Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to say a few words about the 1996 budget, the government's third budget.
In October 1993 when the Liberal government took over from the Conservatives, the country's deficit and debt situation was out of control and swift decisive action was needed. The deficit had to be reduced and the role and priorities of the government had to be clarified.
Steps were taken immediately to get the country back on track. A comprehensive review of all federal government programs and services was launched. As a result of that review, some programs have been eliminated, others have been cut and still others have been transferred.
By the end of the 1998-99, program review measures will have reduced program expenditures by $9 billion. In that reduction process, however, the government is being careful.
Protecting the most vulnerable is paramount. Better targeting of spending is crucial. While the government is reducing overall
spending, it has at the same time identified its core role and refocused its resources on priority areas.
I am pleased to note that the needs of the aboriginal people have been identified as a government priority. Accordingly, while aboriginal programs are experiencing some reductions, they are comparatively few compared to other areas of government spending.
In this regard, I am also happy to say that the government has decided to maintain the food mail program, which is very important to the health and well-being of northerners. Under this program, the government funds the transportation of nutritious, perishable foods to isolated communities. Without this program, most people could not afford a healthy, nutritious diet. I am pleased that the government has recognized the importance of this program to the future health and well-being of northerners.
Securing the future of Canadians is the main theme of the 1996 budget. Investing in the future is another major theme. The jobs and growth initiatives of the budget focus on youth employment opportunities, technology and trade. Protecting the most vulnerable is another key feature of the budget.
The 1996 budget contains some good measures for families, particularly low income families. It provides more support for children, youth, women and the elderly. There are no tax increases in this budget. Affordable, accessible social programs are being ensured.
Support for seniors is being maintained and support for low income seniors is being enhanced. Pensions are being protected. Under the new seniors benefit to be introduced in 2001, guaranteed income supplement recipients will get an additional $120 a year. The spouses allowance will be increased by $120 a year. Seniors will only have to apply once when they turn 65, although they will have to continue submitting annual income tax returns.
Support for children is being ensured. New child support awards after May 1, 1997 will not be considered as income of the recipient for tax purposes. The age limit for the child care expense deduction is being increased to 16 years from 14 years.
Support for low income families is being increased. The working income supplement under the child tax credit will be increased from $500 to $750 in July 1997 and to $1,000 in July 1998.
The budget contains additional support for youth education and jobs with an additional $165 million over three years through the tax system to help students and their families deal with the costs of education.
Single parents will now be eligible for the same child care expense deductions as are available to couples. High school students will now be eligible for the child care deduction.
There will be an additional $315 million over three years to help create youth employment opportunities, in addition to existing youth internship and youth service Canada funding. Some of the funds will go to summer jobs. Funds for 1996-97 student summer employment are doubled to $120 million.
There is more help regarding the information highway. Every school and library in Canada will be connected by 1998 and more rural communities will also be connected.
Federal transfers to provinces and territories for health, post-secondary education and social assistance, the Canada health and social transfer, will be secure, stable and will grow.
The budget also contains some cuts. While the budget's positive measures will benefit my constituents, they are also being asked to assume some of the restraint in areas of direct concern to them. Spending on Indian and Inuit programs is being restrained. The increase in growth of spending will be reduced.
The changes to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation also affect my constituency. The budget indicates that CMHC is getting out of social housing except for housing on Indian reserves. Provincial and territorial governments are being offered the opportunity to take over the management of existing social housing resources.
I would like to say a little more about the housing situation in my constituency. There has been no ongoing funding for new social housing units since 1993. For the Government of the Northwest Territories, the decision by the former Conservative government to discontinue funding new social housing units meant a reduction of $47 million. The Government of the Northwest Territories has been unable to replace the $47 million lost in 1993, yet it spends more of its budget on housing than any other jurisdiction in Canada.
Housing need in the NWT is severe. In recognition of this fact, in October 1994 the federal government announced a special one-year strategic housing initiative for northern and remote communities. Seventeen million dollars was made available for emergency housing needs in northern Canada. The NWT was allocated $9.5 million of this amount.
The assistance was gratefully received, but there are still major outstanding needs, particularly among aboriginal people. Twenty-five per cent of northern NWT households are in need. This is the highest proportion of households in need in any Canadian jurisdic-
tion. Over 87 per cent of the NWT households in core need are aboriginal people.
In the NWT aboriginal people make up nearly 98 per cent of the social housing client base. There is only one reserve in the Northwest Territories and the Inuit do not live on reserves at all. Therefore, assistance for housing on reserves does not benefit the vast majority of aboriginal people in the NWT This fact is important for members of this House to understand.
Most Indian and all Inuit people of the Northwest Territories do not qualify for the department of Indian affairs' housing program because they do not live on reserves. Housing assistance for aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories comes through the NWT government, so any cuts to NWT housing mean cuts to aboriginal housing.
Most communities in the NWT are almost totally dependant on government for shelter. Aboriginal people have moved off the land into permanent communities only during the last 30 to 40 years. There has never been enough housing in the NWT to adequately house all the people requiring shelter.
In addition, the NWT population is young and is growing rapidly. The birth rate in the NWT is almost twice the national average. Forty-one per cent of NWT children under the age of 12 are living in overcrowded conditions. This negatively affects their health, social development and school performance.
In conclusion, housing remains an area of great concern to me and all northerners. I continue to urge the federal government and the territorial government to work together to address the serious housing needs of northern aboriginal people.