Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in debate today.
First, allow me to begin by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on a successful election to the role of Speaker. Since my election in 2004 I have only known one Speaker and that is yourself. It is good to see you back in the chair once again. It will be interesting to see how you deal with some of the challenges facing the House of Commons today.
Let me also begin by extending congratulations to our fellow colleagues here who have been elected to the House of Commons. Some have been re-elected and are returning again. There are a considerable number of faces new to this chamber who will inject a new sense of lifeblood into the debates of our nation. Congratulations to all.
It is a tremendous honour to be returned once again. I want to thank the good folks of the riding of Essex for expressing their confidence in me once again and also for making a bit of history.
My election first in 2004 then 2006 and now again in 2008 makes me the first Conservative elected in three consecutive elections in my riding in over 75 years and only the second since Confederation. The people of Essex have decided to make a certain amount of history. It would be fair to read into the record the name of the last such member of Parliament to do that back home and his name was Eccles James Gott who did it in 1925, 1926 and 1930. It is good to follow in those footsteps.
I also want to commend the good folks back home in Essex for their choice and their wisdom in choosing a member of Parliament with a seat on the government side of the House as opposed to the opposition because at this particular time our region is facing a number of challenges. My constituents recognize the value of having a seat on the government side of the House. It also demonstrates that there is some resonance for our platform as the blueprint for moving forward for our region.
The City of Windsor is a neighbour to my riding and facing an unemployment rate of 10%. By returning me citizens are saying they want a partner in government who will be able to take the challenges of the region forward and look for solutions.
I think it also is an expression of confidence in the leadership of our Prime Minister and his ability to steer us through what is widely acknowledged as tough global economic times with a lot of instability. That trust is well placed.
Our Prime Minister is an economist and who better to understand economic trends with some amount of foresight and able to act proactively and pre-emptively in some cases to address those challenges. We have seen a number of proactive measures taken by the Prime Minister and the government over the last three years which have positioned Canada to best weather the storm.
Our measures are now being replicated by other major countries. After reading the headlines today, I noticed that a lot of other major industrialized countries are now duplicating our measures themselves with only a couple of differences.
First, these countries are doing it with the problem of mounting debt from ongoing structural deficits. We do not face that challenge here in Canada as we face these tough economic times. Second, these countries are doing it in response to the crisis rather than demonstrating foresight and getting out ahead of it.
What kinds of measures are we talking about? The United Kingdom, for example, made a 2.5% cut to its version of the GST. In a couple of successive budgets, our government has lowered the GST in Canada by 2% to help stimulate what has been a robust domestic demand for everything from automobiles to durable goods.
In the United States, president-elect Obama has proposed an economic stimulus package. He is talking about everything from maintaining the Bush tax cut for the wealthy to extending tax relief to middle income and lower income Americans, and massive infrastructure spending. Some of this sounds a little familiar.
In the last fall economic statement we had tax relief for lower and middle income Canadians, and tax relief for businesses and corporations. In two consecutive budgets we made historic investments to stimulate infrastructure projects in this country.
Essex is one of those sort of bellwether regions in Canada. It is often said back home that as Essex goes, so goes the nation.
For me, the win that we experienced in the last election was both a stronger margin of victory personally but also a demonstration of an increased mandate for the Prime Minister and the government to tackle some of these tough economic questions. It is a mandate, of course, that includes more seats in Ontario. Many people are pointing to Ontario as one of the tougher spots of the economy, with our region within Ontario being one of the more troubled spots in the province and yet there is an increased mandate for the government. There are more seats in south and southwestern Ontario, which is the manufacturing heartland. We are restructuring in the auto industry in particular but manufacturing in general has perhaps been affected most acutely.
We have emerged through the election with a stronger mandate for the Prime Minister and the government, including these tough economic areas. I think we are seeing an expression of confidence in the Prime Minister to lead us through troubled times.
If we look at the global landscape and some of the difficulties that are facing us, we see this is global in magnitude. I think we need to appreciate what we are facing. These problems started outside of our borders but they certainly affect us within our borders. The U.S. meltdown in the housing and financial sectors is the touchstone for what is becoming difficult global times. Canadians are resilient though. We believe in the ability of Canadians to band together, to demonstrate the typical resilience of Canadians to get through this.
It is very much the same as the DNA of our folks back home in Essex. We have been through some very difficult times, some of it cyclical in terms of the nature of the boom and bust cycles of the auto industry and some of it dating back as far as when we were a frontier town, on a frontier landscape pushing railroads through and pushing trade through. Our people have demonstrated an ability to roll with the times, to come through the times and come out stronger on the other side of it.
However, we cannot escape the reality that tough economic times mean that we are dealing in human terms, both in terms of the opportunity side and with the types of opportunities we can create for real people. There are hard-working families and some family members are not working. We need to know the human costs of making the wrong decisions or right decisions or of acting or not acting.
If we are looking at the human side of it there is one factor that we cannot control and that is American consumers who are exhausted or worse, bankrupt, which affects some of the demand for the products we build here. We are seeing layoffs and job losses in places like Windsor, Oakville and Oshawa as a result of it. It is tough times for families.
I have come through some of that myself. For those in the House who do not know, I came off the assembly line at Chrysler Canada after just over six years. It was at a time when they closed the Pillette Road truck assembly plant where I was working and, of course, there was no government assistance at the time. It was at the beginning of some restructuring in the market. It was a time when we had just taken out our very first mortgage. I think it was about three months before that. I had never been in home ownership before. Our 10 year old vehicle had just stopped working and we were looking at a massive expenditure there, as well.
Families are obviously living through those same types of things as we face tough times right now.
Canadians are rightfully concerned about their futures. We cannot take lightly their choice of who they have chosen for leadership in this. What is the vision forward? This is what brings us to our throne speech. It lays out some of the broad parameters for where the Prime Minister and the government intend to lead the country.
I will address some of the criticisms I have been hearing in debate so far about the throne speech. One of the biggest ones we hear is that it is not prescriptive enough. People were looking for specific line items mentioned in a budget. They said that they were looking for this or that but did not see it so they will oppose the throne speech. We have a number of folks on our opposition benches who are hanging their hats with respect to their votes on whether their specific issues are mentioned in black and white in the throne speech.
The throne speech is a broad outline and it has taken a certain amount of flexibility precisely because we are in extraordinary circumstances with respect to the global economy. I think the experts will agree that we are in a global recession and perhaps heading for a depression that has not been seen in the lifetimes of most members in this House. Therefore, having a flexible throne speech that lays out a vision of where we are going without having to prescribe every single measure on how we are going to get there is important for the government moving forward.
The Prime Minister, in terms of flexibility, also has said that he is looking for constructive measures from the opposition in terms of what the specifics will look like coming through this. It will not just be on the expenditures side in terms of coming up with what spending stimulus could be there, but also on the cost savings side. We will be looking for constructive measures from the opposition about where we can generate savings from things that perhaps are not working.
We needed a flexible throne speech that was not overly prescriptive because we wanted some input from members on the specific tools to get there, including on the expenditure side. To simply take the position that the throne speech is not prescriptive enough and therefore it simply cannot be supported is the wrong approach.
I do not think anyone in this House can disagree with the five broad themes that have been laid out in the throne speech. I would encourage our members to support it.
What are those five pillars and themes that the Governor General laid out on behalf of the Prime Minister? One, of course, is that we are taking very seriously the foundational issue of reforming global finance.
Two, we will deal with our own domestic foundation, which is to ensure that we have sound budgeting.
Third, we will secure jobs for families and communities across Canada.
Four, we will expand investment in trade.
Five, we will make government more effective.
Let us examine those points a little more in detail, the starting point being reforming global finance.
Obviously the global economic turmoil we have been through started in financial markets in the United States. No financial system was immune from that. Our own financial institutions had some exposure to some of the sub-prime investments themselves and a number of countries around the world were woven into that. Putting the global financial system on a solid footing is one of those foundational things that had to be done. We saw it with the G-20 meetings where our Prime Minister laid out that Canada has a very good model to demonstrate to the rest of the world in terms of how we stabilize and handle our financial institutions. We will continue to take a leadership position to ensure the foundation of the global economy is sound.
Domestically, regarding ensuring sound budgeting, the Prime Minister has been clear about what this will look like. We want to learn from some of the past mistakes. I was a student of history at university, which was my major. It is important to look back at similar situations in terms of economies that have happened in our history. If we look at the Great Depression, for example, in the 1930s, there are some very pertinent examples of measures that we should not duplicate because they will lead to the same result.
We have an opportunity here to learn from the mistakes of history and one of those is by ensuring that we do not lock ourselves so rigidly into engineering a balanced budget or a small surplus just to say that we did it. That was one of the precursors that plunged the United States into a great depression, and others by extension.
Instead, what the Prime Minister has said very clearly is that we will focus on appropriate economic stimulus while ensuring that our investments in benefiting Canadians and Canadian families are maintained and do so while avoiding a return to the structural deficits of the past, that is the chronic overspending year over year over year. We want to ensure that we have sound budgeting while we are addressing some of the historical challenges ahead of us.
In order to secure jobs for families and communities, we will build on some of our past achievements. When we are talking about stimulus for our economy at this time, we are not just starting now to respond to the crisis. We have some past achievements from budgets 2006, 2007 and in 2008 already. For example, we have record infrastructure investments, historic, of $33 billion in the Building Canada plan, which is the most since the Great Depression over 60 years ago.
We have provided help for communities in transition with the billion dollar community development trust fund earlier this year, which is a very significant measure. Ontario's share is $358 million over three years. Some of that money is already beginning to filter down into communities, like Windsor, which have been heavily reliant on the auto industry to help some in the parts sector diversify their businesses. Therefore, we are already seeing some of the first of that much needed money beginning to flow into some of our communities.
Last February we announced our auto action plan, our four pillar strategy on how to address investment in the auto industry to catapult it forward, particularly into the area of green technology commercialization but research and development first and then commercializing it to help the auto industry retool its operations here in Canada to produce those technologies and the vehicles that will use those technologies here.
We have already had the first example in terms of a proposed investment coming out of my region back home, right next door to Windsor, the Essex engine plant for Ford. The government announced an $80 million investment over five years to help, not only retool the operations to produce fuel efficient engines but to house and co-locate within the facility a green research and development centre investigating the next breakthroughs, not only in combustion engine fuel efficiency improvements but other alternate fuels and even down to alternate sources for power generation for its vehicles.
It was announced in the election and talked about in the throne speech that we would sweeten the pot. We will improve the auto innovation fund with additional funds to help out the auto industry. We will also be building on our success of historic labour market agreements for retraining for those who find, in the restructuring that is going on, that they need to train for new careers. It means $1.2 billion for Ontario and that is for training people outside of the employment insurance stream. This is not dependent on whether one's EI benefits have run out. We have an additional stream where we are able to retrain and create a flexible, highly skilled workforce for the new opportunities in our economy.
We will be building on historic settlement funding which has allowed us to unlock the potential of new Canadians to access not only the skilled labour markets but to unlock their entrepreneurial advantage for those who want to create businesses. In Windsor we have historic levels of funding to settlement agencies, including the new global business centre which is effectively a one-stop shop, turn key operation for new Canadians who come in with a business plan so they can know what the regulations are. All they need to worry about is actually executing their business plan. This makes it very simple for them. Those are job creators for the future as well.
There are historic transfers to the provinces to address the historic fiscal imbalance question. It is important to look back. When the Liberals say that they balanced the budgets back in the early nineties, they may have turned the fiscal fortunes of the federal government around but how did they do that? They did that on the backs of the provinces, putting them in a very difficult fiscal position. Many of them never achieved a surplus position until our government this year. These types of transfers are helping them turn that around. The Liberals did it on the backs of seniors and other groups as well. It is not a good situation to have a federal government that is in a good position and have our provinces fiscally weak in all of those areas.
Today we have not the exact opposite, but we have healthy provincial coffers as we are heading into an economic storm and we have a federal government that has the flexibility to act.