Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to speak on the social policy review. This is something that touches everyone. I think all of us from talking to our constituents know just how much people are concerned about this entire review that is taking place.
During the break when I was back in my constituency, I had the opportunity to conduct a number of town hall meetings. I started on Monday with a group in an agricultural community. Many people came out and we had a great discussion. From there I went on to service clubs and a couple of other town hall meetings.
In all cases the approach that I found worked was to first talk to people about the real financial problem in which we find ourselves. Most people have just a fleeting concept of what a billion dollars is and exactly how serious the situation is.
To put it all into perspective, if you tell people we are spending in excess of $160 billion and we are only taking in $125 billion, they very quickly get the message. If you go further and say that of the $160 billion, roughly $80 billion goes to social services, $40 billion to other government services and $40 billion in interest payments, you will get their attention. They will have an understanding of just how real the social reform package is and how serious they must take it when they look at plans the government has.
I talked to a group of people who were discouraged because they did not get any real answers from government. Instead they got another discussion paper, one which gave them only a few highlights of what the government might have in mind three, four, five years, or whenever down the road. They want to hear some hard facts. They want to hear the suggestions that the government might have with regard to these changes.
As far as the interest payments are concerned a lot of people ask why we would not just write off the debt and the deficit. Very quickly we ask them if they have any Canada savings bonds, T-bills or pension plans that might be part of this Canadian investment. They answer that they do so the interest payments must remain. Obviously, the single biggest threat to our social programs then are those interest payments themselves which we must get under control.
As far as the social programs are concerned all of us value them as Canadians. We all feel they are an important part of being a Canadian. We would like to maintain as many of the social programs as possible but we recognize it must be done within our budget. I believe all Canadians know the programs must be changed. Ask any group. They will tell you that there are abuses and there are areas which have to be changed.
Looking at the ongoing studies the one thing we have learned more than anything else from Alberta is that you have to take action; you know what you have to do and you do it and then you show people how it will benefit them. It seems the longer we study something the longer it is put off. The longer it goes on and
on the less likelihood there is we can ever change it. There have been enough studies and enough input. Everybody knows about the problems and abuses. It is time to get on with the necessary changes.
I would like to quickly look at some of the areas of our social safety net and examine them briefly as to what some of the problems and possible solutions might be.
Certainly from the standpoint of OAS it is rather dangerous to say that we are going to cut pensions. When we approach it by asking whether those over 65 earning a family income of over $54,000 need to get OAS, most will answer that no, they really do not need it. In other words, while the idea of universality is very nice, it is something we cannot afford any longer. If people understand that, they are prepared to accept that as their portion of the cut.
We must also remember that in the next 15 years the number of people over 65 will increase by 40 per cent and the burden on others will be unbearable. Obviously we have to come back in terms of pensions and seniors and promote everything we can to help people realize they have to take care of themselves.
We have to show them that RRSPs are the way to go. Certainly taxing them will be the most disappointing, negative and reactionary thing that could ever happen from this House. We cannot let that happen because it flies right against people taking care of themselves.
Let us look at the Canada pension plan. When it was started in 1965 we were basically told: "Give your money to government. Government knows how to take care of it for you better and will guarantee the return of this money when you retire". I was one of those people just starting in the workforce. I was told that I should give my money to the government, that it would take care of it and guarantee a pension to me.
It was an insurance plan but now people are saying: "Let us take care of our own pension plans, but obviously we want back what we paid into Canada pension". Remember there is an unfunded liability of close to $500 billion. It is like the airlines with their frequent flyer points. Those are real liabilities. Whether you like it or not those are going to come back to haunt future generations. We must address the problem of Canada pension self-sufficiency.
Of course UIC has major problems. Again, I do not know many who would not tell you they have a problem with UIC or that they know somebody who has had a problem with it. All kinds of things crop up: seasonal workers, false claims, abusers, people who lie and cheat with regard to claiming UI. There are no free lunches. We have to change the attitudes of people toward this whole program. It has to be an insurance program, one that is there for between jobs, not instead of jobs. All of us have said that. We are going to have to act on that and very soon.
What concerns me most in this House is that I hear a minister who sounds almost like a 1970 socialist and believes in a utopia out there where everybody can have everything they want and somebody will pay the bills. That somebody is finally not going to appear. We are going to have to look at this from a real solid standpoint. We have studied it enough. Let us fix the problem. Let us not study it any further.
What kinds of things can we do? The first is to provide more jobs. We need more jobs in our society so that we do not have to depend on things like UI. How are we going to do that?
First we are going to lower taxes. We can lower taxes and reform the whole tax system and look at a flat tax. If the system is considered to be more fair, more people will be providing jobs, there will be more small businesses and the whole system should improve dramatically in the area of jobs.
We must break down the existing interprovincial trade barriers. We lose some $6 billion a year just from interprovincial trade barriers. Those are negative to jobs and negative to getting this whole economy rolling and not so dependent on UI.
We have to destroy the massive bureaucracy. If you visit companies in any area of Canada you will find they have one or two and sometimes three levels of management, but they never have six, seven or eight levels of management as you find in the bureaucracy. We have to get some efficiency into our system. Obviously as a result of seeing that businesses will say that now that we have our act together the jobs will come.
We have to break down the regulations governments seem so set on putting into place. Of course above all we have to destroy the underground economy which saps dollars from our entire system of our social safety net. I come back to tax reform and a flat tax system. If people saw a fair tax system they would not mind paying the tax. It would be lower and they would not need to be part of the underground economy. Things like the GST have driven people to become criminals. That will continue unless there is a massive reform of the tax system.
We need to look at self-funding of the whole UI program. It should never have to depend on government. It should be a temporary program. Above all, we can certainly consider the concept of working for UI. I do not believe UI is something someone should expect. People could easily work for it and it would then start to mean something.
We must lower federal taxes. We must return a lot of the programs to the delivery level which is at the provincial and municipal levels of government.
Let us look at the fourth area, social programs and the welfare area. There will always be people in our society who need help. The problem is that number has grown. It is like the Australians. For so many years they brought their young people up to say: "I do not mind going on pogey. It is expected of me and I can enjoy the beach". We have to change the atmosphere and environment which creates that sort of thinking. Everyone knows about the abuses. It is the government's job to provide an environment in which jobs can be provided for the people.
Through our education system we must provide the pride of a work ethic and certainly in some cases even prime the pump through training. Above all we have to get people off the dole and out working with some pride for their country.
On the health care system Canadians want the very best. If there is one area we really do not want to sacrifice that certainly would have to be it. I do not believe we need to sacrifice it. It seems so often when we downsize in the health care system we go after the beds and the nurses instead of going after the other end. A great deal of savings could be had from looking at the administration end of things rather than the other end.
Post-secondary education is our future and another area we cannot sacrifice. From working in the foreign affairs area many of us realize what we have in terms of our advanced education system. It was probably best brought home to me this summer when I was visiting with Swedish businessmen in Stockholm, Sweden. They said that over the course of the last three years they had hired 700 Canadian graduates to work in Swedish invested companies in Canada. They said that they would always hire Canadians over Americans or anybody else because of the training and reliability of the Canadian graduate. That is something we should be proud of.
For the last seven years the Reform Party has had the voucher system as part of its program. This system should be examined and looked at. It might not be the answer to everything but it should at least be looked at as another way to provide some accountability in our advanced education institutions. There should be some competition for the students. It is a more positive system if students are controlling that through vouchers.
Again we come back to the top heavy nature of administration. I am sure that in examining our educational institutions savings can be made and efficiencies can be found.
In conclusion, instead of carrying on more and more studies, I say for the hon. member across the way that he missed my portion on the flat tax-