Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak today about what the government has done and is continuing to do to support the Canadian forest products sector.
The forest products sector is a dynamic contributor to the Canadian economy, generating some $80 billion annually. It also accounts for 3% of gross domestic product. Canada is the largest exporter of forest products in the world, and the most efficient. This sector is also one of the largest employers in Canada. It provides close to 900,000 direct and indirect jobs in 300 small localities and rural communities from Newfoundland and Labrador to Vancouver Island. These are well-paid jobs, characterized by high technology and strong productivity.
However, members on both sides of the House know that this sector is facing some serious problems. The world forest products market is fluctuating along with demand. The sector is prey to considerable pressures due to the rising value of the Canadian dollar, high energy costs, the mountain pine beetle infestation in western Canada, and competition from low-wage producers in Asia and South America.
The sector and the government have to work together to ensure that Canadian producers remain competitive. For its part, the sector has embraced new technologies, sped up productivity growth, adopted environmentally friendly practices at the international level, opened new markets and created new products. It knows that to remain a leader it must be at least as effective as all of its competitors worldwide in adopting new ideas and technologies.
In promoting competition, innovation and success, the government is now creating a healthy commercial environment for all industries, including that of forest products.
We are doing this within the framework of Advantage Canada, our strategic economic plan directly based on the challenges facing all industrial sectors. In continuing to reduce taxes and red tape, in building modern infrastructure and in encouraging a more qualified and educated work force, we are laying the foundations for economic growth, more market opportunities and more choices, for individuals as well as businesses.
Complementing Advantage Canada, our government has recently launched consultations on ways of making the tax incentive program for scientific research and experimental development more effective for Canadian companies, and of allowing it to play an even more important role in promoting a more competitive and prosperous economy.
We are streamlining the review of major natural resource development projects and reducing red tape and regulatory burden for businesses. We are investing in human resources, skills and training so that manufacturers can have access to the most educated, skilled and flexible manpower in the world. We are investing in our infrastructure so that manufacturers can take advantage of economic opportunities in Canada and abroad.
Budget 2006 gave an economic boost to manufacturers and to all Canadians. Budget 2007 continues on this path. We eliminated the federal capital tax, we reduced the small business tax rate and we enhanced the capital cost allowance, with a two-year deductible for tools and equipment, in order to stimulate cash flow and investment. We did not stop there. This government just provided its support to Canadian manufacturers and processors with a tax relief of $2.6 billion in the economic statement.
Through our new tax reduction initiative, Canada will have the lowest general tax rate on new business investments by 2011 and the lowest statutory tax rate by 2012 among G-7 countries. This will increase productivity, stimulate employment and improve prosperity.
The government is clearly working on creating a favourable environment for all industries. We are doing the same thing for the forest product industry. We have taken measures that are aimed specifically at supporting that industry.
During the fall of 2006, Canada and the United States eliminated one of the biggest obstacles this industry had ever faced, namely the softwood lumber dispute. Less than nine months after coming to power, the government kept its promise and resolved this longstanding dispute.
The softwood lumber agreement finally put an end to years of costly litigation and brought economic certainty to businesses, communities and workers in Canada. It allowed our softwood lumber producers to recover over $5 billion Canadian in deposits, which represents a considerable injection of capital for the industry.
The resolution of the softwood lumber dispute clearly shows our government's commitment to this industry.
Canadians asked our government to negotiate a settlement that would provide stability to the industry and that would protect the livelihoods of workers, communities and families in Quebec and Canada.
In addition to the resolution of this dispute that went on for several decades, the government announced, in the 2006 budget, a $400 million investment to support the long term competitiveness of the forestry sector, to address the pine beetle infestation in western Canada and to facilitate worker adjustment.
We are also honouring the following commitments. Last fall, that is in October 2006, the government announced a new shared-cost program with the provinces and territories: the targeted initiative for older workers. This two-year program is aimed at helping up to 10,000 older workers who have lost their jobs in communities where the local economy is plagued by chronic unemployment or where industries, such as forestry, are affected by downsizing and closures.
This year, our government announced measures aimed at reducing the pine beetle infestation and its impact on forests and communities in British Columbia. Developed in collaboration with the Government of British Columbia, the global strategy against this infestation includes measures to prevent it from spreading east and to help affected communities in developing new forest products, markets, sectors and services, in order to insure their long-term economic well-being.
We have also announced $127.5 million in funding to help the forestry sector increase its productivity in the long term. The initiatives—promoting forest innovation and investment, expanding market opportunities, establishing a new national pest strategy and creating a Human Resource Forest Sector Council—will help build the environment we need for our forestry sector to compete internationally.
Our government has supported and will continue to support the forestry sector in Canada. The Speech from the Throne highlighted the continuous commitment of our government toward supporting the main traditional industries in Canada, including the forest industry as well as manufacturing, fishing and tourism.
As I said, we have helped workers in these industries from the beginning of our mandate and we will continue to do so, as evidenced by the measures we have taken so far and those which we will be implementing in the future. It is clear for Canadians and it should be clear for the members opposite as well. Actions speak louder than just words.