Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, I am pleased to be here today as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development at Employment and Social Development Canada, also known as ESDC, to talk about the main estimates for our department.
I would like to start by congratulating the members of the committee on their excellent work.
I appreciate your hard work on poverty over these past months, and I look forward to receiving your report and your recommendations, which will feed into the consultations on the Canadian poverty reduction strategy. Your counsel will be crucial for our collective engagement to reduce poverty in Canada.
I have the privilege to be joined by my colleagues, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, as well as the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
I'm also joined by public servants representing the different sectors of ESDC, who will be able to help me answer some of your questions.
In my statement today, I would like to provide a broad overview of our priorities and progress thus far. I will begin by highlighting our resolute commitment to grow the middle class and reduce poverty. Then, I will describe in more detail our actions to support families and communities, notably our investments in children, child care, seniors, and housing.
My top priority as the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and the top priority of Prime Minister Trudeau is growing the middle class and helping more Canadians join it. Every single Canadian deserves a fair and real chance at success.
The middle class is facing real challenges. It is also feeling the impact of economic and technological changes around the world. We also know that a stronger middle class leads to a more prosperous society.
We are committed to helping Canadians who are working hard to join the middle class.
Last October, I presented a discussion paper entitled “Towards a Poverty Reduction Strategy” to accompany your work on the first Canadian poverty reduction strategy in Canadian history.
In parallel with your work, we have launched three large initiatives that will support the Canadian poverty reduction strategy. These are: the tackling poverty together research project, the process of consulting Canadians, and the ministerial advisory committee on poverty, for which we recently put out a call for nominations.
The big picture, for me and for our government, is the imperative to grow the middle class and to reduce poverty. Now, allow me to describe some of the policies we are currently pursuing to make this happen.
Let's start with how we are supporting families. For that, I will focus first on the Canada child benefit and our support for child care and early learning.
Our most important accomplishment to date is without doubt the launch of the Canada child benefit, the most important social policy innovation in a generation. The CCB is a simpler, tax-free, better-targeted, and more generous benefit, to help Canadian families with the cost of raising children.
In July 2016, nearly 3.2 million Canadian families received their first payment.
Also, nine out of 10 Canadian families are receiving an average of $2,300 more in non-taxable child benefits per year compared with the previous complicated and unfair system. This is reducing child poverty by 40% and will lead to the lowest level of child poverty in Canadian history.
As you know, we also aim to create child care services that are affordable, high-quality, flexible and truly inclusive. In Budget 2016, we committed $500 million towards this goal, including $100 million for indigenous early learning and child care.
And over the past year, we have worked with the provinces and territories to develop a framework on early learning and child care, the first in the history of our country.
We have also had discussions with indigenous people to develop a distinct indigenous framework on early learning and child care. This framework will take into account the specific needs and priorities of first nations, Inuit and Métis children and families.
Budget 2017 plans to invest an additional $7 billion over 10 years to support and create affordable, high-quality child care spaces across the country.
These investments in the Canada child benefit and child care will help Canadian families and children succeed.
Please allow me to turn now to our significantly increased support for seniors.
The age of eligibility for old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits has been restored to 65 instead of 67. Every year, that change will prevent 100,000 seniors from living in severe poverty. In addition, automatic enrolment in old age security has been expanded, eliminating the requirement to apply for benefits for more than 60% of seniors.
We also increased the maximum amount of the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit to up to $950 a year for seniors living alone and the most vulnerable seniors. In addition, we are making significant efforts to come in contact with as many seniors as possible who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but are not yet receiving it.
Old age security and the Canada pension plan are part of Canada's flagship social programs millions of Canadians depend on every day. We want to make access to those benefits simpler and fairer.
We have made all of these changes for the fundamental reason that seniors deserve to retire and live in dignity.
I now would like to talk about new investments in our communities.
Our communities are the heart of our country, and quality infrastructure is essential to making them into great places to live. That means reliable public transit, solid leisure and cultural infrastructure, water treatment facilities to ensure water safety and the health of our families, affordable housing, and early learning and child care for our young children.
In Budget 2016, we announced an initial investment of $3.4 billion over five years in social infrastructure. And in Budget 2017, we just announced an additional investment of $21.9 billion over 11 years. This will allow us to continue to support social infrastructure in communities across the country.
Let me now focus on the importance of making housing more affordable and reducing homelessness.
Our vision is for all Canadians to have access to housing that meets their needs and is affordable. Housing is a cornerstone of building sustainable, inclusive communities in a strong Canadian economy where we can all prosper and thrive.
In this regard, Budget 2016 included major investments of $2.3 billion over two years. As the minister responsible for the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC, I also want to point out that we held nation-wide consultations on a new national housing strategy, and that a report on what we heard was published last November.
Budget 2017 includes an additional investment of $11.2 billion over 11 years in a variety of initiatives that aim to build and renovate the affordable housing stock in Canada. They will also ensure that all Canadians have affordable housing that meets their needs.
For instance, we will be doubling, in that context, our long-term engagement, our investments in the homelessness partnering strategy, for a total investment of $2.1 billion over the next 11 years. When someone is forced to live on the streets, we are indeed all diminished.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, as you can see, we have made remarkable progress over the past year. But we are well aware that the work is only just beginning. We have a lot more to accomplish.
However, I am confident that we are on the right track. Our initiatives are helping advance the government's main program, which consists in strengthening the middle class and those working hard to join it.
In developing such an ambitious agenda to give every Canadian a real and fair chance to succeed, everyone's contribution and collaboration is important. Therefore, I look forward to a frank, instructive, and constructive dialogue this morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and colleagues.