Maxime Bernier

Building a freer, more dynamic and competitive economy

Building a freer, more dynamic and competitive economy

On Septembre 17, 2006, I delivered this speech about economic freedom, the importance of entrepreneurship and the role of government at the Annual General Assembly of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Saskatoon. -- 7 April 2009

 

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to recognize the outstanding work of the Chamber of Commerce and its members. The Chamber is an essential link between government and tens of thousands of Canadian entrepreneurs and innovators – the very heart of Canada’s economic engine. One of the keys to prosperity for all Canadians is entrepreneurship. It is very important to me; it is vital to our economy. And this is what I would like to discuss with you today.

 

The first thing you should know about me is that I am from the Beauce, the region along the Chaudière River south of Québec. The Beauce is unique in Quebec – it is well known as the most entrepreneurial region of the province. Many of the best-known business people in Quebec come from the Beauce.

This is also where I learned the values that go with entrepreneurship: individual freedom, integrity, responsibility and self-reliance. When I am defending economic freedom and entrepreneurship, I am defending what to me are “les valeurs Beauceronnes” – the values of my native Beauce.

I grew up believing that when we are free to create and to innovate, and to reap the benefit of our work, all human beings will tend to exhibit some quality of entrepreneurship. And by embracing these ideals we will make the world better, for ourselves and for everybody else at the same time.

Although we usually think of entrepreneurs as business people developing new products and investing in risky ventures, this is a narrow definition. Entrepreneurship is an outlook on life. It is the ability to see opportunities in your environment and exploit them to create something new or make something better.

You can be an entrepreneur in your own field, since there is always something to improve whatever we do. A hairdresser who develops an ability to match heads with new hairstyles is an entrepreneur. An industrial worker who finds a faster way to assemble a machine is an entrepreneur. A teacher who uses games to keep his students interested in mathematics is an entrepreneur.

All these people create something of a greater value. They do it not only because they can earn more money. They do it because it makes their jobs more interesting, because it gives meaning to their lives, because they believe that they can make a difference. That is why governments at all levels need to nurture entrepreneurs, not punish them with job-killing taxes and burdensome red tape.

My dream for Canada is that the 21st century becomes the century of the individual, the century of the entrepreneur, a century of unequalled freedom and prosperity. As Canadian Minister of Industry, I can have a bit of influence on making this dream come true. I have already started working to achieve this goal.

You are probably aware that earlier this year, I tabled in Parliament a proposed policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission – the CRTC. This is the first time since the Telecommunications Act came into force almost 15 years ago that a policy direction has been issued to the CRTC. It marks our intention to direct the CRTC to rely on market forces as much as possible in exercising its mandate. When regulation is necessary, we want to ensure it poses the least possible interference with market forces.

This will mean lower regulatory cost and burden, with fewer regulatory proceedings and more competitive markets. This will lead to a stronger competitive environment and, in turn, more choice, lower prices and better service for Canadians.

In June I met with my American and Mexican counterparts to officially launch the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC). Its mandate is to provide governments with recommendations on broad issues such as making our borders more efficient and reducing regulations, as well as increasing the competitiveness of key sectors. I look forward to receiving recommendations from the entrepreneurs – members of the NACC – who know better about fostering a more productive economy.

Last week, I met with my provincial and territorial counterparts in Halifax to discuss ways to strengthen Canada’s economic union. In today’s globalizing world, it makes no sense to still have interprovincial trade barriers. I was very encouraged by the discussions with my provincial colleagues. We reached agreement on an ambitious action plan that will significantly improve labour mobility, allowing Canadians to work and live anywhere in Canada without restrictions by April 1, 2009.

As Canadian Minister of Industry and member of Canada’s new government, I believe we have to establish conditions so that all small businesses can realize their goals. We need to nurture entrepreneurs and liberate their capacities to invent, invest and achieve.

Our government shares your goal to foster a strong, competitive economic environment that benefits Canada and all Canadians. That is why the budget’s first priority is a more competitive tax system. We want to create an environment that encourages investment and supports a more productive economy.

We cut the GST. We reduced the lowest personal income tax rate. The amount that all Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax will be increased, each and every year for 2005, 2006 and 2007. We introduced the $1000 Canada Employment Credit to give Canadians a break on what it costs to work – recognizing expenses for things such as home computers, uniforms and supplies. We reduced the tax burden on business, especially small business – the greatest generator of jobs and wealth in Canada.

Beginning next year, the threshold at which small business income is eligible for the reduced federal tax rate will increase by $100 000, to $400 000. The 12-percent rate for eligible small business income will be reduced by a full percentage point over the next two and a half years. We have eliminated the federal capital tax, two years ahead of schedule. The corporate surtax will be abolished in 2008, and, by 2010, Canada’s general corporate tax rate will have dropped by two full percentage points.

Budget 2006 also outlined the reduction of paper burden on small and medium-sized businesses as a priority. Like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s government recognizes that time is money, especially when it comes to regulatory matters. We are working with partners such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association to bring about real results from the Paperwork Burden Reduction Initiative. Processes are being streamlined and, as the Minister responsible, I am committed to working within the federal government and with our partners in the provinces and territories to increase the pace of regulatory reform.

In addition, we continue to refine the BizPaL initiative, working with our partners in the provinces, territories and municipalities to give business people easy, one-stop access to the business permit and licence process for all levels of government.

Improving the business environment also means enhancing trade relations with other countries. Already we have moved decisively to improve the working relationship with the Americans – our largest trading partner and closest ally. We have reached an agreement with the United States to bring an end to the longstanding softwood lumber dispute. It ensures a greater certainty for businesses in this industry that will allow them to innovate, invest, grow and expand.

We are also building upon existing relations with China, our fastest-growing and second-largest national trading partner. Our nations have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial trade partnership, and we will continue developing this important relationship.

These are only a few examples of what we have accomplished. And more will come.

For too long in this country, we have had too much government on our back and too much government in our pockets. The government’s role is to create an environment that does not punish people who work more and earn more money, but rather encourages them.

As Ronald Reagan once said, the role of the government is not: If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; and if it stops moving, subsidize it. Good government policy gives people the opportunity to look to the future, to dream and to realize their dreams. This is what living in a great and free country is all about.

Today I’ve spoken about values that I know you share. I’m not asking you to believe in yourselves; you already do. I’m not asking you to be entrepreneurs; you already are. But I will ask you to work with me, and with my colleagues in Canada’s new government, to build a freer, more dynamic and competitive economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, entrepreneurs, thank you.

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