Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the constituents of Don Valley East for electing me to represent them. I am honoured by their overwhelming confidence. I also would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker.
This week Canada was recognized by the world's central bankers as the best fiscal performer among the G-7 industrialized countries. According to the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, Canada posted one of the sharpest improvements in its fiscal situation, and consequently has the brightest economic outlook. With the federal books balanced for the past seven years in a row, the federal government is now in a far better position to meet fiscal demands today than it has been in recent memory.
Prior to 1993, the federal government was saddled with rising deficits and an ever increasing federal debt. Double digit interest rates coupled with skyrocketing unemployment rates dashed the hopes and dreams of millions of Canadians. The federal government was awash in red ink and it began to receive severe warnings from the international monetary fund.
I am an accountant by trade, and having worked in both the private and public sectors, I can tell members that the success of any organization depends on responsible fiscal management. I can therefore assure members that the success of this government is no accident.
The current Prime Minister, who previously served as finance minister, immediately adopted a disciplined fiscal policy in 1993-94 designed to quickly eliminate the deficit. The ripple effects of sound financial management were felt throughout the economy. Interest rates began to fall and the unemployment rate began to drop. Gradually the quality of life of Canadians improved as the deficit grew smaller and smaller. That is why we must not squander our current fiscal balance by spending our way back into deficit. This is something the federal government cannot afford to do.
All governments face pressures to spend on competing and often conflicting priorities. Municipalities, provinces, territories and the federal government all feel the pinch to spend more money, but it is the federal government that must be the first to demonstrate leadership and practise sound fiscal policy. It is essential that members of the House and of our provincial counterparts rise above partisanship to address public interests. That is exactly what the Prime Minister intends to do in the coming weeks when he sits down with the provinces and the territories to introduce the most fundamental reform of equalization programs in almost 50 years. Again, I must emphasize that we cannot afford to return to deficit spending to satisfy short term and nearsighted political agendas.
Last week the government outlined its vision for the future with the Speech from the Throne. It is a vision backed with a plan to invest in Canadians. At the same time, it will maintain a sustainable budget that will never let us fall back into deficit spending.
At the centre of this strategy is a 10 year health care plan worth $41 billion. It will ensure that patients will have better access to services. Most important, it will provide the provinces and territories with predictable long term funding. The government also has committed $4.5 billion over the next six years to establish a wait time reduction fund. This will shorten the time it takes for Canadians to access critical care services.
Parents and children can also look forward to a national child care system. The federal government will implement this system in cooperation with the provinces and territories. We will also provide support for those who provide care to loved ones who are aging, infirm or suffer from severe disabilities.
The federal government will also establish a new horizons program for seniors. This program will ensure that Canadian seniors remain active and engaged in community life. The plan also affirms the federal government's commitment to provide a new deal for cities and communities. It will give municipalities more fiscal freedom by receiving a portion of the federal gas tax. The federal government will also help local governments by enhancing existing programs such as the affordable housing Initiative, the supporting community partnership Initiative for the homeless and the residential rehabilitation assistance program.
Prior to the throne speech, the federal government already contributed $12 billion in infrastructure funding to Canadian communities since 1994. It has already provided municipalities with full relief from the GST. This means all local governments will have $7 billion more at their disposal over the next 10 years. In Ontario this will mean municipalities will save $243 million in GST relief for this fiscal year alone.
Other initiatives in Ontario include: $435 million for expansion of GO transit and the York region transit services; $298 million for Ontario municipalities under the municipal rural infrastructure fund; and $56 million committed for affordable housing.
To ensure a clean environment, the government will proceed with its commitment to implement the Kyoto agreement. This strategy will make clean air, water and soil a top priority.
Finally, the federal government intends to assert a stronger presence in the international community. The peace and nation building initiative will have three principal elements: deploy the Canadian corps, which will harness the expertise and idealism of civilians with an emphasis on recruiting the talents and idealism of young people; reduce or forgive debts owed by poor and deserving countries; and increase the Canadian Forces by 5,000 regular personnel and 3,000 reservists.
In closing, when I first visited the Parliament buildings as a newly elected member of Parliament, somebody pointed out to me an inscription carved on the Peace Tower that befits a Speech from the Throne. The inscription reads, “Without vision the people perish”. That is exactly why the federal government has outlined an ambitious and exciting agenda for the people of Canada.
As the member of Parliament for Don Valley East, I am both pleased and proud to be a member of this government. More than anything, I am looking forward to being a part of the larger vision for Canada.