Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today in support of the government's economic action plan. This budget will be a test of political maturity. Canadians have been watching with great interest and quite literally praying that we parliamentarians get it right.
This budget is a test of our Conservative government. It is also a test of the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP. More important, it is a test of minority government itself.
What is the standard against which we are being tested? What do Canadians want? How will we know whether we have passed?
Two results are important to Canadians. First and foremost, Canadians want us to work together. Second, we must respond competently to the worldwide economic slowdown. If we do not work together, we will be incapable of any response whatsoever.
We will not succeed if we insist upon a mean-minded lack of trust. If we harbour grudges over past disagreements, if we refuse to even listen to one another, that will be picking up one's marbles and storming off home, and Canadians will recognize that for what it is. We also will not succeed if we play power games, if we all try to be king of the hill, if we insist that this budget must be exactly what we want.
My community of Kitchener has a pioneering tradition of conflict resolution. As a lawyer for almost 30 years I have learned that a good compromise is one where everybody feels disappointed. If any party in the House thinks it will get everything it wants in the budget, then it has failed the test.
Ironically, that is why minority government fails the test. Many good ideas that would serve our country well cannot be pursued because they will offend one party or another. Despite the luck of one or two minority governments 45 years ago, good ideas succeed more in spite of minority governments than because of them.
My favourite example is the abolition of the anti-democratic state funding of some but not all political parties. This excludes many people who would like an equal voice in our politics, but I know that this democratic reform will not pass in this minority government. Therefore, I am glad that the Prime Minister had the political maturity to take it off the table.
Has our government passed the test in this economic action plan? Resoundingly yes. Has our government set aside some good ideas because they were not acceptable to the opposition? Of course. Has our government incorporated some ideas that some of us might have wished not to? Of course.
The government is not going into this by ignoring what our parliamentary partners and others have had to say. We are not trying to be king of the hill. That is not what Canadians want. The government has listened.
This plan is the product of greater consultation than any other in Canadian history. The government consulted with over 680 groups. There were 84 ministerial trips across Canada to gather input. Opposition leaders and first ministers were consulted. Over 70 formal round tables were held to solicit ideas. We heard from business, labour, taxpayer groups, farmers, the auto sector, and the list goes on and on.
The Minister of Finance conducted an electronic consultation with over 7,200 online submissions and over 5,400 emails and letters.
In my own riding I held two round tables jointly with the hon. members for Kitchener—Conestoga and Kitchener—Waterloo. I also held one public meeting with the citizens of Kitchener Centre alone.
A number of New Democratic Party members accepted my invitation to make presentations at our public meeting and their ideas were forwarded by me to the Minister of Finance. Some, like extended EI benefits, more retraining opportunities and greater tax breaks for the working poor, have been incorporated into this budget.
This economic action plan contains many ideas gathered through such consultations, from investments in social housing, roads and bridges infrastructure to modest tax cuts. It includes measures to provide needed financing to businesses and to individuals.
This is an economic action plan to create opportunities for Canadians. Our plan will stimulate housing construction and provide support to business and communities. This budget will take action for aboriginals.
For the first time in Canadian history, southern Ontario, hard hit by this recession, will get an economic development agency to provide seed money for new job creation. This could be called Canada's first knowledge budget. It dedicates almost $4 billion to enhance post-secondary education and Canadian research. I am happy to say this includes $50 million for Waterloo region's world-class cutting-edge Institute for Quantum Computing.
All of this builds on our Conservative government's far-sighted planning over the last three years. Reducing the GST has provided ongoing stimulus that kept us out of a recession while all around us others were failing. Cutting business taxes kept us creating net new jobs. Paying down $37 billion of debt in just three years gives us room to manoeuvre now. Think of what that means. Even after this challenging year with a $34 billion deficit, Canada will still have less debt than when our Conservative government took office. Our economic plan responds to global economic turmoil that worsened so quickly it was referred to as gale forces by the deputy chief economist at BMO.
Since this October, every private forecaster has been amending their forecasts downward almost every week. If any party pretends that it saw this much difficulty coming this quickly, it is kidding the public and Canadians will see right through it. If any party pretends that these problems were created by our Conservative government, it is kidding the public and Canadians will see right through it. If any party pretends that it could have produced solutions more quickly than this action plan in this complex time, it is kidding the public and Canadians will see right through it.
Is this plan completely agreeable to everyone's principles? No. Is it absolutely the best economic action plan that any government in a minority could produce? Resoundingly yes. Does this plan take action to protect Canadians? Resoundingly yes.
Our Conservative government has passed the test. The Liberal Party has also passed the test. Putting aside these humourous little jibes about being on probation, the Liberal Party has responded favourably to Conservative efforts. I respect the hon. opposition leader for admitting, “These measures stand to offer actual hope for actual Canadians”. I further agree with the hon. opposition leader in saying the political system did work. It would disappoint fans of the hon. opposition leader's eloquence to hear him try to claim credit for all the many good things in this budget.
If we all focus on the economy and on protecting Canadians, we can agree that this is not a Conservative budget, it is not a Liberal budget, it is not a coalition budget. This is a Canadian budget.
In my address in reply to the throne speech and on the fiscal update, I invited all hon. members to travel the path through this dark forest of economic peril together with a common focus on the needs and well-being of all Canadians. Through the skilful and generous leadership of our right hon. Prime Minister and the goodwill of the hon. leader of the official opposition, a majority of us have now put a foot on that path together.
I call on the remaining members of the House to join us in a noble consensus in these unprecedented times. It would make all Canadians even more proud of us.