Mr. Speaker, even the opposition members know that pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home. They take up far too much time for small businesses trying to grow and create jobs. It costs taxpayers a penny and a half every time we produce a penny. We will therefore stop making pennies. Canadians might wonder why this was not done earlier.
Canadians might also wonder why public servants are sometimes asked to travel when a video conference would be easier for them and cheaper for taxpayers.
Canadians also might also be surprised to learn that some of the most massive documents the government produces are still printed on paper, when everyone now uses these documents online.
If so, Canadians will be glad to learn that we are putting a stop to these and other wasteful practices in every corner of government.
Because of our government's responsible choices, we can eliminate the deficit through common sense moderate restraint. We have no need to resort to the drastic cuts being forced upon some other developed countries today. We have no need to undertake the radical austerity measures imposed by the federal government in the 1990s. In fact, our government will return to balanced budgets, while continuing sustainable increases in transfers for social programs.
The savings we have identified are moderate. They will amount to less than 2% of federal program spending overall.
Our government has always acted responsibly to ensure the social programs Canadians count on will be there when they need them. As mentioned, we are increasing support for health care, education, and pensions at a sustainable level. Today we are also taking action to ensure the sustainability of Canada’s retirement income system.
Changes were made years ago to the Canada pension plan to ensure it would be sustainable. As a result, it is sustainable. It is sound and fully funded. Today it is clear that we must take action to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program, which is the largest spending program of the federal government.
The old age security program was designed for a much different demographic future than Canada faces today. In the 1970s there were seven workers for every one person over the age of 65. In 20 years there will only be two. In 1970, life expectancy was age 69 for men and 76 for women. Today, it is 79 for men and 83 for women. At the same time, Canada’s birth rate is falling. The result is that Canadians are living longer and healthier but there are fewer workers to take their place when they retire. Canada has changed. Old age security must change with it to serve the purpose it was intended to serve.
We will make gradual adjustments to the old age security program to ensure the next generation can count on it. These adjustments will not affect current recipients or those close to retirement. Starting in 2023 and ending in 2029, we will gradually increase the age of eligibility from age 65 to 67. This gradual approach will enable younger Canadians to plan ahead with confidence. We will also make the program more flexible for those approaching retirement. As of July 1, 2013, Canadians who prefer to keep working will be given the option to defer the start of benefits. This voluntary option will enable them to receive higher benefits as a result.
Beyond this, we will also ensure that government employee pension plans are sustainable and financially responsible. We will adjust these pension plans to be more in line with those available to Canadians working in the private sector. We will also increase the cost-share ratio for the pension plan for members of Parliament and senators, effective January 1, 2013.
Our government has already announced increases in transfers to the provinces, to put health care funding on a stable, sustainable path for the long term. Together with our adjustments to old age security, we are ensuring that these crucial programs and services will be there for Canadians over the next generation.
Our focus in this budget is the long-term prosperity of our country. Still, as always, we are also responding to the immediate needs of our fellow Canadians. To create jobs now, we will extend by one year the hiring credit for small business, a practical, proven measure that encourages businesses to hire more workers. We will provide new funding to improve border infrastructure. We will make new investments in local infrastructure through Canada’s regional development agencies. We will also renew the fleet of the Canadian Coast Guard, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
While creating jobs now, our government will provide new opportunities for Canadians to gain access to the labour market. We will keep helping older workers in transition to find good new jobs. We will increase funding for skills training and career experiences for young Canadians and for Canadians with disabilities.
Canada’s reservists make extraordinary sacrifices to keep our country safe but potential long absences and added costs mean that employers will not hire them. These brave Canadians should not be disadvantaged. Our government, working with Canadian companies, will help remove barriers to hiring reservists.
We will also take action to modernize Canada’s employment insurance program. We will make it much easier for Canadians who are out of work to identify new opportunities, and for employers to find the workers they need. For EI recipients in areas of sporadic employment, we will initiate modest changes to the program to better focus our support for Canadians who are eager to work. We will also provide new incentives and opportunities for members of first nations living on reserve, to participate fully in our economy and to gain greater self-sufficiency.
Our government will also take action to build a new legislated framework, in response to the national panel on first nation education. As initial steps, we will make new investments to build and renovate schools on reserves. We will increase support for early literacy programming. We will work with first nations to build partnerships with provinces and other stakeholders to unlock the potential of Canada’s first nations children. We will also invest in a long-term strategy to improve water quality in first nations communities.
In addition, our government will reform Canada's immigration system to make it faster and more efficient. We will ensure it is designed, above all, to strengthen Canada's economy. As a result, we will be better able to fill gaps in our labour force. We will attract more of the entrepreneurs we need to create good jobs and long-term economic growth.
As part of our plan for jobs and growth, our government has made very substantial investments in science and technology. Such investments are necessary to help sustain a modern, competitive economy. They encourage innovation—new ideas, which lead to new products and services, and ultimately to new, highly skilled, well-paying jobs. The key is to leverage private sector investment in research and development. In spite of our efforts so far, Canada is not keeping up with other advanced economies on this crucial front.
In response to the Jenkins report on innovation, we will provide substantial new funding to make it easier for entrepreneurs to access venture capital. We will extend our efforts to promote small business innovation through government procurement contracts. We will provide new investments to support innovation and market development in the forestry sector. We will double our investments through the industrial research assistance program.
We will provide new support for partnerships between businesses and universities. We will make new investments in advanced research infrastructure in our college and university campuses. We will streamline and improve the tax incentive program for business innovation and reinvest the savings in direct support. We will also review the government's science and technology organizations to make them more effective in translating ideas from the lab to the marketplace.
The result will be to position Canada to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. We will be able to build more globally competitive companies. These companies will create more well paying jobs and a greater quality of life for all Canadians.
As the 21st century unfolds, it is increasingly clear that Canada's energy and natural resources are massive assets to our country in the global economy. The oil and gas, mining and forestry sectors directly employ more than 750,000 Canadians. They are driving economic growth across the country. They are creating good jobs, not only directly but indirectly in manufacturing, clerical work, skilled trades and financial services.
Canada’s resource industries offer huge potential to create even more jobs and growth, now and over the next generation. This potential exists in every region of the country—natural gas in British Columbia, oil and minerals on the Prairies, the Ring of Fire in Ontario, Plan Nord in Quebec, hydro power in Atlantic Canada, and mining in Canada’s North.
Recently it has become clear that we must develop new export markets for Canada’s energy and natural resources to reduce our dependence on markets in the United States. The booming economies of the Asia-Pacific region are a huge and increasing source of demand but Canada is not the only country to which they can turn. If we fail to act now, this historic window of opportunity will close.
We will implement responsible resource development and smart regulation for major economic projects, respecting provincial jurisdiction and maintaining the highest standards of environmental protection. We will streamline the review process for such projects according to the following principle: one project, one review, completed in a clearly defined time period. We will ensure that Canada has the infrastructure we need to move our exports to new markets.
Beyond this, we will build on our very effective partnership with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and continue reducing red tape across government. Our goal is to allow businesses to focus on what they do best, creating jobs and opportunity from coast to coast to coast.
Finally, as a key part of our plan for long-term prosperity, our government is undertaking the most ambitious trade expansion plan in Canadian history. Experience has shown that opening new export markets provides an enormous long-term benefit to Canada. It creates new opportunities for Canadian businesses and good new jobs for Canadian workers. On a level playing field, Canadians have shown we can compete successfully with the best in the world.
For that reason, our government has worked hard to open new markets for Canadian exports. Before 2006, Canada signed only three new trade agreements in 13 years. Since then, our government has signed new trade agreements with nine countries, and we are in negotiations with many more. Just yesterday, the Prime Minister returned from another trip to Asia, launching negotiations on new trade agreements with Thailand and Japan.
The United States will remain our largest and most important trading partner. Still, recent events and long-term trends indicate clearly that we need to diversify Canada’s export markets. We need to open new export markets in the world’s emerging major economies while strengthening and expanding our existing trade relationships.
We will continue working with the United States to implement our joint beyond the border plan to strengthen and deepen the economic and security links between our two countries. At the same time, we will harmonize our duty and tax exemptions for 24 and 48 hour trips to match levels for U.S. citizens. This measure will ease congestion at our borders.
We will conclude negotiations on new trade agreements with the European Union and with India. We will also begin entry talks with the trans-Pacific partnership, and continue building our growing trade relationship with China. By gaining greater access to these vast and growing markets, we will strengthen the financial security of all Canadians. We will create good jobs and long-term growth in every region of the country.
Since we were first elected in 2006, our government has been focused on creating jobs and economic growth. Ultimately our goal is to ensure long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
We are “looking a little ahead”, as Sir John A. Macdonald advised. We can see in the distance every reason to hope.
We see young Canadians, confident in their future; retired Canadians, secure in their senior years; aboriginal Canadians, realizing their vast potential; new Canadians, strengthening our country as they have done in every generation.
We see every region of the country more prosperous than ever in our history. We see Canadian businesses and universities coming up with things no one has thought of before, leading to new opportunities and a better life for Canadians and for people around the world.
We see Canada going from strength to strength in the 21st century. We see Canada at the centre of the world, with a great and friendly market to the south, a continent of opportunity across the Atlantic and a world of growth across the Pacific. We see Canada whose wealth, while immense, will be measured ultimately in the greater happiness and security of its people.
We see Canada for what it is and what it can be: a great, good nation, on top of the world, the true north strong and free. Our government has been inspired by this vision from the beginning.
Today, we step forward boldly, to realize it fully: hope for our children and grandchildren; opportunity for all Canadians; a prosperous future for our beloved country.