Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Don Valley East.
I am proud to stand in the House to participate in today's debate on the government's budget. I represent the riding of Churchill, which is a diverse and very large riding. It is over half the land mass of the province of Manitoba.
As diverse and complex as Canada is as a nation, our federal budgets are often equally as comprehensive, or at least they should be. We have over 300 unique constituencies in Canada that require different services and programs due to regional, linguistic and many other considerations.
However, despite our vast geographic size, Canadians are united in the mutual understanding and appreciation of our differences. It is perhaps one of our greatest gifts and one of our greatest strengths.
However, after a careful review of the government's budget, it is clear that the budget is not as comprehensive as it should be. It does not include the vision or needs of northern Manitoba and it is yet another lost opportunity to address the challenges and opportunities for Canada's first nations, the Métis nation and the Inuit.
In addition to the fall economic update, the budget demonstrates poor, long term fiscal planning, particularly with a potential U.S. recession, which, today, in one of our national newspapers, is being called a recession. It provides nothing to address poverty, housing and homelessness and it provides nothing for women's equality or for arts and culture. It provides no support for families in regard to early learning and child care.
I want to focus on a couple of items because I have such a short period of time for my speech. I want to discuss the fiscal planning. It is a bit outrageous that the current government inherited from the previous Liberal government a strong economic picture, consecutive balanced budgets and a surplus of $14 billion.
Had the government been more careful in its previous budgets and its fall economic update, this budget could have addressed the urgent needs of many Canadian communities and families. However, the Conservatives spent all of the surplus and the cupboard is bare, with little focus on vulnerable communities and those most in need.
It is of particular concern that the Conservatives' projected surplus of $2.3 billion for this year and $1.3 billion for next year are well below the $3 billion contingency fund that the Liberal opposition considers the bare minimum to cushion against unanticipated economic shock.
As I said, given the current economic climate in the United States, which is facing a recession, it does not take an economist to understand how dangerous this is.
Moreover, the government lost an opportunity to address Canada's infrastructure deficit through acting on the Liberal proposal to use the $7 billion of this year's debt pay down to fund infrastructure projects across the country.
I would now like to touch on poverty and low income housing. It is troubling for ridings such as mine and it remains one of the most troubling issues in my riding. While in some communities multiple families are forced to reside together, some individuals and families, tragically, do not even have that option.
Extreme poverty and homelessness continues to exist in the north and it is an element that the budget has once again overlooked. In a country as rich as Canada, it is completely unacceptable.
However, implementing the housing initiatives alone will not tackle the homelessness and the poverty that persists across the country. The Conservative budget does little to alleviate any of poverty's root causes. The only party with both the will and the capacity to actually implement a plan to tackle poverty is the Liberal Party of Canada. I am proud to say that this past year the leader of the official opposition announced a plan to reduce poverty.
I will focus my remaining time on two things: first, the labour market needs of my riding and, second, the aboriginal community within my riding. Sixty-five per cent of the population of my riding of Churchill is comprised of aboriginals and first nations people. We have over 30 first nations, dozens of Métis communities and very strong Métis locals. Again, aboriginal people have been left out of this federal budget.
I would like to quote the AFN national chief who called the federal budget “a bitter disappointment”. He said:
It is disheartening that this government sets out reducing the cost of a toaster by a couple cents as a national objective, but not helping First Nations children finish high school or grow up in safe homes. That this government can afford billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan but not support schooling, healthcare or jobs for First Nations. It is difficult to believe Canadians support these priorities.
I also would like to quote Sydney Garrioch of the Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin who represents 30 first nations in northern Manitoba. He said:
The government's budget does not alleviate poverty in our communities. The lack of substantial funding in the budget announcement for our people does nothing to promote healthy communities. We were optimistic that this government would provide funding and grants to improve crucial housing needs and we were working toward transformative change on health services by building and staffing our own health centres, but the budget does not support this development.
Those are quotes from two leaders of first nations communities in my riding. The impact is devastating for first nations.
I will not go on and reiterate the Kelowna accord and the commitments that the previous Liberal government made which amounted to $5 billion over five years in the areas of housing, health, education, economic development and governance capacity building.
However, in terms of this budget, allocations have been made contingent upon tripartite agreements with the provinces. It is reprehensible that, given the strong financial picture, the government cannot find, not only within its legal responsibility and fiduciary obligation to first nations people, but in terms of an economic picture, the funds to help first nations people.
We have the largest growing demographic of any population in Canada. Fifty percent of aboriginal people, that is first nations, Métis and Inuit people, are under the age of 30. In pure economic terms, it would make economic sense to invest in aboriginal people in Canada.
In terms of my riding, our primary industries include mining, forestry and hydroelectric power and they have labour demands. In 2006, mineral production in northern Manitoba was valued at $2.1 billion. Some of our mining companies have a combined generated revenue of over $1.2 billion. With the continued strength in metal prices, we look to labour market partnership agreements to ensure that we can contribute to the economy.