Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to rise today to address the economic action plan for Canada that was introduced by the Minister of Finance on Tuesday of this week.
I think all members of this House can agree that these are extraordinary times in terms of the global recession in which we find ourselves. We all know that the first signs probably started with the housing crisis in the United States, but it then went on to the financial markets crisis. Around the world, financial institutions that had been in existence for decades found themselves completely insolvent.
The reality is that we are in unprecedented times, and unprecedented actions are required on the part of governments around the world. We have seen the United States Congress acting today in terms of their stimulus package.
We have to recognize that actions taken by past governments, actions by our government and by governments of other political stripes as well, have placed Canada's financial system and fiscal situation in much better positions than is the case in other countries.
In terms of our financial system, the IMF has recognized that our system of governing banks, the Bank Act, is certainly much better than that of our colleagues to the south.
As well, although our fiscal situation in the 1980s and the 1990s--our debt-to-GDP ratio--was probably the worst in the G7, it is now the best in the G7. That improvement is a credit to successive governments, and certainly to our government for paying down $37 billion of debt in the last two and a half years. I think that is one of the Conservative government's proudest achievements.
However, we have to recognize that times are extraordinary, and rapid changes are going on. If members think back to the late summer and early fall, the main issue was the rise in gasoline prices, partly caused by the rise in crude oil prices. At that time of rising crude oil prices, the investment bankers in New York, some of the smartest people in the financial sector, were saying oil prices would never go below $60 a barrel. Now we have oil prices between $30 and $40 a barrel.
Therefore we have a very fluid situation, as the minister mentioned in his budget speech. We have to act now, but we have to realize that projections are going to be fairly fluid, and we will have to react very quickly.
We have put forward an economic action plan in terms of investing in infrastructure. People like Dale Orr have recommended that accelerating infrastructure projects, especially smaller infrastructure projects, can act as a stimulus and can act as a counterbalance in terms of the decreased spending.
As well as accelerating infrastructure projects, we are building on the gas tax transfer that was made permanent by our government. We are investing in roads, bridges, water, and waste water facilities. We are also expanding the definition of infrastructure to look at broadband and telecommunications, rather than looking at infrastructure only in the traditional sense. There is investment in people through retraining, ensuring that those who suffer unexpected jobs losses have the assistance to see them through these tough times. Unfortunately the last two months of 2008 showed a decline in the number of jobs in Canada, a trend that had not been present in the first half of 2008.
In the time remaining I would like to address some of the tax policy issues, some of the changes for small businesses, and some of the things we have done for manufacturing. Then I will talk about some of the finance and credit issues.
In terms of tax policy changes, the previous speaker mentioned some changes we have made to the basic personal exemption. We have raised that exemption, which obviously creates tax savings for all Canadians, especially those at lower income levels. The marginal rates of taxation certainly help people in the lower and middle income ranges.
We are raising the level for the national child benefit supplement for low-income families, as well as the Canada child tax benefit. Those programs, which were introduced by the former government, are certainly valuable in terms of providing benefits for lower-income families with children.
There is also the working income tax benefit and the increase to the age credit amount for seniors to ensure that they have the funds necessary to survive these times.
In terms of small businesses, we have moved the rate of taxation for small businesses from 12% to 11%. We had moved the income eligible from $300,000 to $400,000; in this economic action plan we move it up to $500,000. There is increasing access to credit for small business through proposed amendments to the Canada small business financing program and the Business Development Bank of Canada. We are providing $30 million over two years for the Canada business network, and allocating $200 million over two years to a program that I think works very well, the National Research Council's industrial research assistance program.
Small businesses across the country tell me it is a very effective program, not only at providing needed funds but also at providing mentorship and advice to smaller companies to ensure they can grow into that mid-sized level.
In terms of the manufacturing sector, our industry committee did a report in February 2007. In the March 2007 budget the minister introduced a two-year manufacturing writeoff. Our committee had recommended five years. In 2007 the minister put it in place for a two-year period. In the 2008 budget he extended it for three years. It was initially at a declining rate, but in this budget he has put it so that we have the full five years. We will have it for 2010-11.
We will have the full five years in terms of the two-year writeoff for manufacturers. This means they can upgrade their machinery and equipment much more quickly. They can write it off much more quickly, so not only can they become more productive, but by accessing new machinery and equipment, they can also obviously become more environmentally sustainable.
This is why organizations like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association have responded very positively to this budget and to this economic action plan.
Financing and credit is the other issue they raise, and they raise it very strongly, as did other small business organizations. I want to thank these organizations, industries and businesses across Canada for raising this issue, because if companies do not have access to credit, they will simply not be able to survive or exist.
In response we have established the extraordinary financing framework, which provides up to $200 billion to improve access to financing for Canadian households and businesses. It commits an additional $50 billion to the insured mortgage purchase program, increasing the overall size of this program to $125 billion. Lenders will be provided with stable, long-term financing, allowing them to continue lending to Canadian consumers and businesses.
The extraordinary financing framework delivers $13 billion in additional financing by increasing the flexibility and capacities of the financial crown corporations, CMHC, Export Development Canada and BDC. This includes at least $5 billion in new financing that will be delivered through enhanced cooperation between these financial crown corporations and private sector financial institutions under the new business credit availability program.
We have created the Canadian secured credit facility, with up to $12 billion to support financing of vehicles and equipment for consumers and businesses.
We have extended the deadline for issuing guaranteed instruments under the Canadian lenders assurance facility, which helps ensure that lenders are not put at a competitive disadvantage when raising funds in global markets. This was agreed to at the G20 meeting, and our government has certainly acted upon it.
We have established a new Canadian life insurance assurers facility to guarantee wholesale term borrowings for life insurers, modelled on the Canadian lenders assurance facility.
We have facilitated the provision of extraordinary liquidity to financial institutions by the Bank of Canada, as required, through the modernization of the Bank's authorities in Budget 2008.
I should note that the Governor of the Bank of Canada has certainly acted to complement the actions of our government. We have certainly introduced a plan for fiscal stimulus, but the Governor of the Bank of Canada has been very proactive in terms of trying to combat this recession through monetary policy. If we have learned anything from the mistakes of the past, from the Great Depression of 1929 and the 1930s, it was that monetary policy must not be tightened. The supply of money cannot be tightened when a recession period is entered. The governor has acted to lower interest rates to try to ensure that money is available through the system. He has also acted in terms of trying to provide as much confidence to the markets as possible.
We have also added a ten-year maturity to the Canada mortgage bond program to raise supplementary funding for financial institutions.
I know these measures sound very technical, but they are designed to ensure that money flows through the financial markets to companies so that they can pay their workers, and flows to individuals so that they can continue to borrow for mortgages, for car loans and for their needs. These measures are to ensure that the system continues to work as it should.
As a government, we have acted in this area. Our actions have certainly been warmly received by the Chamber of Commerce, by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association, and by other organizations that see the need for businesses to continue to operate because we have this supply of money going through the system.
I look forward to questions from my colleagues.