Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand today to begin third reading debate on Bill C-51, the economic recovery act.
Ideally, this will be a short debate ensuring this important legislation, which includes key provisions from budget 2009, along with other vital initiatives, continues on its path to becoming law.
I want to begin by thanking all members of the finance committee who put partisan politics aside on this legislation. Acknowledging how important this legislation was for Canada's economy, we worked together to expedite our consideration of Bill C-51 at committee stage. We, nevertheless, had the opportunity to hear from strong witnesses who spoke in favour of the economic recovery act. These witnesses spoke of the importance of its timely passage. I will highlight a few of those comments later in my time today.
Why is the economic recovery act so important? As an extension of Canada's economic plan, this legislation continues our Conservative government's focus on the economy, a singular focus that people who elected us here have demanded, a focus from which we will not be distracted.
Implementing Canada's economic action plan, protecting the economy must be our top priority. Our plan is rebuilding Canada's infrastructure, slashing taxes, investing in research and development, supporting the unemployed and much more.
This multi-year plan is working. It is protecting and creating jobs and it is helping shield Canada from the worst ravages of the deepest economic downturn since World War II. Indeed, nearly all independent observers are uniform in their assessment that Canada has remained and will continue to remain in one of the strongest positions to weather this economic storm.
During his recent appearance before the finance committee, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, declared, “--it is likely that Canada will return to our path of potential quicker than the other crisis-affected economies.... ...that's something one sees over the fullness of time and that's what ultimately will matter”.
A Canadian Business magazine editorial pronounced:
--Canada has come through this economic crisis in relatively robust health. Our recession promises to be shallower and briefer compared with many others;....
...we're in an enviable position compared to other developed countries.
Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer asserted, in his recent economic and fiscal assessment update, said, “Thus far, the Canadian economy has weathered the global recession better than most economies”.
While we have recently seen early signs of a potential global economic recovery on the horizon, they are merely that, early potential signs. In the words of IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, “The good news is that in our view the recovery really has started. That does not mean, and I want to be crystal clear, that the crisis is over. It's too early to crow victory”.
Clearly, we need to stay on track. Early progress made in securing a Canadian recovery will be lost if we allow ourselves to be lulled into distraction and deviate from the course that we have set.
In the words of the recent G7 finance ministers and central bank governors communiqué, “In recent months, we have started to see signs of a global economic recovery and continued improvement in financial market conditions. However, there is no room for complacency since the prospects for growth remain fragile.... We will keep in place our support measures until recovery is assured”.
The economic recovery act is one way we are staying the course and helping to secure a strong sustained economic recovery.
As I mentioned, not only will it legislate measures from Canada's economic action plan but also it contains other diverse but critical measures. In my time remaining, I will highlight the importance of but a few of these measures.
Among the most high profile and popular measures in the economic recovery act is the temporary home renovation tax credit, or the HRTC. This job-creating measure has been overwhelmingly well received by Canadians assisting them to improve and add value to their own homes.
It is estimated that, through the temporary HRTC, millions of Canadian families will receive significant tax relief on eligible renovation projects. Already we have clear statistical proof that the home renovation tax credit has had a measurable impact on the economy.
According to Statistics Canada, even as the overall economy contracted, the volume of home renovation investment had spiked by over 2% in the second quarter of 2009, an increase of 9% on an annualized basis. Without a doubt, the home renovation tax credit has been an awe-inspiring success since our Conservative government first introduced it last January.
All MPs have heard stories of how this tax credit is working in their own communities. They have heard how it is encouraging their constituents to invest in their homes, how those investments are helping employ men and women in the construction and other skilled trades, fueling the purchase of building materials from Canada's forestry sector, supporting local hardware stores and stimulating the local economy when it is needed most.
Indeed, during the finance committee hearings on Bill C-51, all members on that committee heard witness after witness sing the praises of the home renovation tax credit. The Canadian Home Builders' Association told us, “The HRTC is having a significant and positive effect on the level of home renovation activity across the country. In their work with customers, renovators report that the HRTC is a significant factor in motivating homeowners to initiate home renovation projects. This view is reinforced by building material retailers, who also report increased sales as a result of HRTC”.
“I think there's no question it's increased economic activity, it's created jobs, it's definitely shown consumer confidence in renovating their homes, and I think it's done a lot of good for the industry and for consumers as well”.
“I think it obviously has kept the industry stronger in these tough times and in job creation as well”.
Home Depot Canada reported to the finance committee that the HRTC, “--has been a motivating force for consumers”.
“We have seen the results of the stimulus in increased demand for products and services and believe the stimulus did much to temper the impact of a rapidly worsening sales environment across our industry....”
“From the beginning, the HRTC captured Canadians' interest, but the HRTC has done more than capture interest. It kept many contractors in work, and put other contractors back to work. It restored consumer confidence, improved retail sales, and directly and positively enhanced the sustainability and growth of the Canadian home improvement industry”.
Home Depot Canada also revealed at committee that the HRTC has been so successful that, “--we're in a situation where our sales are growing versus the prior year and we're actually having to hire in order to be able to look after the sales that are coming into our stores. I'm sure our competitors are feeling the same”.
We also heard from the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti, not someone usually supportive of our Conservative government, however, when asked about the home renovation tax credit he said, “--there's no doubt anecdotally that a lot of people are accessing and conducting home renovations. I'm sure the program is an incentive. We've encouraged and endorsed it as a good incentive to help offset the job losses that are occurring in manufacturing”.
However, this is not the only important tax relief included in the economic recovery act. For instance, to help alleviate some of the costs associated with buying a home, we have introduced the first-time homebuyers' tax credit that will provide up to $750 in tax relief to first-time homebuyers.
Another important provision will relax conditions regarding temporarily imported shipping containers by increasing the amount of time that such containers can remain in Canada on a tariff and tax-free basis from 30 days up to 365 days.
We are also enhancing support for those struggling to get ahead with our improvements to the working income tax benefit, or WITB, as our finance minister likes to refer to it. This was originally introduced in budget 2007 by our Conservative government. The landmark WITB is a refundable tax credit that supplements the earnings of low-income workers. WITB helps ensure that these workers are financially better off by getting a job, and thus helps people stay off social assistance.
The economic recovery act would enhance WITB by $580 million for 2009 and subsequent taxation years, effectively doubling the total tax relief provided by the working income tax benefit.
The OECD, in its September 2009 employment outlook, heralded this measure, noting:
[r]ecent moves to increase the generosity of Canada's Working Income Tax Benefit are welcome, particularly given that the benefit is strongly targeted to the lowest-income households.
Other measures in Bill C-51 include steps to modernize the Canada pension plan. These reforms were unanimously agreed to by federal, provincial and territorial governments, which jointly manage that plan.
The reforms would provide greater flexibility for older workers to combine pension and work income if they wish to do so, expand CPP coverage, and improve fairness in the plan's flexible retirement provisions.
We are improving transparency and accountability in the way government uses taxpayer dollars.
Fulfilling a commitment included in our Conservative Party's 2008 election platform, we are legally requiring all federal departments and crown corporations to produce and publish quarterly financial reports, an idea individuals like Tom Axworthy, chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University, have advocated for.
Axworthy, writing an op-ed article in a major national newspaper, said:
Canadians will be surprised to learn that quarterly financial reports, a standard accounting requirement in the private and not-for-profit sectors, are not [in fact] required in the public service....
Parliament has many duties, but one of the very first, since the Magna Carta, has been to assess the spending decisions of the executive and provide resources to the state through taxation. Yet this first function of Parliament has, somewhat amazingly, sunk into decrepitude. By depending primarily on reports of the Auditor General, which are made years after the fact, Parliament does eventually fix problems, but millions of dollars are wasted in the meantime....
Quarterly reports would certainly have alerted Parliament to the exponential rise in spending for the [long] Gun Registry program.
Bill C-51 would also mark the historic resolution to the crown share saga for the benefit of the people of Nova Scotia.
It would fully implement the crown share agreement and authorize an initial payment of nearly $175 million to Nova Scotia for 2008-09, as well as 2009-10.
We all understand this is tremendous news for Nova Scotia which, after a decade-plus of neglect under the previous Liberal government, has finally found a partner in our Conservative government to resolve this issue.
Indeed, the NDP premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, cheered:
Nova Scotia is seeing progress on the Crown share file. The federal government introduced legislation...that will pave the way for regulations to be enacted.... I congratulate the federal government for moving forward to seal the deal. This is good for Nova Scotia, and good for Canada.
Considering the landmark nature of this measure for Nova Scotia, I am very surprised that the five Liberal members of Parliament from Nova Scotia actually voted against it, and so casually.
Clearly, the Liberal Party of Canada never cared enough about this important issue for Nova Scotia to fulfill its original promise.
I would be remiss if I closed without quickly reviewing other initiatives in the economic recovery act to help provide the stability our economy needs. They include helping farmers by extending the existing tax deferral currently available in regions affected by drought to those in regions affected by flood or excessive moisture as well; ensuring the dependability of public broadcasting by increasing the borrowing limit for the CBC; promoting global growth and cooperation by giving small and low-income countries a bigger voice at the IMF while strengthening Canada's commitment to debt relief; and there are many others.
Our Conservative government has been clear. We are ready to do whatever is necessary during these tough economic times to protect Canadians. The economic recovery act would build upon that commitment and help lay the foundation for long-term growth.
I urge the House to give this legislation its quick approval, allowing Bill C-51 to be introduced into the Senate in a timely manner.