Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House as we debate Bill C-68, an act to support the development of Canada's Pacific gateway.
As the member of Parliament for Richmond, I am particularly delighted to speak in favour of the bill. When we talk about a Pacific gateway initiative, there is no city better situated than Richmond. With both the Fraser Port and the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, we are at the forefront of any large trade initiatives with Asia-Pacific. Indeed, this announcement today means more investment in Richmond, more business for Richmond and more high paying jobs for our community over the long term.
The Governments of Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are collaborating on Canada's Pacific gateway strategy and building on B.C.'s strategic advantages to strengthen western economic prosperity in ways that will benefit all of Canada.
Canada's western provinces represent about 30% of Canada's geographic area, roughly 30% of Canada's population, about 30% of our labour force and a little over 32% of Canada's GDP. The west is therefore a major contributor to this country's prosperity and its future.
A 21st century economy is an economy open to the world. Canada's goods, services, capital, knowledge and people must be able to reach international markets and Canada's west coast is our door to markets located in Asia.
A fundamental shift is taking place in the global economy. With Asia occupying an increasingly central role in global commerce, it is a region vital to Canada's future prosperity. Canada's west coast, because of its location, is the ideal North American gateway for trans-Pacific commerce, trade, transportation and cultural linkages.
For a trade dependent country like Canada, it is not good enough to be among the most competitive economies in the world. We have to be among the best.
In May 2005, western premiers identified several top priorities essential to maintaining and improving the competitive position of the west and Canada in international trade markets. These priorities include transportation infrastructure, trade training and post-secondary education. The western premiers agree that British Columbia will lead the development of a comprehensive strategy that will deal with road, rail, marine ports, air and strategically placed inland container ports.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring Canada's west coast becomes a major opportunity gateway for trans-Pacific trade, investment and tourism.
When the Prime Minister visited China in January 2005, he noted that for Chinese businesses, the closest North American city with a deep water port and a major international airport is Vancouver, British Columbia.
The federal and provincial governments will continue to work together to increase the competitiveness of B.C. ports. Considerable investment has already been made. For example, the Department of Western Economic Diversification Canada is assisting container expansion in B.C. by investing in the expansion of the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
Improved port competitiveness is a key long term initiative that will move the gateway concept forward, creating new jobs and economic spinoffs for all of Canada. Some $60 million in joint federal-provincial support have already been spent to establish a new container port on B.C.'s north coast at Prince Rupert, North America's closest port to Asia. Goods arriving at Prince Rupert will be able to reach the centre of the continent quicker than through ports at Seattle or Los Angeles.
Western provinces are putting together a multi-province strategy that will ensure gateway access and competitive benefits will reach much deeper into the Canadian heartland. There are already more than enough goods coming from Asia to use the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert to full capacity. The transportation linkages that flow from the Pacific gateway provide a significant advantage for other businesses, sectors and developments across the entire economy.
Western priorities include a growing emphasis on international trade, investment, business competitiveness and tourism. The dynamic growth of the economies of China, India, South Korea and other Asia-Pacific countries represent significant opportunities for western Canadian small businesses and large companies. The Government of Canada is collaborating with the western provinces on Canada's Pacific gateway strategy to strengthen the west's cultural and business ties with Asia and to establish the region as Canada's natural Pacific gateway.
Western Economic Diversification Canada works with a broad range of public and private sector partners in western Canada to strengthen the region's competitiveness in international commerce. It promotes new investment in western Canada and supports activities designed to increase the presence of western businesses in domestic and global markets. Western provinces must continue to strengthen trade with rising economic superpowers such as India and China, especially with lingering trade disputes in the U.S. over softwood lumber exports and mad cow.
Every region of the country stands to benefit. Strengthened trade, transportation, and investment links will preserve and strengthen the country's economic prosperity, protecting a continued high quality of life for all Canadians and improving opportunities for Canadian business.
The collaborative strategy of a dynamic Canada Pacific gateway will integrate the elements of international commerce, infrastructure, transportation and border management, innovation, immigration and skills development, and Canada's multicultural connections.
Canada is as much a Pacific nation as it is an Atlantic nation. As the west becomes Canada's gateway to the Asia-Pacific, Asia will look to British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as its gateway to North America.
Economic growth in Asia means increased demand for our products and services. Asia sees Canada as a limitless source of natural resources. Its rapidly expanding economy will need Canadian metals, minerals, grains and wood products.
Western Canada's natural resource exports to Asia have grown even faster than its imports. China's escalating purchases of our raw materials were a large part of the reason our dollar rose in recent years from 63¢ to 85¢.
Oil hungry Asian economies will provide Canadian energy producers with an attractive market alternative to the United States. From a western Canada perspective, there are tremendous opportunities for energy firms to expand trade and investment with Asia-Pacific nations.
Through joint ventures, direct investment, technology transfers and other means, the west can help develop Asian economies to achieve their social, economic and environmental goals and at the same time, create jobs and prosperity in Canada.
Canada's gateway strategy will promote B.C. and the west as an attractive market for Asia-Pacific trade and investment, products, services, expertise and as a tourist destination. It will also promote Canada's credentials as an Asia-Pacific nation and give us a higher level of global leadership, innovation, immigration, skills recognition and learning.
Canada's west coast, with its strategic location on the Pacific, is the ideal North American gateway for trans-Pacific commerce, trade, transportation and cultural linkages. This is an enormous competitive advantage for the entire B.C. economy now and into the future, and provides a competitive advantage for the west that benefits all of Canada.
A truly competitive Pacific transportation gateway involves a strong transportation infrastructure and more will be done as we seek to nurture and enhance this trade connection between Canada and Asia. The public and private sectors in Canada are already investing about $2 billion in highway, rail, port and border infrastructures in B.C. to ensure that goods move more efficiently there and across western Canada.
There is more to our interest in Asia-Pacific than simple economics. Canada, and in particular the city of Vancouver, has deep cultural ties to the region. Vancouver offers enterprises and knowledge-driven organizations with culturally diverse employees, many of whom have strong cultural and business links to Asia.
There are close to three million Canadians of Asian origin, many of them going back several generations. In Vancouver alone, there are close to 690,000 people of Asian origin. Canadian diversity, one of our key assets, gives us unique cultural links to Asia-Pacific, as well as powerful entrepreneurial, trade, financial and industrial ties.
Today, western Canada, and British Columbia in particular, is a bridgehead to Asia-Pacific investment, trade and tourism. This major initiative of the Government of Canada combines the goal of global competitiveness with the achievement of a sustainable future for all Canadians. Building a Pacific gateway means a stronger B.C., a stronger west and a stronger Canada.