Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against the motion. Like the hon. member for Markham, I find the content of the motion of the official opposition to be somewhat interesting.
The first position calls for moving resources “from low and falling priorities”. My question to the House is straightforward, strikes to the very heart of why I am opposed to the motion and is why I want everyone to reject the motion. My question is simple: Whose priorities are we talking about? Since the motion was tabled by the member for Calgary Southeast and seconded by the member for Edmonton--Strathcona, I assume we are talking about the priorities of the Canadian Alliance Party.
If the motion were to be accepted here today, here is a sample of some of the priorities, some of the programs, that would be headed for the chopping block: our government's programs to assist all aboriginal Canadians; many of the initiatives recently announced by the Minister of the Environment; many of the programs tabled to assist low income families; programs to increase the economic growth and economic diversification of our regions; programs to increase R and D spending by businesses and the application by businesses to innovation; and yes, programs that assist rural Canadians. These are only a sample of the programs that may be of low priority for the Canadian Alliance Party and would be at risk if the motion were allowed to pass.
My response, Mr. Speaker, is to assure you that unquestionably these issues are high priorities for the government, high priorities for the people in my riding, high priorities in the province I come from and high priorities for Canadians from coast to coast.
Regarding the statement in the motion calling for the sale of “non-core assets”, I want to remind the House that in the mid-1990s the government went through an extensive and exhaustive program to review and rationalize government services and programs. This was necessitated by the policies and mismanagement of the previous Conservative government. What was and is left are the core programs, core assets and core services that are required by all Canadians. Under the leadership of our Prime Minister and our Minister of Finance, the government has done an excellent job of managing the finances of the country.
If we forget the mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them. The mistakes I am talking about are the fiscal and economic policies that were practised prior to this government being elected in 1993. At that time, as everyone in this House is aware, the annual deficit was reaching $42 billion. Unemployment was approximately 11%. Our debt to GDP ratio was 73% and interest rates were substantially higher than they are today.
Over the past seven or eight years, all Canadians from coast to coast have benefited from the policies, the programs and the tough decisions made by the government. We have now, as everyone is aware, had three years of consecutive surpluses, $35 billion has been paid toward our debt, unemployment has been reduced to approximately 7% and our debt to GDP ratio, if we accept recently reported figures in the media, is now less than 50%.
As has been said here today, there is no question that we are in an economic slowdown. This slowdown started as early as May of this year. Not only is it being experienced here in Canada, but throughout the world. We must be mindful that we will always be subject to the business cycle. We can no more stop the business cycle than we can stop the tides from coming in and going out, but because of the sound policies of the government our economic and financial fundamentals are strong. Because of the strength of our economic fundamentals, we are in a much better position to deal with the economic slowdown.
What the country needs now, and I am talking about consumers, businesses and investors, is confidence, the confidence that the government has a plan, is prepared to act and will act. The market rejects uncertainty and punishes governments that convey the message they do not know what to do under the circumstances or do know what to do but are not prepared to do it.
If there has been any time in the history of our country when we needed a steady hand on the throttle, that time is now. To retain and enhance the level of confidence that is now needed, I urge the finance minister to of course reject the motion and stay the course that he is on right now; deal with the security issues that have to be dealt with; try to avoid a deficit; provide all Canadians with the level of security that is required; retain the consistency that the minister has shown in the past eight years in pursuing sound fiscal and monetary policies; keep spending under control; and, as he has done since being appointed to the ministry, let prudence be his guide.
In the strongest of terms, I urge the Minister of Finance to disregard the wording of the motion, to disregard the policies and programs of the Canadian Alliance Party and to continue on the very same path he is on right now.
Specifically, I urge the Minister of Finance to allocate sufficient funds to be used for the security of our nation. I am talking about security in a physical and economic sense. Second, I urge the minister to provide funding so as to enable the government to properly manage the country's borders so that these borders are secure while at the same time allowing for the free flow of goods and services.
I urge the Minister of Finance to continue the $100 billion in tax cuts announced last year. These tax cuts, coupled with the interest rate reductions announced by the Governor of the Bank of Canada, will provide the necessary fiscal stimulus to get us over the slowdown.
I urge the Minister of Finance to continue with the increased health care funding that he also announced last year. This is the number one issue on the minds of all Canadians and it must be continued.
I urge the Minister of Finance to continue with the innovation agenda of the government. I realize that some programs may have to be postponed, given current circumstances. Nevertheless, the message has to be conveyed that these initiatives are still very high on the agenda of the government.
In closing, let me say that the motion contains policies of the Canadian Alliance that have been rejected many times by the people of this country. I urge, in the strongest of terms, the Minister of Finance and everyone in the House to reject the motion.