Thank you, Chair. I'm here, of course, with officials from the Department of Finance who can be helpful on any technical questions after I make some relatively brief opening remarks.
Now before I begin, let me congratulate the chair and the members of the finance committee for your hard work over the past few months doing pre-budget consultations. I know you've been travelling across the country to places large and small, and I appreciate the effort you do.
Along with my consultations as Minister of Finance, the finance committee's pre-budget consultation does help ensure that Canadians are heard and that their voices are reported, through you, from across the country.
Recommendations flowing from your pre-budget hearings always inform and influence the ultimate budget document. I urge the finance committee to conclude its pre-budget consultations, and I look forward to reviewing your findings.
First, I want to urge the committee to study and pass Bill C-13, the Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act.
That legislative measure, adapted to today's realities, is an important and positive solution to the current economic challenges. It also prepares Canada to take advantage of tomorrow's economic prospects.
While the economic recovery remains fragile and uncertain, as exemplified by the situation in the U.S. and Europe, Canada will continue to face and feel the effects of global headwinds from abroad. In any event, our government knows that this is not the time to rest on our laurels, as we are still faced with very real economic challenges.
On economic growth, both the IMF and the OECD forecast that here in Canada we will have among the strongest economies in the G-7 in the years ahead. On jobs, Canada has the strongest job creation record in the G-7, with about 650,000 net new jobs created since the end of the recession in July 2009. Nearly 90% of those jobs are full-time. On our fiscal situation, Canada, based on IMF projections, has and will continue to have by far the lowest total government net debt to GDP ratio in the entire G-7.
On our financial sector, the World Economic Forum has, for the fourth straight year, rated our banking system the best in the world. On fiscal and economic fundamentals, Canada's credit rating, unlike that of numerous other countries, has been affirmed as the highest possible by all three major credit-rating agencies. Indeed, only last week, Standard & Poor's renewed Canada's leading credit rating, declaring, and I quote:
Canada's superior political and economic profile rests...on its policymaking and political institutions, which we see as highly effective, stable, and predictable. Canadian authorities have a strong track record in managing past economic and financial crises and delivering economic growth.
On competitiveness, Forbes, the influential business magazine, ranked Canada—largely due to our low tax plan for Canadian businesses—as the best country in the world for businesses to grow and create jobs. And the list goes on.
As RBC chief economist Craig Wright recently observed, and I quote:
In Canada's case we're well positioned, whether you look at it from our fiscal position in Canada, or indeed from our economic fundamentals. ... ...our domestic economy has a very solid foundation....
Nevertheless, our government recognizes that now is not the time to rest on our laurels, as very real economic challenges persist.
In fact, too many Canadians are still looking for work. As I just pointed out, the global economic recovery is still fragile. That is why our government continues to focus on supporting the Canadian economy and helping it grow.
At the first signs of economic downturn, at the end of 2008, our government responded by introducing Canada's Economic Action Plan. That measure earmarked $60 billion to support employment and growth while the country weathers the worst global economic crisis.
It is an economic action plan that, according to independent observers, was both appropriate and effective. In the words of BMO economist Doug Porter, it was, and I quote, “arguably one of the most successful stimulus programs in the industrialized world”.
Now, earlier this year, our government further built on the record of accomplishment with Budget 2011, which is the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. The next phase seeks to promote long-term economic prosperity while staying on track to return to balanced budgets and helping Canadian families.
Since March 22, Parliament and all Canadians have examined and debated the provisions included in the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. I'm happy to report that the reaction has been positive. Indeed, Canadians expressed their support for it this past May, and their support for a government squarely focused on helping Canada's economy and job growth.
Today's legislation, the Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act, is an important component of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, as it includes many of the key provisions from Budget 2011.
While I do not have enough time, nor would I take that much time, to highlight every measure in today's legislation, I would like to provide the committee with a brief overview of some of the measures and how they will assist Canadians.
For instance, the act supports job creation and economic growth by providing a temporary hiring credit for small business to encourage additional hiring; by expanding tax support for clean energy generation to encourage green investments; by extending the mineral exploration tax credit for flow-through share investors by one year to support Canada's mining sector; by simplifying customs tariffs in order to facilitate trade and lower the administrative burden for businesses; by extending the accelerated capital cost allowance for investments in productivity-improving machinery and equipment for Canada's manufacturing sector; and by eliminating the mandatory retirement age for federally regulated employees in order to give older workers wishing to work the option of remaining in the workforce.
The act helps Canada's communities, large and small, by legislating a permanent annual investment of $2 billion in the gas tax fund to provide municipalities predictable long-term infrastructure funding; by enhancing the wage earner protection program to cover more workers affected by employer bankruptcy or receivership; by introducing a volunteer firefighter tax credit for volunteer firefighters; and by increasing the ability of Canadians to give more confidently to legitimate charities by helping combat fraud and other forms of abuse by illegitimate charities.
The Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act helps families from coast to coast by introducing a new family caregiver tax credit to assist caregivers of all types of infirm, dependent relatives; by removing the limit on the amount of eligible expenses caregivers can claim for their financially dependent relatives under the medical expense tax credit; and by introducing a new children's arts tax credit for programs associated with children's arts, cultural, recreational, and developmental activities.
The act also makes key investments in education and training by forgiving loans for new doctors and nurses in underserved rural and remote areas; by helping apprentices in the skilled trades and workers in regulated professions; by making occupational trade and professional exam fees eligible for the tuition tax credit; by improving federal financial assistance for students; and by making it easier to allocate registered education savings plan assets among siblings without incurring tax penalties or forfeiting Canada education savings grants.
With that, Chair, I invite questions from the committee. Thank you.