Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to present Bill C-50 at third reading, a bill that proposes to implement certain measures from budget 2008.
This year's budget further illustrates the responsible leadership of this government. This is a budget for uncertain times when a strong and steady hand and focused leadership is needed.
Building on the government's 2007 economic statement, budget 2008 is balanced, focused and prudent in order to ensure that Canada remains strong and secure amid global economic uncertainty.
To that end, budget 2008 continues reducing debt and taxes, focusing government spending, and providing additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.
Today I would like to touch upon some of the key measures in the budget that are included in Bill C-50, including as it relates to citizenship and immigration and specifically as it impacts on my constituency of Souris—Moose Mountain. In doing so, I will demonstrate how the government is providing strong and responsible leadership.
I will also demonstrate that our priorities accord with those of Canadians. We are reducing debt, strengthening Canada's tax advantage, investing in the country's manufacturing heartland and investing in priorities that matter to Canadians.
By carefully managing spending and continuing to reduce debt, the government is ensuring that its programs provide value for money, are sustainable and keep the tax burden to a minimum.
We are also ensuring intergenerational equity. This means that we should not ask our children and our grandchildren to pay the freight on the spending excesses of the past, such as by the previous Liberal government in the March spending madness that took place where budget surpluses were used for continual and additional spending.
That is why we are reducing the federal debt by more than $37 billion, including $10.2 billion in 2007-08. As a result of our aggressive debt reduction plan, by 2009-10 personal income tax reductions provided under the tax back guarantee will amount to $2 billion, which will continue to grow into the future.
Our government is also working to create a tax advantage for Canada. The measures we have introduced since taking office will provide almost $200 billion in tax relief over 2007-08 and the following five years. That is $200 billion left in the pockets of Canadians to further increase their business and their initiatives, which will produce more jobs.
As the Minister of Finance has said, our government is meeting the challenge of global economic uncertainty with a plan that is real, a plan that is responsible and a plan that is working.
Budget 2008 builds on past action by proposing what is the most important, federally driven, personal finance innovation since the introduction of the registered retirement savings plan, and that is the tax-free savings account. This flexible, registered, general purpose account will allow Canadians to watch their savings, including interest income, dividend payments and capital gains grow tax free. Yes, tax free.
As a new general purpose savings account, the tax-free savings account will provide an additional tax efficient savings vehicle for Canadians that complements existing registered savings plan, such as the RRSP and the registered education savings plan.
In other words, Canadians will have access to a complete set of tax efficient savings vehicles to meet their various needs: for their children's education, for their retirement and for their own immediate use purposes during life.
An important point to emphasize is that a tax-free savings account will provide greater savings incentives for low and modest income individuals. Neither the income earned in a tax-free savings account nor withdrawals from it will affect eligibility for federal income tested benefit credits, such as the Canada child tax benefit, the GST credit, the age credit, the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement benefits.
In fact, in the first five years it is estimated that over three-quarters of the benefits of saving in a tax-free savings account will go to individuals in the two lowest tax brackets.
The government has taken another action to help those who need it, including Canadian seniors, for example.
Many seniors live on a fixed income. They often find it difficult to make ends meet. That is why our government has provided significant tax relief for seniors and pensioners. This includes a doubling of the pension income amount to $2,000, with an increase in age credit amounts by $1,000.
The tax relief also includes increasing the age limit for maturing RPPs and RRSPs and, for the first time ever in Canada, pension income splitting for seniors and pensioners. For a one-pension working family of two, the savings will be incredible, into the thousands.
However, we can and must do more to support our seniors. Budget 2008 therefore proposes to increase the guaranteed income supplement exemption to $3,500 from the current maximum of $500. This will benefit seniors with low and modest incomes who choose to continue working. We must also remember that the interest they earn on their tax-free savings account will continue to help them. Moreover, this initiative will help these seniors live their retirement years with dignity and the respect they deserve.
Our government is also investing in Canada's manufacturing heartland. It is committed to helping Canadian communities in need. Just this past February, members will recall, Parliament passed the government's $1 billion community development trust to support communities and workers suffering from economic hardship. Among other things, this funding could support job training to create opportunities for workers, community transition plans that foster economic development and create new jobs, and infrastructure development that stimulates economic diversification.
Budget 2008 also demonstrates responsible leadership by helping to create the conditions for our businesses and entrepreneurs to invest and thrive at home and abroad. To that end, budget 2008 takes targeted action to help important Canadian industries. For example, it proposes to provide $250 million for an automotive innovation fund. This initiative, being led by the Minister of Industry, will help Canada's automotive sector adapt to the challenges of the future and remain a key component of Canada's economy.
Budget 2008 also proposes to extend temporary accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for manufacturers and processors for three years, on a declining basis.
This government continues to invest in the priorities of Canadians, one of these being a desire to live in a safe and secure community. This government takes seriously the responsibility of protecting Canadians. Budget 2008 provides funding to protect Canadian families and communities, building on the important investments this government has made in previous budgets.
Bill C-50 proposes to implement a measure from budget 2008 that will provide funding to provinces and territories to support them in recruiting 2,500 new front line police officers. The bill proposes to set aside up to $400 million in 2007-08 to be paid into a third-party trust for provinces and territories, allocated proportionately, to meet this objective.
There is little doubt that the environment is another priority for Canadians. Canadian participation in the earth hour event in March was strong evidence of that. People, not only across the country but around the world, turned off their lights to make a statement about helping find new ways to reduce their impact on the environment.
One of the budget measures contained in Bill C-50 is a proposal to set aside $250 million for a full scale commercial demonstration of carbon capture and storage in the coal-fired electricity sector and for research projects to accelerate the deployment of the technology. Carbon capture and storage presents an opportunity for Canada to develop and benefit from world-leading technology that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On March 15, the Prime Minister of Canada visited my constituency of Souris—Moose Mountain to formally announce the budget provision of $240 million to the province of Saskatchewan for carbon capture and storage and clean coal technology. The province of Saskatchewan confirmed plans to use the funds at the Estevan Boundary Dam, located just south of my home city of Estevan, Saskatchewan.
This federal funding will help leverage an estimated $1.4 billion of investment into clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage. This project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated one million tonnes per year.
I wonder if NDP members realize that by voting against the passage of Bill C-50 they are voting against this critical investment that will result in the equivalent of removing millions of cars from the roads. This project has the potential to provide a solid base for enhanced oil recovery, more jobs and significant economic spinoff.
SaskPower is developing what it is calling one of the first and largest clean coal and carbon capture demonstration projects in the world. This commercial demonstration of state of the art carbon capture and storage technology will make Canada a world leader in clean energy production. Benefits from this project will extend to enhanced oil recovery initiatives.
At the premiers conference in Prince Albert, the premier of Alberta stated in the Saturday, May 31 issue of the Leader-Post that the carbon capture and storage technique is “the quickest, most rapid way of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.
In the same article, Premier Wall said that Saskatchewan already is a centre of excellence in terms of carbon capture and storage, with the Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan, and its Weyburn-Midale pilot project, the largest carbon dioxide storage in the world.
Encana's facility located near Weyburn, Saskatchewan is Weyburn's flagship project, with a seven year record of demonstrating CO2 storage on a commercial scale. At this time, Encana receives CO2 from Beulah, North Dakota, using it for enhanced oil recovery, and is presently touted as the world's largest CO2 sequestration project and the largest commercial scale carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery project in Canada.
The Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina is actively involved in the Weyburn project. The potential for southeast Saskatchewan is phenomenal. CO2 can be compressed and piped to storage locations. The geological formation for CO2 storage exists in southeast Saskatchewan. It is waiting for expanded, innovative thinking and brave initiatives on the part of all affected parties.
Budget 2008 provides a capital cost allowance rate for compression and pumping equipment on CO2 pipelines of 15% and an increase in the rate from 4% to 8% on CO2 pipelines transporting CO2. It is this type of initiatives that the NDP would be voting against.
It sounds exciting. It sounds invigorating. It is the kind of action and leadership that are required of a government, that enhance and encourage the enterprise, the initiative and the ambitions that Canadians possess and that partner with others like the province of Saskatchewan, SaskPower and industry to ensure projects such as this can take place.
Kevin Hursh, a consulting agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, stated in a National Post article on May 31, 2008:
In a lot of small and large towns, [in Saskatchewan] you can hardly find a house to buy and if you do, the price has increased dramatically. Older houses that no one wanted a few years ago are being gobbled up and renovated. Even houses in old farmyards are in demand.
He added that there is an optimism in the agriculture and grain industry sector that has not been seen before. He stated:
People are moving back to Saskatchewan and it isn't only the cities that are benefiting. Rural Saskatchewan still has problems, but there has been an amazing reversal of fortunes. Local governments are scrambling to switch from survival mode to a growth mode.
Our economy and its continued growth will depend on a flexible and responsive immigration system to ensure we have the skilled workers and the tradespeople that our country needs. Neither Canadians nor prospective immigrants benefit from an immigration system that, due to its dysfunctional nature, forces prospective immigrants to wait for up to six years before their application is looked at, let alone processed.
The current system is especially problematic, since in a few short years all of our net labour growth will come from immigration. That is why changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act were included in budget 2008. “Advantage Canada” in 2006 identified that Canada needs the most flexible workforce in the world, an issue that is critical to Canada's future.
A new and more efficient processing system is desperately needed, a system that is responsive both to the needs of newcomers and the needs of Canada. Canada faces serious international competition in attracting people with the talents and skills we need to ensure our country's continued growth and prosperity.
Compared to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Canada is the only country that does not use some kind of occupational filter to screen, code or prioritize skilled worker applications. Compared to other countries, Canada's system is just not flexible enough.
The legislative changes that we propose will prevent the backlog from growing. With the growth of the backlog halted, the government also has allocated additional resources to reduce the backlog. Among other things, our government has committed over $109 million over five years to bring down the backlog.
Part 6 of Bill C-50, when combined with these non-legislative measures funded in budget 2008 and beyond, will act to control and reduce the backlog and speed up processing. The government will be required to consult with provinces and territories, industry, and government departments.
These consultations will include getting assurances that if the regulated professions are prioritized, commitments from provincial regulatory bodies will be obtained, to ensure that individuals brought here will be allowed to work in their chosen fields soon after arrival. The instructions must respect our commitments to provinces and territories regarding the provincial nominee program and the Canada-Quebec accord.
These proposed changes are part of a vision that involves creating a more responsive immigration system, one that allows us to welcome more immigrants while helping them get the jobs they need to succeed and build a better life for themselves and their families. Their success is our success.
Urgent action is required. Part 6 and all of budget 2008 delivers this much needed action.
The bill we are debating today illustrates just how our government is prepared to meet the challenge of global economic uncertainty. We have a realistic plan for Canada, a plan that is working. There is no way we are going to slide back to the days of high spending, high debt and higher taxes, as some would have it. Canadians do not want that and neither does this government.
Rather, as reflected by the measures proposed in Bill C-50, our plan is taking us down the right road, a road that requires focus, prudence and discipline, yet at the same time it is a road that is very refreshing, exciting and invigorating, a road that will point the way forward for Canadians for years to come. To all Canadians, it will be like a breath of fresh air.