Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your reappointment to the chair.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.
As this is my first full speech in the House since the election, I want to take this opportunity to thank the people of Foothills for once again electing me as their member of Parliament. It is truly an honour to have earned the confidence of the hard-working people of southern Alberta, and in turn, I will work hard each and every day to represent them honourably, passionately, and ethically.
Most of all, I want to ensure that Canada remains the best place to live, work, and raise a family. To that end, I was incredibly disappointed listening to the Speech from the Throne in December. The Speech from the Throne should bring forward enthusiasm, optimism, and hope for all Canadians. In this regard, the government's Speech from the Throne failed. The government neglected to address key issues that are at the heart of what matters most to Canadians: jobs, growth, and the economy.
Over the past several weeks, I have spent time touring my riding speaking to community leaders, municipal councils, families, and business owners. For the first time in a very long time, the mood in Alberta is not one of enthusiasm, optimism, and hope. It is one instead of anxiety and fear.
The government's Speech from the Throne did nothing to alleviate those concerns. It did not even mention two key pillars of Canada's economic foundation: agriculture and our energy sector. As a rural Albertan, I was shocked to see that the government did not set out any plans or priorities to grow and support these important resource sectors, resource sectors that employ many Canadians, many Albertans, especially in my riding of Foothills.
For example, more than 2.2 million Canadians work in the agriculture and agri-food sector. That means that one in every eight Canadian jobs relies on this industry, and more importantly, I would argue, the vitality of almost every rural community in Canada does as well.
If a government's priorities include growing the economy, creating jobs, and strengthening the middle class, does it not make sense that Canada's agriculture industry must be a priority of the government?
Canada is the fifth largest agricultural exporter in the world. Our agriculture industry contributes more than $100 billion to our GDP each and every year, and that number continues to grow. Exports in 2013 reached $46 billion, a 6% increase from 2012. Statistics Canada predicts that the average net worth of the family farm is expected to reach an all-time high this year of $2.1 million. and total family farm income has steadily increased and is predicted to reach $135,000 in 2015.
Why, then, is the government not doing everything it possibly can to facilitate further growth in this industry? It could do so, for example, by supporting the trans-Pacific partnership trade agreement, which is among the largest trade agreements in the world's history. This landmark agreement would preserve Canada's privileged access to our largest trading partner, the United States, and would strengthen our partnership within NAFTA.
Canada is a significant global supplier of high-quality agricultural products, the best in the world, I would argue. Through the trans-Pacific partnership, Alberta's farmers and ranchers would have access to 800 million new customers, unprecedented market access that would give them wonderful opportunities in existing and emerging markets.
Our farm and ranch families are successful because they are well educated. They are innovators, inventors, conservationists, and entrepreneurs. Most of all, they are hard working. They expect to have a government that is working just as tirelessly to provide them with the regulatory framework that would allow them to compete on the world stage.
With more than 200,000 operating farms in Canada, it is clear that the family farm remains a critical foundation of Canada's economy. Instead of ignoring Canada's agricultural industry, the government should be creating new economic opportunities for Canadian farmers by opening and expanding our markets around the world.
The Liberals should be aggressively pursuing new markets for our producers while protecting supply management. They should be investing in cutting-edge agriculture and agri-food industry technology. They should be ensuring that an effective and efficient transportation system is in place, and they should be keeping our taxes lows. By increasing trade and ensuring that producers have access to a global market, we would be creating more jobs, more growth, and more prosperity for all Canadians.
However, the fact remains that in the Speech from the Throne, there were exactly zero words dedicated to agriculture and zero words explaining the government's plan for an agreement on the trans-Pacific partnership trade agreement.
We probably know why that is the case. It is because agriculture is a lucrative resource; and the Prime Minister made it quite clear in his remarks in Davos what he thinks of Canada's resources and the innovative, world-renowned people who work in those industries.
Perhaps that is also why the Speech from the Throne did not include any plans to complete critical infrastructure projects in our energy sector, projects such as the energy east pipeline. The government remains frighteningly silent on its position on energy east, a project that would create well-paying and vital jobs for the Canadian economy.
For example, last week, when Montreal area mayors spoke out against the energy east pipeline before the project was even tabled, the Prime Minister had an outstanding opportunity to stand up and state emphatically how vital this project is, not only to Alberta's economy but to Canada's.
The Liberal government has trivialized the importance of the natural resource sector, even though it makes up 20% of Canada's nominal GDP, equalling more than $160 billion annually. However, there is nothing trivial about the thousands of people who have lost their jobs in Alberta. There is nothing trivial about the families who are losing their homes, their businesses, and their dignity.
I met with a business owner in High River recently. He was nearly in tears as he struggled to finds ways to save his small welding business. He has kept his staff on for as long as he could, despite not having any work in the oilfield. He met his payroll by using his line of credit, but once that maxed out, he had to lay off his entire staff including 10 welders. That is 10 families in a small rural community who are looking for work. That has a vital impact and a profound impact on our small rural communities.
This is just one of a dozen stories I am sure many of my colleagues have heard from around Alberta, where the mood is one of abandonment and fear. If the Liberal government remains silent, this is only going to get worse.
Groups are predicting another 185,000 job losses in Canada's energy sector in 2016, 125,000 of those in Alberta alone. The government might not like to admit it, but this is a crisis. The Liberal government needs to face reality and get involved. We cannot control oil prices, and I am not making that argument, but we can take steps to mitigate the damage.
We can avoid policies such as a federal carbon tax, which would further harm the oil and gas sector. We can renew investor confidence by supporting projects such as the energy east pipeline, which would give Canadian producers access to new markets. Again, this would not only benefit Alberta. It is estimated that construction on the energy east pipeline alone would create 1,200 full-time jobs in Alberta, but it would create another 14,000 across Canada.
The energy east pipeline is an opportunity to get Canadian products to tidewater and increase our market access in an environmentally safe and sustainable way. Pipelines are not greenhouse gas intensive and are the safest way to transport oil, with a 99.99% safety rating.
It is under the former Conservative government's leadership that the Pipeline Safety Act was introduced, ensuring a world-class pipeline safety regime.
Energy east can replace the need to import foreign crude oil into Quebec and Atlantic Canada with a secure source of Canadian crude oil. Currently 630,000 barrels a day are imported to Quebec and Atlantic Canada from places like the Middle East and West Africa, places that are not exactly world renowned for their environmental stewardship.
In contrast, energy east would transport Canadian oil, extracted under Canadian standards, creating Canadian jobs and raising revenue for essential Canadian social projects and infrastructure.
However, the Liberal government does not bat an eye at foreign oil tankers in the St. Lawrence or eight billion litres of raw sewage being dumped into our seaway, but it turns up its nose at Canada's own natural resources. The Conservative record on supporting the natural resource sector is strong, and will continue to be.
Whether it is extracting bitumen from the oil sands, mining coal in the rugged Rocky Mountains, or growing canola on the harsh Prairies, our tenacity, ingenuity, and unmatched work ethic has led to incredible achievements in technology, innovation, and environmental stewardship right here in Canada.
Hopefully, the Liberal government will come to realize that we, as Canadians, are already very proud of what is beneath our feet, and we are already well known around the world for what is between our ears. I hope it will also stand up, shoulder to shoulder with our resource sector, and show just how proud it is as well.