Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the Speech from the Throne, which reiterates our government's priorities for the future. My comments will focus on our country's role as a leader on the world stage.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier commented that “Canada has been modest in its history, although its history is heroic in many ways”. Canada continues to have a history that is heroic in many ways. Our involvement abroad in the 20th century led us to discover many of these skills and talents.
As Governor General Michaëlle Jean laid out last week in her address to us, Canada continues to be involved abroad, sharing our nation's gifts with the world. The gifts to which I will refer today are our economic leadership, our foreign aid and our defence of democratic rights, each of which has earned us a spotlight on the international stage.
I represent a west coast riding that welcomed the world recently for the Olympic Games. I am looking forward to attending the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games tomorrow. Like the Olympics, I am honoured that most of the Paralympic Games will take place in the riding I represent. Truly, the games and other events of the past few years suggest that this is the beginning of Canada's century in a greater way than Laurier could have ever known.
Canada's fiscal health is the envy of the world. The Minister of Finance delivered a budget last week that will help to ensure that Canada's financial initiatives are models to which other countries look for guidance. This government is wrapping up its timely, targeted and temporary economic stimulus package, while moving directly toward spending restraint. This combination will continue to keep Canada in the forefront as a model for the world.
The throne speech referred to our Conservative government's rolling out of year two of the economic action plan. Our Minister of Finance has, by virtue of the plan, been recognized as the world's leading minister in that portfolio and all of this at such a difficult time in the world's economic history.
The economic stimulus part of the plan resulted in 16,000 projects across Canada, with positive effects in every corner of the riding that I represent and in the ridings represented by my colleagues in the House. Over $205 million has come to the riding that I represent since 2009, money which has in many cases been matched, once by provincial funds and again by municipal funding.
Projects include small craft harbour funding in Powell River and the Sunshine Coast, highway improvements in Sechelt, recreational infrastructure and sewer upgrades in West Vancouver and Bowen Island, pulp and paper mill expansions in Gibsons and Powell River, the replacement of the old blue bridge and highway upgrades for West Vancouver and North Vancouver, sewer system improvements for Lions Bay and, in Squamish, investments in a brand new heritage railway park and convention centre. In addition to Whistler's legacy of sports facilities, the resort municipality received a fleet of cutting-edge hydrogen buses.
These are only a few examples from my riding that evidence the stimulus package, a big part of Canada's economic success on the international stage.
Most of these projects would not have materialized without close co-operation among various levels of government. I enjoyed working with my provincial counterparts, mayors, first nations leaders, regional district leaders and councillors. This great co-operation among different levels of government is another distinct factor in Canada's leading the industrialized world out of the recession.
The Olympics and Paralympics showed our country that we could succeed in sport when we follow a plan. The Speech from the Throne showed the world our plan, the plan by which our country will continue to win gold in economic performance.
I would like to highlight five economic legacies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, legacies that were referred to in the throne speech. For each of the five Olympic rings, we can identify an economic legacy that will provide lasting benefits for our country.
First, due to the games, the Olympics brought Canada a wealth of opportunities for Canada to sell our goods and services. The internationally renowned consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipates significant growth in the Canadian economy due to the games, especially in B.C. While we are still awaiting the final numbers, the consultants concluded that, due to the games, British Columbia's GDP had increased by almost $1 billion and 10,500 jobs had been created in B.C. alone by the end of 2008.
Second, we heard of investment benefits. With a record TV audience, these games made it possible for more people than ever to hear about reasons to invest in Canada. We have the world's number one banking system and soon we will have the lowest corporate tax rates in the G7. We Canadians are proud that our debt-to-GDP ratio of only 31% is lower than either the U.S. at 67% or the U.K. at 75%. Through freezing salaries for the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, our government is leading by example for Canadians and people around the world, ensuring that we once again move toward a balanced budget.
Meanwhile, our investment climate has attracted Tim Hortons and others to choose Canada as its headquarters.
Third, the Olympics brought Canada tourism benefits. People who came for the games decided to come back. On March 1, the Vancouver Sun noted, concerning the U.S. alone, that:
—174 million Americans watched the Vancouver Games on NBC through the first 12 days, 24 per cent more than the entire last season of American Idol, while average viewership of 25.2 million was 20 per cent higher than the 2006 Winter Games.
Our tourism industry enjoyed the best advertising imaginable. This builds on the Prime Minister's great breakthrough in China last December when we achieved approved destination status for Canada, a status our government had sought for 12 years. The new status was a breakthrough, celebrated by people throughout my riding and around the country.
Fourth, we heard of foreign students, people who contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to our economy, while enriching our cultural and intellectual lives. We know that in 2008, students from South Korea alone spent over $750 million on goods and services in Canada. The tremendous showing of the Olympics and Paralympics will only bolster the number of students who come here from abroad.
Fifth, the games inspired Canadians to live healthier lives. Through healthier living, we will decrease ballooning health care costs, a double benefit for our country. Health and fitness benefits will also be promoted by my private member's bill, Bill C-475, tackling crystal meth and ecstasy drugs.
Canadians are proud of our reputation for helping other people around the world in their time of need. Let me therefore move from Canada's economic leadership to its role in providing aid to the neediest people around the world. With continued fiscal health, we will be able to ensure the success of its overseas commitments, and our government will, as mentioned in the throne speech, fulfill the promise that the previous government made in 2001 to double aid spending by 2010.
In terms of foreign aid, our Canadian Forces have demonstrated their capacity as agents of hope. Buoyed by their experiences through years of peacekeeping, and assisted by equipment furnished by this Conservative government, our forces were on the ground in Haiti within 20 hours of the devastating earthquake.
Our Prime Minister has visited Haiti twice since that earthquake, and Governor General Jean was there just yesterday. The Canadian public has, in a short period, contributed $130 million in donations, which our government matched. Canadians can be proud of our nation's response to this crisis.
I have discussed two important gifts that Canada is providing the world, its economic leadership and foreign aid, made possible by its resilient economy. The throne speech reflected in different ways upon a third gift, which rivals the first two in importance, and that is our robust democracy. Canada has always been a leader in promoting democracy at home and on the international stage.
As the Governor General outlined in the throne speech, our government has committed to increasing the number of seats in the chamber, particularly for underrepresented western Canada and Ontario. On the world stage, countries such as Iran have grown to expect a strong response from Canada when they deny their citizens basic human rights.
Canada's hosting of the G8 and G20 summits this coming summer will further highlight the Canadian democratic advantage. Our government has capitalized on our strong position and has invested time and effort in several free trade agreements. We will hear more about them in the upcoming session.
To sum up, this is indeed Canada's century. The Speech from the Throne offers an outline on how Canada will play an increasing role on the world stage, with strong economic leadership, effective foreign aid and an ongoing commitment to democratic rights. Through the commitments outlined in the speech, we are ensuring that in this Olympic year Canadians continue to compete and win gold on the world stage.