Thank you, Mr. Chair and member of the committee. I am pleased to join you today in my role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism to speak about our government's work to support Canadian entrepreneurs and SMEs, our tourism industry, and the middle class.
Budget 2017 marks the next step in our plan to support Canada's middle class and those working hard to join it. Through this budget, we are taking ambitious action to support sustainable growth, build prosperous companies, and prepare Canadians for the workforce of tomorrow.
Mr. Chair, innovation has been a priority for our government since day one. It features prominently in budget 2017. We understand that Canada must innovate in order to compete and grow in the global economy. Small and medium-sized businesses, or SMEs, are often the drivers of this innovation. Through budget 2017, we are doing more to support this innovation, in part by making important investments and also by improving our processes to make it easier and simpler for SMEs to work with government.
At the heart of this plan is the creation of Innovation Canada, a one-stop point of contact for Canada's innovators and entrepreneurs. It will be the organization that leads on Canada's economic growth strategies. It will begin by reviewing the government's business innovation programs.
SMEs are critical to driving and shaping innovation. They make up more than 99% of Canadian companies, employ approximately 10.5 million Canadians, and represent about 40% of our GDP. And in many cases, they are the sources of new game-changing innovations.
We believe the Government of Canada can do a better job of supporting these businesses as their first customer. To address that, we are launching the innovative solutions Canada procurement initiative. Under this program, the government will focus its purchasing on innovative made-in-Canada products and services that improve how we deliver services to Canadians while also helping to find cost savings.
In addition to these actions, budget 2017 makes important investments that will help SMEs bring their products to market, scale up, create jobs, and export to the world. For example, we will invest up to $400 million to create a new venture capital catalyst initiative to be administered by the Business Development Bank of Canada, better known as the BDC.
This initiative will provide more late-stage venture capital to Canadian firms looking to grow and expand.
And to do our part in the global fight against climate change, we are investing $1.4 billion to support clean technology firms.
This April in northern Ontario, Minister Bains announced that the work of FedNor and Canada's other regional development agencies will take on new importance in light of the focus on innovation. Every region of the country will have a distinct innovation and skills plan that reflects regional economic realities. These plans will showcase the benefits of each region to investors and provide Canadians across the country with opportunities to develop their skills.
Supporting SMEs will be a key part of these plans. I just returned from the Prairies, where I saw first-hand the great innovative work being done by local SMEs. The same is happening right across the country. I will be working closely with Minister Bains to ensure that the regional development agencies continue to keep SMEs at the core of their work.
To truly seize new opportunities to innovate and grow, SMEs must hire the right people.
Budget 2017 proposes $2.7 billion to help unemployed and underemployed Canadians train for better jobs.
The government is especially committed to the success of Canada's young people. We are providing more than $395 million for additional youth employment and skills development opportunities, and $50 million for coding and digital skills education to help young Canadians prepare for technology jobs.
We will invest $14 million over two years in Futurpreneur Canada, which is doing amazing work providing young business owners with mentors, skills development, learning resources, and start-up financing.
Mr. Chair, women entrepreneurs and women business owners in Canada are under-represented, a problem we share with the U.S. This is a personal priority for me. We know that the number of Canadian women wanting to start a business is among the highest in the world, and yet just 16% of businesses are owned or controlled by women.
As the committee will remember, to help address this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Trump announced the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. This important initiative will identify actions to remove barriers to women serving in senior leadership positions and advise on boosting competitiveness for women entrepreneurs.
Beyond this, we are also committed to helping women entrepreneurs and innovators succeed. This includes encouraging procurement from companies led by women and other under-represented groups.
And BDC is doing great work—it has taken steps to become a world-leading financial institution for women entrepreneurs. This includes creating a new $40-million fund for women-led technology firms and investing $10 million to support regional initiatives for women founders.
Mr. Chair, these are exciting times for Canada's tourism sector as well. Last year, we welcomed close to 20 million visitors, over 11% more international tourists than in 2015.
Growing this sector is important. It accounts for 2% of GDP. And it employs more than 1.7 million Canadians, often in good middle-class jobs. Moreover, Canada has much to offer as we celebrate our 150th anniversary. We expect to set a new record this year.
It is time for us to leverage our successes. Last week, at Rendez-vous Canada, I announced a new tourism vision. This ambitious undertaking aims to grow and strengthen Canada's tourism industry while enhancing our country's brand.
We have laid out 20 items that address some of the biggest challenges that require action. These include lifting the visa requirement for Mexican travellers, investing to make Canada a destination of choice for LGBTQ2+ tourists, and gearing up to celebrate the Canada-China year of tourism in 2018, which we expect will dramatically increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Canada.
Mr. Chair, our vision is reinforced by measures in budget 2017, such as reliable funding for Destination Canada, our national tourism marketing organization, and $8.6 million over four years to help grow Canada's unique and authentic indigenous tourism industry.
I'm pleased to say that we have a fruitful relationship with the provinces and territories too.
In November 2016, I co-chaired a meeting of federal, provincial, and territorial tourism ministers in Iqaluit. We agreed to work together to increase our tourism competitiveness.
Mr. Chair, the government has a clear plan: to support innovation and SMEs, help our tourism industry grow, and make it easier for more hard-working Canadians to join the middle class.
I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I welcome any questions.