Strong leadership to protect Canada's future: Address by the Prime Minister in Reply to the Speech from the Throne

Ottawa, Ontario
20 November 2008


Thank you Mr. Speaker for the opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne, delivered yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.

I would like to begin by congratulating you once again Mr. Speaker on your re-election as Speaker, and through you I would like to also congratulate all members of the House of Commons on their re-election.

I would also, in particular, like to thank the people of Calgary for electing me to the House of Commons for the fifth time. I have now been returned for the riding of Calgary Southwest in fact four times in just a little over six years.

Calgary is, in so many ways, a remarkable community. Dare I say there are few like it where a young man with neither roots nor connections could have been given the opportunities I have been given, and I am deeply thankful for these.

In particular, I thank the people of Calgary Southwest for the enormous latitude they have given me to travel around this country and others, while remaining their local representative.

Of course, we are all here because of the election of October 14th. Nearly 15 million Canadians voted in our 40th general election.

In doing so, they were performing their civic duty, expressing their hopes for the country, and leaving their mark on our shared history and destiny.

I am honoured that Canadians chose to give our Government another and strengthened mandate.

It is often difficult for incumbent governments to receive strengthened mandates, but it is rare indeed to receive a stronger mandate during difficult economic times.

But that is just precisely what happened in the election.

Our Conservative Government, while still a minority, now has one of the broadest and most balanced mandates from across the country of governments elected in the past generation.

We have moved beyond the time where governments swept huge regions entirely while being virtually shut out in other huge parts of our country.

This is reflected in the breadth and depth of talent in our new caucus and cabinet.

If you’ll indulge a hockey analogy, Mr. Speaker, the core of experienced veterans on our Cabinet team has been strengthened by the addition of several impressive rookies.

This has given our line-up balance, with ministers from 10 of the 13 provinces and territories and, as well, we have one of the largest proportions of female Cabinet ministers in Canadian history.

This representative breadth of our Government has also been bolstered by a marked increase in our support among new Canadians from our country’s vast array of cultural communities.

The Government will continue to build a peaceful, prosperous, pluralistic country where everyone enjoys equal opportunities to get ahead,

Where healthy families flourish in safe communities,

Where reward for individual initiative is balanced with a collective commitment to helping people in need,

And where different faiths, languages and traditions all contribute to our rich cultural heritage.

Just as Canadians are a people who have come from different, and sometimes antagonistic, backgrounds and have yet managed to create one of the most harmonious societies on earth,

So we, as their representatives, should resolve to put aside clearly partisan considerations and try, wherever possible, to work cooperatively for the benefit of Canada.

This would not only serve to reinvigorate this Chamber; it would also help us deal with the enormous challenges that confront Canada as a part of the global economy; challenges that have only grown since our election concluded just five short weeks ago.

Indeed, if there has been a silver lining to the global economic crisis, it has been the desire of governments thus far to come together in pursuit of common solutions.

I have seen this in my meetings with our premiers and the world witnessed it at the unprecedented G20 Leaders’ Summit held in Washington this past weekend.

If we can come to some consensus among the diverse governments of the world―many of whom have had long-standing and intractable conflicts―surely we can work more productively and cooperatively here within a single Parliament.

The Government of Canada is very pleased with the positions taken at the G20 Summit.

There is a common understanding of the macroeconomic measures necessary to respond to a slowing global economy. There is an action plan for better national regulation of financial institutions and markets, with transparent international assessments of countries’ financial sectors and there is an endorsement of free and open economic policies, with an explicit rejection of the temptations of protectionism.

That these positions are close to those of Canada is not surprising. First, they reflect Canada’s economic values: open trade and free markets governed by prudent policy and sound regulation. We have long avoided the extremes of either protectionist economics on the one hand or ungoverned markets on the other that, whatever their appeal, invariably lead to heartbreak for businesses, consumers and workers alike. Second, they reflect Canada’s position in the world today, particularly our relative strength among developed economies.

Let me just review some of those strengths. We have―and I quote no less an authority than the World Economic Forum –“the world’s soundest banking system” and we have, thanks to prudent financial management in recent years, the strongest fiscal position of any of any of the major industrialized countries.

In less than three years, our Government has paid down $37 billion on the national debt.

That has given us the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7, which means we have greater fiscal flexibility than most other nations.

Taxes have been cut across the board―sales taxes, income taxes and business taxes―and further tax cuts are built into our fiscal framework. Furthermore, our public pensions are actuarially sound and our Government has increased social benefits to bolster the financial security of Canadian households, such as through the creation of the Universal Child Care Benefit, bolstered transfers to provincial health and post-secondary education programs, and enhancement of the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

These measures have been helping Canadians live within their means instead of beyond their means, as has occurred in so many other countries.

Nevertheless, as I said, Canada is only in a position of relative strength in the global economy and the global economy is entering a period that world leaders have concluded is as dire as anything we have faced in many decades. We have been affected and will be further affected, particularly given that our closest neighbour and largest trading partner is the epicentre of the financial earthquake and global slowdown.

The collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the United States set off shockwaves around the world, paralyzed international credit markets, caused bank failures in New York and London and financial crises in countries like Iceland and Hungary, and resulted in extreme gyrations in stock and commodity markets, and plummeting consumer spending in the hardest-hit countries, including the U.S.

As a consequence, our investments have suffered. Our property values have softened and some of our export markets have already contracted. But since this crisis began over a year ago, we have been moving decisively to counteract its effect. Our early fiscal stimulus in the form of long-term reductions in consumer, personal and business taxes have bolstered domestic spending and improved our attractiveness for investment.

Our legislation strengthening the Bank of Canada’s ability to provide liquidity for our domestic credit markets has been essential. And to guard against the
U.S.-style real estate implosion, we acted to limit mortgage terms and establish minimum down payments.

Due to these actions, when the global crisis deepened this fall, Canada has been able to avoid some of the riskier and more expensive actions other governments were forced to take.

For example, we have not had to spend billions of dollars to buy into or bail out crumbling financial institutions. Instead, in Canada we have maintained stability through carefully targeted commercial interventions designed to preserve the inherent strength of our banking sector and to help it maintain liquidity and provide credit.

Our commitment to purchase insured mortgages through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has ensured that our financial institutions would keep lending to individuals and businesses. And our new Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility created the confidence needed to facilitate continued interbank lending. These actions have been very helpful in the financial sector, as have the monetary policy actions undertaken by the Bank of Canada, often in coordination with other countries.

At the same time, some of these actions are unprecedented. Indeed, we would probably not have considered some of them even a short time ago.

And it become very clear at the G20 Summit that further actions, possibly including further unprecedented actions, may be necessary.

It is becoming apparent that financial and monetary actions may not be sufficient to deal with the present crisis.

Already, governments around the world have been responding with large budgetary actions, and we will see many more.

China has announced a half-trillion-dollar package to bolster domestic spending. The United Kingdom and the United States, though already deeply in deficit, are moving ahead with additional fiscal stimulus. In short, world governments have resolved that they will undertake whatever financial, monitoring and budgetary measures are necessary to cope with the crisis. And, let me be clear: this is also the position of the Government of Canada.

We will undertake whatever short-term fiscal measures are necessary to be part of a global economic solution to a global economic problem. We will do so while ensuring that our country’s fundamental strengths and competitive advantages are still in place when the turmoil subsides. To that end, it is critically important that we avoid returning to the structural deficits that so handicapped Canada during the mid- to late-20th century.

Twenty-seven consecutive years of annual federal deficits led our government to the brink of national insolvency.

Fortunately, a bipartisan consensus developed here in the 1990s―and in virtually all of our provincial governments―that such structural deficits had to be eliminated.

This strong fiscal framework has allowed us to act early in this crisis and to keep our economy stronger thus far than other industrialized nations.

Once again, I think we can all agree that balancing the budget by raising taxes, by cutting essential government activity or by refusing necessary intervention in the midst of a global economic crisis would be a cure worse than the disease. We will have to act in the months to come while clearly ensuring that Canada does not return to ongoing or structural deficits.

The Minister of Finance will provide greater assessment and detail in his Economic and Fiscal Statement next week, during this debate on the Speech from the Throne.

But the essential elements are these: We will conduct a thorough strategic review of all departmental program spending planned for the next four years. In fact, the President of the Treasury Board began this process a year and a half ago. All grants, contributions and capital expenditures will be scrutinized carefully with a view to streamlining operations, making service delivery more efficient and saving taxpayers’ money.

All departments and agencies will be required to produce detailed quarterly financial statements, accessible to parliamentarians and the public, so that expenditures are subject to regular, ongoing scrutiny.

All Crown corporations and assets will also be subjected to strategic review to ensure they are still providing essential services to Canadians. And public service compensation costs will be held in check.

In keeping with our commitment to fiscal balance, the Canada Health Transfer and Canada Social Transfer to the provinces will continue to grow as planned on a principled, sustainable basis.

Equalization payments will also grow at a sustainable rate tied to the overall growth of our economy.

In addition to the budgetary measures we will take―both long-term savings and short-term fiscal stimulus―our Government is committed to actions that will stimulate investment, help workers and businesses adapt to rapidly changing markets at home and abroad, and create new and better job opportunities for Canadians. Some of these measures were laid out in our election platform and will be pursued over the course of our mandate.

To encourage investment, specifically in our uranium mining and airline sectors, we will raise the threshold for foreign investment. We will negotiate reciprocal treatment for Canadian businesses with our trading partners, while retaining the right to block foreign investment if it jeopardizes national security.

To stimulate investment and employment in the automotive and aerospace sectors, our Government will increase funding for the Automotive Innovation Fund and the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative.

We are watching developments in the automotive sector both here and south of the border very carefully. Any intervention by Canada will only be done if it is in the overall interests of the Canadian economy and only with sufficient regard to the interests of Canadian taxpayers.

To ensure that all our manufacturers continue to transform in a competitive global economy, we have already provided accelerated tax write-offs for investments in new machinery and equipment. We will also reduce tariffs on imported machinery and equipment.

We will also continue to support and encourage private sector research, development and commercialization of new products and innovations through our national Science and Technology Strategy. For example, we will make further investments in Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing, an emerging world leader in the areas of computer, engineering, mathematical and physical sciences.

As well, while investing in the industries and jobs of tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, our Government is supporting the traditional industries that have long formed the sturdy foundation of Canada’s economy. In some sectors and regions, those industries have been buffeted by a perfect storm of currency fluctuation, declining demand and increased foreign competition. One-industry communities have been particularly hard hit, and our Government has responded with funding that supports local economic diversification, employment retraining and assistance for older workers.

However, there’s more we can do to support our traditional industries.

For the mining sector, we will extend the mineral exploration tax credit.

For the forestry sector, we will extend support for international marketing efforts, and provide incentives to create energy from biomass.

And for agriculture, we will invest in slaughterhouse capacity across Canada, maintain support for supply-managed sectors and continue to champion marketing freedom for Western grain farmers.

In our globalized economy, no country can escape international downturns altogether.

During such periods, governments have a duty to help families and communities bridge the gap between downturn and recovery.

It is also our duty to ensure that when a downturn occurs, Canada is last in, least affected and first out. Our Government has already taken numerous measures to achieve the first two objectives. To achieve the third, we are investing in the national infrastructure and economic development that will carry us to recovery.

Our Building Canada plan is the most ambitious infrastructure renewal effort in half a century. It involves roads, bridges, ports, border crossings, water treatment facilities, airports and much more, in communities large and small from coast to coast to coast. The federal and provincial governments will be working to accelerate these investments over the coming year.

We are also working to complete Canada’s broadband Internet network, so Canadians in rural communities have equal access to cyberspace.

As well, to further ensure equal opportunities for all Canadians, our Government will restore the funding to Canada’s three major regional economic development agencies that was cut by our predecessors.

We will also make federal regional development funding available to high-unemployment communities in southern Ontario for the first time, and we will establish a new agency dedicated to the economic development of Canada’s Far North, our magnificent Arctic frontier that holds such incredible potential to fuel our future prosperity.

To be at the forefront of recovery, Canada needs a healthy small business sector and skilled labour force. Our Government will unleash the entrepreneurial energy and creativity of our country by further raising the tax threshold, and indexing the lifetime capital gains exemption to inflation.

With the resumption of Parliament, we will continue to implement the federal paper burden reduction initiative for small and medium-sized businesses, and we will establish a venture capital fund that will help entrepreneurs get new products off the drawing board and into the marketplace.

Furthermore, we will assist young entrepreneurs with families by increasing their access to maternity and parental leave benefits through the Employment Insurance system.

Skilled tradesmen and women are already in short supply in some sectors and regions, so our Government is taking action to ensure that Canada has the workers we need to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. We have provided tax deductions and credits for apprentices and the companies that hire them. Next, we will introduce cash bonuses for apprentices who complete their training programs.

We are also tackling the massive backlog in our immigration system by prioritizing applicants with the skills our economy needs immediately, and by working with the provinces to ensure that the credentials of skilled immigrants are recognized across Canada.

There are other fronts on which we need to act with our provinces and territories. Our Government will push forward a national effort to produce a strong agreement on internal economic union by 2010 in order to reduce interprovincial trade barriers, improve labour mobility and increase investment.

We also intend to press for a common securities regulator as demanded by much of our business community. The Hockin Report will be released in January, and we are pleased that virtually all provinces are open to examining its proposals.

The same principles―open and well-regulated markets―will guide our efforts to expand Canada’s international trade relations.

We are especially looking forward to working with the new administration in Washington to strengthen the deep bonds of friendship and cooperation with our good neighbour and largest trading partner.

We will work closely to ensure our mutual protection while seeking to limit any obstacles to trade and travel undertaken in the name of U.S. national security. We will also emphasize that assured access of Canadian energy to U.S. markets is essential for the Americans’ own security.

We have a real opportunity to work with the new U.S. administration on an economically balanced North American strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

But we will not put all our eggs in one basket.

Our Government will urge Parliament to quickly ratify trade agreements we have concluded with the European Free Trade Association, Peru, Colombia and Jordan. We will also actively pursue new trade and investment agreements in Asia, the Americas and Europe. And we will continue expanding our network of overseas trade offices in countries such as China, Mongolia, Mexico, Brazil and India, developing countries whose economies continue to have healthy levels of economic growth.

Throughout Canada’s history, our economic growth and prosperity have often been disproportionately driven by a handful of commodities.

At various times, fish, fur, timber and wheat were primary sources of our national wealth.

Today, and for the foreseeable future, energy is a major driver of our economy.

Globally, we are first in hydroelectricity production, first in uranium production, third in natural gas production and fifth in overall energy production, with the second largest oil reserves in the world.

We are poised to tap the enormous energy reserves in the Arctic, and to build the pipelines that will deliver it to markets across this continent.

And we have the raw material and potential to join the worldwide renaissance in the production of clean, safe nuclear power.

We will also increase production of clean energy, including ensuring that we generate 90 percent of our electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020. We will invest billions of dollars in renewable energy sources, including biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power.

We will insist on upgrading raw bitumen in Canada before sending it for upgrading to countries with less stringent emission standards than our own.

To this point my reply to the Speech from the Throne has focused on our plan to protect Canada and Canadians from the turmoil in the global economy.

But our Government understands that Canadians want us to take action on a broad range of other issues, and we intend to do so over the course of our new mandate.

Just as we are protecting Canada’s economic security, we are taking action to protect the health and safety of Canadians. This includes action on food and product safety, health care, safe streets and communities, and protecting our national sovereignty and security. Canadians want assurance that the food, drugs and consumer products they buy are safe for their families.

Our Government will reintroduce new food and consumer product safety measures that will provide for more inspection, testing and recall provisions for food, drugs, toys and other consumer products.

We will also launch an independent investigation of the listeriosis outbreak this past August. We will implement the food safety action plan, which will provide the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with the necessary personnel and resources to improve safety systems.

Our Government will also take further steps to improve Canada’s health care system, including initiatives that will help increase recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses. And we will launch national strategies within our federal jurisdiction to specifically tackle lung and neurological diseases.

Serious and violent crime is obviously a threat and a growing concern to Canadian families and communities.

Our Government has already instituted numerous criminal justice reforms to restore the primacy of the rights of law-abiding citizens and to make our streets and communities safer.

But more must be done to deal with the intersection of guns, gangs and drugs, the main sources of violent crime.

Our Government will end house arrest for those convicted of serious crimes, such as robbery, arson, impaired driving causing death and kidnapping.

We will introduce legislation to target violent crimes committed by criminal gangs. 

We will also deliver on our commitment to reform the youth criminal justice system.

Young people who are at risk of wandering off the path of law-abiding citizenship deserve our compassion and support.

And our Government will increase funding to help prevent at-risk youth from falling into the criminal lifestyle.

However, Canadians deserve protection from anyone who commits violent and repeat crimes, and we will reform the young offenders’ legislation to achieve this objective.

We will also, uphold our commitment to end the long-gun registry, which is not only wasteful, but has also served to target law-abiding Canadians, especially rural Canadians, instead of dealing with gun crime.

The federal government has no greater duty than to protect our national sovereignty and security.

For generations, the Canadian Forces have proudly and honourably upheld this duty at home and abroad.

Our Government will continue to implement the Canada First Defence Strategy, our long-term plan to ensure our brave men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our security at home and project our values abroad.

As it has been since 2001, the NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan will be our primary overseas deployment.

We have made tremendous contributions, at tremendous cost, to the Afghanistan mission. As Parliament resolved earlier this year, we will continue to transform Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan to focus on reconstruction and development in preparation for the end of our military mission in 2011.

Canada will also continue working for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. To that end, our Government will establish an independent agency to promote international democratic governance. And we will proceed with our planned increases to foreign aid, including our commitment to double aid to Africa this year.

Our Government is also committed to ensuring our sovereignty over Canada’s Arctic.

We will continue working to assert our jurisdiction over the lands and waters of our Arctic archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We will also expand our jurisdiction over the region under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, and require mandatory notification of any foreign vessels entering Canadian territorial waters.

As well, we will proceed with a new polar-class icebreaker named in honour of our late, great Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.

Furthermore, by the same logic that we need to control and protect our offshore waters, our Government will move to protect our precious inland freshwaters.

And so we will introduce legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports of water from Canada’s freshwater basins.

We Canadians are blessed to live in a mature, time-tested democracy.

But as I said at the outset of my remarks today, we need to work together as parliamentarians to ensure the effectiveness of our democratic process.

Our political institutions and rules should be modernized in order to be relevant and credible in today’s world.  Our Government will once again give Parliament the opportunity to act on Senate reform, by reintroducing legislation that will set fixed terms for senators and give voters a say in their selection.

Our Government will also ensure that growing provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta receive representation in the House of Commons that more fairly reflects their increased population.

Building on the sweeping initiatives of our first mandate to take corporations, unions and big money out of political party and candidate financing, we will also reintroduce legislation to prevent candidates for federal political office from receiving large private loans on non-commercial terms.

We will reduce the number of appointees to federal boards, agencies, commissions and Crown corporations, in concert with reforming the selection process. Finally, we will continue to constrain the use of the federal spending power and focus our efforts on improving our own areas of jurisdiction.

Our Government has received a mandate for the agenda it will place before this Parliament. But our most urgent and pressing task will be to act pragmatically, carefully and expeditiously in dealing with the global economic crisis and the risks it presents for our country. The evolving nature of the crisis will condition our response, and I invite members of all parties to provide constructive input into shaping that response. But whatever the situation, I have no doubt that Canada will rise to this challenge.

Throughout our long history, Canada has been tested many times by economic and political upheaval that erupted in other parts of the world. Each time, our country has faced those challenges and emerged stronger than before.

In the midst of today’s global economic crisis, we are looking at a future with unprecedented uncertainty.

But we can say that few countries are better prepared or better endowed to deal with it.

When the world comes to the Olympics here in Vancouver and Whistler in just a little over a year, they will see a remarkable country. Canada’s economy, like Canada’s people, is durable and resilient. We are blessed with an incomparable abundance of natural resources. We have a hard-working and highly educated labour force that can adapt to a modern economy. And our country is strong, compassionate and outward-looking.

If we pledge ourselves to work together in the service of Canada, I have no doubt that we will emerge from these troubled times stronger, better and more united than ever before.

Let’s protect, all together, our families and our future.

God bless the True North strong and free.