Mr. Speaker, it may be coincidental or fortuitous that I am following my electoral neighbour, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. I will be splitting my time with the member for Wild Rose today.
I am very pleased to contribute to the debate regarding Canada's 2009 economic action plan. Indeed, this is not just an economic action plan to deal immediately with the global recession. It is a legacy document that will modernize Canada's infrastructure and position our great country to emerge from the global recession stronger than ever before and before other western countries.
This is not a partisan statement. For example, the International Monetary Fund recognized that Canada was one of the last countries to enter the recession and will be among the first to emerge. The economic action plan sends a strong message that the Conservative government will stick to its core principles and deal appropriately and effectively with the things that Canada needs to get through this recession. This economic action plan is a modest, manageable plan that will return us to surplus spending within five years.
I want to take some time to focus on how and why this is not just a good economic plan for Canada but more specifically for northwestern Ontario and my riding of Kenora. Any action plan put forth had to deal with some very fundamental regional structural defects in the forestry and mining sectors peculiar to northwestern Ontario in order to ensure that the Kenora riding could be competitive in areas of tourism, forestry and mining as we emerge from this global recession.
I can say unequivocally that by the time I had finished the long form version of the economic plan, I was impressed with how comprehensive and detailed it was in addressing the priorities for the Kenora riding, northwestern Ontario as a whole and other regions throughout Canada that depend on primary resources and the need for diversification for long term economic stability.
While I am impressed, I am not surprised. After the extensive initial consultations of my constituents, our government went back out on the road and performed more focused round table discussions to identify specific measures the federal government could take to support regions of Canada that rely on primary resource based economies.
On behalf of the Minister of Natural Resources, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board and I held round tables in Kenora, Dryden, Thunder Bay, clear across to Sudbury. We met with forestry management and workers of companies like Domtar, Kenora Forest Products and a number of other mining and forestry sector people, including first nations stakeholders, in an unprecedented pre-economic action plan consultation.
This economic action plan has addressed, in a very technical, pragmatic and responsible way, not only how to deal with this global recession, but how to modernize our infrastructure and put the communities like the ones in my riding in the best position to diversify our regional economy and participate in a leaner, greener forestry and mining sector.
This economic action plan takes immediate steps to invest almost $12 billion over two years in an infrastructure stimulus fund. This is key for northwestern Ontario, as we will see the twinning of parts of Highway 11 and 17, specifically from Clearwater Bay just outside of Kenora, to the Manitoba border. The twinning of this particular section of the highway not only provides for safer travel on the Trans-Canada Highway, but will also go a long way to fortify the vital transportation link between western and eastern Canada.
Emphasis focused on waste water and sewer treatment plants and shovel-ready projects that can start immediately are planned for our riding. We will increase broadband coverage and capacity to help ensure all regions of Canada are technologically on an equal footing. This is great news and critical for northwestern Ontario. Expanding broadband coverage in our region is essential for economic diversification, access to justice, training and education, and the delivery of health services, particularly to the more than 25 isolated communities in my riding.
That is what I have heard from my friends at Keewaytinook Okimakanak who provide broadband services to these communities. I know they are pleased that the government is making a commitment to improve broadband capacity and service throughout Canada.
I note that there is significant funding as well under the RInK program to improve recreation centres such as ice rinks, pools and community centres, which are all important parts of our small communities' social and health fabric.
Key drivers of our economy include the production of primary and secondary wood products for things like housing and renovations. This plan provides $7.8 billion to build quality housing and stimulate construction. Social housing, retrofitting, renovating and upgrading first nations homes are key stimuli for the forestry sector. The home renovation tax credit will stimulate this sector and provide an incentive for folks to undertake these renovations.
Stimulus in the economic action plan is focused on regions like northwestern Ontario. We were the hardest hit by the impact of the global recession. Kenora felt it sooner and harder than most parts of our country.
I am pleased that this government is investing over $1 billion over the next two years into the community adjustment fund. It keeps the Kenora riding in mind because it is intended to help new forestry products and processes, especially those for the international marketplace. The fund could support initiatives like the Whitefeather Two Feathers forestry initiative that will put the Kenora riding on the leading edge of the value-added industry within the forestry sector. Such an initiative would directly benefit the communities of Red Lake and Dryden and first nation communities such as Eagle Lake, Wabigoon and Pikangikum.
I have always maintained and continue to focus my energies on ensuring that Kenora riding's economy must be focused on infrastructure and economic diversification that integrates and connects our communities together. We must work synchronously at all levels of government to ensure that we have the right keys and the right instruments for economic prosperity.
One of the extraordinary features of this economic action plan is the commitment to our first nations communities for training and skills development, housing and ready-to-go projects with priorities being given to schools, water and critical community services such as health and policing.
These economic plan items were a direct response to the consultation our government made with first nation national leadership, as well as input from the grand chiefs and first nation leaders in my riding. I am pleased to report to this chamber that first nation leaders in my riding and in the riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River have already voiced their optimism about the attention first nations were given directly and indirectly to this economic action plan.
With regard to skills training for all northwestern Ontarians, our government's economic action plan is unprecedented. There is a realization that moving forward we need a highly skilled workforce to be successful. That is why we are providing funding for the Canada skills and transition strategy, which includes extra support for Canadians most affected by this recession.
When I met with local industry in my riding, a key point I heard on more than one occasion was that changes needed to be made to employment insurance. This action plan offers a real response to people's needs by extending maximum benefits to a total of 50 weeks and extending work-sharing arrangements by an additional 14 weeks. This will help companies like Kenora Forest Products and Domtar avoid further layoffs. They expressly asked for this type of help. To that extent, this economic action plan has delivered.
Other important measures in our plan include increases to the basic personal exemption to 7.5% from 2008, raising the child benefit which will put an extra $436 in parents' pockets, tax savings for seniors, and novel tax-based incentivizing housing renovation, the benefits of which are twofold: they stimulate the purchase of building forest products and provide tax credits for folks who incur this type of expense.
Finally, special mention should be made for this government's commitment to FedNor, a brand and a program reputed throughout northern Ontario to support our communities in the process of economic diversification and initiatives. The additional funding for the next two years will go a long way to support several projects being planned or considered in communities throughout northern Ontario. This economic action plan should inspire confidence because it deals with some of the key aspects that northwestern Ontario needed to have addressed.
I want to express my extreme appreciation to my caucus for listening and understanding the kinds of support and measures the federal government could take to help put the Kenora riding on an equal footing with the other regions of Canada. I believe this economic action plan goes a long way to bringing the communities in my riding and across northwestern Ontario, including first nations, much closer to that goal.