Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand here in the House to speak to the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act to implement our 2012 economic action plan. Both this legislation and our recent budget represent an ambitious, substantive and positive response by our Conservative government to the economic challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow.
I am proud that the measures contained in the bill and in budget 2012 will fuel the next wave of job creation and position Canada for a secure and prosperous future.
By focusing on the drivers of growth, innovation, business investment, education and skills, these new measures will solidify, strengthen and draw upon the entrepreneurial sectors' role as the driving force behind Canada's economy.
Our plan sets out a comprehensive agenda to bolster Canada’s fundamental strengths and address the important challenges confronting the economy over the long term, like the demographic challenges arising as a result of an aging society.
Canada’s businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators have proven time and again that they are up to the task, provided they are given the chance. With our economic action plan, our Conservative government is ensuring that they will have all the opportunity they need to flourish.
For starters, this ambitious agenda includes a new approach to supporting entrepreneurs, innovators and world-class research.
As a world leader in post-secondary research with a highly skilled workforce, Canada has strong fundamentals for innovation. In fact, Canada has the highest proportion of population with post-secondary education of anywhere in the world.
With $10.1 billion of annual federal investment to support post-secondary education and $2.5 billion annually for labour market agreements with the provinces and territories, it is no surprise that Canadian students perform well in international tests. Canada also compares favourably to most other G7 countries with respect to job related training.
However, for all of this promise, Canada continues to lag behind our peer nations in terms of overall innovation performance, including with regard to private sector investment in R and D and the commercialization of research into products and processes that create high value jobs and economic growth. Our government is taking important steps to foster the innovation needed to fuel jobs and economic growth.
First, we set up an expert panel to determine the reasons for this lagging performance, and now we are responding to the panel's recommendations in a way that will create high value jobs through investments in education and training, basic and applied research, finance opportunities for businesses with the potential to become globally competitive, and better linkages between public research and market needs.
Among other things, economic action plan 2012 will double the contribution budget of the industrial research assistance program to better support research and development by small and medium-sized companies.
It will refocus the National Research Council on demand-driven applied research that will help Canadian businesses develop innovative products and services.
It will support innovation through procurement, by connecting small and medium-sized companies with federal departments and agencies to build their capacity to compete in the marketplace. And the plan will help high-growth firms access risk capital by committing significant funds to leveraging increased private-sector investments in early-stage risk capital, including a $400 million investment to support the creation of large-scale venture capital funds led by the private sector.
Furthermore, it will support private and public research collaboration through internships for graduate students, and funding for business-led research and development networks.
The SR & ED tax incentive program will be enhanced by removing capital from the expenditure base, making it more cost-effective through design improvements and a measured rate reduction, and providing greater predictability through administrative improvements.
However, to effectively compete and succeed globally, Canadian job creators need more than just bright ideas. They must be supported by a modern regulatory environment that promotes competition, business investment and economic growth. This implies a competitive and efficient tax system, a well functioning financial system and access to international markets.
That is why the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity bill includes key commitments in all of these areas, which would improve conditions for business investment and drive the next wave of job creation. This means we are transforming not only how we innovate, but how we regulate. We are supporting responsible resource development, improving the review process for major energy and resource projects to make it more timely and transparent while protecting the environment, and introducing legislation to modernize the regulatory system to realize our objective of one project one review.
These measures are all fundamental to our success but, ultimately, Canada's success rests upon maximizing the power of our greatest asset, our people, and unleashing their full productive potential. With that in mind, the bill makes significant investments in training, infrastructure and work incentives, and supports job creation by facilitating the participation of under-represented groups in the labour force.
Employment insurance, for example, is Canada's single largest labour market program. Our budget plan will make a number of targeted, common sense changes to make EI a more efficient program that promotes job creation, removes disincentives to work, supports unemployed Canadians and quickly connects people to available jobs to improve their quality of life and Canada's economy.
At the same time, we will ensure predictable and stable EI rates by limiting rate increases to 5¢ per year until the EI operating account is in balance and then move to a seven year break even rate. In addition, we are extending the temporary EI hiring credit for small business for one year to reduce the cost of hiring new workers. This will benefit approximately 536,000 employers whose total EI premiums were at or below $10,000 in 2011, reducing their 2012 payroll costs by about $205 million.
In more targeted labour market actions we are also investing $50 million in the youth employment strategy to assist more young people in gaining tangible skills and experience and connecting them with jobs in fields that are in high demand.
At the other end of the demographic scale, we are also funding the extension and expansion of the successful ThirdQuarter project, which helps employers find workers over 50 who have the skills they are seeking.
I am especially proud of this project, piloted by the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, which provides an online forum that makes it easier for individuals to find jobs that match their skills, while helping businesses and organizations to recruit employees who have the skills they are seeking.
I would be remiss if I closed without quickly reviewing other important initiatives in the economic action plan 2012. They include: investing an additional $30 million in the opportunities fund to enable more Canadians with disabilities to obtain valuable work experience; proposing $100 million to support first nations education, as well as $175 million to build and renovate schools on reserve; supporting further improvements to foreign credential recognition; and more and more.
Securing long-term prosperity for Canadians in uncertain times means we must act today. Under the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity bill, we have taken decisive action to that end by increasing employment opportunities in the long term and ensuring economic growth.
That is why I am urging the House today to support the measures set out in this bill.