Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in the debate on this motion today. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain.
I would like to tell the member for Halifax West that I share his desire to ensure that our children, our students, our families and our country have the best possible prospects for the future. That is why I am pleased to be part of a government whose goal is to build a stronger and more united Canada.
It is often said that a government’s first 100 days are crucial. I think we can say, in all humility, that we have successfully completed that important stage, and this augurs very well for the future. The people in my riding and elsewhere in Quebec tell us that it is very pleasant to see a government that keeps its promises at work. As a Quebecker, I also find it very interesting to hear the Prime Minister of Canada talking about open federalism as he does. Last month, for example, he said, and I quote:
That’s what open federalism is all about—a stronger Quebec in a better Canada—and that is what this new national government intends to deliver. Open federalism does not seek to play favourites or stir up jealousies. Open federalism represents an opportunity to free Quebec from the trap of polarization.
That says a lot about the Prime Minister’s intentions. It is not just his words that strike a chord in Quebec, the actions of the government he leads do as well.
In a short time, we have made an agreement with the Government of Quebec that will enable Quebec to play an historic role in UNESCO. Next, we also put an end to the softwood lumber dispute that had for too long paralyzed our producers and damaged our economy. That agreement will allow us to bring $4 billion back into Canada, and will have positive effects in regions like the Gaspé, Abitibi-Témiscamingue or Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where the forestry industry plays a major economic role. In fact, everyone who sits in this House and who believes in the future of Canada cannot help but applaud results like these.
Speaking of the future, I would like to come back to the motion tabled by my hon. colleague. Today, he is asking what the government is doing so that the Canadian economy will thrive in the 21st century. If I understand his lengthy motion correctly, he is also asking what we are doing to promote greater access to post-secondary education and to help the work readiness of people like immigrants and older workers, who must overcome very specific barriers. The simplest answer I can give him is that we are acting, and we are acting responsibly and effectively and targeting our actions.
The budget tabled recently by the Minister of Finance is eloquent evidence of this. First, the budget proposes targeted measures so that the largest possible number of Canadians will be able to get a post-secondary education. Starting in August 2007, eligibility for the Canada Student Loan Program will be expanded by reducing the deemed parental contribution. This measure will enable about 30,000 more young people to get a post-secondary education at a college or university in Canada. As well, a new $500 tax credit for buying textbooks will apply to all post-secondary students. And we will be eliminating the current $3,000 cap on the amount of bursaries and scholarships a post-secondary student may receive without having to pay federal income tax. These tax measures will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of students in Canada.
However, we realize that education is a provincial jurisdiction. That is why, instead of establishing a new program that would create overlap, we prefer providing up to $1 billion directly to the provinces and territories, to allow them to meet pressing needs in terms of post-secondary education infrastructure.
This way, students across the country can benefit from more modern classrooms, libraries, laboratories and research equipment.
This billion is in addition to the $9 billion the government invests annually in post-secondary education and the $1.7 billion it provides to support research carried out in post-secondary institutions.
Despite huge investments, the government is well aware that the provinces and territories are trying to find out how much money is available to them. That is why we plan to provide long term assistance for post-secondary education and training.
This year, we are already giving Quebec an extra $850 million in equalization payments. Part of that amount is specifically earmarked for post-secondary education.
By helping our young people get an education, we are preparing the future of our country. But to really ensure the prosperity of Canada, every effort has to be made to curb the shortage of skilled workers.
In Quebec for example, the manufacturing sector has already started experiencing such a shortage.
More than ever, our economic growth depends on our ability to face this challenge. One way to do so is by making sure that our young people turn toward skilled trades.
In this regard, a number of tax measures announced in the 2006 budget will help us move forward. I could mention in particular a new $1,000 grant for first- and second-year apprentices; a new $500 tax deduction for tradespeople to help them purchase tools; an increase in the $200 limit on the cost of tools eligible for the 100% capital cost allowance, which will rise to $500; and a new tax credit of up to $2,000 for employers who hire apprentices.
These measures were welcomed by manufacturers. Richard Fahey, the Quebec vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said after the budget was tabled that these measures would make it easier to hire staff in the current situation of labour shortages.
We know very well, though, that this is not enough.
Over the next five years, 640,000 workers will have to be replaced in Quebec. Over the next decade, more people will leave their jobs than will enter the workforce. The resulting demographic pressures will magnify the problems that manufacturers are having with the recruitment of skilled labour.
We will therefore have to roll up our sleeves to ensure that the workforce continues to grow. One of the ways of doing this is through immigration.
Here too, though, things are not easy. It is unbelievable that in 2006, skilled immigrants still have to wait many a long year before being able to work in Canada at occupations for which they are more than well qualified and trained.
In order to fix this, we are going to create a Canadian agency for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials.
Since most regulated occupations come under provincial and territorial jurisdictions, we are going to have a major consultation process on the mandate, structure and management of this new agency.
In its budget, the government also announced an additional $307 million to help immigrants get established and find work in their communities.
In conclusion, those are the measures, in short, that we have put forward since the new government was elected, barely four months ago. They will do a lot to change the lives of Canadians and ensure a vibrant Canadian economy.
This government was elected on a promise of real change and that is what we are working toward with vim and vigour.