Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Halifax West for raising the important subject of Canada's economic well-being.
We share the hon. member's belief in the importance of investing in Canada's prosperity for today and the future. The measures that we have introduced in budget 2006 were designed to promote today's economy and ensure a prosperous tomorrow.
The 2006 budget, in the words of Thomas d'Aquino, president and chief executive of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, commits “to developing a comprehensive, results-focused competitive agenda”.
These glowing words of praise, I believe, result from the wide spectrum of investments the budget contains. It is a budget that recognizes everything from the importance of supporting skills development and learning; from apprenticeship to post-secondary education; from academic infrastructure to research and development; from youth to older workers to new Canadians. It is a budget for everyone.
However, I would like to focus on how it aids and supports the needs of my province of Alberta.
Canada is enjoying a 30-year low in unemployment rates. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta is well ahead of the rest of the country in employment growth, and that is no secret. This high employment rate is good news. The only flip side we are seeing is that employers are watching positions go vacant. There is no question that there is an urgent need for skilled workers.
This is especially true in Alberta where the oil industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated. There is a need for highly educated workers in research and development, as well as skilled workers on the ground, workers who require higher levels of familiarity with technology. Accompanying this oil boom are all the spinoff industries, especially construction where skilled workers are a necessity.
Having visited Fort McMurray recently with the hon. member for that riding, it was brought home to me how critical the situation is. The total revenues of the oil and gas industry in Alberta represent 6.1% of Canada's GDP at basic prices for 2004 and the industry is in desperate need for workers of all kinds.
Budget 2006 addresses those needs. We have targeted support for post-secondary education and university research in recognition of the important roles they play in increasing Canada's productivity and the standard of living of Canadians.
Our support measures, in the words of the hon. member for Halifax West, “strengthen Canada's hard-won global lead in publicly funded research and development”.
The Association of University and Colleges of Canada has endorsed these budget commitments. The association's president, Claire Morris, said:
We are pleased with the budget's support for university research, as well as the government's recognition of the important role that research plays for Canadians. These increases in research funding underline the government's commitment to promote a more competitive, more productive Canadian economy.
The budget also supports a more highly educated workforce by directly helping students through exempting all scholarship and bursaries from income tax, providing a textbook tax credit and expanding eligibility for Canada student loans through a reduction in the expected parental contribution.
The budget also invests $1 billion for provinces and territories to support much needed investments in post-secondary infrastructure and equipment. An institution, such as the University of Alberta, for example, could use this money to improve laboratories and upgrade testing equipment.
In my own riding of Edmonton Centre, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has an ambitious and very exciting plan for investing hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years to catch up and then keep pace with the rapidly expanding technology and the ever increasing requirement for more skills in the workplaces of Alberta and the rest of Canada.
As I mentioned, construction is booming in Alberta and the demand for skilled workers is high. Our budget addresses this issue and we will be consulting with the provinces, the territories, the unions and the employers on new measures to promote careers in the skilled trades.
In fact, the measures that we have introduced have been so well received that rather than outlining them myself, I will quote directly what the business manager of Local 183, Tony Dionisio, said:
The cash grant of $1,000 per year for the first two years of an apprenticeship program recognizes the importance of these programs to labour supply. ...The new deduction of up to $500 for tradespeople for the cost of tools in excess of $1,000...also indicates to us that this government recognizes the importance of construction to Canada's overall economic growth.
The budget also encourages the hiring of new apprentices by offering employers an apprenticeship job tax credit of 10% of the apprentice's wages up to $2,000 per apprentice per year.
Once again I will use the example of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Its aggressive and forward looking approach to apprenticeship training has placed it at the forefront of this area in Canada. Seventeen per cent of all apprentices in Canada are trained at NAIT and this budget encourages that excellent performance and contribution.
I spoke of the changes in industries that require higher and higher skill levels. These demands sometimes displace older workers. While older workers perform well in the labour market, some face difficulties adjusting to new demands.
We have committed to undertake a feasibility study of measures to help such workers, including the possibility of income assistance and retraining. Canada needs their talents and experience. Our government wants to see older workers continue contributing to the economy and their own well-being and is committed to looking at ways to do just that.
Budget 2006 contains important measures to upgrade the learning and skills of Canadians but even so, with our changing demographics and aging population, we face a skills shortage. Alberta alone faces a potential shortfall of 100,000 workers over the next decade and over 40% of manufacturers surveyed in Alberta are facing difficulties owing to labour shortages.
At the same time, we have skilled immigrants, both here and those waiting to come into the country, who can help to fill these requirements but are unable to do so because their credentials are not fully recognized. Alberta's petroleum industry, for example, attracts people from around the world whose skills are needed.
We have taken measures to address the situation of putting this untapped pool of skill and expertise to work for Canada. Budget 2006 announced the creation of the Canadian agency for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials. We will be consulting with the provinces, territories and other stakeholders in the establishment of the agency so that new Canadians can put their skills to work.
Those are just some of the many measures we are taking to promote Canada's continued growth and success. It is a budget that inspires optimism. As the president of the Council of Chief Executives said, his organization looks forward to:
--working closely with the government...to shape a business environment that will inspire Canadian enterprises from coast to coast to 'go for gold' in global markets and will ensure growing prosperity and a well-being for Canadians over the next generation.
We welcome his organization's cooperation, as we do that of all Canadians, in making this a reality.