Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the budget for several reasons, one being I believe it addresses Canada's present needs and prepares us well for tomorrow's challenges.
The budget recognizes the need to remain within our fiscal parameters. It recognizes the fiscal realities with which we are faced and it reminds us that we as Canadians cherish certain fundamental values and principles.
The other reason is I have a number of comments to make.
In the election campaign, the Liberal Party promised the deficit would be reduced to 3 per cent of the gross domestic product by the end of the 1996-97 fiscal year. This required drastic measures. Canadians have told us that they do not want tax increases and that they want cuts in government spending.
I think this is what we have done. However, if government spending is to be cut, it means services have to be cut. I worry about this, even though the financial world is satisfied.
In nationwide budget consultations Canadians told us they wanted to be treated fairly and equitably. They wanted the government to reassess its priorities and they were prepared to undertake certain measures and see certain reforms if they were to pave the road and build the foundations for a stronger and more prosperous Canada.
Vancouver East is no different in this regard. In a series of meetings with my constituents, one message was recurrent. In defining the role of government and reviewing Canada's problems and Canada's delivery of services we should be fair and equitable. The residents of Vancouver East wanted to see by and large a fairer tax system. The budget improves tax fairness.
Large corporations are expected to make a larger contribution to help bring the deficit down. Both the large corporations tax rate and the corporate surtax were increased by 12.5 per cent. The capital tax on banks and similar large deposit taking institutions will also be temporarily increased, but we must do better. At the same time the government did not increase personal income tax for the second year in a row.
In an attempt to spread the cuts among Canadians, a lot of programs have been eliminated. This concerns me a lot. It concerns me particularly because women, immigrants, children and poor families need these programs.
Lots of families in my riding of Vancouver East are in crisis. Lots of children in my riding will not complete their education. They are caught in a cycle of poverty they cannot escape. These children need help with programs that provide encouragement. The announced cuts could have dire consequences.
The residents of Vancouver East told me they do not want an erosion of our social programs or the government to abandon its traditional role in preserving social programs.
I support the government's continued efforts to encourage and instil in individuals a greater sense of self-confidence and independence. The government recognizes the need to protect the weak and the needy, those who are unable to care for themselves. We recognize there can be new partnerships that can result in greater efficiencies and greater responsiveness.
The provinces will now have greater ability to design programs more suitable and appropriate rather than being bound by rigid rules. Nonetheless, there will continue to be national standards for the new Canada social transfers, and the provinces will be required to provide social assistance without imposing any minimum residency requirement.
Naturally the new system is not perfect. I fear that we will not be able to ensure all the provinces apply the programs uniformly, and, as a result, social programs could be seriously eroded.
However, if these measures are not taken, we could find ourselves, in a few years, completely without social programs. The change in transfers will come into effect next year. The federal government is currently negotiating changes with the provinces in the hopes that the provinces will administer the social programs better, because they are more attuned to the needs of their population. These changes represent cuts in transfer payments of $2.5 billion in 1996-97 and $4.5 billion in 1997-98.
Despite these figures, the cuts to the provinces are not as deep as the cuts at the federal level. We have to work together to ensure that those who really need assistance are not abandoned.
As for immigration, we all know immigrants have played an important role in the building of our country and in the building of Vancouver East. Immigration has been a success story in Canada and doubtless Canada has benefited from the enormous contributions of immigrants to Canada. Immigrants have helped to build our nation and they will continue to help build our future.
Vancouver East is evidence of the outstanding contributions of immigrants and is home to a cross-section of numerous ethnic cultures. Vancouver East is a culturally diverse riding, with half of the riding being comprised of immigrants, the largest group being the Chinese. Less than one-third of the residents of Vancouver East were born in British Columbia, one of the lowest figures in B.C. We must continue to encourage immigration.
Many individuals have communicated to me that effective integration of newcomers is essential to their success. On the other hand, some have noted the substantial cost of the programs and the need for everyone to live up to their responsibilities.
A clear intention of the budget is to reduce the federal deficit. For the Department of Citizenship and Immigration this means re-examining its priorities. In the nationwide consultations conducted by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration the public stated immigration, refugee and citizenship programs were valid and necessary for the development of Canada and that there was little room for cuts to expenditures.
More recently under both the budget and program review we have seen the implementation of cost saving measures and a shift in some of the cost burden from the taxpayer to those who benefit directly from our programs and services, including the introduction of a new right of landing fee set at $975 per adult over 19 years of age.
I greatly hope the new fee will be fair and equitable in its practical application, that it will not unduly restrict or even remotely discourage immigration to our country, however alluring and magnificent our country may be. Granted, the program provides a loan option for those individuals less equipped to meet the new fee. However, we must be flexible and we must be accommodating.
What if individuals come from deeply impoverished nations where opportunity of education is unavailable to all and where the skills and training required to function and be successful in our society are lacking? The loan option is said to be based on one's ability to repay the loan within a certain time period. How can these individuals without the necessary tools to acquire meaningful employment be realistically expected to repay the loans within a three-year period?
I hope the requirement to repay the loans will be relaxed under certain circumstances to allow individuals sufficient time to develop the skills and training to allow them to find employment or the means by which they might better be able to repay the loan while at the same time independently maintain a decent standard of living.
The last measure I would like to discuss is Canada's health care system. The principles set forth in our health act must be defended and maintained. They are: universality, comprehensiveness, flexibility, portability and public administration.
In the budget speech, we said, and I quote: "For this government, those are fundamental". We must continue to protect them, as they are. The government said it would abide by these principles and it will.
I believe my task is to make sure the poor do not become poorer but are helped to get out of poverty, that women can realize themselves and can be assisted in their endeavours, that immigrants continue to be accepted and respected, and that families be helped through difficult times and stressful situations. That is a mammoth task which can be tackled only if I can count on my constituents and on all Canadians. I am looking forward to working with them for a better future. I know they are willing to work with me.
Overall the budget is a success. We must be vigilant in our commitment to supporting the pillars of liberalism: freedom of the individual, equality of opportunity and compassion for those who have less. I am very committed to these fundamental principles and I know all of my colleagues are as well. Let us work together.