Mr. Speaker, this legislation is important because it reflects some of our most deeply held values: the belief, for instance, that all Canadians deserve a chance to live rich and rewarding lives, and the genuine concern that our communities express for our most vulnerable members, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.
Bill C-22, which would create the Department of Social Development Canada, is a vehicle through which we can achieve a most worthy goal: to help Canadians translate their ideals into meaningful and effective actions on behalf of the society we all share.
The bill would give legal effect to a transformation that began last December when the former Human Resources Development Canada department was split into two departments, including this new Department of Social Development Canada. Building on the many highly successful programs and services long delivered by HRDC, Social Development Canada intends to become a centre of expertise in social policy and programs which will ensure that Canada maintains and indeed surpasses our global reputation as a caring nation.
The mandate of the new SDC is to secure and strengthen Canada's social foundations while respecting the jurisdictions of all levels of government. Its vision is to create a country where everyone plays an active role.
To strengthen Canada's social foundations, SDC will work with its partners to promote the social well-being of and income security for Canadians. In concrete terms, Social Development Canada will focus on the social needs of Canadians, whether that be through income security or other types of programs and services. While all Canadians stand to benefit equally, the department will have a particular focus on children, people with disabilities, seniors, families and caregivers, and the voluntary and not for profit sector.
Let me emphasize that Social Development Canada is hardly alone in this. Indeed, in pursuit of its mission, it is working closely with other federal departments and other levels of government and is actively engaged with non-governmental organizations and communities.
I would also underscore that the legislation before us casts nothing in stone. As proposed, the department would be a living, breathing entity ready to respond to our needs and evolve along with them. In the next few minutes, permit me to outline some of the new department's key priorities.
Let us begin with children, our most vulnerable resource. As you know, Mr. Speaker, my government is committed to ensuring that every child has an opportunity to attain his or her own potential. With our partners, the Government of Canada is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to support families with children. Since 1998 a cornerstone of this strategy has been the successful national child benefit, a flexible tax relief program that helped lift 55,000 children out of poverty in the first two years alone.
All children, no matter what their circumstances, deserve an opportunity to learn and develop even before they reach school age. That is why the Speech from the Throne observed that the time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the four key principles of quality, universality, accessibility and development.
I also believe that it should be a publicly administered and not for profit system and that these objectives need to be entrenched in a legislative framework. That way, each province and territory will be able to address its own particular needs within the national framework. There is broad consensus that affordable and accessible child care is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for Canadian working families, whether headed by one parent or two. We therefore want to work with our partners to respond to this reality. My government will also be investing $5 billion toward the reality of this program over the next five years.
Persons with disabilities are another priority for SDC. We are working to level the playing field for people with disabilities to ensure that Canadians with disabilities have the same chances others do to achieve and succeed in our country. We recognize that they have abilities that differ from others and we want to support them in achieving their full potential.
Social Development Canada delivers Canada pension plan benefits for people with disabilities, along with programs such as the opportunities fund. Under the new labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, the Government of Canada contributes funding to provinces for programs and services to promote the full participation of Canadians with disabilities in the labour market.
With respect to seniors, our focus is on active living. We provide seniors with the support they need to be active participants in their communities. Again, Social Development Canada has programs to achieve that purpose. Nearly five million Canadians receive benefits through the Canada pension plan and the old age security program. Many more are helped out of poverty through the guaranteed income supplement, which my government has already promised to increase by up to $400 for a single person and up to $700 for a couple.
I am particularly enthusiastic about another program spearheaded by Social Development Canada. Known as New Horizons for Seniors, it will work with partners to develop activities that keep seniors fully engaged in their communities.
Canadians have also told us that providing support to families and family caregivers needs to be a priority of the Government of Canada. Indeed, family caregiving is a growing issue as more and more Canadians enter the “sandwich generation”, those with the dual role of raising their children while being an informal caregiver to an aging parent or a person with a disability.
The Government of Canada recognizes the vital role of Canadians who care for aged or infirm relatives or those with severe disabilities and is committed to helping people better balance work and family responsibilities, and it recognizes the important contribution of caregivers in Canadian society. That is why the government will be investing $1 billion in the family caregiver program.
The social economy is a venerable tradition in Canadian communities. We think of co-operatives, credit unions, community economic development associations and a lot of non-profit groups. Canada's not for profit organizations, community groups and volunteers are major partners in building strong and resilient communities. They fill a growing and very real need in Canadian society.
That is why SDC is an enthusiastic supporter of the social development partnerships program and the voluntary sector initiative, measures that reach out to the more than 161,000 not for profit organizations and six million volunteers who work so selflessly to strengthen the social fabric of Canada.
In all of its programs, SDC believes it is crucial to work with partners: the provinces and territories, of course, the municipalities, not for profit groups and agencies, and the voluntary and not for profit sector. This collaborative approach recognizes that many social programs are shared jurisdictions. It also increases capacity throughout the community in both the private and the voluntary and not for profit sector
I am pleased to support the bill.