Madam Speaker, I join in the debate knowing that we are marking a very important moment financially for the country and for the economy. I want to speak to that right off the bat. I want to speak to the balanced budget and what it means. I want to use the opportunity to speak very clearly on what it is exactly that we are dealing with.
I join with all of those who look at the balanced budget and say bravo. Bravo, it is a good thing for the country to have a balanced budget. There is not a member in the House who would not agree with that.
However, I also want to make very clear why we have a balanced budget and recognize the soldiers on the front lines, Canadian citizens: low income citizens, those on a fixed incomes who have no choice but to pay heavily in income taxes. I also recognize the contribution of other levels of government.
If the federal Minister of Finance was in a room with the ministers of finance from the provincial governments, I doubt he would be patting himself on the back in the same way without having a very red face when saying to the provincial ministers of finance “I have balanced the budget”. I think the answer that would come across the table would be “You what? No, no, no. I do not think you balanced the budget. Canadians did but you did it on our backs by cutting in health care and education”. That is what happened here. As they do that they would also recognize that we have done our share.
This has been an almost 15 year effort. The government I was part of started that effort. This government has benefited a great deal from a lot of these policies. History may record that the current Prime Minister leads the Liberal Party of Canada, but he certainly embraced the policies of the Progressive Conservative Party.
I look at this result and say bravo. How we got there is another issue, and I want to talk about that. I also want to say that there is some disappointment. One thing the Minister of Finance could have done yesterday is send a message of growth for the economy and hope for Canadians. I thought he would have done that by delivering broad based tax cuts.
We now have the answer. The path is set. Broad based tax relief is off the table and spending is back.
This is a budget of death bed repentances. Government members were forced to reverse a number of its key policy initiatives of the first mandate. This is a budget with no economic plan. There is no plan for growth, no targets for employment, no targets for job creation, no targets for tax reduction, no targets for debt reduction.
There is a target, though. I thought it was actually an ironic target. The only one they put out was a news release for the Bank of Canada yesterday. Guess what target they were able to agree on.
Was it one of their targets? No. I will read the press release. The second paragraph says that targets for reducing inflation were adopted in February 1991 by the previous government and in December 1993 the government and the Bank of Canada agreed to extend the targets. Of course history will record that the Liberal Party of the day criticized loudly the government of the day for having set that target.
Then they go on to say how low inflation is such a great thing. What else is new?
That target has been set, but there is no target in terms of debt. There are no targets in terms of employment. In fact, the government abandoned the practice of actually projecting what unemployment rates would be. I do not think it has the courage to tell the truth and to live up to that test.
This has to be the first government on record, by the way, record that I know of that is in a mad rush in the first year of its mandate to spend money. Most governments in the first year make the tough decisions on reducing spending and then try to ease them toward an election campaign with a little less pressure on the purse.
In that caucus, to give an indication of the mindset, they are in a mad rush to spend money right away. Quite appropriately today is Ash Wednesday and yesterday we were treated to a Mardi Gras of spending in the budget.
The budget has lost sight of a number of the fundamental needs of Canadians. The government likes to talk about the fundamentals in the economy and to say that the fundamentals are right.
Let me share some of the fundamentals on Main Street Canada; some of the fundamentals of Amherst, Nova Scotia; some of the fundamentals that my colleague from St. John's hears about in Saint John, New Brunswick, or in Brandon, Manitoba; and some of the fundamentals in Markham, Ontario, or in Granby, Quebec.
These are some of the fundamentals that we hear about. Canada has the highest personal income taxes among the G-7 nations. The disposable income of Canadians has dropped 1.3% since 1993 but the federal government's revenues for personal income taxes have increased 23% in the same period. The real personal per capita income is more than $4,400 higher in the United States than in Canada.
I hesitate to say that in the presence of the young page who is here. He is probably planning to move to the United States as he hears that.
Personal and business bankruptcies have reached record levels under the Liberals. Unemployment in Canada is double that of the United States. That is one of the fundamentals of the Liberal government.
We have the continuing tragedy of high unemployment for young Canadians with 400,000 young Canadians out of work. These are the fundamentals that we do not hear about, not in this place, not by this government. We only hear about them every day in Asbestos, Quebec. We hear about them in Pictou County but we do not hear about them here.
It is a government that also continued to waste a billion dollars to buy out a GST deal with Liberal governments in Atlantic Canada, a billion dollars to save face. It spent almost a billion dollars on Pearson airport, and $500 million on a helicopter deal was wasted, down the drain. All this was to save face politically. It is a government of deathbed repentances that is now trying to fill in the holes it has dug for itself.
In the last Parliament it cut transfers to the provinces by 40%. Colleagues from the other parties will remember that as the Prime Minister looked the electorate in the whites of their eyes, his government suddenly discovered that it should back up a bit and cut the transfers to 35% instead. The cost of that was dramatic. By the way did it cut Ottawa? No. Spending in Ottawa has been cut by less than 2%. As the government reacquainted itself with the electorate, the cuts nonetheless go on.
Today in the House of Commons we talked about health care. The bottom line and the truth about health care are reflected in the numbers from the Department of Finance on cash transfers for health, education and social assistance. Let me quote the numbers from the Department of Finance.
What does this budget mean for the province of Nova Scotia in particular? In fiscal year 1997-98 Nova Scotia will receive $427 million in cash transfers; the next year in 1998-99, $425 million; in 1999-2000, $422 million; in 2000-01, $418 million, in 2001-02, $415 million; 2002-03, $411 million in cash transfers.
I can only imagine that people in Nova Scotia must have been bewildered yesterday when they heard the Liberal premier, Russell MacLellan say that this was the best budget in 20 years. Surely he must have sounded a little funny because the Liberal minister of finance in New Brunswick actually denounced the budget. The Liberal minister of finance in Newfoundland and Labrador denounced the budget. The minister of finance in P.E.I. denounced the budget. The minister of finance in Ontario did the same, as did the minister of finance in Quebec.
Why does Russell MacLellan who is running in an election campaign as the Liberal candidate, the ambassador of the Liberal government in Nova Scotia, say that it is the best budget in 20 years? I say to Mr. MacLellan, please get off your knees. Start representing and defending the interests of the people of Nova Scotia. Since he cannot do that, John Hamm will do it instead.
I will give an example of the Liberal cynicism of this budget. Page 13 states: “Today we are announcing the largest single investment ever made by the federal government to support access to post-secondary education for all Canadians”. The Liberals forgot to say that this was preceded by the biggest ever cut in post-secondary education.
And what is the consequence? Do not believe me. I will quote from a well-known document by this government: “In 1990, only eight years ago, the average debt load after a four year program was $13,000. By next year it will have almost doubled to $25,000. At the beginning of this decade, fewer than 8% of borrowers had debts larger than $15,000”—and if I remember correctly, at the beginning of the decade a Progressive Conservative government was in power—“now almost 40% do”.
Who said that? The Minister of Finance said that. There it is, the Liberal record. Even the Liberals cannot hide from the facts. This is the sad record of a government that has lost sight of priorities.
I would like to know how we got there. The government is also announcing a millennium scholarship program that will not be implemented until the new millennium—in two years' time—while students are facing an unprecedented debt load.
Furthermore, as the Prime Minister acknowledged in the House today, main purpose of this program is not to help students but to increase government visibility. To be quite honest, I have nothing against the federal government's visibility. I am a federalist. I am proud to be a federalist. I am a Quebecker and proud to be one. That does not bother me, I am happy the federal government gets the credit it deserves when it makes its contribution, on behalf of taxpayers, of course.
However, when visibility becomes the prime objective, we have to say that they are turning an issue all too important to our society into a political football. I find that a disappointment. I would really like to know where the Minister of Finance was when he made these cuts to education and health care. Suddenly he wakes up, and the issue becomes important.
The best consequence, the most important one was noted by a woman named Sherry Cooper from the investment firm Nesbitt Burns. She made a very common sense remark, which will surprise you with its simplicity and truth. She said “What is the point of investing all that money in education and information if students earning their diploma head off to the United States to work because of high taxes here”?
What is the point? We have to ask that hard question. What is the point of investing in education and training if the students who graduate, because of high taxes and because of lower pay, leave Canada to work in the United States?
Apparently the Prime Minister will be in New York next week, hosted by a prestigious New York club. I can only assume it is to thank him. I can see it now. They will say “Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for everything you are doing for the United States. We cannot tell you how much we appreciate your paying for the education of these young people and keeping your taxes high and your productivity low so that these young people will come to the United States to work for us. We think it is the best thing you could have done for us. Thank you very much”. That will be the message.
That tells us what is wrong with the government. I do not think its members realize the consequences which their lack of understanding has.
The government has also been cynical in the way it has turned the budget into a game. Now we are in the game of underestimating the revenues and overestimating expenditures.
The government is digging its hands deeper into the pockets of Canadians. How is it doing that? By deindexing the tax rolls it is able to get billions more in revenue from Canadians. The government does it insidiously. It says “We do not increase taxes, we just take more money from you”. It is all a technicality. It is called bracket creep.
All of a sudden we are supposed to have a surplus, but it is well hidden. The government even in the millennium fund cannot come clean. It has booked the money this year. In other words, it says to the indebted students “Pay this year. You will not benefit from it, but in two years from now the fund will kick in”. That is something the government did with the innovation fund, which has been largely denounced by the auditor general.
This government lacks transparency in the area of employment insurance. The auditor general criticized them for using employment insurance to reduce the deficit, when the system was not set up for this purpose.
I would point out that in the budget the government boasts of reducing all taxes by $7 billion over three years. Yet this same government is taking $6 billion annually out of taxpayers' pockets. To my knowledge, this is the only government to establish an unemployment plan for Canadians. They create more unemployment, raise taxes, tax employment insurance and create unemployment. That is what their policies do.
When they are asked to reduce contributions, they say “No, that does not work. It will not create real employment”. And yet, in the budget, they are doing just that for people between the ages of 18 and 24, for two years only. When they are asked why, it is “to create employment”.
If it works for young people aged 18 to 24, would it not work for people aged 45 or 55? Why not do it for everyone who wants a job, since unemployment is too high in Canada? No. They believe only in minor measures, always in order to save face.
My party believes that it is time for Canada to get a strong plan for growth in our economy. We need to get our foot off the brake. What this means for us is lowering taxes. Lowering taxes by reducing EI premiums by about a third so we can create more jobs. Lowering taxes by increasing the basic exemption for Canadians to $10,000 so we can allow lower income Canadians to earn more and buy more of the essential goods they need.
The 3% surtax should be eliminated completely. The government said “We have taken it off for the poor”, but the middle class is still being hit. If there is one victim of this government and this budget it is Canada's middle class. They are getting whacked to the tune of billions of dollars. They are not going to get a break.
This is a government which had a great opportunity to launch us onto a new path, to close the chapter on deficits, but also to start us on a new path. It should have set a target for debt reduction so that we are able to measure our performance, so that we are able to live in a political environment where we can go to our neighbours and say “Together we need to limit spending, to keep it under control. If we do we will meet a specific target. When we get there we will be able to reduce taxes further”. If we create that kind of a political environment we will all increase our chances of succeeding. Those should have been hard lessons learned in this budget.
Our party firmly believes that we need this plan for economic growth and that this budget is more than just about numbers. It is about values, it is about the choices we make. It is not good enough to shift the numbers around.
Some parties would say they would put more money into education, but then they would cut equalization. The position we have taken is that there should be more money put into education by building a new deal with provincial governments so that there is a health care guarantee for all Canadians, so that we can leave provincial governments alone.
I feel for the people of Nova Scotia today. I feel for the people of New Brunswick. I feel for the people in Yarmouth. I was with my colleague from Kings—Hants during the election campaign. Together we visited a hospital wing that was completely closed. Now the government is saying to the people in Nova Scotia there will be more cuts in the next few years. This is wrong. We need to change our priorities.
We believe in a plan for strong economic growth in this country. As we do that we can reallocate priorities. We can put the emphasis on education, health and guaranteed services to Canadians. It requires the political will, the vision and the foresight to make it happen, something that was not part of this budget, I am sorry to say.
I want to close by putting to the House, through unanimous consent, a subamendment to the amendment proposed by our Reform colleagues. This was put to our colleagues before. I hope today that they will see clear to offer some consent to a very useful amendment that would allow all members of this House to rise and vote democratically and take a position on this.
The subamendment we would put to the House for a vote, which we hope all parties would agree with and would give consent to would be:
That the amendment be modified by deleting the word “and” after the words “tax hikes” and adding after the words “tax relief” the following words “it continues to tax low income Canadians earning less then $10,000, it does not set specific targets for reducing the national debt, and it continues to tax Canadians by stealth, by refusing to index income tax brackets”.
Madam Speaker, you have heard the amendment to the motion. We feel that all members in this House would probably be glad to have an opportunity to rise in their place and speak on this and to vote on it. We actually anticipate enthusiastic consent so that we can all speak on this.