Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to stand here today as a British Columbia MP to speak to this bill.
It is an issue that goes to the heart of the concerns of many of our constituents in British Columbia across party lines. It goes to the heart of what Canadians care about such as jobs, a strong economy, strong social programs, a level playing field and a better environment in which to live. They want leadership from the federal government to enable them to do those things. They do not want governments to interfere in areas they ought not to be. However, they also recognize that the federal government has an important role to play in ensuring that the private sector has the ability to competitive internationally.
As has been said many times across party lines, we are a small country of 30 million plus people. It is large in size, small in population, but competitive internationally. It is a history and a legacy that we mean to continue. That is the root of the bill.
It does not come by pulling ideas out of the air. It does not come through somebody's fantasy. It comes through hard work, working with provinces and different levels of government. It comes through good ideas and the implementation those ideas. The bill is about that.
We have heard members from certain other parties, particularly the Bloc, express their concerns that the bill would somehow impede or endanger the ability of Canadians to compete and have jobs. On the surface, it sounds like a very reasonable concern. Canada, with its 30 million people, is competing against a country with a population of 1.2 billion, a country that has a much lower standard of living, lower wages, less consideration for their people and fewer and poorer social programs.
However, at the end of the day, we should examine the facts. We must understand history. We must understand that the alternative to what we are trying to do is protectionist policies. If we try to erect subsidies, erect barriers to trade and support the private sector through taxpayer money, that is a very poor use of taxpayer money and an unwise investment economically. In the long run it hurts the very people we want to help. It increases the unemployment rate, weakens the moneys to the purse, erodes social programs and it damages the country.
We need to look no further than the experience of many northern European countries that had a very socialist view with respect to their economic policies. What did that do? It did not increase employment. It did not improve the social programs that existed in their countries. It did not promote some kind of Nirvana where people were taken care of and they lived happily ever after in a full employment environment with strong social programs. It eroded a country's economy, damaged social programs and increased unemployment rates.
Use of the taxpayer money as a subsidy, as protectionism, does not work. What does work is to improve productivity, whether through education, lowering taxes or removing useless rules and regulations, both within countries and between countries. In short, by doing that, we produce a productivity agenda that enables the private sector to be vibrant, to be competitive and to compete internationally with other countries.
It is true that some countries do not play on a level playing field. We have seen that with respect to the United States and the softwood lumber issue. That is pure unadulterated protectionism. It is not a fair situation. We have tried, through every legal means possible, to address that situation and to ensure that our softwood exporters can compete with the United States on a level playing field. If they were able to do that, they would continue to be as competitive and as productive as ever.
The member of the Bloc expressed concerns, which I think we all have in terms of our own ridings and our interest to ensure that nobody loses their job and that our private sectors are able to be competitive. We need to focus on the issues of productivity. We need to maximize those issues of productivity. We need to maximize those macro and micro economic initiatives to allow people and private sectors in our ridings to be competitive.
We also know that no economy stays static. No economy is not a creature of evolution. Any economy that is static is one that is withering on the vine. It is up to us to influence and implement solutions that will allow us to put forth initiatives and solutions to help the private sector thrive. This gateway is all about that.
It is an investment in Canadians. Even though this is a western based initiative, it is one that will clearly benefit Canadians in other parts of the country. It will improve the transportation arteries that will enable our private sector to compete.
Why are we doing this in this? It is clear that the private sector cannot do this. It cannot afford to make the very large investment into transportation arteries that will allow them to compete. That is why a federal government gets involved with provincial governments. It is not something that occurred in isolation. This occurred in consultation with the private sector, interested citizens, councils and provincial governments. It is a group effort. A reflection of that is the support that we have heard from members across the way. I think at the heart of the matter all of us recognize that this is a good idea.
Do we have to build on it? Absolutely. We have tried to add a number of other elements to this issue. We are working with the provinces. The Minister of Finance has introduced the beginnings of a productivity agenda, including the one-third, one-third, one-third initiative for surpluses over $3 billion. That initiative is a smart and wise thing to do. One-third of the moneys will go into debt reduction, one-third will go into tax reduction and one-third will go into critical expenditures such as this. This is the kind of expenditure the private sector needs to create jobs for Canadians.
Why the tax reduction? To date we have introduced $100 billion of tax reduction and we will continue to pursue that. We have also reduced the corporate tax from 28% to 21%. Why? Because we have to ensure that our private sector has a level playing field when it comes to taxes. Some may want to increase the taxes on the private sector. However, if we do that, we create an egress, an outflow of capital to other parts of the world. Capital will flow where capital can get the best bang for the buck.
We have no control over that nor should we. What we do have control over is ensuring that Canada is fertile for the private sector to create the jobs, high paying, interesting and dynamic jobs for Canadians. We also want to work with the provinces to ensure we meet the skill deficits that we and all western countries have. That is why ministers, such as the Minister of Industry, have worked with trades groups and unions to ensure we fill the critical skill deficits in the trades.
The Canadian Home Builders Association has an excellent plan to ensure that the people it needs to build homes have those skills. We recognize the changing demographics as western nations, with low birth rates. Quebec is an example of that problem, as are many others.
Low birth rates cause problems. Although we are not as bad off as European countries, it is something we should take into consideration. We have an aging population and if we do not address the problem we will see a contraction of the workforce and an expansion of that group of retired people who will be putting demands on our social programs. As we get older we put more demands on health care, pension and other things. We have a bit of a see-saw effect.
As that demographic progresses and the baby boomer bubble flows through, there will be an increasing demand on the public purse to provide the social programs that we have come to enjoy. We have to grapple with that but we need to do it in a fair and equitable way while ensuring that those Canadians who need those social programs, such as health care and pensions, have access to them, particularly those who are in the lower socio-economic scales, such as some seniors and people on fixed incomes. We must ensure they have the money to live comfortable lives. It is our role, in a compassionate society and with a compassionate government, to ensure that we have the structures to do that.
This gateway initiative is important because it would enable us to capitalize on foreign markets, particularly the Asia-Pacific rim which is growing by leaps and bounds. If we do not capitalize on that market, one can only imagine what could happen. Our economy would not evolve. We would be moving backward while other countries move forward. Would that be a responsible thing to do? The answer is self-evident. It would be utterly irresponsible for the Government of Canada not to engage in and implement such a proposal. As a government it would be irresponsible for us not to capitalize on those markets.
As an aside, some members have expressed concern over human rights issues. I will deal with China initially. I want to draw attention to the fact that our Prime Minister was the first Prime Minister to meet with the Dalai Lama, against the objections of the Chinese. When the President of China visited Canada this summer, our Prime Minister made it very clear to him that we found the human rights abuses by the Chinese against the Tibetan people and other abuses within China to be completely unacceptable to Canada and Canadians.
Can we change the behaviour of China in its human rights policy? No, but what we can do is engage people within China to do work differently and to behave differently. In my riding of Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, we have a very dynamic university, Royal Roads University, with a very dynamic president, Dr. Rick Skinner, who is using the university to train and teach foreign students. Many of them come from China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.
We are exporting Canadian educational expertise and training abilities to pupils from the Far East who are willing to pay large amounts of money to come to Canada for short periods of time to learn. What does that accomplish? It accomplishes jobs here in Canada. We are training people, not only Canadians but people from abroad. We are building ties between the Far East and Canada. I would suggest that those students who go back to China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are partly Canadian because they have studied for a time in Canada and they have experienced our values, our system and our way of life.
When those people go back to their countries of origin, I think they take back a part of Canada with them. They, in turn, in the work they do and in the leadership positions they implement, cannot but think that the rights, morals, activities, initiatives and values that we as Canadians extol are something that they have to impart and would wish to implement in their own countries.
The Canadian initiatives of working and exchanging ideas with members in China have not only economic benefits but social benefits and, I suggest, human rights and peace benefits. There is clearly a peace dividend to our countries working together on issues of common interest. For those relics, those dinosaurs in certain countries who wish to engage in appalling human rights activities, for which some continue to profit, they will have to change and evolve. For those who have studied in Canada they recognize that those kinds of abuses are unacceptable in the international community and, indeed, hurt their own countries in the long run.
What we have also done is we have married this particular initiative with a few others, including the green initiative by the Minister of the Environment and the sustainable cities initiative that we put forth. I am pleased to announce, again, with my colleagues, that British Columbia was the first province to sign on to the cities agenda which allows the municipalities to sequester and utilize federal moneys for infrastructure development, sewers in transportation arteries and other critical infrastructure. We did this because we wanted to ensure that taxpayer money would go to those particular areas and those initiatives that the private sector needs to do its jobs and for Canadians to live in healthy environments.
The moneys that we put together with respect to the cities agenda are in part going toward a greening initiative. With the announced changes that the Minister of Finance just put together, they will go very well to ensuring that the transportation changes that are occurring will be pro environment.
One of the initiatives the Minister of Finance has put together is an initiative to ensure that Canadians can access $5,000 if they wish to insulate their homes. Why is this important? If we want to make the Kyoto protocols and, in fact, go beyond them, which is what we have to do, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
There are two ways of looking at how we reduce fossil fuels. One is simply to reduce the number of times we use those fossil fuels. The other side of the equation is to take that equation and insulate or make more efficient the use and the burning of those fossil fuels. One of the most efficient ways we can do that is the way in which we insulate our homes and the way in which we use energy.
For example, the insulation of our homes and buildings using existing technologies will enable us to approach or go beyond the target set in Kyoto. That is very exciting because that means we have the means today to actually meet our Kyoto requirements by using the concept of conservation and insulation. By insulating our homes and our buildings, the demand on our fossil fuels lessens which in turn reduces the amount of greenhouse emissions. That is very worthwhile.
The other aspect is the investment that will be made with respect to public transport. In my province of British Columbia, a significant investment is taking place within the public transport sector which will encourage more people to use public transport instead of their cars and thereby burn less fossil fuels and fewer greenhouse gases.
The gateway proposal will invigorate the private sector in British Columbia and enable Canada and British Columbians to capitalize on markets in the Far East. I look forward to working with all my colleagues in all parties to ensure our country continues to be on the leading edge of export development, productivity and job creation which will provide us with the moneys needed for the social programs that Canadians want and need.