Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to point out during the debate on Bill C-28 some of the failings of the budget, failings that were not corrected in the fall financial update. Given the tone of the throne speech, I do not see that there is much intention to correct those failings going forward.
Ultimately, the general overarching problem that I have with the direction of the government in this regard is that, having been given the opportunity to significantly affect a variety of areas and challenges that face Canada, it has chosen instead to basically withdraw. The government is talking about withdrawing in its relationship with provincial governments, withdrawing in its relationship with municipalities.
Given the magnitude of the surplus, the opportunity was presented to the government to deal with universities. The reality is that since 1993 as soon as the fiscal situation was improved, the first thing the former Liberal government did as a national government was to invest heavily in research. The research chairs program, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the indirect costs program, all of these things were investments by the Government of Canada in Canada, in Canadians to generate prosperity, because prosperity going forward is going to find its way where there is investment in knowledge.
That is just one example of the opportunity that was squandered by the Conservative government as it has chosen rather to simply make itself smaller, driven by an ideological agenda that simply does not believe that government can be an instrument for good. I do not hold that view.
Having said that, I also wish to say that I was very disappointed in the spring and most recently that the government still has not honoured the vote that it cast in favour of a motion calling for a national autism strategy, including a financial component. The government had the opportunity to do that and it did not.
Today what I would like to bring to the attention of the House and to Canadians is the nature of the change in the formula as it relates to transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education, social services and health.
In the 1960s and early 1970s the provinces were lobbying the national government, quite justifiably I think, for the government to adjust the taxation system because the provinces were carrying much of the costs of the most recent cost drivers, such as, education, health and social services. The tax system reflected an earlier time when most of these costs were federal.
In 1977 the Government of Canada responded to that request by offering the provinces 13.5% of personal income tax and 1% of corporate tax. It was attempting to do the right thing, but the problem with that remedy is that 1% of personal income tax per capita is not the same across the provinces. The problem is that in a rich province 1% of personal income tax per capita is worth significantly more than 1% of personal income tax per capita in a poorer province.
In an effort at the time by the Government of Canada to mitigate the fact that it was about to make a decision that would bring less equity to the country, which certainly was not in anyone's interest, it included a cash component in the transfer, which was worth at the time $2.7 billion. Last year it was worth $20.5 billion, so it is no small amount of money.
At the time the federal government then introduced a cash component that it would transfer to the provinces. Inside the cash component was an equity seeking provision which allowed that there would be mitigation for the damage that was done to the equilibrium in the country when it used taxes as a way of giving more money to the provinces. In other words, if the tax changes benefited Alberta significantly more than Newfoundland and Labrador, which they did, then the amount that would go to cash would reflect that and Newfoundland and Labrador would get more.
That was the way the decision was taken in 1977. This remedy, to a structural problem in Canada, which everybody recognized, would not hurt the smaller, poorer provinces. In one fell swoop, with that 1977 decision to mitigate the inequality, perpetrated on Canada by the Government of Canada, was eliminated.
As a result, from this year to next, the post-secondary education and social services transfer will increase in Alberta by $102 a person, in Ontario by $40 a person and in my province of New Brunswick by $7 a person. That will have incredible impacts on the provinces receiving equalization. I think it was a decision that was taken by the government without a clear understanding. The way it was referenced was equalization through the back door. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is it was not done to equalize Canada. It was done to ensure that the tax point transfer did not make Canada less equal. That was the purpose. It was recognized as such. Members can go back to Hansard and read the debates in the seventies and eighties around this.
The truth is the effect of this decision has impacted the smaller provinces in the areas of post-secondary education and social services, areas where we are struggling constantly to keep up. I accept that we receive equalization in our provinces. However, if we do not invest in universities, in knowledge and in research, and the provincial governments will have a hard time doing this given how much less money the small provinces have relative to the rich provinces as a result of this decision, then consequently the future holds more equalization.
In our province Premier Graham has boldly set out on self-sufficiency agenda so we will not find ourselves at the whim of these kinds of decisions. I have not decided whether I think that this was done deliberately or just unknowingly, but the bottom line is this. Try to explain to me and to Canadians where the justice is in increasing the amount of money available to the province of Alberta for post-secondary education and social services by $102 a person and the amount of money available in Newfoundland and Labrador or New Brunswick to $7 a person. How can that be just?
If that is not bad enough, by 2014, when the health accord expires because it is a 10 year agreement that was reached in September 2004, they will apply exactly the same forward to that. All the transfers that come to our provinces, the provinces that would suffer from this decision, all those provinces will be in a lesser position to provide those fundamental services in the area of health, in this case, and social services, but also the kinds of investments that would allow us to be more self-sufficient, to use Premier Graham's term. It will make it very difficult. It makes it all the more imperative to do this.
At the end of the day it is obvious, when we are as dependent on these transfers as we are, that we are at the whim of political decisions, whether taken out of malice or simply lack of forethought, and the effect on our province and our entire region will be disastrous.
It has not had a lot of attention. Members can check. It is on page 369 in the budget document and it is very clear. The increase in Alberta will be $102 a person. The increase in New Brunswick will be $7 a person. How can that be fair? How can that be just? How can we expect to build the Atlantic region when we are treated in a way that simply will not allow us to make the same kinds of investments that are made in provinces that have more of their own resources to invest?