Thank you, Mr. Chair and esteemed members of the committee.
I first want to thank the members of the committee for inviting me and my two colleagues to discuss my mandate as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and the main estimates for our department.
I commend all the members of the committee for their work and their cooperation.
I am very grateful to our officials for their hard work and inspiration in their everyday commitment to making our society better.
At Employment and Social Development Canada, improving economic and social security for all Canadians is our top priority. In our efforts to achieve this, I have the good fortune to work alongside the Honourable MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
Our department is central to delivering services to Canadians. In fact, along with the Canada Revenue Agency, we are responsible for 95% of government services provided to citizens. A whole host of programs, services and initiatives fall under the authority of Employment and Social Development Canada.
We assist Canadians in literally every stage of their lives, from birth to death. This is a huge responsibility. With the 2016 budget, our government has already begun implementing measures that will improve economic and social security for Canadian families.
I want to tell you about three major initiatives.
First, I want to talk about the Canada Child Benefit.
Children are the essence of our society. Parents need to be able to raise them in the best possible conditions, for the current well-being of their family, but also for the future of our society.
Since taking office in November 2015, our Prime Minister has made it very clear that we need to work to help families. That is why we created the Canada Child Benefit, which was officially introduced in the 2016 budget.
The Canada Child Benefit represents the greatest innovation in social policy that this generation has seen. First, the benefit will be simpler. Families will receive one single payment every month. Second, it will be more transparent, because it will be tax-free. Families will not have to pay back a portion of their benefits in their tax return. Thirdly, it will be more specific, since it will benefit 9 families out of 10, the families that need it most, whereas higher-income families will receive reduced benefits. Fourthly, it will be much more generous, since eligible families' child benefits will increase by nearly $2,300 on average, tax-free, for the 2016-2017 benefit year.
For example, the benefits of a typical family of four with an annual income of $90,000 will increase from $3,145 to a $5,650 tax-free payment from the Canada Child Benefit. That is a $2,500 increase.
More important still, with this new benefit, about 300,000 children will be taken out of poverty in the space of a few months. With the implementation of this measure, the level of child poverty in Canada will be at its lowest in the history of our country.
My mandate also covers seniors' programs, such as the Old Age Security Program, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which brings me to my second point.
Canadians work hard all their lives, and we must enable them to enjoy a comfortable retirement in dignity. This requires new investments, and good ones, targeting seniors.
We plan to increase additional benefits for the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors living alone by nearly $1,000 every year. This measure represents a 10% increase in benefits for the most vulnerable seniors, and will help about 900,000 seniors living alone, Canada-wide.
We also propose to cancel the measure raising the eligibility age for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits so that it remains at 65, which will mean that 100,000 seniors a year will avoid living in poverty.
Another measure will provide higher benefits for senior couples who have higher living costs and an increased risk of poverty because their health forces them to live separately.
Finally, we are working on ways to establish a new price index for seniors so that Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits reflect the rising costs they face.
Thirdly, I would like to talk about social infrastructure.
Experts worldwide agree that wise, targeted investments in infrastructure are essential to stimulate economic growth and strengthen the middle class.
The 2016 budget has allocated $3.4 billion in investments over two years. These investments will provide all Canadians with economic opportunities and allow them to participate fully in their communities, while fostering economic growth of communities across the country.
Investments in affordable housing, early childhood education and child care, as well as cultural and recreational infrastructure, will improve Canadians' quality of life and strengthen communities, including northern and aboriginal communities, making them better places to live.
The government is currently taking measures that will require immediate investment in social infrastructure over the next two years: firstly, to improve access to affordable housing for over 100,000 individuals and families with low incomes, including seniors; secondly, renovate and modernize existing social and affordable housing, including making homes more energy and water-efficient; thirdly, renovate and build housing in first nations and northern communities; fourthly, renovate and build shelters for women and children who are victims of violence, including aboriginal women and children; fifth, improve services that combat homelessness; sixth, renovate and modernize child care and health care facilities on reserve; and finally, in seventh place, fund over 100 community, cultural and recreational infrastructure projects throughout the country.
It is also my duty to help develop a strategy to re-establish the federal government's role in supporting affordable housing for our citizens throughout the country.
We will undertake nationwide consultations in the coming year to develop a national housing strategy. We will thus ensure that the future investments of our federal governments will have the greatest possible impact.
Moreover, homelessness is a reality for far too many Canadians and a major issue for far too many communities. That is why we plan to invest an additional $112 million over two years in the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. This is the first increase in the budget of that strategy since its creation in 1999.
Additionally, we are providing support for the establishment of a national framework on early learning and child care through a proposed initial investment of $500 million, recognizing the deep connection between child care and the economic security of all Canadian families. This includes an investment of $100 million in indigenous child care and early learning on reserves, and in the north.
Most importantly, because child care needs vary from family to family and because provinces and territories have responded clearly that those needs vary in different ways across our communities, engagement with all partners will play a very important role in shaping the development of the early learning and child care framework.
Lifting Canadians out of poverty is a very important aspect of my mandate because Canadian families need support. Reducing poverty and improving the economic well-being of all Canadians has already started in budget 2016.
I will have the opportunity to lead the development of the first Canadian poverty reduction strategy that will set targets to reduce poverty with clear measures that I will commit to track and report on. I will be most happy to share that progress with members of this committee as we move forward.
To deliver real and positive change, which we promised Canadians, we need to work in close collaboration with stakeholders. This is an extremely important part of our collective mandate. We need to work in close partnerships with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to ensure that our poverty reduction strategy complements their existing efforts.
Our government has already started renewing our so important relationship with indigenous people. It is critical that their needs and challenges are also addressed in that strategy. These collaborations may take a little time to develop, but we know that it will take us further and, most importantly, in the right direction.
These collaborations are indeed crucial to finding solutions in addressing key social issues that matter to all Canadians.
To better ensure that Canadians get all the help they need and deserve, and when they need it, the Government of Canada is taking action to make the delivery of government services more responsive.
To ensure that Canadians get timely access to the benefits to which they are entitled, budget 2016 proposes to provide $19 million in the next year to enable Service Canada, a critical agency, to meet the increased demands for services in general, and specifically for EI, and to offer better support to Canadians as they search for new employment.
Budget 2016 proposes to further improve access to call centres by increasing the number of call centre agents, which will reduce waiting times and ensure that Canadians can access the information and support they need, when they need it.
I will do everything in my power to increase economic and social security for all Canadians.
Since taking office, Minister Mihychuk, Minister Qualtrough and I have already engaged in discussions with stakeholder groups, with our provincial, territorial and municipal counterparts, and with many Canadians.
I had the opportunity to meet with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social services, in Edmonton, in early February. It was the first time in 10 years that the forum of ministers responsible for social services met. We have resumed our constructive collaboration and dialogue.
More recently, I also met with various stakeholders throughout the country to find out about their priorities and listen to them. Together we will find the best possible approach to address the social issues that matter to Canadians. And I have every intention of helping our government raise the bar on openness and transparency.
In closing, may I add that I will work alongside my colleagues and with all of you to reflect the values all Canadians embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, and generosity of spirit. Together, we will chart a new course for Canada.