A special guest came to town yesterday in the person of Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver. After a couple of meetings with local business leaders at the Holiday Inn, it was time for that annual summer tradition of the political barbeque, and from the sounds of it, at least according the Guelph Federal Conservation Electoral District Association (EDA), it was all a smash success.
Unfortunately, I was unable to cover the minister's time here in the Royal City. Since people keep scheduling these things for my regular work days, I can only take so many days off, and thus have to pick and chose my battles as it were. And with an already busy summer politically-speaking - with a provincial election, a transit lockout, and a massive trial all crammed into the last couple of months - not to mention a pending municipal election in the fall, Oliver's visit was 26 out of 25 in terms of one too many political to-dos this summer. Sorry about that. Maybe next time. But at least we have press releases.
Here's the press release from the local Conservative EDA:
Guelph, August 22, 2014 – The Honourable Joe Oliver, M.P. Eglinton-Lawrence and the Federal Minister of Finance, attended three events in Guelph on Thursday, August 21, 2014 that were hosted by the Guelph Federal Conservation Electoral District Association (EDA).
Two events were fundraisers for the Guelph EDA (riding association). Mr. Oliver was the keynote speaker at both events. The third event was an invitation-only roundtable entitled: “A Discussion of Economic and Financial Policy with the Federal Minister of Finance”.
Minister Oliver’s keynote speeches at the luncheon (12-2 pm) and BBQ (4-7 pm) fundraisers began by reviewing Canada’s economic investments and financial success following the Recession of 2008. Besides making important investments through programs such as the Automotive Innovation Fund and the Building Canada Fund, he noted that the Harper Government has “paid down our debt...because public debt is the enemy of prosperity and it burdens our children and our grandchildren.” He re-iterated the importance of not burdening future generations with public debt several times during both speeches.
Minister Oliver pointed out that Canada’s success since the Recession has resulted in our being “an island of stability in an unstable world.” However, he cautioned that “we cannot isolate ourselves from the world economy. We are a trading nation and we must continue trading with the world if we are going to succeed (because) 60 percent of our GDP and one in five jobs are tied to exports.” As a result, the Harper Government will continue to pursue free trade agreements around the world to add to the 40+ agreements they have signed so far.
With regard to the 2015 budget, the Minister indicated that some of the anticipated $6 billion in surplus being forecast for next year will be used to reduce individual and household taxes. He was very clear that the Harper Government does not intend to meet Premier Wynne’s request for an additional $12 billion in infrastructure spending. He pointed out that Premier Wynne is correct in recognizing that the Federal Government would have to give an equivalent amount to the other provinces, which means the request is really for $30 billion for all provinces. Minister Oliver said that, since the forecast surplus is only $6 billion, the Premier’s request would effectively add $24 billion to the Federal debt. The Conservatives want to reduce the Federal debt, not increase it.
Finally, with regard to next year’s federal election, he acknowledged that Justin Trudeau is attractive to many Canadians. However, he speculated that current Trudeau supporters will ultimately decide how to vote based on asking themselves practical questions such as “Can Justin manage a $2 trillion economy? Or stand up to Vladimir Putin?”
Yesterday's third event, an invitation-only 2-3 pm roundtable with 12 Guelph business leaders, allowed participants such as Scott Reid (Reid’s Heritage Homes), Regan Cox (Cox Construction), Chris McNeil (Nestlé Waters Canada), Evan MacKinnon (MacKinnon Transport Inc.) and Lloyd Longfield (Guelph Chamber of Commerce) to highlight specific issues of concern to their organizations. Minister Oliver said that he asks riding associations to organize these roundtables wherever he travels as part of his budget preparations. He took extensive notes during the hour.
Although several issues were raised, there was clearly a great deal of shared concern among the participants about the impact of the poor highway infrastructure in Southwestern Ontario on the costs of doing business and therefore, ultimately, on consumer prices.
Another key issue was the fact that Canada graduates too many people from university and too few from colleges and trade schools. For example, it was pointed out that the Canadian Trucking Alliance forecasts that Canada will have a shortage of 33,000 truck drivers by 2020, despite the fact that Canadian truck drivers earn $20,000 more per year than their American counterparts. Evan MacKinnon said that there is no unemployment problem in Canada. “We have the jobs but we don’t have the people to fill them”. Regan Cox said this was due to the “stigma (in Canada) against people who want to get their hands dirty.”
At the BBQ held from 4-7 pm, Minister Oliver expressed his appreciation for meeting so many Guelph residents and businesspeople during the day, and for receiving their input through the roundtable, formal Q&A’s, and informal chats.