Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Eglinton—Lawrence.
I am pleased to speak today to the Conservative government's first budget. A budget is both a beginning and a focal point of a government's economic policy and I am very happy to have the occasion to respond.
For more than 20 years I was in the financial services industry. I have sat at the table with families struggling to make ends meet and families looking to maximize their investments. This background and awareness gives me a unique perspective on the Conservative budget.
No budget document is perfect and no budget document is all good or all bad. Unfortunately for Canada, this particular budget seems to have missed the mark in a number of important areas. This is a shame because the government has an enormous amount of potential that rides on the Liberal financial coattails.
This is an important point. This contrasts the Canadian financial picture from late 1993, after nine years of Conservative rule, with the present financial picture. Let us consider this. In the 1990s, Conservative spending was on a roller coaster. The deficit was close to $40 billion. The debt had ballooned to nearly 70% of GDP. The unemployment rate was in double digits. Consumer and business confidence was very low. There was no real economic growth. I know how bad it was. Canadians had no work or they were underemployed. People were sick with worry and uncertain about their future and the future of their families. Canadians were worried about their CPP.
Canadians lost confidence in the Mulroney and Campbell governments because of poor financial management. What a difference a decade makes. Canada's books were balanced in eight consecutive budgets. The federal debt was reduced. Taxes have been reduced by more than $100 billion since 2000. Canada's unemployment rate is at a 32 year low. Indeed, on this final point, the finance minister said in yesterday's Hansard:
Canadians have reached a level of accomplishment few other countries can rival.
I could not have said that better myself. This is the same Minister of Finance who, under Mike Harris was cutting, slashing and burning, and who is now swimming in surpluses but offers no reassuring vision for Canadians.
How are Canadians supposed to have faith in the present finance minister and his budget? The budget is not up to par and risks putting Canada in a dangerous fiscal position.
There are some positive aspects to the budget as well: tax cuts for small businesses and tax credits for workers. However much of the rest of the budget leaves much to be desired.
First, I am outraged that the government has decided to raise the lowest tax rate for Canadians from 15% to 15.5% while the Conservatives say that they are decreasing it. The basic personal exemption is decreased by $200 after the Liberals raised it. For the Conservatives to state that this is a tax cut budget is not accurate and a misrepresentation of the facts to Canadians.
The biggest losers will be low income Canadians. With such a robust economy and a projected surplus, these tax increases were not necessary. Instead, we will see a cut to the GST. I think that is a meaningful tax cut but it is not the best tax cut for most Canadians. This tax will only benefit Canadians who spend more money on goods and services. The more money we spend, the more tax we will save.
For example, for many Canadians, most of their pay cheques are spent on rent, tuition and groceries. There is no GST on these items, so how will the GST cut benefit Canadians who need it the most? Unfortunately, this is undertaken for purely political reasons. This is a flashy campaign strategy to deceive Canadians that their taxes will go down while the government puts their income taxes up at the same time. This is a political and poor policy.
The second item I wish to discuss is child care. Aristotle reminds us that the success of a nation is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable, including the young. The Conservatives are eliminating the national child care program, substituting it with monetary gifts. In so doing, it fails to build more social policies that will benefit Canadians for generations to come.
The Conservatives are reducing the number of child care spaces, yet pledging to increase the number of spaces in prisons and correctional facilities. Rather than ensure children receive quality care in their formation years, the government will put more people behind bars later on. Why not invest in children?