Mr. A. D. Alkenbrack (Frontenac-Lennox and Addington):
Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak on the first budget brought in by the new Minister of Finance (Mr. Turner), I feel compelled to make an observation that might help to explain some of its shortcomings. I should say at this point, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Finance has the sympathy but not the support of all members on this side, at least in my party. It is not easy for an aspirant to the leadership of his party to wear the mantle of Minister of
Finance in such a way as not to tarnish his image. I am convinced he was thrown to the wolves, and that is unfortunate. He might have brought a measure of human dignity to the leadership of the Liberal party, if he had been given the opportunity, something that has been sadly lacking in that party.
On April 27, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Stanfield) asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) if he had given the Minister of Finance permission to bring down a budget. As usual, the Prime Minister avoided answering the question. On the following day the Minister of Finance announced, in answer to a question asked by the hon. member for Edmonton West (Mr. Lambert), that he would bring down a budget and table the budget papers on May 8. He had about ten days in which to throw together a budget, have it printed and drum up a little enthusiasm for what most people expected would be an election budget. I am not saying it was done in exactly that way, although it certainly looks as if it were.
If this really is an election budget, Mr. Speaker, then I am all for it. In all my years in Parliament, and I will have been here ten years next Sunday, June 18, the anniversary date of the 1962 federal election, I have never seen a budget that so clearly vindicates the Leader of the Opposition. I must say that while this budget vindicates our leader and our party in its tax reduction measures, it does not go nearly as far as we should like; however, that is understandable. This government has drifted so far from the realities of present day Canadian life and has so completely lost touch with the people, that this budget must appear to it as the great cure all. It cures nothing, Mr. Speaker, being just a palliative.
What will be the effect of this budget on the youth of our country? I am particularly concerned, because this budget has done nothing for youth, nothing for those categories of young people who are still in school or just leaving secondary school and not yet employed and who are without any present hope of obtaining employment. The Opportunities for Youth and Local Initiatives Programs are mere stopgaps; these schemes are without stability or security. Benefits for recipients are neither stable or secure. When the money the government has allocated to these programs has been spent, and do not forget that these are short term programs, Mr. Speaker, the few in each community who have been recipients of this money will be no better off, except to this extent: they will have been given two months pay. At the end of that time they will not have learned enough from those brief programs to enable them to acquire steady jobs, which need a certain amount of knowledge and limited skill if they are to be retained. And, so, these people will wander through the swamps of idleness and unemployment; they will despair of their ambitions; their spirits will be dulled and, in many cases, destroyed.
In this country, Mr. Speaker, we need an apprenticeship system for our youth similar to the old, well tried and proven English system under which young people were taught certain skills. After finishing, they stood a good chance of earning a decent living. What I am saying is borne out, I submit, by an editorial which appeared recently in the Ottawa Journal, from which I wish to
June 13, 1972
quote. The headline reads, "The Young Don't Want To Live on Welfare". The editorial reads in part:
The Canadian Council on Social Development reports startling increases in the numbers of young people on welfare-
Most of the young persons told interviewers they rejected welfare as a way of life; 97.3 per cent said welfare was only a temporary form of relief for them. More than a third considered it 'a big trap; once you get into the welfare rut, it is really hard to get away from it.'
Why are so many young people who don't want to be there, in danger of being trapped in the welfare jungle? In March, the unemployment rate for the under-25s was 11 per cent, compared with a 4.2 per cent unemployment rate for Canadians 25 and over.
This is a most depressing and worrying situation. Somehow our society in the private as well as government sectors must shape itself so that the young can go to work. If they do not it will mean far more than so many statistics about unemployed-it will mean the people who will compose the future of this nation are soured and frustrated, and their spirit no less than their citizenship will bear blighted fruit.
I sincerely hope that that possibility will not materialize. In fairness to the new Minister of Finance, I must admit that this budget is a beginning, albeit a small begining. Pensions for the elderly have been increased, no doubt in response to the urgings of the Leader of the Opposition. However, this measure stopped short of parity. To begin with, the basic pension has fallen far behind the rate of increase in the cost of living. The government appears to be hung up on the means test for the income supplement, and has again applied the modest increase to the supplement rather than to the basic pension. In addition, the government failed to take into account the abnormal rise in the cost of living which has taken place since it has been in power. The increase should, really, have reflected that rise, which has certainly been more than one of 3 i per cent. However, I would not stand in the way even of this slight increase, Mr. Speaker. Elderly pensioners in this country have waited long enough. I would not want them to wait until the government changes hands in the next few months; this, apparently, will happen.
Let me mention the efforts we have made to have pensions increased. Those of us who have been fighting for increased pensions for veterans would not mind campaigning on this budget. We could point out that, although the government has offered the veterans 3} per cent extra, their basic pension rate is still $1,000 below the level established by a previous government. Some years ago, the basic pension was set at the level of the average, annual wage of an unskilled labourer. Today, that level is at $4,500 per year. Nevertheless, the veteran's basic disability pension has been allowed to drop to $3,500. The government previous to the present one allowed this to happen, and the present government has apparently not considered the matter important enough to take corrective action.
The pledge to maintain the basic veteran's pension at the level of the annual wage of an unskilled labourer was given by an earlier parliament. As a Member of Parliament I feel bound by that pledge. It is a responsibility I cannot pass off as lightly as hon. members opposite seem able to do. When this basic level was adopted, veterans' organizations approved it as being as realistic as they could hope for and they were prepared to live with it. If the veteran's basic pension were to be raised to that level,
The Budget-Mr. Alkenbrack
the increase proposed in this budget would be acceptable. Until that is done, Mr. Speaker, I cannot accept a total increase that resembles a gratuity more than a decent living for those who have sacrificed so much for their country.
I now turn to housing, Mr. Speaker. The 11 per cent sales tax on building materials remains, despite appeals from all over Canada for its removal. Now the government, more callous than ever, has announced a new housing program which it knows it can not implement before the next election. Government members know this. This is only an attempt to get support from a great segment of the Canadian public that no longer has confidence in the Trudeau administration.
The main thrust of this budget, Mr. Speaker, is the group of measures designed to stimulate the economy by offering incentives to industry and business, and here again the Leader of the Opposition has provided the guidelines. However, Mr. Speaker, the government has once again jumped off the boat before it reached the dock. Again, we have a token gesture on the part of the government in an area that has suffered the most in our system, the free-enterprise sector.
I can agree wholeheartedly with any measures that will compensate for the shortsighted policies that have resulted in a general slowdown in the industrial and business sectors over the past four years, with a resultant escalation of unemployment. Not only is it imperative that we take steps to revitalize the economy in order to create new jobs, it must be done in order to protect jobs that presently exist. We have had no evidence of that, particularly during the past couple of weeks. While I agree in principle with the measures in the budget to encourage production, I cannot accept the government's view that they have provided the answers to the problems that exist. I do not think they have gone far enough, and I do not think that there are enough built-in incentives to create jobs as well as increase production. Jobs are not created automatically when production increases, nor are jobs created in proportion to production increases.
While I quarrel with the substance of the incentives in the budget for industry and business, I reject out of hand the spurious argument of the leader of the New Democratic Party. I do not think it is evil to make it possible for industry and business to turn a reasonable profit. Profit is the stimulus that keeps our economy vital and promotes healthy economic growth. The incentive to realize a profit from one's investments creates jobs, and that is the way jobs are created in our system. I remind the leader of the NDP that the majority of Canadians like our capitalist, free-enterprise system. Indeed, it would be well for both the Liberals and the NDP to take some notice of the rejection by the Canadian people of socialism and government control of every aspect of daily life. We in this country respect the right of free choice and the sanctity of the individual. We do not need socialism, and we do not want socialism. It would be a poor substitute for what we have now.
As with every budget tabled by this government since they gained control of our country, this budget is more
June 13, 1972
The Budget-Mr. Alkenbrack
significant and remarkable for what is missing than for what is present. There is no mention in the budget of measures to establish a more equitable schedule of disbursements from the coffers of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion. This greatest pork barrel in the history of Canada keeps growing larger, more cumbersome and the department becomes less equitable in its approval of projects.
DREE is a political football unmatched in magnitude in the annals of Canadian government. It is a comedy of errors and, more correctly, a tragi-comedy. It is a tragedy because the money being disbursed by this department is tax money. It belongs to all Canadians. It is tragic because it is being used by this government to attempt to build political strength in areas where that strength, or support, has to be bought. It is tragic because this government cannot buy respect and support from any part of Canada with dollars, however many they are willing to spend. No government can buy respect and confidence. It must earn the confidence of the people and respect will follow. This can only be done if a government demonstrates that it is prepared to listen to the people, heed the people and govern for the people.
The mandate won by the government in the last election is not in any way reflected in this budget, Mr. Speaker. The mandate of the official opposition is, in some facets, reflected in this budget and there is a measure of poetic justice in the fact that the government is on the point of going to the Canadian people for a new mandate. There is a distinct possibility that the government will hesitate to put this budget forward as an election budget. In that case, we can expect a new one in the not too distant future, Mr. Speaker, and I can suggest what the government might put in that budget. First, it should go all the way on the recommendations of the Leader of the Opposition on old age pensions instead of stopping short of parity. There is no parity in a measure that does not take into account the rise in the cost of living, or of the fact that inflation is now out of control. I suggest that in the next budget the government restore the schedule of veterans' pensions whereby the basic pension is equal to the annual wage for unskilled labour. No one could accept a level that is lower than that for unskilled labour.
If the government is really serious about wanting a new mandate, Mr. Speaker, and I cannot imagine them wanting to give up the keys to the kingdom at this point, I suggest that they include in their election budget measures to eliminate the incredible waste that has marked their years of misrule. They should abandon the wasteful projects that are siphoning off the hard-earned tax dollars of our citizens and fire the ministers who have been handling them. They have had their fun and nothing can last forever. Just tell them that there comes a time when all good things have to end. Since the present government has been in power, just four years, the cost of government has doubled while the national budget has increased by 50 per cent. Using that as a yardstick, if the present government is returned to power, Canadians can expect their national budget to be double what it was in 1968. No one can deny that the present government is playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship with our economy. Every year that the present government is in power, we move closer to national bankruptcy. While such a prospect would play
into the hands of the socialists in our midst, it is cause for alarm for the rest of us.
I wish to refer to an editorial in today's Ottawa Journal pertaining to our National Debt. I will quote from it presently. This is a vital question. The minister has completely ignored that most onerous item, the cost of carrying the total public debt which now stands at $2,022 million for the fiscal year. We are now paying 14 per cent for our money. No home owner in Canada would accept this rate for a first mortgage on his or her dwelling. Accordingly, they ought not to tolerate a 14 per cent mortgage rate on our country. I now quote from the Ottawa Journal:
The net national debt at March 31 was $17,922,000,000, an increase of $600,000,000 compared with March 31, 1971. The gross national debt, which includes assets such as government loans, advances and investments, was $47,633,000,000, an increase of $4,658,000,000 in the year.
The cost of carrying the total public debt, chiefly in interest, rises year by year-$1,301,000,000 in 1967-68; $1,480,000,000 in 196869; $1,717,000,000 in 1969-70; $1,920,000,000 in 1970-71 and $2,122,000,000 in 1971-72.
This means that each Canadian has an interest bill of some $100 staring him in the face each year. Interest charges are not an abstraction. In 1971-72 the public debt costs were 14 per cent of the budgetary expenditure and exceeded the bill for defence.
Every government can spin a tale on how it can not help increasing debt. Yet it still seems daft always to be paying more and more in interest when money could be employed-if debt were reduced-in improving the amenities of life and reducing taxes.
If one increases the debt, one increases taxes. We must reduce our public debt to a level more in keeping with the taxpayers ability to bear it. No one can really fault a brand new Finance Minister for adopting a protectionist posture when tabling his first budget, especially if the minister concerned aspires to lead his party. However, we have reached a point at which a budget, any budget, is of paramount concern to the average Canadian citizen. We have reached a point at which a budget must reflect the government's confidence in its ability to solve serious problems and face up to the realities of Canadian life. A shrug of the shoulder is not a good substitute for concerned leadership. Nor is a budget of this sort an answer to the longstanding ills in our economic system or to the inequities suffered for so long by the disadvantaged, the elderly and the veterans. I would not say this is a budget of confidence. I call it pussyfooting around the issues.
I had hoped I would find evidence in this budget that the government plans to decelerate its reckless program of spending and direct its fiscal strength toward productive benefits for our troubled nation. The government has not done so.
Subtopic: THE BUDGET
Sub-subtopic: FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF THE MINISTER OF FINANCE