Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to budget 2011. I will be sharing my time with the member for Sarnia—Lambton.
I am very pleased with the excellent budget put forward by our finance minister . I want to note some of the accomplishments in the budget and how it will help Canadians significantly.
Prior to the budget that was presented, initially in March and more recently again, many members of Parliament embarked upon prebudget consultations in their own ridings. I had the pleasure of doing that in Barrie. In looking back on the comments we received in our community, it is interesting to see how this budget really reflects the aspirations and concerns of Canadians
At four different prebudget town hall meetings that I held, we managed to have consultations and submissions from a wide variety of people in the community of Barrie. We had submissions from city councillors, school board trustees, members of the Chamber of Commerce, doctors, nurses, emergency services personnel, seniors, students, business owners and the mayor of Barrie. We also had an active electronic survey and we received significant feedback through that.
Each of the participants provided insightful contributions from different aspects of our city. Many shared the same concerns as all Canadians: ensuring good jobs are available, keeping low taxes and investing in long-term growth. I heard about the need to better support small business and local industry. I heard about retirement savings, the rising cost of energy and the challenges facing our most vulnerable seniors. I heard pleas for more doctors in underserviced areas, concerns over the health of our citizens and the future of our growing city. I believe budget 2011 did an excellent job in meeting those concerns.
Initially I wanted to talk a little about infrastructure, for which this budget has a fair amount. The city of Barrie has had tremendous infrastructure needs. We have had a 6% growth rate over 10 years. The submissions made by members of the city of Barrie task force on my budget consultations were that stable infrastructure funding was important and that the gas tax revenues had been very helpful, but that it was the sense of stability, the sense of planning that was needed for municipalities.
John Brassard, a city councillor in Barrie, said how impressed he was with the funding toward municipalities and that the grant should continue. Councillor Brassard said that infrastructure was intimately linked to economic development and enables a city to compete for jobs.
Making the gas tax funding transfers to municipalities permanent is a welcome sign in budget 2011. I applaud the Minister of Finance for taking this critical initiative. Putting this into law, the permanent annual investment of $2 billion in gas tax funding for cities and towns will allow for long-term municipal infrastructure planning and budgeting.
When I was a city councillor in Barrie for five years prior to 2005, I remember how difficult it was for municipalities and how strained they were for resources. It is pretty significant that we now see municipalities with a stable partner with the federal government helping them with their infrastructure needs.
Prior to our government first being elected in 2006, Barrie was receiving just under $2 million a year. These transfers have steadily increased under our government and currently the transfer for Barrie is approaching $7 million annually. That is typical for cities across Canada. They have seen a steady and consistent increase.
The passing of budget 2011 means that Barrie can count on these funds year after year to assist in meeting our local commitments and will continue to help ease the burden on property taxpayers.
In terms of tax reductions, this budget also helps businesses and Canadians in many respects. I am pleased that our government did not follow the call from other parties in the House to roll back the series of graduated business tax reductions passed by a majority of parliamentarians in 2007. Some parties even wanted to roll back and increase the burden on business by saddling them with taxes surpassing the pre-2007 levels. These reductions were designed to keep Canada competitive with our trading partners and our government understood the strategy was working for Canadian business.
Sybil Goruk, the executive director of the Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce, put it best when she wrote to me to voice her concerns about this alarming call for increases to corporate taxes. After she read the Bank of Canada January report, which noted that 44% of Canadian firms expected to invest more in productivity-enhancing machinery and equipment in the years ahead, Sybil wrote:
Consistency and reliability in government policy are critical factors in business decision-making. Businesses across the country have invested with the understanding that taxes would decline. A sudden change of course would constitute a broken promise to thousands of businesses and the many people they have employed based on that promise.
Our government kept its promise and I am very glad the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce recognize the importance of keeping business taxes low.
In terms of creating jobs, this budget is a victory for Canadians in that sense. Creating jobs in a community is as important as anything else. Small business plays a significant economic role in cities such as Barrie. It is the lifeblood of our economy. Business owners told me that investment in their operations would promote growth and create more jobs in the community.
All too often my community of Barrie has seen small businesses come and go, particularly in the downtown core. Rod Jackson, a former city councillor and a human resources manager, stressed that it was important the government have incentive programs for small businesses that could be implemented at all levels of government. These programs should not only help start up business, but should also help existing companies stay open.
Budget 2011 addresses many of those requests. Two examples are: extending the accelerated capital cost allowance to help manufacturers make new investments in manufacturing and processing machinery and equipment; and enhancing programs to help businesses keep workers, like work sharing programs, the wage earner protection program and the targeted initiative for older workers.
However, the aspect of budget 2011 that will be really helpful is the hiring credit for small businesses. It is a terrific yet cost effective way of encouraging small businesses to hire workers instead of putting it off to another year.
In terms of helping young people, budget 2011 is a victory for young Canadians. Another aspect of job creation comes from young students who are making the transition from school to the workforce. In Barrie we are lucky enough to have Georgian College, along with many university partnerships with Georgian, supplying the city with well-educated graduates. Joe Rockbrune, who is a small business owner and was on our prebudget consultations, made the point that it was critical to find that transition and that it was important for young people to have help finding the jobs that await them.
There are several things this budget does to stimulate the economy and invest in job growth. I am also happy to see the government investing $20 million in the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. By supporting the youth entrepreneurs of today, we are helping our young people succeed and become leaders of tomorrow.
One of my favourite aspects of budget 2011 is the $100 million set aside for brain disorders. I had the pleasure over the last year and a half of sitting on the neurological disorder subcommittee in Parliament that studied the black hole we have with brain and neurological disorders. The one thing we heard again and again was that government needed to focus on this. I will be honest when I say that there was very little hope that something would happen this soon. To see our Minister of Finance focus on that area, which rarely gets attention, is a tremendous thing.
I think of people in my riding, like Derek Walton, who, despite having ALS for eight years and being restricted to a wheelchair, skydives to raise funds for research. I think of Jeanette Elliott, who is a volunteer working non-stop for the MS Society, or Greg McGinnis, who is doing the same thing for the Parkinson Society. All of these efforts are to raise funds for research. To see the federal government invest in such a meaningful way is something very special about budget 2011 in terms of its focus on neurosciences.
I just want to add one other point that was helpful in budget 2011, and that is the comments I heard from seniors about needing more help. There are lots of low-income seniors across Canada and Barrie is no exception. I know the increase to the GIS will be welcomed. It is a very helpful part of budget 2011.
I commend my colleague, the Minister of Finance, on delivering a budget that is responsible and proactive on behalf of all Canadians. The low tax plan for jobs and growth meets many of the requests I heard from my constituents. On behalf of the people of Barrie, I thank him and his team for their hard work.