Madam Speaker, as the proud, recently elected member of Parliament for London West, it is with great pleasure that I contribute to this important debate.
Before I get to the topic at hand, I would like to make a few comments as this is my first speech in this magnificent chamber.
When one does a maiden speech, one of the appropriate things to do is to thank their family and I can be no different.
My wife Judite is a successful businesswoman in her own right. Her advertisement for the flower shop that she runs states that it is the oldest flower shop in Canada, started in 1869. My wife is an immigrant to this country, of proud Portuguese parents, born in Africa. She came to Canada just to find me. She has been a successful entrepreneur and past president of the Portuguese Business Professionals Association.
My daughter Claudia is also a successful businessperson. She is the owner of a Belgian chocolate shop called Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut. She is married to a fellow named Cedo Ivanisevic, whose father came to our country from Croatia. He is of Serbian descent and he came to Canada for better opportunities. Cedo is a firefighter, and he and my daughter have given me two wonderful grandchildren, Maia and Katia.
I would like to tell the House a bit about my city if I may. London, for those who do not know, is the 10th largest city in Canada. We have a well balanced economy. We have an internationally respected health care system, with training hospitals throughout and major breakthroughs go on in London Health Sciences Centre regularly.
London is a major transportation hub. It is uniquely positioned within one hour of one major U.S. border point and within two hours of two other major U.S. border points.
London is uniquely positioned with three highways, Highway 401, Highway 402 and Highway 403, and literally in the centre of them. I tell the House this because as a transportation hub, the need for good road service is critical.
London has strong rail service with service by CN and CP.
Finally, we have London International Airport, which is one of Canada's busiest airports.
Through many of my experiences in life, I am reminded of a book written by Robert Fulghum entitled All I Ever Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten.
Unfortunately, many people told me, when I was running for office, that I was just working hard to get into Canada's largest kindergarten class. While I can see sometimes why there is a sentiment out there like that, I think that generalization is inappropriate for the majority of members.
In my short time here I have quickly seen the efforts, the sacrifices and the energy members spend on behalf of their constituents, but I believe we can all do better.
Just as in kindergarten, we get further ahead in life by building up those around us rather than tearing them down. That is why my good friend of many years, the member opposite from London North Centre, and I established early that together we could achieve more than if we worked against each other. Our constituents have made it clear that they appreciate our positive, co-operative style more than the destructive partisanship that often prevails. We could all achieve more if we worked this way. I sincerely hope that will happen more often in the House.
I am not hesitant to say that the member for York South—Weston has contributed to this debate in a thoughtful way, with dialogue that is positive and well-intended. I am sure this has been noticed and I believe his constituents have seen that as well.
In kindergarten we learn our manners. We learn that when people are speaking, we wait our turn and listen to what they have to say. Members will not find me heckling in question period or debate because no matter how much I disagree, or agree, with what a colleague is saying, if it is their turn to speak, then they deserve that respect. I hope members of the House feel the same.
In kindergarten we learn to say “thank you” as well. I want to acknowledge and thank Sue Barnes, the former member of Parliament for London West, for her many years of service. Her family made many sacrifices for her to do that and I thank them as well.
Perhaps one of the big things we learn after kindergarten is that we all get older and what we did back then forms us into who we are today. When I leave this place, as we all will some day, I hope to be able to look back and say I learned a lot, that in some fashion I made a contribution and, most important, that I helped make the lives of others a little better.
I ask the indulgence of the House for one more analogy and then I will speak directly to the topic at hand.
Today we are talking about trade, but this too we learned about in kindergarten. We learned that sharing toys, sharing resources made us all better off. We could hoard our toys, but we did not. My granddaughters sometimes do though.
We did not hoard our resources then because it did not make sense and it does not make sense when we are adults either. I firmly believe that trade has made us better off, richer as a society, and to tear down those relationships now would be a tragic step backward.
That is why I welcome this opportunity to discuss how much trade means to the Canadian economy and, most relevant to this discussion, how much the North American Free Trade Agreement has contributed to Canada's prosperity. I bring this up in our dialogue around the European Free Trade Agreement because it is important to understand how this agreement has enhanced Canada's economy and how future trade deals will continue to secure a positive economic future for Canadians.
I bring this up in our dialogue around the European Free Trade Agreement because it is important to understand how this agreement has enhanced Canada's economy and how future trade deals will continue to secure a positive economic future for Canadians.
Canada's history is founded on trade. Canada is and must be a trading nation. We have an extremely well-educated innovative and progressive population. However, our domestic market is relatively small and therefore Canada is not considered a major player on the world stage. Well, that is our reality.
Our market is only about one-tenth the size of the United States. Therefore, Canada needs the opportunities which international trade provides if we to realize our enormous potential. In these difficult economic times, international trade will continue to be a major contributor to our success in overcoming the challenges we are facing.
How much do we depend on trade? In 2007 Canada's international trade was equivalent in value to more than two-thirds of our economy. An extraordinarily high number of Canadian jobs are linked to trade. In 2007 the value of our trade with the United States was equivalent to more than 46% of Canada's gross domestic product. This could not be more important than in cities like London, Ontario, where we see thousands of tonnes of goods travel between Canada and the United States every day by truck, rail and air.
Healthy trade is vital to the survival of cities like mine. This trade represents a lot of economic activity and a lot of Canadian jobs, jobs that depend upon open borders and the preservation of international rules to keep them open.
That is why the Conservative government supports an ambitious trade agenda in the World Trade Organization. It is why we value our trading relationship. It is why we are continuing to expand Canadian opportunities by negotiating new trade agreements, such as those with EFTA and Peru and Colombia. It is also why this government is working so hard to maintain the free flow of trade within North American markets at this time of economic crisis.
No matter how much we diversify, North American trade will always loom large within our international trade priorities. Trilateral merchandise trade among the NAFTA partners has more than tripled since the agreement entered into effect and reached almost $1 billion in 2007.
In terms of Canada-U.S. trade, about one-third is now said to be intra-firm, which means that it takes place across borders, but within the same company. No great deal more of Canada-U.S. trade involves building things together, different companies on different sides of the border contributing expertise, goods and labour to the manufacturing process.
London is filled with multinational companies. These companies use our local expertise for parts of their operations and we rely on the expertise of their foreign branches for job stability. They cannot do it alone, nor can we.
Look at General Dynamics Land Systems and Trojan Technologies, to name just two, that export significant products throughout the world. Without international trade, London could not survive. I would suggest that most cities across the country could not survive and prosper without free trade.
Let us not forget that NAFTA has opened doors between Canada and Mexico as well. Since signing onto NAFTA, our merchandise trade with Mexico has almost quintupled.
Let us take a look at investment levels, which have seen a dramatic rise. In 2007 foreign direct investment in Canada reached just over $500 billion and almost 58% of this investment came from our NAFTA partners. In other words, about $6 out of every $10 in foreign direct investment in Canada, investment in communities across the country, came from NAFTA. Investors view Canada not only as an important market in its own right, but as a gateway to North America.
NAFTA also contributes to Canada's success on the world stage and is a valuable platform that Canada uses to reach the rest of the world.
It is why we are pleased, as well, that the London International Airport has been approved for the cargo trans-shipment program. It opens up huge opportunities for all Canadian companies, but especially those in London.
There are many benefits that Canada enjoys by being a partner in NAFTA, and it is not just large corporations. In fact, 94% of Canadian exporters are companies with fewer than 200 employees, 73% have fewer than 50 employees. These small businesses rely heavily on doing business within the North American marketplace. They rely on this government to provide the right conditions for them to succeed and to prosper, and this government will continue to deliver.
For a country the size of Canada, which needs access to world markets to guarantee prosperity, it would be worse than naive to think that closing our borders to trade would boost the Canadian economy. In fact, the opposite is true. Any jobs created by turning inward would be vastly overshadowed by the jobs lost if our ability to export were curtailed. We would be naive to close our own markets, and we would be grossly negligent if we stood by while our trading partners closed theirs. We intend to do neither.
I have shown how Canadians have benefited from the NAFTA experience. I hope people realize, in talking about the importance of trade to Canada and the economic gains and job creation and spinoff effects for all of Canadian society, that NAFTA has mattered in a positive way. These are important reasons why our government will continue to defend against protectionism and ensure that we make the most of our current trade agreements and continue to seek ways to enhance Canada's trading position on the global stage.
Finally, it is a sincere privilege for me as the member for London West to sit in the House. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues.