Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I thank you for the invitation to join you this afternoon in my role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
As you know, small business is the backbone of our economy. Small and medium-sized firms account for 99% of all businesses in Canada and just over 90% of all private sector jobs—that's more than 10 million Canadian workers.
In my role as minister, I am the voice at the cabinet table of this strong and growing community, and I take this job very seriously.
Since 2015 our government has taken strong action to support these businesses. We know that when we invest in the economy, we are investing in the middle class and those working hard to join it. The results are already being felt right across the country.
Canadians have created more than 600,000 jobs, most of which are full-time positions. The unemployment rate is at a 40-year low. Our economy is the fastest growing in the G7.
Canadians can feel rightly optimistic about what the future has in store, and yet there is still more work to do. Canada is in a global competition. Our new progressive free trade agreements with the European Union and the 10 countries in the CPTPP bloc will open up new markets for Canadian goods and services. Innovation is also reshaping our economy, creating new sectors such as app development, while revolutionizing others such as manufacturing.
We must take steps to build a modern economy, one in which Canadian businesses are developing innovative goods and services that are the envy of the world.
Small businesses are central to this transformation. That is why our government is cutting the small business tax rate to 9% by 2019, as we committed to doing in 2015. This will put up to $7,500 per year back in the pockets of small business owners so that they can reinvest in their businesses.
We are also taking clear actions to create a world-leading business environment, one that fosters innovation and business growth.
Our accelerated growth service is supporting growth-oriented businesses by helping them access such key government services as financing, exporting, innovation, and business advice in one place.
We also launched Innovation Canada. This new web portal—at innovation.canada.ca—provides business owners with all the information they need on programs and services available to them.
More than 120,000 Canadians have already visited the site since its launch in January. They reflect Canada's diversity. They are urban and rural. They are men and women. They are new Canadians and indigenous entrepreneurs.
For entrepreneurs just starting up, landing a procurement contract with the Government of Canada can make a world of difference. Through our new program called innovative solutions Canada we are specifically engaging these start-ups to help develop innovative approaches to new and complex government challenges.
It's a win-win: the businesses get a reliable customer while the government gets innovative solutions to tough challenges.
Of course, as you heard from Minister Bains, the six regional development agencies are doing great work to promote economic development and to support small businesses in every corner of this great country.
We have accomplished a lot. However, as the Prime Minister often reminds us, better is always possible.
One area in which better is possible and necessary is that of supporting women's entrepreneurship. Less than 16% of businesses are owned by women. We think it's about time women had a fair shot at starting and growing a business. That is why, as part of this year's budget, we announced Canada's first women's entrepreneurship strategy.
This is a coordinated national plan that will support hardworking, passionate women entrepreneurs at every stage of business.
It is based on four areas of work. It starts with helping women start businesses by supporting skills development and closing gaps throughout the entrepreneurial ecosystem, so that a woman entrepreneur in Kelowna has the same opportunities as a woman entrepreneur in St. John's. It also requires increasing access to financing and recognizing that women face unique barriers when applying for financing. It requires improving access to innovation programs, such as the kinds of government programs I mentioned earlier, which can make all the difference in a start-up's development. Finally, it means that we must invest in better data and knowledge so that we can properly measure our progress.
We're investing close to $2 billion over the next five years in this women's entrepreneurship strategy. Of this, we will invest $105 million to provide nationally coordinated, regionally tailored support for women entrepreneurs from coast to coast to coast.
Under our leadership, we have also given the Business Development Bank of Canada an ambitious goal to make available $1.4 billion in financing to support women-owned firms by 2021. We are confident that this target, while ambitious, is very much achievable. But it is a target, a goal; it is not a quota.
The BDC will also expand its women in technology fund to $200 million. This fund started at just $50 million in 2016, the largest of its kind in Canada. I announced an increase to the fund of $20 million just last year, making it the largest of its kind in North America.
The demand is so great that we will invest another $130 million, making this fund now the largest of its kind in the world with a total of $200 million.
Through our strategy, our goal is to double the number of majority women-owned businesses by 2025. This is our target, our goal; once again, it is not a quota.
Mr. Chair, I also want to touch on Canada's tourism sector, where we have a great story to tell as well.
Last year was the best year ever for international tourism in Canada.
We set a new record. Almost 21 million people came to Canada, and total tourism revenues for the year surpassed $97 billion, also a new record.
Through Canada's new tourism vision, our government has been working to deliver a whole-of-government plan to support this vital industry. When we talk about small businesses and exporting, Canada's tourism sector is the leader. Tourism is Canada's largest service export. It is larger than agriculture, mining, and forestry combined.
The industry comprises more than 200,000 small businesses, and the sector itself supports more than 1.8 million jobs from coast to coast to coast.
Though we are setting records, we think there's still tremendous room to grow. Through our vision, and with the help of all of our partners, such as Destination Canada, we will increase international visitation by 30% and double visitation from China, the world's largest outbound tourist market, by 2021.
This year is also the Canada-China Year of Tourism, which will help further increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Canada.
Last year, Chinese travellers spent more than $1.5 billion while visiting Canada. They typically spend more here than the average tourist.
In 2017 we welcomed more than 680,000 Chinese tourists. That was a new record. To build on this momentum, we will make targeted investments to attract even greater numbers of Chinese visitors during the Canada-China year of tourism.
This includes hosting a number of high-level government and business events and helping tourism operators become more China ready, in other words, helping them prepare to welcome more visitors in general. When Chinese tourists visit, they are not just coming to take a picture; they are visiting our local businesses and supporting the local economy.
Tourism is a wonderful way to showcase our beautiful country to the world while also supporting communities large and small.
That's also why our government is committed to supporting this vitally growing economic sector.
The government has a clear plan to support Canadian small businesses. That plan will help our tourism industry flourish, ensure that all Canadians have the same opportunities to participate in our diverse economy, and build a strong middle class and support those working hard to join it.
I am happy to now take questions from my esteemed colleagues.
Thank you once again for inviting me to testify.