Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga West.
It is a great pleasure to rise in my place today to speak in support of our government's 1997 budget. This budget reflects the very values and institutions that we cherish as Canadians. It highlights our commitment to health care, to improved access to education and training opportunities, and to working to improve the well-being of children and our young people.
It is a budget that underscores the principles of fairness and putting people first. It contains important measures that will give more Canadians the opportunity to participate fully and actively in the life of our country. This is not just a Liberal budget, it is a budget that we as Canadians can be proud of.
When our government took office in 1993, the nation's finances were in disarray. The deficit stood at $42 billion, unemployment was at 11.4 per cent and the very future of our social programs was under threat. What a difference four years have made. This year our deficit will be no higher than $19 billion and in 1998-99 our government will no longer need to borrow new money from our financial markets. In short, we are regaining our financial sovereignty.
The people of my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants have made sacrifices over the last few years in the name of deficit reduction. All Canadians have been made to do with less in terms of federal programs and services. Many of my constituents have reminded me that deficit reduction does have a human face. They have said: "If you cut programs indiscriminately, real people and families will suffer". That is why I am proud of our government's approach to deficit reduction. By moving at a responsible pace, we have dramatically reduced our deficit while preserving Canada's social safety net.
I have always seen our deficit reduction efforts as a means to a greater end. While we must continue to follow a path of fiscal prudence and responsibility, we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel. We now have a certain amount of flexibility to invest in the future of our people and in the future of Canada.
Let us take a moment to look at the troubling level of child poverty and how this impacts upon Canada. Last December I had the opportunity to participate in a prebudget debate in this House. At that time I joined with colleagues from all sides of the House in stating unequivocally that the rate of child poverty in Canada was unacceptably high.
Too many Canadian children are not getting the start they need to become healthy, happy and productive adults. This is not only a personal tragedy but is a loss for a nation as a whole. Our government is taking important steps to address these problems.
As the Minister of Finance announced in his remarks on Tuesday, our government is committed along with our provincial counterparts to a new cross-Canada child benefit system. We will increase federal spending on children by $850 million by July 1998. This includes $600 million of new money on top of the $250 million announced in last year's budget.
Under the new approach the new Canada child tax benefit will go to all eligible families, those working and those on welfare. That will allow provincial governments to take some of the money they currently spend on welfare and redirect it into the services and programs for working poor families, such as in the area of child
care. As the Minister of Finance also said in his budget speech, there can be no more worthy effort that a new partnership on behalf of Canada's children.
I also want to endorse our government's hundred million dollar commitment to two important programs. I am referring of course to the community action program for children and the prenatal nutritional program. I have seen firsthand the benefits of proactive early childhood health programs. I can say unequivocally that these programs are truly making a difference for children and families across Canada.
In the months leading up to the budget I worked closely with the Nova Scotia Association of Family Resource Projects in its effort to create greater awareness and understanding of the benefits of this type of programming. I brought its concerns to Ottawa and to this House. I am pleased that the government is responding to the needs of Canada's children.
I want to take the opportunity to thank all of those front line workers and volunteers who work so diligently to make these programs successful both in Annapolis Valley-Hants and in the communities across this country.
Our commitment to health care does not stop there. Our government will also provide $150 million over the next three years to help the provinces put in place projects that will enable them to test new ways in which our health system can be improved. Projects could include new approaches to home care, drug coverage and other innovations.
Prior to entering the field of politics my entire working life was spent in the health field. I know that health care ingenuity has excelled in my riding. I also know that when it comes to new ideas and better ways to deliver health care services the professionals and the citizens living and working in Annapolis Valley-Hants will rise to the forefront.
I would like now to turn for a moment to discuss the important topics of jobs and growth and particularly our efforts in rural Canada. Annapolis Valley-Hants, as the House knows, is predominately a rural riding. Those of us who live in rural communities face unique challenges as we work to preserve and enhance economic opportunities.
I was pleased therefore to listen to the Minister of Finance as he committed our government to ensure that rural Canada has every opportunity to fully participate in everything this government has to offer. Let me show some of the facts.
Our government is making a $50 million investment in the Farm Credit Corporation. We are investing $45 million over three years in the Canadian Tourism Commission. We are contributing an additional $30 million to the community access program. Our government is raising the ceiling under the Small Business Loans Act from $12 billion to $14 billion and we are reducing the paper burden for small businesses by allowing many of them to file quarterly reports rather than monthly reports.
This will greatly reduce their costs, their time burden and they will be able to hold their money longer.
All of these measures, combined with the initiatives such as the extension of the infrastructure program, the $350 million youth employment program and the extension of the residential rehabilitation assistance program, will effectively respond to the challenges facing rural Canada and allow for more innovation and growth, both in my riding and in communities and businesses across this country.
Knowledge and education are the key to long term economic success for any nation. This is again part of the infrastructure that we are investing into as government. Our government recognizes that by investing in education and innovation now we will see a tremendous payback over the long term.
Last November I attended a student rally at Acadia university in my riding. At this event many students told me that one of the greatest problems they faced was a growing personal debt burden. I brought these concerns back to Ottawa and joined with many of my colleagues here in addressing the question how to help students and families cope with the costs.
Our government has taken a number of important measures and as a result of this budget federal support for post-secondary education will increase by $137 million in 1997. We are doubling the annual contribution limits for the registered education savings plan. We have introduced provisions to allow students to carry forward unused education credits indefinitely. We are doubling the educational tax credit and we have extended interest relief on student loans for those who are unable to make their payments from 18 to 30 months.
As well, our government is establishing the Canada Foundation for Innovation. I belief this program is tailor made for Nova Scotians and institutions such as Acadia University, pharmaceutical companies and health institutions, all of which are in my riding. This program will help Canada's research infrastructure.
This budget builds on our previous efforts and sets a clear course for a brighter future. A course that will-