Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter this debate today, especially on the heels of the hon. member for Palliser and his great, enthusiastic presentation. I want to carry on and make a few comments about budget 2008.
It invests in infrastructure. It invests in people. It invests in knowledge. We want to talk about university research. We want to talk about the benefits for seniors and students. It invests in public transit. It invests in helping Canadians to save with a tax-free savings plan.
There is more money for police officers, some $400 million to hire 2,500 police officers across this country. This is going to help to establish the safe communities that we campaigned on and that we are trying to see re-established in Canada.
To begin, let me just say this about budget 2008. It is balanced, it is focused, and it is prudent. It builds on decisive, pre-emptive action taken in the fall 2007 and the winter 2008 economic update to lower taxes for people and businesses, to pay down the debt load, and to provide targeted support for troubled industries.
Budget 2008 contains more than 100 new measures, including the tax-free savings plan, a most significant personal savings vehicle. It is a powerful tax-free incentive for Canadians to save.
Unlike our opponents, we are providing decisive leadership. Four months ago in the fall economic update, we provided $60 billion in tax relief to strengthen our economic fundamentals, including historic reductions to corporate income taxes and a further reduction of the GST to 5%. That of course was a promise by this government when we were elected, to reduce that GST from seven to six and now to five, which we have done.
Budget 2008 prepares Canadians and Canada for the challenges ahead and continues reducing debt and taxes. It focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of global uncertainty.
This budget is prudent. It is balanced and responsible. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister for engineering a budget that is very prudent at a time of economic challenge, not only for Canada but for our neighbours to the south, the largest economy in the world, and for the entire world, where global economic uncertainty is a reality right now.
Taken together with the provisions of budget 2007 and the fall economic update, this budget positions Canada to do very well in these challenging economic times.
We have already taken action to cut taxes and every Canadian is going to be experiencing that. Here we are on February 28 in this debate today. Tomorrow will be February 29, which does not happen every year. It will be my daughter's birthday so I always remember a leap year as a special year, and happy birthday to my daughter.
As Canadians will be receiving their T4s and their charitable donation receipts and putting together their economic financial information to settle their taxes this year, they are going to find that every Canadian, unless they have had huge increases in their personal income in the past year, are going to be paying less tax. That is because we have already taken action to make sure that we lowered taxes for all Canadians. We lowered taxes for mid-size businesses, small businesses and for corporations alike.
There are some people who have trouble with that and see that as an economic giveaway. This is about protecting Canadian jobs. It is about insulating the Canadian economy. It is about providing protection for Canada as we go into economically challenging times around the world. This is prudent economic action.
We have paid down the debt, and there has been some discussion about that already today. This budget provides for $10.3 billion in debt repayment. When we have a positive economic situation, we have to deal with the debts that we have accrued from the past, because they saddle us. Debt repayment sucks money out of our economy every year and it is a mortgage on our children's future, so the responsible thing to do, when we have the opportunity, is to pay down that debt.
This government came into power a mere two years ago. We are setting a new record for a minority government every month that we survive here and we are grateful for the support of the members opposite in helping this government continue into the future. We are doing a job to help Canadians so we appreciate that support on this budget and I hope all members will support the budget.
We are doing the responsible thing. We talk about servicing our debt. We still have a debt of about $450 billion. Servicing that debt costs us about $37 billion a year, I understand.
That is more than the entire budget of the province of British Columbia, which is about $33 billion. British Columbia just tabled a $33 billion budget last week. That is more than we pay every year servicing our debt than the province of British Columbia, with four million people, spends on its entire provincial budget. That is a mortgage on our kids.
Paying the debt down is the responsible thing to do. When we pay down the debt, it reduces the share of tax dollars devoted to interest payments. It helps keep interest rates low and stimulates investment. It strengthens our ability to deal with economic shocks. It reduces our foreign indebtedness so taxpayers' dollars do not go overseas. It ensures that our children are not saddled with debt from the excessive spending of past governments. We have to pay that down and we are taking responsible action in doing so.
This budget invests in people and I want to talk first about students because they are the future. Students are the economic drivers and innovators of the future. We want them to be educated. This budget provides $350 million for a new consolidated Canada student grant program. That is expected to help 245,000 students. This is the grant portion. We are also providing $123 million over four years to streamline and modernize the Canada student loan program.
The grant program of $350 million is expected to rise to $430 million by 2012-13. That is an investment in helping our young people get their education. It will extend the reach of that program to about 100,000 students of low and modest income families. We are investing in the future of our students.
There is also enhanced flexibility for registered education savings plans. We have increased the time limits. They can remain open for 35 years from 25 years.
We are providing $25 million over two years to establish a new scholarship award for top Canadian and international doctoral students. This is in the name of former Governor General Georges Vanier.
We are providing another $21 million toward the creation of 20 Canada global excellence research chairs. This is about investing in our future.
Going on with investments in our educational institutions, we are putting another $80 million a year into Canada's three university research granting councils in support of industrial innovation, health priorities and social economic development in the north.
We are providing $140 million for Genome Canada to help give Canada a competitive edge in the expanding and exploding knowledge about our own genetic makeup as human beings.
For the automotive industry, that is struggling right now with the tremendous pressure on it, we are providing $250 million over five years going toward coming up with large scale research and development projects to help in developing innovative, greener and more fuel efficient vehicles. These are strategic investments in challenging times.
We are also investing in communities with traditional industries. For example, $90 million toward extending the targeted initiative for older workers to 2012 and a further $1 billion as support for Canada's manufacturing sector over an additional three years of accelerated capital cost allowance to invest in new machinery and equipment. Those are strategic investments.
That is on the heels of an announcement recently of $1 billion to help communities in transition because of an economic downturn. Forestry communities in British Columbia like Port Alberni, a community of 19,000 people, are undergoing tremendous economic challenges. That $1 billion will bring about $127 million to British Columbia to help those communities caught in transition with forestry challenges. There are other measures to help the forestry industry. I am pleased to note that we are providing another $147 million in the budget for innovation in the forest sector.
This budget is going to help seniors. We already mentioned pension income splitting, but additional measures for seniors are provided in this budget as well.
I would like to take the last minute to comment on something that I do not think anyone else has mentioned yet. It is a small item in the budget on page 167. It is about Canada's biospheres. There are 13 of them across the country. They are UNESCO recognized. They are about man living responsibly with the environment. There are 13 of these institutions, some of them going back to the 1970s when they were first recognized.
Two of them are in my riding in British Columbia and I am pleased to have been one of the members, along with the member for Leeds—Grenville, who encouraged the finance minister to make an investment with the support of the Minister of the Environment. There will be $2 million going to our biospheres to help our volunteers who are trying to promote responsible interactions between man and the environment.
It is not anti-development, it is about responsible development. It is a model that has been recognized worldwide with about 430 biospheres internationally. It is a model that needs support in Canada so our volunteers can get the message out and encourage responsible development.