Mr. Murray Calder (Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, this is a bit of déjà vu for me today. The first time I rose in the House to speak on a budget was the 1994-95 budget when this government first came in. In 10 years a lot has happened, and it has been very positive.
When I spoke at that point in time, our country had approximately $580 billion worth of accumulated public debt. We were running a $42.5 billion deficit. Unemployment in the country was over 11%. The interest rates were over 11%, and everybody was worried about their jobs, their paycheques and their houses, if they could even afford to have one.
Today, with the 2004-05 budget, it is like night and day. Unemployment is down around the 7% mark. Interest rates are at a 40-year low. We are the only country in the G-7 and the G-8 that is consistently running surplus budgets. The people at home now are not worried about their jobs. They are not worried about their paycheques. They probably have a house now because interest rates are so low they can afford one. That is what has happened.
What I am saying is each budget is a building block. We started in 1994-95 on a good direction and we are on that same path now with the 2004-05 budget. I ask any Canadian to make a comparison of where we were and where we are. Of course this budget is set in the direction of where we want to go.
From that, we have to take a look back to where we were. Debt is a huge expense within a budget. At that point in time, accumulated public debt versus GDP, that would be one's mortgage versus one's paycheque, was over 68%. Today it is sitting at 42%. We have made a commitment that in 10 years time it will be at 25%.
When we were first elected to the House and crafted that first 1994-95 budget, we were also spending almost 37¢ on the tax dollar taken in to service the debt, not pay it off. We are now down to around 21¢ on the dollar, and still dropping. That means, as we keep lowering the debt and lowering the service costs on that, we automatically have savings. We have had savings on $52 billion paid off in accumulated public debt in the last couple of budgets alone of over $3 billion.
Surpluses happen when the economy is good. However, if the economy ever turned bad, surpluses very quickly disappear. However, once our debt is under control, savings within the budget on debt reduction happens every year. If the economy does slow down, we still have those savings. Those savings can then be put into programs to make Canada more competitive and a better place to live.
When I was chair of the national rural caucus, one of the things we argued for and received, and it has actually been enhanced in this budget, was money for rural Canada, in rural infrastructure. We must remember that in Canada today approximately 20% of the population lives on 80% of the land and 80% of the population lives on 20% of the land. If we take a look at the infrastructure within cities compared to the infrastructure of rural Canada, it is approximately the same. We just do not have a lot of people on both sides of the road. However, we still have roads to build, repair and maintain, along with bridges and any other infrastructure that goes along with them, such as water, sewers, whatever. Rural Canada needs an injection of cash just the same as urban Canada needs.
There was an injection of cash within this budget amounting to $1 billion, which was originally to be over 10 years. That has now been accelerated to $1 billion over five years. This is almost like a 100% increase.
Municipalities across Canada have been given relief from the GST. We have given them a rebate. That, in essence, gives those municipalities that normally would have transferred this money to us, an extra $7 billion to work with over the next 10 years.
What does this mean to those municipalities? Smaller municipalities of 250,000 people and under could receive anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 a year. That would build a lot of roads and put in a lot of infrastructure. Toronto has a lot of problems right now with its public transit system, and it alone will benefit by over $50 million a year from the GST rebate.
We have seen a lot happen in that 10 year period. However, we have to build on our future too. Our future lies with our upcoming youth, and from that our education system. The government has allowed $20 million to offset the individual costs of research by universities and research hospitals. If Canada, as an exporting nation, is to be cutting edge, we have to have R and D. If not, then we definitely will end up with a major problem.
Canada's relationship to the world is important. As the former parliamentary secretary for international trade, I found it was important for the country to expand its relationship and trade with other countries, such as APEC, the Asian-Pacific Economic Council, and Caricom, the Caribbean countries.
An additional $250 million has been provided in the budget to cover Canada's costs in peacekeeping initiatives within Afghanistan and to fight terrorism. When I was at APEC, that was one of the things about which countries were talking. Canada's decision not to go to war with Iraq impressed those countries. Canada, as a peacekeeping country, has to keep putting a strong position forward on this, on a multilateral basis.
With regard to trade, $1.9 billion Canadian crosses over the U.S. border each day. Over the last two years, we watched with a lot of interest the United States in a recession. Normally, Canada exports 44% of what we produce. Of that, 85% goes to the United States. It used to be if the United States got a sniffle, we had pneumonia. In the last two years when the United States had a recession, Canada did not. We have to ask ourselves why? If this happened in the past, why did it not happen this time?
One reason is because we have our debt under control and that gives our economy stability. That has helped us out because it has actually stabilized the value of the Canadian dollar, and low interest rates have given Canadians a lot more economic flexibility than what they had in the past.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the environmental aspect within the budget. When I was chair of the national rural caucus, I pushed very hard for ethanol production in Canada. I now see, with the budget's building blocks, that we are beginning to establish an ethanol industry, and I think that is excellent.
Subtopic: The Budget