Thank you very much for the kind and generous introduction.
I said it when I spoke here last, and it bears repeating, the Vancouver Board of Trade is an organization that is incredibly important. It's a platform for people of all backgrounds to come forward and advocate for good public policy. Your interest in the broader community is truly commendable.
Ladies and gentlemen, in May 2011, after three minority governments in a row, Canadians chose to elect a majority government. We asked them to allow us to focus on the Canadian economy, and that is what we have done.
And we're continuing to focus on the economy as our principal task because it is from a strong, robust, balanced, pan-Canadian economy that all of the benefits to society flow.
In 2012, our government lowered the federal corporate tax rate to 15 percent. With the provinces, the combined federal-provincial corporate tax rate in Canada is, on average, 26 percent.
This is well below the comparative average of all G7 countries, and it's a full 13 percentage points lower than what's offered to business in the United States, which is why companies like Google are expanding now in Canada. It's why Microsoft is coming to Vancouver with its campus here in the old Sears building. It's why firms like Burger King are looking to move north to Canada from Florida and expand their footprint here in this country.
You know, across the board, we have lower taxes in every single way in which the Government of Canada collects taxes: lower incomes taxes, taxes on small business, corporate tax rates, national sales tax. Taken together, the corporate tax rate across the board in this country today is at its lowest point in 55 years.
And this spring, Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer reported to Canadians that, since 2006, since we formed government, the tax relief we have implemented is over $30 billion, which has been put back into the pockets of everyday Canadian families so that they can choose how they want to live their lives.
Through lower taxes, we have helped families. We've made our country more competitive, and we've controlled government spending.
And we are on a path to balance the budget next spring. And we're in this position because we've budgeted effectively. The economy has grown. Program spending has been brought under control, and we're growing not only nationally but also in all regional pockets across the country.
We are second only to the United States in growth among G7 countries since the recession, and of course they had a much deeper and much tougher recession than we had.
All credit rating agencies have affirmed Canada's AAA credit rating, and for the sixth consecutive year, the World Economic Forum has declared our banking system to be the soundest and strongest in the world.
KPMG, in a recently released study, declared that Canada has the most tax-competitive economy in the world and is the easiest place in the world in which to do business.
So Canada has a record in which investors have confidence and about which the Prime Minister is indeed very proud.
But better than that, we're being recognized around the world for the strength of the Canadian economy and the way in which it has been managed.
I know Hillary Clinton spoke at the Vancouver Board of Trade earlier this year. In another speech she gave, she noted, correctly, that "Canadian middle class incomes are now higher than in the United States. Canadians are working fewer hours for more pay, they're living longer on average and they're facing less income inequality."
And she's right.
And as we continue to push our free-enterprise, pro-growth agenda, we're going to keep doing it in a way that benefits all of Canada.
When I spoke to you last, it was before we had a chance to announce our government's infrastructure program. I know that other political leaders have come before the Vancouver Board of Trade and said that the government should invest in infrastructure. Well, in fact, we are.
The last Building Canada Fund we had was the largest infrastructure program in Canada's history. And the one we replaced it with this year is larger than that one. In fact, in total, we're going to be investing $53 billion in infrastructure across Canada. British Columbia will be getting its fair share of funds for the first time ever. And it's going to be going to key projects that will benefit Canada's economic productivity going forward.
And some of that infrastructure money will be going to ensuring that our international trade goals are realized.
You know, since 2006, our government has pursued the most aggressive free trade agenda than any government in this country's history has.
In 2006, we had free trade agreements with five countries around the world. Our government has taken it from five to forty-three countries. And of course this includes the historic Canada–European Union free trade agreement, which gives our 35-million person country access to 500 million new customers.
And on top of that, of course, we've signed the Canada–Korea Free Trade Agreement and we are working on a free trade agreement with Japan. The Prime Minister has visited China. We'll be visiting there again this fall.
We have a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China that we're implementing as well.
The South Korea deal, by the way, is of particular benefit to those of us from British Columbia. We don't say this in our national talking points, but I'll say it here at the Vancouver Board of Trade. Over 55 percent of Canada's trade with South Korea comes from our home province of British Columbia. So we stand to benefit enormously from this deal.
And, by the way, associated with all of this, we've also expanded air agreements with over 80 countries around the world—again, opening Canada up to the rest of the world through these agreements, through trade and through investment.
And here at home in North America, of course, we've expanded the Beyond the Border agreement. We also renewed our commitment in this year's budget to have a second border crossing at Windsor–Detroit—the most important, busiest and most commercially sensitive trade crossing in the world.
So when you get to this position of low taxes, free trade agreements internationally and a sound banking system, the question obviously becomes, What's next?
Well, I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, improving our internal trade is what's next.
We have too many barriers to commerce, trade, mobility and growth within Canada.
For example, try driving a transport truck across this country and you'll soon discover what the problem is. Provinces have different rules on truck weights and dimensions and various requirements for sizes of tires. Fuels are different in every province in this country.
We are the second largest country in the world in size. We try to do commerce all across this country, and yet we don't have basic transportation standards harmonized across Canada.
This leads to firms focusing their economic growth plans on a north-south axis, not an east-west axis. And as a result, we hinder their economic growth and we hurt Canada's economic integration.
Here's a specific example of a specific firm: Beau's Brewery. Beau's Brewery is based in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. Beau's is an award-winning brewery. It's located just 20 km away from the Quebec border but can't sell its product in the province of Quebec.
Well, why is that? Because marketing is done on a provincial basis. Why is that? Well, because after prohibition, governments decided to take over the distribution, and there are all kinds of barriers and politics that are associated with that.
And now, even though Beau's wants to sell in Quebec, it said, "Forget it." So instead, Beau's is actually going to be opening up business in upper New York state—and taking the jobs of bottling and distribution and sales and labelling with it. All that is going to go to New Yorkers. And consumers are denied choice. When choice is denied, there's less on the shelves. Product selection goes down. Consumers struggle. And it hurts the Canadian economy.
Another example: dairy creamers. It seems like a dumb one, but this is true. For coffee creamers, you know, provinces have different regulations on everything from the size to the glue used on the label to whether or not it's bilingual to how large the percentage sign is. Different regulations in every province in this country.
They do it because in some parts of this country very small dairy farmers argue that they can't compete with the big guy next door. But what is worse is that many businesses are actually prepared to compete but are not artificially protected by trade barriers. As such, they never actually graduate from being a small business to a medium-sized business to a large business selling across the country and then using that as a launching pad to sell around the world.
So we get isolated local, regionalized economies—and isolated local, regionalized products—rather than ones that truly grow proportionately in size, that create jobs, wealth, prosperity and that then engage to take on the world.
So Canada, in my view, needs a far more aggressive and bold policy framework to break down trade barriers within Canada. Foreign firms operating in Canada should not have a systemic advantage over Canadians firms operating in Canada.
You know, it was Peter Lougheed who said, "I am a proud Albertan, but I'm a Canadian first." He was a great premier because he said that, because he saw Alberta not as a province that needs to fight and duke it out with other provinces but as a province that could stand up and be a leader in the Canadian family. He saw that Albertans would benefit because Canada would benefit. And if Canada was strong, Alberta would benefit. There are always debates and there are always divisions, but he spoke like a true national statesman from a provincial microphone.
And I think we're in that position now. I'm a proud British Columbian, but I'm a Canadian first. And as Canada's Minister of Industry, I've made it my number one priority to ensure that we move forward on this file because the job of Confederation in this country isn't done. These tensions and divisions that have challenged us since the days of Confederation remain. Sometimes, they're socioeconomic. Sometimes, they're political. Sometimes, they're linguistic and cultural. Sometimes, they're things that are incredibly challenging to tackle.
This one ought not to be because the provinces across this country have all consented and agreed to the Canada–European Union free trade agreement. They have all recognized the benefit of allowing pan-Canadian free trade for Europeans who want to do business within this country. Let's allow Canadians to do business within this country.
The Province of Ontario has come to the Government of Canada. We're partnering with it, and we're expanding our free trade agreement with the United States. We're moving with the Atlantic provinces on a labour agreement within Atlantic Canada to get people moving around and to energize the economy there. And we have the New West Partnership that is having some successes, but we want them all to be more ambitious as we move forward.
So I'm here, as I said at the beginning, to ask you for your help because it's one thing for a group of politicians to talk to each other, but it's another to hear from the business community all across British Columbia and all across Canada. We need you to stand up and be heard in order to move forward and realize this goal.
The premiers met last week in Charlottetown, and they set a goal of looking at this and coming up with some proposals by 2016. I don't think that's good enough. And I don't think that having an agreement between B.C. and Saskatchewan just on wine is good enough. It's good, but it's not nearly enough.
We're a G7 country, and Vancouverites should have the ability to sell their goods and services in Edmonton and in Moncton and in Labrador and in Rivière-du-Loup. We must demonstrate to the global business community—to Burger King and others—that if you want to come to Canada, come to Canada, but not just for tax purposes. Come here to cement yourself, to expand and to use our low-tax jurisdiction to expand within Canada and then around the world. And we're going to require leaders, and they're not always going to come from the political sphere. They're going to have to come from the business community.
And that's why I am so thankful that the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and John Manley and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives have come together. I've spoken to chambers of commerce all across this country, from Regina to St. John's, about this file over the past six months. I've been all across this country pushing and fighting for this because I need your help. I need all of you to stand up and push for this.
As I said, the job of Confederation is not done. Uniting this country politically, socially and economically is not done. And what's next is this.
What's next is, as we go forward to 2017 and Canada's 150th birthday, that we actually do cement these ties, that these ties actually do matter and do get realized, and that we are creating jobs in every part of this country.
Thank you for your time.