11 March 2010
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
"Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered last week by Her Excellency the Governor General. But before getting into the details, I’d like to say a few words about Canada’s extraordinary results at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.
"And, of course, I want to talk about more than just the marvellous staging of the Winter Olympics by the organizers and the warm embrace given to athletes and visitors alike by British Columbians. I think none of us who know the west coast were surprised by that. But, as we all know, our athletes, our young men and women, went out and set a new record for the number of gold medals ever won by any nation at a Winter Olympic Games. Fourteen golds, Mr. Speaker. And, of course, along with seven silvers and five bronze, 26 medals in total, that’s the most ever won by our country at the Winter Olympics. Indeed, out of 80 countries, our athletes garnered 10 per cent of all the medals awarded. That is an extraordinary performance. There is no doubt that we are proud of our athletes.
"And as we all know, the streets of our great country were alive with red and white on the night following that final goal by Sidney Crosby, because, when Canadians do something great in the name of their country, their fellow citizens know how to wave the flag as well as anybody. And that’s a wonderful thing. We need more of it. And I’m sure we’ll see more at the Paralympic Games that start tomorrow.
"And this summer we’ll see more again on the east coast, when there’s another world-class sporting event, the World Junior Championships in Athletics, to be hosted in Moncton. So we will keep repeating those magic words, Go Canada Go!
"But, Mr. Speaker, I would go further than saying that our athletes had a tremendous performance. For a country of moderate size, in terms of population, it was a magnificent performance. And I think we have to look beyond the gold medals, and even beyond medals in general, because they don’t say everything about just how excellent Team Canada really was. Because at that level of competition, the placings are determined by fractions of seconds, a few millimetres, and sometimes by just a stroke of luck, or should I say, one lucky shot.
"So, when I tell you that among the roughly 200 young men and women we sent to Vancouver, we had 50 top-five placings, and no other country had more than that, and all, except the United States and Germany, had a lot less, you get a sense of the extraordinary level of excellence that ran right through our team. We were in the hunt in virtually every category. There are reasons we were able to reach out for so many golds. It’s all about attitude, which defined the goal and was supported by an action plan.
"In Calgary, at the Winter Olympics there a generation ago, we invested in the infrastructure necessary for world-class performance. And then we got serious about winning. Canada’s sports organizations came together. They set out the goal of "owning the podium." They got private-sector money. And they received the financial and moral support of both the provinces and the Government of Canada. Then they found the best young athletes and they worked them, and worked them, and worked them. That’s how you win; that’s how you raise everyone’s game. And we want to keep on winning, and keep on promoting that type of excellence. And that’s why we made it clear in last week’s budget that we’re going to keep on supporting our athletes.
"We will continue to support our athletes to help raise the Maple Leaf high over the podium in London 2012 and beyond. Because the Vancouver-Whistler Games, Canada’s games, as Premier Campbell called them, showed that when the challenge is understood, when the goal is clearly defined, and when Canadians are given the tools, Canada can get things done. And Mr Speaker, getting things done is the trademark our country is starting to be known for.
"For instance, just as we’re getting things done in sports, we’re getting things done in Afghanistan. In Kandahar, Canada’s best and bravest have prevented the Taliban from overrunning that critical province, and are standing up for stability, development and justice in a country that has seldom known any of those things. This is a tremendous testament, one that has come at great cost, and I know we would like to applaud the work of our diplomats, development workers and, especially, our defence personnel, who have made it happen.
"We get things done in public health. In mid-2009, the World Health Organization issued its first warning that a new fatal virus called H1N1 was probably going to quickly spread worldwide. If left uncontrolled, it had the potential to kill tens of thousands of Canadians, in particular young people and people weakened by other medical conditions. We saw a problem, and we acted – quickly and effectively. We made the commitment, so consistent with our basic values, that every Canadian, regardless of means, who wanted to be vaccinated could be before Christmas. We then ordered enough vaccine to do just that. Working with the provinces, which have the primary responsibility for health care in Canada, we rose to the challenge.
"And it has been the largest — and quickest — mass immunization campaign in Canadian history. Thousands of lives have been saved. Happily, we’ll never know exactly how many. But choking off an epidemic is no small thing, and the fact that we were able to do that was a triumph of the dedication and commitment of the medical professionals involved. These are people we should also be enormously proud of, and I would like to take this opportunity of formally applauding their good work.
"Then there is Haiti, where we are also getting things done. We all recall that January day, when the devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. In the hardest-hit regions, up to 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed, injuring and trapping thousands of people in the rubble. A people that was already desperately poor lost what little it had. Everyday necessities like food, drinking water and medical assistance, which have never been abundant in Haiti, became even rarer. That’s why we took immediate action. Just a few hours after the nightmare began, the first Canadian troops were on the ground: members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They were there to gauge the best way to deliver aid. Based on their recommendations, we deployed in force.
"Ships of the Atlantic Fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies. We used Air Force C-17s to quickly ferry more of life’s necessities to the island, and to repatriate Canadian citizens and refugees on their return trips. Foreign Affairs and other government civilian personnel joined the effort on the ground and at command centres here in Ottawa.
"By the time the mission peaked, in addition to the DART and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Athabascan and Halifax, we had deployed heavy-lift aircraft, search and rescue helicopters, and a mobile field hospital. We had sent hundreds of tonnes of supplies and equipment to relieve the suffering. And over 2,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air personnel, along with a wide array of other public servants, were in-theatre bringing real assistance and hope.
"We brought home over four thousand Canadians and permanent residents who were trapped in Haiti on the day of the earthquake, and over two hundred orphans whose adoption applications were fast-tracked after the disaster. To date, the Emergency Operations Centre has answered over 50,000 calls, and liaison units between families and children will remain active for many months to come.
"It has been a massive effort, a huge achievement that reflected the very highest levels of devotion and performance by every member of the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Public Service who’s been involved. Development officers, peace officers and diplomatic staff are still there, organizing what will be a long-term Canadian project to assist the Government of Haiti with rebuilding its country.
"Honourable Members, all those great Canadians deserve our congratulations. We saw a problem, we wanted to help and we acted — quickly, and effectively. Canada got things done. And Honourable Members, it is this spirit, of caring, of deciding, of acting that has animated our government and our country as we have taken up the formidable challenge of the economic times in which we live. As in other areas, when we saw a problem, when we understood the need, and in some cases the pain. We drew up a plan and we acted, as a country, quickly and effectively.
"Let’s talk about the economic times we find ourselves in. You know, businesses may invest, governments may budget soundly, workers may toil, generations may perform the labours of Hercules, yet, sometimes, fortune is fickle. Just as the rain falls on the good and the bad alike so the floodwaters of recession have risen across the globe, and that includes Canada. Which doesn’t, by the way, mean our efforts had been for naught.
"Regulation and oversight of the financial system — the cause of the global crisis — was, in Canada, prudent and effective. According to the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund and numerous other experts, Canada has the soundest banking sector in the world. Canada has avoided the failures of financial institutions and the vast bailouts of taxpayer money that have been necessary in so many other countries. Availability and cost of credit, while they have tightened over the recession, have begun to improve more significantly and more quickly in Canada than in most other places.
"We kept an eye on the mortgage industry. We made prudent changes to the rules to avoid the real estate bubbles that caused so much damage elsewhere in the world. And, now, in Canada, our housing sector, where the recession was lightly felt, is well into recovery. Here, our fiscal fundamentals were sound.
"Canada entered the recession with the lowest debt level of any country in the G-7,
and this level dropped as we were paying down the debt. It allowed us to dramatically and permanently reduce business, personal and consumption taxes during the early phases of the global downturn. And, as a consequence, it delayed the onset of the recession in Canada until after virtually every other developed country. It also enabled us to undertake recovery measures on an extraordinary basis, in lock-step with all our fellow G-20 economies, but without imposing a needless burden on future generations. In fact, it has allowed us to produce one of the largest, most comprehensive and most effective stimulus packages in the world, while keeping our deficit and debt levels in Canada to a fraction of what they are elsewhere.
"Today, we are emerging from the global recession. Our domestic demand is strong.
But, our export markets remain uncertain, and so, we are recovering slowly, though with a growing sense of optimism.
"It is true that our unemployment rate is still too high. That is why it is our chief priority. But, thankfully, unemployment in Canada remains well below the levels seen in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, well below levels in the United States and elsewhere. And Canada’s economy, unlike most, is already beginning to create some net new jobs.
"Now, Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members will need no reminder that excessive economic intervention is not a Conservative inclination. But, blind adherence to ideology in a crisis is no more advisable than unprincipled expediency in the pursuit of short-term advantage. What is best for the country, now and in the future, must always be our guide.
"And we are pushing ahead with the second and final year of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Our plan continues to cut taxes. Our plan puts Canadians to work to build infrastructure — the bridges, roads, harbours, colleges, laboratories, everything Canadians need to live, work, innovate, travel, and conduct trade. In fact, nearly sixteen thousand projects, many of which are being coordinated with the provinces, municipalities and private sector, have been funded to date by Canada’s Economic Action Plan. And we’ll be reaping the benefits for decades to come.
"By the way, Mr. Speaker, that 16,000 number doesn’t include the tens of thousands of household infrastructure projects undertaken during the past year through the Home Renovation Tax Credit.
"Mr. Speaker, our plan continues to pump money into the economy. It put wages into the pockets of workers. And it supports our fellow citizens, whose long-term jobs had been lost through no fault of their own, to transition to new opportunities. We are helping those communities hardest hit by the recession. We are supporting industries that need help to overcome temporary difficulties.
"In total, our Economic Action Plan is mobilizing a sixty-two billion dollar shot in the arm to the Canadian economy. Our plan is working. Exports are up, significantly. Retail has bounced back. Growth has returned, at five per cent in the last quarter. More people are working. Action, well-intended, well-informed and well-executed, has made a big difference.
"Shall we then declare success, and relax? No, Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, it is far too early to do that. Indeed, I believe the lesson from the crumbling banks and budgets elsewhere is that there is never a time that a government can afford to take its hands completely off the wheel of the economy, no matter how smoothly we’re riding.
"Today, there are also still too many possible potholes in the road ahead. And, at this present time especially, we are not yet where we need to be. Too many men and women who want to work are still without work. Their financial distress is clear, but not having a real job is dispiriting as well. We take satisfaction in doing things that are useful and that serve a purpose. Not only does unemployment leave us in economic distress, it undermines our self-esteem. We owe these, our fellow citizens, our concentrated efforts to restore to them all the rewards of labour. That is why we have presented a budget that focuses on jobs and growth. That extends most of the extraordinary measures from last year, and introduces some new ones.
"We are eliminating tariffs on production inputs, making Canada the first G-20 country to become a tariff-free zone for manufacturers. We are introducing new measures to support Canada’s strong and competitive financial sector, and to give business access to the financing they need to support the recovery and longer-term growth.
"We are taking other measures for the forestry sector. Last June we introduced the billion-dollar Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program to green Canada’s pulp and paper mills and make them more energy-efficient. Budget 2010 calls for new measures, including the $100-million Next Generation Renewable Power Initiative. By developing and bringing to market advanced clean power technologies, we’ll end up with a more sustainable forest industry while contributing to Canada’s global leadership as a producer of clean energy. And a more sustainable forest industry also means more sustainable employment for the men and women who make their living off Canadian wood.
"We are establishing a red tape reduction commission, and pursuing comprehensive regulatory reform to build on our 20 per cent reduction in the federal paper burden, and to free entrepreneurs from needless, duplicative and inefficient bureaucratic weight.
"Mr. Speaker, throughout this Parliament, this House will have some important, and sometimes difficult, decisions to make. Politics is about debating ideas, but government is about making choices. Let me say that again: politics may be about debating ideas, but government is about making choices. Her Excellency’s Speech from the Throne, and the Minister of Finance’s budget last week, alluded to some of the most significant among them. They spoke of the tension in Canada’s national life today. On the one hand, there’s the present requirement for deficit financing and unusual levels of government intervention to maintain economic activity and confidence. On the other hand, there’s a widespread understanding among Canadians of the need to return to balanced budgets when the recession is over, to ensure funds are freed for the private sector and to create sustainable long-term jobs and growth.
"I spoke of choices. Increasing the tax burden? Cutting spending? Maintaining deficits? There is no doubt that these strategies have their supporters in this House. But, on this side of the House, we have concluded that an economy cannot be taxed into prosperity. On this side, we have concluded that the deficit must begin to come down, modestly now, but quickly, by next year. And, on this side, we have concluded that, if we proceed in this manner, spending growth will have to be moderated immediately and priorities selected. But, we will also be able to avoid the absolute levels of reduction and the kinds of devastating cuts to core services like health care, pensions and education that will occur if we delay, as past governments did after previous recessions. Those are the choices we have made and the reasons why we’ve made them.
"We must ensure our recovery and build our future. Mr. Speaker, the word ‘recovery’ is being bandied about by economists, investors and analysts, each assigning it their own specific technical meaning. But recovery is not an abstraction. Recovery has a different, but very real meaning for many Canadians. Recovery can mean the dignity and the peace of mind of a good job, one that will be around tomorrow. For some, recovery means being able to look after aging parents. For others, it means the pride in achieving home ownership. But, whatever it means, it should never be thought of as a forgone conclusion. It will not just happen. Bad choices now – unaffordable long-term spending commitments, ill-advised tax hikes, dithering on deficits and difficult decisions – will doom those countries who choose them to years of debt, stagnation and joblessness. A country of 33 million people that can win the most gold medals ever at an Olympic Games does not deserve that. And, on our watch, Canada will not get it.
"This country is going to emerge from this recession in the strongest position of any first-tier economy. That is our purpose. That is our plan. And Canada will get it done."