Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take part in this debate on this topic today.
At the outset, I want to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for Yukon. I am very much looking forward to his remarks today.
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the government's top priority, which is one shared by all Canadians: creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity; securing Canada's economic future; and continuing to make Canada the best place in the world to live, work, raise children, invest, and achieve all of our dreams.
Since taking office in 2006, the government has taken decisive action to secure Canada's future. We have done this in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This great recession annihilated $10 trillion in global market value worldwide. It cost 62 million jobs globally, a damage that was so harsh that it is difficult to clearly see each and every life behind the statistics. For millions around the world, the recession meant destroyed livelihoods and destroyed stability. The devastating nature of this first economic crisis of the 21st century cannot be overstated. Many around the world still feel that today. Whether it is slow growth in China and India or a stalled recovery in the eurozone, where I was last week, many of our partners and friends around the world are still suffering.
This crisis did not start in Canada, but it occurred later in this country and affected us much later than it did other countries. We emerged earlier than other countries, but it did certainly hit us and it hit us very hard. The government responded. It launched Canada's economic action plan, a low-tax plan for jobs and growth, which came in stages. In the worst of the crisis, we launched a timely and targeted stimulus package to jump-start economic activity and create jobs through investing in infrastructure and in research and development and protect jobs through such initiatives as the work-sharing program through various companies across the country.
Then, as the worst of the crisis passed and even at the beginning, Jim Flaherty, the finance minister at the time, established a medium-term plan to bring the government back to balanced budgets. Even at that time, way back in January 2009, we set out on a clear path to move back to balanced budgets over the medium term.
That plan is working. The plan established back then was to move to balanced budgets over time, but at the same time as doing that it was to protect key transfers to the provinces for health care, education, and social services. Since this government has taken office in 2006, health care transfers to the provinces have increased 6% year over year. Transfers for education and social services have increased 3% year over year and will continue to do so. At the same time, we protected family benefits and protected and enhanced seniors' benefits with the largest single increase in the guaranteed income supplement that has occurred in Canada's history.
The government looked at about $70 billion of discretionary spending and asked departments to come forward with 5% to 10% cost-saving efficiencies within those departments to move the government back to a balanced budget over the medium term.
My proposition is that this is working, despite the fact that oil prices have fallen dramatically this year from a high of about $100 per barrel, if we look at West Texas Intermediate, to about $46 per barrel. The Minister of Finance and the government have been explicitly clear that, taking this into consideration, they will balance the budget this year.
Balanced budgets are empowering. They empower the country as a whole. They have a huge impact on the branding of the country. When I was in the U.K. last week, there were parliamentarians from across the political aisle coming forward who were impressed by how Canada has done in terms of economic performance and also its fiscal plan in terms of getting back to a balanced budget. Therefore, balanced budgets not only empower Canada as a nation but also empower governments with the fiscal room to provide much-needed tax relief and spending in critical areas that serve to enhance our jobs, growth, and productivity. They also empower us to make targeted investments in things that will ensure that this prosperity continues.
With respect to tax relief, the Conservative government has reduced taxes to the point where the overall federal tax burden is now the lowest it has been in more than 50 years. Not since John Diefenbaker was the prime minister of this great country have Canadians paid so little tax to Ottawa. We have provided tax relief over 180 times since taking office, which means more money in the pockets of individuals, of Canadian families, and of businesses to invest in their future.
I would like to review some of those tax measures. One of the first measures was reducing the goods and services tax from 7% to 5%. Another was increasing the amount of income that all Canadians could earn without paying federal income tax. This removed approximately 1 million Canadians from the tax rolls entirely. Another measure was increasing the upper limit of the two lowest personal income tax brackets so that individuals could earn more income before being subject to higher tax rates. A further measure was reducing the lowest personal income tax rate to 15% from 16%.
I would say that this measure was the biggest change in personal taxation since the introduction of the RSP: introducing the tax-free savings account. I understand that nearly 10 million Canadians have now opened a tax-free savings account, which helps Canadians save for their futures by earning tax-free investment income.
In the fall of 2006, the government introduced pension income splitting for seniors. Having talked to seniors in my riding, I can tell members that many of them have come to me to say that this one measure has enhanced their futures and livelihoods more than any other measure that they have seen in their lifetime.
Building on that success, which is very much linked to the philosophy of allowing seniors to split their income, is what we did recently. Conservatives were very proud to provide targeted tax relief for hard-working Canadian families. It is tax relief that will benefit every single family with children. That includes introducing the family tax cut, introducing and expanding the universal child care benefit, and increasing the child care expense deduction dollar limits.
In addition to this, we also reduced taxes on businesses so that they could create more jobs. This ambitious agenda aims to build a competitive tax system that fuels job creation, grows the economy, and lets Canadians keep more of what they earn.
We have cut taxes not only for businesses above the higher rate but also for small business owners. As we know, they are the prime generators of jobs in the country. We want entrepreneurs to create good jobs at home. We want them to be more competitive both at home and abroad, and that is why we have embarked upon a very ambitious program through the Minister of International Trade to sign a record number of trade agreements and work on market access in those countries where we do not have formal trade agreements.
I will just return to some of the business tax measures. The plan reduced the federal corporate income tax rate from over 22% in 2007 to just 15% today. Combining that with the provinces' rates, which vary, the intention was to brand Canada as a 25% tax jurisdiction across the country for businesses.
If we look at small businesses, which I mentioned earlier, the rate was reduced from 12% to 11%. At the same time, the amount of the money that small businesses could earn was raised from $300,000 to $500,000, which is an increase as well.
This is important for other parties to realize. They say that large businesses pay that 15% corporate tax rate, but that is for any business where the income is above $500,000. In the upcoming election campaign and debate over the budget, other parties will have to defend themselves if they are willing to raise that rate above the $500,000. That would impact an awful lot of middle-class businesses.
If we look at Canada's tax competitiveness and overall business environment, we see we have made major gains. In fact, today, Canada stands as having the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment in the G7.
At the same time, I would like to emphasize something that some of the previous speakers mentioned about the government's support for the manufacturing sector. Every single budget has mentioned the importance of Canada's manufacturing sector. Going back to the 2007 period, when I was the chair of the industry committee, we prepared a unanimous report on the manufacturing sector and tabled it in February 2007. The government acted very quickly on that in the March 2007 budget by introducing accelerated capital cost allowance changes for that sector. It introduced a two-year timeline writeoff for investing in new machinery and equipment. Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and well respected individuals like Jay Myers have pointed out that it has been crucial in allowing businesses in that sector to invest, reinvest, and weather through this very tough economic period, and to come through it in a much stronger position than they would have otherwise.
We want to marry that as well with investments in the automotive sector, something that has been very strong.
I see that I have only 30 seconds left. I will just wrap up and say that the government has had a long-term plan. It did an economic fiscal update in mid-November. It will present its budget this spring. The government will continue with this plan to move to a balanced budget, continue to invest in key sectors, continue to protect transfers to provinces, and continue to build on this low-tax plan, which is generating millions of jobs for Canadians.