Hon. Jean J. Charest (Sherbrooke, PC)
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should lower the tax burden on Canadians and offer interest relief to student loan holders in order to address the brain drain crisis which is forcing Canadians to move to the United States where unemployment rates, income tax rates and student debt levels are lower and the standard of living is 25% higher than in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, from the outset, with your agreement in the House, I would like to inform you that I am going to split my time with the hon. member for Kings—Hants who is seconding this motion. I will then speak 10 minutes and, I understand, do questions and comments for five minutes and then he will speak.
I rise on this opposition day motion with some anticipation as we look forward to the budget that will be delivered here in this House on Tuesday, February 24.
We have given a great deal of thought and have debated a great deal of the matters that we will be discussing today. I want to share with the House some of the views that we have in regard to the choices that we will be making in the next few weeks.
I would like to start from the outset by saying that for us in this party, this budget that we will see on February 24 is more than just about numbers. It is not just about a balance sheet. The budget exercise is not just reduced to just calculating what the numbers are and adding them up. All of this is about our country, about the values that we share within our families, our communities and the choices we will make for those communities in the future. The budget will speak to that.
I also think it is important for us to have a cold hard look at the situation we are experiencing in this country economically and how it affects people, how it affects individuals in their lives. The government likes to quote all these economic indicators. They get up in the House and the Minister of Finance talks about the OECD and how we are doing in terms of debt to GDP ratio or whatever it may be. All this also includes the impact that our decisions have on individual Canadians, on families.
When the government talks of its record, I think it is important for all of us in this House to talk of all of the record. What does this record include? It includes a record, a statistic that explains more than anything else the plight of Canadians.
The fact is that disposable income continues to go down in Canada. Simply put, we are poorer today than when the Liberal government was elected in 1993. Unemployment is still very high. Youth unemployment went up in the last month. Poverty is more pronounced today than it was. There are more children living in poverty today than in 1993.
Canadians are saving less. On savings, 2% of their income is going to savings compared to 6% of the American average, 12% of what it was a few years ago.
If we want to talk about the indicators, taxes in Canada are the highest taxes among the G-7 countries.
When I try to assess what the full record is of this government, I cannot help but compare it with the only economy we really compare with, which is the United States. In the United States the unemployment rate is half of what it is in Canada and disposable income is continually rising to the point where the gap has never been more pronounced, more important than it is today.
Let me mention a statistic, a number that tells the story. In the third quarter of 1997 per capita after tax income in the U.S. was a bit more than $30,000 in Canadian funds. My colleagues will actually be surprised by this number. When you hear it the first time, you say it is not possible, but let me quote it to you directly, Mr. Speaker. “Per capita after tax income in Canada was a bit over $17,000”. That is a gap of $13,000 between Canada and the United States. These are our neighbours to the south, the people with whom we compete. We should be on the same footing as they are, yet the gap is incredibly wide. Why? The wrong choices have been made.
I would say right off that the greatest problem facing us is that of the impoverishment of Canadians. Men and women, in their family, in their day to day choices, are unable to make purchases. They are vastly poorer than they were in 1993.
There are more poor children today than there were when this government was elected. Unemployment among young people is at unacceptable levels. The gap between Canadian and American incomes continues to rise.
We believe in the Progressive Conservative Party that it is time this country had a plan for economic growth. That is what we need. This country has been on its heels and on the brakes. Now is the time we allow Canadians to earn more money. If there is to be a balanced budget, if there is to be a fiscal dividend, we happen to believe the first people who should benefit from that are those who have made the biggest sacrifices in the last few years; individual Canadians and Canadian families deserve an increase in their revenues.
When I look at the whole record and see Canadians becoming poorer and poorer I cannot help but come to one solid, unequivocal conclusion. If they have seen their revenue go down they deserve to see it now go up. This should not be a foreign argument to the people in this House.
The Deputy Prime Minister said, after a report was published suggesting that the pay for members of Parliament and cabinet be increased, our pay has gone down long enough and we have lost revenue. I do not quarrel with this, but if that is true for the Deputy Prime Minister then it must be true for the people who voted for the Deputy Prime Minister. This government should be able to understand that.
What do we need to do if we are to allow our friends, our neighbours and the people in our families to begin getting the breaks they deserve? The first thing we have to do is reduce taxes. This country needs less taxes and less debt and, as a consequence, more jobs. That is what will produce jobs in this country.
I want to make our position clear. From the outset in the election campaign we said very clearly that we do not need to wait for the budget to be balanced to offer Canadians tax breaks. They deserve them now. What kind of tax breaks do they deserve? The first people who should benefit are lower income Canadians. We should increase the basic exemption from $6,500 to $10,000. They are the ones who can use it. That would allow us to take thousands of Canadians off the tax rolls. It would allow them to increase their revenues and give families with young children a very important break.
We continue to believe there should be a reduction in personal income taxes. By the way, we are not the only ones who believe this. There are more and more people, whether they are economists, think tanks or universities, saying it is time we gave Canadians a reduction in personal income taxes.
We need to reduce employment insurance premiums. There is a $13 billion surplus in the fund now for no good reason except to reduce the deficit which the fund was never designed for. This is done at the expense of jobs and the unemployed. I see the minister laughing. He thinks it is laughable that Canadians are unemployed. Now he is talking.
I also believe it will be critically important for us to reduce taxes by eliminating the federal surtax of 3%. The time has come. That surtax came upon us because there was a deficit. If the deficit is gone the tax should go.
We also need to index the child tax benefits. The government, by deindexing and allowing this to continue, is taking the equivalent of $160 million out of the pockets of lower income families and their children for the purpose of paying down the deficit. We should return to indexing and introduce a little justice into the system.
We also believe the time has come to reduce student debt. The Prime Minister talks about the millennium fund. Every member of this House has heard about the number one priority for students today. The member for St. John's West has heard about it. He has done excellent work on the question of student interest debt on behalf of our party.
There is a reason for this problem. The consequence of high taxes and high debt in this country has led us to a situation in which we are experiencing a brain drain like never before. We are losing the best and brightest. They are graduating with high debt levels and they are being offered jobs in the United States with higher pay, lower taxes and a higher standard of living.
The consequences for us in the long term development of Canada could be incalculable if we do not address this issue soon by reducing that debt and by reducing taxes. We should have concrete measures, including an interest tax credit and an initiative that will allow us to give a break to students who could reimburse on an income contingency loan program.
I will speak briefly on some other things we believe in, that we are going to make the right choices in terms of our values. We believe we should modify the registered education savings plan to make the contribution tax deductible. We should increase RRSP contributions. Income tax brackets should be indexed in order to stop bracket creep which has brought one Canadian in five on to the tax rolls.
Those are some very concrete ideas for Canada to have once and for all a plan for economic growth for all Canadians.
For clarification, the member for St. John's West is seconding this motion and not the member for Kings—Hants.
Topic: Government Orders