Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to lead off debate on Bill C-31, the economic action plan 2014 act, no. 1. Over the next 20 minutes, I will provide an overview of the bill's overarching objectives and will highlight some of its key initiatives.
Our government continues to focus on what matters to Canadians, and this bill would do nothing to detract from that. Bill C-31 focuses on creating jobs and economic growth while supporting families and communities.
This is our government's 10th budget since 2006. Over that period our country has been confronted by unprecedented economic challenges from beyond our borders. Canada has not only weathered the global economic storm but has exceeded expectations. Let me remind members today that with the help of Canada's economic action plan, Canada's economy has seen the best economic performance among all G7 countries and is the only G7 country to have an unwavering AAA rating, with a stable outlook from all the major credit-rating agencies: Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's. Nevertheless, in good times and bad, we have never strayed from our commitment to strengthen the economy for all Canadians and have never wavered from seeing our plan through.
Economic action plan 2014 marks the next chapter in keeping that commitment to Canadians, focusing on three key priorities: returning to budget balance, promoting jobs and economic growth, and supporting families and communities. Before I get into the details of the bill, let me begin by explaining the principles driving these priorities, starting with balancing the budget, the cornerstone of our low-tax plan.
Returning to balanced budgets and basic economic principles of debt reduction means that more tax dollars can be spent improving Canada's economic potential and growth prospects rather than on servicing debt. These long-term benefits explain why our government has not wavered from our goal and has cut the deficit by nearly two-thirds since the great recession. It is also why Canada remains in an enviable fiscal position among all G7 countries, with the lowest net debt to GDP ratio by far.
Our goal is now within sight. Including the measures announced in economic action plan 2014, we expect to realize a surplus of $6.4 billion in 2015-16, including a $3 billion annual adjustment for risk. Let me point out that we are doing all this without cutting major transfers to persons or other levels of government. At the same time as we are reining in spending, let me emphasize that transfers for Canadian priorities like education and health care will continue to increase.
Although balancing the budget is the cornerstone of our prosperity plan, our government also believes that it is vital that we create the conditions for businesses to grow.
The government's focus on improving tax competitiveness for business is part of a policy framework that targets growth, which has allowed Canada to have the lowest corporate taxes in the G7.
That is not all. Canada is an increasingly dynamic place for investment and corporate growth. In the most recent Bloomberg rating of the most attractive countries for business, Canada jumped to second place, topped only by Hong Kong.
Our government recognizes that our greatest asset is also what will keep us a leader in the global economy, our people. This is why we continue to invest in training to help workers get the skills they need to succeed and to connect more Canadians with available jobs. To better align training with labour market needs, the Canada job grant will launch this year, ensuring that employers have input into skills-training decisions. We are also working with provinces and territories to renew the $500 million per year labour market agreements. Our government will also renegotiate the $1.95 billion per year labour market development agreements to better reorient training toward labour market demand. This, along with our commitment of $222 million annually, matched by the provinces and territories over the next four years through a new generation of labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, will strengthen Canada's job market and will get Canadians working.
Now I would like to return to the specific measures in today's legislation.
First of all, economic action plan 2014 act, no.1, focuses on our commitment to families and announces improved support for Canadian families who adopt a child.
All parents must pay for their children's education, but adoptive parents have additional expenses, including agency fees and legal costs. These costs can be significant, especially in the case of children adopted outside Canada, and can include travel and accommodation expenses and the cost of translating documents.
With respect to taxation, in order to better recognize adoption expenses, primarily agency fees and legal costs, economic action plan 2014 will increase the maximum amount of the adoption expense tax credit, which had already been increased in economic action plan 2013, to $15,000 in 2014. This amount will be indexed to inflation in subsequent years.
Our government will also ensure that the tax system takes into account the changing nature of the health care system and Canadians' needs.
We are also proposing amendments to the Excise Tax Act to improve the application of the GST-HST in the health care sector. Specifically, today's legislation proposes three changes to expand tax relief under the GST-HST for certain health-related services and medical and assistive devices to reflect the evolving nature of the health care system.
The first change would expand the current GST-HST exemption for training designed to help individuals cope with a disorder or disability. It would now also exempt services for designing training, such as developing a training plan.
The second change would exempt the professional services of acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors from GST-HST.
The third change would add to the list of GST-HST-free medical and assistive devices eyewear designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals who are vision impaired when it is supplied on the order of a physician or other specified health professional.
Today's legislation also recognizes the important role played by research and rescue volunteers in their communities. They protect people while often risking their own safety. Bill C-31 proposes a 15% non-refundable search and rescue volunteer tax credit on an amount of $3,000 for ground, air, and marine search and rescue volunteers who perform at least 200 hours of eligible service in the year, starting in 2014.
Our government is very proud to publicly recognize the outstanding commitment of these volunteers and the difference they make in their communities, communities like my riding of North Vancouver.
North Shore Rescue is a daily example of the sacrifice these brave men and women commit to every day. It is why I know that measures like this will go a long way in supporting these selfless volunteers across Canada.
As everyone can see, we are protecting the health and well-being of Canadians. Promoting a clean, safe environment is also one of our government's priorities.
For example, since 2006, the government has taken significant action to protect our natural areas, including taking steps to add more than 160,000 km2 to the Canadian national parks and marine conservation areas system—an increase of more than 58%—and securing almost 4,000 km2 of ecologically sensitive private lands.
Economic action plan 2014 includes measures to protect Canada's rich natural heritage by investing in national parks, conserving recreational fisheries, expanding recreational trails, supporting family-oriented conservation and expanding tax support for clean energy generation.
Today's legislative measure will encourage additional donations of ecologically sensitive lands to conservation charities by doubling to 10 years, for income tax purposes, the carry-forward period.
This is in response to a recommendation by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in its February 2013 report entitled “Tax Incentives for Charitable Giving in Canada”.
As all hon. members can see, through Canada's economic action plan 2014 we are keeping taxes low, putting consumers first, protecting Canadians' health and safety, and strengthening communities from coast to coast to coast.
Bill C-31 expands on the government's consumer-focused measures to improve the bottom line for Canadian families and to ensure that they are getting value for their hard-earned dollars.
Since 2006, our government has taken significant action to support and protect Canadian consumers. We have reduced taxes and tariffs; ensured marketplace fairness; promoted competition in industries such as financial services, telecommunications, and air services; and improved products and food safety.
Through the consumers first agenda measures contained in economic action plan 2014, our government is going even further. One key focus of our government has been encouraging competition and lower prices in the telecommunications market. Today's legislation proposes new measures to do this by capping wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates to prevent wireless providers from charging other companies that may be their competitors more than they charge their own customers for mobile voice data and text services.
Our government will also bring forward future legislation to provide telecommunications regulators with the power to impose administrative monetary penalties on companies that violate rules such as the Wireless Code, further enhancing competition in the telecommunications market.
The list goes on. I could speak well beyond my allotted time on the benefits of today's legislation. Let me very quickly list some of the other positive measures in Bill C-31:
Creating the Canada apprentice loan, a new initiative that would help apprentices registered in Red Seal trades by providing access to over $100 million in interest-free loans each year;
Eliminating tariffs on mobile offshore drilling units used in offshore oil and gas exploration to improve the global competitiveness of Canadian energy projects;
Investing $11 million over two years and $3.5 million per year ongoing to strengthen the labour market opinion process, ensuring that Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs;
Strengthening Canada's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regime and adding measures to fight tax evasion, ensuring that all Canadians pay their fair share;
Cutting red tape on more than 50,000 employers by reducing the maximum number of required payments on account for source deductions;
Reducing costs and red tape for all Canadian businesses by harmonizing Canada's trademark framework with international norms; and
Providing $165 million over two years on a cash basis to advance the construction of a new bridge for the St. Lawrence.
In my presentation today, I have merely provided an overview of the many ways in which economic action plan 2014 will benefit Canadians.
Let us look at the facts: Canada has recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession and then some. Over one million more Canadians are employed now than were employed at the end of the recession in 2009. Nearly 90% of those jobs are full-time jobs. Canada's job growth has dramatically outpaced that of the other G7 countries.
Again, we are on track to balance the budget in 2015-16, as promised, but this has not deterred us from making Canada one of the best places to do business or from providing tax relief for all Canadians. We have cut taxes in every way government collects them and have removed more than one million low-income Canadians from the tax rolls. I will remind my colleagues that a Canadian family of four saves nearly $3,400 in 2014.
While the NDP and Liberals keep demanding reckless spending, our government will stay the course with fiscal prudence.
When the Liberal leader suggests questionable economic policy and claims that budgets balance themselves, our government will stay the course to balance the budget. When the opposition calls for higher taxes and taking more money from hard-working Canadians, our government will stay the course with our low-tax plan. Quite simply, it is our government that has had to make the tough decisions and stick to our priorities, the priorities of all Canadians. For that reason, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to strengthen the economy for all Canadians.
To sum up, in an uncertain world, Canada's economic action plan is working. It is creating jobs, keeping the economy growing and returning to balanced budgets. By staying the course and sticking to our proven track record and economic action plan, Canada remains on track for a great future. I therefore strongly encourage all members of the House to read the legislation and give it the support that it deserves.