Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your election as Speaker of this House.
Some members will know that it was the Speaker who as much as anyone played a role in my coming to this place and I am so pleased to be here under his direction as Speaker. I have every confidence that you, Sir, will perform your task in a way which is going to bring great honour to this place and to the role that you hold.
I would also want to thank my constituents of Ottawa South for re-electing me on October 25. It is a great honour for me to represent them here, in the House of Commons. It is also an honour to have been appointed minister. But the greatest honour of all is to have this opportunity to serve the people of Ottawa South.
I think for all of us the greatest honour is to be able to represent our peers in the House of Commons. This is a place rich in history and tradition. The role that we play here I believe is very important. I believe it to be a great honour and a great privilege to be servants of the people.
Politicians have been given a bad name and we are all conscious of that and Mr. Speaker in his opening comments to us upon his election alluded to it.
I think what we need to reinforce is that after all is said the role of politician is not something of which we should be ashamed. The role of a politician is to be a servant. To be a politician is to wear a badge of honour because after all we are here as servants of the people who sent us. That to me is a very great badge of honour.
I would also like to express my appreciation to the Prime Minister for the confidence he has placed in me in asking me to serve as his Minister of Industry. What I hope to do in these few moments is to outline some of the ideas I take with me into this portfolio as I undertake the work which was given to me. Much of my mandate has been made clear I believe.
The red book stressed the importance of job creation and economic growth, and in the throne speech we again emphasized the importance of economic growth.
The people who sent me here talked to me about a lot of things. What I heard repeatedly was the concern they have for jobs, if not jobs for themselves personally then very often jobs for their children or their neighbours. How many times I have heard people say: "I have adult children who are trained, qualified and skilled but they cannot find work".
I believe the heavy weight of despair the recession of 1990 brought to bear on our people is one of the things that all of us were elected to address in a very direct and positive way. What we have to do is very clear. We need strategies to follow. We need strategies to create jobs. We need strategies to encourage growth in the economy.
Part of that strategy obviously has to be the tackling of obstacles because there are obstacles to overcome as we launch this new phase of economic growth. I know no one on this side is unaware of the unhappy circumstance when this week we passed $500 billion in federal indebtedness. The burden of debt we are carrying as a country, not just at the federal level but also at the provincial and municipal levels, is something which no government regardless of its political stripe or ideology can fail to consider.
I have encountered questions about whether worry about the deficit did not indicate a certain political bent to one side of the spectrum. I cannot agree with that. Our colleagues from the New Democratic party who govern in three provinces in Canada are frequently engaged in discussions about how to deal with the serious problems of provincial indebtedness. Our colleagues from Conservative governments in some of the provinces are likewise faced with tackling those problems.
We are also faced with a slow economic recovery this time.
The fact that the recession that started in 1990 dragged on for so long is an indication that our economy is undergoing fundamental changes.
This is not just like the last recession. What we have encountered is a fundamental change in our economy. There is a restructuring whereby many companies are rebuilding on the basis of downsizing. We have seen a significant reduction in employment even while economic growth is beginning again. That in turn has caused what can only be described as a crisis of confidence, particularly among consumers.
If we look at the tracking of graphs as we grow out of the past recession and compare them to the tracking after the recession of the early 1980s what can be seen indicates the lack of consumer confidence which has been prolonging this recession. There are very low numbers in residential housing for example and in consumption of durable goods.
Consumers do not have confidence. Why? It is because not only do we have a high rate of unemployment of 11 plus per cent but we are also faced with the fact that virtually 40 per cent of the people who have jobs are concerned they are going to lose them. Where can we inspire confidence to begin to build again?
Internal trade barriers. I am talking again about obstacles that we have to overcome. Can it be explained to me why in Canada our regime of international trade is roughly equivalent to what the GATT provided internationally back in the late 1940s? What makes it so hard to us to break down the barriers of trade among our own Canadian provinces? We do not have a big market in the world. Our domestic market based on population is roughly the size of the state of California. Yet we have created these obstacles among us to take that already small market and make it even smaller. We like 10 little markets instead of putting together one medium sized market which would enable us to compete in the world.
I have to say we have made headway in that area during the meeting held this week in Ottawa by the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Economic Development. There is a great common will among the ministers to find effective means of removing trade barriers between Canadian provinces.
We now have a fixed schedule. We will have a preliminary draft agreement of an internal trade agreement by February 14, Valentine's day. We hope that will be further transformed by provincial negotiators into a draft agreement for consideration by ministers by the end of March. We are working on a strict and tight timetable on this file and we have enormous good will among all provincial governments and the federal government to tackle this obstacle.
It can create jobs, not just because of the encouragement of trade within Canada, but the fact that we have these internal barriers is a deterrent to foreign investment. Why? It is because under our international treaties it is just as easy to trade into Canada from the United States, in fact it is easier, than it is to trade within Canada across provincial boundaries. Why are we penalizing ourselves in this way? It simply does not make sense. I am hopeful that this process toward progress on this file will continue very rapidly.
In addition to attacking obstacles we have to build on our strengths. It is reflected clearly in the red book and also in the speech from the throne that one of the strengths in this country we have to build on is the small business sector. There are 900,000 small and medium sized enterprises in this country. If we could enable them each to hire one Canadian then our unemployment problem would no longer be upon us.
For that reason I think the efforts the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has under way to identify how to create one million jobs in Canada is something we in government ought to encourage and support. It is the kinds of partnerships we can build with the private sector, business organizations, labour organizations and others that are going to enable us to overcome obstacles and build on some of our strengths.
Small business has told us pretty clearly what problems they face. They are the masters or the creators of 80 per cent of the new jobs in Canada. Yet they tell us repeatedly-my colleague from Broadview-Greenwood has borne eloquent testimony to this-they cannot get adequate capital or financing to do what they want to do to create jobs.
We must find a way to bring our financial institutions to bear all of their resources on how to solve this problem of inadequate capital in small and medium sized business. I am not so sure we do it by passing laws and making rules but we are working very directly with financial institutions and trying to see what it is that makes it so hard to provide adequate capital for small business, in particular small businesses that are engaged in the process of developing and marketing new technologies. I will say a little more about the innovative economy in a few minutes.
I can understand why it is difficult. How does one secure debt against knowledge? A knowledge based enterprise finds it difficult, however, to get the capital resources it needs in order to build foreign markets, to do research and development, to get the kinds of sales it needs and to finance those sales over development periods. These are problems we are going to have to tackle.
Small and medium sized business needs technology. Technology diffusion has to be the key to building a more active and more aggressive small and medium sized business sector. It is clear in the studies that have been done that growing small business means adequate capital, adequate access to new and existing technologies, good marketing and management skills. Those are the keys. There are no secrets here.
The question is: How do we help small business in achieving the things that it knows?
It is clear to us that the small and medium-sized businesses are the key to the economic recovery that, I believe, we are all waiting for.
We also need to concentrate our efforts on building a new and innovative economy. Canada is a very blessed country. We enjoy enormous prosperity and have over many years. Why? It is largely because we find ourselves in a country that is rich in natural resources. We built our prosperity on resources we were able to access easily and that the world wanted to buy from us for very good prices.
During the war my predecessor, whose desk I am proud to sit at in my ministry, C. D. Howe, built the Canadian manufacturing economy to meet the needs of the war. After the war, he was able to transform it to peaceful purposes behind tariff barriers.
At a time when Europe was flattened and when the new competition we now face in Asia was virtually non-existent, Canada was able to build a strong manufacturing based economy. There we were as we came through the 1950s and 1960s. With strong sales of natural resources, high prices and a good manufacturing base, things were going well for us. It looked like it would never end.
Today the problems that we face in some ways reflect upon the very strengths that we had in those decades. It was easy for us to be prosperous at that time relative to many other countries that had to build their war-torn economies up from the ground.
Now we find that our cheapest natural resources have been sold off. It becomes more expensive for us to acquire them whether they are from the forests or the mines. The fish are gone. Agriculture is becoming tough and competitive. Our manufacturing economy that was built up during and after the war is finding that change is overtaking it.
The rebirth of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s was tough competition. Now we have the emergence in Asia of strong manufacturing based economies. These are the problems we face. What do we do now?
We need to find the innovation and the change that will enable us to compete against these companies in places around the world. If I can put it in a phrase, my objective as Minister of Industry is to make the Canadian business sector synonymous with quality and innovation. It is by emphasizing these two characteristics that we are going to regain our place in the world. That will be the key to our economic growth.
Some people think governments do not play a role in these things. They think one just stands back and lets the world unfold as it is going to. That is wrong. Government plays a very important role in this. Government has to play a role solving some of the problems we talked about earlier. Government also has to play a role itself in not being an obstacle.
We are prepared to work with provincial governments to ensure that whatever burdens are being placed on business can be reduced. As an initiative of this government we want to work with the provinces to reduce duplication and overlap.
As the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs said, overlap is indeed a concern for the government.
We are prepared through strategic investments, through the Canada Investment Fund, through the creation of technology networks and by giving leadership on issues like the electronic highway to help the Canadian business sector to move forward into the 21st century.
The information highway is a good example of the fact that government has a role to play. We saw Vice President Gore in the last weeks make a major statement on what the information highway can mean and look like in the United States. We have to play a leadership role in defining what this highway is to look like, how it is to help Canadian business move forward into the future.
We have some advantages here as a country which is so huge geographically and so sparsely populated. We have built strengths in telecommunications and in satellite communications, despite what may have happened to Anik. Those who want to watch it on Newsworld will have to miss it for today.
However, there are strengths that our Canadian industrial base has within it that will tie perfectly to the rapid explosion of the information technologies. One of the roles of government is to provide the necessary leadership. We want to help find ways in which the regulatory regime should be structured to encourage the right level of competition of Canadian ownership. Those are two of our goals. We will see to it that we are in the right place to
encourage pilot projects to see how this new technology infrastructure is going to work.
We are playing a role, for example, in the Canary project which is tying research facilities across Canada together. We recently had the pleasure of announcing in Ottawa-Carleton the establishment of the OCI net which is a measure to provide what will ultimately be a node on the information highway which is to come.
These are exciting possibilities. There are many more to come. We have a role to play. We need to remove the obstacles that impede economic development. We need to build on our strengths. Canada is a marvellous country. We believe in it. We can overcome the obstacles as we have in the past and we can build on our strengths.