Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC)
Mr. Speaker, as I rise in the House today I would like to acknowledge and thank the constituents of Fundy—Royal. It is indeed an honour and a privilege to represent them in the House of Commons. They have placed a trust in me and it is one that I do not take lightly. I assure them I will work hard for each and every one of them each and every day that I represent them in this House.
The people of Fundy—Royal, like all Canadians across the country, have made fiscal sacrifices in the name of deficit elimination. When we are in sight of the goal of balancing the budget, this government is willing to throw away all the sacrifices Canadians have made. Why? The tax and cut government of the Liberal's first term has been replaced by the tax and spend government of the second.
Canadian taxpayers have been on the frontlines in the war against the deficit. It has been a tough battle. I would argue they deserve nothing less than a legal guarantee enshrined in law against future deficits. We must make it law that politicians balance the budget. In order to provide taxpayer protection we must pass legislation to cut the pay of the prime minister and cabinet ministers if they break this deficit band.
Now the government is very proud of the fact that it is headed toward a fiscal surplus. This is very good news. The bad news is that Canadians will not see a penny of it. In addition to protecting Canadians with balanced budget legislation clear priorities must be set for the fiscal dividends paid for by Canadians. These priorities must come in the form of specific annual targets to which we can hold the government accountable.
The legislation must contain specific goals for debt reduction expressed as a fixed debt to GDP ratio and what portion of fiscal dividend will be in cut taxes and what portion is to be reinvested in national priorities such as health care and education. Clearly all parties could have done better in eliminating the deficit and reducing the debt. With this in mind it is imperative that we no longer live in the past, that we move forward into the future.
As I outlined, the best way to ensure we never repeat the mistakes of the past is to provide Canadians with guarantees, guarantees in the forms of balanced budget legislation and targets and benchmarks for the fiscal dividend and debt reduction.
During the election the Progressive Conservative Party put forward a visionary and sound plan to bring Canada into the next century. This government is not moving forward and is pushing Canadians back to a period of tax and spend liberalism. We are the only party that wants to give Canadians tax relief now. The budget surplus we are approaching has been achieved through sacrifices made by all Canadians and we believe Canadians deserve to have a little more in their pockets.
While the impending zero deficit or balanced budget is indeed good news, I would strongly caution the government that its struggle by no means is over. We have on our hands a very expensive problem, a $600 billion debt. It is a problem which mortgages the future, especially the future of younger generations.
For the past 30 years this country has been fiscally abusing the future of our children. It must come to an end. I believe it is fiscally immoral to continue to ask the younger generation to pay for a higher proportion of the debt which they were not responsible for accumulating.
We need benchmarks to ensure debt reduction. A balanced budget is not enough. That is why a Progressive Conservative government would apply one-third of all surpluses after the year 2000 to debt reduction.
Health care and education are top priorities for Canadians yet the current government's plans to cut cash transfers for these vital programs by 40 percent while barely touching its own program spending is unacceptable. It did not have the courage to restructure government. To make matters worse, the Speech from the Throne contains no commitment to national health care standards, no guarantees and no mechanisms to ensure co-operation with the provinces.
The Progressive Conservative Party has put forward a co-operative approach to fixing the health care system through a Canadian covenant. Together the federal and provincial governments would set priorities and standards for the management and delivery of health care services.
Canadians must know that they can count on their health care system. Not a two tier system. Our plan for a partnership with the provinces would allow for stable funding and delivery and would mean that the federal government could never unilaterally cut health care spending again.
Just as our health care system has suffered under this government, so has the future of young Canadians. One of the challenges we face as a nation is youth unemployment. There are currently 410,000 unemployed young Canadians in the country. The youth unemployment rate in August was 16.7 percent, almost double the national rate of 9 percent.
The prime minister's announcement of only 3,000 internships over three years is a perfect example of the government's inability to recognize the scope of the problem. We need a more concentrated and focused youth strategy, one that will resonate with all Canadians. We believe that this strategy would not require dipping into taxpayers' pockets, but rather the funds could come from the myriad of training programs already in existence at the many levels of government.
The premiers' decision to present the federal government with a proposal to combat youth unemployment was encouraging. However it was disheartening to hear his outright refusal to consider their proposals. I am however relieved to hear that he has reconsidered as a result of the premiers' initiative at the Calgary conference.
Bringing a renewed focus to youth unemployment crosses all party lines and all levels of government. No one party has a monopoly on ideas. We must put our collective energies together to develop a national vision to solve this crisis. If we set national goals and establish clear targets, we can indeed make a difference.
We must develop better solutions in assisting students with the critical transition from school to work. Education, information age training and skill development are vital. Internships, apprenticeships and co-op programs are components of any solution.
If we are truly serious about helping our nation's youth move beyond this crisis, we must all foster a co-operative approach with the private sector. With private sector involvement, education and training programs would be better directed and would thus better equip young Canadians with the skill sets that employers need.
We must find ways, perhaps through the tax system, to motivate businesses to fulfil this role. Yet the government is content to smother small business, which is the real engine of job creation, with excessive tax rates. This impossible tax burden on small businesses has an extremely detrimental effect on job creation. High taxes kill jobs. I wish the hon. members across the floor could understand this.
Within Canada our high payroll and corporate taxes form a barrier to jobs and growth by taxing businesses for every job which they create. The current government has steadfastly refused to take action. We must eliminate the excessive surplus in the EI fund. Why does this government refuse to reduce job killing payroll taxes such as the surplus that we have in the EI fund?
I would like to take this moment to touch upon the environment. It is important given its absence from the national agenda in the past years. Canada has always been regarded as a world leader and a driving force on the critical issues that threaten the preservation of our environment.
This government was left with an excellent environmental legacy in 1993. Yet this government has let the environment disappear from the national agenda. It is not hard to see why when we look at the regional interests of the opposition parties that environment is no longer a national issue. Environment is a national issue, one best addressed by national parties.
The Progressive Conservative Party plans to put environment back on the political agenda so that Canada can assume its role as an environmental world leader.
As I said earlier we can never afford to mortgage the future of our country. As we move forward into the next millennium, changes will continue to take place in our economy. We must be prepared to move forward and meet the challenges we face as a nation.
Unfortunately for Canadians I do not think the government is prepared to move forward. The throne speech was evidence of that. I believe the government has missed an opportunity to offer Canadians real leadership. We should not fear the future but we should look forward to it.
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne