Mr. Speaker, two days ago, we members of Parliament gathered to hear the historic economic action plan for Canadians. This plan is not only what Canadian federalists were hoping for, it is also a plan that provides hope for all Canadians.
Our nation is suffering the effects of a global recession. We are a trading people who could not escape unscathed, though we still enjoy the most stable economy in the G7. I would like to address the values that animate this plan, touch on some national implications, and relate how the plan affects people on a local level in areas that are most meaningful to them.
By background, I have spent much of my professional life in the Pacific Rim in roles as lawyer, businessman, and in an unofficial capacity, as diplomat. I have seen the great benefits that come from building bridges between people of different languages, cultures and communities. The plan itself, about which we have heard in this chamber, builds bridges between people of different languages, cultures and communities. It is a plan that unifies Canadians and gives us hope.
I add my congratulations to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the many other MPs who engaged the Canadian public in the most extensive and inclusive consultation process in budget history. At the national level, it has been documented that our Canadian government interacted with Canadians on more than 10,000 occasions, including direct consultations and opinions submitted by email and mail.
Like many colleagues here, I followed the lead of our Prime Minister and actively sought out constituents' opinions on the budget. In my riding, I met or spoke with all twelve local government leaders, three first nations chiefs and the MLAs, and dialogued with hundreds of other constituents.
The meeting that most vividly illustrated the approach of the Conservative government was the town hall meeting convened by the Minister of Finance himself, who attracted 480 people to a meeting in West Vancouver's Park Royal Shopping Mall, where he stood among some of the retail stores hardest hit by the economic downturn. This event provided constituents the opportunity to present their ideas directly to the minister and about 50 people made it to the microphones. Canadians of every imaginable background and political persuasion were present at the meeting.
My riding is known for its vast diversity. It is an almost perfect split between rural and urban. Far-flung geographically, it is the fourth largest in the country and takes ten hours and two ferry rides to travel from North Vancouver in the south to Powell River in the north. The upscale condominiums of West Vancouver contrast with the beleaguered pulp mills of Gibsons and Powell River. Significant numbers of people hail from Persian, Iranian, Chinese, Korean and Punjabi backgrounds. Three first nations are included in our riding: the Squamish, Sechelt and Sliammon.
Given that vast diversity, one might have expected an incoherent array of requests to have emerged from our extensive prebudget consultations, but surprisingly, what we found was a consistency among Canadians. National traits of prudence and discipline, hard work and planning for the future kept coming to the fore. People generally wanted to see immediate fiscal stimulus. Local leaders outlined their needs for improvement to water systems, sewer systems, roads, bridges and harbours.
People like Eric in Powell River wanted relief from setbacks in the forest sector. David, former head of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, sought a lift in the tourism sector. Most of all, people wanted their politicians to serve them, not to get in the way, but to provide a non-partisan answer to their economic needs and their growing sense of anxiety.
What unites us is more important than what divides us. Canadians are committed to working together to face the challenges ahead. The economic action plan provided people in my riding with what they were asking for. It provided practical economic stimulus and hope. The hard work, dedication, generosity and resilience of Canadians will take care of the rest.
Our government is committed to acting in the best interests of the Canadian economy, even if it means running a short-term deficit. Our government's plan of action provides effective economic stimulus to help Canadian families and businesses deal with short-term challenges. As well, there are measures to encourage private spending; new investments in roads, bridges, water systems and sewer systems; measures to protect the stability of Canada's financial system and ensure access to credit for business and consumers; hope and support for industries in difficulty, including forestry, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and automotive; new jobs; and measures to protect the vulnerable, including the unemployed, lower income Canadians, seniors and aboriginal people.
As constituent Steve Brooks wrote me recently:
—we are at a pivotal point for our smaller communities, and indeed for Canada. The current global recession and the realization that governments must now run large deficits to rebuild infrastructure and position their countries for the next wave of globalization is now an incredible chance for Canada to re-assert itself on the global stage...
Ted Milner, a Whistler city councillor likes to say that “politics is local”. By looking at the new economic action plan through the lens of provincial and local communities we can see why this economic action plan is a source of hope for the average Canadian.
The plan provided hope to Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia. In his words,
I think the budget was generally positive for the province. It's going to generate investment. It is going to generate jobs.
He also said that it would allow them to become partners with the federal government to build much needed infrastructure.
There is hope for British Columbia, $4.5 billion for road, water and sewer upgrades, including the evergreen transit line and Trans-Canada Highway upgrades, cleaner water, better roads and more transit funding gives municipalities hope.
There is hope for B.C. businesses. The $3 billion in tax relief for the province's businesses will increase cashflow. Unemployed workers and those hit hardest can also have hope. There are $7.5 billion in extra support for the sectors hardest hit, including $170 million over two years for forestry.
We in B.C. have hope because of a plan to stimulate construction by providing billions to build social housing and enhance energy efficiency.
There is hope for new home buyers. In the case of a house purchase, the permitted amount of RRSP withdrawal has increased from $20,000 to $25,000. There is also a new $750 tax saving on the closing cost of buying a house.
For all Canadian homeowners who plan to renovate, there is hope. The economic action plan introduces a home renovation tax credit of up to $1,350 for the year 2009.
British Columbia has new hope because it will continue to receive historically high and growing federal transfers in 2009-10, an increase of $200 million from last year to help the province pay for health care, education and social services.
On Monday, January 12 hundreds of Canadians of all stripes and backgrounds gathered in a shopping mall in West Vancouver. They came from all over the Lower Mainland of Vancouver. They came because their government was listening. They came because they were anxious. They came because they had hope.
Our government has listened to those who gathered on that frosty night in West Vancouver, to Canadians from coast to coast to coast and to all my colleagues in the House who cared to offer suggestions.
This is a plan of hope. There is hope for the unemployed, the manufacturing sectors, middle class Canadians, families, seniors and businesses. In fact, all Canadians can find hope in the fact that their government is listening to them and acting for them to secure jobs, combat uncertainty and boost the Canadian economy.
This is a plan that provides the hope we need to build a stronger, more prosperous Canada together.