Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to express my support for this important bill. Bill C-66 represents what Canada is all about: a caring society that helps those who need help. We have a reputation for being a compassionate society and, I would venture to say, there is not a person in this chamber who is not proud of that reputation.
The government has a history of helping those in need. Sometimes it is people who are vulnerable and cannot help themselves. Other times it is those who just need a boost to help them get a footing so they can participate on an equal basis in our society. Either way, Canadians look to their government to develop good policy that will help their fellow citizens and the bill before us today is good policy.
All of us here today are affected by the recent increases in gas and energy prices. Bill C-66 provides direct assistance to those Canadians who are particularly concerned about these price increases: low income seniors and low income families with children.
My hon. colleague has outlined the details of the bill and his comments illustrate that the proposals in the bill would make a meaningful difference to those Canadians.
Today I would like to illustrate just how Bill C-66 fits into the bigger picture of what the government has done to help increase participation in Canadian society.
First, with respect to tax reduction, there is no doubt that we have a strong record. Every year, since balancing the budget almost 10 years ago, the government has reduced taxes to Canadians, the most significant of which was the $100 billion five year tax reduction plan introduced in 2000. The broad based tax relief provided by that plan benefited those who needed it most, in particular low income families with children.
Subsequent budgets completed the five year plan to further enhance the fairness, efficiency and competitiveness of our tax system. For example, building on the plan, the 2003 budget announced additional increases to the national child benefit supplement for low income families with children. The benefits from that budget will bring the maximum assistance for a first child to a projected level in 2007 that will be more than double that in 1996.
To provide tax relief to all taxpayers, particularly those with low and modest incomes, budget 2005 will increase progressively the basic personal amount so that by 2009 the amount of income that all Canadians may earn without paying federal income tax will increase to $10,000. Just to put that in context, compared to 2004, for example, that is an increase of almost $2,000 more that Canadians will be able to earn without having to pay tax. This change will provide more than $7 billion in tax relief over the next five years. When fully implemented in 2009, the measure will remove hundreds of thousands of low income taxpayers from the tax rolls, including almost a quarter of a million seniors.
Now I would like to address why we were able to produce this historic tax cut of $100 billion between 2000 and 2005.
Today is the day after Halloween when all of Canada's children enjoyed a good fright in the name of fun. However just over a decade ago we inherited a fiscal situation from the previous Conservative government that was truly frightening and was anything but fun.
At that time the unemployment rate stood at 11.2%. Our debt was at $563 billion, or 68% of our GDP. We were in a situation where international financial writers were writing us off and international investors were threatening to pack up their bags and leave. Today unemployment sits at 6.7%. Our debt to GDP ratio has dropped 30 percentage points to 38% of GDP, or $499 billion.
This government has been able to convert an economic downward spiral into a set of economic statistics that are the envy of the G-7. The finance minister has built on a fiscal foundation set by the right hon. Prime Minister, in his former capacity, a record of surpluses, growth, jobs, debt reduction and tax reductions. It is for that reason that we are able to provide in times of uncertainty.
When we were hit by an unforeseen set of circumstances and prices rose at the gas pumps we were able to react because our fiscal foundations are solid and we were able to react in substantive ways.
Perhaps I can address some of the parts that Bill C-66 encompasses. Under the energy cost benefit, a total of $565 million would be paid out to about 3.1 million low income families and seniors who would receive anywhere from $125 to $250 per household this winter. These payments would be a first down payment on further personal tax relief being introduced over the next five years.
In order to address the issue of energy efficiency, a total of $1.04 billion has been set aside to assist low income households as well as public institutions, such as hospitals and schools, with the cost of upgrading their dwellings and buildings to make them more energy efficient. This would include $500 million for 130,000 low income households that are eligible for up to $5,000 to help with the cost of heating system upgrades, window replacement and draught proofing; an additional $150 million for government houses retrofit incentives programs which would provide money for 250,000 more households; $185 million for those who install best in class energy efficient oil and gas furnaces, $150 per unit for those who heat with electricity, $250 per household; and an additional $210 million in retrofit incentives for public service institutions.
As well, we have addressed the issue of public transit infrastructure. For people who choose public transit there has to be better accessibility and service. Up to $800 million over the next two fiscal years would l be freed up for accelerated investments in urban transit.
I would like to more specifically address the issue of seniors. I mentioned earlier that Bill C-66 focuses on helping those Canadians who have difficulty coping with higher energy costs, which is why the bill would provide assistance to low income seniors who often are on fixed incomes. Support for our senior population, particular those with low incomes, has been one of the major success stories of government policy since the 1950s. At the same time, the government is facing new challenges resulting from the longer and more vigorous lives of our seniors.
To address the evolving needs of seniors, budget 2005 made significant investments across a wide range of policies that matter to seniors, from health care to income security programs, retirement savings, assistance for people with disabilities and for care givers and support for voluntary sector activities by and in support of seniors.
For example, budget 2005 increased the maximum benefits of the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, for single seniors and for couples. Corresponding increases will also be extended to recipients of both the allowance and the allowance for survivor benefits. This increase will raise total GIS payments by almost $3 billion over the next five years, significantly exceeding the commitment of $1.5 billion over that period. A total of 1.6 million GIS recipients will benefit from this increase, including more than 50,000 seniors who will become eligible for benefits as a result of the change.
I would also note that the increase will be of particular benefit to senior women who account for over one million of the seniors receiving GIS benefits.
This government is committed to providing support for our senior population. With that in mind, budget 2005 also set aside a further $13 million over five years for a national seniors secretariat to be established within Social Development Canada. This will serve as a focal point for collaborative efforts to address the new challenges facing seniors. The secretariat will be tasked with working with senior organizations with a view to developing and coordinating government programs and services that matter to seniors.
During this unexpected gas hike there were many questions about whether refiners and gas station owners had taken advantage of the public during the most recent spike. To prevent profiteering and price gouging by these oligopolies during the sudden oil price swings, we established a new $15 million office of energy price information. This office will monitor energy price fluctuations and provide clear, current information to Canadians and to Parliament.
To act upon profiteering or gouging, another $13 million has been earmarked for the Department of Industry to take a number of steps to deter anti-competitive practices, including giving Canada's Competition Bureau more powers and strengthening the Competition Act.
Finally, in an earlier gas spike several months ago, the government earmarked the increases in gas tax proceeds toward a medical equipment fund. We should keep in mind that since the June budget the Liberal government is now transferring half of the gas tax to Canadian municipalities to help pay for public transit infrastructure. A case in point is the $24.45 million first installment received by the City of Toronto in September.
Canada's reputation for being a caring and compassionate society is well-known internationally and this government wants to ensure that we keep that well earned reputation. As I have outlined today, this government is taking numerous actions to help those in our society who need it most, in particular, low income seniors and low income families.
Bill C-66 takes concrete action by providing timely and direct relief to many of those least able to cope with rising energy costs. I urge all hon. members to accord the bill swift passage.