Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to the prebudget consultation report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
I want to begin by thanking the literally thousands of Canadians who presented or attended prebudget consultations held both here in Ottawa and right across the country.
Writing a budget is obviously about making choices. Every day, average Canadians make choices about what they can and cannot afford. The Government of Canada is no different. The demand for funding is virtually infinite, but the resources of government are not.
I believe that Canadians pay too much in taxes. I believe that these high taxes are seriously impacting on Canada's overall competitiveness in a very negative way. In this regard, several of the presentations made to the committee stood out for me. I would like to take some time to share those presentations with the House.
With respect to productivity, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, spoke to the failings of the previous government in addressing competitiveness through its budgetary planning. He pointed out, in fact, that in 1998 Canada stood sixth in the international ranking of competitiveness. In 2001, we stood at 11. Today, we have fallen to 16. Over the years, we have drifted down in the rankings as countries such as Norway and Japan have stepped up their competitiveness.
These words came back to me when the finance minister appeared before the committee and presented the fiscal update entitled “Advantage Canada”. I was encouraged to hear of the five Canadian advantages that the plan specifically outlined. I will share them with the House.
To begin with, the finance minister spoke of a tax advantage. This is important. Canada's tax advantage will reduce taxes for all Canadians and establish the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G-7. We have to attract investment. We have all heard of manufacturing jobs that are potentially leaving Canada and going elsewhere. This government wants to stem that flow. We want to encourage new investment and build industry and business.
The second point that he spoke of was the fiscal advantage. Canada's fiscal advantage will eliminate Canada's total government net debt in less than a generation, creating a strong foundation on which to build sustainable prosperity.
I note that today the International Monetary Fund has specifically commended the finance minister for his commitment and the commitment of this government. I would like to read for members a bit of what the IMF said in its statement:
The International Monetary Fund endorsed Canada's strategy to use surplus revenue to become the first Group of Seven nation whose outstanding debt doesn't exceed its assets.
This speaks to the government's determination and the incredible accomplishment that it has promised. We have not just talked about it; we promised it to Canadians by 2021. The statement goes on:
The Canadian fiscal strategy “appropriately highlights the joint role of public pension plans and provincial-territorial governments in achieving a sustainable fiscal position”....
Canada would join countries including Australia, Norway and Finland that have eliminated their net debt, based on figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
I believe I just mentioned some of those nations when I was speaking about nations that have improved their productivity. That speaks to the importance of eliminating the net debt.
The third point was about the entrepreneurial advantage:
Canada's Entrepreneurial Advantage will reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape and lower taxes to unlock business investment.
We heard about this time and time again. Groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business came forward and said that government simply must get out of the way. We can do better, they said, and we can employ more and pay more and grow if government would take away the reins that are holding us back and reduce the red tape.
This type of announcement was welcomed by businesses. I know that it was welcomed by my own chamber of commerce in Peterborough, and I understand that the chambers of commerce in St. Catharines, Burlington and right across this country have said that this is exactly what we need.
The fourth point spoke to a knowledge advantage. When we are talking about a knowledge advantage, we are talking about creating the best educated and most skilled workforce in the world, a flexible workforce that can move and that can address the needs of a growing, expanding economy.
Canada is an emerging world economic superpower. We are an energy superpower. We need the workforce that will address that. That is what the knowledge advantage speaks to. I was delighted with this. There are items that as a group in the committee we do not always agree on, but if there was one thing that we did agree on, it was that we need to invest in education.
I see that my colleague, the member for , is here, and I know that this is one thing that we agree on: a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education. We feel it is incredibly important to take this out of the social transfer, to tag that money and to give it to the provinces so they understand that this money is for post-secondary education.
We want to improve access. We want to improve affordability. We want to improve the overall quality of education. Not only is it important that people can get in to be schooled, but they also have to get a quality education.
The other thing we need to address is skilled trades. When we speak of post-secondary education, we mean education in all its forms, not just what we get at college and university but the type of education that one would get after high school, because we need to encourage more skilled trades in this country. We have a terrible deficit and the knowledge advantage is incredibly important in moving Canada forward.
Last is the infrastructure advantage. Canada's infrastructure advantage will create modern, world class infrastructure to ensure the seamless flow of people, goods and services across our roads and bridges, through our ports and gateways and via our public transit.
Once again, we know that Canada has changed a great deal over the last number of years. When we speak about public transit and the need for public transit, we are talking about being good to the environment. We are talking about being responsible in regard to the amount of traffic. We are talking about improving the flow of goods.
The Pacific gateway, for example, an enormous undertaking of this government, will really open up that Asia Pacific market and allow for economic growth for Canada. It is part of the infrastructure improvements that we are undertaking.
Advantage Canada is focused on four core principles. I would like to review those with the House as well.
One principle is focusing government. Government should be focused on what it does best. That is exactly what this government intends to do. We are going to be responsible in how we spend, effective in our operations and our results, and accountable to taxpayers.
Often we hear from the opposition that we are being very narrow. There is a big difference between being narrow, quite frankly, and being focused. One should not confuse the two. Focus will help us accomplish our objectives. It has nothing to do with being narrow. I think Canadians understand and appreciate that.
The second point is on creating new opportunities and choices for people. Under that heading, it speaks to government's creation of incentives for people to excel right here at home in Canada. We will reduce taxes and invest in education, training and transition to work on opportunities so that Canadians can achieve their potential.
We often hear of a welfare wall in Canada. We want to help people get over that welfare wall. We want to reduce the gap that has expanded between rich and poor and we want to provide more opportunity. We want everybody to be able to dream and to envision themselves getting further ahead. That is so incredibly important to this government.
We want to invest for sustainable growth. Under this heading, we are talking about government investing in and seeking partnerships, both with the provinces and the private sector, in so-called P3 strategic investments. These types of P3 investments can help us to be very efficient. We are not just going to go with only P3 investments for growth, but we are going to look at them, and where it makes sense, that is the way we will go.
In Peterborough a number of issues I believe are absolutely critical for my riding, and they would be P3 investments. I speak of passenger rail service for Peterborough and improving the rail line that connects Peterborough to the GTA. I speak of Highway 407, a highway currently also called the ETR or express toll route. When that highway goes through to Highway 115, it will dramatically improve Peterborough's opportunity, indeed, our entire region's opportunity for economic expansion. These are both P3 operations.
The other thing I was quite excited about was the announcement with respect to the Windsor border that was in “Advantage Canada”. As we know, the Detroit-Windsor crossing is the busiest crossing between Canada and the United States. Nothing has been done on that file for a long time, even though there has been demand for some 40 years to improve that border crossing. “Advantage Canada” made a commitment to improve that crossing by 2012 and that will be a tremendous benefit not only to the Windsor area but to all of southwestern and central Ontario and to Canada's overall gross domestic product as well.
We also talked about freeing business to grow and succeed. This is what I alluded to when I talked about removing the reins from business. We need to create an atmosphere. Government does not necessarily have to create the economy. What we have to do is create an atmosphere where that economy can flourish. That is what we mean when we talk about freeing business to grow and succeed.
I think we can all agree that “Advantage Canada” is a focused plan that will specifically help our nation re-establish itself as a world leader in competitiveness. This will help us attract foreign investment, new industry and provide good paying meaningful employment for Canadians and improve the overall quality of life for Canadians.
I will to refer a couple of specific examples in the report that was put together by the finance committee. It is important to recognize that the Government of Canada has made significant strides already toward improving Canada's overall productivity in our first budget, budget 2006. We announced a number of tax cuts, removed $655,000 low income Canadians from the federal tax roll entirely with the announcements and reduced the GST by one percentage point.
I will to share with the House what Peter Woolford of the Retail Council of Canada had to say about reducing the GST. He specifically stated:
—that one policy move by the government did more than twice as much for Canadians' real disposable incomes than they'd been able to do for themselves over the last 15 years, and more than was done for themselves in a strong economy in 2005. This was a very powerful tool for increasing the incomes of Canadians.
It sounds like the government is on the right track.
Further, one of the hon. opposition members spoke yesterday about how he did not understand why there was a GST cut. I suppose he would have to be clear with the House as to whether he would recommend a GST increase. That would be very bad for the economy, household incomes and the ability of people to purchase goods. I am speaking of working families. We on this side of the House talk a lot about helping working families and low income Canadians. We feel this was a tremendous tool that helped us do that.
There were a number of items in the prebudget consultation with which we had a problem, specifically items that spoke about rolling back some of the advances that the Government of Canada made in budget 2006. We need to ask these questions. Would the opposition would cancel the fitness tax credit or the transit pass tax credit? Would it roll back the $1,000 Canada employment credit? These questions have not been answered.
Some of the recommendations in the report call for billions of dollars in additional spending and there is no plan for how we would afford that. That brings me to responsible spending.
We know that in the last five years total spending grew by an average of 8.2% annually under the previous government. In fact, in 2004-05, the growth in spending was actually 14.4%, which is about seven times inflation, as we all know. It is certainly not something that can be maintained over the long term. This is why we speak about focusing government, focusing the spending of government and being very responsible with taxpayer dollars. This will help us reduce the overall tax burden for all Canadians.
I will share with the House what Yves Morency, the vice-president of Caisse Desjardins, said to the finance committee on October 25. He said:
The message we want to send is that you should continue in this direction. That will improve productivity, which will enhance the wealth of businesses, individuals and the government, because tax revenues will increase.
He said that cutting taxes would increase overall government revenues, and that is important. We need to understand the tax reductions and tax revenues for the government are not necessarily linked. Economics teaches us that.
He further went on to say:
—we encourage you to continue along this path. You mustn't stop; you must go even further in order to achieve the competitiveness levels of our main neighbours...
Of course he is speaking of the United States. He is speaking of the Asia-Pacific Rim. These are nations that we now actively compete with on a day to day basis.
In reducing the tax burden, we see in “Advantage Canada” a very good linkage that will link paying down Canada's debt, or our mortgage, with reductions in income taxes. Canadians have said that they like the idea of paying off the debt, but what it is in it for them? How does that benefit them?
Canada's new government specifically came out and itemized for people how it would benefit them. The $700 million that we have saved in interest this year, by paying off $13.2 billion of debt, will go to Canadians in income tax savings and we will continue to do that each and every year. By 2010, it will amount to $1.4 billion, almost $6 billion in income tax savings by 2010. That is an achievement. Canadians are going to see why paying down debt is going to help them.
David Dodge spoke to the finance committee on the importance of paying off debt. He said that it was extraordinarily important that, in periods when revenues are a little stronger than anticipated, we use the opportunity to pay down debt. He said that was how it was supposed to work. He did not say to come up with a frivolous spending program. He did not say to grow government spending by 14.4% in a single year. He said to pay the debt down. That will help us be competitive. That will help us reduce people's taxes.
When we talk about fiscal balance, our government recognizes that there was a fiscal imbalance, and we are moving toward fiscal balance. That will be in budget 2007. If we address the fiscal imbalance, we recognize that we will have a more competitive economic union, and that is important.
We talk about creating equal opportunities for Canadians. I want to speak to a very specific group of Canadians that is struggling, and that is the farmers. Farmers in Canada have suffered from 10 years of poor agricultural leadership and planning. They are in a difficult position. Canada's new government is working on that. Budget 2007 specifically sets out additional funding, more commitment by the Government of Canada and long term assistance for farmers. We will get that funding to the farm gate because that is where it needs to go.
In conclusion, Canada's new government is on the right track in positioning Canada for a tremendously bright future.
Mr. Speaker, since this is probably the last time I will address this House before the holiday season, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my hon. colleagues and everyone in my riding happy holidays. I hope they will have a safe and happy festive season.
I would also like to thank all the staff of the Standing Committee on Finance, who did an outstanding job so that we could release this report, about which the Bloc Québécois has serious reservations. But that is the fault of the elected representatives, not the staff who assisted us throughout our work, both in Ottawa and during our trips to western and eastern Canada. I want to make special mention of their contribution.
In this report, the Bloc Québécois nevertheless made some interesting gains. Personally, I am pleased with one measure in particular, a recommendation concerning train noise, because this is a huge concern in my riding.
People who live near railways are increasingly bothered by noise. This is especially true in Pointe-Saint-Charles, where there are people who did not build their homes near railways, but were already living in the area when the railways were built. For years, even decades, the residents and the railways coexisted relatively happily. But in recent years, with changes in the way the railway industry operates, the situation has become increasingly difficult for these people. I therefore tried to see how these people's lives could be improved, with the help of my colleague who sits on the Standing Committee on Transport. He worked to win adoption of amendments to the bill that is currently being studied, and some important gains have been made. On behalf of the people of , I would like to thank him for the good work he did.
For my part, I suggested to the Standing Committee on Finance that the government provide a tax incentive to railway companies that purchase quieter machinery and equipment and thus reduce the annoyance factor. This incentive could consist of accelerated depreciation in order to truly encourage the companies to replace their equipment and cause less harm in our communities. The committee supported this measure and I am pleased to see it among the recommendations.
Among the other recommendations included in the report, I am pleased to note the proposal to review the drastic cuts—we must call a spade a spade—announced by the Conservatives a little earlier in this session. These cuts often affect the less fortunate in our society, individuals who are the most disadvantaged, for example, people with literacy problems, women living in difficult situations and students. They are all victims of these cuts.
Some of the recommendations in this report ask us to take a step back and use some common sense. I am rather pleased that, this time, the NDP also agreed. I thought it was unfortunate that in this chamber, earlier in the session, they said they were in favour of cuts and against the motion denouncing the cuts. I think that things have returned somewhat to normal.
I found some good things in the report. However, we should look at what is missing. What is really missing is the follow-up to the motion recognizing the Quebec nation, adopted by a crushing majority in this chamber. None of the other three parties that supported this motion deemed it necessary to go beyond the mere symbolic gesture and the simple motion and to begin creating a tangible expression of that reality, recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation.
In its actual wording, this report does not recognize that Quebeckers are a nation because it still talks about national programs, national issues and never considers that if there are two or more nations in this country, then terms other than “national” need to be used to denote several nations.
One could argue that these are just words, nothing more than a speech, but it is more than that. In practice, this report is peppered with instances of interference in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. Despite the motion that was passed in this House, we are still getting the same attitude from the federal government, which wants to set more federal standards and have more programs, criteria and controls when it does not have the constitutional authority to do so. It is unfortunate to see that, for now, this motion seems to be nothing but lip service.
Finally, this report does not recognize the Quebec nation because it does not want to recognize that a nation has to be able to make its own budgetary choices to allow it to develop as it sees fit. Clearly, the only real way for Quebeckers to be able to make their own budgetary choices, now that they are recognized as a nation, will be to take the logical next step of making Quebec a country. Then we could make our own budgetary choices.
In my presentation today, I would like to give a few examples of what making our own budgetary choices as a nation would entail.
First, the Bloc Québécois has long been fighting for the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. As far as the environment is concerned, everyone—serious people, I mean—agrees it is urgent to take action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It is no longer an issue of wondering whether we will be able to achieve our targets; we have to succeed. We have a moral obligation to the youth of today and the generations to come to prevent this tragedy. Not to succeed would be an awful failure.
The performance of the previous Liberal government in this area was pitiful. In the 13 years they were in power, greenhouse gas emissions went through the roof. No control was done. Except for a few programs, they essentially did not have any real determination.
This is not an excuse for the new government to do nothing. It is unacceptable to say that we will not meet our targets because we are not able to. This is nothing but an admission of incompetence. In other words, the only difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives is that the Conservatives know that they are incompetent when it comes to the environment. But in the end, nothing is happening in either case.
We are talking about the environment, but there is more than that. For Quebec in particular, the whole issue of the Kyoto protocol is vitally important to the economy. Emission credit mechanisms exist and would benefit Quebec. For example, if it were a country—or at least, if Canada wanted to implement the Kyoto protocol properly and comply with the territorial approach—Quebec could meet and even exceed its targets and then issue emission credits. Quebec could sell these credits to other countries, other governments, and add to its coffers while improving our environment. This would be fantastic.
For months, there has been talk of a carbon exchange in Montreal. The government has been asked about this. We are losing an economic institution that could do wonderful things for development in Quebec: the carbon exchange in Montreal. But the government is doing nothing about it.
Yet when it is time to dole out gifts to oil companies for the Alberta tar sands, there is no problem, the government goes right ahead.
In the end, companies in Quebec are losing out on thousands of promising business opportunities in the environmental field that could grow and stimulate our economy if we complied with the Kyoto protocol.
Finally, a sovereign Quebec could very easily enjoy benefits based on the environmental sector similar to those currently enjoyed by Alberta based on the oil sands. However, the decisions made in this House by the federalist parties go against the best interests of Quebec.
We saw this clearly with the $320 million requested by Quebec for its plan. The government never wanted to give Quebec this money for its plan. Even worse, we saw the government refuse Quebec the right to speak for 45 seconds at the Kyoto protocol discussions in Kenya. And 45 seconds is not a long time. Personally, I hold the provincial Liberal government in Quebec somewhat responsible for getting on its knees, if not on prostrating itself entirely, to beg for just 45 seconds for Quebec to voice its opinion on the world stage. Even 45 seconds is too long for the government. It is too long for the federalist parties who do not want to recognize that Quebeckers really do form a nation and that they should actually be treated differently.
If Quebec had been a sovereign country, it would not have had to fight for 45 seconds. It would have the entire week to advance its files, to demonstrate its achievements and display its successes in this area.
That is the advantage of sovereignty: making one's own budgetary choices. I have never blamed Canadians for making their own budgetary choices. The problem is that we are not talking about the same nation. I think the best solution, when we face conflicting budgetary choices, would be for each nation to make its own decisions. We can work together on files on which we agree, but each nation could develop its respective strengths without harming the other.
Child care is another example of budgetary choices that elude Quebec. Quebeckers decided to create a program for themselves. They worked hard and had to pay, through taxes, for public child care. The program has been commended by many organizations for its high quality. An agreement had been reached with the previous government to give Quebec $800 million to fund its system. That agreement was cancelled by the Conservatives.
That is what happens every time the government changes. Depending on the mood of the times, money is given to or taken away from Quebec and the provinces. The cancellation of the agreement demonstrates two things. First, contrary to what the member for was saying earlier, the fiscal imbalance is not about to be fixed. The imbalance has grown by another $800 million with this measure. Second, in order for the resolution of the fiscal imbalance to be acceptable in the medium term to the Bloc Québécois, we cannot just have money this year without knowing what will happen the next year. We will not fall into the trap of having to fight this battle for all time. The fiscal imbalance must be corrected by means of a tax transfer. That goes without saying and is proven by the fact that without a tax transfer the Government of Quebec will not be able make long-term plans because the federal government could change the rules whenever it wants to.
Naturally, when Quebeckers have their own country, this will no longer be a problem. There will no longer be an imbalance. We will have full control over our revenue and we will do what we want with it.
There are other examples of programs that in the end survived, but only after huge battles. I am thinking of the parental leave program. At the time, the federal government refused to give money to Quebec to establish its own, more generous, parental leave program in line with what Quebeckers wanted.
In Quebec, everyone was in agreement. The parental leave proposal met with unanimous approval. Some 10 years of negotiations were needed for us to receive a portion of our taxes in order to make our own budgetary choices, which, for all intents and purposes, are social choices.
When a nation agrees almost unanimously on something and has to wait an entire decade to get its own money, money from its taxes, it is doomed to progress slowly, to say the least, and even stagnate, if not go backward. Is this truly what Quebeckers want? Of course not. Quebeckers are increasingly saying that we must not ask for permission for years on end to make our social choices. Sovereignty will allow us to make our own choices.
Another example is the aerospace policy. The aerospace industry is highly developed in Quebec. We have been asking the government for years for an aerospace policy. There is still absolutely nothing being done about it. And yet, in other sectors, such as the automobile industry, which is very developed in Ontario, a whole host of measures are in place. That is important for the Canadian nation. However, for the Quebec nation, where we need interventions in aerospace, there is nothing.
Earlier I talked about the oil industry, where a policy is firmly in place. The industry gets tax breaks and full accelerated depreciation annually, as though investment in the tar sands is a one year event and could not, for all intents and purposes, be repeated 12 months later. Clearly, this does not hold water.
We also saw the example of Quebec City's Boîte à science science centre. The Bloc Québécois pushed very hard to move this project forward. We proposed it in committee, but it was rejected out of hand. This illustrates the inability of the Conservative members from Quebec to advance Quebec issues. It was the same story with the Liberals when they were in power. This is due to the simple fact that the elected members of the Quebec nation do not have a majority in this House. It is simply a question of mathematics. It is not out of spite or anything else, but our priorities are not respected.
When Quebec is a sovereign nation, it will be able to fund not only this science centre project in Quebec City, but the entire research and development sector. At present, federal research centres are concentrated in Ontario, in Ottawa. Quebec gets next to nothing. This is unfortunate, because investments in research and development are highly structural. Once we are a sovereign country, we will be able to develop and create numerous research centres in Quebec City, our national capital, to further our economy.
I would like to conclude by coming back to the issue of the fiscal imbalance. As I said earlier today in this House, $3.9 billion must be paid to Quebec in the short term to address this imbalance. The government also must find a way of making tax transfers in the medium term, in order to truly correct the fiscal imbalance. In our opinion, this is the first step toward sovereignty. We will have to show Quebeckers everything we can accomplish when we take control of our taxes and make our own budget choices. Picture the day when, as a nation, we have control over 100% of our revenue and all our budget choices. Then, that nation will be better able to flourish and develop and will be more prosperous, in friendship and in cooperation with Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to talk about the work of the finance committee over the last number of months. Before I begin I would like to wish everybody here in the House and those who are watching at home and those in my riding a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Most of my speech today will reflect on the process of what we were able to accomplish and how it worked. As somebody who is new to Parliament, who was elected on January 23, the process of dealing with budgets and how it works was something that was new to me. I would like to relate it a little bit to how it worked with the budgets I worked on for 13 years at the municipal level.
I want to talk a little about my own process in terms of budget input and how we were able to determine what was important to Burlington and talk a little about the recommendations that we have, how the report works and where it goes from here.
First of all, I want to thank all committee members for their involvement, whether they are Conservative, Liberal, Bloc or New Democrat. I think we worked well together. Obviously, we have different views on particular issues, but overall as a committee we worked very well together and worked very closely as we travelled across the country to see what Canadians felt should be in the budget for 2007.
I want to remind everybody that this is advice that the committee is giving to the finance minister. The finance minister will look at the advice in detail, run the numbers on certain issues, come back with answers, and build what he thinks is appropriate into the next budget, which we expect in the spring of 2007.
Going across the country was important to the process. I had the opportunity to go all across the country. We were in Vancouver, Yellowknife, Fort McMurray, Saskatoon, St. John's, Quebec City, Toronto and Halifax. We were hosted by one of our members of the committee who is from the Halifax area and did a fine job of hosting us in Halifax. There were also people who came to see us here in Ottawa.
Here is the way it worked because it is important that people understand it. We had panels. In the morning and in the afternoon, we had 6, 8, or 10 people come and talk to us, each given about five minutes to make their presentations. Then it went around, as all committees do, and we asked questions on the specific topics that they had.
In this case, the topics were not all related, so we could have people on different topics sitting beside each other, each giving their five minutes, giving us broad perspectives of what the needs were across the country. It is fair to say, at least in my opinion, that there are a variety of needs and desires across this country, and it is a process that is important. I am not sure it was done in the past, but I think it is the right thing to be doing to understand what the particular issues are for all areas.
The one thing I would comment on is that we did not randomly pick people to come out. Most people represented their organizations and particular interests, so they were very focused on what they wanted. They understood and they only had five minutes.
If there is one thing I would like to comment on in terms of the meetings system that we have, I actually do not mind having a variety of opinions on different topics. It makes for a much more interesting meeting and allows for a lot better questioning in my opinion, but we did see a lot of repetition. We saw people from different organizations, from different parts of the country, basically giving us the same message, and unfortunately, they only had five minutes.
I think the committee, when it does this again next year, if it does it again next year, should consider that if people are applying for these positions from across the country, if their organization is nationwide and they are seeing us in other spots, that they make a decision as to where it is most effective for them and that we allow more time for their presentations because five minutes is not a lot of time.
The witnesses only have time to highlight a few things that are of interest to them. However, for me personally, and it may not be the same for all committee members, but if the witnesses had more time to elaborate on their particular interests it would make for a better consultation process.
I thank the research staff and the clerks who helped organize those events. It is difficult. We basically move a House committee from one city to the next and it happens overnight. They did an absolutely fabulous job of ensuring we were all prepared, that we knew who was coming to see us and that we had the research material and the presentations in front of us. That is a lot of work and not an easy task. I know people may think that the committee is on a bit of a junket when it goes across the country but it is actually work from eight in the morning until five at night. We jump on a plane, fly to the next place, go to a hotel room and we are back at it again at 9 o'clock. The room looks almost the same as it did the day before.
Our analysts in this case were taking in all the information that was provided by those who presented to us and listened to all the questions that came from the different sides of the table. They looked at it and recorded it and provided a really good report for us to review once we were all finished with our consultation process. Their report was very thick and it had lots of information in it. We did not necessarily agree with everything but we at least agreed with some of the things.
If I were to make a suggestion, it would be that I would be interested in seeing that in the future, although I am not sure it will work, we narrow the topics to the areas that we actually agree on and that we would like to submit to the finance department for its consideration but not necessarily implementation. As we did this time, which I appreciate, we would then offer each party an opportunity to put in a supplementary report. In fact, the New Democrats and the Conservatives put in what we called the supplementary opinion. Our other friends put in a minority opinion. Based on the history of this place and how things work, they are called minority reports.
However, for the budget consultation, I think it would be more effective and more realistic if we were to say that this is the four, five, ten, or whatever that number is, things that we all agree on that we want to recommend. We could also, as a group, present the supplementary ideas that we heard. It should not be as partisan as it has been and I believe this would be one way of showing Canadians that we are willing to work together as a minority. Whether it is a minority or a majority government, this is the way to do it.
Canadians do send us here to get things done and this is one of my personal opinions on how things could be improved.
Personally, the budget has always been important to me. As a city councillor, I was known for my tenacity, both at the region of Halton and the city of Burlington, for going over the budget with a fine tooth comb, making suggestions and making changes. Not all of them passed because they could not get acceptance by everybody. I expect the exact same thing here. We are doing it more as a group, though, instead of individually.
As I need some input from my public, I held a public meeting in my riding about a month and a half ago on the budget and asked people what they wanted to see in the budget. About 80 people attended the meeting, which I thought was pretty good for a Thursday evening, and the meeting lasted almost three hours. We taped it so we would know what was said.
Another thing that is important for the public to know is how the process works. They should know that it is not picked out of a tree or that low lying fruit is picked and that is what goes in the budget. A process is in place and we do work at it. I have put together a show, which is on my local cable company, that talks about how the budget process is done and it is airing right now.
My constituents still have the opportunity to let me know what they would like to see in the budget. The budget, obviously, has not been set and there is still a number of months for that to happen. It is important for all of us to consult with our constituents on these things and we pick our own way to do it.
At the end of the day, we had 43 recommendations on which, let us be frank, we did not all agree. As it is a minority Parliament, votes were held on each recommendation. Some were accepted and some were not. Near the end of my presentation I will talk about a few that I supported as an individual member of Parliament. I believe on my side the Conservative caucus also supported some. We have 43 recommendations.
The report has been broken down into a number of areas to make it easier for Canadians to understand what we are talking about. The theme this year, which I think is important, is how can we be more competitive in this world market.
I think that anyone who says that we are not working in a competitive world is relatively naive and is playing politics with the issue. No matter which company in my riding that I talk to, the vast majority are competing against other competitors from around the world, not just from around the block.
We need a government that thinks about the economy in a world perspective, that we are competing as companies with worldwide companies. We are competing as individuals. We are competing for talent. I know it has been discussed about where we are going with talent and people. The mobility of labour has increased exponentially over the last number of years and we are working on that.
We also talk about health care and the health of our people, which is all part of our budget.
Another section of our budget is life learning. I think is important to have recommendations that say that learning is not only done in elementary schools, which, as we know, constitutionally is not part of what the federal government is responsible for.
We are looking at research and at how to assist students at post-secondary education levels. There are a number of recommendations in that area.
As we saw this week, and which was reported in the newspaper, the actual net worth of people has gone up, but so also has their net debt in a sense. The individual debt of Canadians has gone up. We need to work on issues that help give people the incentives to invest money and to save for the future. We have done that through a number of recommendations in this budget.
It is also important that we have full employment or as close to full employment as possible in this country. We are doing very well. The economy is doing well. In my particular area, the employment rate is not terribly high but we do have unemployed people and we need to give them incentives to find work and help them find that work. This budget recommendation also provides those types of incentives.
We need to look at communities because they are important to all of us. We do not all live in a bubble. I am beside Toronto, Oakville and Hamilton. We need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to make those communities competitive so that they can compete, not just with each other necessarily but with other communities around the world, and we must ensure they are healthy places for people to live.
Infrastructure is very important and the budget has a number of recommendations on infrastructure. While I was travelling across the country I found that the infrastructure needs in my riding were completely different in some areas than in others. However, I think infrastructure should be focused.
We heard the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, in which I used to play an active part as a member of municipal council. FCM has moved a little bit, saying that it wants long term funding for long term planning. We supported its infrastructure funding through the gas tax and we will continue to do so. In terms of its present commitment, it will run out in early 2010 or 2012. I cannot remember the date off the top of my head but it will be in the next number of years. It is looking for a longer term and we discussed that.
The interesting thing about that is that the FCM wanted to add what we used to call soft services. It wanted arenas and those types of things, which was news to me. This was something I needed to discuss and debate with those people, which was why it was important to be on that trip. I needed to understand those differences.
We do have money set aside for environmental initiatives, which are important and they are included in those 45 recommendations.
We also have a section in this report on charitable giving and the voluntary sector. I have done more than my share of volunteering over a number of years. I could give a long list of boards of associations that I have been on and have helped with. I have knocked on doors to raise money for a number of organizations within my riding, as we all have. We looked at a number of recommendations and I have a recommendation that I will highlight in a few minutes that talks about this section.
There is also a section on arts and culture. I too have been active in this area in my riding. I have been very much a leader in terms of promoting a performing arts centre for the city of Burlington, a piece of infrastructure that the city does not have. I hope we will be able to deliver it in the near future. I am part of a fundraising project right now. Other leaders have come forward and are leading on this project on a local front. I am doing what I can from here to make it happen.
Corporate taxation was mentioned in an earlier question. There is a section in this report on how we can improve corporate taxation, which I think needs to be improved. We have to remember the theme of this prebudget consultation which was how to be competitive and how our businesses could compete against others. We heard in a lot of presentations that we need to be more competitive in the corporate area.
We heard a lot about innovation, research and entrepreneurship. I have a number of post-secondary education institutions in my area, none particularly in Burlington yet, but we have a sign up that McMaster is hopefully moving to Burlington. We have a location for at least one of its schools.
There are a number of other spending issues. We talked about the surplus and the fiscal imbalance, both of which are included in this presentation to the finance minister. It is important that people understand that we are not ignoring these issues. The finance minister knows where we stand. I am certainly supportive of a plan for any existing surplus.
Surplus is really overtaxation. I have never been a fan of overtaxation and I do not think most Canadians are fans. I understand from my previous experience that we need a bit of a cushion just in case things get out of whack from an economic point of view on occasion, but that does not mean that we have to overtax. Fiscal balance is a part of this presentation. It was part of our discussion. Members know that we are working on these issues.
There were some local issues that were of interest to members. I appreciate all the different parties putting together what they were interested in. I do not necessarily agree with everything, but I do appreciate their efforts.
There are 43 recommendations in this report to the minister. There are a couple that I would like to highlight and I am going to speak to the ones that I think the majority of us agreed with.
One of my favourites that I want to talk about is the arts. I am not sure if we all agreed on recommendation No. 22, but I certainly did. Arts and culture is important to the government and the finance committee. We recommended a funding increase to the Canada Council for the Arts. It is important to note that the government in its 2006 budget increased money for the arts. We increased funding to $30 million this year and another $50 million next year.
The arts council came to committee a couple of times. I think it could have had more time at one event instead of at a number of events. The arts council wants to get $300 million over a number of years. There was a debate on how many years that would be and I probably lost the debate at committee. The report says over two years. I am not sure we can make it that quickly. It is important that these kinds of things are highlighted.
Another recommendation relates to my work with charities. There is a recommendation that publicly listed securities for private foundations be considered for the same tax holiday that the government provided in 2006 so that people can donate securities to a charity.
I want people to read the recommendations and understand what we have provided. I am sure that we will see some of them in the next budget. I look forward to that debate. My final comment is that if a lot of the things we had discussions on actually--