Transcript: Minister Morneau hosts Facebook Live event in Calgary – January 15, 2016
DATE: January 15, 2016 2:00 p.m.
LOCATION: University of Calgary, Education Classroom Block, Room EDC 179, 2750 University Way NW
PRINCIPAL(S): The Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence;
The Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance.
SUBJECT: Minister of Finance Bill Morneau Holds a Town Hall Meeting with Students at the University of Calgary During a Facebook Live Event.
Moderator: Is this working? Can everybody hear me? Yeah? Okay. So welcome, students and ministers. I think this is a really exciting thing for all of our students, so I’m delighted for all of you and I’m very excited for a productive discussion today.
I’m also delighted to have the honour of introducing two ministers today. First, we have our federal Minister of Finance here to discuss the budget with all of you, Minister Bill Morneau. Mr. Morneau is an accomplished business leader, so not only a politician, but an accomplished business leader who’s been an active volunteer in Toronto Centre for more than 20 years. His community service has been extensive. It includes work with the arts, with street kids and improving health care, access to health care and education. He’s participated in numerous boards ranging from hospitals to education and the C.D. Howe Institute. For those of you from my public policy class, as you know, that’s one of the public policy think tanks here in Canada.
He’s also contributed internationally by founding a special school for Somali and Sudanese youth in an African refugee camp. So quite significant from an international perspective.
In 2002, he was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 and has co-authored books and articles related to public policy. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Western University, a Masters of Science from the London School of Economics and an MBA from INSEAD, so that’s a school which has a very strong international reputation.
As well as introducing Minister Morneau, we have another federal minister joining us today. No stranger to the University of Calgary, the Honourable Kent Hehr was named our Graduate of the Last Decade in 2005. He has completed two degrees here – so that’s for all of you who are completing your degrees here at the same time, so to think about for your future – a Bachelor of Arts in 1977 and a law degree in 2001.
Just a side note too, he also won – if you don’t know – one of the first two Liberal seats in Calgary since 1968, so quite an accomplishment.
Audience Member: Whoo hoo. (Laughter.)
Moderator: Minister Hehr is a community leader, Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding Calgary Centre. He is the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and he will also be helping us today by moderating the questions after Minister Morneau’s discussion.
Thank you. Let’s join together in welcoming our two guests today. (Applause.)
Hon. Kent Hehr: Well, hey, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to have you guys here. I’m the moderator, so what I’m going to ask you to do is keep your questions and your comments to no more than two minutes. I will be forced to try and be a little bit mean and nasty if you go too much longer than that, and I don’t like being that way. And you know, it’s a great honour and privilege to be back here at the University of Calgary. I will say that without the University of Calgary – I graduated from high school being a very average student – but without the opportunity to come here and learn over the course of time and complete two degrees – I did win the Graduate of the Decade, but it was more because I was here for a decade, not because I did anything spectacular. (Laughter.) So let’s remember that.
But I’ll open up the floor and I’m going to pass to Bill who’s already been put through the paces by many people today, but he’s going to introduce the topic and we look forward to you guys holding our feet to the fire here this afternoon. Bill, take it away.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Thanks, Kent. Well, thank you all for being here. I guess the good news is I got you out of class today, so for those who are happy with me to start out with, that’s my starting point. I’m here, as you probably understand, I’m crossing the country this week to do what we call pre-budget consultations, so I’m actually going from coast to coast. I started in Halifax on Monday, and I’m ending tomorrow in Surrey, really going out and trying to listen to Canadians across the country.
We were elected recently. We were elected in October, and we had obviously a lot of campaign commitments that we made to Canadians, but now with the opportunity to get out and talk to people live and online, we are trying to get a sense of priorities of Canadians, so that we can take those priorities and help our budget to reflect priorities. So we’re going to follow through on our campaign commitments, but of course there are some things that we may need to do a little differently, there are some things that we may need to do a little more rapidly, and you’re going to be part of those discussions by helping us to understand that.
In particular, it’s important to be here in Calgary today. So it’s great to be at the University of Calgary, but in Calgary, I’ve been able to be out this morning. I met with some people from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. I met with a group of business leaders from the oil and gas sector not so long ago and really got a flavour of, you know, the real challenges that are going on in the Alberta economy because of the change in the price of oil and the impacts that that has on the Alberta economy. So you might be able to reflect back some of that to me in our conversation today.
You may know as well that we also have people who are joining us on Facebook. So we will have the opportunity to have questions here in the room, but I think we will have some questions on Facebook, maybe in French or in English, from across the country. So here too, if you have any questions in French, I am comfortable – you can be comfortable asking them in French as well.
So with that, I just want to give you a little sense of our program. We made some really important commitments in the course of our campaign, and those were commitments to really deal with what we see as a low growth environment in Canada. We talked about how we can stimulate growth in this country through moving money back to the middle class, lowering taxes on the middle class, by increasing the amount of benefits that Canadians get for having children in this country, and in particular making significant investments in infrastructure. So those are some of the key commitments we’ve made, but rather than spending a lot of time dwelling on those, I want to say that I’m really interested in having your feedback today, so I’m open for questions. Kent.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Perfect. My friend, the mighty Tristan Greg (ph).
Question: (Off microphone.) Thanks, Kent. As he said, my name’s Tristan Greg. I’m a fifth-year political science major here at the U of C. One of the campaign commitments made (on microphone) was a commitment to creating 40,000 youth jobs. Within that commitment, there was $40 million in funding specifically for students – co-op opportunities for students in the sciences, maths, engineering and business faculties. I’m wondering if there are any plans to fund additional co-op opportunities for students studying disciplines such as economics, political science, law and society, communications and the many other diverse majors within the Faculty of Arts.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Well, that’s a good question. And you know what’s particularly good is it seems you’ve read some of our campaign commitments, so that’s good to know.
Just to give the broad background, we made a number of observations during our campaign, and one is that we want to make sure that we have, you know, really strong participation in the labour force from people from all different sectors of the economy. And one place we want to focus on is making sure that we have enough opportunities for youth and we find ways to get them engaged in the economy when they get out to get jobs or, you know, summer jobs as possible.
So we intend on following through on our commitments. We intend on making investments in youth employment. We are looking towards how we can significantly increase the number of jobs for youth, and we identified those sectors not because we want them to be exclusively where we’re focused, but just as an identification of the fact that we do think we do need to make significant opportunities available for people in those sectors; but it’s not exclusive to other areas. So we are going to be rolling out a number of initiatives around how we can ensure that youth are having enough opportunities, and you won’t see them as being exclusively in the sectors that we started out with. Broadly, what we aim to do, though, in this country is make sure that we focus on economic growth, so that we create new jobs. We realize that for young people in particular, as you think about whether you’re in fifth year like you – I didn’t know there was a fifth year, by the way, but I guess that’s your last year.
Question: Victory lap.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Victory lap, okay. (Laughter.) Or people in first year, what you’re, I know, worried about is what’s going to happen next. And the single most important thing we can do as a government is think about economic growth and what are the ways that we increase the productive capacity of the country and create jobs. And that’s the broader agenda, which is job creation for all Canadians.
Question: Thank you.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Thanks.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Okay. Next question. Make your way – yeah, you want to stand up at the mic?
Question: Okay. Hi. My name is Seena (ph). And my question has to do with the Tax-Free Savings Account. So there’s a lot of information going around that we’re going to have to save – it’s going to take a longer time for us to afford what our parents did in the past, and with the elimination of $5,000 of contribution, what incentives are you implementing to encourage our generation to successfully save?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thank you for that question. And we have some people here who like the question. We made a number of commitments in our campaign, and we’re considering broadly how we can help with our retirement system across the country. So you know, you identify a big challenge for people across this country, and that challenge is how can you prepare yourself for your retirement? It’s gotten more difficult over the years for a couple of reasons. One is people are living longer, so it’s good news, but it means that people are likely going to be retired longer than they might have expected a generation before. And another is that the kinds of returns that we expected from our investments a generation ago may not be able to be quite as large in the next generation meaning there’ll be a strain on savings.
We believe that what we need to do is think about how we can best create a retirement system that helps people to save appropriately, but also realizes that not everyone will do the saving every single year.
So our first and most important campaign commitment was we would like to work together with the provinces to enhance the Canada Pension Plan. It’s been a very effective vehicle for helping Canadians to retire in dignity. We’ve done very well over the last 50 years. If you look back 50 years ago, we had a high rate of elderly poverty, and fast forward to now, we have a much better rate. We’re one of the best countries in the world in terms of elderly poverty among OECD countries in particular. So we believe that we should enhance the Canada Pension Plan so we deal with the fact that some people aren’t saving enough.
And we think that the Tax-Free Savings Account, it’s a good vehicle. What we’ve done is we’ve said it should be at the level of $5,500 and indexed over time, so it will grow over time. And similarly, there’s RRSP opportunity as well, so we think that by maximizing your ability to save through the RRSP, through a Tax-Free Savings Account and to enhance CPP, that it will put you in a good position for retirement as long as you’re diligent about doing that saving over the course of your career.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Thanks.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Yes, my friend.
Question: Hello. How’s it going? My name is Afif (ph). I am a communications and political science student. I’d first like to thank you for visiting our university today. I just have two quick questions for you. My first question is: in this tough economy, especially in Alberta, what are your plans to help with tuition costs for students and increasing federal grants to students? That’s my first question. And then maybe I’ll ask you my second one after you answer my first one.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Yeah, I can remember.
Question: Oh, okay. My second question is: does the Government of Canada plan on funding any programs for Syrian refugees currently in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to potentially help and potentially curb the future migrants that are willing to escape these camps because of their terrible conditions, and to help people who are not able to migrate to Canada and were not accepted into the program because, as you know, Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey are hosting over millions of refugees? And in the instance of Lebanon, they’re almost 30 to 40 per cent of our population. So are there any plans for the government to kind of set up programs abroad to somehow make their life kind of easier and then help to curb some migrations to Canada?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Well, thank you. I’m going to turn around this way, if it’s okay, because we’ve got a broader amount of the room over here. So two very different questions. The first question around dealing with tuition costs and grants for students – first of all, as you know, the university system is a provincial system. So we recognize and respect provincial jurisdictions and that is something that we’ll continue to do. We want to work closely with the provinces and with the municipalities on many issues, but one of the fundamental starting points is that we respect area of jurisdiction. So that is largely a provincial jurisdiction.
That said, we do want to invest in innovation, and that means we want to collaborate with universities. We’re thinking about how we can do that. We talked about investing in centres that can help with innovation, working together with universities. We also do want to deal with debt that students are left with, so we made commitments that students wouldn’t actually need to pay back the debt that they have when leaving university until they hit $25,000 of annual income. And during that time period, it would be interest-free. So we’ve tried to find a way to bridge people from university to when they’re gainfully employed. So we’re making some initiatives there.We realize that’s an important investment you’re making, but we hope that by bridging that, you can get into full-time employment and then be on a path to pay off student debt.
With respect to refugees, for the generation here in the room, this may be one of the defining issues of your time. It’s obviously an enormous issue when you consider the number of refugees on the planet and you add to that the internally displaced people. It’s a huge issue. Syrian refugees are the most recent demonstration of that challenge, but with the effects of climate change around the world, we’ve seen refugee problems in many countries, and I’m sad to say I think that will continue.
I think that one of the things that we as Canadians can be most proud of is our efforts just recently to help the stem of refugees. Minister McCallum, our Immigration Minister, announced earlier this week that we hit the 10,000th Syrian refugee to come to Canada, which is a really important milestone. And we are on pace to, by the end of February, bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees.
But your specific question, we’ve also made commitments on how we can help in the crisis in the region. So we made a commitment that we would fund an additional $100 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help with their efforts on the ground, and I can tell you that these are critically important. I’ve spent a lot of time in refugee camps over the last decade. As was mentioned by Sarah, I helped to found a high school for girls in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
And I can tell you when the number of refugees expands, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees doesn’t necessarily expand its envelope of money at the same pace. So what ends up happening is they have less money to go around to refugees, and you’ll see situations where, while they might want to provide enough money for people to have 2,100 calories per day, it gets down to 1,800 or 1,600 calories per day in these camps. And it’s an enormous challenge.
So we’re trying to do our part to be helpful and to be engaged in this challenge. The initiative we took on the first 25,000 refugees that we want to bring to Canada is not the end of the story. We want to be part of the global efforts to help in this really difficult crisis on an ongoing basis.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Before I take my next question, I was remiss not to introduce the mighty Darshan Kang, our Member of Parliament for Calgary Skyview, who is also here. Darshan, there we go. (Applause.) Next question, guys. Yeah, come on up.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Finance Minister, for taking my question and your presentation. Alberta has been a large net contributor to Confederation for many years now. Albertans’ contribution extends beyond the Equalization program to net federal spending in this province. According to the Government of Alberta, in 2011 alone, Alberta contributed $19.6 billion more to the federal government than it received back in federal spending. This amounts to over $5,000 per Albertan. Albertans are proud of our past contributions. However, given the extremely challenging economic situation we face today, will the federal government recognize Albertans’ past contribution to Canada and commit to extra spending in this province while our economy faces the challenges of the low oil price? (Applause.)
Hon. Bill Morneau: Thanks for the question. This is obviously pretty topical. The challenges being faced in Alberta right now are significant, and when you look at the reduction in the price of oil and you look at the reduction in investments, we know that the rate of unemployment is getting worse here, and I think it would be fair to say the challenges are not by any stretch of the imagination over. So I completely get it, and I think it’s something that we need to think about hard as we not only think about our budget, but we more broadly think about how we can be helpful in that significant transition that’s going on.
The Equalization program is a program that’s got a formula. It’s got a formula on how we use that, how we equalize across provinces, and it’s one that’s been agreed to in advance, and it’s one that uses a three-year average of how each provincial economy is working. And there’s an outcome that comes out of that. So I think if we start fiddling around with that formula, it’ll be quite challenging for us in terms of those negotiations. It would be something we’d want to do with a great deal of caution because we want to make sure that the outcome would be something we’re comfortable with. It’s not something we’re talking about right now.
What we do want to do, and it’s really important that we do this, is think about in our immediate budget and over the long term how the initiatives that we’re thinking about to help the economy can also help here in Alberta. So I talked about tax cuts for the middle class. Those would provide stimulative impacts across the country, but they’ll help people here in Alberta as well. The Canada Child Benefit, which we’re looking to increase significantly for Canadians up to $150,000 of income, will also have a stimulative effect on the economy.
But specifically around infrastructure investments, we’re going to think about how those can be put into different parts of the country. And certainly we’ll be thinking about Alberta as a place where, because of the likely increase in unemployment, there’s an opportunity for really great workers to be involved in what could be those sorts of projects. So we want to make sure that we’re considering the economic situation of the country as we move forward, and we will be doing that in this budget.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Thanks.
Hon. Kent Hehr: My friend.
Question: First of all, thank you so much, ministers, for being here with us today on this great Alberta snowy weather. So my name’s Martin. I’m also in my victory lap, like my friend Tristan here, in my political science degree. So my question is pretty much around mental health. And unfortunately, we know that the mental health issue is on the rise, especially within the 18 to 24 age group, most of which are attending post-secondary. I am wondering what the current federal government’s plan is to ensure that there are supports easily available for students to use to help alleviate the stigma or reduce the stigma.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thanks. I’ll tell you that before I became a politician, I ran a firm which was the largest provider of employee assistance plans across the country, so I dealt very specifically with mental health issues among employers, so it’s an issue that I’m pretty familiar with. I guess there’s not so many levers in the federal control, so it is generally a provincial jurisdiction. Health care is a provincial jurisdiction, but there are things that we might be able to do.
There was a national standard on mental health in the workplace that was brought out in the last couple of years, and we could think about how we can bring that forward as more of an important initiative across the country to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce stigma, as you said. We can be a vocal spokesperson on behalf of this issue. But I do think it’s something we need to think about harder. It’s not something, frankly, that’s in the mandate of the Finance Minister for the budget, but it’s something that I feel pretty strongly about, and would want to be engaged in how we can deal with this issue, which I think is a very challenging issue for Canada and for Canadians.
And also, I might add, as we think about what we need to do in the next generation, we’re going to have a challenge with the size of our labour force, because although it might not feel like it to you right now, one of the opportunities you have is there’s going to be fewer workers in the workforce of tomorrow, and we can’t afford not to help people who are having challenges because, you know, we lose that talent if people aren’t able to be effectively creating or doing what it is that they have a passion for. And so, you know, one of the things we need to think about is mental health challenges, which really do present a significant barrier to people’s effectiveness in whether it’s at school or at work or just in life. So thanks.
Hon. Kent Hehr: So we’re just going to go to Facebook for a question en français. So I’ll turn it over.
Question: So a question in French from Facebook on the economy. The price of oil is falling. The dollar is at about 70 cents. There are job markets that are suffering as a result. What do you plan to do in your budget to help the economy recover?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. For the people here who speak French, as you know, our economy, we now have some challenges that were not foreseen when we were elected a few months ago. The level of economic growth in Canada is lower than expected. But the good news is that we have a plan to grow the economy and we have already announced it. We will stimulate the economy, but also improve the situation of Canadians through several measures.
First, we will begin with a – we began with a tax cut for the middle class. And in this way, we improved the situation of 9 million Canadians who have more money in their pockets this year.
Secondly, in Budget 2016, we will be introducing the Canada Child Benefit and that will improve the situation of 9 out of 10 families, and for children who are now in poverty, we will find a way to improve the situation and help hundreds of thousands of children through this measure.
Finally, we will make a lot of investments in infrastructure. And with that, we think that in the long term we will improve our level of economic growth, and that is very important. And in that way, I think that we will be in a better situation in the future.
Thank you. (Applause)
Hon. Kent Hehr: And just for ease and speed for everyone, if you want to ask a question, why don’t you start lining up? And we’ll go to my good friend here who found me wandering around the U of C campus and guided me to location. I thank you very much. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Kent. Thank you, Minister Morneau. So in 2012, the federal government cut the co-op development initiative, which supported worker-run businesses in Canada. My question is if your government has any plans to reinstate this initiative.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Wow, that’s a really specific question. (Laughter.) You know, I’ve got to tell you I’m not familiar with that program, and so I will promise you that I will get familiar with it, but I don’t have an answer. But thanks for the question.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Young lady.
Question: Hi. I just want to say, first of all, that I thought your answer to Equalization was extremely unsatisfactory, and frankly, a little bit insulting because Alberta is the only net contributor right now to Equalization payments and the fact that what we pay to places like Ontario and stuff, it’s – basically doesn’t even help to pay off their interest on their debt, so it just seems absurd that we can’t, you know, look at it or open it or talk about it again. Frankly, I think it’s insulting to Albertans.
But my question is considering the fact that budgets do not balance themselves and we won’t be able to rely on a good economy to raise revenues for the government: how will your government keep its promise of balancing the budget in four years? Will you raise taxes? If so, which taxes? Or will you cut spending? Or will you forgo either and just continue running deficits? (Applause.)
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thanks for the question. So let me start on your first comment around Equalization payments. And let me say again that you know, we recognize that we’re going through a really challenging economic situation right now and the price of oil is obviously presenting real challenges to our economy, and we’re going through – we are going to go through some structural changes. You know, obviously, with a much lower dollar, that will generate activity in some sectors of the economy, but it’s also presenting real challenges in others. So lest you think that we’re not paying close attention to that challenge, we absolutely are.
Question: (Off microphone.) I mean Equalization, we still look at it as being it’s still unfair for Alberta.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, if I could continue —
Question: (Off microphone, inaudible.)
Hon. Bill Morneau: Could I? Yeah. So the subject of Equalization will come up at every meeting with finance ministers. I had a meeting with the finance ministers in December, and at every single meeting, it’ll come up because we all have a stake in having a Canada that is operated fairly. We’ve gotten into the situation we are in today over a long period of time. We’ve set up a system where we want to be able to provide roughly similar services across the country, and we set up a system that has a formula that we’ve come to agree is the appropriate formula. There’s absolutely no question that we’ll continue to look at that over time and try and make sure that it’s perceived as fair across the country.
At the same time, we will look at other measures that we can take, that will deal with the very real economic challenges that we have in this region right now. So that is certainly one of the things that we’re going to be doing in our Budget 2016, thinking about ways that we can deal with significant changes in the economic activity in Alberta. So we’ve not closed the book on the budget by any stretch, and we’re trying to make sure we do the right thing.
With respect to your second question about how we plan on budgeting, balancing the budget, well, let me just tell you that we have a four-year mandate, and we have three key economic principles that we want to live by. We, as a starting point, believe that we need to focus on how we can grow the economy. So that is where we’re focused right now, and I think for the people in this room as well as for the people across this country, growing the economy in an era where growth is a challenge is the number one priority.
While we do that, though, we’re going to look at how can we make sure that we’re conscious of reducing our net debt-to-GDP over time. So we want to ensure that we leave ourselves in a better fiscal situation at the end than we did at the beginning. So that is a commitment we’ve made along the way. And that will require us being prudent in all of our decisions. So as we make investments, we need to be careful not to spend in ways that in any way increase the long-run trajectory of expenditures.
And finally, we do plan on balancing the budget at the end of four years and that will, I expect, come through growth in the economy. And we will be very cautious as we go along the way, so that we can get there. We are not announcing any tax measures that we haven’t talked about in our campaign. We believe that what we’re doing is finding a way to grow the economy and getting ourselves to a better situation at the end of our mandate. And I hope you’ll suspend disbelief and watch us do it because I think it’s the possibility that will make a big difference for all Canada. If we focus on growth, we get ourselves to a better position over the near term.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Thanks for your question. (Applause.) Here we go.
Question: Hi. My name is Frank, and I’m a first-year political science and law and society student. Despite progress in recent decades, the gender pay gap still exists and women still earn less than their male counterparts when working in similar positions. What steps can the government take to reduce this disparity and ensure equal pay for equal work?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, I think that’s a really important question. We are on the page of trying to think about how we can create more effective outcomes for people as they go into the workforce in many different measures. You saw Prime Minister Trudeau make a very first important statement by appointing a gender equal cabinet, which you can take some signal from there that we are going to focus on how we can ensure that people are treated fairly. We are going to make an effort in everything that we do to ensure that we get highly qualified people into roles, but that we consider gender balance and diversity in all of those appointments. And we will be encouraging business along the way. I don’t think that we have any plans right now to be mandating anything – that’s not on our list of things to do – but we absolutely believe that we should be encouraging business at all levels to think about how they can ensure both gender balance, equity in how they treat different genders and diversity in the workforce and how they treat people from different backgrounds.
So you know, the proof will be in the doing, and we think that by doing that over the course of our mandate, we’ll make a significant difference.
Question: Thank you.
Hon. Kent Hehr: And a question from Facebook.
Question: So this one is also about the economy, but this time about the price of food at the grocery store. Céline Duval of Québec asks “I wonder about the state of the Canadian dollar right now. It’s in a freefall. Do you foresee stabilization of the dollar? Right now, vegetables at the grocery store are selling at exorbitant prices.”
Hon. Bill Morneau: For those of you in English, it’s a question about the inflationary impacts of the changing dollar.
We know that it is really a major challenge at this time with the Canadian dollar in a way. It is true that things like food are expensive, but what we want to say, we have some measures that will help the middle class and people who want to be in the middle class with costs like that. We have already cut taxes for the middle class. And in this way, as I said, 9 million Canadians will have more money in their pockets this year. And with our Canada Child Benefit, we will have a situation in which 9 out of 10 families with children will have more money this year. So it is not a solution, but with a greater level of growth, with our other measures, I believe that it will be a way to improve the situation.
Hon. Kent Hehr: My friend.
Question: First off, thanks, ministers, for taking these questions. The previous federal Liberal government’s public spending was – got caught up in scandal at the end. How does this Liberal government plan on accounting – putting forward accountability and transparency in their budget, so the public is able to monitor this and prevent the sponsorship scandal from repeating itself?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, we’ve made some significant commitments around transparency and openness in government. And the reason I’m out this week is because I’m trying to talk to as many Canadians about our budget. So take this as a very first reflection on my behalf of how I can go out and consult with Canadians.
We had in the early weeks that I was in my new role as Minister of Finance, we put out an Economic and Fiscal Update. Around the same time, the Parliamentary Budget Office put out an economic update in terms of what they thought the future would be. We looked at theirs and we didn’t reject it in any way, but we thought that that was a good example of a parliamentary oversight. And we plan on continuing to respect the institutions that we have. We plan on continuing to be open and transparent. And you know, we’ve made that a statement of how we’re going to operate going forward. The proof will be in the doing, and I’m confident that we will be able to comport ourselves in a way that Canadians will be proud to see a change in tone and tenor and style in the government.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Tristan.
Question: Thanks. This is my last question, I promise. And I’m going to – it’s about post-secondary funding again. I’m glad you mentioned the commitment to not require recent graduates to pay back their debt until they’re making $25,000 a year. I really like this program, but it seems like half of the solution. The other half of the solution is helping those graduates find those good jobs that are going to allow them to start paying back those debts. I’m wondering if there are any specific programs for helping post-secondary education – post-secondary students and recent graduates to find those jobs or if that just falls under the commitment to create 40,000 youth jobs?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, you know, we have a lot of students here from public policy class. And I know that while governments can do some things, they can’t do everything. I think what we should be focused on is thinking about how can we best improve the long-term health of our economy? How can we increase our productive possibilities by enhancing our long-term potential for rate of growth? And that will be the thing that will drive the engine for more jobs for young people. So we’re going to make commitments to how we can help young people get jobs; we’ve talked about some of them. But the most significant commitment we can make is by investing in our economy to grow it. We have a 31 per cent debt-to-GDP ratio in Canada, which is number one in the OECD, meaning it’s best, it’s the lowest. So we have the capacity to make investments in infrastructure. And by infrastructure, I don’t just mean roads and bridges. It can mean, you know, social housing. It can mean, you know, investments in green technology. It can mean investments in how we transition to a new economy that deals with changing weather situations. So that will provide opportunities for young people to get jobs. We think it’s the single best way we can help as you think about what you’re going to do after you get out of university.
Question: Okay, so it’s a big picture approach.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Tristan, yeah, it’s a big picture. We’ll take one last question here. My friend, here we go.
Question: Okay. Well, first, I’d like to thank you for coming out here into the proverbial lion’s den. I know it can be easy to sit in the Ottawa bubble and pretend places don’t exist. (Laughter.) But given that Canada’s not in a recession, and that federal debt is $615 billion, and total public debt is $1.2 trillion, and that just our debt servicing costs account for 11 per cent of total federal revenue, and given that this government has inherited the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history from the previous government under the framework of balanced budgets, how does this government justify to young Canadians particularly a budget which runs us further into debt and places an even larger burden on future generations? (Applause.)
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, let me start by saying it’s great to be here. (Laughter.) I’ve had the opportunity to go across the country this week, and I’ve made it almost all the way — you know, Vancouver and Surrey tomorrow. And I’ve got to hear from many different people along the way. So I’m keen to hear from people in Alberta, and it helps us to frame what we should be doing with the economy.
We have heard from people internationally as well as people in Canada that they agree with our idea that during a time of economic challenge, during a time of low growth, we should be thinking about how we can make investments in the economy, we can make a really significant difference.
I will remind you that we are in an era of really low interest rates. It’s among the very best times that we can invest in infrastructure, and I will also remind you as young people that if we can invest in the productive capacity of our country, it’s going to make a very significant difference on your future. We can increase the long-term rate of growth. And I would point you, importantly, to our level of debt-to-GDP, which is at a healthy level, and we intend on reducing that level of net debt-to-GDP over the course of our mandate. And we plan on doing it responsibly.
So it’s the right thing to do for our time, and very importantly, it’s the right thing to do for the people in this room. It’ll not only create jobs for you, but it’ll make Canada a better place in the years to come. (Applause.)
Hon. Kent Hehr: Okay. Well, thank you ever so much to you students from the University of Calgary. I wish we had more time to spend with you, but Minister Morneau has a lot of places to go. But hey, thanks – thank you. Let’s give Minister Morneau a big Calgary thank you. (Applause.)
Hon. Bill Morneau: Thanks. Thank you.
Hon. Kent Hehr: Have a great day, everybody, and be safe out there.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Thanks.
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