Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today. First, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Wascana who, as finance minister, left the best economic environment inherited by a new government in the history of Canada. As well, we had declining debt to GDP, significant budget surpluses, low inflation and low unemployment. After 13 years of Liberal government, Canadians were extraordinarily well served with fiscal responsibility and economic innovation that gave the new minority Conservative government an opportunity to make some very positive and forward thinking decisions.
Unfortunately, those decisions did not come. Unfortunately, we have a neo-Conservative ideology that consumes the Conservative government and threatens both Canada's social progressivity and economic prosperity.
Look at what the government has done in just a few months. It cancelled the Kelowna accord, cut literacy programs, slashed $5 million from the Status of Women, slashed programs and funding for museums, killed the court challenges program, which enabled Canadians to defend their charter rights, and cut the GST, while raising income taxes for low income Canadians.
The Prime Minister refers to himself sometimes as an economist. He must be the only economist on the planet who would support cutting a consumption tax in order to raise income taxes. Every other country in the world is moving to reduce income taxes and in fact in some cases increasing consumption taxes.
This is bad economic and social policy to cut the GST and raise income taxes on low income Canadians. It is a move that has been condemned by the IMF and the OECD. Instead of the minority Conservative government engaging in meaningful discussion around long term tax reform focused on growth, productivity, prosperity and doing the right thing, it is offering Canadians a grab bag of tax trinkets that are designed to buy votes, not to build prosperity or fairness.
There is a startling lack of vision. The government cannot look beyond this week's polls. It is so focused on wedge politics and dividing Canadians that it is ignoring the opportunity to unite Canadians around shared national objectives for the future of building a world class sustainable economy.
Today I will like to talk about some of the types of thinking and ideas that the Government of Canada ought to be pursuing if we are serious about building that world-class sustainable economy that Canadians desire and deserve, ideas such as: reform Canada's tax and income support system to create a fairer, more competitive and greener Canadian economy; a renewed architecture for income security; help the working poor, which is one of the greatest social and economic challenges facing the country, with a working income tax benefit, which was introduced by the previous finance minister, the member for Wascana, but cut by the minority Conservative government; corporate investment tax reform; and continue to reduce the burden on investment in Canada and on corporate earnings.
Canada has the eighth highest taxes on investment out of 61 industrialized countries. The Liberal government had reduced that tax burden on investment. Much more can be done in innovative ways that actually create greater wealth for all Canadians.
The government should create long term market based economic opportunities for Canada's aboriginal peoples, building on the success of the urban aboriginal enterprise zone in Saskatoon. It should work with other western Canadian cities to offer that kind of tax advantage and enterprise zone opportunity to Canada's aboriginal people. At the same time, it should create long term economic growth and prosperity and help address the urban aboriginal challenge that Canada faces, particularly cities in western Canadian.
It should be harnessing multiculturalism and immigration as economic drivers. For a long time we have treated multiculturalism as a social policy. In fact, with globalization and with some of the fastest growing markets in the world being represented by China, India and Brazil, our multicultural communities represent natural bridges to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. We need to harness that entrepreneurial capacity of our multicultural communities to build those bridges and to strengthen that trade.
Instead of doing that in places like China, for example, where Canada has traditionally had a strong trading relationship while at the same time advancing human rights on the agenda with the Chinese government, the Conservative government has actually pursued a policy of isolationism against China. Instead of engaging China on the economy and engaging China on human rights, the government has actually undone a tradition of over 30 years, a tradition of engaging China and creating economic growth and prosperity for the Chinese people and for Canadians and at the same time advancing human rights there.
There is only one thing that Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau ever agreed on and that was the engagement of China. George Bush and our present Prime Minister agree on isolating China. I believe they are wrong. They are pursuing a policy that is dead wrong economically and is fundamentally flawed from the perspective of the advancement of human rights as well.
Putting competitiveness on the federal-provincial agenda, working with the provinces to advance the idea of a national securities regulator, eliminating interprovincial trade barriers, and working with the provinces on a shared services agenda are things the Conservative government should be working on. It should be building on the Services Canada model that enabled the federal government, under the Liberals, to work with provincial governments to reduce the cost of government, improve the quality of services for Canadians, and recognize that there is only one taxpayer.
The government must invest in and attract private sector investment to rural and small town Canada through smarter rural and regional development. It should offer investment tax credits for areas of higher unemployment and broadband access for all Canadians. It should be helping rural Canadians and Canadians engaged in the agricultural sector benefit from the green revolution. It should be making Canada a leader in clean energy and environmental technologies, which could be the fastest growing area of the 21st century economy.
The Conservative government must make Canada a global leader in the research, development, commercialization and export of clean energy and clean energy technologies as part of Canada's overall strategy of taking a leadership role and reshaping our education, training and innovation strategies.
I want to focus on that area today, that idea and the vision of Canada as a global leader in the area of clean energy and environmental technologies.
We need to forget the old notion that good environmental policy hurts the economy. Clean energy and environmental technologies are the greatest economic opportunity that Canada has in the 21st century.
I believe that politicians of all stripes can sometimes take the economy for granted during good economic times. That would be a huge mistake, because we would lose the opportunity we have to build on the successes of the last 13 years and to move forward on a strong base.
The fact is that there are storm clouds on the horizon. Our global competitiveness is slipping while other countries are pulling ahead. In fact, the countries that are pulling ahead of us, such as Finland, Sweden and Norway, are countries that have embraced green technologies and environmental technologies and have understood that greening an economy is not only good for the environment, it is good for business.
According to the latest World Economic Forum or Davos survey, Canada has actually dropped to number 16 in the world from number 13 last year in terms of our global competitiveness. These other countries that have embraced environmental technologies, that understand the linkage between good environmental policy and good economic policy, are leaping ahead.
At the same time, while our competitiveness is slipping, we are actually enjoying a very significant and high level of prosperity. Let us ask ourselves how we as a country are enjoying such a high standard of living while our competitiveness and relative productivity are slipping every year.
The fact is that we are gobbling up non-renewable natural resources as if we have put the oil and the gas under the ground. Our generation is propping up our standard of living by robbing from future generations of Canadians, all while we are destroying the environment.
The countries and the companies that embrace the environment as a core priority will prosper in the 21st century. The other ones will be left in the dust.
Global warming is a real threat to our planet and our country, but it is also creating major economic opportunities for Canada.
In the 21st century, the growing economies of China, India and Brazil will cause the worldwide demand for energy to skyrocket. Canada can take on the challenge of helping the world meet its energy needs while protecting the planet. Both human development and economic growth depend on achieving this dual objective.
Energy is Canada's clear global advantage. We can be the world leader in clean energy production, technology and export. What we need is a plan.
We need to work with the energy industry to put that plan together and we need to recognize that in fact working to meet our Kyoto targets can, with new thinking and innovation, be good for the economy. The plan that I am talking about today can be good for the environment and good for business.
It starts with the tar sands, where we need larger investments in basic research and development and commercialization of new technologies. We need to work with the oil companies and the petroleum companies in the tar sands to produce cleaner energy and to work with them to find new methods to bury the carbon under the ground instead of spewing it into the air.
Canada's energy sector is rolling in profits. It should be investing more than 1% of those profits in research and development. Putting a price on carbon and providing tax incentives for research and development can help transform Canada's energy sector from a research and development laggard to a leader. The result could be cleaner oil, cleaner gas, cleaner coal and less carbon being pumped into the air.
The tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. At the same time, they are remarkably profitable, pouring profits into shareholders' pockets and money into federal and provincial social programs. We need to change extraction methods to do it better and to do it cleaner.
It is not enough to lay the responsibility for fighting global warming exclusively at the feet of the energy companies. We must give all Canadian enterprises generous tax relief and fast write-offs to compensate for the cost of environmentally friendly energy technology and materials.
Simply put, we have to stop subsidizing companies that pollute and we have to start helping companies that produce clean energy and consume less energy.
Canada has among the highest taxes in the world on investment and corporations. We need to focus our tax reductions on activities that reward companies for investing in new technologies to cut their energy use.
Smart money is going green. We need to make Canada a magnet for the smart money and talent of this exciting new sector.
In 2003, Goldman Sachs estimated that $400 billion of international institutional capital was earmarked for investments in environmental technologies in clean energy. It was $400 billion in 2003. Today, in 2006, according to Goldman Sachs, that number has grown to $3 trillion.
Many are comparing the potential impact on capital markets and on business in general internationally, comparing this opportunity that clean energy represents, to the Internet revolution. In fact, some estimate that it will actually create greater levels of economic opportunity than the Internet did.
The Internet did create remarkable economic opportunity, but let us remember that if the Internet did not exist we would still be getting up every morning, we would be going to work and we would still be living our lives. The Internet satisfies a desire, a desire to communicate information more rapidly and more efficiently, but it does not really satisfy a need.
Environmental technologies and clean energy address a real global need. They will not impact how we live our lives; they will in fact impact whether or not we will be able to live our lives on our planet. The economic opportunities created by environmental technologies I believe will dwarf those created by the Internet revolution.
As a conventional energy producer, Canada has a ticket to the best economic game in town. Our goal is clear. Canada can be and should be the world leader in the research, development, sale and export of clean energy and clean energy solutions, everything from wind, solar and biofuel to tidal and fuel cells, and yes, we should have an open and honest discussion about the potential of nuclear.
Personal taxes are high in Canada. Why does the government not consider focusing personal tax reduction on tax credits for Canadians who buy green, for green cars, green home renovations and green heating systems? Instead, the government cancelled the EnerGuide program, a program that was actually helping low income Canadians renovate their homes to save energy, to save money and to save the environment.
We could go further. CMHC could back eco-mortgages to support environmentally efficient design and renovation.
Governments need to do more to go green. That means buying green and building green. As minister of public works, I implemented a program of green procurement. We also initiated in our department the first office of the greening of government in the history of Canada. We were moving through green building design and procurement to green the overall operations of government.
The Department of Public Works buys $13 billion worth of goods and services a year. If it buys green, it actually has a huge impact on creating a market for green products and technologies within Canada, ultimately helping to bring down the prices of those products so that ordinary consumers can afford them.
The Department of Public Works manages 7 million square metres of office space across Canada. If we lease green office space, and if we design, build and renovate greener buildings, it has a huge impact on the environment and, once again, a huge impact on creating a market for environmental technologies.
When governments buy green, when citizens buy green, then companies produce green products. It can create something called green growth. Instead of a gold rush, it could be what I call a green rush.
The Stern report to the British government concluded that the price of inaction could be an economic cost as great as $7 trillion. That would be an economic cost greater than that of World Wars I and II and the Great Depression combined.
We cannot afford to do nothing. Climate change is a global crisis. The solution will take leadership from Canada, a country with a history of punching above our weight.
We have a tremendous opportunity as a country to act and to make a real difference, to engage the private sector, to engage citizens, and to engage Canada's energy sector. It is important that political parties put aside partisanship and work together to develop and implement the best ideas.
Parliamentarians who sat in this House in the 20th century worked very hard and looked ahead to help shape a legacy for the 21st century for this Parliament and successive governments, and left a Canada that is one of the most socially progressive societies anywhere in the world.
I believe that if we get to work as a Parliament, and if governments, including the Conservative government, wake up and recognize the importance of the environment and the opportunity represented by environmental technologies and clean energy, that the legacy that we work toward at the end of the 21st century can be a Canada that is a global leader in the area of environmental technologies and clean energy, a Canada that has risen to the challenge, and a Canada wherein Canadians are proud of the role that we have played in terms of helping to address the biggest challenge facing the planet in the 21st century.
I cannot think of another issue that would engage Quebeckers and all Canadians, particularly young Canadians, that would have a greater impact on national unity in terms of shared national objectives than the environment. This is a tremendous economic opportunity for Canada and a tremendous moral imperative for us to act and act now.
I have taken the few minutes I had today to talk about some ideas for the future. That is something that we as parliamentarians ought to be doing more of. I offer these ideas to a government that I fear is going to be unwilling because of its narrow neo-conservative ideological focus to accept them, but I would hope that perhaps in the last 20 minutes I have been able to offer some ideas that would make some sense to the government. If not, we will simply have to replace it in the next election and we will go forward with building a cleaner, greener, more prosperous and productive Canadian economy.
Mr. Dave Batters (Palliser, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech given by the member for Kings—Hants. I have a simple question for the member. There seems to be a glaring hypocrisy here from the member opposite or a glaring flip-flop. When the member opposite was a Progressive Conservative and actually ran for the leadership of that party, he made statements in this House. He is going to say that party no longer exists, but he cannot escape one simple fact and I would like him to specifically address this.
He made statements on the record in this House, and I wish I had them here to quote into the record, that Kyoto was nothing but malarkey. Then, after his conversion to the Liberals, the member is now apparently convert and believes in Kyoto. The people watching at home and Canadians would be interested to hear how this member explains this blatant contradiction from being a complete opponent to Kyoto--
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): The hon. member for Kings--Hants.
Hon. Scott Brison: Mr. Speaker, I would urge the hon. member to actually read the speech I gave in this House in 2001 at the time of the decision to ratify Kyoto in which I actually said I supported Kyoto. In fact, I attacked the government for not putting in place a plan at that time to meet Kyoto targets, so I was critical at that time of a government that did not implement a plan immediately to respect Kyoto targets. I was supportive of the Kyoto accord.
Today I find myself attacking a Conservative government that has actually undone a plan, has taken apart and destroyed a plan, that the Liberal government actually implemented. I supported that plan. I was part of a cabinet and in fact, under the leadership of my current leader who was environment minister at the time, a plan was implemented that made sense, that advanced the environmental file that would help us respect and achieve our Kyoto targets. This government is undoing it, so I am being entirely consistent.
I attacked when there was no plan to respect Kyoto targets and I am attacking today a government that completely gutted a Liberal government's plan to move toward meeting those Kyoto targets, so I have been entirely consistent.
One of the differences between the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party is that the old Progressive Conservative Party understood that climate change was a reality. It understood that we had to take action as a government, and in fact believed that Kyoto was the right thing but the plan needed to be in place to respect those targets.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): I am going to give the floor to the member for Jeanne-Le Ber so he can ask a question.
I would like the hon. member for Kings--Hants to keep an eye on the Chair so that I can give him advice as to how the clock is running.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Kings—Hants and I was pleased, if surprised, to hear him talk about how our tax system must stop encouraging polluting industries and instead give tax benefits to companies in the sector who can contribute to improving our environment because major investments are needed. I was pleased because the Bloc Québécois has long held this position. If the member's riding were in Quebec, I think he would be ready to join the Bloc Québécois.
At the same time, I was surprised because many of the measures that help the oil industry were set up during the Liberal government's tenure. We remember the many gifts that were given, including accelerated capital cost allowances for 100% of oil sands investment. That means that according to the Liberal Party, an oil sands development has a useful life of one year. That is absolutely ridiculous.
Among other things, when the Standing Committee on Finance was drafting its pre-budget consultation report, I made a proposal to abolish this tax incentive, which encourages pollution. Unfortunately, the committee rejected the proposal.
I would like to know why we did not get his party's support to abolish a tax incentive that encourages polluters.
Hon. Scott Brison: Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question.
First, our government implemented positive changes to honour our commitments under the Kyoto accord: for example, EnerGuide and the other programs to encourage people and businesses to make a difference and invest in clean energy.
I absolutely agree with the member. We need to do more. That is why I have suggested ways of doing so.
It is clear to me that Quebeckers are particularly aware of environmental issues. I have confidence that Quebeckers and all Canadians can be rallied around a major national objective such as the environment. I hope that with effective policies, it will be possible to unite the country, Quebeckers and all Canadians, around this objective. Perhaps with that approach, it will be possible for us to work together in my party, the Liberal Party.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his thoughtful dissertation on the green economy and all the things we could do within it. Certainly, we have to make choices. We have made some choices in the past. One of the choices the Liberal administration made in the last few years, which was backed up by the Conservatives when they got in, was to encourage the development of liquefied natural gas terminals in Canada. These terminals would bring gas from other countries to Canada at very high environmental cost in terms of the CO2 emissions to get the gas here. As early as May, the North American Energy Working Group was busy continuing this plan to develop the infrastructure of delivery of another fossil fuel from somewhere else.
As a Liberal member of cabinet before, does he now see the error in supporting the development of this new fossil fuel energy source for this country? It exports money and creates pollution in other countries. Does he think this is the kind of thing with which we should be moving ahead if we are really, truly talking about a green economy in Canada?
Hon. Scott Brison: Mr. Speaker, the member refers, in a pejorative way, to fossil fuels. Perhaps he is of a different mindset because I know some people believe that we can achieve all the energy requirements that the world needs with wind, solar energy, biofuels and these others. In fact, that is not accurate.
We need to start with cleaner fossil fuel technology; the way we extract and the way we refine. We need to invest in the kinds of technologies that can lead to cleaner oil, cleaner gas and cleaner coal. However, we should not dismiss offhand any form of energy when the technology is available or waiting to be commercialized to actually produce it in a more environmentally sound way.
I mentioned earlier, and he may be adverse to this, that we have to have a broader discussion about nuclear power as a greater part of meeting our energy requirements in Canada. France is producing 78% of its energy with nuclear power. We cannot have a reasonable discussion on reducing greenhouse gas emissions unless we are willing to actually talk about nuclear power when it is one technology that does not produce or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
We as a country have significant uranium resources. I have been told that we are one of three countries in the world that is stably and democratically governed, until recently, and, at the same, has significant uranium resources. We need a broader discussion, but we should not be coming at it from an ideological perspective. I think that there are opportunities for us to produce all the forms of energy.