Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my neighbour to the south, the member of Parliament for York West.
I want to say how pleased I am today to participate in this very important debate about two issues that I think speak to the future of the country and our ability to provide the standard of living and quality of life that Canadians rightly demand of our country and indeed of our governments.
I have had occasion over my career to sit on both sides of the House, and sitting here and listening to the various speeches on both sides reminds me of the story of two governments. I must say that I am quite envious of the Conservative government, because it inherited a wonderful opportunity to build even a better country.
Unfortunately, the story I need to tell is the one about what we were left with. We were left with a $42 billion deficit, high unemployment and high interest rates. Those were very difficult times. It would have been easy for us to throw up our arms in despair. Instead, we chose to roll up our sleeves and we brought about a phenomenal Canadian economic renaissance.
What did we do? I say this to remind Canadians of the excellent economic record of our government. We eliminated the deficit. We paid down the debt. We introduced the largest tax cut in Canadian history. We did not raise taxes, which is in juxtaposition to the present government. We did not raise taxes on low income Canadians; we lowered them. We lowered business and corporate taxes because it made sense, particularly in this particular debate on competitiveness and productivity.
We committed over $12 billion in new funding for research. It was interesting to note that an earlier speaker on the government's side said that Canada leads in research and development. That is true, but we on this side actually set that record. That is a fundamental difference between our record and theirs.
I guess the Conservatives have had the opportunities to show their stuff, as we say, early on in their government cycle. What did Canadians see? The version of the Conservative Party's view on increasing productivity is to actually make cuts in human resources development, literacy programs and post-secondary education. All those things are very important ingredients in developing a competitive strategy in a productivity enhancement plan for the country.
However, early on, we saw that although the Conservatives raised the taxes on low income Canadians, they also participated in the income trust fiasco, the fiasco that really wiped out $25 billion in investments for thousands of small investors.
The other issue that I will raise now is the issue of interest deductibility, described by some people as the worst tax policy in 35 years, which essentially would have sent our businesses out into the international marketplace with one hand tied behind their backs.
Therefore, I wonder whether the Conservative government understands that it has to really change its view on how to increase the productivity and competitiveness of a country. That is not done by sending the wrong signals to the markets. That is not done by hindering the potential of our businesses, because at the end of the day, it is our businesses in the private sector that are generating these jobs.
We learned that early on. We did all we could as a government to empower the private sector to generate jobs and we were very successful. We were able to lower the unemployment rate from double digits to create over three million jobs. That is the sort of record that we had.
When we look at other statistics, we invested billions in post-secondary education. On the corporate tax side to generate economic growth, to reward individuals and businesses, we lowered taxes. On the corporate tax side the Liberals reduced the tax rate from 28% to 21%. That spurred on economic activity. What was interesting was that the lower the taxes, the more revenue we generated for the government.
The facts speak for themselves. The Conservatives have had a year and some odd months in power and they have already made serious mistakes. Canadians are wondering, actually they are beyond wondering, they are beginning to believe that in fact the Conservatives lack the competence in economic management to bring about the type of changes that we were able to build.
We wonder whether the Conservatives have learned anything. The first thing we did was we established a very stable economy: low interest rates, low inflation, paid down the debt. We also did something else. It was not just about taxes and getting the macro-economic environment right. We also invested in people. We cannot be productive as a nation if we do not invest and put people first in our agenda.
The great opportunity that we have had and which was clearly illustrated during our years in office was the way we dealt with the issue of labour as it relates to the marketplace and as it relates to immigration. The long term issue that we face in this country is indeed an aging society. Immigrants and aboriginal Canadians provide our greatest hope to address skill shortages. Almost 100% of all new labour opportunities as it relates to human resources will be through immigration.
On an issue related to immigration, what in fact did the Tories--I should not say the Tories--what did the Conservatives, the Reform Alliance do on the accreditation of foreign credentials? We have seen a cut in investments in that area. We wonder why that would happen. Do they prefer not maximizing the human resources potential of immigrants? Is that what that government is about? Why cut in that area? Why cut literacy programs? It is almost inconceivable that they would engage in the type of cuts that reduce opportunities for people in this country, particularly those whom we will depend upon to give us the type of skills that this country and the marketplace require.
I cannot cover all the areas because of the time restrictions, but I can tell the House that I have not been at all impressed with the Conservative government. I have not been impressed with the way the Conservatives dealt with issues like interest deductibility. I am also not very impressed with the fact that they do not realize that at the end of the day we have to invest in research and development, we have to invest in people, we have to invest in post-secondary education because the wealth of our country, the wealth of our future will be generated by ideas that come from between our ears. To not recognize that is a major flaw.