Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take part in this historical debate today. Before starting my remarks however, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker. I am convinced that, under your direction, the House of Commons will be run in such a way that the faith of the people of Canada in their government and in this institution will be restored.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Restigouche-Chaleur for their show of trust. I am grateful to them for renewing my mandate and I look forward to accomplishing great things with them in the years to come, not only for Restigouche-Chaleur, but also for Canada as a whole.
I want to thank the Minister of Finance for his speech this morning and for holding this debate. This kind of consultation reflects a major change in how power will be exercised under a Liberal regime as opposed to another one. I welcome such a change and hope that there will be many more debates like this one in the future.
A strong economy is the very foundation of a strong society. But how can we have a strong economy when we are facing numerous challenges as a nation and have many interconnected problems to resolve?
Soon after coming into power, this government took major steps relating to infrastructure and residential renovation. By the way, I would like to mention the excellent work my colleagues have done in quickly implementing these major programs.
Yet, much remains to be done. The federal debt and deficit are stifling this country's potential. I think that no one here can deny that. It is on the process of deficit reduction that we disagree.
I would like to remind the Minister of Finance of a few crucial words, and I quote: "Deficit reduction is not an end in itself. Its rationale is to improve productivity, real wages, and living standards of our children and their children. If the measures to cut deficits actually diminish GDP, raise unemployment, and reduce future oriented activities of government, business, and households, they do not achieve the goals that are their raison d'être: rather they retard them."
This quote is from Nobel prize winner James Tobin and appeared in the Liberal red book.
I urge the minister to take a balanced approach in reducing the deficit. The deficit cannot be further reduced on the backs of the middle class. Furthermore, any move toward further drastic expenditure cuts will undoubtedly lead to increased unemployment.
As part of a balanced approach the Minister of Human Resources Development began the process of renewing Canada's social safety net yesterday. Today's debate is an important step in renewing our budgetary process.
I would suggest to the minister that we take steps toward total tax reform. The GST did not bring balance to the Canadian tax system. Today the money that runs this government is coming in a disproportionate manner from the taxes paid by the middle class.
Over the course of the past decade the percentage of taxes paid by the middle class has risen dramatically while the taxes paid by corporations have declined. Moreover, the taxes paid on investment income have all but disappeared.
What kind of message is this sending to the Canadian public? It says that the most expensive way to make a living is to have a job working for someone else. It is time for everyone to pay their fair share of taxes. Corporations can no longer expect to gain from the numerous benefits of doing business in Canada without contributing to the system.
I would suggest that the minister take steps toward the institution of a minimum corporate tax. When one mentions a minimum corporate tax the business community cries that such a tax would make the cost of doing business in Canada unreasonable and therefore force it to relocate.
These are empty threats. Over half of the total untaxed profits in 1987 were derived from the top 145 corporations which reported annual profits of $106 million on average, while 2,000 firms earning on an average of $1 million accounted for 80 per cent of untaxed profits.
These companies are reporting profits, huge profits at that, and they refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.
I urge the minister to take steps to end this practice. A minimum level of taxation would go a long way toward resolving our deficit problems. May I add there are some individuals out here as well who pay no tax whatsoever and again we should look at making sure they pay their fair share of taxes as well.
I would also like to remind the minister that the big losers in this recession have been the very future of our nation, our youth.
The jobless rate among youth is unacceptably high. While some of the jobs lost by youth over the past few years have been recovered nearly 60 per cent of these new jobs were part time.
Our education programs must prepare our youth for the challenges that lie ahead. We must prepare them to face the 21st century. We must provide them not only with the knowledge and skills to meet the challenges that lie ahead, we must provide them with the hope of a better future.
The steps the government has made toward the formation of a youth apprenticeship program and a Canadian youth corps are important in this regard.
We must continue to increase the literacy and numeracy skills of our young people. We must work to ensure that there is increased co-operation between all levels of government and the establishment of national educational standards.
We must remember that our youth will be the driving force behind the economic recovery and we must provide them with the tools to effectively and successfully meet this challenge.
I realize that the Minister of Finance has been handed a difficult task. Expectations are high. I and the citizens of Restigouche-Chaleur understand that there are no easy solutions. We believe in a balanced approach, an approach that recognizes that the deficit must be reduced, but only in a manner that is compatible with putting Canadians back to work.
We believe in the evolution and renewal of our social programs so that they remain responsive to the needs of Canadians. We believe in major tax reform, a reform that sees fairness and equity as the basis of all future fiscal and monetary decisions by government.
Finally, we believe in our ability as a country to overcome our challenges and build an even better future.