Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in support of the 1996 budget brought down in the House on March 6, 1996 by my hon. colleague, the Minister of Finance.
Let me say at the outset that I believe this is a good budget for all Canadians. It has particular relevance to many aspects of my portfolio as Minister of Natural Resources.
The difficult decisions we took and the measures that we announced create an environment conducive to economic growth and job creation.
The variety of measures announced by the hon. Minister of Finance affecting the natural resources sector result from a series of intensive consultations with the provinces, with industry and with stakeholders in Canada's natural resources sector. We listened to the views of Canadians and we delivered.
The announcements by the Minister of Finance solidify my department's progress to focus on sustainable development and jobs and growth in the energy, mining, forestry and earth sciences sectors. This progress is critical because these sectors make a substantial contribution to Canada's overall economic growth, to job creation and to the trade surplus.
In addition, the work of my department reflects the federal government's core responsibilities in those areas where national effort and co-ordination are necessary.
First, I would like to talk about the budget announcements regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency. Canadians who work in the renewable energy sector have a vision of the future. They work hard to ensure that Canada is at the leading edge of developments in this important sector.
In the spirit that environmental health and economic development should complement each other, the federal government's green power procurement policy and the tax changes in the 1996 budget emphasized the commitment we made in the red book to renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.
The income tax changes will provide a level playing field for certain renewable and non-renewable energy investments. The creation of the Canadian renewable and conservation expenses, or CRCE, will provide renewable energy investments with similar treatment to that afforded to non-renewables.
This will attract new investment to the Canadian renewable energy industry. Officials in my department will join their colleagues at Finance Canada to begin consultations with stakeholders to determine the types of expenses that will be included under this expenditure category. I expect this work to be completed this fall.
I should point out that I have been gratified to receive many letters from individuals and associations in the renewable energy sector who expressed their thanks to the Government of Canada for these progressive announcements in the 1996 budget. These announcements respond to the needs of the Canadian renewable energy industry. We listened and we delivered.
For this reason, I am working with my colleague, the hon. Minister of Finance, on a process for consultations on proposals for tax measures to promote energy efficiency investments. I expect to join my hon. colleague in making an announcement on the timetable for consultations very shortly. The objective for this process will be to recommend measures for implementation in the 1997 budget.
In the meantime, I am committed to ensuring we play a role in further progress by Canada's renewable energy sectors. For
example, in the very near future I expect to release a renewable energy strategy. This strategy will continue to emphasize the importance of R and D and stronger market development activities.
Success by Canada's renewable energy sector, both at home and abroad, will contribute to economic growth and jobs. In addition, the renewable energy sector offers significant potential to help Canada move toward its international climate change commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.
Let me now move to more traditional energy forms. In this regard I would like to speak about Alberta's oil sands. Let me remind members of the House that the oil sands deposits in Alberta are estimated to contain more recoverable oil than all the reserves of Saudi Arabia, more than 300 million barrels. The national oil sands task force has estimated that in the next 25 years new investments totalling approximately $25 billion will help create approximately 44,000 permanent new jobs in the oil sands industry.
The federal government recognizes the potential of the oil sands industry to spur economic growth and create jobs. However, to realize the potential of this enormous resource, the oil sands industry requires increased investment.
To send positive signals to the investment community, the 1996 federal budget provides a generic tax treatment for all oil sands projects. In short, the tax treatment previously accorded to oil sands projects using mining methods has been extended to cover all oil sands projects. Tax incentives that were available for new projects and major expansions will now include investments in environmental efficiency improvements.
The Government of Canada has made these changes for three reasons. They will promote economic growth Canada-wide. They will increase domestic oil supply and they will stimulate job creation.
The fiscal changes made in the 1996 budget, along with recent changes to Alberta's royalty framework, will establish a clear, consistent and attractive regime for oil sands investors. These changes will encourage them to invest in Canada rather than competing projects in other countries.
The importance of this attractive framework for the economy of Alberta can hardly be overstated. There is no other industrial or resource opportunity that compares in size to the oil sands. Oil sands development offers the promise of major growth in investment and income well into the next century.
I should point out these benefits will not be restricted to Alberta. Studies conducted under contract to Industry Canada demonstrate the procurement benefits from oil sands development will flow to more than 50 different industrial groups. Simply put, jobs will be created across the country.
Moreover, the changes in the 1996 federal budget affecting the oil sands industry reflect many of the recommendations by the national task force on oil sands strategies. Again, we listened and we delivered.
Let us move to other changes announced by the Minister of Finance that provide benefits for Canadian mining and oil and gas industries. In mining, investment in Canadian mineral exploration has been rising. In fact, 1996 will be a banner year for mineral exploration. The Government of Canada shares the excitement in this increased exploration activity. We are working hard to ensure a bright future for mining by living up to the commitments made in the Liberal mining policy.
The mining industry, including the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Association des prospecteurs du Québec, were asking for changes to the flow-through share system.
They requested that eligibility rules for these shares be tightened to ensure that the benefits are delivered only where they are most needed to support new grassroots exploration activity. The 1996 budget delivered.
In addition, the Minister of Finance announced an extension of the 60-day rule for flow-through shares to one year. As a consequence, mineral and metal and oil and gas exploration activities will be more efficient. The risk to investors will be reduced and greater efficiencies will likely lead to more discoveries. These new mineral discoveries will provide new opportunities for economic growth and jobs in Canada and increase the benefits of jobs and growth in existing mining communities in both rural and urban Canada.
I would like to move to other budget announcements, in particular those concerning Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, or AECL. AECL's budget will be reduced from $174 million in 1996-97 to $100 million in 1998-99. AECL will focus on maintaining a viable and competitive Candu business at a reduced cost to the federal government. AECL will capitalize on its business potential and will continue to make a significant contribution to Canada's economic growth and the creation of high skilled jobs in an area of advanced technology.
Nearly 20 per cent of Canada's electricity is produced by Candu reactors and the foreign sales of Candu technology bring important economic benefits home to Canada. For example, the projects to build three Candu reactors in South Korea are bringing more than $1 billion in contracts to Canadian companies.
The magnitude of the budget cuts required difficult trade-offs. One of these trade-offs was funding for basic science activities that are not directly linked to the Candu program. However, the
Government of Canada is committed to seeking alternative sources of funding and other institutional arrangements for some of the key basic science activities that AECL has conducted until now.
Let me tell you that the decision of the federal government to withdraw from the financing of R and D programs concerning fusion in Ontario and Quebec was a very difficult one to make but that fusion is not presently a priority of the federal government. Actually, we believe it will take some 30 years before fusion technology can be marketed. The Government of Canada must clearly focus its resources on short term priorities.
Moreover we believe that Ontario Hydro and Hydro-Quebec can financially support R and D fusion projects on sites where this sector is a priority.
The federal government is determined to deliver good government at a lower cost to the taxpayers of Canada. My department continues to play a leading role in this effort among all federal departments and agencies. Let me make a few comments about the budget's announcements with respect to the operations of my department. All members of this House will recall that the results of the first phase of the federal program review dramatically reduced the size and the budget of Natural Resources Canada and many other departments.
The results of the second phase of program review have identified further reductions in my department's budget of $14.6 million or 3.3 per cent in fiscal year 1998-99. Both programs and staff levels will be affected. While detailed decisions will be taken during the next 18 months, present estimates suggest a reduction of between 75 to 100 positions in 1998-99. These further reductions together with cuts announced last year will result in a reduction of roughly 60 per cent of the resources in my department.
These reductions will be reflected in a more focused role for NRCan in the natural resources sector, a role that emphasizes science and technology, the regulatory and policy regime, international trade and market access and knowledge of Canada's land mass.
Program review is a continuing commitment to get government right. We will continue to examine what we do and how we do it. The objective is to keep looking for a more efficient and effective contribution to a stronger federation. This is critical to meeting the future challenges that face Canada, challenges that include maintaining the federal contribution to jobs, growth and sustainable development in the energy, forestry, mining and earth sciences industries. NRCan is achieving what we promised in the speech from the throne. We are withdrawing from areas where others can function more appropriately.
As a result the work of my department reflects the federal government's core responsibilities in the areas of international trade and investment, science and technology, aboriginal matters, federal crown lands, national statistics and environmental issues. These are areas where national effort and co-ordination are necessary.
In addition, my department is already engaged in many partnerships with stakeholders in the natural resources sector, including the provinces and the private sector, to explore further changes in the way it fulfils its federal responsibilities. In fact, I believe my department is setting an example for other federal departments and agencies. NRCan's approach to partnerships is an excellent model for efficient and effective federal activities that reflect the objectives set out in the speech from the throne.
In conclusion, this is a good budget for all Canadians and it is particularly a good budget for the natural resource sectors. The announcements by the hon. Minister of Finance concerning our resource sectors result from serious, meaningful and productive consultations with all stakeholders.
The income tax changes will have positive benefits for these sectors throughout Canada. These changes will increase prospects for investment, stimulate economic growth and create jobs for Canadians. In addition they will stimulate investment in key areas that are critical to Canada's progress toward sustainable development. The reason for this is simple. The Government of Canada listened and the Government of Canada delivered. We will continue to listen to all Canadians and we will continue to deliver.