Mr. Speaker, there are few bills that are more important to Canadians than the budget bill. The government has the responsibility to put forth a budget bill that meets the needs of our country for today and the future.
Unfortunately, the budget bill the government put forward was one that simply ebbs and flows with the political change of tides that takes place in our country. Rather than trying to think of the needs of our citizens and the future of our country, the government has merely put forth a bill that shoots very low in an effort to try to curry 42% of the voters it needs to secure a majority. This, in my view, is a highly irresponsible act on the part of the government and violates one of its most fundamental duties to our nation.
Throughout history, we have seen that in good times the government actually spent right down to the cusp of what the budget allowed. In fact, it burned through the cushion that was put forth by former Prime Minister Paul Martin and in doing so, put our country on the cusp of a deficit situation. We all knew we were going into hard economic times and we warned the Prime Minister not to do this, but, of course, he demonstrated once again his tin ear and did not listen.
As a result of the situation, today we have a $56 billion deficit. It is true this is not all on the shoulders of the government, but certainly that deficit would be much less if the government had acted responsibly in good times. In fact, it did not and in this we all lose.
Compounding the situation with the recession was the fact that we have lost over 500,000 full-time jobs. Today there are 1.5 million Canadians unemployed. As I said earlier, the nature of work has changed so that many people are being re-employed into the workforce but in part-time jobs or as self-employed workers, which means they have lost much of the security they had before and, indeed, many of the benefits. In fact, over 1.5 million more Canadians do not share the benefits that other Canadians have now or had in the past.
On top of this, there are a couple of factors. One is that we have a strong dollar, which is a good thing for those who shop in the United States but in other ways it is going to hurt exports.
The other thing is that we have an aging population. An aging population and the increasing costs of our medical system is the gorilla at the dinner table. We simply will not be able to prepare for our future in an adequate way, to have the economy we need or have the social programs we desire unless we get our health care costs under control, costs that will be incurred as our population ages.
Today there are four workers for every retiree. In a short 15 years that is going to change and there will be 2.5 workers for every retired person. That is a staggering change that our country has never seen before and will not see again. The fact that the government is not debating or discussing this in any sensible fashion means that it is going to cause incredible pain and hardship.
There is an increased demand for moneys to pay for social programs. That gap will simply widen and widen so that those who are least privileged in our society are the ones who will be hurt the most. This will be a direct failure on the part of the government because it knows full well that this is on the horizon. It is entirely on its shoulders to act in a leadership role, to work with the rest of us and the provinces to ensure this is dealt with. It is those who are least privileged and most vulnerable who are going to be hurt in our society. Ignoring this is absolutely criminal. Health care costs, as I said before, are extraordinary.
What did the government do in the budget? It touted its deficit reduction platform. What was that? In effect, it was $17 billion in cuts over five years, along with a fantasy growth rate of about 6%. The government says we are going to grow out of this. The fact of the matter is that we are not.
Once again, the government is actually blowing smoke in the eyes of the Canadian public, giving them a line that is simply not credible at all.
The other thing it did was make cuts. What kind of cuts? It eliminated 245 positions. What it is not telling the Canadian public is that most of those positions have not been filled, were not filled, and are not going to be filled. Again, these are mystery cuts that are taking place.
The government, in other words, does not have a credible plan to get the books balanced once again. It should take a leaf out of what happened in the mid-90s, when then-Prime Minister Chrétien and his finance minister, Paul Martin, did get our country's books back in order. I think the Prime Minister and his finance minister should take a leaf out of that book and get our financial house back in order.
I could point to a couple of things that we absolutely must do. The government must work on health care. It must bring costs under control. In order to do that, it should take a leaf out of what is being done in the province of Quebec and indeed will be done in Ontario, and probably in British Columbia, our province. The government must allow the provinces to modernize.
Seventeen of the top 20 health care systems in the world are in Europe. They pay less and get better health outcomes. We should be asking why that is so. We should be adopting those best practices here in Canada. The feds control the overarching guidelines in terms of allowing or disallowing the provinces to modernize. The federal government must sit down with the ministers. It must use its convening power to sit down with the provincial ministers of health and say, “Look, this is our problem, this is a problem of our nation. We simply cannot allow our health care system, the difference between the demand for our health care and the supply of resources to continue to widen”.
It is already widening and it continues to worsen every single year. The government must sit down with the provincial health ministers to allow the provinces to modernize and to implement solutions, including IT solutions that are necessary to streamline our system.
The other thing that we need to do is on the productivity side. Although constitutionally education falls into the realm of the provinces, there is nothing that prevents the government from convening the provincial ministers of education to work on national standards, national outcomes, so that students, regardless of where they are, will be able to receive the quality education that they deserve.
This is crucially important because other countries are doing this as well, even ones with a similar political structure, like Australia. Without our students being trained in the economic needs of the future, we will have people without jobs and jobs without people. That is what is going to happen. The only way to fix that is if the feds work with the provinces to meet the needs of our economy with the training capabilities of our provinces.
Also, it is crucially important that we are able to project in the future to know what those niches are that we can capitalize on. One we could do is shipbuilding because there is a very interesting opportunity in our province of British Columbia to develop an integrated shipbuilding strategy that would enable us to capitalize on high-paying, high-tech jobs in the future.
The feds also need to work with the coalition of the willing in terms of the provinces. Just because one or a couple of provinces may not be willing to choose to work together, it does not mean that the feds cannot work with those who are willing to actually sit down at a table and implement the solutions we need, including the elimination of interprovincial trade barriers and the labour mobility issues, which restrict our economy. Without this, we will simply be falling further and further behind with respect to other economies.
One of the banks, and I think it was the TD Bank, did a very interesting study. It looked at 20 years from now and where would Canada's economy be in the world. Right now we have the ninth largest economy. Twenty years from now we will be back around 26th in the world. We do not need to accept that. We do not need to have that. That is not, by any stretch, a fait accompli.
In closing there are a couple of other things. On the pension issue, we will have fewer and fewer people who will be working, as I said, compared to the retired folk. We can be intelligent about incentivizing people to continue to work after the age of 65, perhaps by giving them a percentage of their CPP tax free. It is important that people who choose to work can work, and we should not put barriers in their way.
There are many things we could talk about here. There are many opportunities the government can actually embrace for our economy, social programs, and for the future of our nation. We want to work with the government. We compel the government and we plead with it to take this very seriously, and not to come up with budgetary measures such as this which do not serve the public well at all.