Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise here to speak to Bill C-19, the budget implementation act.
This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for many Canadians, and now we have a housing crisis, rising inflation and a labour shortage, which are all adding to these difficulties. Our health care system has come close to a breaking point on several occasions. Thousands have died. Millions have been seriously ill. Doctors, nurses and all health care workers have been under unbelievable stress and physical exhaustion. I want to say a personal thanks to all of those who cared for us and our loved ones over the past two years and more.
Businesses and workers suffered through a series of lockdowns. Nine million Canadians found themselves out of work, without income and with no way to pay their rent, their mortgage and their grocery bills. Companies were in similar dire straits. Fortunately, this House came together to pass measures that kept people financially afloat and measures that allowed businesses to keep employees on the payroll. However, last year, we learned that still over half of Canadians were only $200 from insolvency at the end of every month, and that was before the housing crisis reached another level of unbelievable house prices, monthly rents and rental availability.
The NDP is focused on helping Canadians, making sure they get the health care they need no matter where they live or their level of income, making sure they can find a home they can afford, making sure they have the means to live out their senior years in dignity, and making sure that those Canadians who did well through the pandemic, some of whom made billions of dollars in profits, pay their fair share.
This is the first budget after the Liberals and the NDP announced their confidence and supply agreement, so I would like to highlight some of the gains that we achieved in this agreement by using our power here in the House of Commons to help Canadians.
It is fair to say that the big gains have come in creating a stronger health care system here in Canada. When we created the universal health care system that we are so proud of, several aspects of health care were left out. At the top of that list is dental care, so I am proud that we will be bringing dental care coverage to all Canadians who need it, through this agreement. It would start with free dental care for all children without coverage this year, and by the third year we would have dental care for everyone with a household income of less than $90,000 who does not have coverage now.
I have already spoken in this House about the impact this would have. It would be literally life-changing for so many lower-income Canadians, who would have access to dental care for the first time, access that so many other Canadians just take for granted. It would not only change people's lives, but it would save our broader health care system millions of dollars. Alex Munter, the CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, has told us that dental restoration is the most common surgery carried out in that hospital, restoration that is needed because of the lack of preventive care. This program would keep kids out of hospital. I have to remind Canadians that both the Liberals and the Conservatives voted down this exact initiative less than a year ago, so the NDP is very proud that it would move ahead to change lives for the better.
Similarly, the confidence and supply agreement ensures that universal pharmacare would be added to our health care coverage. Canada is the only country with comprehensive health care coverage that does not include prescribed medications in that coverage. This program would not only save lives, as 10% of Canadians simply cannot afford to fill their prescriptions, but it would save the Canadian economy more than $4 billion a year through the power of a single buyer when we purchase medications. More savings, over $10 billion per year according to some estimates, would accrue by simply keeping people out of hospital and keeping them healthier through proper medication.
I recently spoke here about the crisis in long-term care, so I will not go into detail, other than to say that one of the other points in our agreement was to bring a safe long-term care act, which would go a long way toward ensuring that our seniors can live in dignity.
The issue that is critical for many Canadians, certainly in my riding, is housing: the impossible cost of buying a house, the ridiculous rental rates and the extreme difficulty in even finding rental accommodation. My riding has an unenviable combination of high housing prices, with the average house price in my riding running at about $1 million, and low incomes. The average single income in my riding is around $30,000.
In our agreement with the Liberals, the NDP won an extension of the rapid housing initiative, which would add $1.5 billion in funding to build more than 4,500 affordable housing units.
We have also made the government's rental construction financing initiative actually work for renters across the country. Previously, this program, which is the biggest CMHC program for rental housing, was doing little or nothing to provide affordable housing. It was giving money to developers to build rental units that were then being rented at an average of 50% above the average market value, so we were giving out taxpayers' money to help developers charge excessive rent. The NDP has fixed this, to ensure that 40% of these units will be rented out at below 80% of average market rent. In my riding, that means the production of units that will be offered at $900 per month, compared to the former Liberal rates of $2,000 per month.
We still have more to do. The NDP has pledged to build half a million units of affordable housing over 10 years, to make up the effort lost over the past 30 years, after successive Liberal and Conservative governments got out of the affordable housing game. We will continue pressing the government to make these necessary investments so that all Canadians can have a roof over their head.
I will briefly mention that I am disappointed that this budget seems to do little for the fight against climate change. In particular, I have real concerns that billions of dollars will be given to highly profitable oil and gas companies to try to implement carbon capture technologies that will likely delay rather than hasten our shift to a cleaner energy future.
When balancing budgets, governments too often forget the revenue side of the equation. During the pandemic, most Canadians have suffered financially, while a few in the 1% have made extraordinary profits. The NDP had called for an excessive profits tax, as well as a wealth tax of 1% for those Canadians who have assets over $10 million, to make sure the costs of the pandemic are borne more by those who can afford it rather than have the burden fall on the majority of Canadians who have suffered.
While the Liberals did not agree to our reasonable request, they have agreed to levy a one-time excess profit tax of 15% for banks and a permanent 1.5% tax increase for banks. These two measures will recoup over $6 billion in taxes over the next five years. The NDP would have preferred that the excess profit tax be extended to big corporations such as big oil companies and big box retailers such as Walmart, which made a $3.5-billion profit in the fourth quarter of 2021 alone. We are also disappointed that these taxes are not included in this budget implementation act.
I will finish by mentioning one small victory in excise tax reform that stems from my private member's bill, Bill C-267, which would remove the alcohol excise tax from low-alcohol beer. Low-alcohol wine and spirits do not face this tax. None of Canada's trading partners charge this tax. My bill was meant to make a common sense change to the excise tax to level the playing field. The beer industry was paying more than $1 million every year in excise tax on low-alcohol beer. The beer industry and millions of Canadians who drink low-alcohol beer, and myself, are all happy to see this bill incorporated into this budget implementation act.
I was disappointed to see that other issues stemming from the changes to the Excise Act were not dealt with in this budget. Many wineries in my riding will be paying excise tax for the first time, since their exemption was eliminated after a challenge at the World Trade Organization. Wine Growers Canada has been calling for permanent trade legal support for the industry to match the supports provided by other major wine-producing countries. The government has offered temporary 18-month support, but I was hoping for a more long-lasting measure that would really make a difference in this important industry.
The NDP will continue working to make life better for Canadians. I believe this bill is a step in the right direction, but we have a long journey to go.