Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My opening remarks should be about 10 minutes. I hope they're not more than that.
I will keep my remarks brief so that there will be enough time for questions.
First of all, I would like to thank the chair and the members of the committee for recognizing the seriousness of the recession that is presently gripping every country's economy at the same time.
I am confident that all members understand the importance of expediting the passage of the important measures in Bill C-10, the first budget 2009 implementation bill, to stimulate and protect our economy. As we all recognize, in order for these measures to be most effective, they must be implemented in a timely manner. That is why we need parliamentarians to pass this bill without delay.
Last year, I note, the first budget bill took approximately three months, or more than one hundred days, to receive royal assent. We do not have that kind of luxury this year.
We will be going through a very difficult year, a year in which we will see a slowing of the economy, both in Canada and around the world, a drop in exports and more and more job losses.
Mr. Chairman, to delay our economic action plan for partisan or abstract debates would be reckless. We owe it to those Canadians who will be hardest hit by this difficult period to rise above politics as usual and act as quickly as possible.
To those who would engage in lengthy debates about our economic action plan, I remind them now that during December and January we held the most comprehensive pre-budget consultations in history, which were open to all parliamentarians. We asked for input then, input that helped to shape our plan. That time has now passed. It is now time for Parliament to act. I am heartened that the majority of this committee has understood that and has understood why we must expedite this bill, led by their able chair, the member for Edmonton—Leduc.
As I mentioned, the recession is hitting every country in the world simultaneously. It did not start in Canada.
As the Governor of the Bank of Canada said to this committee earlier this month, “The reality is that the financial crisis and subsequent recession originated beyond our borders and the necessary triggers for a sustainable recovery must be found there as well.” We need to acknowledge that reality. As an open exporting country, our prosperity is tied to a healthy, open global economy.
A recovery in the global economy, especially in the United States, will be a strong prerequisite for sustained economic growth in Canada. That's why we are taking a leading role in international forums to help facilitate that. We have been especially prominent on the regulatory leadership file. Canada is co-chairing a G20 group, known as Working Group 1, that is developing a blueprint to enhance regulation of financial services and improved transparency to help avoid another global banking crisis. That group and the others will be preparing their work for the G20 leaders meeting in London on April 2.
Recently I attended a meeting of the G7 finance ministers in Rome. In my discussions, two things quickly became evident. First of all, Canada has become a model for the world to follow in combatting the current global economic crisis, both in how we have managed our finances and how we have kept our financial system strong.
In the words of President Obama last week, “...in the midst of this enormous economic crisis, I think Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven't always been here in the United States. And I think that's important for us to take note of.”
Second, like other countries, we must immediately take measures that will fulfill Canada's international commitment, meaning that we must implement the economic recovery plan as quickly as possible.
For Canada, the first stage of that process is to pass this bill and allow the government to put Canada's Economic Action Plan into effect quickly.
But our expectations must be realistic. The plan in itself will not be able to protect every job or to solve every problem in the global economy. As I said, the recession did not start in Canada. Concerted international efforts will be needed to stamp it out.
What our plan will do is take real action to protect those hardest hit by the current recession, while helping create and maintain jobs. Briefly, let me outline a few select measures from our economic action plan being legislated in Bill C-10, measures vital to stimulating Canada's economy, and measures that should be passed quickly.
First of all, Bill C-10 implements various tax relief measures outlined in the recent budget. This represents important tax relief that will help stimulate the economy and also remove 265,000 low-income Canadians from the tax rolls completely.
Among the tax measures are these: raising the age credit amount by $1,000 to help seniors; increasing the amount that can be withdrawn under the home buyers' plan to $25,000 to help first-time home buyers; an extension of the temporary mineral exploration tax credit; raising the threshold from $400,000 to $500,000 to allow more job-creating businesses to qualify for the reduced 11% small business tax rate; increasing the basic personal amount that all Canadians can earn before paying federal income taxes; and allowing Canadians to keep more of their money before being subject to higher tax rates by increasing the two lowest personal income tax brackets.
I note that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation heralded many of these moves as important broad-based measures that will allow individuals and families to make the decisions that are necessary for them during these uncertain times.
Bill C-10 also helps Canadians hardest hit by the recession by extending all regular EI benefit entitlements by five extra weeks, increasing the maximum benefit duration from 45 weeks to 50 weeks for two years.
I emphasize that this sorely needed assistance cannot be provided before Parliament allows the bill to receive royal assent.
Bill C-10 also takes action to help improve access to financing and strengthens our financial system. We all recognize the impact the current economic downturn is having on access to credit.
To combat the recession, our plan contains a number of measures designed to ease access to credit for Canadians and for Canadian businesses. Many of those measures are in set out in Bill C-10.
The bill also allows EDC and BDC to extend additional financing to Canadian businesses, which is vitally important.
In addition, it also increases the maximum amount for loans made by the Canada Small Business Financing Program.
These and several other measures explain why organizations like the Alliance des manufacturiers et exportateurs du Québec have praised the merits of our plan. They want it to be put into effect quickly. I quote:
Budget 2009... includes a number of positive measures designed to help our businesses in this time of crisis. It is imperative that these measures be put into effect as quickly as possible.
Bill C-10 also authorizes nearly $6 billion for initiatives ranging from infrastructure to community adjustment, housing, and health care. This includes nearly $4 billion in investments to pave roads, improve our universities and colleges, fix sewers, and repair bridges. These are investments that would have been required regardless, but they will help create jobs now by being brought forward. As the Federation of Canadian Municipalities recently stated:
“Quality infrastructure will help Canada compete for talent and investment in the global economy.”
With all orders of government working around the same table, with the same goal, [budget 2009] will create tens of thousands of jobs, boost our flagging economy, and deliver value to Canadians for generations to come.
Our plan also includes over $1 billion in investments for social and low-income housing, seniors' housing, housing for persons with disabilities, and first nations' housing.
These represent only a few highlights of the vital measures included in Bill C-10.
Also included are initiatives to help transition toward a Canadian securities regulator with willing provinces and territories, to modernize the Investment Canada Act to encourage new investments and the jobs that new investments will produce, to protect consumers from anti-competitive and unscrupulous business practices by adding new provisions to the Competition Act, and more.
Colleagues, I can see that at 524 pages, this is a detailed and lengthy bill. We could, as parliamentarians, spend months engaging in debate, some of it abstract or philosophical, and sometimes partisan, I'm sure, about the measures within this large bill, but as I mentioned earlier, we do not have that luxury. The consequences of delay for Canadians are too high. Bill C-10 contains the right measures that we need to implement right now in order to help Canadian families now and to help our overall economy weather the current economic storm.
We must pass this bill as soon as we can.
At this point, I invite the committee to ask questions.
Thank you for the courtesy of permitting me to deliver that opening statement, Chairman. I look forward to the questions of the members of the committee.