Mr. Chair, I am sure we all appreciate your efforts to keep decorum in the House.
I rise in my place today to speak to the 2006-07 main estimates. Canada's new government brought together many of the key levers for Canada's economic and social future. It combined the former Department of Human Resources and Skills Development with the former Department of Social Development and also gave me responsibilities for CMHC.
I am very pleased to head a department that has a broad impact on Canadians, an impact on our economy and on our society. We have a vision for Canada based upon the values of Canadians: protecting the vulnerable; emphasizing the family as the key building block of a strong society; championing hard work to get ahead and the importance of learning and skills in the workplace; encouraging individuals to make choices for their own future; and, carefully managing hard-earned money.
It is an honour to have been entrusted by the Prime Minister to oversee this ambitious and large ministry, which employs over 24,000 Canadians across the country and has planned spending of nearly $80 billion. As its mandate centres on helping Canadians, nearly 95% of this spending goes directly to Canadians through statutory benefits such as employment insurance and old age security.
The remaining funds support programs that help Canada and Canadians succeed, help children get the best possible start, help develop skills for the 21st century and , help seniors and Canadians with disabilities take an active role in their communities. In pursuit of these objectives, Canada's new government is taking bold steps to strengthen our programming in concrete, meaningful ways.
For families, some 1.4 million families are receiving a universal child care benefit for every child under six. We are working with partners across the country to find ways to create real, flexible child care spaces.
For students, we are expanding eligibility for Canada student loans. We are eliminating federal income tax on scholarships and bursaries. We have created a new textbook tax credit. This is a total investment of an additional $390 million over two years.
For post-secondary education, we have transferred $1 billion in the post-secondary education infrastructure trust that the provinces and territories will spend in modernizing libraries, laboratories, classrooms and other infrastructure projects.
For Canadians in need of housing, we have provided a one time strategic investment of $1.4 billion for the establishment of three housing trusts with the provinces and territories for affordable housing, northern housing and for aboriginals living off reserve.
For the homeless, we extended the national homelessness initiative to the end of March 2007 and invested an additional $37 million from funds unspent by the previous government. Now we are looking at ways in which we can support the homeless in the future.
For skilled workers, we provided an apprenticeship incentive grant and a tools tax credit for those who want to pursue careers in skilled trades. For older workers, we have a targeted initiative to help the unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities get new jobs.
For seniors, we have increased the pension income credit to $2,000. Over the next two years this will put 900 million additional dollars into their hands.
For all Canadians, the Service Canada delivery network now reaches more communities. The number of service points has increased by 157, for a total of 477. In its first year of operation, Service Canada paid about $70 billion in benefits to nearly eight million Canadians.
In delivering these programs, Canada's new government is committed to respecting the hard-earned dollars of Canadian taxpayers. We are committed to reflecting the true priorities of Canadians and we are committed to providing value for money and to delivering real results.
On January 23, Canadians voted for the end of an era of waste and mismanagement. Canadians voted for the end of a tired and corrupt government that had so many priorities that it actually had none.
Canadians voted for a new government that is about respecting Canadians, achieving results and strengthening accountability. Canadians expect their hard-earned tax dollars to be invested in effective programs that meet their needs. We are committed to making our spending transparent, disciplined and accountable. We are consulting with provinces, municipalities and stakeholders to ensure we are moving in the right direction and building effective partnerships to ensure success.
For instance, on the recognition of foreign credentials, we are working with provinces, business, academia and interested organizations.
As we move forward with our child care spaces initiative, we are getting ideas and advice from business, communities and the real child care experts, Canadian parents.
We are consulting the provinces on national objectives, roles, responsibilities, accountability and results for post-secondary education and training.
This brings me to another key area in which our spending priorities are different from those of the previous government. Canada's new government respects provincial jurisdiction. We are committed to ensuring that federal programs do not encroach upon areas that are rightfully provincial matters. Our goal is to work with the provinces and territories to provide the most effective use of taxpayer money.
Canada's new government recognizes that there is only one taxpayer. We recognize that it is the same taxpayer that pays to the federal, provincial and municipal governments. We owe it to that taxpayer not to compete with one another for jurisdiction.
However, the bottom line for my department is that within our mandate and jurisdiction we invest in people.
Our investments are aimed at ensuring that our labour force can meet the challenges of the 21st century. We will make investments so that individuals will have the opportunity to make choices that will equip them with the skills to have productive and rewarding lives, while participating in our economy and society.
This includes helping the most vulnerable in our society. For example, we are working with partners to find the most effective ways to enhance the inclusion and participation of Canadians with disabilities.
We are examining the most effective ways to address the needs of the homeless, while recognizing the importance of addressing the root causes of homelessness.
Investing in people also includes ensuring that Canada has a skilled and capable workforce for the 21st century.
We are in an enviable position. This became clear over the past month as I had occasion to compare Canada's performance with my OECD counterparts in Toronto and my G-8 colleagues in Moscow. In my consultations, I was able to point out that the state of Canada's labour market is strong. We are in the midst of our best labour market outlook in decades. Our overall participation rate for workers of nearly 80% is one of the highest in the G-8 and our unemployment rate is at a 30-year low.
In spite of this, Canada's new government recognizes that we cannot be complacent. We have an aging workforce. Global competition places new demands on knowledge and skills and skilled labour is in short supply.
While Canada has a highly flexible and adaptable workforce, not every community or every individual can adapt to this environment. We will work to remove barriers to work and ensure appropriate support for underrepresented groups, such as aboriginal people, recent immigrants and people with disabilities. By doing so, we will have a sufficient quantity of workers to meet the needs of our economy.
We are also providing significant support for skills training and post-secondary education to ensure that Canada has a quality workforce to compete globally. We will promote an efficient national labour market so that employers can find the skilled workers they need and so that workers can pursue opportunities throughout Canada.
Our vision is of a strong, vibrant and diverse Canada, a Canada where individuals have the skills and opportunities to participate in the economy and society and to live productive and rewarding lives.
We are taking real steps to achieve that vision. All the while, we are committed to remaining accountable to Canadians by listening to their concerns and spending their tax dollars wisely.
This is the foundation we are building on and that is the legacy we wish to leave for generations to come.