Thank you very much, Chair and honourable colleagues.
I am very pleased to talk to you today about Bill C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures.
The passage of this bill paves the way for the next stage of the government's plan to strengthen and grow the middle class and all those working hard to join it. It will allow the government to continue making the smart investments that will create jobs, grow our economy, and provide more opportunities for the middle class.
The steps we have taken to date are having a real and positive impact on our economy and on Canadians. Over the past year, the economy created over a quarter of a million new jobs, the large majority of which were in full-time positions and in the private sector. Forecasters are expecting Canada's economy to grow even faster over the next two years.
We understand that, despite these positive signs, people are still anxious about the future. Canadians want to be assured that their hard work will mean a better future for their children and their grandchildren.
We must show through action that their concerns are real and that we are ready to take the necessary steps to help them succeed. That's why we are here today, to study and discuss important measures in Bill C-44 and to come to a consensus about the issues that matter most, which is what Canadians expect.
Though I know that the members of this committee are very knowledgeable on the contents of this bill, I want to begin by highlighting a few measures that I know are top of mind for the committee.
First, we have taken steps to strengthen the parliamentary budget office to make it truly independent. Bill C-44 recasts the head of the PBO as an officer of Parliament, with the authority to report directly to Parliament and supported by a team that is separate from the Library of Parliament. Our plan will ensure that the PBO will have expanded right of access to government information and a new mandate to provide costing of platform proposals during elections.
Honourable members, we need to get this right.
The parliamentary budget officer's work is essential to Parliament's capacity to discuss and study current economic and financial issues. This work helps us by requiring us to meet higher standards and to enable us to focus on the facts.
I am here today to take your questions. I know that some of you have expressed concerns. We are open to your views; in fact, we depend on them.
I want to turn now to one of the best ways we can bring confidence back to the middle class: investing in public infrastructure to build stronger communities. Our government has laid out a historic plan to invest more than $180 billion in infrastructure over the next 12 years, but no order of government can accomplish ambitious goals for infrastructure alone. Investors have told us that they want to invest in Canada.
As you are well aware, our country has enormous infrastructure needs and infinite potential for the creation of world-class facilities. For this reason, Bill C-44, enacts the Act to establish the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which establishes the new Canada Infrastructure Bank as a Crown corporation.
Through this new bank, we will work with our partners to build world-class infrastructure that will transform communities, create good jobs, build a stronger and greener economy, and ensure that more of the infrastructure needed by Canadians gets built. Canadians today will benefit from good, well-paying jobs, and Canadians tomorrow will enjoy the advantages of good roads, bridges, transit, and social infrastructure built to meet their needs and help their communities thrive.
Looking beyond bricks and mortar, we really put people at the heart of our plan. I want to address a few measures of this bill that speak directly to our highest priority—the middle class and all those working hard to join it.
The government is firmly committed to helping Canadians of all ages to get the training and the skills they need to succeed in the current and future economic conditions. That is why, throughout the pages of this bill, you will find measures designed to help Canadians receive training, no matter what stage of life they are in.
We want to help Canadians to get the training they need so that their first job is a great job, and their next job is a better job. That's why we're taking steps to help working parents who must balance the demands of raising a family while managing their own career needs in this time of transition.
Bill C-44 would allow parents to choose to receive EI parental benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. It also proposes to do more to provide greater flexibility to pregnant working women, giving them the option of claiming EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, expanded from the current standard of eight weeks, if they so choose.
Budget 2017 also takes action to support those who have put their lives on the line to make Canada a safe and secure place to live. After putting themselves in harm's way in service to our country, our women and men in uniform deserve a successful transition to civilian life. To help, we'll create a new education and training benefit. This benefit will provide more money for veterans to go to college, university, or a technical school after they complete their service.
I want to stress that we understand the job is not yet complete. Veterans and stakeholders have told us that the existing suite of programs is complex, and difficult and stressful to navigate, and that simply isn't good enough. Over the coming months we intend to take additional action to streamline and simplify the system of financial support programs currently offered to veterans. That will include fulfilling our commitment to re-establish lifelong pensions as an option for injured veterans so that veterans and their families can decide for themselves which form of compensation works best.
To conclude, the bill before us has concrete measures that move Canada forward as a smart and caring nation, but we can and will do more.
We continue to focus on growth, but we will not do so to the detriment of other key issues. We will ensure that all Canadians benefit from growth, not just the wealthiest, and we will help families see the futures of their children and grandchildren with more optimism.
I urge the members of this committee to support the bill and to work with us on those portions of it that can benefit from your own views and ideas so that at the end of the day we meet the high standards and expectations that Canadians have of us.
Before I conclude, I'd like to give you a preview of some of the issues we're looking to address over the coming months. Our government believes that every Canadian needs to pay their fair share of taxes, and in the coming weeks and months I'll be laying out our plan to ensure greater tax fairness. Billed-basis accounting, for example, will be brought forward as part of the next budget implementation act, which will provide the opportunity for the committee to consider in detail the legislative proposals for this measure. I know this is a topic that spurred much discussion, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
We're also examining tax planning strategies involving the use of private corporations. As announced in budget 2017, we will release a paper setting out the issues of this in detail, as well as proposed policy responses.
While I'm on the subject of taxation, I know members will have questions about our plans to tax the future legal sale of cannabis. Work has begun on the design of this taxation regime, and the issue will be on the agenda at the next meeting of provincial and territorial finance ministers in June. The goal will be to agree on some basic principles with the intent to move quickly on these historic legislative proposals.
Again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today, and I'm happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.