Madam Speaker, I am going to split my time with the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings.
It is a pleasure and honour to rise today to talk about a budget that is good for Canada and good for my riding of Leeds—Grenville. I want to begin my remarks by congratulating the Minister of Finance for developing a budget that assists Canada and Canadians as we recover from the economic downturn, and one that looks ahead to set the stage for future growth and prosperity in our great country.
As I travelled around my riding over the past few months, I met with many people who wanted to discuss the upcoming budget and the state of the Canadian economy. I held three separate prebudget consultation meetings and also encouraged people to contact me by email or letter if they had comments on the budget process.
Some people had specific issues they wished to discuss. By and large the remarks I heard from everyone can be described easily; people were concerned about the fragile state of the recovery, jobs, future growth and the deficit.
The deficit question was puzzling for everyone. While everyone wanted the taps turned off or restricted, they did not want them restricted for their own priorities. In a roomful of people with different priorities, it definitely created an interesting discussion.
There are a lot of details in the budget document but I want to discuss one or two of those in general, and then discuss some of the items that I really see helping Leeds—Grenville.
The first item I want to spend a few minutes on is the three-point deficit reduction plan. At the end of the day, all of my discussions in Leeds—Grenville ended with this one concern: How are we going to make sure that we do not have a deficit hanging around for many years to come?
Once again I applaud the finance minister for the plan that he has developed. The budget sets out a three-point plan to balance the federal government budget once the economy has recovered. The first step in the plan is the exit strategy that was built into Canada's economic action plan. When this plan was introduced it was designed to stimulate the economy for two years.
As I discussed budget items in my riding over the past few months, I heard time and time again how pleased people were that our economic action plan contained spending for infrastructure of all types. Municipal leaders and others recognize that since infrastructure needed replacing, rebuilding and growth, this was an excellent way to kickstart the economy at this time.
At the same time the projects that have been and are being undertaken in my riding will bring lasting benefits for many decades to come. While there is always a need for more infrastructure work, everyone knows that at some time the tap has to be turned off. I heard the following point made throughout my riding: continue with the program as planned, but do not carry it beyond its expiry date.
That does not mean the taps are going to close completely and it does not slam the door if there is an emergency, but the government's plan sets reduction targets that all can see and understand.
Under our government military spending has increased nearly $3 billion to $18 billion. This was necessary. In fact it was absolutely essential after 10 years of neglect and starvation by the previous government. We have shown the men and women in our armed forces that we stand with them and we want them to have the best equipment and the best training for the work we ask them to undertake on our behalf.
One example we can cite from recent events is the heavy lift capability we have provided to our armed forces. After the recent earthquake in Haiti, we were able to get forces and equipment on site in record amounts and in record time, thanks to our government's investments and actions to obtain modern transport equipment.
If the Canadian forces are to make a difference in people's lives around the world, they require the best equipment and the best training. We have spent a great deal on the armed forces in the past few years. While spending will continue, this will be one area where we will exercise restraint while we bring the deficit under control. It is important to note that we will not cut the military budget. In fact spending will continue to grow over the next few years to reach $22 billion.
Because of the measures that have been outlined in the budget, the deficit is projected to decline by almost half over the next two years, by two-thirds by 2012-13, and is projected to be $1.8 billion by 2014-15.
There are many components of the budget, including helping with apprenticeships through the apprenticeship completion grant.
Moreover, since 2006 we have also taken steps to support the financial security of seniors, something that is very important in my riding. We brought in pension income splitting. We increased the age limit for RRSP to RRIF conversions from age 69 to 71. We increased the age credit amount twice. We doubled the pension income credit to $2,000. We provided seniors with a tax-free way to save in tax-free savings accounts. Withdrawals from these will not affect eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.
We will continue to address pension and retirement income concerns, which are very important in my riding of Leeds—Grenville.
We have also started to work on this issue with the provinces, which regulate 90% of the pensions in Canada. This year we will consult with Canadians on larger reforms to the Canadian pension and retirement system and build on the work that we have undertaken with the provinces at a May summit on this issue.
When it was introduced, Canada's economic action plan provided significant new resources to support Canada's transformation to a green energy economy. My riding of Leeds—Grenville has very much become a hotbed of green technology, supported in large part by the investments of this government. Those include $1 billion over five years under the clean energy fund and $1 billion over five years through the green infrastructure fund. Those two things have created jobs in my riding of Leeds—Grenville.
Before I close, I would like to speak a bit about some of the direct assistance that has been coming to my riding of Leeds—Grenville, which has been well received. The first item on the list would be the recognition of the work that is conducted by our community futures development corporations. These organizations, which are driven by local boards of directors, are the federal government's eyes and ears and are the pocketbooks of local economic development, and they do reflect community priorities.
I have said it many times in many places that this is the model of federal economic development that really works in my riding of Leeds—Grenville. The local board reviews applications for funding and assistance and, based on its working knowledge of the community, makes decisions. The three boards that serve us in Leeds—Grenville do outstanding work and I can never thank them enough for all of their efforts to help create jobs in my riding. Our new budget continues to support them and is great news for Leeds—Grenville.
Like other areas of Ontario, manufacturing in Leeds—Grenville has been affected by the recent downturn in the economy. Some manufacturers have unfortunately closed, but others that I have worked with have been able to use the work-sharing program that is funded through Service Canada. This unique program allows employers to retain their trained and valuable staff when there is a work slowdown, because Service Canada will pay part of the employees' wages. This program, once again, has helped save jobs and has been used successfully in Leeds—Grenville.
On a final note, personal income tax reductions are very much part of our economic action plan and affect everyone. These tax reductions are being achieved through adjustments to federal tax brackets, enhancing the working income tax benefits for lower income earners, higher child benefits, and lower taxes for low and middle income seniors.
In summary, this is a good news budget for Canada, it is a good news budget for Leeds—Grenville, it reflects what I heard in my prebudget consultations and it reflects well the values of the people who spoke to me through that process.