Based on a Transcript
The first thing I always notice when I come to your beautiful country is that every day is beautiful; it’s not like in Canada, where it can snow and sleet and rain in one day—actually in one hour it can be like that, and in the next we can have sunshine and warm weather—and that’s just within one city. So it’s always good to be here and experience beautiful weather.
People talk about the heat here, but I come from a region in British Columbia that is unique; during the summer it is often 40 degrees Celsius. And so this heat is something that I myself am accustomed to. One thing that you don’t have here is the degree of humidity that we have. If you are planning a visit to Canada, I invite you to consider western Canada if you haven’t been there. Vancouver will be hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and although I realize you may not be sending that big of a delegation to the Winter Games, it will be a wonderful time to be there.
Jeddah is amazing in that it welcomes so many people. People come from around the world, and they stop here in what serves as a gateway in some ways to Mecca and to other parts of your country.
Canada is also a gateway in many ways in that people come to Canada from all over the world, so our countries are similar in that regard. And I can tell you that from the first moment I arrived here I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and welcoming hospitality. You serve well your reputation of being that type of hub, one that attracts people and that leaves visitors refreshed.
So we share many similarities and have other areas in common too, such as our stable banking systems. You may have heard that Canada’s banking system has been evaluated by the World Economic Forum and by the International Monetary Fund as being the most stable in the world. So if you’re thinking of investments and business ventures in Canada, we do have a very stable banking system. We are not bailing out financial institutions in Canada. We do not have a problem with sub-prime mortgages. We had regulations in place before that problem manifested itself in the United States, and then elsewhere around the world, so we are protected from that. In many ways, we share with you some of the same conservative processes in terms of finances and understanding the importance of keeping things in check.
Another area that we focus on and which has been reported by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development]—I attended OECD meetings this week in Paris—is the fact that Canada’s tax system, including both personal and corporate tax allowances, is the most competitive among the G7 countries. For those of you looking for a competitive tax advantage, this is something we offer.
That said, we recognize that with the downturn in the economy, credit could be difficult to access, and so EDC [Export Development Canada] is available to assist in putting together financial packages.
This morning I met with many people from the Canadian business community who are doing business here in Saudi Arabia, and they made a number of observations. First, they much appreciate the business here; they appreciate that business people in Saudi Arabia are welcoming, are generous yet tough, and are very focused on what businesses should be focused on. They also appreciate the business relationships that have developed into very good friendships that could last a lifetime.
Another issue they raised with me was visas, something we need to improve on from the Canadian side. We have been focused on this issue since forming the government three years ago, and on a country-by-country basis, we’re trying to accelerate the process. I want to assure you that, when I return to Canada, this will be one issue that I want our government to focus on so we can improve it because we want you to be able to come to Canada as often and for as long as you’d like.
We have over 8,000 students from Saudi Arabia attending our great universities, and that’s much appreciated in Canada. The issue of student transfers, exchanges—a Canadian student working in Saudi Arabia or a Saudi student working for a business in Canada—was brought up by a female participant in a very productive meeting I attended before coming here. These types of exchanges, they’re good business because they not only build the types of friendships that last for generations but they also build confidence and trust between countries.
We have already established some solid bilateral trade between our two countries. I believe, in talking with you, that we can expand on that so it becomes even greater. We share some of the same needs as you for technology, in the field of energy, specifically in oil and gas. As you know, Canada is a great provider in that particular area; our oil sands reserves are huge. We also have natural gas and crude oil. What we’ve been able to develop in terms of related technology and what you’ve been able to develop, these developments should be shared, particularly from a business perspective. And so when it comes to the oil and gas exploration and extractive industries, we need to be leading the world in terms of technology and financial approaches to help this sharing continue.
I’ve been noticing with interest and with appreciation that just like Canada, which is an energy-producing country, Saudi Arabia, another energy-producing country, is always looking for environmentally conscientious ways to reduce emissions and to develop energy-saving technologies. One of the Canadian companies represented here this morning makes air conditioning systems that reduce the need for energy by as much as 40 percent. Now there is obviously a clear difference when it comes to dealing with energy needs in homes and businesses. You’re a little more focused on keeping homes and businesses cool, while we’re a little more focused on keeping them warm. But some of the technologies are important crossovers, and so we want to work with those.
We are also facing together the issues arising from the global downturn in the economy, and we’re all asking the same question: “When will the downturn end?” Well, if I had the answer to that, I wouldn’t be here this morning. I’d be earning millions giving speeches and giving people top-level advice. But one thing we do know for certain: economies go down, but they also go up. It’s a cycle—the cycle of business, the cycle of life. So at the government level we need to be well prepared to go into the tough times because if we are, then when we come out of them, we’ll be in the best shape possible. I congratulate your government for its stimulus package—US$126 billion—focused on keeping your economy moving.
That’s something else Canada has in common with you: a very aggressive action plan. Much of our Economic Action Plan is focused on infrastructure. We’ve had to take on a deficit—which we haven’t had in years at the government level—but it is relatively small. It’s manageable. And we already have plans to retire the deficit as the economy moves back up. Governments that put money into infrastructure projects—whether it’s aerospace, rail lines, water systems, the construction of buildings, or engineering services-also create opportunities for business. Again, we have some combined and complementary needs, as well as solutions, so let’s work together. We want to continue to see those possibilities expand.
I look forward to other meetings, similar to this, with some of your senior officials. I always come away from those meetings with new ideas, new suggestions for how we can work together, especially as we work through these difficult financial times. And I recognize the focus you have on making life better, on improving your standard of living, and see that together we can make these ideas and suggestions work between Canada and Saudi Arabia.
As an elected official myself, I noted you have elections coming up again for the Chamber. I’m not allowed to support any particular candidate here, but I wish you well in that particular process because people who work in chambers of commerce are typically among the first to see not only the opportunities but also the challenges. Our Canadian chambers of commerce have told us as a government many times what we need to do to keep taxes low, to have regulations that make sense, that are not overly burdensome. So I know you fulfill that role also.
Now as an elected person, I also can’t go for too many hours in a day without either doing a poll or reading about a poll because we elected people always want to know what the people are thinking. In fact, I’d like to do a poll now. How many of you here have had the opportunity to visit Canada? From the show of hands, I’d say a very significant number of you. For those of you who haven’t, I invite you to visit our country.
Most of us Canadians—almost 90 percent—live within 150 kilometres of the United States border, so when you come to Canada you are entering a gateway to great opportunities in the larger North American market. We welcome you to Canada. And we welcome the tremendous relationship between our two countries, one we hope to see grow.