Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the Liberals' opposition day motion today.
I have a background in business and a lot of the discussion today would have had an impact on my business, and I will tell hon. members how.
First, I owned several businesses before coming into politics. I was in the resource industry and in the biotechnology industry. These were small businesses that did not meet the caps to pay the corporate tax rate. The corporate tax rate in Canada is quite competitive, when we look at global affairs.
As important, I spent 10 to 11 years on the board of directors of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I rose to become chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 2003-04 and represented 190,000 businesses. The debate and discussion during the 1990s really focused on the debt that this country was in.
Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.
As I was saying, during the 1990s into the 2000s, the big concern of business was the fact that this country faced serious deficit and debt issues. At the time, the business community fought very aggressively and hard to ensure that this country understood the ramifications and impacts of having a country carrying that much deficit and debt, and the limitations that doing so created for us to either reinvest in our country economically or socially.
It was during those 10 to 11 years on the board of directors of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that we fought so aggressively to ensure that we got the country out of deficit and started to pay down our debt. That was our number one priority and our number one focus.
In 2000, we were able to turn our focus, because the Liberal government at the time had done such a fine job of addressing that concern and of realizing, before the International Monetary Fund came into our country, which was threatened in the 1990s, that it had to solely focus on getting down that deficit and debt. We were much better off as a country then. We could put investments where we could not put investments before.
In 2000, we started to focus on bringing down the corporate tax rate. I do not think there is a person who does not recognize that having a competitive tax regime for business is very important. We all agreed with that. From 2000 to 2004, when the Liberals were still in power, they escalated the lowering of that corporate tax rate. It is so important today.
Six years before I was on the board of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, I sat on the St. John's Board of Trade and I rose to become president of the board. In my discussions today, I look at what we are doing in this country through the lens of business. I understand and have a business background so everything I say today is understanding the role that business plays, the role that small business plays and the role that corporate Canada plays. They play a significant role in creating the jobs. They are the job creators, absolutely.
I started to talk about the Liberal Party track record. It is truly an economic track record. As I said, in the 1990s the Liberals swapped Conservative deficits for surpluses. It was a lot of hard work. We had to ask the people of our country to work very hard to do that and it was not easy. We retired the deficit and we began paying down the national debt, saving taxpayers millions upon millions of interest payments that could be spent on pressing priorities for Canadians.
The Liberal government at the time also had a $3 billion contingency fund. A contingency fund is a buffer for when we get into a little bit a trouble and need extra money, such as when there is a flood or a fire in our country or we are in an economic downturn in a certain area. It was a rainy day fund and a very good thing to have.
When we were able to get the debt and deficit under control, we actually started to cut taxes, as I said. We went from 28% in 2000 to 21% four years later. Now fast forward through the Conservative government, and things are very different. We do not have surpluses; we are back in the same battle we had before with a $56 billion deficit. It is shameful.
There was a deficit then, but not the record $56 billion deficit we have today and not billions of dollars in deficit even before the economic downturn. Let me repeat that for those who do not understand we were there too. The Conservatives are apt to say that all of that money went toward turning around the economy, that it was important to reinvest in the economy. However, they had spent the coffers dry, the cupboards bare, before we were in a serious situation, before the economic downturn. Did the government have a $3 billion contingency fund to even help bridge that? No, it did not.
Here we are, faced with a difficult situation. Yes, we want a vibrant business community because it creates the jobs. I fully support and agree with that. At the time we were in good stead in 2006 just after the Liberal government, the Conservatives started to overspend. How much did they increase the size of government by in those few years? It was 40%. Can anyone imagine?
Federal program spending under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin during his final year in power of 2005-2006 was $175 billion. By 2009-2010 under the Conservatives, it skyrocketed to $245 billion. It is unbelievable that they think they have a strong economic record.
Let me review that record. They overspent. They did not have a contingency fund. They spent us dry before we had an economic downturn. It is unbelievable. Now they have the dubious distinction of setting a record for Canada's largest ever deficit of $56 billion. It would not be a record I would want to hold.
Here it is, the deficit that the finance minister and Prime Minister said we would never have. They even knew at that point they were in serious trouble. Now they are asking Canadians to stay the course with them, that in five years' time they will retire that deficit. However, both the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is completely non-partisan and completely answerable to this House, has said he is sorry but that they will not meet that budget target and we will not be deficit free in five years' time. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has been right every single time.
Let us also look at what the International Monetary Fund has said, because it has also estimated the deficit to be over $5 billion in five years' time. That does not quite square with what the Conservatives are telling Canadians. They are saying that in 2015-2016 we are going in surplus.
Whether you believe the PBO or the IMF, the point is that two out of three financial analysts are saying that the government will still be in deficit five years from now, and the Conservatives are saying, “Trust us, we will not be”. Well, “trust us, we will not be” is the same thing that the Prime Minister said about the deficit to begin with.
We also know from the Parliamentary Budget Officer there is going to be a structural deficit, which the Conservatives have put us in. That means we are continuing to spend more than we actually take in, even after the recession. We are now racking up debt at an astounding rate. That means we are going to be passing on that debt to our children.
In less than two years, the Conservatives have wiped out all of the hard work of Canadians to pay down the national debt by $105 billion. Since coming to power in 2006, the Conservatives have added $76.5 billion to the national debt.
I only have limited time, but my point is that in the good times it is absolutely important to bring down tax levels. I completely support that. Canada's tax rate is actually not bad in comparison with the other G7 countries. The following are 2009 figures, when we were at 19% and France was 34.43%; Italy at 27.5%; Japan at 30%; the United Kingdom at 28%; and the United States at 35%.
What I am saying is let us just place a hold on lowering tax rates for the most wealthy businesses in our country. These are businesses that make over $500,000 a year. They make up a very small number, 5% of the 2.2 million companies in our country. That money should be reinvested in things that will work to drive Canada's productivity.