Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate virtually this afternoon from Central Alberta.
When the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance introduced the fall economic statement in late November last year, many people finally realized just how dire the financial situation we face here in Canada actually is. Unfortunately, very few, if any, of these people are part of the Liberal government, which seems to be content with the concept that putting good vibes out into the world with platitudes like “build back better”, “budgets balance themselves” and “the economy will come roaring back” are somehow enough to just will the outcomes back into existence.
The reality is the fall economic statement has highlighted a number of reasons for deep concern, yet proposes to continue many of the Liberal government's reckless economic tendencies without offering any of the necessary solutions.
There absolutely has been a need to spend money to support Canadians over the past 11 months. I was in support of some of the government's programs that helped support families and small businesses, and Conservatives played a key role in improving these programs for Canadians. While the Liberals like to suggest that criticizing the amount of debt they may have accumulated since taking government means that Conservatives would somehow be less generous had we been in government, that is just a false narrative and another example of putting politics before the well-being of Canadians.
The reality is that successive bad decisions, like delaying the initial closing of the borders, trusting the World Health Organization's data over Canada's own experts, and relying on China for our initial tranche of vaccines, decisions that we Conservatives would not have been naive enough to make, has in many ways forced this situation upon us.
Mismanagement from the outset seems to have stemmed from a total lack of a plan to deal with this pandemic. We came into this crisis with an additional $100 billion in unnecessary debt racked up by the government since 2015. We had less personal protective equipment and other critical supplies because of the government's decision to purge emergency supplies, and we were without our pandemic early warning system, a program cancelled by the government.
We would never have had to make these trade-offs because we would never have allowed ourselves to get into a situation of having among the highest unemployment rates in the G7, while also running the largest deficit in the G7, and having the fewest people per capita vaccinated. I believe we are 52nd in terms of our vaccine rollouts. That is abysmal. We are paying more under the Liberal government to get less.
Perhaps it is unfair to say there was no plan. In fact, retired lieutenant-colonel David Redman, who previously served as the head of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, has suggested that governments across the country seem to have discarded their pandemic plans and core principles in favour of starting brand new when the virus began to appear here in Canada. Mr. Redman's resumé includes being tasked with closing the Lahr military base in Germany, leading the unplanned withdrawal from former Yugoslavia and re-establishing staging bases in the area, and leading the development of Alberta's counterterrorism strategy after 9/11. All that is to say that he is a serious and well-credentialed individual who has advocated from the beginning that the pandemic cannot be viewed through the lens of solely a public health emergency, but as a public emergency writ large that requires a different type of response.
It is hard to argue that the pandemic has not impacted virtually every part of our lives, and not just people's respiratory health and the health care system at large that supports us in the time of need. I understand that many people are comforted by the status quo of lockdowns and restrictions of civil liberties, because as much as it is hard to do and everyone seems to hate it, it gives some people a sense of control.
Meanwhile, the true cost of these measures will take years, if not generations, to actually determine. While some people may find small comfort in these measures, the financial situation in our country necessitates a reconsideration of how we are responding to this pandemic. My friend, the hon. member for Carleton, outlined perfectly in his speech why the situation is no different from past situations in other countries and how a debt crisis truly is a looming threat.
The Liberals' failures have left Canada in a very precarious situation. We have been forced to abandon the debt-to-GDP ratio as a fiscal anchor, which has now exceeded 100% in terms of government debt alone. During the 1990s debt crisis, our debt-to-GDP ratio was only 92%. In that case, high inflation and increasing interest rates nearly led to Canada's having to go to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. At that time, the deficits were smaller than they are currently.
The deficit in the 2021 fiscal year is $381.6 billion, which is greater than the total federal spending the entire previous fiscal year. Our federal debt alone reached $1.2 trillion in 2020, with the expectation that it will continue to sharply rise for the next several years, potentially getting as high as $1.6 trillion by 2025. The government is banking on interest rates remaining low for the foreseeable future in order to ensure that we can manage the debt load.
These low rates are the only thing keeping our nose above water right now. While there are many countries taking advantage of these low interest rates, this is not without risk. Some international banks are actually betting that Canada will be forced to increase interest rates ahead of many of our partner countries, suggesting that we will be more susceptible to inflationary pressures. If interest rates exceed our economic growth rates, we will be in for a very difficult time. When we consider that Canada's GDP growth averaged out to around 1.7% between 2015 and 2019, we realize just how dangerous a game we are playing.
While I appreciate that the governor of the Bank of Canada plans to keep interest rates pinned near current levels for the foreseeable future, the reality is that the bank must must respond to the market like everyone else. Rates will not stay low forever, and in order to be prepared for when they inevitably do rise, we need to create high, sustained economic growth.
Creating economic growth is another area where the fall economic statement falls short. It appears to be more of an afterthought than a target for the document, which should not be surprising, since pesky things like a strong economy always seem to be secondary to making announcements about woke concepts that never really deliver for this government. This trend cannot continue, if we hope to avoid a financial crisis coming out of this pandemic, and we cannot afford to wait to get started.
We need to get people back to work safely. We need to empower the private sector, from our small businesses right up to major corporations, and create jobs and prosperity here in Canada, instead of having all of that capital fleeing to other jurisdictions. We need to give potential infrastructure proponents predictability when it comes to their investments, so that they are willing to invest in major projects here in Canada, whether in extraction projects, pipelines, renewable resources or something else altogether. Jurisdictions around the world are going to be competing to attract investment and the jobs and additional revenue that accompany them. Without a concerted effort to make Canada the most desirable place to invest and create, those opportunities will go elsewhere.
The government cannot continue to move the goalposts and signal that it does not want certain well-paying sectors to set up shop in Canada, based on its ideological bent. The energy sector has led Canada out of dire financial straits in the past, and it will be able to strongly contribute again this time, if it is not shackled by the current government's policies.
We also need to empower small businesses to succeed. For the past 11 months, many have been asked to go into an economic coma. Businesses have barely been getting by, and far too many of the shops we love on the main streets in our communities will not reopen. This is not just an economic loss to our country, but an example of shattered dreams for business owners and a physical reminder of the difficult, but sometimes not impossible, choices that families are being forced to make.
A recent survey by the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce indicated that over 70% of business owners expected their businesses to either contract or stay about the same for the next 12 months, with only 27% expecting to see growth. In that same survey, nearly 42% of businesses acknowledged that they have had to make layoffs, 55% had substantially less revenue and over 20% were concerned they could not outlast the restrictions put in place by public health authorities. These numbers are very troubling. The Liberals keep saying they are trying to ensure that our economy will be able to come roaring back. However, the small business owners themselves are not confident this is going to happen. We need to create the conditions for them to succeed, something that the fall economic statement does not do.
In late January, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released its 2021 edition of Canada's “Red Tape Report Card”. It showed that for a business with fewer than five employees, including the owner, the cost of regulations was over $7,000 per employee. For a business of five to 19 employees, it fell to $3,380 and it was $2,600 for businesses with 20 to 50 employees. These numbers excluded the cost associated with COVID-19 regulations. The report suggested that 28% of these regulations are red tape or excessive regulation that does not actually contribute to the public good.
We all understand the importance of health, safety and environmental regulations, but it is clear there is a great deal of red tape that can be cut without exposing ourselves to additional risk. The report suggests that the savings could approach $11 billion a year, which equates to 205 million hours or 105,000 full-time job equivalencies. There is a phenomenal opportunity just in red tape reduction.
Conservatives hope that the Liberals' vaccine procurement gets back on track. Success on this front would be for the good of all Canadians. That said, we cannot simply rely on vaccines to be the silver bullet.
I can see that my time is coming to a close. I look forward to the questions that are going to come. We need to get Canada back on track. We need to get Canada back to work.