Mr. Speaker, that is a hard act to follow.
These days it is fashionable to talk about fiscal responsibility and the need to reduce spending at all levels of government. While it is not difficult simply to cut spending without regard for the consequences, it requires great care to meet necessary fiscal targets while ensuring that the government policies support the priorities of Canadian society.
In asking the House to concur with the appropriation bill, I would like to remind members that the estimates we have considered effecting today are taken to reduce program spending and at the same time to target spending on what is most important to the Canadian public.
For example, we have reduced direct support to industry in favour of policies that will stimulate growth and jobs. We have reduced costs by transferring the air navigation system and airports to not for profit corporations. We have taken steps to reduce subsidies to Canada Post and to VIA Rail. We have reduced defence spending by $200 million in 1997-98 and another $600 million in 1998-99. These are just a few examples of the actions we have taken to meet our fiscal responsibilities.
Under program reduction, many costs in services have been cut to the Canadian people. But one program brought in over the last three years was the infrastructure program. In Quebec alone, there were more than 2,400 projects. That brought in a total of more than $2 billion to the Quebec economy, resulting in more than 29,000 jobs.
In my province of Nova Scotia, there were more than 316 projects, which brought more than $200 million to the economy and more than 4,000 direct jobs. This is significant and it is particularly significant in the east, not only in Quebec but in Nova Scotia where the infrastructure is antiquated and much in need of a boost.
I would remind the House that this year's estimates are a vital component of that program spending regardless of the program cuts, and this year's estimates alone call for $157 billion in planned budgetary spending compared with $164 billion last year. This is a significant reduction while at the same time serving the Canadian people in programs they desire.
That intent and the reality has been that we wish to secure our nation's financial future, and that has been done that through serious, very methodical but very fair cuts, and through very serious methodical consideration of what the Canadian people want, while at the same time investing in the future which is the future of our youth.
When we went to the Canadian people looking for a mandate to govern the country, we set targets as a government and we set goals. The first goal was to reduce the deficit. When we took power in 1993, members will know that the deficit was around $42 billion a year. That is nearly 6 per cent of gross domestic product which had a very negative impact on the economy.
It was mandatory that we set responsible, credible financial targets that we could meet. For the first time in many years, the government has been credible. It has written the plan and it has followed through. There is confidence from the Canadian people.
The goal is that by the end of the fiscal year 1996-97, we will be at that real target of 3 per cent of GDP in deficit reduction and be around an annual deficit of $24 billion.
This is extremely important as we vote tonight on estimates that will pay for program spending over the next few months. What it has done is send a message to the Canadian people and to the world markets that the Canadian government is a very credible, very realistic government.
What it has done is bring inflation under control and interest rates down. Short term interest rates have declined by more than 3 percentage points since March 1995, which has brought the debt charges down. We are paying less money out on debt servicing as well.
We have also provided cost competitiveness in this country. This is the best it has been for the Canadian public for more than 45 years. That is a significant component of the Canadian economy.
We also have the largest trade surplus that we have had in decades. It is this trade surplus that sets Canadians in the front on the world stage. We can manufacture, we can market and deliver those goods competitively throughout the world. This is a very vital and a very important component of the overall economy.
As well, by reducing the deficit we have reduced our foreign dependency on dollars to simply manage the economy on a day to day basis. That alone is a significant part of the stability in our financial segment and of presenting ourself as a great leader among the G-7 nations.
The economy has generated more than 650,000 jobs over the past three years. That is also important because it is not the government that is creating the jobs, but it is government policies that are allowing the private sector to create the jobs.
It seems to me that the government has focused on the goals it set. It has delivered on what was offered to the Canadian public. The job is not all done but it will continue.
It seems to me that the reason the Reform Party put this motion to abolish the other place is because the government has set the goals financially and has been responsible fiscally and it has no argument on the financial front and so we now have to take a new debate and put it in place. The government has spoiled Reform's platform because it has delivered and provided a credible, fiscally responsible and socially responsible government.
I say to the members of this House that the opposition parties had plenty of opportunity through the Meech Lake accord, through the Charlottetown accord, for which both parties expressed their distaste and their opposition. However, they had the opposition at that time to deal with the other place. It would have provided an opportunity for restructuring and for looking at some of these issues that we are looking at here in the government. The government has been about restructuring for three years, about program cuts, program spending and it is dealing with it in a realistic manner. It will have the opportunity again to deal with the other place.
It is my belief that every member in the other place probably would look for restructuring as well because as this century closes and we move into the 21st century time is moving so rapidly with so many changes that it is imperative that every institution in all parts of society must come forward and look at restructuring in order to keep pace with the rapid changes.
Over the summer months I did a survey in my constituency and throughout Nova Scotia. I made the statement that the government had set a strategy at the outset of reducing the deficit, keeping inflation at a manageable level and lowering interest rates to generate a fiscally responsible climate so that the private sector might come forward and the entrepreneurs flourish in creating jobs and developing that very competitive economy. That strategy was set by this government in 1993. I asked my constituents: "Are you in favour of the government strategy".
I would like to tell the House tonight that in those questionnaires that came back to me through the summer months more than 97 per cent of respondents indicated they were in favour of the government's financial strategy and their policies and that we should proceed in that direction.
The public is in favour of this fiscal strategy, of the program cuts that the government has made. They are not all perfect but they are done fairly and equitably across the country. I have suffered them as many members have in their ridings, but the public is aware of how difficult it is.
I believe that this is why we are debating the other place tonight. It is because the government has followed through on its financial commitments and delivered a responsible government. It is my belief that in fiscal year 1997-98 the size of the debt in relation to Canada's economy will decline. It will be the first time in many years that the economy will grow faster than the debt and deficit.
I believe we have answered the challenge from the opposition parties as the Government of Canada. We have fulfilled our promises. We have set the stage and have been responsible financially. The passing of the estimates tonight will support what Canadians believe, that what we are doing is appropriate for them. Because we have become responsible fiscally, we have stolen the platform from the opposition. That is why they would rather debate the other House. The time has come to restructure the other House as well.