Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to participate in this important discussion.
I want to say hello to my almost three-year-old daughter, Gianna, who I believe is watching this back home. She is probably the only three year old in the country who watches CPAC on regular basis. Although when I told her yesterday that I would be giving a speech today, I think she thought we were going to the beach. Therefore, despite my excitement about being to speak today, she may be a bit disappointed.
In watching this debate today, I wonder if my three-year-old daughter may be a bit disappointed for a different reason. As parents, we all want to pass the best that we can on to our children in the context of our own individual families, but also in the context of social relations. We receive the goods of society from our parents and we pass them on to our children, hopefully improved or at least not diminished.
As Edmund Burke writes in Reflections on the Revolution in France, society is “...a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society...”.
He says later:
...one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it...[should be mindful of] what is due to their posterity...should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation...
We live here in a great country. We can and indeed we must be grateful for the goods of civilization that we have received from our predecessors. We have a duty to pass the goods of our civilization on to the next generation, socially, culturally, and fiscally. However, for reasons unknown to us, and perhaps even unknown to it, the government is betraying this sacred obligation by running massive, totally unnecessary, deficits, creating debts that our children and grandchildren will have to pay off. We are spending massive amounts of money today, and they will have to pay off these debts with interest.
The government is running deficits in spite of the fact that the economy is growing. The Liberals are running deficits not because of a financial crisis, but because the government felt that its only chance in the last election was to outflank the NDP on the far left. It was a cynical political game rooted in the narrow politics of the present, betraying the hard-learned lessons of the past when it comes to deficits and debt, and ignoring the needs of the future. The Liberals' cynical game was to say whatever they needed to say to get elected and let the future worry about itself.
How did the Liberals plan to satisfy all of their spending commitments and keep the deficit under $10 billion? They did not have a plan. Again, it was the narrow, cynical politics of the present, without regard for the lessons of the past or the needs of the future.
The Liberals promised three deficits of $10 billion each, but now we know that they may use up all $30 billion of that deficit commitment in year one. Even a $10-billion deficit would add over $300 to my daughter's share of the debt. However important the needs of the present are, let us have enough regard for my daughter and her generation to pay for present needs with present dollars.
I think Canadians get this. They intuitively get the obligation that we have to generations past and to generations in the future. They get that it is wrong to burden future generations just so that we can have more right now.
Therefore, the Liberals are casting around for an excuse to run a massive, new, entirely pointless deficit. Their strategy is to claim that they were left with a deficit, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary from the Department of Finance and from the parliamentary budget officer. Forgetting the past and ignoring the future, unfortunately, has become the Liberal way.
By contrast, it is important to highlight the realities of the previous Conservative government's very strong fiscal record, which demonstrates mindfulness of the past and the future, as well as the present. In our first years in office, our Conservative government ran significant surpluses, paid down debt, and cut taxes for middle- and low-income Canadians. However, in late 2008, Canada was hit by the global financial crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
At the time of the global financial crisis, the Liberals, then in opposition, presented none of their own plan for the economy. Sometimes they attacked our government for running deficits. At other times, they demanded bigger deficits. We did the responsible thing.
We did what past and future generations would want us to do. We ran timely, targeted, and temporary deficits, stimulating the economy and preserving vital Canadian industries, while also seeking efficiencies and bringing the budget back to balance one year ahead of schedule.
We did this while increasing transfers to the provinces for vital public services, and we did it while further cutting taxes. According to every credible authority, we ended our mandate in surplus. We had the best job creation record, the best GDP growth record, and we have by far the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio anywhere in the G7. We led Canada through challenging economic circumstances; we preserved strong economic fundamentals.
Still today, when the Liberals look back on the global financial crisis, they insist on having their cake and eating it too. Some of the time they tell us that Canada fared poorly during the financial crisis despite obvious facts to the contrary, and some of the time they tell us that Canada did well in the financial crisis but it was only because of Liberal governments of the 1990s.
Other times they criticize the deficits we used to stimulate the economy, and the rest of the time they criticize the spending controls we imposed on the federal bureaucracy, as if it were possible to balance the budget without controlling spending in certain areas.
Here is our position with respect to fiscal policy. A government should run timely, targeted, and temporary deficits only in the face of significant declining revenues or in response to major crises like war or natural disasters. There is no need to cut during these periods provided that the same government can make up the difference during good years. To do this in a timely, targeted, and temporary way is not a betrayal of future generations, rather it is prudent and responsible, because it is a way for the present generation to both create debt when necessary and also to do the work to pay it off.
However, to capriciously run structural deficits far beyond the scope that Canadians were led to believe would occur during the election, to do so in response to no significant decline in revenue or major financial event, is a betrayal of our obligations to our children. It is, in effect, a demand that our children and grandchildren pay in the future for what we do not want to do without today.
Our children do not have a choice in this matter. Profligate deficit spending today robs future generations of citizens and policy-makers of the ability to enact their own ambitious plans. It saddles them with debt that will limit their dreams long after ours have faded.
This is the reality in many countries around the world, countries where the financial crisis was followed by a debt crisis because they had used up all the room they had to bail themselves out. We do not have to go down this road in Canada. That is certainly not where we started from. It certainly is not inevitable.
If we are to now run up large new deficits, it will only be because of an irresponsible political choice, one that the government could have decided not to make and one that the government must take responsibility for.
If members of the government wish to be generous to their friends, let them do so with their own money. However, the government has no money of its own, it only has the ability to spend the money earned by Canadian taxpayers. As such, it should adopt the requisite humility that normally comes with being entrusted to discharge someone else's property.
It is not too late. I say to the government, “Do not capriciously run massive, totally unnecessary deficits. Do not saddle my daughter with your debt, she does not deserve it. Do not distort the facts to obscure responsibility. Take responsibility. Look squarely on the numbers given to you by the finance department and the parliamentary budget officer. Take responsibility, and do right by present and future taxpayers.”