Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Cowan's inquiry. Where to start with this? To begin with, as noted by Senator Finley, the hypocrisy contained in the very notion of this inquiry is laughable. Following a decade plagued by numerous scandals, flat out lies and broken promises to Canadians, it seems the Liberal Party has become increasingly whiny after five years out of power.
The egos of the self-prescribed natural governing party of Canada are apparently badly bruised. This inquiry brings to mind a spoiled brat, throwing a temper tantrum after losing his favourite toy. In this case, the toy is power, and the brat is the Liberal Party.
Rather than take a hard look in the mirror to see why the Liberal Party is in such shambles and disarray, they resort to cheap attacks in the Senate chamber. It is ironic that a party that has resisted all efforts to reform the Senate is doing the most damage to its reputation. Our mandate in the chamber is to study proposed legislation and issues affecting Canadians, not to launch blatant political attacks under the guise of Senate business.
While it might be convenient to blame Prime Minister Harper for all their problems, this will not provide any answers to their lack of solid policy positions, weak leadership and pathetic fundraising. Perhaps the years of abused power have led to the Liberals losing touch with the average, hard-working Canadians who became sick of the scandals and tired of the wishy-washy messages and arrogance. Honourable senators, this government made a promise to protect and strengthen Canada's economy. This government committed itself to this promise and that is what we have done.
Honourable senators, regardless of the holes that colleagues opposite would like to try to poke through it, Canada's Economic Action Plan supported the country and its citizens throughout the global recession. It has succeeded in building solid stepping stones for economic recovery, progress and growth. Due to this plan and our government's strong financial management, Canada is recognized as an international role model in fiscal management. Look no further than the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada who noted that the economic action plan "provides the necessary support for economic stimulus and job creation."
Note that the International Monetary Fund highlighted Canada as having the strongest fiscal position in the G7.
I could spend all day talking about the successes of the economic action plan; however, due to time constraints, this is not possible. Thus, let me address the extraordinary job done by our government to take action immediately and decisively to protect jobs and to help those Canadians hardest hit by the global recession.
Canada's Economic Action Plan directly assisted and helped the unemployed through various methods; one of those being changes to Employment Insurance. However, let me reminisce about the dark days of EI under the previous Liberal government. It is well known that Liberals used EI premiums paid by workers and businesses as a political slush fund. They raided and completely decimated the EI account of nearly $60 billion without blinking an eye. Professor Thomas Courchene of Queen's University wrote about the Liberals in the April 2010 edition of Policy Options:
. . . siphoned off somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5 to $6 billion annually from the EI surplus . . . the cumulative EI surplus that the Liberals brought into the consolidated revenue fund (CRF) reached a staggering $60 billion.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business declared in 2000 that they were tired of the EI fund being the slush fund for other initiatives.
It was a Conservative provincial government, one in which Senator Runciman was a part, that drew everyone's attention to the fact that the Liberals had gutted the EI account to play voodoo accounting, making it appear as though they had balanced the books.
Honourable senators, the Liberals emptied this fund and balanced the books on the backs of Canadian workers and the provinces. It took a Conservative government to remove political interference from the Employment Insurance Act, thus ensuring that future governments can never do this again. What a noble concept.
Regardless of the past misdeeds perpetrated by the Liberal Party, perhaps we should look at the promise kept by this government to protect the economy and those hardest hit by the global downturn. As mentioned numerous times, our government's number one priority is and will continue to be the economy. Unlike honourable senators across the way, when something needs doing, we address the situation swiftly and unwaveringly. Unfortunately, the Liberals do not feel the same way about the likes of such examples as the dire need for new fighter jets. However, this is perhaps on a par with the decade of darkness experienced by the military during the Liberals last time in power. Sea Kings, anyone? I digress.
All in all, the first phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan included $8.3 billion over two years to support job creation and protect and assist the unemployed. Due to the strong leadership of Prime Minister Harper, this quick decision and action has allowed Canada's economy to recover virtually all of the jobs that were lost during this tumultuous time. My point is that when strong action on the economy was needed, it was provided by our government.
This government provided an extra five weeks of EI benefit to more than 1 million EI claimants.
This government provided 164,000 long-tenured workers with up to 20 weeks of additional benefits. Furthermore, more than 14,000 of these unemployed workers received additional assistance and long-term training through the Career Training Assistance Program.
This government provided EI training opportunities for all Canadian workers, including additional support to the provinces and territories to expand training in skills development and support for over 200,000 Canadians annually moving into the knowledge-based economy. Even those who did not qualify for EI benefits were assisted by the Strategic Training and Transition Fund for skills enhancement and training.
This government provided funding for youth internships, which help in gaining work experience and necessary skills.
This government offered more opportunities to Aboriginal Canadians by providing $80 million over two years in additional funding for the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership, and $75 million over two years for the Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund.
This government extended the duration of work-sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks and increased access to work-sharing agreements through greater flexibility in the qualifying criteria. This initiative assisted over 35,000 Canadians just this past December.
It was this government that provided $40 million in new funding for an initiative for older workers, enabling more than 9,900 unemployed older workers to receive the specialized support they need to transition to new jobs.
It was this government that made a commitment to encourage skilled trades and apprenticeships by investing $80 million in the new Apprenticeship Completion Grant. It assisted over 38,000 new Canadians.
These accomplishments clearly show that our government has fulfilled its promise to assist the unemployed and to protect Canada's economy. I am proud to be part of a government that realizes that the workforce has evolved from the one that most of us experienced, and that is most assuredly completely different from the workforce of our parents. Today, Canada boasts a much different workforce: It is more educated, skilled, sophisticated and demanding not only of their employer but of their government. We have done all that is possible to ease this transition.
Canada's Economic Action Plan has been successful in creating over 460,000 jobs since July 2009, with close to 85 per cent of those jobs full-time, and almost 90 per cent of them high-quality jobs in high-wage industries. Furthermore, our economy has grown for the past five quarters. However, this recovery remains fragile and we are committed to further implementing our job creating, low-tax plan for the benefit of all Canadians.
This growth is one more proof that Canada's Economic Action Plan is working and working well, apparently something the Liberal Party has had a hard time accepting. Their denial has led to this cheap-shot inquiry. However, their childish antics are hardly significant.
What is significant and encouraging is seeing Canada's economy on the right track and I cannot help but praise the current government for that feat.
Honourable senators, the Conservative government under Prime Minister Harper has kept its promise to Canadians to keep the economy strong and the jobs available. It is an honour to rise today to shine light on that major accomplishment.