Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered last week by Her Excellency the Governor General. But before getting into the details, I would like to say a few words about Canada’s extraordinary results at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.
Of course, I want to talk about more than just the marvellous staging of the winter Olympics by the organizers and the warm embrace of the games by British Columbia. None of us who know our west coast were surprised by any of that, but as we all know, our Canadian athletes, our young men and women, set a new record for the number of gold medals ever won by any nation at a winter Olympic Games.
Fourteen golds, Mr. Speaker.
Fourteen golds and, of course, along with seven silvers and five bronze, it was 26 medals in total. That is the most ever won by our country at any winter Olympic Games.
Indeed, out of 80 countries, our athletes garnered 10 per cent of all the medals awarded. That is an extraordinary performance for Canada. There is no doubt that we are proud of our Canadian athletes.
As we all know, the streets of our great country were alive with red and white on the night following that final goal by Sidney Crosby, because when Canadians do something great in the name of our country, their fellow citizens know how to wave the flag as well as anyone, and that is a wonderful thing.
We need more of it, and I am sure we will see more at the Paralympic Games that start tomorrow. This summer I think we will see more again on the east coast, when there is another world class sporting event, the world junior championships in athletics being hosted in Moncton, New Brunswick. We will keep on repeating those magic words, I hope, throughout the year, “go Canada, go”.
I would go even further. I would say that our athletes had not just a tremendous performance. For a country of moderate size in terms of population, it was a magnificent performance.
I think we have to look beyond the gold medals, and even beyond medals in general, because they do not say everything about just how excellent Team Canada really was. Because at that level of competition, the placings are determined by fractions of seconds, a few millimetres, and sometimes by just a stroke of luck.
Among the roughly 200 young men and women we sent to Vancouver, we had 50 top 5 places and no other country had more than that. All except the United States and Germany had a lot less. When we realize that, we get a sense of the extraordinary level of excellence that ran right through the entire Canada games.
We were in the hunt in virtually every category. There are reasons we were able to reach out for so many golds.
It is all about attitude, which defined the goal and was supported by an action plan.
In Calgary, at the winter games a generation ago, we invested in the infrastructure necessary for world-class performance and then we got serious about winning. Canada's sports organizations came together, they set out the goal of owning the podium, they got private sector money and they received the financial and moral support of both the provinces and the Government of Canada. Then they found the best young athletes and they worked them and worked them and worked them. That is how we win, that is how we raise everybody's game.
We want to keep on winning, and keep on promoting that type of excellence. And that is why we made it clear in last week’s budget that we are going to keep on supporting our athletes.We will continue to support our athletes to help raise the Maple Leaf high over the podium.
We will continue raising that maple leaf in London in 2012 and for games well beyond that, because the Vancouver-Whistler games, Canada's games, as Premier Campbell called them, showed that when the challenge is understood and the goal is clearly defined, when Canadians are given the tools, Canada can get things done.
Getting things done is the trademark our country, Canada, is starting to be known for. For instance, just as we are getting things done in sports, we are getting things done in Afghanistan.
In Kandahar, Canada's best and bravest have prevented the Taliban from overrunning that critical province, and they are standing up for stability, development and justice in a country that has seldom known any of those things. This is a tremendous testament, one that has come at great cost and one that I know we would like to applaud. We would like to applaud the work of all of our diplomats, development officers and especially our defence personnel for making this happen.
We are getting things done in public health.
In mid-2009, the World Health Organization issued its first warning that a new fatal virus called H1N1 was probably going to quickly spread worldwide. If left uncontrolled, it had the potential to kill tens of thousands of Canadians, in particular young people and people weakened by other medical conditions.
We saw a problem and we acted quickly and effectively. We made the commitment so consistent with our basic values that every Canadian regardless of means who wanted to be vaccinated could be before Christmas. We then ordered enough vaccine to do just that.
Working with the provinces, which have the primary responsibility for health care in Canada, we rose to the challenge.
And it has been the largest and quickest mass immunization campaign in Canadian history. Thousands of lives have been saved. Happily we will never know exactly how many, but choking off a pandemic is no small thing and the fact that we were able to do that was a triumph of the dedication and commitment, particularly of the medical professionals involved. These are people we should also be enormously proud of, and I would like to take the opportunity to formally applaud their great work.
Then there is Haiti, where we are also getting things done. We all recall that January day when the devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. The number is staggering and hard to get our heads around.
In the hardest-hit regions, up to 90% of buildings were destroyed, injuring and trapping thousands of people in the rubble. A people that was already desperately poor lost what little it had. Everyday necessities like food, drinking water and medical assistance, which have never been abundant in Haiti, became even rarer. That is why we took immediate action. Just a few hours after the nightmare began, the first Canadian troops were on the ground: members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They were there to gauge the best way to deliver aid. Based on their recommendations, we deployed in force from Valcartier and other Canadian bases.
Ships of the Atlantic fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies. We used the new Air Force C-17s to quickly ferry more of life's necessities to the islands and to repatriate Canadian citizens and refugees on the return trips. Foreign Affairs and other government civilian personnel joined the effort on the ground and at command centres here in Ottawa.
By the time the mission peaked, in addition to the DART and Her Majesty's Canadian Ships Athabaskan and Halifax, we had deployed heavy-lift aircraft, search and rescue helicopters and a mobile field hospital. We had sent hundreds of tonnes of supplies and equipment to relieve the suffering. And over 2,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air personnel, along with a wide array of other public servants, were in theatre bringing real assistance and hope.
We brought home over 4,000 Canadians and permanent residents who were trapped in Haiti on the day of the earthquake, and over 200 orphans whose adoption applications were fast-tracked after the disaster. To date, the Emergency Operations Centre has answered over 50,000 calls, and liaison units between families and children will remain active for many months to come.
The mission to Haiti has been a massive effort, a huge achievement of Canada that has reflected the very highest levels of devotion and performance by every member of the Canadian Forces and every member of the Canadian public service who has been involved. Development officers, peace officers and diplomatic staff are still there, organizing what will be a long-term Canadian and international process and project to assist the government of Haiti with rebuilding its country.
Honourable members, all those great Canadians deserve our congratulations.
We saw a problem, we wanted to help and we acted quickly and effectively. Canada got things done. Hon. members, it is in this spirit of caring, of deciding and of acting that has animated our government and our country as we have taken up the formidable challenge of the economic times in which we are living.
As in other areas, when we saw a problem, when we understood the need, and in some cases the pain. We drew up a plan and we acted, Canada acted, quickly and effectively.
Let us talk about the economic times we find ourselves in.
Businesses may invest, governments may budget soundly, workers may toil, generations may perform the labours of Hercules, yet sometimes fortune is fickle. Just as the rain falls on the good and the bad alike, so the flood waters of recession have risen across the globe and that includes Canada, which does not, by the way for a minute, mean that our efforts have been for naught. Regulation and oversight of the financial system, the cause of the global crisis, was, in Canada, prudent and effective and it has made a difference.
According to the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund and numerous other experts, Canada has the soundest banking sector in the world.
Canada has avoided the failures of financial institutions and the vast bailouts of public money that have been so necessary in so many other countries. Availability and cost of credit, while they tightened over the recession, have begun to improve more significantly and more quickly in Canada than almost any other developed country. We have kept an eye on the mortgage industry.
We made prudent changes to the rules to avoid the real estate bubbles that caused so much damage elsewhere in the world.
And now in Canada our housing sector, where the recession was lightly felt, is well into recovery. Here also our fiscal fundamentals were sound.
Canada entered the recession with the lowest debt level of any country in the G7, and this level dropped as we were paying down the debt.
The strong fiscal fundamentals have allowed us to dramatically and permanently reduce business, personal and consumption taxes during the early stages of the recession. As a consequence, these actions delayed the onset of the recession in this country until after virtually every other developed country in the world.
It also enabled us to undertake recovery measures on an extraordinary basis, in lock-step with all our fellow G20 economies, but without imposing a needless burden on future generations.
In fact, it has allowed us to produce one of the largest, most comprehensive and most effective stimulus packages in the world, while keeping our deficit and debt levels in Canada to a fraction of what they are elsewhere in the world.
Today, we are emerging from the global recession. Our domestic demand is strong, but our export markets remain uncertain and so we are recovering slowly though with, I believe, a growing sense of optimism.
It is true that our unemployment rate remains too high. That is why this will remain our highest priority. But, thankfully, unemployment in Canada remains well below the levels seen in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s and well below what we see in the United States and elsewhere. Canada's economy, unlike most, is already beginning to create some net new jobs.
Hon. members will need no reminder that excessive government economic intervention is not a Conservative inclination. But, at the same time, blind adherence to ideology in a crisis is no more advisable than unprincipled expediency in the pursuit of short-term advantage. What is best for our country now and in the future must always be our guide.
We are pushing ahead with the second and final year of Canada’s economic action plan.
Our plan, which continues into its second year, continues to cut taxes. Our plan puts Canadians to work to build infrastructure, the bridges, roads, harbours, colleges, laboratories, everything Canadians need to live, work, innovate, travel and conduct trade.
In fact, nearly 16,000 projects, many of which are being coordinated with the provinces, municipalities and private sector, have been funded to date by Canada’s economic action plan. And we will be reaping the benefits for decades to come.
The same way the historic investments in the Olympics created a generation later of a superlative world-leading Canadian performance, these extraordinary investments we have been making in infrastructure across this country in the past year will serve us well for this generation.
By the way, I should mention that 16,000 number does not include the tens of thousands of household infrastructure projects undertaken during the past year under the home renovation tax credit.
Our plan continues to pump money into the economy, it puts wages into the pockets of workers, and it supports our fellow citizens, whose long-term jobs had been lost through no fault of their own, to transition to new opportunities.
We are helping those communities hardest hit by the recession. We are supporting industries that need help to overcome temporary difficulties.
In total, our economic action plan is mobilizing a $62 billion shot in the arm to the Canadian economy. Our plan is working. Exports are up significantly, retail trade has bounced back, growth has returned at 5% in the last quarter, and more people are working. Action, well intended, well informed and well executed, has made a big difference.
Shall we, therefore, declare success and relax? Of course, it is far too early to do anything like that. Indeed, I believe the lesson from the crumbling banks and budgets elsewhere is that it is never a time that a government can afford to take its hands completely off the wheel of the economy no matter how smoothly we are riding.
Today as well there are, of course, still too many possible potholes in the road ahead, particularly in our export markets, and at the present time our economy is not where it needs to be.
Too many men and women who want to work are still without work. Their financial distress is clear, but not having a real job is dispiriting as well. We take satisfaction in doing things that are useful and that serve a purpose. Not only does unemployment leave us in economic distress, it undermines our self-esteem.
We owe these, our fellow citizens, our continued concentrated efforts to restore to them all the rewards of employment and labour. That is why we have presented a budget that focuses on jobs and growth, that extends most of the extraordinary measures from last year, and introduces a few new ones.
We are eliminating tariffs on production inputs, making Canada the first G20 country to become a tariff-free zone for its manufacturers.
We are introducing new measures to support Canada's strong and competitive financial sector, and to give businesses access to the financing they need to support the recovery and longer-term growth.
We are taking other measures for the forestry sector. Budget 2010 calls for new measures, including the next generation renewable power initiative. This is in addition to other initiatives totalling $1.7 billion in direct support for the forestry sector since 2006. Export Development Canada has also provided the forestry sector with $30 billion in financial services since 2008.
We are establishing a red tape reduction commission and pursuing comprehensive regulatory reform to build on our 20% reduction in the federal paper burden, and to make sure we free entrepreneurs from needless, duplicative and inefficient bureaucratic weight.
Throughout this Parliament, this House will have some important, and sometimes difficult, decisions to make. Politics is about debating ideas, but government is about making choices.
Her Excellency's Speech from the Throne and the Minister of Finance's budget last week alluded to some of the most significant among them. They spoke of the tension in Canada's national life today.
On the one hand, there is the present requirement for deficit financing and unusual levels of government intervention to maintain economic activity and confidence, of course in coordination with the G20 and others across the world.
On the other hand, there is the widespread understanding among Canadians of the need to return to balanced budgets when the recession is over to ensure funds are freed for the private sector to create the sustainable long-term jobs and growth that we will need.
I spoke of choices.
Increasing the tax burden? Cutting spending? Maintaining deficits? There is no doubt that these strategies have their supporters in this House.
But on this side of the House we have made our choices. We have concluded that an economy cannot be taxed into prosperity. On this side we have concluded that the deficit must begin to come down, modestly now but quickly by next year. On this side we have concluded that if we proceed in this manner, spending growth will have to be moderated immediately and priorities selected.
But if we do these things we will be able to avoid the absolute levels of reduction and the kinds of devastating cuts to core services like health care, pensions and education that will occur if we delay, as past governments did after previous recessions.
Those are the choices we have made and the reasons why we have made them.
We must ensure our recovery and build our future. The word “recovery” is being bandied about by economists, investors and analysts, each assigning it their own specific technical meaning. But recovery is not an abstraction. Recovery has a different, but very real meaning for many Canadians.
Recovery can mean the dignity and peace of mind of a good job, one that will be around tomorrow. For some, recovery means being able to look after aging parents. For others, it means the pride in achieving home ownership. But whatever it means, it should never be thought of as a forgone conclusion. It will not just happen.
Bad choices now, unaffordable long-term spending commitments, ill-advised tax hikes, dithering on deficits and difficult decisions will doom those countries that choose them to years of debt, stagnation and unemployment.
A country of 33 million people, that can win the most golds ever at an Olympic Games, does not deserve that. On our watch Canada will not get it.
This country, Canada, is going to emerge from this recession in the strongest position of any first-tier economy.
That is our purpose; that is our plan. Canada will once again get it done.