Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's very important for me to be here today. I'm pleased to be here with you. I'm pleased to be before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I'm happy to be here because it's all important, industry in Canada, and I know that it's important to you also.
As you said, I'm here with Richard Dicerni and Ron Parker. Richard is the deputy minister and Ron is the visiting assistant deputy minister.
Mr. Chairman, I am proud to say that my Department and other organizations that make up the portfolio, and for which I am accountable, have accomplished many significant achievements in the last number of months. It is these accomplishments and some future business that I would like to take the next ten minutes to talk about.
Recently I was pleased to join the Prime Minister and the finance minister to release our government's new science and technology strategy. Our strategy can be summed up in two words: excellence and commercialization. Our plan builds on Canada's research excellence, and it improves the ability of researchers and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into innovative commercial products.
As most of you know, another major undertaking has been the work we've done on telecommunications. Our government telecommunication package includes varying a CRTC decision on access to an independent voice-over-Internet protocol; issuing a policy direction to the CRTC asking them to rely on market forces to the maximum extent possible rather than regulation; establishing the framework for the CRTC and the industry to work together to develop a consumer ombudsman; and, most significantly, varying the CRTC decision on forbearance to introduce true competition to Canada's local telephone markets.
As well, I introduced Bill C-41 to further protect consumers as the telecom regulatory framework moves to a more deregulated and market-based system.
In short, we have reformed the way in which our telecommunications are regulated in Canada, and I'm proud of the work we've done on this file to date.
In all areas of our economy, our government is strongly committed to improving competitiveness and prosperity. Last November we presented an ambitious long-term plan called Advantage Canada to create a positive economic climate. In March, with Budget 2007, we started implementing major elements of that plan. To create a positive economic climate, our government delivered on elements that will work for the economy as a whole.
In Budget 2007 our government increased the capital cost allowance rate on investments for manufacturing businesses. As you know, that was one of the major recommendations of your committee, and I thank you for this recommendation. I'm proud that we followed all the important recommendations in your report.
We also, as a government, reduced the federal debt while making substantial investments in education, research, and training programs, and we put more than $16 billion into infrastructure investments. These measures assist all industrial sectors as they are designed to drive our economy and make Canadian companies international leaders.
As you know, the Canadian aerospace and defence sector is an example of an industry that competes globally every day.
On April 2, we announced the launch of a new, transparent research and development initiative.
We came to office with a very significant piece of legislation—the government accountability bill. Accountability applies across government, as well as to Industry Canada, and specifically to a new program we have introduced, called the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative.
This is a highly transparent program based on new criteria, and aimed at promoting research and accelerating innovation in the Canadian aerospace, defence, security and space industries. This program is expected to invest $900 million over the next five years into new projects. It will support strategic research and development, and new commercial products and services. It will result in significant spinoffs for industry, and it will be my job to ensure that those spinoffs are as positive as they can be and are linked to high technology.
While we've seen positives in the aerospace and defence sectors, the North American automobile sector is experiencing some challenges. Despite these challenges, the Canadian auto sector continues to attract billions of dollars in new investment and new product mandates. Last year, Ontario automobile plants produced more cars and trucks than any other auto-making region in North America. Canadian auto workers are consistently noted for the quality of the cars they make.
Another area we are watching closely is our forest products sector. Canada's forest products industry is an integral part of our nation's economy. Our government is working closely with the industry to enhance opportunities for this sector. We will help the industry grow offshore markets, promote value-added manufacturing, and help protect it from the growing threat of forest pests.
The manufacturing sector is also facing its own challenges. Although there have been job losses in this sector, as I was saying earlier, those job losses have been offset in many regions by strong job gains—jobs that are full-time and pay well. So far this year, close to 153,000 new jobs have been created in Canada. Our unemployment rate is 6.1 per cent, an historic 33-year low.
Yesterday, our government, along with Canadian manufacturers and exporters, responded in a very positive way to the recommendations made by your Committee on manufacturing. We are now taking action to help manufacturers. In Budget 2007, we came forward with measures to address the short-term priorities and long-term competitive needs of this industry sector.
Part of building a competitive and efficient economy is ensuring that goods and services can move to where there is demand. North-south trade, while vital to the Canadian economy, is not the only direction this government is looking at.
As a government, it is our goal to build a stronger Canadian economic union. I'm pleased to report the federal and provincial governments are working together on the removal of internal trade barriers. A key component of this plan is an agreement to implement full labour mobility within Canada by April 2009.
On going forward, Budget 2007 gave me the mandate to establish an independent expert panel to review Canada's competition policies. As the telecommunications policy review panel was helpful in setting a course for telecom reform, it is my hope that we will see the same types of constructive recommendations from the competition panel on how to improve the state of Canadian competitiveness.
We will soon have Bill C-47, the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, before this committee for your consideration. This bill will meet the Government of Canada's commitment to the International Olympic Committee to protect the Olympic and Paralympic brands. It is balanced legislation in line with what other countries have done and are doing when they host similar kinds of international sporting events.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, as an update, I'm pleased to say that Bill C-26, the payday loan legislation we introduced to help protect consumers, received royal assent on May 16. Already several provinces are passing their own consumer protection legislation to apply this exemption and regulate the payday loan industry.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, I'd like to thank the Committee for its diligent work these past months. I can assure Committee members that they will have my full cooperation.
I would now be very pleased to answer any questions you may have over the course of the next hour. Thank you.