Hon. Jim Flaherty (Minister of Finance, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the Speech from the Throne. The government was elected to get things done. We are rolling up our sleeves and taking a workman-like approach to government. I can assure members that we are committed, focused and frugal.
The Speech from the Throne charts a new course for Canada. We will replace the culture of entitlement with one of accountability. We will put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of a privileged few. We will focus on the priorities of Canadians.
During the last election, we promised to take action on five priorities: cleaning up the government by passing the federal accountability act; reducing the tax burden of Canadians, starting with a one percentage point cut to the GST; making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime and introducing minimum sentences; supporting families by providing parents with direct financial support to make the child care choices that meet their specific needs while also working with stakeholders to create new child care spaces; and working with the provinces to improve health care by establishing a patient wait times guarantee.
I will return to these priorities in a moment, in particular our promise to reduce taxes for all Canadians, but before doing so there are two principles I would like to talk about that will underpin what our government does in all five areas.
First is fiscal responsibility. I believe and the government believes that balanced budgets and paying off debt are essential to our nation's success. They are not something to be bargained away or compromised. The road to our country's impressive economic and fiscal performance in recent years began with the elimination of annual government deficits. Now is not the time for a U-turn, not only because we have an obligation to the taxpayers of today but because we have an obligation to the generations of tomorrow.
My wife, Christine, and I are blessed with triplet sons and I am not prepared to mortgage their future or any child's future. Deficit financing simply passes tax payments on to our children with accumulated interest piled on top. We must keep our country on the right path and point it in the right direction.
The second principle that will guide us is that the money we manage and spend as a government does not belong to us. It belongs to hard-working, tax paying Canadians. I imagine a number of members know that under the previous government, federal spending jumped by 15% in one year, more than six times the rate of inflation. As the Prime Minister concluded, that kind of spending is simply unsustainable. It is why our government has committed to limiting future growth on federal grants and contribution programs, and limiting growth within federal departments and agencies by reallocating money from existing programs.
Clearly, we must do a better job of controlling government spending, making every dollar count. We must ensure Canadians get results and good value for the hard-earned tax dollars they entrust to us.
I should note, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill.
Our government will spare no effort to review spending and reallocate resources, so that money will only be spent on programs that are effective and efficient, that is, on programs that work for all Canadians. Canadians should not work for the benefit of the government. Government should work for the benefit of all Canadians.
It is in that spirit and with those basic principles in mind that we will keep our word to Canadians on the five priorities that the Prime Minister outlined during the last election campaign, priorities for practical and positive change and for a new era in government.
Our number one priority is to clean up government by making it more accountable. Let us face it. Canadians must be able to trust their government and know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely. We will provide decisive leadership. We will stand up for honesty and integrity in government.
To that end, our first piece of legislation will be the federal accountability act, a sweeping reform plan to make government more accountable and transparent than ever.
Second, we promise to make our streets and communities safer by providing stiffer sentences for crimes involving firearms and reallocating funds from the gun registry program to support the hiring of more front line police officers.
Third, the government recognizes that strong families ensure a bright future for Canada. No two families are alike and parents must have the ability to choose the child care option that best suits their particular needs. Our government will help Canadian parents make these choices by providing them with direct financial support. At the same time we will also work with the provinces and territories along with employers and community non-profit organizations to create more child care spaces across the country.
Fourth, the government promises to work with the provinces to improve health care by establishing a patient wait times guarantee. Our goal is to set wait time reduction targets to ensure that all Canadians are treated within medically acceptable time limits.
Finally, our fifth priority of tax reduction will be front and centre in our first budget. The government promised Canadians that it would reduce taxes, starting with a one percentage point cut to the GST. Delivering on our promise to reduce the GST is a vital component of our plan to put more money into the pockets of hard-working Canadians. The government knows it must create more opportunity for individuals, families and small businesses to get ahead and we believe that starts with reducing the GST. Why? Because a cut in the GST is a tax cut for everyone, whether one earns enough to pay personal income taxes or not.
People in Canada will see the cut in the GST every time they buy something, regardless of age level or income level. Everyone from a newspaper carrier to a senior on a fixed income will see a savings. Unlike other tax measures, no future government will be able to take this tax cut away from Canadians by stealth.
On big ticket items, the savings can be very significant. For example, the GST savings when buying a new car could translate into hundreds of dollars. On the purchase of a new home, it could mean thousands of dollars. These kinds of savings could mean a lot to young families from one end of Canada to the other.
We believe the purpose of tax policy should not be to give government more options, but rather to give Canadians and their families more freedom and more choice to spend their own money on things that matter to them. That too is government working for Canadians.
Canadians are reminded of the GST every time they buy something. It is clearly itemized on every receipt. Canadians will see it reduced to 6% and eventually to 5%. Of course, a reduction in the GST is not the only tax relief taxpayers will see. The government has also promised to lighten the tax burden for business people. After all, it is investment by businesses, large and small, that generate economic growth and create well paying jobs for Canadians. The previous government promised but did not deliver tax relief for business. We will deliver.
We also want to ensure we support the life blood of Canada's economy, which is small business. We all know it is small businesses in towns and neighbourhoods right across this country, like the grocery store, the corner framing shop or the dry cleaners, that create the vast majority of jobs across the country. As we move forward, we will implement our opportunity plan for small business, a package that will lower small business taxes and create an incentive to hire new apprentices in industries that so urgently need them.
It is estimated that Canada currently has a shortage of some 20,000 skilled tradespeople, an unacceptable situation that we all know needs to be addressed. I heard it in Calgary, I heard it in Surrey, British Columbia, and I have heard it in my own home town of Whitby, Ontario, and the greater Toronto area. This shortage of skilled tradespeople poses a threat to future growth and prosperity and it must be dealt with.
The government is prepared to address this issue head on by offering much needed support for businesses that establish apprenticeship positions. Our plan will also raise the threshold at which businesses have to pay the general corporate tax rate and cut the small business rate itself within five years.
Topic: Speech From The Throne
Subtopic: Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply