Mr. Speaker, the best summary of the budget , and the one we hear most often from people, is how so little could have been done with so much money. The Liberal Party left the government with the best fiscal situation in Canadian history and the Conservativefinance minister has spent the largest amount of money ever, much to the shock of Canadians across the country. The Conservatives cut government programs and expenditures supposedly to be more efficient and now Canadians have learned that the Conservatives have made the greatest expenditures in Canadian history. Many Canadians will not benefit, or will benefit very little, from any of those huge expenditures.
One of the previous speakers today told us about a survey on the finance minister's website asking Canadians if they benefited from the budget. Ninety-three per cent of Canadians apparently said that they had not benefited. Where did all that money go? Why is it not going to those Canadians who really need the help, and who I am sure are part of the 93% who do not feel they have been helped.
It is unprecedented that premiers are screaming that promises have been broken in a budget. When in Canadian history have we ever seen a premier take out a full page ad against a federal finance minister for breaking a promise? Another premier is suggesting he might sue the federal government. The budget is a litany of broken promises. There are a lot of expenditures in it, but not in the way most Canadians think they should be made.
I always try to be balanced in my speeches in the House, so I will try to go over some of the positive things in the budget. I will talk specifically to those things that relate to my area in the north.
We have formula financing in the north. We commissioned a study to look at formula financing and to make recommendations for the future about whether we should go back to a formula or remain on a fixed amount. Fortunately, the government followed the recommendations in the O'Brien report. The result can be found on page 119 of the budget which shows $3 million more this year than the guaranteed minimum allocation that would have been received under the Liberal government. The amount went from $537 million to $540 million. If we compare that $3 million to the $30 million the Liberals put in for economic development, or the $40 million for the northern strategy, it is not a large amount of money, but any increase for the territories is good from my perspective.
In the last election campaign when I was asked what my priorities were, I said that my main priority was to try and keep the status quo. The Liberal government did much for the north. We put in many programs. We provided assistance. As an opposition member, I was hoping to keep as much of that as possible. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they did not applaud those things. I am happy that some of those positive things for the north, and for many parts of Canada for that matter, have been kept in this budget.
Infrastructure is one example. More than $15 million was put into the municipal rural infrastructure fund in my riding and $40 million was provided for the strategic infrastructure fund. For the Canada Games centre $20 million was provided. This was one of the prerequisites for having such a successful Canada Games in the Yukon. The Conservatives have finally agreed that the Liberal infrastructure idea is a good one and have carried on with $25 million in this budget. We are very happy about that.
The Conservatives were skeptical that giving municipalities a gas tax rebate was a good idea. We fought for a long time for the government to keep it as we said we would, and the Conservatives finally agreed in this budget to provide the rebate from 2009 to 2013.
The finance minister did muse that there might be some changes in the conditions. I would like to hear very quickly from the finance minister what those changes are going to be. I am sure municipalities across Canada would like to hear what those changes are going to be. What changes are going to be made to the gas tax? What changes are going to be made to infrastructure funding requirements and conditions?
Those programs were successful and were applauded by municipalities across the country. I certainly hope the money will continue to go to municipalities.
We met with the Nunavut Teachers' Association this morning. There is a big infrastructure need in Nunavut. We hope that recreational facilities will be eligible under the conditions for the continuation of these good programs.
I applaud the setting up of a Canadian mental health commission to produce a mental health strategy. We will be watching very closely to make sure the Conservatives actually do it and that it is not another one of their broken promises.
As was mentioned earlier, there have been a number of broken promises by the government. The one on income trusts is a perfect example. It is inconceivable that the Prime Minister could promise absolutely that the government would never tax income trusts and then totally break that promise. A single mother in my riding told me that based on that promise she transferred her registered education savings into an income trust. Because of that broken promise, she lost a substantial amount of money for her child's education.
I am also supportive of the anti-drug strategy in the budget. We will be watching carefully for the results of that. It is very important for my riding. Sandra Henderson of the Yukon Teachers' Association was here this morning. I was talking to her. She was talking about mothers who use drugs during pregnancy. Doctors are saying it is resulting in children who are angry and who are very disruptive in the classroom. This is obviously unsustainable. We will be watching for a lot of progress on the anti-drug strategy and emphasis on prevention. We want to reduce the number of children with FAS and children who are affected by the use of drugs by the mother during pregnancy and other substance abuse problems.
It is beneficial for my riding that the mineral exploration tax credit of 15% is increased, but only until March 31, 2008. There was a little bit for business. Less paperwork is great. It follows up on the Liberals' initiatives in that area to reduce the paperwork burden for businesses. Although it will not help my riding a lot, the capital cost allowance accelerated write-off for manufacturing is going from seven years down to two. This is positive. A small item for seniors, the RRSP change from 69 to 71 years is good.
The national water strategy in theory is a good idea, but the devil is in the details. What are the details? What will actually help? I will be watching very closely to see if it is treading on the responsibilities of municipalities and provincial governments in dealing with water quality. When the Liberals were in government, we did an audit of all the first nation communities in Canada. We set up a plan for all of them. There are still a number of communities that have serious water problems. The recommendations have not been fully implemented. We will be looking to the government to move as quickly as possible on that, considering that it is now putting an emphasis on a national water strategy.
There are a number of things in the budget of which I am very supportive in the sense that they are there, but how they got there is sad. Previously they were all successful Liberal programs, but the Conservative government cut them or gave no indication the programs would continue. Finally, after lobbying in budget speeches and in committees, we have finally convinced the government, and the people of Canada and the NGOs have finally convinced the government that these are necessary and effective programs that should be carried on. Finally, the programs were reinstated but sadly with a smaller amount of money than they had in the first place and sometimes with a fewer eligible recipients.
A perfect example is the GST rebate. There was an uproar in the tourism industry across Canada. In fact, the cuts affecting the tourism industry have probably hurt my riding more than any other because the Yukon is the one area of Canada with the largest number of employees in tourism in the private sector. It was shocking that the government would take money from the Canadian Tourism Commission which it could have used for marketing and that the government would take away the GST rebate to tourists.
As a result, the tourism industry, as is the case for any group or organization that has limited resources, had to spend this spring fighting along with us to get that reinstated. It is fortunate that at least part of it, but not the full amount, was reinstated in the budget. The part of the program that was being put in place was the ability for conventions and groups coming to Canada to get the GST rebate. There has been some damage done, but hopefully that will be diminished and will not extend into the future. The GST rebate was not restored for individuals travelling to Canada. It is still a burden and a negative mark on our tourism industry.
A whole speech could be given on funding for museums. It is astonishing that such an underfunded part of Canada's heritage, the small museums, went through such tribulations. It is ironic that the money for large museums was increased under the national museums program, but all the small museums, which are so important to tourism across the country, are still underfunded.
There was the horrendous situation a few weeks ago of the attendance of the heritage minister at the museums conference. The conference showed the lack of faith there was in that particular funding area.
Another area I am delighted to see in the budget, but it is sad how it came about, is the aboriginal justice strategy. They are workers in the justice system. The strategy is very important and is one of the few components that is actually working. It is reducing crime. It should be a part of the justice system. That strategy was about to expire. There was no information being given. People were being laid off and projects were closing. In just a few weeks before the strategy was to expire, the government wisely decided to keep the program.
I did not hear the government telling all the police officers in Canada that their funding was expiring and they would have to look for other jobs and start closing up shop, and two or three weeks before the funding expired it was put back. The aboriginal justice strategy is a fundamental part of the justice system. It is very important. It is a tragedy that those people had to go through all that turmoil, and still only receive funding for another two years, I think it is.
The aboriginal justice strategy should be considered in the same light as police officers, prosecutors, defence lawyers, judges and probation officers. It should be a permanent part of the justice system. Canadians are looking to the government to continue the goodwill of extending it by two years by making it permanent funding so that this trauma to our justice system does not happen again. The Conservative Party talks so much about justice. Canadians expect that the Conservative Party would at least be very positive and productive in an area that has been so effective in the justice system.
I am pleased that the meal allowance for truckers was increased to 80% from 50%. This is something for which I had lobbied.
We are also pleased that the ecotrust program was put in place. Once again, this is a perfect example of something the Liberals had put in place, the partnership of the federal government with the provinces and territories to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions. The Liberal government had a $3 billion program. I compliment the Conservative government for restoring the program. However, it was only restored at $1.5 billion which is half the previous amount.
Someone in the Prime Minister's Office suggested when the program was announced that it would be done on a per capita basis. I wrote to the minister of the environment at the time and said that per capita is not sufficient in the north and that we need more than that. The northern premiers made the same case. Fortunately we did get an increase. We are now getting more per capita and we are using that to increase the electrical generation.
The Conservative cuts to literacy programs caused a big outrage across the country. I do not think the Conservatives expected the uproar from all the opposition parties and from the people that work in the literacy field. How could any responsible modern day government in the world cut literacy programs.
Fortunately, some of that money has been reinstated. Some good literacy projects have been approved in my riding and in other areas. Unfortunately, some of those projects have a time limit of one or two years. We will be looking for permanent funding for literacy. Literacy is a basic foundation for a modern society and those programs are necessary for the most vulnerable people in a modern society. Literacy is far more important now than it ever has been. As society becomes more technical, how can the poorest of the poor ever survive without a good grasp of literacy and numeracy.
The homelessness program is another on the huge list of programs that the Liberal government put in place that was very effective and helped out. These programs were cut or cancelled or the suggestion was made they would not be re-funded and, fortunately, with a lot of pressure were put back in place. Thank goodness the homelessness program that was referred to as SCPI under the Liberal government was reinstated and re-funded. I am not sure about the rest of the country, but in my particular area that is one of the most successful programs the government has ever put in place. It is very important.
Another area that I guess one could give a very small compliment for is child care. As we know, the Liberal government negotiated a $5 billion agreement with the provinces across the country. It was unprecedented that this kind of agreement could be reached for something that is very important, especially for single mothers and people who really need support in child care.
The Conservative government, as we know, promised $250 million, which is a lot less than $5 billion, to industry to create day care spaces. It found over the last year that it could not create one single space and it did not work, so it has transferred that to the provinces and territories, thank goodness. Any citizen watching can see that $250 million compared to $5 billion is a small amount. Yukon will certainly be looking forward to getting its portion, but it had already received $1.3 billion from the Liberal government. This is a small amount and Yukon certainly will not reject it, but it should certainly be a lot more.
Another area is education. It has been talked about a lot in the debate so far. I want to talk about one aspect of education and that is undergraduate students. I congratulate the government for providing scholarships for graduate students, but all the undergraduate students listening should remember that had the Liberals been elected, they would have been receiving $3,000, up to a half year's tuition for their first year of education, and in their last year of education, up to $3,000. That is $6,000.
What did they get under the Conservative government in last year's budget: a textbook. I checked with a bookstore and the amount the government gave on the textbook rebate would not even buy some of the textbooks in the store. That is a good indication of the scope of things in this budget and what is there for people.
Another good thing that the Conservatives finally put back was the Liberal program to take the working poor off social assistance. I commend them for that, but it is a far less amount of money than the amount the Liberals put in.
Finally, I want to talk about the north. The last government put tremendous emphasis on the north and I have to commend it for that, specifically the $40 million for the northern strategy and the direction that all departments in the north have a special place in Confederation. They are very important to Confederation and were given that emphasis. The only promises the Conservative government made to the north were for icebreakers and a northern port. What happened to those two promises? They vanished. They are not in the budget anywhere.
Probably the biggest disappointment that has been mentioned by many people is the lack of funding for aboriginal people. I do not think I have enough time left to go through the whole list but there was roughly $440 million. That is a tiny amount compared to the $9 billion or $10 billion which was the normal budget for Indian Affairs. The Liberals were not going to add $440 million but $5 billion in Kelowna, plus $2 billion for residential schools.
Where is the money for the increase in inflation and for the increase in the population of aboriginal people? The Conservatives cancelled the aboriginal procurement program and aboriginal languages program. Those programs lost all sorts of money. Other programs that aboriginal people used, like the non-smoking strategy, were all cancelled. I do not have to add what everyone else has said about it being such a disgrace.
There was the ANCAP program for aboriginal people to reduce emissions. There is a community in Kluane that wanted to use that program. It is gone.
In summary, there are a few good things in the budget, but as I said at the beginning, most people are asking how could spending so much money get so little results for the people of Canada?
When Canadians are filling out their income tax returns right now at home, they are looking at last year's schedule 1 where it shows they were getting charged 15% income tax on the first amount of money and this year's schedule 1 it shows 15.25%. They are wondering how could all this money be spent, the largest expenditure in history, and they get an increase in income tax, especially the most vulnerable people in society. Why should they have that increase in their income tax rate?