Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint John wondered where the 31 other Atlantic members were to speak on this budget. I am one of those members and I am proud to support this budget.
It is a very fair budget. It is a budget that responds to the needs of Canada, including Atlantic Canada. It is a budget that will build a strong foundation for future growth in Atlantic Canada and it is the budget that does what nine years of Tory government failed to do, which is the reason why it only has one member from Atlantic Canada in the House of Commons and only one other member in the House of Commons.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget that was tabled on Monday. My remarks will come from two perspectives, as my experience as chair of the House of Commons committee which recently carried out extensive public hearings across Canada on the future of Canada's social programs and as an Atlantic Canadian.
For many, perhaps most of the hundreds of Canadians who appeared before our committee last fall, this budget and what would happen to social programs and to the historic federal commitment to social programs as a result of the growing preoccupation with the deficit was very much on their minds.
Many witnesses expressed suspicion that the comprehensive review of the social security system in Canada which they acknowledged was necessary was nevertheless being used as a smoke screen to slash spending on social programs as a way for the government to achieve its deficit targets.
They wondered about the choice of programs that were being included in this review. Why was the government not focusing more on tax expenditures, in particular about tax breaks to wealthy Canadians and corporations? Should they not be made to shoulder their fair share of the task of deficit reduction?
The report of the human resources development committee which I tabled in this House on February 6 paid careful attention to these concerns and had some specific recommendations for the Minister of Finance to consider as he prepared his budget.
In particular, we urged him to ensure that the balance of deficit reduction measures in his budget addressed the issue of tax fairness in Canada. As well, we urged the government to proceed with the reform of social programs as part of its jobs and growth agenda.
The country's difficult fiscal situation only makes the need to address the accumulated problems which have occurred in our social security system more and not less urgent. We did not say that there should never be any reduction in social spending in Canada. That would have been unrealistic in the current fiscal climate. What we did say was that savings in this area should be achieved as part of a fundamental, comprehensive reform to the system of social security in Canada.
It is one that would respond to today's social security needs like addressing the pressing problem of child poverty, fostering the kind of life long learning culture that will support employment and assist Canadians to find the kind of well paying jobs that have a future in this country and, most important, by stabilizing the overall finances of the federal government by removing the distortions and the disincentives that have grown up around government programs that have been built with the best of intentions for another era and by focusing the resources and the energies of government to those areas where government is best placed to be effected. In short, by getting government right.
The Government of Canada can provide the leadership and the fiscal framework needed to ensure that the social security system and the programs which Canadians across this country told the committee they were so proud of and were so necessary and so much defined our country would be preserved and enhanced for the future.
Does the budget that was released on Monday respond to the concerns of Canadians as reported by a committee? In large measure I believe it does. The committee urged the government to balance efforts to reduce the deficit with measures to promote tax fairness. This budget does that. For example, there are no increases to general income taxes, yet measures are taken to ensure that taxes that are owed are paid.
The large corporations tax is increased by 12.5 per cent and the existing corporations surtax from 3 to 4 per cent. In addition, banks and other large deposit taking institutions will pay a tax on capital, raising $100 million between now and October 1996.
The budget takes dead aim at the system of family trusts. All tax advantages that flow from the establishment of family trusts will be eliminated. The infamous amendment to the so-called 21-year rule that was introduced by the previous government to allow the wealthy to shelter tax through family trusts will be repealed.
In addition, the budget adopts a specific recommendation of the committee that would open up tax expenditures as well as direct expenditures of government to regular parliamentary scrutiny.
With the budget the government reaffirms its commitment to reform of the social security in Canada not as a reckless exercise in slashing programs but as an orderly and thoughtful process of renewal in full partnership with the provinces and in consultation with Canadians.
This budget makes no immediate cuts to the principle elements of the social safety net. What further spending cuts occur only begin in 1996-97 and then only once a framework for a renewed and reformed unemployment insurance system and the implementation of the Canada social transfer are fully in place. These reductions are less than the reductions that have been made in other areas of government. The social programs will have more room in a government which is more rationalized and where the fiscal part of the government is more organized.
The consolidation of the Canada assistance plan and the established program finance transfers into a uniformed block transfer to the provinces follow in the spirit of the committee's reports which recommended that the Canada assistance plan be made into a block transfer in order to give the provinces more flexibility and in order to design reformed and renewed ways of helping people who are on social assistance provide basic supports for their families, also to enhance their access to the job market.
In addition to that the committee also recommended that there be an enhanced effort toward working with the provinces to enhance the child tax credit, working income supplement and other measures that would be made in order to work together to provide more assistance to poor families with children.
In addition, the redesign of the unemployment insurance program announced with this budget is also something that is absolutely necessary. Our committee recommends ways in which the unemployment insurance program can be redesigned and rebuilt in order to foster employability, in order to promote
lifelong learning, in order to allow Canadians to have access to the supports they need to get the jobs of the future.
As an Atlantic Canadian, particularly one who comes from a region where unemployment insurance and other social programs are a very important part and preoccupation, I know they realize there must be changes to this program in order to help Canadians get into the workforce and to help our people relinquish their dependence that has grown on unemployment insurance.
If we as Atlantic Canadians can participate in a renewed unemployment insurance system or an employment insurance system, which is really what it is all about, we could help to create a better foundation for our economy in Atlantic Canada, creating the kinds of jobs we need to have in order to have a stable future there.