that has happened. What this simply means is that the Conservatives are putting in one-third, or two-thirds less than what we were putting into this program. I ask them to tell me, then, how we are going to be able to have the tools, the means and the ways to compete.
In conclusion, what the Conservatives have done is literally camouflage all these figures. I am disappointed that they have provided nothing for housing. I am very disappointed that they provided very little to a small number of students in post-graduate programs. That does not make for a competitive country.