On Thursday, Sept. 20 I spoke in the House of Commons on why the Prime Minister should meet with provincial leaders in Halifax this November at a National Economic Summit to discuss how all levels of government can work together to build a balanced, 21st century Canadian economy.
House of Commons Debates
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the chance to discuss this motion, which at its core is about the need for all levels of government to work together to build a balanced 21st century economy. That certainly is something the Liberal Party supports.
First, I have to say it is sad to have to beg a Canadian prime minister to participate in an economic summit with the premiers of the Council of the Federation. It is untenable in a federation to have a prime minister who refuses to attend important meetings with the premiers of the provinces and the territorial leaders. Instead, the Prime Minister prefers to act unilaterally, doing things like dictating a new health accord and ramming through costly and harmful crime bills without consulting the provinces and territories, the very entities that will be bearing huge financial costs for these decisions. This is not the way to build a united country or balanced economy. In fact, it is a betrayal of our federation’s democratic principles.
Second, I cannot help but find this motion which urges politicians to work together across various regions to be a little hypocritical coming from the leader of a party whose signature economic policy at the outset of his leadership was to pit one region of the country against another. In fact, just a few months ago when the western premiers voiced their concerns about the NDP leader’s divisive approach to the Canadian economy, the leader called them the Prime Minister‘s “messengers” and said, “I’m not responding to any of them.” How can the NDP expect a positive response from the Prime Minister to meet with those very same premiers when its own leader says they are not worth talking to?
If we are going to talk seriously about building a 21st century economy, then Canada needs a responsible government that truly stands for fiscal responsibility, equality of opportunity, and a sustainable environment. Canada needs a party that can establish a track record of sound fiscal management. On that count the current government is failing miserably.
When the Liberal Party came to office in 1993, a previous Conservative government handed us the largest deficit in Canadian history. Members will remember papers like The Wall Street Journal openly wondering if Canada was becoming a third world banana republic. Economists were writing that Canada was going bankrupt.
The Liberal Party went to work on behalf of Canadians and succeeded. It turned that deficit into a surplus. It grew the economy. It created good jobs across the country. During difficult economic times, the Liberal Party balanced the federal budget, reduced federal debt every year, and produced surplus after surplus after surplus. It reduced the size of government without stifling the creativity of the nation or demonizing our civil service. The Liberal Party turned Canada into a globally-envied model of fiscal discipline. It did all this while investing in a sustainable future for Canadians and their environment. I am proud to say that I was part of a B.C. Liberal government that succeeded in a very parallel turnaround in British Columbia a decade ago.
However, since 2006, what have the Conservatives done? They turned a $14 billion Liberal surplus into the largest deficit in Canadian history. They took a trade surplus of $26 billion and turned it into a trade deficit of $50 billion. This string of deficits started before the global economic crunch—let no one claim otherwise. The government spent Canada into a deficit before the recession. To say the Prime Minister‘s economic record is shoddy is an understatement.
He continues to disappoint. Gas prices are rising. Groceries bills are rising. Household bills are going up. Family incomes are not keeping pace. The divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” is growing larger and larger every year. In my city of Vancouver and across the country, more and more Canadians are falling behind.
Young people are struggling to find jobs. As an example of that, this summer I hosted a meeting about prospective youth entrepreneurs. A flood of people came out on a sunny summer evening. They were desperate to get some ideas and encouragement to start their own businesses because they were having trouble finding jobs. These are university graduates, intelligent young people who cannot find work because the economy is languishing under this government.
In British Columbia, we have a gorgeous natural heritage and tourism is very important. There are thousands of tourism jobs, especially on our coast and throughout British Columbia. Actually, the country’s top tourism resort is located on the north Pacific coast, near Hartley Bay.
The Liberals have committed for 40 years to protect the waters around Haida Gwaii from risks of a massive job-killing oil spill, but the Conservative government has demonized the very people who are concerned about this risk. Citizens, environmental groups, and first nations who wanted to express concern were demonized. When that did not work, the government, in Bill C-38 , took pen in hand, and I believe on the back of an envelope wiped out the very heart of our environmental assessment legislation to remove the requirement to assess the risk to salmon streams of pipelines going across the heart of British Columbia’s wilderness. That is not acceptable. Tourism is incredibly important to our economy and to job creation and the Conservative government is failing the tourism industry.
Last year, the Canadian tourism sector generated $78 billion worth of economic activity. Its share of the country’s GDP was larger than that of agriculture, forestry, and fishing combined. Tourism is responsible for the creation of 600,000 direct jobs and 1.6 million indirect jobs across Canada. That is close to 10 per cent of all jobs in Canada. What is more, tourism’s slice of the pie is getting bigger every year.
Despite all that, Canada’s share of the global tourism market is shrinking. From 2002 to 2011, most countries welcomed higher numbers of tourists. Not Canada. Over the past decade, Canada fell from seventh to eighteenth on the list of top tourist destinations. The government is entirely responsible for this decline.
Other countries invest heavily in tourism promotion. For example, the United States recently allocated an additional $200 million to fund new tourism promotion initiatives. Not Canada. Canada has cut funding for tourism promotion dramatically.
Given our rich natural and cultural heritage and the unique experiences that tourists can have here, the government should take tourism seriously.
What the government has done instead is it has wiped out enough of the budget of the national parks system so that not only are scientists being laid off, but parks are closing for parts of the season when normally they would be open. What that does is it hurts small businesses, stores, restaurants, and tourist services that depend on those national parks.
Small businesses are incredibly important to our economy and to job creation and the Conservative government is failing our small businesses. It failed small businesses when it cut funding from the regional programs that support them. It failed them when it increased EI payroll taxes for businesses. It failed them because it has not changed the small business tax rate even though it has slashed the large corporate tax rate from 22 per cent to 15 per cent since coming into office.
I guess we can see why the Prime Minister has been avoiding the premiers.
With the right leadership, the right choices, and the right ambition, Canada’s economy can thrive in the future. We must do better for our remote and northern areas, for our First Nations people, for all Canadians. We need to transition to a truly sustainable 21st century economy in all aspects of that word: the people, the businesses, the environment, and the economic opportunities. We can do that.
I hope that in November the Prime Minister will hop on a plane to Halifax and sit down with Canada’s premiers and start working together. We have all waited long enough.