Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleagues in congratulating the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche on his insightful remarks and thanking him for sharing his time with me.
I am pleased to participate today in the budget debate that pretends to repair some of the damages inflicted by the Liberal government on our health care system. In reality it only offers empty platitudes and grossly inadequate action to address the very serious problems in the Canadian health care system.
Some might find it convenient for their own partisan political reasons to characterize the budget as the health care budget, despite the fact that it represents only nominal measures to compensate for the savage cuts the government and the finance minister have made to transfers to the provinces for health, education and social assistance.
I would like to be able to stand here and praise a budget that actually does something for Newfoundland and Labrador. Instead, the budget is devastating to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not only does it not transfer adequate money back to the health care and education systems, but it does not do anything for the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. With its equalization changed to a per capita basis, the government has actually made it unbelievably difficult for Newfoundlanders to stay in Newfoundland and to expect reasonable levels of Canadian service.
In the brief time I have I will compare two budgets: the budget of last year which was the education budget and the budget of this year which is the health care budget. We were reminded by the Liberal fanfare of last year's budget that they had the education budget even though it accomplished precious little to actually improve the situation of students. Members opposite appear to be of the opinion that they have made the lives of students easier. Nothing could be further from the truth. If government members were actually listening to their constituents and listening to students they would know that every increase in tuition fees and student debt load makes it almost impossible for low income students to receive a higher education.
What did that higher education, post-secondary budget of last year do for education in Canada? Did it make education more accessible for students? The bottom line according to the Canadian Federation of Students is that the so-called education budget did very little to help students. Personal debts for graduating students are comparable to the size of mortgages and the money announced for the new millennium scholarship program will help only seven out of every one hundred students if and when it ever comes into place.
The reality is that the deep gouging in the federal transfers by the government have created a higher education system that is almost impossible for students to attain. These are the facts surrounding the budget which the Minister of Finance claimed would take important steps toward repairing the damage done in post-secondary education.
If his budget of last year for post-secondary education was such a failure in helping students, how can we expect the results of the health care budget of this year to perform? After years of Liberal cutbacks in transfers to the provinces, transfers they pay for health care, education and social assistance, many of the problems are of such a magnitude that they cannot be fixed by short term approaches.
There is a crisis in the emergency wards across Canada. There is probably not a member of the House of Commons, not a member of a provincial legislature, not a doctor, not a nurse, not a nursing assistant who does not have a terrible story to tell about the damage that has been done to our health care system.
When I was home the other day I met a lady who is now in her mid-eighties. I spoke with her husband for a while. He told me that she would have to wait nine to twelve months to get a simple cataract operation done in St. John's, Newfoundland. That might not sound bad to the Minister of Finance or to the Minister of Health, Mr. Speaker, but if your mother or your aunt or one of your family had to spend the next nine, ten or twelve months of their lives not being able to pour a cup of tea for themselves or not being able to walk across the kitchen, you would have to say that there is something seriously wrong with the Canadian health care system.
The Liberals claim in this budget that they will put back $11.5 billion in cash transfers to the provinces for health over the next five years. In other words, they are going to cap the transfers at $15 billion. Despite the Liberal fanfare about the would-be health care budget, health care spending at that point will only be back to 1996 levels, which we know were atrocious. After the five year financial commitment, which comes with no escalator clauses and does not take into account the fact that inflation and demographic changes are going to add about $3 billion a year to Canada's health care bill, on an accumulative basis the Liberals will have cut $17 billion from transfers to the provinces. They have put very little of that back with this budget.
There needs to be a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of the health care system. The lack of priorities shown by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and the absence of any apparent long term plan led them to balance the budget on the backs of Canadian workers, the poor, the sick and the elderly. Now they are trying to use a band-aid to cure a health care system which they themselves have put on the critical list. We all hope it is not too late to undo the damage done to the health care system by the billions of dollars of cuts made by the Liberal government. The inadequate measures that this government is offering in place of any kind of serious long term plan do not give anyone much real hope, faith or confidence that this is about to be done.
The provincial reaction from the Liberal government of Newfoundland and Labrador is that there are some really important questions which the Minister of Finance has failed to answer satisfactorily. Some of these questions are of particular interest to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Now we have two levels of Liberals, two levels of government telling us two different stories. One thing that has become clear is that the net effect on the transfers to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will be substantially less than the finance minister indicated in his budget. His counterpart, the minister of finance for Newfoundland, calls the measures included in the federal budget laughable.
The numbers cited repeatedly by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, who represents Newfoundland in the federal cabinet, have been challenged by the media and by the Liberal government.
Specifically with regard to the impact of these transfers on health care, let us look at the reaction of the provincial minister of health, again a Liberal minister. I would like to remind my colleagues that she says the province is going to take a very hard hit, that this federal budget creates a two tier health care system and that it is not good enough. That is the Liberal minister of health for Newfoundland talking about a two tier health care system.
It is not the two tier health care system that so many speak of for the rich and poor. This is a two tier system in which for certain essential medical services people in Newfoundland and Labrador will have to go to Toronto or some other part of Canada. There will be two tiers of health care in Canada: one for the poorer provinces and one for the rich provinces. As the Liberal minister of health for Newfoundland says, that is simply not good enough.
Another factor in this budget is the changing of equalization to a per capita system. Is that going to help the poorer provinces of Canada? Nothing could be further from the truth. The change to an equalized system, pushed by the Ontario caucus of this Liberal government so that people in Ontario receive the same on a per capita basis as people in Newfoundland and Labrador, is not the idea of equalization. Equalization is one of the fundamental tenets on which Confederation is based. It says that money will be taken from the rich and well to do parts of Canada so there will be equal services in all parts of Canada. What really has happened here is that the poorer we are the less money we get and we are still supposed to supply a first class health care system. How can we do it without money?
This budget, if nothing else, has destroyed one of the fundamental principles of Confederation: the fact that the rich, the well off and the well to do are to help those in Canada who are not as rich or as well to do. What it means in Newfoundland on a per capita basis, because our economy has not been helped, because so many things in the province and in this country are not helping the regions of Canada, is that in the last three years it has lost 30,000 people. Those 30,000 people will not be on our rolls for the transfers from the Government of Canada to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
How will that benefit health care in Newfoundland? How will that give us a better system? We would love the Minister of Finance to visit Newfoundland, talk to his old colleague and friend Brian Tobin, and explain to him, the premier of the province, how this is supposed to be beneficial to us.
In Newfoundland we look at it in some ways as being another resettlement program which was created to resettle some of the smaller communities in Newfoundland during the sixties and seventies by a former Liberal government. In effect, this budget, with its equalization changes, will resettle a lot of Newfoundlanders to other parts of Canada.
I hope this budget is more successful at solving health care problems than the education budget of last year was at solving education problems. I can only say that our caucus and my colleagues on this side of the House are very skeptical. On behalf of the government and the people of Newfoundland, I say that we are downright suspicious that this will do anything for the health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador.