Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the discussion on Motion No. 386, as introduced by my colleague, the member Essex. I commend him for his interest in this matter. We should always be interested in ways in which our government and our society are dealing with families, whether it be through law programs or tax treatment.
As we know, most aspects of adoption come under provincial jurisdiction, and my colleague's motion recognizes this fully. Our purpose here is not to intrude into areas of provincial competence, jurisdiction or responsibility. However, even given the province's jurisdiction over adoption, the federal government does have a number of support measures available to adoptive parents, and it is those supports that we propose to examine and evaluate in the study proposed by the motion. I look forward to the motion coming before the committee for study and I am sure we will examine it from the various perspectives, many of which have already been raised today.
I would like to discuss some of the supports that we already provide. Our Conservative government introduced and saw passed Bill C-14 two and a half years ago, which grants permanent resident status or Canadian citizenship to adopted children. I was part and parcel of the process when I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. What that bill does is make the process much quicker and easier. This measure was widely praised and it is an example of a job well done by our Conservative government.
Adoptive parents are also eligible for a range of supports that our government provides to families with children, including the adoption tax credit, which helps defray the costs of adoption at tax time.
An important consideration is the costs, both in terms of time and money, associated with adoption. I think we can return to this item and its broader considerations later in my remarks and in the study this motion provides itself.
Adoptive parents also receive the universal child care benefit, which was introduced by this government for each child under the age of six years.
Adoptive parents receive the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement for families at low and middle income levels and the child tax credit for parents of all children under the age of 18 years.
I can say that both those programs have had significant financial assistance for low and middle income families.
As I said, working adoptive parents are able to access, in great numbers, the most visible and well-known of these supports, which are parental benefits through the EI system.
Women's access to EI benefits, such as maternity and parental benefits, is very high. Ninety-seven per cent of women working full time have enough hours of work to qualify for special benefits. This is the same level of access as for men. Among women working part time, 62% have enough hours to qualify for special benefits.
So those are some of the specific benefits offered by the federal government.
I will say a bit more about them shortly but, before I do, I again want to emphasize that we believe the family is the basic building block of our society. Everything starts with the family. I have said on many occasions that as the family goes, so goes the nation. Helping families has been a key priority for this government since 2006.
In all of our actions to support families, this government has been guided by the principles of choice and opportunity. We believe that Canadian parents can be trusted to do what is best for their children. Our role is not to dictate their choices but to give them the resources that they need and let them make the decision. This is very fundamental to the programs that we have undertaken.
As a parent myself, I certainly appreciate the wisdom of our government in its approach.
One of the first things we did in 2006 was to begin getting child care funding into the hands of Canadian parents. The centrepiece of our universal child care plan is the universal child care benefit. This benefit, of course, was introduced by the Minister of Human Resources and has proven to be very popular with parents from coast to coast to coast.
The benefit of $100 a month is paid to parents for all children under six years of age. Parents can choose the child care option that best suits their needs, whether that is care from a parent at home, help from family, friends or neighbours, or some more formal child care arrangement.
Of course, the universal child care benefit may also be used to purchase other things equally as important to children and their well-being, such as early learning materials.
We are adamant that parents maintain this freedom over their households and the raising of their children.
As I and many of my colleagues have said, parents know best how to run their homes and how best to raise their children.
Continuing on the track of how parents could use the UCCB, as it is sometimes referred to, they may even wish to deposit all or part of that benefit in a registered education savings plan, which can prolong and enhance the value of the benefit many times over in the long term.
Through the UCCB, our government is providing about $2.5 billion each year to families and is helping about two million young children. We are also helping parents cover the cost of child care through the child care expense deduction. For the average family, the universal child care benefit, together with the child care expense deduction, offsets well over one-third of the cost of non-parental child care if that is the direction the parents wish or chose to go.
We know that many Canadian parents worry about finding good professional care for their children. The demand for child care services simply exceeds the supply. That is why the universal child care plan also provides for the creation of child care spaces.
Since 2007, the Government of Canada has transferred $250 million per year to the provinces and territories for this purpose. Tens of thousands of new spaces have been created across the country. The provinces are also using these funds to improve the quality and affordability of their child care services.
In 2007, our government also introduced a 25% investment tax credit for businesses that create new child care spaces for their employees.
It is important to remind the House that this funding is in addition to the extension of existing funding for agreements with the provinces and territories for early childhood development and early learning as well as child care. This funding totals $1.13 billion this year and will grow to $1.3 billion by 2013-14 under the renewed Canada social transfer.
Few things matter more than ensuring our children can get the best results for a best possible start in life. This means doing everything we can to reduce poverty and improve access to education so that every child has the opportunity for a full and rewarding life.
With the working income tax benefit, we are helping low- and modest-income Canadian families make it over the welfare wall by making work more profitable. The tax-free savings account introduced by our government in 2007 is a groundbreaking measure that allows Canadian families to shelter some of their hard-earned income. It is a powerful incentive for Canadians to save to buy their first house or to invest in their children's education.
In 2007, we also announced the child tax credit which provides families with tax savings of over $300 per year for each child under the age of 18 years. I am happy to confirm that the child tax credit has taken about 180,000 low-income Canadians off the tax rolls. We are providing $9.5 billion a year to families with children through the Canada child tax benefit, including over $3.7 billion to low-income families with children through the national child benefit supplement.
In hearings before the HUMA committee, many witnesses have indicated how beneficial these two programs are to low- and middle-income families. In Canada's economic action plan we raised the income level at which these two benefits start, providing additional support for low-income families.
We need to ensure that the coming generation can compete in the new global economy. That is why we are providing new opportunities for post-secondary education. We have improved the registered education savings plan, RESP as it is commonly known, to help parents save for their children's post-secondary education. We have eliminated the limit on annual RESP contributions and increased the lifetime limit.
Also as a result of changes made through Canada's economic action plan, more low- and middle-income families are now eligible for the national child benefit supplement, which in turn allows them to qualify for the Canada learning bond.
We also want to offer more choice and opportunity to aboriginal families. Working in collaboration with aboriginal communities and the provincial and territorial governments, we support child care, kindergarten and aboriginal headstart, as well as social and health promotion programs for aboriginal people.
In addition, under agreements with the provinces of Ontario and Alberta, we provide funding for on-reserve child care services comparable to services offered by those provinces to families living off-reserve.
Our government also works in cooperation with the provinces and territories through federal initiatives, such as the community action program for children and the Canada prenatal nutrition program.
These initiatives provide long-term funding to community groups for programs that address the health and development of children and families who are judged to be especially vulnerable.
If time permits, let me summarize what the government is doing for families with children.
As I have said, we are providing $5.9 billion in this fiscal year alone in support of early childhood development and child care through measures to the provinces and territories, direct support to families and tax relief for families. Let me recap. That is $1.13 billion to the provinces and territories to support early childhood development and child care, which will increase to almost $1.3 billion by 2013-14.
I would encourage all members of this House to engage proactively in the process when this motion comes before the committee. There are many angles and aspects to this motion that can be reviewed and pursued. The committee itself will look forward to the representations made by the various members of this House and the witnesses that appear before the committee.