Madam Speaker, members opposite should be keen to support Bill C-72, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, the 1998 budget and technical measures. In doing so they will support broad based and fair tax relief for low and middle income Canadians and their families as well as targeted relief for those Canadians who need it most.
I suspect that, as in the past, they will deny Canadians once again and go on to criticize and make wild projections to achieve objectives that would put Canadians' recent success in eliminating the deficit in jeopardy. A vote for Bill C-72 amounts to support for reducing taxes for 14 million Canadians, support for removal of 400,000 Canadians from the tax rolls, support for providing tax credits for interest payments on Canada and provincial student loans, support for allowing Canadians to make tax free withdrawals from their RRSPs to fund full time education and training, support for extending the education credit to part time students, and support for providing a tax credit to individuals providing in home care for an adult relative, and certainly much more.
However, as I have said, I have grave doubts about my colleagues' tax cutting credentials. My memory may be faulty but I cannot recall their supporting a single tax cutting measure we have brought forward during the last two parliaments.
Clearly with Bill C-72 my friends opposite can tangibly demonstrate they truly want to reduce taxes in a sustainable fashion.
I ask the hon. members opposite that when the division is recorded for Bill C-72 they can vote yea for tax relief for Canadian taxpayers and their families or they can vote nay. It is really that simple.
As the finance minister noted when presenting the 1998 budget, the measures in Bill C-72 represent the first steps toward general income tax relief, the first steps on which this government has already built with the 1999 budget. Together, the two budgets provide $16.5 billion of tax relief over the next three years. Moreover, as the minister recently noted, this is only the beginning.
With the federal deficit behind us Canadians can now look forward to tax relief in budget after budget in the foreseeable future. Of course at the outset, given that the financial dividend that allows broad based tax relief is modest, so too must be the initial relief itself.
We must not provide unaffordable relief that would jeopardize our regained financial health and impinge on Canadian priorities such as health care and education. Accordingly and in keeping with the nation's priorities, the measures in Bill C-72 act first to reduce taxes for those who can least afford to pay them, low and middle income Canadians.
The legislation before us contains two measures providing general tax relief. The first is a proposal to increase the amount of income that low income Canadians can earn on a tax free basis. As my colleagues know, personal tax credits ensure no tax is paid on the basic amount of income. This helps to make Canada's tax system fair.
Prior to the 1998 budget the basic personal amount that Canadians could earn tax free was set at $6,456 while the spousal and equivalent to spouse amounts were a maximum of $5,380. Effective July 1, 1998, Bill C-72 proposed to increase these amounts by $500 for low income Canadians. This will effectively increase the amount of tax free income by a maximum of $500 for single taxpayers with income under $20,000 and by $1,000 for a family with income under $40,000. As a result of this measure some 400,000 low income individuals will be removed from the tax rolls and another 4.6 million taxpayers will pay less income tax.
The House will also know that the 1999 budget proposes to build on this measure by extending the $500 increase in the basic amount to all Canadian taxpayers and increasing it by a further $175 for a total increase in the basic amount of $675. This would mean that effective July 1, 1999 the basic amount of income that all Canadians can earn annually on a tax free basis would rise to $7,131. Effective the same date, the maximum spousal and equivalent to spouse amounts will increase to $6,055. This will more than offset the effects of inflation on these amounts since 1992.
In the interest of fairness the largest proportionate benefit of these measures will accrue to low income Canadians. On top of the 400,000 lower income Canadians who will no longer pay any federal income taxes due to the measures in Bill C-72, the 1999 budget would remove 200,000 more Canadians from the tax rolls for a total of 600,000.
To continue with the measures to provide broad based relief, Bill C-72 proposes to eliminate the 3% general surtax for those with incomes up to about $50,000 and to reduce it for those with incomes between $50,000 and $65,000. As my colleagues will recall, the previous government introduced the general surtax as a measure to help fight the deficit. Accordingly, having eliminated the deficit, it is time for us to eliminate the surtax. This measure eliminates the 3% surtax for almost 13 million tax filers and another 1 million taxpayers will pay significantly less surtax.
Having begun the process of eliminating the 3% surtax in the 1998 budget, the 1999 budget proposes to complete the process and eliminate the general surtax for each and every Canadian taxpayer. This action will bring an end to this surtax for the 2.7 million Canadian taxpayers who continued to pay it in whole or in part following the 1998 budget. As a result, effective July 1, 1999 the 3% surtax will have been eliminated for all 15.1 million Canadian taxpayers.
Before I turn to some of the targeted measures included in the legislation I underline that these two measures in Bill C-72 provide very progressive tax relief. That is because as a percentage of current tax, the tax reductions are highest at lower incomes.
In each budget since we have taken office, including the 1998 budget, our government has provided targeted tax relief where the need was greatest and the benefits were substantial. Reflecting this fact, Bill C-72 contains several targeted measures, particularly those related to the Canadian opportunities strategy. Canada operates in a fast changing, competitive and interdependent world economy, an economy that is increasingly knowledge based.
The facts speak for themselves. Since 1981 the number of available jobs for Canadians with a high school education or less dropped by some two million while more than five million jobs were created for those with higher qualifications.
Unfortunately, as all members in this House realize, not all Canadians are in a position to access the knowledge and skills they will need throughout their lifetime to find and keep good jobs in a changing labour market.
Barriers, most often financial barriers, reduce access to post-secondary education for many. Accordingly, the 1998 budget and Bill C-72 propose several tax measures to provide financial assistance for students.
Student debt has become a heavy burden for many Canadians. In 1990 a graduate completing four years of post-secondary education paid an average student debt load of about $13,000. This year the same graduate's average debt will almost double to about $25,000. Moreover at the beginning of the decade, fewer than 8% of student borrowers had debts larger than $15,000. Now almost 40% are in that boat.
The financial burden on students must and will be reduced. To that end, Bill C-72 contains measures to provide all students with tax relief for interest paid on their Canada and provincial student loans. This will take the form of a 17% federal tax credit that will apply to both federal and provincial student loan programs.
In terms of dollars and cents, for a student with a loan of $25,000, it will mean a reduction in federal and provincial taxes of $530 in the first year alone. Over a 10 year paydown of a student loan, the new tax credit could mean as much as $3,200 in tax relief. This measure will benefit about one million Canadians.
The 1998 budget contains several other measures to help manage student debt. While they are not included in this piece of legislation, I will take a brief moment to remind my colleagues of these important measures.
For example, besides the tax credit, we increased the income threshold used to qualify for interest relief on Canada student loans by 9%. We introduced graduated interest relief which will extend assistance to more graduates farther up the income scale.
We have asked that lending institutions extend the loan repayment period to 15 years for individuals who have used the 30 months of interest relief. Moreover if after extending that repayment period to 15 years a borrower remains in financial difficulty, there will be an extended interest relief period. For the minority of graduates who still remain in financial difficulties after taking advantage of these relief measures, we will reduce their student loan principal by as much as half.
Together, these new interest relief measures will help up to 100,000 more borrowers.
To keep a job or to get a new one, many Canadians who are already in the workforce want to take time from work to upgrade their skills through full time study. There are many of them and we hear from them in our constituencies.
Individuals are looking to upgrade their skills and need the time away from work to do so. They often lack the resources to pay for these types of programs and courses. The legislation before the House includes several new measures to improve Canadians' access to learning throughout their lives.
The first of these measures is the proposed tax free registered retirement savings plan withdrawals for lifelong learning. An individual who has an RRSP and is enrolled in full time training or higher education for at least three months during the year will be eligible to withdraw up to $10,000 from their RRSPs, up to a maximum of $20,000 in furtherance of their education.
Of course to preserve the role of RRSPs in providing retirement income, the amounts withdrawn will have to be repaid over a 10 year period. In many respects, what we are proposing in Bill C-72 resembles the very successful home buyer's plan where Canadians can access their RRSPs when they are purchasing a home.
There is no doubt that every member in this House and all Canadians would agree that there is a need to continually upgrade knowledge and skills. That can be particularly hard for the growing number of Canadians studying part time while trying to manage the difficult balance of work and family. Therefore, we are proposing to extend the education credit to part time students.
Under the proposal, part time students will be able to claim an amount of $60 for each month they are enrolled in a qualified course lasting at least three weeks and including a minimum of 12 hours of course work per month. This measure will lessen the expense of education and facilitate lifelong learning for over 250,000 part time students.
As well, members will recall that to help parents save for their children's future, the 1998 budget introduced the Canada education savings grant to make registered education savings plans even more attractive. The government will provide a 20% grant on the first $2,000 deposited in annual RESP contributions for children up to age 18, up to a maximum annual grant of $400 per child. This truly makes RESPs among the most attractive savings vehicles available to Canadians for their children's education.
Over the past year we have already seen the impact of this particular initiative with the success that RESPs are having by increasing the pool from what was $2.5 billion before this initiative to approximately $4 billion just over this past short while.
Educational assistance payments are for students enrolled in full time education. However, taking into consideration the special needs of disabled individuals, Bill C-72 proposes to allow disabled part time students to qualify to receive educational assistance payments.
As well, the bill proposes to assist income constrained families by increasing the amounts they can transfer out of their RESPs into their RRSPs in the event their children do not pursue higher education. Specifically, the amount will be increased to $50,000 from $40,000.
Bill C-72 also contains several other targeted measures that are worthy of support by the House. Among them is the proposed new caregiver credit. The credit would reduce the combined federal-provincial tax by up to $600 for those Canadians caring for an elderly parent or disabled family member. It would provide assistance to about 450,000 caregivers that normally would not qualify for the infirm dependant credit.
To improve equity in the treatment of self-employed and incorporated businesses—and I know hon. members across the way would want to support this measure—Bill C-72 proposes that self-employed Canadians be able to deduct health and dental insurance premiums from their business income.
I am sure hon. members would also want to support this initiative. To support communities and the thousands of Canadian volunteers who provide essential emergency services, the legislation before us proposes that the tax free amount for volunteer firefighters be doubled from $500 to $1,000. This measure will also be extended to other emergency service volunteers.
Time constraints preclude me from addressing at length the many other contents of the bill. I trust that my colleagues will address these matters either in debate or at committee.
While the view from this side and the view from the other side do not always mesh, I trust on this occasion we will see eye to eye, given that Bill C-72 contains tax relief measures for Canadians, tax relief upon which the government built in the 1999 budget.
I trust members opposite can put aside the usual rhetoric and support the beginnings of what we on this side of the House see as a plan to continue to provide broad based tax relief in each and every budget, year after year. I call upon the members in the opposition parties to support Bill C-72.