Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to stand this afternoon in support of a budget introduced a week ago. I am particularly pleased with this budget for a number of reasons because, amid a budget that talks about responsible spending and sustainable spending, my riding of Leeds—Grenville fares very well.
I am particularly pleased that many of the issues people have spoken to me about over the past year have been addressed in this budget, some directly and some indirectly. The important news in the budget is the new tax-free savings account that will allow anyone over the age of 18 to save up to $5,000 a year and have any gains that they make be treated tax free.
People can use the money for upcoming large purchases such as buying a car or purchasing or repairing a home. The money can be withdrawn at any time tax free and replaced if the cash later becomes available. This is a terrific and innovative way to encourage and help people to save. We are all aware that Canadians' debt has been growing and with this one unique idea the finance minister will help us become a nation of savers instead of a nation of debtors.
For Leeds—Grenville, there is even more good news in this budget. One of the items with which I am most pleased is the commitment of $2 million over two years to support the Canadian Biosphere Reserve Association. I have a major biosphere reserve in my riding, the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. The biosphere reserve is located roughly between Brockville, Gananoque and Westport. It encompasses many protected natural areas, including the St. Lawrence Islands National Park and Charleston Lake Provincial Park. There are also recreation areas and historic sites: the St. Lawrence Parks Commission lands, the Rideau Canal National Historic site, land trust holdings, lands of the Cataraqui and Rideau Valley Conservation Authorities, provincially designated areas of natural and scientific interest and the Queen's University biological station.
The biosphere reserve recently expanded to include all of south Frontenac township, including spectacular Frontenac Provincial Park. As well, urban and rural zones are important cultural areas of biosphere reserves. With over 500 biosphere reserves worldwide, ours is one of four in Ontario of the thirteen that are in Canada.
The Frontenac Arch is an area where the junction of five ecoregions creates the highest biodiversity in Canada, acre for acre, and features the beautiful Thousand Islands. Combined with human development, the result is a very high number of species at risk as well. It is located on a narrow natural corridor running along the Frontenac Arch between two of the largest natural areas in eastern North America: the Adirondack and Algonquin Park areas. As I said, it features the Thousand Islands. This is the narrowest part as it crosses the St. Lawrence River.
The biosphere reserve operates with members of the community who have been volunteering their services for a number of years. This money will help them achieve their goals on a national scale. It is a shot in the arm that they need and I am pleased that the environment minister, during a visit to Leeds—Grenville last fall, heard their voices and encouraged the finance minister to include this money in the budget.
I have continued to be a champion and advocate of the Canadian Biosphere Reserve network with both the environment minister and the finance minister, and I do applaud them for their insight.
Agriculture is also a major industry in Leeds—Grenville and I was also pleased to see in the budget funds to assist our beleaguered hog and beef industries. Farmers will see additional support through better access to $3.3 billion to cope with extraordinary pressures in the livestock sector and $50 million to help the hog sector adjust to a new market reality.
Geri Kamenz, who is the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and who happens to live in my riding, said that he was very happy that the government took action. He was very happy saying that the federal government loan guarantees were “exactly what the farmers have asked for”.
These are important issues in my riding. Over the past few months I have met with many farm organizations and individual farmers who asked us to help them out. I and others passed that request along to the agriculture minister and the finance minister and, once again I am pleased to note that those farmers' voices were heard.
The budget also earmarks $12 million over two years to enhance environmental law enforcement in Canada's national parks. I am fortunate to have a number of Parks Canada assets in my riding, including the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Fort Wellington, the site of the Battle of the Windmill and a major portion of the Rideau Canal. Just down the road from my riding in Kingston is Fort Henry and Bellevue House, the home of our first prime minister.
These are all important assets for Canada and Canadians. They provide a link to our past, as well as employment and recreation for my constituents. Some of these assets will be in the spotlight in four more years when Canada and the United States celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 as they figured prominently in one way or another in that period of our history. These assets deserve to be protected to the best of our ability and the funding commitment in this year's budget will help that cause.
In addition, I have two border crossings in my riding: one near Ivy Lea in the Thousand Islands and the other at Johnstown. There are issues that have arisen at these two crossings, especially since the terrible incident of 9/11 that affected recreational travellers and commercial enterprises.
I am pleased to see that solutions are being provided in this budget with a number of initiatives including $75 million over the next two years to address operational issues at Canadian border crossings and $14 million to expand the joint Canada-United States NEXUS program for low-risk travellers. The Thousand Islands bridge has been identified as the location for the expansion of the NEXUS program and hopefully some of this money will be put to good use there.
Canada will soon introduce a new electronic passport, and the government announced plans to extend its validity to 10 years. This is something that I have heard time and time again from my constituents and something that I am sure they are applauding. This is great news for those who are using our border crossings. As I said, it really addresses a concern of my constituents.
The budget provides further assistance for Canada's manufacturing and processing sector by extending the accelerated capital cost allowance, treatment for investment in machinery and equipment for three more years.
It removes disincentives for seniors to work by raising the current guaranteed income supplement earned income exemption to $3,500 from $500.
Students were not left out in this budget. They are going to see the Canada student grant program with a $350 million investment in 2009-2010, rising to $430 million in 2012-2013. As well, the registered education savings plan can remain open for 35 years instead of just 25 years, and the maximum contribution period will be extended by 10 more years.
There is also encouraging news for the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes corridor. First, the government is providing $15 million over 2 years to establish a permanent facility to enhance the security of the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway area.
Highway H2O, as it is called, is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2009, as it faces new challenges and opportunities including more containerization of goods, and we all know that is the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway system is a deep-draft waterway extending 3,700 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes in the heart of North America. Ranked as one of the outstanding engineering feats of the 20th century, the St. Lawrence Seaway includes 13 Canadian and 2 U.S. locks.
Recently, our government and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec signed a memorandum of understanding on the continental gateway and trade corridor which will see billions of dollars invested in transportation infrastructure.
As well, our government also recently released the binational Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway study which discusses financial and infrastructure issues on this important trade route. In this budget, the government recognizes the importance of this trade corridor which runs right through my riding of Leeds—Grenville.
As well, the budget sets aside $24 million over 2 years to establish infrastructure for cruise ships on the St. Lawrence.
Other budget highlights for residents in Leeds—Grenville include: making the gas tax refund a federal government infrastructure grant to municipalities a permanent measure, providing $90 million to extend to 2012 the targeted initiative for older workers, dedicating $282 million over this and the next 2 years to expand the veterans independence program to support the survivors of veterans, reducing the availability of contraband tobacco products through new tax compliance and enforcement measures, setting aside $400 million for police officer recruitment, and facilitating compliance by waiving fees for firearms licence renewal until May 2009.
Along with this good news for Leeds—Grenville, the budget addresses the auto industry, the vulnerable, the north, the environment and our international commitments. It is important to note that with previous budget announcements combined with this new budget, the government is injecting $21 billion of stimulus into the Canadian economy.