Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiastic encouragement as I begin to tell the public a little about the report of the finance committee.
The report contains the recommendations of the finance committee to the government about what should be in the upcoming spring budget, budget 2007. In order to make these recommendations, the finance committee heard over 400 witnesses. There were many hours of consultations with different groups, some individuals and organizations. They had input and some thoughts about what they would like to see in the next budget.
The theme of the budget was “Enhancing Canada's competitiveness and productivity”.
I will say a couple of word about the theme of our consultations, competitiveness and productivity. In a way, regular Canadians do not lay awake at night wondering about Canada's competitiveness and productivity. They are busy trying to figure out how they are going to pay their mortgages or their rents. They are thinking about their jobs and family matters. Therefore, I want to remind everyone that Canada is part of a global economy. No longer does trade, commerce and all the economic activities of any country happen in isolation.
It used to be that countries would trade maybe a little with their neighbours and to a small extent with the far flung corners of the world. Increasingly now Canada's economy is interwoven with that of all other countries on the globe, which has huge impacts for Canada, huge repercussions and huge opportunity.
Canada has some unique advantages in the global economy. It also has some challenges. These are the things the finance committee looked as to how Canada could maximize the returns to our advantage and how we could deal with the challenges.
The word “productivity” is used sometimes. What it means is being able to maintain our standard of living and the quality of life. We have built this over the years by hard work, by businesses investing, growing and becoming more able to succeed in the global marketplace and to take advantage of opportunities in and with other countries. All of that gives Canadians a high standard of living, one that is envied in the world. It also gives a quality of life, which is I would say second to none in the entire world.
We have values and qualities in our way of life that are not only desirable, but that are worth protecting and fighting for by continuing to have strategies so we can have this for many years in the future, not only for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren.
If we are to shine, if we are to be at the top end of competitiveness on the global scene and if we are to maintain our quality of life with all of its facets, whether it is our social programs, our level of income, or the goods and services we want and need, it takes some planning.
These advantages do not happen by accident. It takes planning, hard work, good decision making and some capable and smart financing and budgeting by governments, not just the federal government but the provincial, territorial governments and municipal governments as well. The activities of government can have an impact on a country's standard of living and its quality of life. If wrong decisions are made about levels of taxation, spending and preservation of programs and services, then the standard of living and the quality of life is impacted.
Our government, and I believe all members of the House, take that duty to Canadians extremely seriously, not just for today but for the future. Leaders are paid to look ahead, to see the challenges and opportunities and to make the decisions today that will ensure we succeed tomorrow. That was some of the framework around our consultations.
We had many submissions by different groups. It was interesting because some groups said that the government should spend more here and not there. Others had different kinds of spending. Some people said that we were spending far too fast. They said that the level of spending of governments was outpacing the ability of our economy to grow and fund that spending. They said that we needed to be more modest, more reasonable in the growth of spending by government and that we needed to take the burden of taxes away from our job creators.
A lot of times some members of Parliament talk about business or big corporations. Big businesses, big corporations and big banks are simply those that have succeeded and they are our job creators. These companies or institutions have publicly traded shares and they are owned by individual Canadians. They are owned by pension plans of unions and professional organizations and public pension plans such as the Canada pension plan, the RCMP pension plan and the armed services pension plan.
Successful businesses not only create jobs for Canadians, but they create secure futures for Canadians. Their growth, income, profit and wealth are shared among the shareholders, which include many retired Canadians.
We want to ensure that the job and wealth creators of our society are successful as well. That means we have to give incentives, particularly because wealth can move anywhere in the world. We cannot force it to stay within our borders. Wealth and investment capital will go where there are opportunities for growth and profit, and we have to be cognizant of that. We have to ensure that the decisions we make in our budgets, federally, provincially and municipally, reflect those realities. If we make it too tough for job and wealth creation, then those opportunities will go elsewhere. We want them here in Canada.
These are some of the things we want to balance. We need to balance strong, stable, effective social programs as well, including health care and education. We need to ensure that our infrastructure is conducive to activities of Canadians to succeed in their businesses and professional lives and for those who run businesses to be successful as well. We need to have the capital to fund our social programs, which are so important to us.
These are the things with which we wrestle, both in the finance committee, in our report, and also in the government, in the Minister of Finance and his officials in crafting budgets.
Budget 2007 is coming up quickly. It has been very interesting to hear from people and to come to grips with some of the issues to be thought about and some of the decisions to be made.
Not surprisingly, there are some differences of opinion among committee members. Some differences are on ideological grounds. There is the ideology of what we would call sometimes the left, which calls for more government spending and intervention. Then other members of Parliament, many of them Conservatives, believe the government should enable others to succeed, but the nanny state is not the best way to go. These are legitimate differences of opinion and call for some interesting and helpful debate.
Some recommendations in the committee report were pretty much endorsed and agreed to by everyone. There were a lot more where opposition members out voted the government members, as this is a minority Parliament. The three opposition parties voted together and government members did not agree with some of them. That is how democracy and a minority Parliament works.
Because there were some areas of disagreement, the different parties put in supplementary reports to clarify areas where they did not agree with the main report or they wanted to add some items that did not make it into the main committee report. The supplementary opinions are appended to the committee report and make for interesting reading. I would encourage Canadians to look at these documents on the Internet. Sometimes these short opinions, because they can only be about four pages in length, contain a great deal of condensed thought.
I want to spend a few minutes advising Canadians and the House about some of the principles the government members of the finance committee felt were important.
Conservatives believe that government should restrain the growth in spending to a more sustainable level. The GDP is growing by 2% to 3% a year, but government spending skyrocketed to 8% per year on average. Last year it was 15%.
No householder or business in the world could only have an increase in income of 3% or 4%, but spend 8% to 15% more every year. That just does not compute. It is not sound financing or reasonable spending. Conservatives believe the rate of government spending should increase on services for Canadians, but at a reasonable, moderate and prudent level, which is followed by all Canadians, whether they be individuals or businesses. Therefore, spending is pretty much in line with the increase in income and not above it. Once people spend above that, they get into trouble. That is just not good financing. This is one of the principles that led government members to disagree with some of the opposition recommendations in the report.
Conservatives believe that recommendations have to be affordable and realistic. Sometimes spending money on things sounds good, but if we look at the bang for the buck, whether there is a benefit for the cost to Canadians, who trust us to spend their money wisely, and it does not justify it, according to the analysis the government believes is a reasonable one, then we cannot support it.
Conservatives believe the tax burden for individual Canadian businesses should be reduced. We did that in our first budget, a couple of months after we were elected. The budget provided $26 billion in tax reductions for Canadians and businesses over two years. We believe Canadians, business people, entrepreneurs and investors can spend money more wisely sometimes than governments and bureaucrats can.
That is a shocking concept to some in the House, but we believe it to be so. We believe that the wealth creators in our country are individuals and businesses, particularly small business. We want to give them more of their own money, earnings and wealth to do with as they see fit.
We also believe there should be value for money. We hear politicians sometimes saying that we gave this much to this program or organization, as if somehow just putting money out got results. We all know from real life that just spending money does not necessarily give good value. Sometimes we can buy a product that does not do what we thought it would do, that is not high quality, or that does not afford the comfort or the service that we thought it would. These matters have to be looked at carefully and reasonably to make sure that when we spend Canadians' money, they actually get real value for it, that it is not just bragging rights for politicians but it actually delivers some measurable and proper benefit for the Canadian public.
We noted, for example, that all the other opposition parties say that they oppose another cut to the GST, but we know that the GST cut is the only tax cut that can be given to a multitude of Canadians who otherwise do not pay taxes. This is the only tax they pay and they deserve a tax reduction as well.
The Retail Council of Canada said that the GST reduction did more than twice as much for Canadians' real disposable incomes than they had been able to do for themselves over the last 15 years and more than was done for them in a strong economy in 2005. The Retail Council of Canada said that the GST cut was a very powerful tool for increasing the incomes of Canadians. We believe that our promise to continue to reduce the GST by a further one per cent over the next four to five years is one that Canadians will benefit from. That is an area where we disagreed with the opposition parties.
We also believe that money should be spent directly on providing services to Canadians rather than on advocacy or on high and burgeoning administration costs. We think it is extremely important that when money is spent, people see some measurable results, that it just does not end up funding more hot air being blown around, more talk shops, more round tables and more administration.
We also believe that money spent on the environment should do something for the environment. We heard a lot from the previous government about billions of dollars being spent on the environment, but when the environment commissioner gave her report, we found out that actually we not only were still at square one, we had actually gone backward, that greenhouse gas emissions were 35% more than they were when we started out spending these billions of dollars. How is that fair to Canadians? They work hard. They cough up $6 billion or so. It is spent somewhere, but instead of making progress, we go backward. That is irresponsible. That is a complete abuse of hard-working men and women in our country. We cannot continue to do that.
We want to have responsible spending. We want to reduce the tax burden for Canadians. We also want to pay down Canada's mortgage, because every dollar by which we reduce a mortgage we save in interest every single year. We reduced Canada's mortgage this year by $13.2 billion above the $3 billion that would normally be paid down. That will free up almost $700,000 every single year from here on out which we can spend on services for Canadians because it is not going to interest.
Canadians try to pay down their credit card balances because they know they save tons of interest by doing that. So does a country. We are committed to making that kind of sensible debt repayment happen for our country. It is not fair that we spend billions of dollars on interest every year and expect our kids to deal with it. That is irresponsible. It is unfair. It is taxation without representation. We want to get the debt down.
We are going to start with what we call the net debt, which is a measure that all countries use and the OECD uses, which is the total debt minus the assets of a country. Once we get the net debt down in 15 years, we will start on other debt reduction measures. This is extremely important for our country because it gives so much more freedom, fiscal freedom and freedom from being beholden to our debt holders from other countries as well.
We also want to make sure that we have results in excellence in our economy. Roger Martin, the chairman of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and dean of the Rotman School of Management, said in September:
In 1998, Canada stood sixth in this ranking of our business competitiveness and in 2001 we stood 11th.
In three years we slipped from sixth to 11th. Then he said:
Over the years we've drifted down in the rankings as countries like Norway and Japan have stepped up their competitiveness.
Many of these countries are without the kind of natural advantages that we have. We want to stop that drift. That drift is not what Canadians want and it is not what they deserve. We want to start moving up. We want to be one of the most vibrant, most successful, most productive and most envied economies in the entire world. I believe that is possible because of Canadian know-how and because of Canadian initiative.
In addition, of course, we want to address the fiscal balance. The finance ministers will be meeting this weekend as a matter of fact. The finance ministers for the provinces, the territories and the federal government again will be having discussions not just on the fiscal balance but on how all of us can work together to ensure that Canada remains a top performer by every measure in the world, and not just economically. Environmentally we have done a lot with the clean air act and other measures to move forward on that. We want to make sure that our health care system is strong. The same is true for our infrastructure, our bridges, our roads, our airports, so that trade and commerce and travel will be easy in our country. All of those things are investments for the future and we are committed to doing that.
We believe that we need to have a plan, a forward looking vision, instead of just putting money here and money there with no coherent framework without a future goal in mind.
We have a strong plan called “Advantage Canada”, which was just released in the fall update in November by the finance minister. It is dedicated to making sure that under clear, reasonable, prudent, well thought out management, our country can continue to grow and prosper, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in environmental quality, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in health care wait times, that we reverse the slide we have experienced in the past in our standing in competitiveness and productivity, and instead, now we have measures, a clear plan to move forward.
Some of the areas where we have gone backward cannot be reversed overnight. We inherited a bit of a mess in some areas, but I believe that with the plans that are in place and the measures that are going forward, step by step Canada is on the road not only to a recovery in some of the areas that are important to Canadians but also to a very strong, vibrant and prosperous future where our quality of life is protected, where it is enhanced and where Canada continues to be the envy of the world and for good reason.
We are excited about the recommendations in the report. We are excited about the vision that we have laid out in our supplementary opinion. We believe with future measures that will come in budget 2007 and in the framework of the “Advantage Canada” plan that has been put forward by our government, Canada is on the right track. It is in good hands. Our children and grandchildren too will be assured that a well managed and a prudently developed economy will be there for them in the coming years.