Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in this debate and to focus on health care. I would like to say to my friends from the fifth party who are dispensing advice on the budget that it is like learning fire prevention from an arsonist.
Given the fact that they left us with a $42 billion deficit, I cannot really believe that we can take some of their comments very seriously. I would point out to members of the fifth party when they talk about 1995 levels that we are talking not about borrowed money. This $11.5 billion is not borrowed money. I ask members to keep that in mind.
This government has continued to build on the strong fiscal foundation that was first started in 1993. Our economic house was in a serious state of disrepair. Our financial house was sinking with a $42 billion deficit, unemployment which had gone through the roof and investor confidence that was sluggish. The government rolled up its sleeves and presented to Canadians the state of our financial affairs. Canadians rallied to the cause. They understood that large deficits and astronomical debt would cripple Canada for generations to come.
Governing means that one has to establish priorities and has to work with all sectors of society to rebuild our economy. The 1999 budget continues to build on the sound and prudent fiscal management that the Minister of Finance has put into place over the past five years.
Canadians embraced the deficit reduction strategies of the government. Together we have been able to eliminate the deficit, bring in two balanced budgets and forecast two more balanced budgets. In 1998-99 Canada will balance the books or better. It is the first time since 1951-52 that the government has been deficit free for two consecutive years.
The Government of Canada has recorded four consecutive balanced budgets, which is only the third time since Confederation. Canada is the only G-7 nation to do so with a strong fiscal discipline to help Canada get into a position to focus again on the priorities that matter to Canadians.
Today I would like to focus on one of those priorities and that is health care. Investing in Canadians and in the future of health care is the cornerstone of this budget. Our publicly funded health care system is one of the key elements that defines our identity. Canadians point with pride to this particular social program. It is a policy that has helped to shape our quality of life as a nation.
Canadians have been increasingly worried about the future of health care. They are worried that this comprehensive program will not be there when they need it. Canadians told us that they want a health care system that will be able to meet the needs and the challenges of the 21st century.
The Canadian government, working in partnership with the provinces and territories and the volunteer sector, provides leadership in developing policies, enforcing health regulations, promoting disease prevention, enhancing healthy living and in strengthening and securing our health care system.
The government provides funding for provincial and territorial health systems throughout Canada through the health and social transfer, the CHST. This budget provided the largest single new investment in health care, $11.5 billion over five years for the health of Canadians. Again, it was not borrowed money.
In addition to these increased transfers this budget injected $1.4 billion over three years into a number of important health initiatives.
The recent federal, provincial and territorial health agreement reaffirmed all government support for the five principles of the Canada Health Act: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration.
This budget provides through future increases in the CHST $8 billion, an additional $3.5 billion as an immediate one time supplement that the provinces will have the flexibility to draw down on according to their needs, according to their own priorities.
For provinces like Ontario this budget proposes to eliminate provincial disparities of CHST allocation over the next three years. The provinces will then receive identical per capita CHST entitlements.
Further, investments in the health of Canadians this year and over the next three years include developing and improving health information systems to assist in establishing a more integrated, effective and appropriate system of health care.
In a round table I had in my riding last year on this with the Minister of Health, that was the very important issue that was brought to the fore. I am very pleased to see the minister responding in this way.
Areas of other investment include the Canadian institutes for health information, the Canadian health network, the Canadian healthy infoway and Health Canada information, improving accountability.
If we examine the Canadian health network as an example, this network will provide Canadians with one stop shopping for credible, current information on health promotion and disease, prevention, self-care and the performance of the health system.
In my riding of Oak Ridges hospitals such as York Central Hospital and Markham—Stouffville Hospital will benefit from these initiatives.
In fast growing communities like Richmond Hill, the tools have been given to address issues related to the ever increasing demands on our health care system.
York Central Hospital has told me that the federal budget is indeed good news, that it is a positive step that will help it relieve the increasing pressures to meet the growing health care needs of our rapidly growing community.
I point out, as did the member for Don Valley East, that the health care budget is a step in the right direction on a long term approach to working with our partners, the provincial and municipal governments, on one of the causes of homelessness.
Many people who live with mental illness are homeless because they were discharged from institutions like hospitals. By targeting health care in this budget, by providing the provinces with more money for health, we are dealing with this issue.
I congratulate the Minister of Finance for listening to Canadians and for providing the necessary dollars to make sure we continue to have the best health care system in the world.