Mr. Speaker, I welcome the chance to urge members to support Bill C-17, the 1994 budget implementation act.
I would like to begin by saying that Bill C-17 which revamps the unemployment insurance entitlements taken in isolation would be considered a very tough bill because during a very difficult period of our economy when people are unemployed, when one takes an unemployment insurance act and reviews and revamps it, there could be people exposed to added suffering. This bill also deals with restraining parliamentary wages, public service wages and cutbacks in transportation costs. If the bill is taken in light of an overall budget strategy I believe sincerely that Canadians would understand exactly where we are coming from.
Our number one priority in meeting the objective of putting Canadians back to work is to ensure the fiscal framework of the country is restored to a healthy position. The very difficult deficit and debt the country is burdened with today put an incredible strain on our tax burden. They affect our ability to raise capital in the country. This means governments compete for capital with small and medium sized entrepreneurs.
In order to create a total environment for business recovery we have to deal with very tough legislation like revamping our unemployment insurance system. I am proud to be part of a government that had the courage in the budget to meet the problem head on.
We also heard the reduction in the unemployment insurance premium cost would be a very important benefit to small and medium sized business persons. Many of them have said a reduction in that cost would spur them on to making decisions that would put people back to work.
In a survey that was announced last night-and it was on "Canada AM" this morning-of about 1,000 businesses across Canada, two out of three said that in the near future they would be hiring again or employing people again. This certainly gives the government side a feeling of hope that the strategic plan of the Minister of Finance to revitalize the economy is working.
I repeat that Bill C-17 in isolation is something that is very tough in itself, but we must look at the other factors in the strategy the Minister of Finance has put forward. We have all been working on the strategy for the last few months. It is important for Canadians to hear about some of the things we have been doing on all sides of the House.
Another piece of the strategy was access to capital for small and medium sized businesses. I have repeated this message many times in the House, but I believe as a member of Parliament that one of the single most important factors is giving hope to small and medium sized entrepreneurs. The men and women who have the energy and the creativity to spark the economy need access to capital. They told us that over the last two or three years banks had been very tough in accessing credit to them.
Yesterday the Minister of Industry dismissed the study that was somehow leaked from some department and indicated that the banks were not being difficult in accessing capital to small business. The Minister of Industry said yesterday in question period that the study did not reflect what he or other members of Parliament had been hearing.
For two and a half months in the industry committee members of the Bloc Quebecois, members of the Reform Party and government members have been hearing witness after witness from the small business community talking about their experiences with banks. We have also heard from the bank leadership and other financial leadership. They actually admitted that there was room for improvement in their bank policy direction.
It is important for all Canadians to realize that is another factor in the overall budget strategy we are debating today. It is an important component as well. To take a bill like Bill C-17 and
revamp the unemployment insurance entitlements without considering the other component pieces is not right.
All members have been working very hard on the report on access to capital. Hopefully it will be presented to Parliament by the end of June and some of the recommendations will find their way into a revised approach to regulating the financial institutions and the way they deal with small and medium sized businesses.
While I am on the specific area of access to capital, it is interesting that we are discovering in committee many new opportunities to access capital for small businesses that will become apparent to the 900,000 entrepreneurs that are trying to re-spark the economy across Canada.
The insurance companies, the mutual funds, the stock exchanges and all other financial instruments have suddenly discovered in the last six to nine months that the real future or the real action in terms of the new economy, especially the knowledge based economy, will be with the small and medium sized business sectors.
I am optimistic that all kinds of capital will be available in the not too distant future for people with good business plans and good ideas who have the courage to take risks and achieve.
Another aspect of the budget strategy linked to the Bill C-17 review or revamping of the unemployment insurance entitlement is that we have reviewed in committee what has been going on with the goods and services tax. The issue of the GST has not gone away. As the government we are not running away from that issue. We know what Canadians think about the GST. It is a complex, inefficient tax, especially for the business community across Canada. It has added to the cost of doing business or the paper burden, an issue we cannot run away from.
The whole tax review issue is part of the budget strategy. It is being handled in the finance committee. That is something we are coming to terms with. It is a lot more difficult actually than the access to capital issue. We can put our fingers on access to capital in an easier way but dealing with reform of a tax act is very tough, very difficult. We are meeting that challenge. Hopefully by the fall we will have some recommendations in that area.
Another area also linked to the budget strategy concerns the reduction of paper burden. Committees in the Department of Industry and the Department of Finance are dealing with ways in which we can reduce the paper burden of business in the country.
When we put together all factors in the equation Bill C-17 starts to make some sense. As I said, in isolation it is a very tough bill. I recognize members of the Bloc Quebecois are nodding that it is a tough bill. We recognize we cannot look at revamping unemployment insurance entitlement in isolation. If we dealt with the bill in isolation obviously the criticism would be well founded. It is very difficult in a time when people are unemployed to put pressure on unemployment insurance benefits. We have to look at it in the context of a total strategy. We have to look at it in the context of trying to put the fiscal framework of the country in order. When Canadians see it in the context of an overall plan they will be a bit more understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
During this very difficult time of reviewing the fiscal framework of the country and trying to regain some stability and confidence we have also had to deal with the Bloc Quebecois. We as members of Parliament came to the nation's boardroom. We were elected to Parliament to build the country, to make the environment of Canada better. I have been an elected member of Parliament for six years but I have worked on the Hill since 1980. I had the privilege of working for someone who I believe was one of the greatest prime ministers the country ever had, Prime Minister Trudeau.
I see Bloc members getting excited already. They recognize that if Trudeau were here they would not even exist. He would not even give them the time of day because he would not stomach the fact that people would be in the nation's boardroom trying to destroy it. It is very difficult to sit down with people, whether they are business people or educators, who do not understand the country. The people in this room are supposed to be building Canada, yet they are here trying to destroy it.
It is a real mystery for us to try to comprehend why they would want to become part of an organization. Usually when one joins an organization, whether it is a community group, a hockey team, a school or some other kind of a club, one comes to that group of men and women to try to make it better. The logic of having an organization where people sign on to destroy it is difficult for me to comprehend. It is nothing personal. In my mind it is very difficult to understand.
The point I was trying to make is that we are dealing with an economic strategy aimed at putting people back to work in every riding of the country: in all the ridings of Quebec and all the ridings of Alberta. It is very difficult to do so when saddled with a group of men and women sowing seeds of dissension and doing their level best to destroy economic confidence in the country.
They stand in the House of Commons to criticize revamping the unemployment insurance system. It is the role of the opposition to constructively criticize what we are doing on this side of the House. We welcome it. I have been a member of the opposition. I believe in its right and the responsibility to stand to criticize the flaws in a particular piece of legislation being put forward.
It is totally disgusting that there is a group which is not really constructively criticizing. If those members were constructively criticizing for the benefit of all Canadians they would stop
trying to dismember and dismantle the country. That is a very difficult thing for me to cope with.
I can accept an amendment or a recommendation to improve a bill but if they were really sincere about building this country then why not put away this destructive anti-Canada action which has been going on. As the Prime Minister said in Montreal last night, it is starting to affect in a profound way the markets and their attitude toward Canada.
Maybe I am being a little too strong when I say profound. Canada is a very strong country in its own right, but it does have a psychological effect on investors. When there is a group which is trying to dismember Quebec why would anyone from the private sector want to invest billions of dollars in the Quebec marketplace? They would have to think twice. I am not saying that people will not do it, but I am saying it is a very tough decision. The Bloc Quebecois is making it very tough to rekindle the whole country.
This is nothing personal, but members opposite would have to agree it is a highly unusual approach to come to an organization for the purpose of destroying and dismantling it. What they cannot seem to get through their thought process is that they are hurting their own constituents. Speaking as one member of Parliament, this ultimately has to affect not just my constituents, but all constituents, the men and women right across Canada.
Getting back to Bill C-17, we as a government are taking a very difficult step in revamping the unemployment insurance system. We are asking parliamentarians to cut back. We are freezing the public service wages. Those are tough steps, especially on unemployment insurance.
We have to look at it in the context of an overall strategy. I have mentioned access to capital. I have mentioned the tax review situation. I also have to mention what the minister of human resources is doing beyond his reviewing the unemployment insurance system.
The minister is putting so much emphasis on retraining, with very special sensitivity toward young men and women with the youth corps. That is a tremendous first step for helping people who are finishing school. Even though it is not a large number of young people, it is a tremendous pilot project. If we can figure out a way to help young people who do not have any experience, and help them during that bridge period between graduation and getting into the workforce, that in itself is a very important first step.
If we can refine that youth corps it could be the model project not only for a national government effort but also a more extensive one at the provincial and municipal levels in the future. That in itself is a very useful, important and positive initiative which has happened in the last six months.
Another thing we have to remember is that we only took over the government seven months ago. Quite frankly we have done an awful lot in a very short time. Turning around the fiscal framework mess which we inherited is not an easy task. It takes a concerted effort by all members of Parliament and we need a very tight focus but I am beginning to sense that the market is coming back.
Another initiative I want to talk about is linked to this whole budget strategy and putting Canadians back to work. It has to do with our effort of encouraging young business men and women to get into the export field. I would like to talk for just a couple of minutes about an experience I had during the last parliamentary recess.
I had the privilege of working with the private sector group Inter Canada Far East Trade Centre in Markham, Ontario. They are experts in helping small and medium sized businesses get access to China. Last January I met with this group and they asked me if I would join them in taking a group of young business men and women to Beijing in May.
As members know, during the campaign we said we were going to put a very special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, that we were going to make sure we gave very special support to the small and medium sized business sector in helping them trade in that market.
Therefore I obliged and took up the offer to co-chair a mission to Beijing which left on May 17. I had the support of the member of Parliament from North Bay, the member of Parliament for Vaudreuil, the member of Parliament for Vancouver East, and also the member of Parliament for Durham. We went with the Inter-Canada group and 100 men and women from small and medium sized businesses. We were there for 10 days.
About 80 per cent of those men and women had never had any export experience; they had never gone abroad on a mission. North America is the natural market for Canadian business men and women. But they had the courage to go and they spent their own money on the trip. About 80 per cent of those young men and women came back with either signed deals or signed letters of intent.
I say this in the context of our national budget strategy because, I would venture to say there are 100,000 to 200,000 jobs in China for Canadians. There are jobs in China for every sector of our economy. I have been on many missions around the world since 1980. I went on missions in the private sector when I worked with Magna, in the auto parts business. I have never seen anything like what is happening in China right now. The opportunities to put Canadians back to work are beyond the imagination.
I know I cannot display it, but I am holding in my hands the book Co-operation Projects for Foreign Investment in the Liaoning Province . It is one of the smaller provinces in China, 40 million people in the one province. We went up to Shen Yang City which is the economic capital of Liaoning province. They invited us to come back in October with a second group from small and medium sized businesses. There are 1,000 opportunities for joint ventures with Canadian companies in this book alone. If we do not get out there these opportunities are going to go to our American, German and French friends because they are all over there.
The Prime Minister's strategy on China was right on. They love Canadians. We have a great reputation because of Dr. Bethune and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau whose name is gold over there. If we went over there and as members of Parliament encouraged small and medium sized businesses to go to China we would have all kinds of opportunity to put our people back to work.
Some members might ask: "What about human rights?" That is a fair question when talking about China because of its history. Interestingly enough they are very sensitive to that issue and we talked about human rights. I know some members might dismiss it but I learned something on my trip to China. If you have not been there you should not criticize until you know what is going on.
This was the first time I had been there. The 140 men and women on our mission were approachable because of their value system and caring style. We were asked questions about our country, about our educational system, our social service system, how we look after the disadvantaged in our community. Not only were they businessmen and women, they were also educators and social workers who explained what goes on in our country. That might represent the best way for us to make change in the value system of that country.
I chatted with Premier Rae when he was over there and he shared my view. I have to get a little dig in at the premier. He was over there with the multinationals, the large Canadian corporations whereas our contingent was the small and medium sized businesses. It is interesting that Premier Rae was with eight or ten of them-and I am not putting them down; they are very important to our economy. However, when this government made a commitment to help small and medium sized businesses during the last campaign as is well stated in the red book, our trip to China was further concrete testimony that we are not going to walk away from that.
In closing I encourage all members of Parliament to look at the opportunities which exist in China to help put those unemployed men and women in their ridings back to work or to help small businesses expand.
I notice the Bloc members once again with their sarcastic smiles. It is interesting. I have listened in this House for five months now and I have not heard one constructive idea from the finance critic of the opposition party. Not one constructive idea. Not once did I hear him say anything good about what we have done in this budget as an overall strategy. Not once have I heard him stand up and say: "I love Canada".
This is the nation's boardroom; it is not the Quebec legislative assembly. This is Canada and this is what you should be doing here. You should be building Canada. Constituents not just in my city but right across the country are fed up with you people coming to this Parliament of Canada and doing nothing. Then when we put forward constructive ideas to help put your constituents back to work and not just ours, you sit there with your smug, sarcastic smiles.