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House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to give the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands an opportunity to respond.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Okanagan—Shuswap for his question and for the respectful way in which it was posed. I will return with equally good spirits.

My concern is exactly what he put his finger on. There are ways to make the process work for everyone more expeditiously. I mentioned in my speech that, under the existing law, timelines can be placed by a minister on a panel review. It does not require repealing the act to do that.

The industry was pleased with the progress being made under the environmental assessment to have timely reviews. There are ways to ensure federal-provincial co-operation but this is going too far. By completely repealing the act, we are not amending the existing act or finding compromises within the existing act, we are destroying the existing act and replacing it with something.

I have read this bill over and over again and there are 67 pages of the new Canadian environmental assessment act, 2012 buried in the budget bill. As an environmental lawyer, I am warning the House now that this will cause more confusion, industries will not be more satisfied and environmental reviews will not only not go faster but they will not happen at all and they will not examine all the aspects of environmental, social, economic and other unforeseen impacts.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, legislation to implement key initiatives contained in the 2012 economic action plan.

When we introduced the first phase of this plan more than three years ago, the Canadian economy was threatened by a looming recession, begun beyond our borders, yet endangering our prosperity. Acting decisively, our Conservative government introduced temporary measures to fight the effects of the global recession through stimulus to safeguard jobs and protect the incomes of Canadians, while making important investments to ensure long-term growth.

Today the positive impact of our plans is abundantly clear, despite the misguided commentary we hear from the opposite side of the House. One should not take that opinion from me. Patricia Croft, former chief economist with RBC Global Asset Management, recently said, “In a global context, I think Canada is in a fabulous position. Canada continues to manage its fiscal affairs in a fabulous fashion”.

Thanks to our plan, our fiscal record is second to none. Although judging from their remarks throughout the debate on the bill, opposition members seem to be ignorant of these facts.

Both the IMF and the OECD have forecast that Canada will have among the strongest record of economic growth in the G7, both this year and next. Not only that, but for the fourth year in a row the World Economic Forum has rated Canada's banks as the most solvent in the world.

We all know that the prestigious Forbes magazine has ranked Canada number one in its annual review of the best countries in which to do business. The three major international credit rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor's have reaffirmed their top ratings for Canada.

I think it is clear to anyone who is listening that under our government's stewardship, Canada has weathered the economic storm with strength and the world has noticed.

This praise is not hollow. In truth, it speaks to the sound fiscal planning that has been the hallmark of this government. Our economic resilience reflects the actions our government took before the crisis, lowering taxes, paying down debt, reducing red tape and promoting free trade and innovation. I am proud the prudence continues to be reflected in action plan 2012 and in the measures contained in Bill C-38.

While my time is limited, I would like to speak specifically to our government's actions to ensure the retirement security of Canadians, as these measures reflect our commitment to fiscal planning that is sustainable well into the future.

This is of particular importance to my constituents in Okanagan—Shuswap, as we are the number two destination for Canadians to retire, and we actually have the largest number of seniors per capita in any place in Canada.

Since 2006, our government has taken steps to strengthen Canada's retirement income system, including increasing the guaranteed income supplement for the most vulnerable seniors, introducing pension income splitting, increasing the age credit and creating innovative savings vehicles like the tax-free savings account and co-registered pension plans.

Economic action plan 2012 takes further steps to ensure that Canadians will have access to a secure retirement for years to come by ensuring the sustainability of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement by gradually raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, starting in 2023.

The facts on OAS are clear. The OAS program was conceived at a time when Canadians were not living the long and healthy lives that we are today. We know with certainty that over the next 20 years the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will increase from 4.7 million to 9.3 million. Consequently, the cost of the OAS program will increase from $36 billion per year in 2010 to $108 billion per year by 2030. Meanwhile, by 2030, there will only be two taxpayers to support every senior, down from four to one in 2010.

We are not the first government in the world to recognize this inevitable demographic reality. Many countries are increasing the age of eligibility of their public pension programs. Of 34 OECD countries, 22 have recently increased, or announced plans to increase, the eligibility age. It is a long list that includes: Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States.

This change in Canada does not start tomorrow. It would start in April 2023, with full implementation by January 2029. That is a 17-year notification period and, as such, it would not affect anyone who is 54 years of age or older as of March 31, 2012.

There is no question that this is the right move to ensure that our generous system of retirement benefits is there for Canadians when they need it most. Just listen to the words of the Globe and Mail editorial board, speaking directly to the measures contained in the bill that the opposition is voting against. It said, in part:

The two-year deferral of the Old Age Security for those now below the age of 54 is a fair and reasonable adaptation to an era of greater longevity and mostly prolonged health... Likewise, the reform of public-sector pensions, by higher employee contributions and a normal retirement age, will before long greatly relieve strains on the public purse....[The Prime Minister] and [the Minister of Finance] can, and do, truthfully say that the federal government’s finances are on track....Ottawa’s books of account are headed in the right direction. This is why the Conservatives were elected, to prudently manage public finances in a tumultuous time.

Canadians have told us that as they live longer and healthier lives, many older workers wish to remain in the workforce and increase their retirement income. Our changes to the OAS program reflect this new reality, while assuring that the OAS program is on a sustainable path.

To this end, we are also improving the amount of flexibility and choice Canadians can exercise by allowing the option of deferring the take-up of their OAS benefits to a later time. This way, should Canadians wish to work and save a little longer, they will receive higher annual benefits when they eventually collect their pension.

This too has received support from the strongest voice of Canada's small business community. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses has said, “[we are] supportive of the idea that Canadians should be incented to work longer by receiving additional OAS if they push back their retirement”.

Further, we are working to provide increased support to the retirement income system with pooled registered pension plans. These will provide an accessible large-scale and low-cost pension option to employers, employees and the self-employed.

Not only that, we will continue to deliver on promises to Canadians to keep taxes low and return to a balanced budget over the medium term.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to hear the member's take on the fact that so many changes are being put into this bill that really have no business being in a budget bill.

The Prime Minister, when he was in opposition, said that MPs would have to go against their principles to vote for such a bill. Would the member tell me where his principles went?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, this bill is about budget 2012-13 and our first priority in this bill is jobs and growth. This is a strategic plan to move forward. It is multifaceted and comprehensive. It is important that all of these initiatives are in the bill so we can continue on the path of job creation and growth for Canadians.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, our economic action plan was put in place at the base of the recession in order to bring us to a position of creating over 700,000 net new jobs, which is something to be commended. Economic action plan 2012 is moving in exactly that direction. Individuals who live in my riding of Simcoe—Grey are delighted with the direction of this budget.

Could my colleague, the member for Okanagan—Shuswap, comment on what he is hearing from his constituents on the good news that is in the budget?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, part of the economic action plan was well received in my constituency because there were initiatives in that plan for the forest sector, to help increase market accessibility in the Pacific Rim and to look at innovative ways for the use of fibre. I have heard many comments from the operators of the mills in my constituency regarding that initiative.

That is all part of this huge plan. It is about growing our economy through trade and assisting people with training to ensure they can get jobs. This is a huge plan. Opposition members criticize the document, but, like I said before, it is multifaceted so that with all of the pieces of the puzzle, we can move forward on jobs and growth.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague, the hon. member for Okanagan—Shuswap just said we are criticizing the document. Indeed, we are criticizing it for how thick it is, for what it contains, for the leaps we have to make to connect items as different as the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal and the old age security program. These are very different topics that deserve lengthy debates so that we can find a good parliamentary solution that reflects our democratic tradition.

It is not just the document that we are criticizing. After everything I just said and everything we have been saying for ages, that is not the issue. The issue is that we are not being given any time to make amendments. That is the type of thing we are being denied even in committee.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, as was said before, the budget bill has been debated longer than any other bill in the last 20 years. I really do not agree with the member in respect of that criticism.

There are a lot of things in the budget, but we have had adequate time to address them in debate in the House. I would ask him to support this so we can move forward with providing jobs for those in his constituency. People who are out of work and looking for employment need these initiatives.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have this chance to speak in the House today about this Trojan Horse budget. I was concerned that all discussion would be shut down by the government because, unfortunately, this is a budget that includes many separate bills that have very little to do with fiscal management.

If passed, this omnibus bill of over 400 pages would do little to get our economy going or to help people get back to work. What it would do is gut environmental protection, rewrite Canada's fishery law and change the age of retirement in this country.

While this so-called budget implementation bill is supposed to implement the budget, it would go far beyond what was outlined in the recent federal budget. Quite simply, it is profoundly inappropriate for the government to put so many sweeping changes to so many different areas in this omnibus bill. It is bad public policy and it is becoming abundantly clear that the members opposite are trying to hide from their obligation to provide responsible oversight. Rather, they seem determined to avoid accountability.

I want to highlight some of the key changes this bill would make.

It would raise the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67.

It would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. This would mean the government would no longer be required to report on its greenhouse gas emissions under the act. It would gut the environmental assessment regime and fish habitat protection in order to speed up major projects, including pipelines.

It would give cabinet the ability to ignore the National Energy Board and approve a project that the NEB has turned down. It would delegate environmental assessments to other authorities, including the provinces, and would change the definition of “interested parties” to weaken public participation in environmental decision-making to exclude anyone not directly affected by a project.

It would eliminate the Inspector General of CSIS. This would drastically reduce accountability at CSIS.

Also, it would eliminate Auditor General oversight of a number of agencies.

It would repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This would allow employers to undercut union wage rates for construction workers engaged in projects funded by the federal government.

It would amend the Employment Equity Act so that it would no longer apply to federal contractors. This is a direct attack on women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.

It would amend the rules for determining the extent to which a charity has engaged in political activities and would modify the rules for registering certain foreign charitable organizations as donors.

It would amend the Seeds Act to potentially allow private contractors to perform food inspection.

It would also remove foreign ownership rules for wireless telecommunications companies with less than 10% market share, and would allow foreign-owned companies to grow beyond a 10% market share.

It is very interesting to note that the Conservatives claim that budget 2012 is about job creation, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that this budget would cost 43,000 Canadian jobs. In fact, the budget actually plans for unemployment to rise.

Bill C-38 would also gut workers' rights. As I indicated, it would repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which was created in the 1930s to set minimum standards for wages and hours of labour for construction workers engaged in projects funded by the federal government. In practice, removing these minimum standards would allow employers to undercut prevailing wage rates. How would making it difficult for workers to provide for their families help create jobs?

The bill would also amend the Employment Equity Act so that it no longer would apply to federal contractors. This is a direct attack on women, aboriginal peoples and visible minorities, as I said. Ten years ago, it was recommended that the employment equity provision for the federal worker contract program be strengthened through legislation. Instead, the government is deliberately weakening these provisions.

Bill C-38 targets immigrants with its proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2008, by allowing for a returning of the applications from federal skilled workers who applied to come to Canada before February 27, 2008. It would cause the fees of these workers to be refunded. What is not clear is how and who decides who gets pushed out of line and whether or not it will be voluntary. This is not a fair way to deal with the immigration backlog. Many of these applicants have already waited for years to have their applications considered.

The bill would also amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to give instructions establishing and governing classes of permanent residents as part of the economic class.

As I mentioned previously, Bill C-38 proposes changes to OAS by gradually raising the age of eligibility to retire from 65 to 67. While the Conservatives claim that this is necessary, the reality is that OAS is sustainable as it is and we can absolutely afford to ensure all seniors are free from poverty and live in dignity.

This is about making smart choices and intelligent practical investments. It makes much more sense to invest in people, our seniors, not in megaprisons, fighter jets and tax cuts to profitable corporations.

New Democrats fundamentally disagree with this proposed change to the age of retirement, and seniors do too. According to CARP, its members soundly reject raising the OAS eligibility age and see better ways to help younger Canadians, such as increasing job opportunities. CARP has been clear and is on the record stating:

The age of eligibility for OAS should not be increased from 65 to 67. If there is a need to relieve budgetary pressures, there are other options such as the potential savings from health care reform or the reduced military spending once the Afghan mission is complete. A fundamental change such as raising the OAS eligibility age should be fully debated especially given that the issue was not put before the voters and the implementation date is far enough away to allow for measured deliberations.

Unfortunately, the government is curtailing debate and attempting to silence those who do not agree with it.

CARP is not alone. The National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation argues that the government is not being honest about the ability to pay the OAS obligations. Several economists, internal finance department studies and even the Parliamentary Budget Officer all conclude that the existing OAS obligations are sustainable. The government's own figures prove that OAS is affordable now and in the future, because after 2030, the cost of OAS as a proportion of GDP will decline rapidly and significantly.

Tragically, in its efforts to sell this so-called OAS crisis, the feds have found some seductive words to try to persuade young workers and make them believe that making matters worse for them in retirement is somehow a fairness issue. Talk about the big lie. The current generation is not just being squeezed by income inequality, but will also face declining retirement security in their senior years.

Quality pension plans are under attack in both the public and private sectors. Only one-third of Canadian adults can afford RRSPs. The CPP is not being upgraded, despite the near consensus of provincial finance ministers just over a year ago that it was important to make pension improvements. Now the government is preparing to make negative changes to OAS for future retirees.

It does not have to be this way. Spending, taxation and other public policy decisions are always, in the end, political decisions.

I am convinced the people of this country do not believe the government is doing the right thing. They have been very clear that they do not wish to see the decline of our OAS.

How could a responsible government ever contemplate such a thing while recklessly proceeding with the purchase of non-tendered fighter jets and corporate tax cuts that continue to deny the country the needed revenue to finance our social programs? For the fifth year in a row, the government has given huge tax breaks that are tacked on to the public debt. It is the next generation that will pay the bills and be denied a decent pension. Some fairness.

It is not just me or seniors' organizations that see the problems here. Edward Whitehouse, leader of the OECD pension team, has clearly stated:

The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes....Long-term projections show that public retirement-income provision is financially sustainable. Population ageing will naturally increase public pension spending, but the rate of growth is lower and the starting point better than many OECD countries. Moreover, the earnings-related public schemes (CPP/QPP) have built up substantial reserves to meet these future liabilities.

We need to listen to this with clarity. It is pension expertise. It is also essential that we consider the people who will be hurt--

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The member's time has elapsed. Perhaps she could conclude through questions and comments.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments. I have heard it repeated over and over again. I am not sure if the thinking is that the more often it is said, people will start to believe it.

I have a very simple question for the member. She talked about the new prisons being built in Canada. I have searched everywhere and I am not having any luck finding a new prison. I wonder if she might be able to provide us with the address.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Osoyoos, British Columbia.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please.

The hon. member for London—Fanshawe has the floor.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the question, and I am grateful for the comment from my colleague.

In addition to the fact that capacity within our current prison system has been increased significantly by the government, at great cost, for unreported crimes, apparently Osoyoos, British Columbia has a new prison, thanks to the so-called crime bill.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I was struck by the member's words around old age security and the next generation paying the bills. I agree with those concerns, however, I want to talk about the next generation paying the bills with respect to damaging our environment.

We know from Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and many other researchers that companies that have strong regulations are more innovative and more profitable. We know that ecosystem services are incredibly valuable for the air we breathe, the ocean's sea food and the water we drink. They are very expensive to replace when we destroy them.

I wonder if the member could talk about human security in terms of having an environment that is sustainable over the long term and continuing to provide those services. Who is going to pay the bills if we screw things up as the Conservatives are doing?

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the government keeps talking about the economy versus the environment. There is no economy without a clean, sustainable environment. There is no future for our children or for any economy unless we get things right.

We know that right now billions of dollars have been set aside and billions have been spent to clean up the messes of the past, the various sites across the country that are polluted and are causing harm to human health, the land and the air. Billions have been spent because there was no protection and no environmental standards in the past. We are paying for that in spades.

Unfortunately, when the government trumpets how effective it has been in cleaning up these hot spots, it fails to mention it has only managed to get half of that cleanup done, and people are still in jeopardy. Reducing environmental protection now will mean that in the future, our children will pay a hefty price and our environment will be further jeopardized.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, in the House I have mostly bemoaned and raged against the changes to environmental laws, but I want to support what the member has been saying about changes to old age security.

How could such a fundamental change to our old age security system have been brought in when it was not debated during the last election campaign? It was only mooted at an international conference in Davos, and now we find our whole scheme for old age security is being changed.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, I do not want to debate this, but I am sure the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands knows that the proposed new prison that is going into the Oliver-Osoyoos area is a provincial prison, not a federal prison.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

That is a matter of debate. It is not a point of order.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please.

The member for London—Fanshawe has 40 seconds to respond to that last question.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, this was done by stealth. The government never told Canadians it would raise the age of retirement. It never told seniors that future generations would be asked to pay this incredible price.

The young people the Conservatives keep talking about who will be paying this terrible debt are trying to raise families. They are trying to manage huge tuition debts, mortgages and a lack of job creation in the present. The reality is that they will not have a decent retirement at all. This bunch will, but not the seniors of the future.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member for London—Fanshawe had the floor, and now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation has the floor. I would ask the minister and all members to allow that member to speak.

Resuming debate, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-38, the budget implementation act. Indeed, I am proud to participate in this debate, the longest ever allotted for a budget bill certainly within the last 20 years.

Our government's priority remains the economy. This budget is squarely focused on job creation and economic growth for today and into the future. It has been said before, and it is worth repeating, that the best way to reduce poverty is to ensure that Canadians have jobs. That is exactly what this budget will accomplish. How will we do that? By keeping taxes low, investing in our future, creating opportunity and returning to balanced budgets at an appropriate pace. At the same time, we are supporting our families, investing in our communities and taking care of our most vulnerable.

Our government has proven to be excellent managers of the economy. In fact, we are the envy of the world. As members know, Forbes magazine ranks us as the best country on the planet in which to invest and grow a business. That is not accidental, but a result of six years of focused work.

In 2006, members may recall, we launched Advantage Canada, our strategic and comprehensive economic plan to foster strong, sustainable, long-term growth. We set out to show the world who and what we are, a modern, dynamic and tolerant country. We did this by understanding and building on Canada's advantages.

Our tax advantage comes from setting out to reduce taxes for all Canadians and establishing the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G7. Our fiscal advantage comes from charting a course to eliminate Canada's debt. I am proud to say that we paid down $37 billion before the global recession struck in 2008. Our entrepreneurial advantage comes from committing to reducing unnecessary regulation and red tape and increasing competition in the Canadian marketplace. Our knowledge advantage comes from creating the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world. Our infrastructure advantage comes from building the modern infrastructure we need.

We set out four principles which would guide our policy decisions to improve our quality of life and make Canada a world leader for today and future generations.

We are focusing government on what it does best, so that it is responsible in its spending, efficient in its operations, effective in its results and accountable to taxpayers.

We are creating new opportunities and choices for people by creating incentives for people to excel right here at home, reducing taxes and investing in education, training and transition-to-work opportunities so that Canadians can achieve their potential and have the choices they want.

We are investing for sustainable growth by investing and seeking partnerships with the provinces and the private sector in strategic areas that contribute to strong economies, including primary scientific research, a clean environment and modern infrastructure.

We are freeing businesses to grow and succeed to create the right economic conditions to encourage firms to invest and flourish.

I raise these points today because it is important for Canadians to know that their government has a focused, long-range strategic plan committed to improving their quality of life. Our economic plan is working. Budget 2012 is a continuation of our unwavering commitment to keep Canada the envy of the world.

I am proud to be a member of a government that understands the fundamental economic principle that resources are limited, and that there is only one taxpayer. Unlike the opposition, we understand that governments cannot continually raise taxes. Indeed, government, just like all Canadians, has to keep its house in order. That is what we are doing with budget 2012. We are getting our house in order. Through generating ongoing savings from operational efficiencies and making modest reductions, we are on track to returning to balanced budgets over the medium term. I emphasize that we are doing this without reducing transfers to persons or to other levels of government.

In fact, federal transfers to provinces and territories will reach an all-time high this year of $59 billion, which is $3 billion more than last year.

The facts speak for themselves. We have created almost 700,000 net new jobs since the recession ended in July 2009. These are good jobs: 90% of them are full time. We are one of only two G7 countries to regain all of the jobs lost in the recession. We continue to garner global praise for our management of the economy.

I mentioned that our priorities are jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. I would like to highlight some of the ways we are accomplishing these.

We are lowering taxes. Today the average family of four is paying $3,000 less in taxes than when our government took office in 2006. We did this by reducing the GST from 7% to 5%; allowing seniors to split their pensions between spouses; establishing a working income tax benefit for low-income, working Canadians; establishing the registered disability savings plan and the tax-free savings plan; reducing the lowest personal income tax rate from 16% to 15%; and bringing in measures such as the children's arts tax credit, the children's fitness tax credit and the very popular tax-free savings account.

We reduced business taxes. By reducing corporate taxes to 15%, we are now one of the most attractive places to invest, an incredible advantage we worked hard to achieve. We will see the benefits of this now and in the future. We cut the small business tax rate to 11% and we increased the threshold to $500,000. In total we have provided $60 billion in business tax relief, money that is available for reinvestment, purchasing and, most importantly, hiring.

We created new opportunities through trade. Since 2006 we have signed nine free trade agreements. These are benefiting people in Newmarket—Aurora and all of Canada. As a result, our businesses are benefiting from new economic opportunities that extend beyond our borders. We have exciting possibilities with many more agreements. They are progressing with the EU, India and Japan, just to name a few. Economic action plan 2012 proposes to intensify Canada's pursuit of new trade opportunities.

We are growing the economy by creating value-added jobs through innovation. Canada's long-term economic competitiveness in the emerging knowledge economy demands globally competitive businesses that can innovate, collaborate and create high-value jobs.

We are enacting a comprehensive plan to improve support for business innovation and to make Canadian firms compete better in the global marketplace. We are doing this by investing $1.1 billion to directly support research and development. We are refocusing the National Research Council and injecting an additional $110 million into that institute, which will include the doubling of support for the international research assistance program.

We are helping high-growth, innovative firms to access risk capital by making $500 million available for venture capital activities. This is most welcomed by the entrepreneurs in my riding of Newmarket—Aurora. Investments through programs like the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the industrial research assistance program have helped businesses expand, bring products to market and create jobs. Companies like Gum Products, Axiom, Your Solar Home and Treefrog International have all added high-value jobs and helped diversify our local economy.

We are making investments to assist more young people gain the skills and experience they need by investing in training, infrastructure and opportunity. We are putting $30 million into the opportunities fund to help Canadians with disabilities acquire work experience. We are making EI predictable for employers, allowing them to better make employment decisions while removing the disincentive to work at the same time.

We have also reduced red tape for businesses. Reducing red tape is good for everyone. It helps our businesses compete and creates jobs for Canadians. It represents a low-cost way to stimulate the economy and boost productivity. That is why we are working hard for Canadians.

I look forward to questions from my colleagues.