Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to participate in the debate. I will say at the start that I plan to share my time, with your permission, with the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.
I want to compliment the Minister of Finance on a budget that has been widely accepted by Canadians and certainly by people in my own province. Over the last day or so we have seen a number of groups, agencies and individuals come out and publicly praise the budget, which we do not often see. They are praising the budget, in some cases elements of it and in some cases the budget generally, knowing that in relatively difficult times we have a fair, prudent budget but one which keeps in mind the needs of all people across the country.
Praise has been heaped upon the minister from student groups, truckers associations, tourism groups, boards of trade and chambers of commerce, et cetera. The only negatives are from the political people. One would expect that. It is a political game and it is not to one's advantage to praise the other, even though it certainly is consoling to see the opposition party in the House praising our budget in the form of supporting it. We are delighted with that.
As I mentioned, the only people against it are people with a political bent. Unfortunately, I saw some negative comments from the head of the fisheries organization, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, in Newfoundland. No group of people in our province has benefited more from this government than the people involved in the fishery, whether they be harvesters, processors, plant workers, et cetera.
One of the concerns raised was about the changes that would be made to the Employment Insurance Act. There, when we are talking about establishing an arm's length organization to manage the EI account, we are responding to requests from people in industry, requests that have been brought forward year after year. They saw major surpluses building up in the employment insurance fund that were not going back to the people who really should be benefiting from it, the people who pay in, whether it be the employers or the employees.
We committed to address that. It is not in any way taking anything away. It is giving money right back to the people who contribute to the fund, whether they be employers or employees. These are the very people who will benefit from the new move to eliminate this huge surplus and allow the money to remain in the pockets of those who have been contributing to it. That is a very positive move. People should not be playing games with this decision.
Having said that, there are two areas that I want to comment on in my short time. One of them relates to my department and the other my province.
In relation to the department, we, as we would say, did very well. There were major initiatives that we wanted to address, one of them being the Coast Guard.
When the Conservatives became the government two years ago, the Coast Guard was basically inactive and ineffective simply because we saw rust-out in relation to the infrastructure and a lack of funding to even keep the boats at sea. There was no work being done on surveillance simply because enough money was not being put into the regular maintenance of the boats, nor was there even enough money to put fuel in them in order to go out and do the work.
Last year we invested $750 million in the 16 new Coast Guard boats. This year we have in the budget $720 million for one new polar class icebreaker. Not only will it replace an aging smaller icebreaker, but the one we plan to acquire is a new state of the art icebreaker, bigger than ever, to ensure that Canada has a strong presence in the north and that the job can be done.
On top of the funding for the Coast Guard, we saw a major contribution in aquaculture. Aquaculture is becoming a major industry in this country. It is becoming a major industry in other countries in the world. Canada should be leading the way, but we are not. Our expertise is leading the way. Many of the countries that are doing very well have availed themselves of Canadian expertise. We have fallen behind, but we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future. We have to move forward.
An investment of $70 million in aquaculture is significant and with the private sector investment and involvement we are going to see an industry that will certainly be moving forward in this country. It is an industry that can co-exist quite easily with the wild fishery. If we combine both, the amount of employment generated certainly will be significant.
Many of the smaller communities that were devastated by the loss of groundfish, et cetera, have a new lease on life. They are being revived with all kinds of employment, and not employment for eight or ten weeks, but year-round solid employment.
We have made a major investment in our province. The big news coming out of the budget as it relates to our province is a new ferry and the approval of government for Marine Atlantic to acquire a new ferry, a huge ferry that will double the capacity of any boat that we now have.
This will enable the truckers to move goods to and from the island, the fish, lumber, et cetera, without having to worry about lining up on the docks in Port aux Basques or North Sydney wondering how long it will be before they can move. When one is moving fresh product it makes an awful lot of difference as to how long one is going to be parked in a yard somewhere.
This new ferry will also encourage more tourists. Again tourists now have to line up, or they do not even bother to come because they know they will have to wait and wait to get to and from the island. We will have a ferry with the capacity to move anyone who wants to visit that great island of ours.
I find it difficult to think that there are members here who have not visited the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the last great frontier of this country. It is great to experience the friendliness and hospitality of the people, to see the rugged scenery and the beauty. We encourage people to visit and now, as of this year, they will have no trouble getting there.
Some people criticized the fact that they did not see any money for roads. Recently we signed the $430 million infrastructure agreement. This year alone there will be over $100 million spent on roads in Newfoundland and Labrador. We will be starting the major Trans-Labrador Highway with a $50 million investment from the federal government. As this road is completed over the next five or six years, we will make sure that it ties in with the rest of the major highways in the country so that people will be able to travel right through this great frontier.
On top of that, we have money for more policemen in our country. We have money to enable more students of low and middle income to go to college, because 100,000 students across this country will be able to quality for scholarships more so than in the past.
One of the hidden things in the budget is the amount of money in research and development. There are a number of initiatives in this budget to encourage people with innovative minds and the new companies we see springing up to take advantage of science and technology and research and development. It will encourage the great Memorial University and the associated colleges to get into research and development in our fishing industry and other industries also.
I could praise this budget for hours, but I promised to share my time with my colleague and I will therefore end my speech.