Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise this morning to speak in support of the government's throne speech entitled, “Protecting Canada's Future”.
I would like to give some of the context in which the Speech from the Throne was drafted. I note the debate this morning really has not given any context of Canada's current standing and what we were really getting at when drafting the Speech from the Throne. I note that a number of opposition members who spoke this morning talked about wishing to see knee-jerk responses and solutions. That is not what the Speech from the Throne is about. The throne speech is a road map. It is about guiding Canada in the proper direction to protect our future.
Before I get into my speech and to provide a backdrop, I want to highlight some news from this morning:
Given the slowdown in the United States, Canada's largest trading partner, Canada's recent economic performance seems to have defied the experts. For example, as car sales plummeted in the United States last month, car sales in Canada rose by 1%.
Actually, car sales rose by about 1.4%.
The U. S. economy has shed more than one million jobs in the past 12 months while Canada's economy, at the end of October, had created 223,000 new jobs in the same period.
The throne speech is about protecting Canada's future. When we talk about protecting Canada's future, we are talking about protecting the gains. Canada is not an island. Our largest trading partner, the nation with which we share the largest undefended border, is the epicentre of the global economic crisis. We are mindful of these things. What we are talking about is protecting the gains that we have made.
On October 14 the people of Canada entrusted this government with a renewed and expanded mandate, a stronger mandate to lead Canada through these difficult times. While embarking on this new mandate, our government is committed to providing the strong leadership that Canadians expect. We will protect Canadians in difficult times and work with them to secure our future prosperity. We will support Canadian workers and businesses in their pursuit of a better future.
Our government is committed to ensuring Canada's continued success in this time of global uncertainty. The Speech from the Throne lays out the government's plan to help protect Canada's economic security through five principles: by reforming global finance; by ensuring sound budgeting; by securing jobs for families and communities; by expanding investment in trade; and by making government more effective.
The Speech from the Throne also sets out our plan for governing that builds on the work of the previous mandate. We are focusing on priorities that make a difference for Canadians, the types of priorities that have delivered the types of results I outlined at the beginning of this speech, the types of priorities that have allowed us to outpace all nations in the G-8. As we enter this difficult time, Canada remains the only country in the G-8 that has an ongoing budget surplus, paying down debt while reducing taxes.
The Speech from the Throne sets out our plan for governing that builds on our mandate. We talk about: securing our energy future; tackling climate change and preserving Canada's environment; expanding opportunities for all Canadians; keeping Canadians safe; contributing to global security; and building stronger institutions.
I want to zero in on a number of priorities that are in the throne speech. Rather than talking about everything at a 35,000 foot level and glancing over things, I want to talk specifically about a number of issues that are concerning Canadians today.
When we entered into the election, I heard about a lot of issues that I am not hearing about today. Only a couple of months ago the primary issue was the price of gas. I am sure a lot of members in the House will recall hearing about the same thing. That was the foremost issue on the minds of Canadians. Today is no longer the foremost issue on Canadians' minds. Their concerns have shifted to other things. What I am hearing a lot about in my riding of Peterborough is industry.
Peterborough is a manufacturing hub. That is our heritage and our history, ever since Thomas Edison located Edison Electric, which became Canadian General Electric. Members have often heard me refer to Peterborough as the electric city and my riding as the electric city region. Peterborough was the first city in North America to have electric street lights and that is because Thomas Edison located General Electric in Peterborough and the ability to generate hydroelectric power off the Otonabee River which flows directly through the region.
Industry has always been a major part of what we do in Peterborough and it is of major interest. The auto industry is very significant in my riding. General Motors is the largest private employer in Peterborough. A number of parts suppliers also operate in my riding and they employ people as well. Obviously industry is very important to the people of my riding and it is important to me as their representative.
There were specific commitments made by our government in the throne speech. I would like to highlight some of these and our commitment with respect to industry:
To further reduce the cost pressures on Canadian business, our Government will take measures to encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment.
The Canadian manufacturing sector, particularly the automotive and aerospace industries, has been under increasing strain. Our Government will provide further support for these industries.
I note that through Advantage Canada, our economic plan, and recent budgets we have made significant progress toward creating a business environment aimed at promoting long-term investment, innovation and job creation across all sectors of the economy. Again I go back to the comments that I made originally. While the U.S. has lost a million jobs, Canada has added 226,000 jobs over the exact same period. Indeed since our government has been in power, over the last not quite three years, we have added over 800,000 jobs to the Canadian economy. More than 17 million Canadians are working today full time. It is a record. We see unemployment at a near historic low at 6.1%. We see the effects of the measures that our government has taken.
While we recognize the strategic importance of the manufacturing sector and the challenging financial conditions and global competitiveness that our industry faces, our government has cut taxes to lower the cost for business. We have helped business compete and create jobs. By 2012-13 the Government of Canada will have provided more than $9 billion in tax relief to the manufacturing sector. Our government is implementing scientific measures to strengthen the auto, aerospace and defence industries and improve access to capital for small and medium size enterprises in the Canadian manufacturing sector.
The finance minister has moved very swiftly over the last month to make sure there is liquidity in the market, to make sure the banks can continue to lend. That is supporting our manufacturing industries. It is supporting business. It is supporting small businesses in places like Peterborough and in all 308 ridings right across the country. That is why the actions being taken by this government and outlined in the throne speech are so critically important.
I note as a matter of background that in budget 2008, in support of Canadian industry and specifically the manufacturing sector, the Government of Canada implemented specific measures, such as the $250 million automotive innovation fund. This fund supports strategic large-scale research and development projects in the auto sector. I note with some success that we have got commitments for operations such as the Essex engine plant near Windsor. This specific fund has been drawn upon to transition that plant, to make it more competitive and to ensure Canadian jobs in the future. It is a very important fund.
Again, the $9 billion in tax relief over five years includes broad based tax reductions and a temporary accelerated writeoff for investments in machinery and equipment. This tax relief is supplemented by strengthening access to capital.
Canadian companies have been taking advantage of the accelerated capital cost allowance. They have been investing in new equipment. For example, Quaker Oats, Pepsi-QTG in Peterborough, has invested some $26 million in its plant over the last couple of years. That is taking advantage of the accelerated capital cost allowance. That is allowing it to be more efficient, to compete, to be profitable. It is protecting 700 manufacturing jobs right in the heart of Peterborough. These measures are indeed having an effect.
What underpins industry in Canada? What allows industry in Canada to compete? When I have talked to industry leaders in Canada, they tell me that what they really need is infrastructure to support their core operations. They will make those investments if we provide them with the environment, with adequate and proper tax measures, competitive tax measures, and if we allow them access to capital. We have to make sure that our banks are in a position to support industry and finance those investments. What they really need is modern infrastructure that can support business.
That is why our government crafted building Canada, which is a $33 billion fund. It is the largest federal government infrastructure investment since the second world war. What did the throne speech have to say about building Canada? What further commitments did we make to the infrastructure that supports Canadian business?
First we noted that the government has acted with leadership to implement an infrastructure plan that is helping provinces, territories and communities of all sizes modernize the infrastructure that contributes to a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and more prosperous communities.
Through our government's unprecedented building Canada plan, we are providing long-term, stable and predictable funding to meet infrastructure needs across Canada. The government will continue to work constructively with our partners at the provincial and municipal levels to identify and approve infrastructure projects more quickly to get the money out the door. It is great that we have budgeted some $33 billion for building Canada. My party has demonstrated outstanding leadership to budget money where it is going to make a difference. However, it is equally important that the money is not just budgeted but that it flows to our partners at the municipal and provincial levels.
While our government is making a historic $33 billion investment over seven years through to 2014, the plan also provides provinces with predictable, flexible and long-term funding to restore infrastructure in Canada. The government has signed a framework with each and every province, which is critically important because the money has to have a way to flow.
I would also like to note that while we have provided predictability for the provinces, we have also provided long-term predictability for the municipalities, something they have asked for forever. When we made the GST rebate for the municipalities permanent, it allowed them to budget.
When I met with the municipalities in the winter of 2006, some 10 months after I had been elected, they indicated that in order to be able to plan from an infrastructure standpoint, what they really needed was at least a 10-year window so they would know what kind of money they could count on from the federal and provincial governments to ultimately plan their infrastructure priorities.
What have we done? We have told them how much money they will be getting over the next several periods and that they can count on the fact that the gas tax transfer will be permanent. We have also given them full refundability on the GST, a measure which saved the city of Peterborough about $700,000 a year. It is a very substantial amount of money in a city with a budget of some $80 million. Everyone can see it is a very significant amount of money.
What else do industries need? We are providing industries with the competitive environment they need. We are supporting their investments. We are making sure the banks are behind them. We are providing them with the world-class infrastructure they are going to need to get their goods to market. And then what do they need? They need markets.
Canada is a trading nation. As everyone in the House knows, Canada succeeds by virtue of the markets that it accesses. We know that Canada's predominant trading partner is the United States of America, but Canada's economy can become overly dependent when we have all our eggs in one basket. We do not want to have all our eggs in one basket, so we can look at some of the new agreements that our government has just signed. These are mentioned in the throne speech.
We are going to pursue new trade agreements in Asia and the Americas, as well as the European Union, to open markets for Canadian firms. Canada's global commerce strategy includes an aggressive trade negotiation agenda aimed at securing competitive terms of access in markets that offer significant potential for our products and expertise.
The government will work toward finalizing bilateral trade agreements that bring greater prosperity to Canadians. Canada and the European Union are taking steps to prepare formal mandates with a view toward launching negotiations on an economic partnership as soon as possible. This has been a priority issue for Quebec Premier Jean Charest in particular, who has talked often about the need for an economic partnership, a trade deal, with the European Union. Our government is acting on that and we will get results.
I note that just this weekend we signed another bilateral trade agreement. The government will proceed to ratify the results of these trade negotiations that have been concluded with the EFTA nations, Peru, Colombia and Jordan. Canada's global commerce strategy again talks about this aggressive trade negotiation which is going to open up opportunities for Canadian business.
I talked about Peterborough a little bit and I talked about our industry. I talked about how Peterborough is a manufacturing hub. Indeed, if we look at the province of Ontario, we will find that Ontario is a world leader when it comes to nuclear energy. Some 40,000 skilled workers in the nuclear energy field live and work right here in the province of Ontario.
Peterborough, as the home of General Electric Canada, has always been a leader in nuclear energy. We have industries around us like Numet, General Electric, and Camco, that employ people from my riding.
The government made a specific commitment to nuclear energy in the throne speech. Canada is a world leader when it comes to nuclear energy. Parts of many of the generators around the world have been built in Peterborough at General Electric. Most of the very significant hydroelectric generators all around the world have been built in Peterborough, generators for the Hoover Dam, for example, the Churchill generators, generators all throughout Asia and South America. They were all built in Peterborough.
We have the know-how of how to build these things and how to generate green electricity. It is in Ontario and some of it is in my riding. When the government makes a commitment to ensure that the regulatory framework is ready to respond to the provinces that choose to advance nuclear projects, that is supporting industry in Ontario.
What we know is that nuclear energy is a proven technology and it is capable of providing large scale output. It is safe, it is clean, and it is emission free. In Canada and around the world investments are being made in nuclear power to meet energy, security and climate change goals.
It is clear that nuclear power generation will continue to play a role in Canada's energy mix since it contributes 15% of Canada's electricity generation and 50% of the electricity supply in Ontario alone. I note that in looking at other competing nations, in looking at France for example, another G-8 nation, France generates some 90% of its baseload capacity from nuclear energy. That has allowed France to outperform other nations when it comes to things to climate change. It is a realistic solution for Ontario's energy needs moving forward, for Canada's energy needs moving forward. It has been talked about as a potential solution for the Alberta oil sands in working toward bringing its greenhouse gas emissions down as well.
The government continues to support the work of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a strong independent regulator that will oversee applications for all new nuclear projects. As noted in budget 2008, we also support Atomic Energy of Canada Limited with new funding and new leadership that we believe will see AECL through to the future.
Another industry that is critically important in Ontario and indeed in your home province, Mr. Speaker, is agriculture. What has our party done for agriculture? What did the throne speech have to say about agriculture?