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Address by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Reply to the Speech from the Throne

October 1, 2002
Ottawa, Ontario


Mr. Speaker, my first words are to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne. Both members delivered thoughtful speeches on the issues of the day. Both are a credit to this House. I also want to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition for his first major speech in the House in his new function. He clearly has all the makings of a good leader of the Opposition for many, many years to come.

A Speech from the Throne is an opportunity for a government to step back, take stock of where we are and set out the priorities for where we want to go.

It is an opportunity for Parliamentarians to discuss and debate the role and direction of the government. I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate.

Mr. Speaker, time does not permit me to address everything that is in the Throne Speech. Indeed, the words of the Speech and the actions for which we as a government are committed speak for themselves. Today, I want to highlight some of them. Give further explanation of our approach.

Mr. Speaker, I have spent many, many years in this House and a great many years both as a minister and as Prime Minister. I have never been concerned about a legacy. I have always been concerned about getting the job done. The job I was elected to do. The coming months will be no different. This is not about legacy. This is about good government.

This Throne Speech is about implementing the platform that every member on this side of the House ran on in November 2000. Each and every one of us has an obligation to the people of Canada to implement our program. We have an obligation to govern and to govern well and to govern every day we are in office. That is what we are elected for: this Caucus, this Government, this Prime Minister.

The agenda set out in the Throne Speech builds on what we have accomplished as a government since 1993: to create and share opportunity, to enhance the quality of life in our communities, to promote our interests and our values in the world. The priorities we have set out are, indeed, the enduring priorities of Canadians: the health of our people; the health of our environment; the health of our communities; the health of our economy; the hopes of our children.

This has been a government committed not to the big bang, or the big show. But to continuous and enduring improvement. Minimizing divisiveness and maximizing results. Focused on the problems and priorities of Canadians. Focused on the future. Focused on the world.

This continues to be our path.

Mr. Speaker, some of the Opposition and many of the right wing commentators wrongly claim that we are simply big spenders. That I am a big spender.

Well, I am such a big spender that I have led a government that has turned 30 years of continuous deficits into five balanced budgets in a row. And we are on track for number 6 this year –the largest uninterrupted string of balanced budgets in our history. We are such big spenders that, not so long ago, 35¢ of every dollar went to service the debt. Today it is about 20¢ and dropping. We are such big spenders that we have paid down about $45 billion of debt. And we will continue to pay down debt. We are such big spenders that our debt load has fallen from 72% of GDP to under 50%. And it is continuing to fall. We are such tax and spend Liberals that we have reduced personal and corporate income tax and employment insurance premiums by about $20 billion a year.

These are the facts, Mr. Speaker. It is a record we are proud of. That I am proud of. And it is not a record I intend to put in jeopardy.

But I am also proud, Mr. Speaker, that we on this side of the House believe both in balanced budgets and in a balanced approach. We believe that there is a very important role for government in society. We believe in the need to make collective investments as a society. We believe not only in eliminating fiscal deficits but also in tackling social deficits, environmental deficits and infrastructure deficits. We can and will tackle these deficits as well.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud that we have reduced taxes responsibly. In a manner that allows us to make collective investments while continuing to balance the budget. Our taxes are competitive. Our corporate taxes are on a steep downward slope. And we have done this without putting our balanced budgets at risk. We will continue to be prudent and we will continue to invest in people.

As I have just said, we believe in a balanced approach. We do not believe in the simplistic approach of the Alliance Party and some business press when it comes to taxation. It has been said before, and we on this side of the House agree, that, like it or not, "taxes are the price one pays to live in a civilized society."

Taxation revenues are what enable us as a society to share risk, to invest in health care, to provide for families in poverty, to improve the environment we share, to support education and learning, to promote rural development, to build a modern system of highways and urban infrastructure, to help those in developing countries.

None of this can be done by the private sector alone. All of this requires government action. And we will act on these areas in the coming months.

We have taken the approach of investing in priorities as, and only as, the fiscal situation permitted. In general, we establish budget projections over a 2 or 3-year time horizon. And this is what we will continue to do. In some cases, however, where predictability is essential, we have legislated longer term commitments.

For example, in past budgets we provided 5 year predictable stable CHST funding for health to allow the provinces time for proper planning. We provided a five year legislated tax reduction plan to allow individuals and businesses to plan ahead. We also provided increases to the National Child Benefit over a five year period to allow provinces to adjust their social programs accordingly.

Going forward this will remain our approach. We will maintain balanced budgets and fiscal prudence. And in our next budget, we will, again, provide long term funding for increases to the National Child Benefit. Reform of health care following the Romanow Commission will, again, require multi-year, predictable federal investments. Otherwise, we will simply not get reform of the system.

Mr. Speaker, ever since we balanced the budget we have increased our investment in health care. In September 2000 we agreed to put more money into the CHST and agreed on principles and directions for reform. We put in place strong mechanisms for accountability and reporting to Canadians.

I then appointed Roy Romanow to head a Royal Commission to make recommendations about long term reform to our public health system. We expect his report next month.

I will hold a First Ministers' Meeting early next year to discuss Mr. Romanow's recommendations and to agree on a long term plan to modernize medicare. Federal investments to support reform will be set out in the next budget and funded for a long enough period of time so that there will be the required financial certainty to allow reform to go ahead.

Mr. Speaker, good health is priceless. But good health care does have a price. New technologies, new drugs, new treatments have created much better health and higher costs. An aging population increases demand and, therefore, costs. We will have to spend more. And we will have to do it responsibly.

But, Mr. Speaker, the costs of health care are not rising because we have a public system. In the United States, the cost of private insurance premiums for employer sponsored plans rose by 11 percent in 2001 and is projected to rise by another 13 percent this year. The sick and the poor often have to pay the highest premiums.

The issue is not whether we will pay more as a society for health. We will. It is about the type of society we want. Either it is one where individuals assume risk without regard to ability to pay as in the United States. Or it is a society where through government we spread risk and spend collectively because health is a fundamental human right.

We, on this side of the House, prefer the Canadian way. Where cost is shared by the entire population through a public health care system. If our costs go up we will have to pay for them. And I know that Canadians will be prepared to pay that cost. But we will do so collectively as a society.

Mr. Speaker, there is one other area where investments by government must be planned for the longer term: that is infrastructure. A modern infrastructure is key to our economic and environmental objectives. It is simply impossible, for example, to build a road or transit system in the period of time for which governments normally budget. Every single provincial premier has urged me to make our infrastructure spending a long term program.  So that they can plan their capital spending. So that they can work with mayors on their urban planning. So that we can all do our environmental planning.

Our Caucus has been equally forceful on this issue. They have convinced our Cabinet. And they have convinced me.

A comprehensive urban strategy for the 21st century requires everything from roads and transit, to affordable housing, to the information highway. We will establish a long term, strategic infrastructure plan in time for the next budget. This will help us meet our social, economic and environmental objectives and also help us address the challenge of climate change.

Mr. Speaker, we must put Canada's families and children first. I referred earlier to the National Child Benefit. Even in tough fiscal times, this government worked with our provincial partners and the voluntary sector to put in place a new architecture for helping Canadian families and children. For lifting children out of poverty. Families out of welfare.

We have made progress. The National Child Benefit is probably the most significant new social program since medicare. We have to build on it and increase it. Because too many children still live in poverty. We will begin immediate consultations with our partners so as to be ready in the next budget to put in place a long term investment plan. To enable Canada to turn the corner on child poverty and break the cycle of poverty and dependency for Canadian families.

We will also implement targeted measures for families caring for children with severe disabilities. We will reform our family and criminal laws to ensure that the interests of children are paramount. And that children are protected from exploitation and abuse. We will ensure that no Canadian is forced to give up their jobs or income to care for a family member that is gravely ill or dying.

Mr. Speaker, early in our mandate, I asked my Cabinet to find new and better ways to close the gap in life chances between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. To turn the corner in this partnership. We will take important new steps in this direction with an ambitious legislative agenda to create new institutions and investments to build individual and community capacity: investments in children, education and health care, investments in social, cultural and economic development.

We have learned that partnership must start at home. That all departments must work as one if we are to be successful. We have also learned that there is no single recipe. No one size that fits all. Our approach will be unified and tailored to the diverse needs and aspirations of aboriginal people. And it will be in partnership.

We have also set out an ambitious environment agenda. Canadians understand that our health, our economy, the future of our children depend on the quality of our environment. We will intensify our work towards safe water and clean air. We will deliver on our commitments to protect Canada's wilderness areas, creating new national parks and marine conservation areas. We will clean up contaminated sites. We will implement the new Agricultural Policy Framework, with its important stewardship initiatives that are so vital, not only to rural Canada but to all Canadians.

Of course, the current preoccupation throughout the world is climate change. Scientists have sounded the warning. People around the world have responded. Governments in Canada's North have been among the world's leaders in building the consensus for action. We have no choice but to act. It is our moral responsibility and it is in our enduring interest.

We are working hard with Canadian provinces and industries to develop an approach that will work for everyone. We will call for a fair contribution from every sector of society. We will have to reward innovators. Invest in new technologies. Be more efficient and productive. We can reduce the costs and maximize the opportunities. Citizens and consumers are ready to adjust their behaviour.

Mr. Speaker, it will not be easy. We are grappling with very difficult issues. But I have no doubt that, working together, we will do it. We will have a strategy in place that allows us to meet our obligations by 2012. And by the end of this year, we will bring forward a resolution to Parliament on the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

Mr. Speaker, clearly all of our objectives require a strong economy. Let me repeat what I have said so often. We will maintain our unwavering commitment to balanced budgets, disciplined spending, debt reduction, a declining ratio of debt to GDP, and fair and competitive taxes. We will continue our commitment to reallocate spending from low priorities, from what works less well to what works best. This has been our approach. This will be our approach.

We will continue to amend our regulatory policies and practices to serve the public good and to promote innovation and a more favourable climate for investment and growth. We will continue to reduce the administrative burden on businesses. We will work with the private sector to bolster investor confidence. We will continue to work with small and medium size industries who are such an important source of job creation.

We will continue to build on our investments in research and development and in skills and learning. We will re-orient our labour market programs so that Canadians are ready for the future. We will support graduate studies and the indirect costs of university research. I will be participating in November in the National Summit on Innovation and Learning so that we can work, sector by sector, to help make Canada a magnet for talent and investment.

Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize the importance of integrity in public life. When I look around this House, on all sides, I know that none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. But our mistakes are made in good faith, not in bad faith. No one is here to enrich themselves. But we all must recognize the importance of perception.

And to meet the very legitimate concerns of Canadians, the government will introduce, this month, legislation on lobbyists , on a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians and on the role and responsibilities of the Ethics Counsellor. Next month we will introduce comprehensive election and political party finance reform. I hope that all members will work in a non partisan way to quickly pass the best possible bills. Canadians will settle for nothing less.

Mr. Speaker, in these unsettled times, Canadians share the global concern about terrorism, about weapons of mass destruction, about war in any part of the world. We have a special role to play because of the nature of our country. A country that has welcomed immigrants from everywhere. A country that is being steadily enriched by Aboriginal peoples: the First Nations, the Inuit, the Métis. A country that has proven that pluralism works. And so we will continue to promote the values of democracy, peace and freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

I am a great believer in a multi-lateral approach to dealing with international issues. The United Nations can be a great force for good in the world. It is in all of our interests to use the power of international institutions in this complex world. Collective action, whenever possible, produces greater long term results than unilateral action. It is the best way to deal with states which support terrorism or who attempt to develop weapons of mass destruction. And deal with them we must. We must deal collectively and directly with those who threaten our peace and security.

To that end, before the end of our mandate, the government will be setting out a long-term direction on international and defence policy, to reflect our values and interests and to ensure that our military is able to meet the demands that we place upon it.

We must also work collectively and aggressively to close the gap between rich and poor nations. I am proud of Canada's leadership in helping build a consensus to support the New Partnership for African Development. To help Africans lift themselves out of poverty and into a brighter future. This is a long road and our partnership must be enduring. That is why we are committed to double our international assistance by 2010 and allocate half of it to Africa.

Trade and investment have been keys to the prosperity we enjoy. We are working very hard to prepare for the next round of multilateral trade negotiations. And we are also working to resolve issues such as softwood lumber.

But we must also make trade and investment work for the developing world. That is why we are opening our markets to the least developed countries. That is one of the reasons why we will continue to press rich countries to eliminate their agricultural subsidies.

Mr. Speaker, I have been enormously privileged to serve this country and this House for as long as I have. During my time in this place, one of the most important pieces of legislation was the Official Languages Act. And I am pleased to announce that our government will lay out an Action Plan to re-energize our Official Languages policy.

Mr. Speaker, in the coming months, I intend to spend a lot of time with young Canadians. When I travel across Canada I will talk to a new generation about the importance of public life. I will discuss with them the role of public service. How they can participate and lead in the future. I will talk about the nature of Canada. Reflect on the importance of having two official languages and an obligation to promote them. Reflect on the benefits of a multi-cultural society and of how we create harmony in diversity. I will have the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned. But always, always, on how to make this an even better country.

We are a confident people. A proud nation. We can shape our own destiny. We can choose the Canada we want. Knowing who we are. Knowing where we are going together.

We have a lot of work to do. Let's roll up our sleeves and get on with it.