Mr. Stephen Harper (Calgary West)
Madam Speaker, this is my first opportunity to address the House at length. I am sure you are getting tired of hearing that but two-thirds of us are new members. Many of us who have been here in the past are in new roles, as are you. I congratulate you on your appointment to that role.
At the beginning of these new roles or the beginning of our careers we have the opportunity to think longer term about the problems of our country than perhaps parliamentarians have done in the past.
Many people in my constituency have built successful careers, homes and families by thinking longer term in their affairs. Now they have taken a brave step this time in electing a new MP from a new political party to represent them for the next four or five years.
I want to take a moment to say I am greatly honoured by that election. It is an overwhelming honour and I plan to do my best to fulfil their expectations. We certainly know what happens when you forget who sent you here. The Prime Minister alluded to that yesterday. I hope that I and this Parliament do not let the people of Canada down, as I feel the last Parliament did.
In my particular case I was elected from an urban riding, a riding entirely within the city of Calgary that has 100,000 people. It is in the western suburbs of Calgary. We have a large military base. We have two post-secondary institutions.
In spite of that, my riding and our city reflect largely a private sector character. We do not have a federal or provincial government. We are one of the larger cities that does not.
Of course we have experienced the ups and downs that Alberta has had in the past decade largely through and because of our dependence on the oil industry. In spite of that there is a broadening of our industry in Calgary historically from agriculture to energy, now to services. This broadening reflects our entrepreneurial spirit in the west, in Alberta and in Calgary in particular.
This growth in the view of most Calgarians, I think I am safe to say, has been not so much with the help of government as in spite of it and in spite of the federal government in particular.
I was a newcomer to Alberta when a distant government imposed policies that brought an end to the boom times that brought me to Alberta to begin with. Of course I am referring to the national energy program. No Canadian can live through an experience like that without it influencing greatly his or her thinking about government and about our country. In spite of that thinking and in spite of the drain the federal government has often imposed on Albertans, Albertans have never wavered in their patriotism or in their optimism about the future.
Today the federal government presents not hopes but obstacles to economic recovery. The obstacles are most clearly represented by the national debt and the deficits adding to it which we are experiencing and have experienced in the past number of years. I am not going to recount the statistics. I am an economist and that would be economics and that is a dangerous
combination. Let me talk instead about what these numbers mean.
In the election campaign my colleagues and I in the Reform Party argued strongly about the need to understand the long-term link between fiscal mismanagement and economic recession and decline. We argued against the view that we should create jobs rather than fix the financial problem, not because we oppose creating jobs but because these are not conflicting objectives. They are the same objective.
Countries like companies or households that mismanage their financial affairs do not create jobs. They destroy them. Households, businesses, families and governments that mismanage their affairs do not fulfil dreams. Those who mismanage their affairs watch their dreams slowly slip away.
Many of my generation, young professionals, the backbone of the future of Canada, have left Canada, are leaving Canada or are thinking of leaving Canada because they fear the high taxes and the declining services that this mismanagement has brought about and may worsen in the future.
Let me not preach from the Reform Party policy manual. Let me quote the government itself. For members who have not read it, Canada's Economic Challenges contains a very good summary of our economic and financial situation. It lays out better than I could all the relevant numbers on the deficit and debt and the impact on our economy, such as the fact that it absorbs our domestic savings, increases our foreign indebtedness, worsening our current account, lowering national income, our potential growth, reducing our fiscal flexibility, threatening our social programs, increasing our tax burden, raising real interest costs and decreasing our competitiveness. It is all there.
Those are not short-term problems. They are not caused by the recession. A short spurt in growth or activity will not resolve them. The chapter is illustrated with dozens of statistics.
Why then would the same government that released this book also release the throne speech this week and turn its attention instead to spending priorities and in particular to the much ballyhooed infrastructure program. That is a $6 billion commitment, $2 billion sought from this Parliament to kick start the Canadian economy, as if it is possible to do such a thing as kick-start an economy.
On reading the briefing notes for the program it will be noticed there are no fewer than four program objectives and nine related criteria. There are in fact lots of objectives. There are no clear priorities. None of these objectives is new to the program spending that parliaments have passed before. We are therefore led to ask why the government believes that another $2 billion would kick start an economy in a way the first $160 billion of spending this year has been unable to do.
Let us be clear about the magnitudes involved. In the case of Alberta we are talking about $88 million against an economy of $70 billion and an infrastructure investment of at least $1 billion a year. These are hardly kick start kinds of numbers. That is the magnitude and context of the program.
I do not want to quarrel with infrastructure as a priority or even a higher priority than it has been in the past. What I want to do is simply suggest that it will not fulfil the objectives stated by the government and the raised expectations of consumers, taxpayers and investors. It is short-term thinking about jobs and activities that has long-term consequences in terms of employment and output and that has been the past generation as we have seen it.
I ask members, especially government members, to give strong consideration to this before they cast their votes on this matter and on the legislative program that will flow from the throne speech. Members opposite will be held responsible by the public for the performance of the Canadian economy in the next four years.
Possibly the infrastructure program will deliver some short-term benefits and some short-term visibility. But in the long term, by the next election-that at least we will talk about as our long term-the infrastructure program will long be passed and we will be stuck with the bills for it.
I suggest that until the government has contemplated a way to credibly finance these things and to fit these within the $153 billion spending cap that we suggest it should re-examine these priorities.
I ask government members to give strong consideration to this aspect of fiscal discipline, the subamendment we propose, to support and vote for it and to include it in the speech from the throne. On that basis we would be building a more successful government program, not just from our standpoint but also for the potential of their own re-election in four years.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne