Madam Speaker, the festive spirit of the holiday season is upon us, even within and around this chamber. Nonetheless, we have an important issue to debate today. Let us try to do so calmly and seriously, as this is a very serious matter.
The purpose of this debate is to help prepare the next federal budget, which will define the rules of the game not only for the budget but also for the development of our country in the next year. Sometimes, policy choices made at budget time have long-lasting impact. So, this is a serious matter.
I do not sit on the Standing Committee on Finance. Many of those who spoke before me are members of this committee and, as such, have participated in the consultations held across the country.
However, anyone can read the committee's report, which is entitled Keeping the Balance: Security and Opportunity for Canadians . This is the report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
This is quite a substantial document, reflecting what was said at the many consultations sessions held across the country.
Like everyone here, while not all of us sit on the finance committee, I think that all have a say in determining what the main priorities should be for the coming year and next few years.
We have seen the vigorous action taken by the Liberal federal government in this last term as well as the action taken by the legislatures or parliaments of several provinces. I have witnessed some of the changes of direction the PQ government imposed on the people of Quebec these past few years.
As a result, today, we are at a point where balance has been restored or is about to be restored in federal public finances.
A few years ago, in 1992-93, we were saying that the public finances were in a crisis. Canada was regarded as a country on its way to becoming a third world country. The worst speculations were being made about the development of our country. At the time, Canada was trailing other industrialized countries as regards the state of its public finances. Now, four or five years later, it is said to be at head of the pack.
There was a major turnaround. We were on the verge of a disaster, but we have now set in place the conditions that will give our country a new impetus to tackle what lies ahead.
Thanks to the strategy implemented in recent years, the deficit dropped to its lowest level in 20 years, and it will continue to diminish. In fact, it will disappear. This strategy also brought interest rates to their lowest level in decades, while helping our economy pick up again and promoting job creation. These are all positive factors.
However, the debt, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, remains huge and, as pointed out by others, including the hon. member for Kamloops, who spoke just before me, some individuals, groups and organizations have shouldered the burden of this effort to put our fiscal house in order.
I listened to the hon. member for Kamloops, who has been here for close to 20 years. He spoke in a very eloquent and colourful way, and he gave many examples of the price paid by various segments of the population. We have to be very sensitive to the description he made of the situation, because what he said does not exist only in his riding, but everywhere in Canada. It exists in my riding of Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies and in many ridings with a large number of middle or low income earners.
The hon. member did not mention it, but many small businesses also suffered a major shock in recent years and had to find new ways to organize themselves or had to restructure. Many jobs became precarious because of all these changes. It is a fact. Some sectors paid the price and shouldered the burden of that turnaround.
It is not enough to be eloquent, as the members opposite have been about what has gone on in recent years. Of course, those who were present can always criticize what the Conservatives did from 1985 to 1989 and from 1989 to 1993; they are perfectly entitled to do so.
They are perfectly entitled to criticize the Liberals for what they did from 1993 to 1997. There is nothing wrong with that in a parliamentary debate. But, apart from criticizing past events and describing the impact of the changes of recent years, what matters now is what action we take in response to the present situation. What should we do and what do we suggest? What are the points on which we are going to agree for the years ahead?
I do not think that reducing the deficit is the ultimate goal and I was very interested to see that this was also mentioned in the standing committee's report. With respect to reducing the deficit, it said, and I quote “Balanced budgets, and restrained spending are not the government's ultimate goals. The same is true of the price stability objective of the Bank of Canada. They are merely intermediate objectives, which enable and support the achievement of our ultimate ends: fostering job creation, economic growth and opportunity for all, while maintaining the qualities that characterize Canadian society, particularly a concern about equity and fairness. This is the balance that characterizes the government's approach and reflects the values of Canadian society. The difficult choices made in recent years tried to keep this balance in mind. The choices to be made in the future must do so as well”.
I think that all members should take note. The purpose of this debate is to get the House to take note of what in this report seems of interest to Canadians. I think it is a step in the right direction.
The pre-budget consultations of the past few weeks have led to the production of this report. What Canadians want, and what the Standing Committee on Finance wants, is to have the next budget keep the balance that has been focused on in recent years, and must be attained.
I feel it is important to specify what type of balance we want. Balance in inertia is not what we want, in my opinion. What the finance committee means is that a balance has been attained so we can lead our country in the right direction. That is, moreover, what it says in the foreword to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance. It says that Canadians want a balance between the security offered by debt reduction and the benefits of investing in people, technology and research and development.
I could go on and on, but I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Niagara Falls. As the representative of the riding of Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies, I am greatly interested in the main thrust of this report we have before us, which consists of asking the government to reinvest in human resources, in education, in training, in health, in our young people, in a youth employment strategy, and also in developing our businesses.
I will add, of course, that it is also important to revise certain measures in our tax system with a view to ensuring greater equity, with particular thought to the most disadvantaged and the sector of the population hardest hit in recent years. This report contains a collection of proposals. Others can be added drawing on suggestions made during this debate. Some others could be considered as well. That is the purpose of this consultation within a parliamentary debate. Some other proposals could be taken into consideration as well, such as those from the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, which is calling for certain tax mechanisms to be redirected for the benefit of sustainable development.
I believe we must continue in the months to come to take a very serious approach to an exchange of views on these very important matters.