Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate you again on your apppointment. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Scarborough-Centre.
I must confess that it is with some pride that I rise today in this House as the new Liberal member for Bourassa. You undoubtedly know that I lost three previous elections before winning on June 2. All those years of relentless efforts have earned me the nickname of Mr. Tenacity. My colleagues opposite will surely have the opportunity to find out why real soon, if they have not done so already.
Since June 2, the voters in Bourassa have, for the first time in four years, a real member of Parliament, a true federalist voice in the House of Commons, a good representative who will fight to protect their interests and express their viewpoints in Parliament.
So, my first words in this House will be for the voters of Bourassa. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for letting me live my dream, which is to represent them in the Parliament of Canada.
The taxpayers of the wonderful riding of Bourassa, in Quebec, have elected me to take part in the building of a strong Canada for the year 2000, a strong Canada for our children, a strong and united Canada proudly looking to the future. That is what I will be trying to achieve in the next four or five years.
Let me assure you that the mandate the people of Bourassa have given me is something near and dear to my heart and that I take it very seriously, because I am very much aware of my responsibilities and the trust these people have put in me.
It is in that spirit that I intend to contribute, in my limited capacity, to the reflection on the trust which must exist between the citizens and their elected representatives in a healthy democracy.
If I asked for the floor in this venerable House today, it is to talk about the priorities of our government. By the way, some of my colleagues on the other side of the House would do well to listen. They could learn how to go about taking this country beyond the year 2000.
The hon. members across the floor have frequently accused us of not going to the people with a book full of promises and undertakings to cure all the ills of Canada. Had we done so, nobody would have believed us and we would not have been re-elected with a majority, as we were on June 2.
Had we said that the federal government could solve all the problems, we would have been lying through our teeth. We chose to concentrate on a few clear, essential priorities we can deal with vigorously.
You probably recall the sorry state of the country's finances a mere four years ago. Need I remind you that within a single mandate, the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Paul Martin, did a tremendous job of turning things around? So much so that we will reach a balanced budget, a zero deficit, earlier than forecasted.
It is now possible to think about reinvesting in social programs. As a matter of fact, the government will increase its financial assistance to provinces beyond the budgeted level. We will introduce a bill that will bring up to $12.5 billion the guaranteed annual cash payments to provinces and territories within the framework of the Canada health and social transfer.
This is certainly good news for all Canadians. Interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, inflation is under control, the dollar is stable and investment is constantly increasing. Even consumers are starting to believe again in the strength of our economy, and this is a very good sign.
The good news as we are pulling out a difficult period of downsizing is that while putting our house in order to reduce our costs, we have also changed our methods and approaches in order to get better results. The reforms that we have initiated and that we are pursuing will allow us not only to save money, but also to get our money's worth, to pay for services that Canadians really need, in a flexible and efficient manner.
In short, we made all the changes needed to develop a less costly model, but also a more modern and efficient model. Now that the health of our public finances is progressively improving, we have to put forward an action plan for the future.
The Liberal government's action plan is based on our highest priority, employment, that is to make sure that this good health is also reflected in the quality of life of all our citizens. This is why we intend to intensify our efforts in the development of job opportunities, for young Canadians especially.
Our young people are enterprising, well educated and ready to take over from us and contribute to the development of Canada. We must ensure that conditions are such that they can find their place in the sun. It was to that end that, last week, the Prime Minister announced in this House the establishment of the millennium scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to young people.
In the years to come, our government will be spending $800 million to stimulate youth employment. That is positive, concrete action, not empty promises. With the economic indicators forecasting continued recovery in consumer spending, the basic conditions for the private sector to increase its hiring level are in place. But to get a job when jobs are increasingly specialized, one must first get appropriate training. Our government plans to focus its energies on that.
We are confident that we can work toward ensuring that as many Canadians as possible have the necessary skills to get the jobs opening up in high tech areas. The changes to employment insurance were designed with that in mind. It is also with that in mind and to demonstrate flexibility that we signed with the Government of Quebec an agreement ensuring that the management of training assistance is brought closer to the people concerned. This is proof that the federal system does work.
Finally, the changes we are thinking about making to the financial support to families are along the same lines. We intend to increase the federal government's contribution to the child tax credit by at least $850 million over the course of this mandate.
Let me conclude by summing up our priorities for the next four years. We are committed to building a prosperous country, through careful and responsible policies aimed at reducing underemployment and child poverty, and a healthy country that will remain healthy thanks to better organized health care services.
To these two main priorities I must add a third one, without which implementation of the other would be impossible.
Our third priority, therefore, is to promote national unity and it is also why we have picked the right way to go about it: deliver good, flexible, honest and effective government to all Canadians, government that stays the course during hard times, government that manages the public purse wisely and works to eliminate the deficit and the debt.
I am convinced that our government will approach the whole issue of national unity in a spirit of co-operation and partnership with the provinces. We will do everything it takes to make Canada a strong and united country.
The people of Bourassa, like all Quebeckers and all Canadians, want a federal system that works better and that meets their needs. During this term of office, I will personally and with pride promote Quebec's interests within the Liberal Party of Canada and campaign tirelessly for the French fact in this country.
Finally, and more particularly, our determination to serve our fellow Quebeckers well can be seen in our desire to take action to help the greater Montreal area make the transition to the new economy. Behind the statistics on unemployment and poverty, there is still lots of good news for the area's economy.
Throughout greater Montreal, there are business that are innovating, discovering new markets, and expanding; in a word, hiring. Better news yet: these businesses are not all in high tech sectors. Whether it be textiles, tourism, retail sales or home care, there are businesses doing well and hiring people.
Our government thinks that the best way to offset job losses in slower growth areas is to encourage the creation of more new jobs in emerging sectors.
We have already invested heavily in research support and infrastructure renewal, and we intend to continue our role of supporting and jump starting the Montreal economy in the years to come.
Change, prosperity, responsibility, flexibility and honesty; this is the best guarantee of a united Canada where Quebeckers like myself can be proud to be what they are: full-fledged Canadians.