Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the fact that, for the first time in 20 years, we have a balanced budget.
I am proud to speak to the budget as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women and as a member of parliament from British Columbia.
Balancing the budget was our initial objective, and one we shall continue to pursue in the next millennium. This balance will have a profound impact for years to come.
The budget is not a stand alone budget. It builds on past budgets. It is a building block for future budgets. The budget is providing a solid infrastructure for Canada for years to come. It tries to address the things we need today while it looks for the things we will need 20 and 25 years down the road. That is one of the reasons I see it as a very important budget.
The budget builds a strong and stable infrastructure for Canada in the future, a strong and stable infrastructure for Canada in terms of its economic growth, its human resource development, and its ability to have clear committed social programs to assist those who are disadvantaged or who have barriers to achieve the opportunities they need to move forward and become contributing citizens.
The budget therefore builds on youth employment as have past budgets. It builds on money that was put forward to assist with child poverty as have past budgets. It assists with tax incentives and with student loan incentives as have past budgets. It continues to build on slow changes in tax initiatives. It is a brick by brick budget. It is a budget by budget budget. It is a balanced budget. It is a budget of balance because it reflects the values of equal opportunity and social justice for all Canadians.
Given the situation we were in, let us not forget that when we first talked about deficit reduction we promised that in three years we would bring our deficit down to 3% of GDP. We are now at four years and we have eliminated our deficit entirely. We did not only do what we said we would do. In the same very measured, very controlled, very conservative manner, we managed to do more than we said we would do. We have even surpassed our own expectations.
Last year we brought the debt down by $13 billion. We do not need to be defensive about the budget because it speaks for itself. We have done something that no other government has done in 30 years. In the next three years we will have done something that has not been done in the country for 50 years. We can stand it up against anything anyone chooses to say about the budget.
We talked about how we would slowly move into debt reduction. We talked about how we would at the same time not do one thing at the expense of another. We have looked at how we are building an economic base and how we are building a social infrastructure. We have also looked at tax relief.
This is a very measured budget. It cannot do everything for everyone. That is how we have managed to get to a point we can be proud of today and to speak about the changes that have been made in the country over 50 years.
This is not a one fell swoop budget. Some people across the floor would like us to say “Let us target one thing only and let the others go by the wayside; let them take care of themselves”. That is not the Liberal way. The Liberal way is to look at how we balance things and at how we ensure that we set priorities. We look at all our communities and the things that are needed across the board.
We decided as well in the budget that since we could not do everything all at once we would set our priorities and our targets so that low income Canadians and moderate income Canadians are our first priorities.
As the Secretary of State for Status of Women, I want members to know this is a budget that has listened to the collective voices of women across the country. It addresses the diversity of women's needs and priorities at every stage of their lives. Given that women make up 51% of Canadians, it is completely unacceptable to decide that we would build a strong country, build a competitive nation and not make sure 51% contribute to the social economic growth of the country. No business people would ever do that. No business people would take 49% of their resources, stretch them and then ignore the other 51%.
Clearly it is one way of building human resource potential. According to the Bank of Montreal study last year women are not victims. Women are employers. Women are able to form businesses. Women are able to contribute to the economic growth of the country. In so doing they take the power for themselves so that they can deal with their lives, move forward and contribute fully. We have looked at women not only in one phase of their lives. We have looked at women from students to entrepreneurs, from single mothers to caregivers.
One of the most significant elements in the budget for women is the recognition for the first time of unpaid work in the home. Unpaid work is part of the foundation of our economy. Even by conservative estimates we know that women do two-thirds of the unpaid work, community work and volunteer work. When women do this work it means that the government does not have to pay for that work to be done by other sectors. It also means that women are contributing without any reimbursement whatsoever to the gross domestic product of the country. This was recognized in the budget. Only one other country in the world has such a recognition, and that is Norway.
I am extremely proud of the budget. There are those who will say that value for unpaid work by women is too little or not enough. We recognize that the budget will be a building block for future budgets. We have done something extremely historic and important this time.
The budget proposes that a new caregiver credit will reduce federal tax for up to $400 for Canadians providing care and support for elderly or disabled family members. That tax exemption will also apply to GST and harmonized sales taxes for any expenses incurred from providing care for a person with limited means of self-care. It targets people who need help the most right now.
In the budget we looked at low income families. That was one place we felt we would start first. We needed to help low income families, especially low income families with children. Some 85% of low income families with children are headed by single women and 65% of those women are living in poverty.
This budget has built on the last budget when we committed $850 million to the child tax benefit. This budget commits another $850 million over two years. This brings it to a total of $1.7 billion to help low income families with children, which consist of very many single women.
We also look at how we help women to get an education so they can become independent workers and can move on if they choose. It is about choice. This budget is about the most important thing to Canadians, the ability to choose.
Women with dependants can now go to school and can extend the education tax credit for part time work. Women with children tend to go to school part time. This is very important for them. It also increases the child care expense deduction for part time schooling.
The opportunities strategy is going to give up to $3,000 a year in a grant, not a loan, to persons with dependants who are in financial need. This goes straight to the heart of all of those women with children or those women who care for someone in the home and cannot afford to go to school. They are going to be given money that they will not have to pay back. This is about building the human resource potential of this country.
The student loan repayment initiative is going to be based on helping those who are in financial need. This again touches very many women who are in this particular class.
I heard the millennium student fund being bandied about across the way. Obviously members do not seem to understand that when we give money directly to people as we are doing, and if we focus on people who are in need and who have talent and ability, it strikes at the heart of what we have all believed as Canadians, that one day our children will be able to do better than we have done. This means that children or young people who have ability and talent but who do not have money will be able to get money so they can have a post-secondary education, a college education or skills training in any kind of school. Then they can find work and put their talent to work for the benefit of this country.
There are so many things in this budget that assist women and which I am extremely proud of. There are also some things which as a member of Parliament for British Columbia I am extremely proud of. I just talked about all of the student initiatives. I have one of the largest student populations in my riding. All of the things that are going to happen today, the students who need loan repayment assistance, the ones who will need to go to school in the future, the single women students in the riding are going to be assisted.
There are three universities in my riding and there are many hospitals which are doing valuable research. The money that has been given back to the research councils is going to be very important for many of these universities and hospitals in my riding. I have already heard from them. They have called me up to say well done, that they needed this and that it is very important. It is something that says we believe in the ability of the creativity of Canadians to continue to lead in the technological age.
Tax measures are an important tool. We know having done some very important gender economic indicators with the provinces over the last two years and in which every province participated, that income tax assists women. It is one of the most important tools to equalize women's income. Women do better after taxes than before.
The tax relief for low and middle income Canadians this budget provides is good news for millions of men and women across this country. In fact over the next three years some $7 billion in tax relief will be provided to low and middle income Canadians.
As of July 1 the government will raise the amount of income that can be earned tax free by low income single Canadians by $500. Most of them are women. It will go to $1,000 for a family. I can assure this House that the women who are partners in those families will welcome the relief, even if that relief helps to go to what is putting down money so that their children when they reach 18 can go to go to university.
We hear those across the way talk about how we have done nothing about tax relief, that we have done nothing on income tax. It depends on who you think are your constituents. We think our constituents happen to be the low and middle income Canadians who need our assistance right now, not the very well-heeled friends of my friends across the way.
Effective July 1 some 83% of taxpayers who are earning under $50,000 will see the 3% general surtax eliminated entirely. For middle class Canadians and middle class women this is an extremely important piece of tax relief.
The Bank of Montreal recently said that small and micro businesses run by women entrepreneurs are increasing at three times the rate of male entrepreneurs. This budget introduces changes for self-employed Canadians who cannot incorporate. We know that these Canadians run very small micro businesses. Many of them are run by women and nearly always from their homes. These women cannot incorporate. They will now be able to deduct health and dental benefits which they would not have been able to deduct before. That is very significant.
We know that women entrepreneurs earn far less than their male counterparts. However, last year they created more jobs than the top 100 Canadian companies. We are talking about job creation. At the same time we are talking about empowering the people who are proving to be the best entrepreneurs in the world.
Everyone has been talking about health care. I think I know a little about health care. It is an issue of vital concern to many women, to me, as well as to the many women in my constituency. Not only are women the major consumers of health care, they make up the bulk of the health care workforce. They are the health care providers. They have taken responsibility for many of the health care services which communities can no longer afford to provide. When the hospitals close down their acute care units and send people out into the communities, the people who pick up the slack are women. That is why the tax credit for caregivers is a very important move.
Important research is being done in my riding. There are also important things being done elsewhere in British Columbia and right across the country. Today I heard an hon. member say that we should not be subsidizing or lending money to businesses in Canada that do not need it. The initiative taken by Industry Canada has assisted business innovation in this country. Businesses have been able to move forward. It has put us at the forefront of world technology.
Recently in my riding the government lent $305 million to RADARSAT II which is based in Richmond. This will provide leading edge technology for mapping the whole world. Canada is the only country in the world which has been able to achieve this kind of technology. Just think of the spin-offs which will come from that kind of loan.
Bombardier just received $2 billion in international business as a result of a very small loan.
In British Columbia Ballard industries has moved into leading edge technology with respect to environmental pollution and new energy sources for cars.
Forty million dollars of loan assistance has brought billions of dollars from the rest of the world which is looking for Canadian technology. That provides jobs for Canadians.
We are thinking in a very holistic way. We are not thinking in a linear way with blinkers on. It is a little difficult for my friends across the way to take their blinkers off and look in a broader and more long term way at what we need to do in this country.
This budget's reaffirmation to address aboriginal issues and youth unemployment will have an impact on many young people across the country. We know that Canada's youth are looking for something which will give them hope for the future. We cannot simply look at youth as one set of people between the ages of 17 and 25. If we look at the unemployment rates of young people in this country we will know that aboriginal youth have an unemployment rate of almost 40% and that visible minority youth have an unemployment rate of 27%.
We need to understand that some youths in this country face extraordinary barriers. We are trying to address some of these barriers. It is not the one size fits all policy. It is not a let us throw everything out to everyone and see who can catch the best because it is the people who jump the highest who will always catch it.
We have to talk about how we marshal for ourselves in the 21st century a country that is going to build its human resource potential. It is a country where our young people will take the talents they have, where our businesses will take the technology they have, where the 51% of our human resources who are women will prove to be the employers and will move forward and contribute to Canada's growth in the way we know they can.
This is a remarkable budget. I am proud to be a member of the government that has brought this budget down.