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Conservative MP for York Centre (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 48.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, if my hon. friend were right, I would agree with him, but unfortunately, he is not. The Liberals tend to talk about nothing, because that is what they tend to be expert at.
Going door to door in my riding of York Centre, which I do often, people tell me that they are looking forward to the new fair elections act, because they know that having to vouch for somebody is not a fair way of indicating voters. As our Prime Minister has said, it is important that we have a secret ballot and not secret voters in our elections.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend is absolutely right. Our government was sent here by the Canadian people to get a job done. We made a number of commitments in the 2011 election. We have been fulfilling those commitments, and we intend to fulfill them all. We have respect for the voters of this country, and that is why we are introducing the fair elections act to even improve our own democracy and improve voter turnout in the next election.
I would agree with what my hon. friend has said and what he has indicated. We should maintain the Standing Orders as they are, as they appear today.
I would add that earlier in my remarks I may have indicated that we had only four hours of debate. It was four days of debate. Let me correct that to ensure that it is clear in the record.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I would suggest to my hon. friend that if she did not have sufficient time or an opportunity to speak to her own bill that she address that to her own party's leadership. Maybe it is more of a reflection on her than on anything else.
The current Standing Orders, as they stand, seem to be fine when the New Democrats put forward private members' bills from a number of their own members. The member for Pontiac and also the Leader of the Opposition have put forward private members' bills that were governed by the same regime of Standing Orders. It seemed to work fine for them then. The Standing Orders work fine for Parliament now.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I respect the work that my hon. friend does here in the house. However, we have been debating Bill C-23 now for four hours. We have had 42 speakers on the bill.
As I outlined in my remarks, and as my hon. friend from my own party noted earlier, we need to take into account the limited number of hours that we have in this place and the limited amount of time allotted to each member of Parliament. If we were, in the fullness of time, as my hon. friend indicated, to let every member speak on every piece of legislation, each member would only be allowed to speak on eight bills throughout the life of a current year in Parliament. That is unacceptable. The Canadian people sent us here to engage in the fullness of debate, not only with our own members but also with opposition members.
We on the government side believe in full debate. We believe that this bill has been debated for a robust number of hours. We believe that the fair elections act is a fair bill, and we stand behind it as a government. I know that the Canadian people also do.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak to the motion brought forward by my opposition colleagues.
I note that my colleagues from the Liberal Party were not inclined to take up any of the suggestions made by the government House leader last Thursday. I would also welcome the opportunity to debate how his party would propose to eliminate the budget deficit, a commitment our government made to the Canadian people, which we will deliver on next year.
Today we are debating the motion from the Liberal Party, dealing with the long-standing provisions in the standing orders related to the curtailment of debate. In particular, the motion seeks to amend the standing orders so that one could not use the procedural mechanisms of either closure or time allocation in relation to any bill that seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act or the Parliament of Canada Act.
This limiting of the motion to these two acts obviously comes as no surprise, given that the opposition parties are opposed to our government's fair elections act, which would amend the Canada Elections Act. While the focus of my remarks today will be on Standing Orders 57 and 78 and their histories, evolution, and appropriateness, I would also like to take a minute to make a few observations on this particular aspect of the motion.
I would contend that if it were not for their opposition to the fair elections act, we would not be debating this motion at all today. Previous governments of different partisan stripes have long used these procedural mechanisms to curtail debate when they were in government. Of particular note, there is good reason why my Liberal colleagues did not include in their motion, amendments to the standing orders to change how closure or time allocation is used.
Their real opposition is with a particular bill before Parliament, and I expect most of their comments today will be directed toward that bill, as opposed to the Standing Orders. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to state my support for the fair elections act, and I will quote the Minister of State for Democratic Reform as to why I believe the bill should be passed:
...the fair elections bill would ensure that everyday Canadians are the players in the game, that special interests are pushed to the sidelines of the game, and that rule-breakers are pushed out of the game altogether.
He went on to say:
It would close big-money loopholes, impose new penalties on political impostors who make rogue calls, and empower law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.
As I said, what I would like to focus my remarks on today is the history and evolution of Standing Orders 57 and 78. By highlighting their evolution, I think it will become clear to those following this debate, possibly even to the members opposite, why these procedural mechanisms that curtail debate are necessary and appropriate.
Often in this place, the terms “closure” and “time allocation” are incorrectly switched and misused, especially by the opposition. To be clear, Standing Order 57 provides the government with a procedural mechanism to force a decision by the House on any matter currently under debate. This is referred to as “closure”. Whereas, Standing Order 78 sets out the procedural mechanism for restricting the length of debate on bills through “guillotine motions”; referred to as “time allocation”. The standing order actually has three subsections that set out different kinds of restrictions which apply to the allocation of time, depending on the degree of acceptance among the representatives of all parties.
Before I provide an overview of the evolution of these two standing orders, I would like to quote three sources: the current government House leader; a past government House leader; and Beauchesne’s, which is one of our procedural bibles. Each of these statements address the necessity and appropriateness of using such procedural mechanisms. To begin, on page 162 of Beauchesne’s it reads:
Time allocation is a device for planning the use of time during the various stages of consideration of a bill rather than bringing the debate to an immediate conclusion.
A compelling argument as to the necessity of time allocation motions was made by the former Liberal government House leader when speaking to the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of Procedures of the House of Commons, the last time the rules regarding time allocation and closure were amended.
On October 4, 2001, as per page 5946 of the Debates, he stated:
Time allocation is necessary, of course, when debating legislation, so that the government can put through its legislative program. The opposition parties are, I am sure, aware of that necessity but they object when the government makes use of it.
I will leave it to the House to decide who has stated this principle more eloquently and effectively, but in keeping with the words of a former Liberal government House leader, our very own government House leader has also tried to convey this principle to our colleagues in opposition. As recently as April 3, 2014, he stated the following with respect to time allocation and Bill C-31:
Of course, time allocation is not used by this government to shut down debate, because here we are debating, which we will be doing tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday. It is used as a scheduling device so that all members of this House can have certainty and confidence about when the debate will occur, and more importantly, about when the vote will occur and when the decision will ultimately be made. That is very important.
I find it very interesting that this same practice that was used many times by the Liberals when they were in office is now being criticized by that same party. Canadians are not fooled, however. They expect this from the “do as I say, not as I do” Liberal Party.
I would now like to provide an overview of the history and evolution of these two procedural mechanisms, as it is important to note how they came to be established as rules in our Standing Orders and how they have evolved over time.
While neither closure nor time allocation existed as procedural mechanisms at the time of Confederation, it did not take long before it was recognized that complete freedom of debate was impossible and that some restraint would have to be exercised, or some accommodation reached, for the House to conduct its business within a reasonable timeframe.
In the years following the turn of the century, the inability of the House to come to a vote on a question was not infrequent, leading often to long, protracted debates.
This led to the House in 1913 adopting amendments to its rules to add a mechanism to end debate called “closure”—effectively our current Standing Order 57. Other rules then followed that also addressed the issue of lengthy debates, including limiting the length of the speeches of members in 1927 and, in 1955, further limits were imposed on certain debates.
Closure was applied 11 times from 1913 to 1932, but then was not used again until 1956, when the pipeline debate took place. That spring, during the acrimonious debate on the bill, entitled, “An act to establish the Northern Ontario Pipeline Crown Corporation”, closure was invoked at each stage of the legislative process. It was the only mechanism, at the time, that the government could use to advance this legislation.
With respect to legislation, the use of closure was deemed to be somewhat inflexible and inadequate as a tool for conducting the business of the House. Discussions began with a view to looking at ways in which the time of the House could be better managed with respect to the consideration of bills. It was felt, as highlighted by the pipeline debate, that the closure mechanism was not effective in advancing legislation, since the process of giving notice, moving the motion, and voting on it had to be repeated at every stage of a given bill.
In the 1960s, as the business of the House became more complex, the House agreed to establish a number of special committees charged with considering the procedures of the House and, in particular, to make suggestions to expedite public business. It was recognized that the complexity of legislation was increasing and that procedural mechanisms were needed to ensure that business would be dispatched within a reasonable amount of time.
Agreeing upon a mechanism was not easy. In the 10th report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House in 1964, it was acknowledged that it was difficult to reach an all-party agreement on the proposal to deal with the fundamental question of the allocation of time, and so no recommendation was made at that time.
Following the report, early in the next session, the government moved a resolution that included a time allocation mechanism. It called for the creation of a business committee that would propose an allocation of time for the specific item of business referred to it. If unanimous agreement could not be reached by the committee, consisting of a member from each party, a minister could then give notice during routine proceedings that at the next sitting of the House, he or she would move a motion allocating the time for the item of business or the stage.
The government's resolution was debated for 12 days and amended to provide, in the instance where unanimous agreement could not be reached, for a minimum of two sitting days at the second reading stage, two sitting days at the committee stage, and one sitting day at the third reading stage.
Eventually this proposal was hived off from the resolution and studied by a special committee. The committee proposed a further amendment that would allow the Speaker to extend the sitting on the final day of a time allocation order applying to third reading of a bill. On June 11, 1965, the proposal was adopted as provisional Standing Order 15(a).
In the following Parliament, the House decided not to extend the provisional Standing Order 15(a). Instead, the House referred the matter of time allocation to the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization.
On June 20, 1969, the House adopted the third report of the committee, which provided for three options under which a time allocation order could be made—effectively the basis for our current Standing Order 78.
The procedure mechanisms for closure and for time allocation have remained, by and large, unchanged since they were established in 1913 and 1969 respectively. There have been a few minor changes, which I will briefly outline
With respect to closure, the mechanism has been modified on only three occasions. In each case, the change related to the time for putting the question. In 1913, the time for putting all questions necessary to dispose of the closure motion was fixed for 2 a.m.
Subsequently, the time was moved back one hour to 1 a.m. in 1955, in order to conform with the change made to the ordinary time of adjournment. The time was then moved back to 11 p.m. in April 1991, and finally to 8 p.m. in October 2001.
Similarly, there have been only a few amendments to the time allocation Standing Order. In June 1987, amendments were adopted to provide that time allocation motions after only oral notice would be moved under government orders rather than under motions during routine proceedings, and that debate on items of business under consideration at the time the motion was moved would be deemed adjourned.
Then in 1991, the House agreed to remove the two-hour debate on the time allocation motion moved pursuant to then Standing Order 78(2) and 78(3). The motion was to be decided forthwith. In addition, the text of the Standing Order was amended to provide that if the time allocation motion were moved and adopted at the beginning of government orders and the bill under question was then called and debated for the remainder of that sitting, that would count as one sitting day for the purpose of the Standing Order.
As is the case with many Standing Orders, practice and Speaker's rulings have also played a role in defining how the procedural mechanism of time allocation is to be used. The following are a sampling of some of the key rulings since the implementation of such a Standing Order in 1969.
In December 1978, Speaker Jerome ruled that a time allocation motion could be moved covering both report and third reading stages, even though third reading had not yet begun. Speaker Sauvé confirmed in 1983 that notice of intention to move a time allocation motion could be given at any time.
Speaker Fraser ruled that an oral notice of a time allocation motion need only be a notice of intention and not notice of the actual text of the motion.
Finally, in 2001 a new Standing Order was adopted, flowing from a recommendation in the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of Procedures of the House of Commons that I referenced earlier. Standing Order 67(1) was adopted, providing for a 30-minute question and answer period when a closure motion or a time allocation motion, without the agreement of any of the opposition parties, were moved on a bill. During this 30-minute period, questions would be directed to the minister sponsoring the item of business under debate, or to the minister acting on his or her behalf.
From the historical overview I have just provided, I think that it is telling that these procedural mechanisms have not only been longstanding, but that they have also remained largely unchanged since they were implemented.
I would venture to say, therefore, that the reason for this is that they fulfill an important purpose, that is to provide the government of the day with a tool to ensure that legislation can be debated and advanced through the House in a timely fashion. This is a tool that all governments have used to date.
Without such a tool being available to the government of the day, the opposition would be able to indefinitely delay each and every government bill. That would be undemocratic and would not recognize the mandate given to the government by the Canadian people.
In closing, I need only go back to the second session of the 37th Parliament to highlight an example of the use of time allocation on a bill that would violate the conditions set out in the motion that we are debating today. It was the previous government, and the very same government House leader I quoted earlier, that moved a time allocation motion for Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). Therefore, I question not only the purpose of today's motion, as it is clear that the procedural mechanisms of closure and time allocation serve an important role in this place, but also the sincerity of the party opposite, as those members know full well that without this mechanism, governments would be unable to pass virtually any bill.
Tax Evasion April 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, hiding income and assets in foreign jurisdictions to evade taxes is a very serious issue that undermines the integrity and fairness of Canada's tax system. I welcome the chance to outline the actions our government has taken to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
In private member's Motion No. 485, the member for Rivière-du-Nord has called on the government to “study and measure Canadian tax losses to international tax havens and tax evasion, in order to determine the Canadian federal 'tax gap'”. The motion further states that the Parliamentary Budget Officer should provide an independent estimate of the Canadian federal tax gap arising from tax evasion and tax avoidance through the use of tax havens, based on information that would be supplied by Canada Revenue Agency.
It is important for everyone here to listen to this. Our government believes that there are better and more effective ways to deal with the problems than simply going ahead with another study. Broadly defined, the tax gap is the difference between the taxes that would be paid if all obligations were fully met in all instances, and those that are actually received.
As was mentioned in the first hour of debate, there is ongoing international discussion about the precision, accuracy, and utility of any methodology used to calculate the revenues that may be lost due to international tax non-compliance.
To state the obvious, international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance are all about keeping money out of the tax collector's hands. They often involve undeclared income and assets that are deliberately hidden from the government.
An important point to make, and one that bears repeating, is that estimating the size of the international tax gap is an extremely difficult and unreliable undertaking. In fact, the OECD echoed this thought when it said that the tax gap “is almost impossible to calculate” at a recent appearance before the finance committee. Why the opposition fails to grasp this I am not sure.
International tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance are certainly not new problems, nor are they unique to Canada. Recovering taxes lost to international tax non-compliance has been a significant challenge for most developed countries and a priority for their tax administrations for quite some time. Not only is failure to report income from domestic or foreign sources illegal, but it is also patently unfair to the vast majority of law-abiding Canadians who play by the rules and pay their fair share.
Our government has focused its efforts on discouraging tax evasion and tax avoidance from happening in the first place, and on identifying and dealing with it effectively when it does occur. We believe that the best use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars is not to spend them on “guesstimating” the international tax gap, but rather to continue to pursue the strategy we laid out in Canada's economic action plan. Only the opposition could think “guesstimating” the tax gap is an effective use of taxpayer dollars.
In economic action plan 2013, we provided the CRA with additional tools to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. Many of the measures we announced, such as the offshore tax informant program, are now coming into effect. They build the CRA's capacity to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance to ensure tax fairness for all Canadians.
The offshore tax informant program was launched on January 15 of this year. Under this program, individuals with credible information about international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance may be eligible for a financial reward if the information they provide leads to the assessment and collection of additional federal taxes owing in cases of major international tax non-compliance.
In economic action plan 2013, we also streamlined the legal process by which the CRA obtains information concerning unnamed persons from third parties, such as banks. “Unnamed persons”, in layman's terms, are those unidentified parties with whom the taxpayer, under audit or investigation, may have had dealings. These persons can include individuals as well as lists of clients or persons to whom the taxpayer has paid money.
The CRA may issue a requirement to obtain information or documents for any purpose relating to the legislation it administers. For example, it may issue a requirement to a financial intermediary to identify unnamed persons who hold foreign assets or who are involved in foreign financial transactions.
The measures we introduced in economic action plan 2013 will make it much faster to obtain information in cases of suspected tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
In economic action plan 2013, we also changed the reporting requirements for international electronic funds transfers of $10,000 or more. As of January 2015, certain financial intermediaries will have to report these transactions to the CRA, just as they do now to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, FINTRAC.
With this new measure in place, the CRA will be better able to verify the accuracy of information provided by taxpayers who engage in foreign financial transactions.
In addition, we brought in changes to the reporting requirements for Canadians with foreign income or property worth more than $100,000. These Canadians must now provide more detailed information about their offshore holdings to the CRA, including the names of specific foreign institutions and countries where offshore assets are located and the associated income earned on the offshore assets.
Also, the normal reassessment period has been extended to allow the CRA time to properly assess tax in cases where taxpayers have failed to report offshore income on their annual tax returns, and their offshore asset reporting forms have either been filed late or incorrectly.
To address the problem of non-compliance effectively, it is absolutely crucial to have good information at one's disposal. These new tools will strengthen the CRA's ability to identify and deal effectively with tax cheats.
Our government has invested $30 million over five years to ensure that the CRA is in a position to take full advantage of the new measures we have introduced. This includes new resources of $15 million through economic action plan 2013 and an additional $15 million in reallocated CRA funds.
Half of the investment, or $15 million, will be used to develop and implement the electronic systems the CRA will require to receive reports from banks and other financial intermediaries on international electronic funds transfers. The other half, that is the other $15 million, will be used over the next five years to establish dedicated resources to address offshore non-compliance.
These resources will enhance the CRA's existing internationally focused audit and compliance programs. The CRA has established a new offshore compliance division to ensure a focused approach in implementing the measures contained in economic action plan 2013.
Here is another important point. The CRA has already made significant progress in identifying and pursuing taxpayers who attempt to hide their money in offshore jurisdictions. Since 2006, over 7,700 cases of offshore aggressive tax planning have been audited, which have been worth about $4.6 billion in unpaid taxes.
Since 2007, the CRA has conducted audits of over 389 cases of high-net-worth individuals who were using sophisticated business structures and offshore arrangements to avoid taxes. It identified over $305 million in unpaid taxes.
Our government's tough stance on international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance is having a ripple effect. We can point not only to the number of cases of international tax non-compliance we have identified but also to the number of taxpayers with previously undeclared income who have chosen to correct their tax affairs voluntarily.
The CRA's voluntary disclosures program has seen a significant increase in the number of disclosures received involving offshore accounts or assets. This number has grown from a little over 1,200 in 2006-07 to more than 4,000 in 2011-12. Voluntary disclosures accepted and completed revealed just under $1.5 billion in unreported income and an estimated $416 million in federal taxes owing.
I just want to conclude by saying that our government's targeted actions to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance are finding their mark. We will continue to pursue those individuals and businesses that attempt to shirk their tax obligations at the expense of hard-working Canadians who pay their fair share. That is why our government is taking action.
Digital Economy April 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Industry. We now live in a digital world and almost every job, every sector, every aspect of our lives is affected by digital technologies. What connects us today are the Internet and new technologies that have created tremendous opportunities for Canadians to communicate with each other and businesses to compete globally.
Could the minister please tell the House what our government is doing to ensure that Canadians can take full advantage of the digital age?
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the excellent Minister of State (Finance) that we are so lucky to have in our government. He is doing wonderful work on our behalf and on behalf of all Canadians.
The minister spoke about taxes. It is clear that our government is on record as leading a job recovery, an economic recovery, based on lower taxes. We have seen what the NDP can do to an economy if it has its way. I refer all hon. members back to Ontario, when Bob Rae, before he became a Liberal, was premier of Ontario. We saw record levels of debt. We saw record levels of increased taxation. We saw record levels of unemployment, in fact the highest levels of unemployment of any jurisdiction in North America. Now the NDP would have us bring what they did in Ontario to Canada. I say no.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I guess the benefit of being in the NDP is that one can enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
Our government has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any other government in Canadian history. The way we have gone about doing that is not with a trade-off. It is not either/or. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change on the one hand but create jobs, growth, and economic prosperity on the other hand. That is exactly what we are doing, not just in this budget but with every piece of legislation we pass. Our focus is on what matters most to Canadians, and that is jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pride today to rise here in my place and lend my voice to support Bill C-31, an act to implement certain provisions of the federal budget that was brought down on February 11, 2014, here in this House.
I represent the great riding of York Centre. York Centre is a unique riding. We have 15 different ethnocultural groups that represent at least 5% of the population. People come from all over the world to the riding of York Centre, and they come for a variety of reasons. They are escaping persecution. They are escaping racism. Most importantly, they are coming to this great country of Canada to seek opportunity for themselves, but more importantly, for their children.
Recently I read about a poll taken around the world asking people where they would like to live. What was their number one country, given their choice? The number one answer given was “Canada”. We have read in the history books that 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, the greatest thing one could say was “civis Romanus sum”, “I am a citizen of Rome”. Today, thanks to our Prime Minister and to the actions of our government, the proudest thing Canadians can say, no matter where they are, whether in Canada or around the world, is “I am a citizen of Canada”. That is why we have people wanting to come to Canada from every corner of the earth.
Let me just step back a bit. Canadians have no monopoly on brains and ingenuity and creativity. That exists around the world. This is, however, one of the very few countries around the world that offers opportunity, so people come here seeking that opportunity to get a better life for themselves and their children. That is what Canada is about. That is the most Canadian thing.
We are so fortunate under this government. We have had a plan since 2006, unlike the previous Liberal government, which for 13 years balanced the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our society: seniors and children. It was actually quite an outrage.
What we have done is increase transfer payments to the provinces. We increased the GIS, at a record level of 25%, just before the last election. We now have the best-performing economy of any G7 country. It is a jobs-driven economy. We have created over one million net new jobs since the depth of the recession in July 2009. We are leading the G7.
In the month of January, we had a budgetary surplus of $2.9 billion and are on course to get a $6.5 billion budgetary surplus by the time our next budget comes down in 2015. We have done this by lowering taxes to record levels. We have lowered the corporate income tax to 15%, which has made Canada a huge investment opportunity and a destination for businesses to create jobs. We have negotiated nine free trade agreements, more than any Canadian government in history. We just closed negotiations on the Canada–Korea free trade agreement. Preceding that was the Canada–European Union free trade agreement. Trade means jobs, and this government knows that.
People in my riding tell me, when I go to door to door, which I do every weekend, that they have never had it better than under this government under the leadership of our current Prime Minister.
Our economy has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any G7 economy, at 36%. The G7 average is 90%. Our second closest competitor is Germany, at just over 50%. We have the highest, strongest income growth of any G7 country, and we have recovered all of the business investment lost during the economic recession. The IMF, the OECD, and the World Economic Forum have said that Canada is the best place to do business. We have the strongest financial system in the world, exceeding Basel III.
We have the strongest fundamentals in place over the next 50 years to grow our economy substantially. That is what business looks for. We have frozen EI premiums. Businesses want stability to create jobs. They need to know that, and this government has done that.
All the credit rating agencies, from Standard & Poor's to Moody's, have reiterated our AAA credit rating. No other G7 country has benefited from such a credit rating as Canada has.
We have brought in a series of budgets since 2006 that are not Conservative budgets or ideologically driven budgets. These are Canadian budgets. These are budgets that are good for the people of Canada. We have job creation. We have an economy that will stimulate jobs and encourage investment, unlike the New Democrats, whose ideology gives them the answers before they even look at the evidence. That is why they do not bother to read bills that come before the House, because their ideology will give them the answer before they even need to read them.
We have lowered taxes on average Canadians. We have lowered the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%, putting a thousand extra dollars in the pockets of Canadians. We believe that Canadians know what to do with their money better than what governments can do with it. We have enhanced the working income tax benefit. Eight million Canadians have opened up tax-free savings accounts. We have reduced the small business tax rate from 12% to 11% and the general business tax from 21% to 15%, as I indicated earlier. We are increasing the age credit and the pension income credit. We have taken more than one million Canadians off the tax rolls. No other government in Canadian history has ever been able to achieve that.
Our current unemployment rate, with a record number of people who want jobs in Canada because our economy is doing so well, is below 7%. In the heyday of the Liberals, in the mid 1990s, in an economy that was doing extremely well around the world, the unemployment rate never fell below 7%. We, in a fragile economy, must be doing something right, and it is not me who is saying that. It is all the economic institutions around the world who are saying that Canada is the model of economic performance.
When I was in business before I got into politics, I did a lot of travelling. People would come up to me when I would travel. They were very curious about Canada's success story and why it was doing so well relative to all other economies around the world. Now that I have been in government, I can see why. We are the only party that consults. We have had a plan since 2006 based on consultations with the Canadian people. The people told us that their priorities were jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity, and that has been our focus since 2006.
The only part of government spending we have reduced is spending on the operations of government. We have not reduced transfer payments to either people or governments. We have reduced spending on government operations, and that is saving the taxpayers of Canada money.
The first thing we did when we got into government in 2006, which put us in a good position to weather the economic storm that was coming, was begin to pay down the national debt by $37 billion. That gave us the latitude in later years, when the economic recession hit, to have the manoeuvrability to run a short-term deficit. Because of our government's policies on job creation and lower taxes, we are now going to have a $6.5 billion budgetary surplus, the only G7 country to have a surplus, in 2015.