Government continues to cut red tape for business: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the economy and free trade, including the recently signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU, during a question-and-answer session with the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

Canada-EU free trade agreement, 2017 sesquicentennial also discussed with local business executives

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume pose with Bonhomme, the Quebec winter carnival mascot, in Quebec City on Feb. 6, 2014. Harper also sat down with the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the economy and the recently signed Canada-EU free trade agreement. (Clement Allard/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent his eighth-year anniversary as head of the government celebrating his administration's economic achievements with a room full of business executives in Quebec City Thursday afternoon. 

Harper participated in a question-and-answer session with the local chamber of commerce that revolved around the economy and free trade, including the recently signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union.

The conversation with chamber of commerce chairman Éric Lavoie, which was carried out entirely in French, started off with the government's new immigration system that is designed to attract and connect skilled immigrants with Canadian employers. 

Harper said that historically, the immigration system has been passive, where Canada receives applications from those seeking to settle here. The new system, which is set to begin in January 2015, will be active in competing for global talent that Canadian employers need, he said.

"It's basically responding to demand," Harper said in a brief moment of English. 

The prime minister also discussed creating better environments for business owners, and said the government is working with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses to reduce red tape. He also cited Treasury Board president Tony Clement's recent introduction of the Red Tape Reduction Act in Parliament. 

The "One-for-One" rule that would be enshrined should Clement's bill get passed requires regulators to remove a regulation each time they add one. It's intended to alleviate administrative burdens on business. Harper said the One-for-One rule has already saved $20 million. 

Harper also spent a fair amount of time touting the Canada-EU free trade deal, and said its ratification means Canada would have agreements with more than half of the global economy. It would also eliminate tariffs on a number of products, including electronics, information technologies and medical equipment. 

Along with the economy, the prime minister looked ahead to 2017 — Canada's impending 150th birthday — and highlighted a number of historical anniversaries, including this year's bicentennial of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. For Harper himself, Thursday marks eight years as prime minister.

Thursday's question-and-answer session is part on an ongoing tour across Canada involving Harper sitting down with business executives for informal discussions on the economy. Such events, in which Harper is asked generally softball questions on his government's own initiatives, are a far cry from the aggressive tones adopted during question period in the House of Commons.

During an event with the Vancouver Board of Trade in early January, two activists sneaked up onstage behind the prime minister and held up signs to silently protest the government's climate change policies.