Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Peace River.
On behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells, it is a pleasure to join in the discussion on the actions taken by the Government of Canada in support of women's equality.
I would like to address my remarks particularly to the issue of child care spaces, as raised by the hon. member for Beaches—East York.
First, in the true spirit of equality, this government recognizes that choices in child care are best made by the parents, women and men, who are primarily responsible for their children's well-being. That is why we are supporting the child care choices of all families with young children in a clear and tangible way, through the universal child care plan.
Since July 2006, the universal child care benefit has been providing $100 each month, or a total of $2.3 billion per year, for two million children under six years of age. This is direct financial support that helps all Canadian families, regardless of where they live, their hours of work or the choices they make for their children's care.
We are also helping parents offset the cost of child care, through the child care expense deduction.
For the average family, the universal child care benefit, together with the child care expense deduction, covers well over one-third of the cost of non-parental child care. The combined effect of these measures is even greater for lone parent families, mostly headed by women.
I am pleased to say that the universal child care benefit has lifted an estimated 24,000 families with about 55,000 children out of low income status.
We also introduced more direct support to families with children through a $2,000 child tax credit for each child under the age of 18. This tax credit will provide more than 90% of Canadian families with tax relief of over $300 per child.
Turning specifically to the issue of child care spaces, budget 2007 confirmed new funding of $250 million per year to enable provinces and territories to create child care spaces that are responsive to the needs of parents. These spaces are administered in an efficient and accountable manner. This funding is on top of the $850 million provinces and territories already receive through the Canada social transfer for young children. This makes for a total of $1.1 billion this year, rising to $1.3 billion by 2013-14.
Our government's approach recognizes that provinces and territories have primary responsibility for child care services and that they require flexibility to address their respective priorities. We are beginning to see the positive results of our approach to child care spaces.
Since budget 2007, many provinces and territories have announced plans for new child care spaces, more than 33,000 so far. Others are investing in enhancing the quality of their spaces or the affordability of their spaces, for example, through raising wages of child care workers or making capital investments in existing day cares.
The provinces and territories are responding to our government's support so that they can create the necessary quality child care spaces in their jurisdictions.
Last year's budget also extended existing funding for agreements with the provinces and territories on early childhood development, early learning and child care. Not only are we supporting the provinces and territories to create child care spaces, we are also helping businesses to do so as well.
In budget 2007, we announced a 25% non-refundable tax credit to a maximum of $10,000 per child care space created to support businesses interested in creating child care spaces for the children of their employees and potentially for children in the surrounding community.
This government recognizes that families are the building blocks of a society and that child care is a priority for Canadian families. That is why we are committed to helping parents balance work and family life and to provide them with real choice in deciding what is best for their children.
In total, we provided $5.6 billion in 2007-08 alone in support of early learning and child care. This was accomplished through transfers to the provinces and territories, direct spending and tax measures for families. This is the largest investment in early learning and child care in the history of Canada. It is three times more than the previous government invested.
Our approach was carefully thought out. Before launching our programs, we consulted widely with provincial and territorial governments, businesses, child care providers and non-profit organizations. They told us that direct federal government intervention was not the way to go. We listened.
Our role and responsibility as a government is to provide flexibility. We are there to support families, to ensure they have choices and to respect their choices.
These are the words of our Prime Minister on the universal child care benefit. He said:
The reason we ran on it, that we believe so strongly in it, is the very reason that our opponents are so vehemently against it: it’s a real, meaningful and tangible benefit, paid directly to parents—and institutions, bureaucrats and special interests can’t touch it.
Children aren’t raised in academic faculties or government offices or the boardrooms of social activists. Children are raised in families, so that’s where the money flows.
The Liberals hold an insulting ideological belief that without government direction, parents cannot choose what is right for their children. The Conservative government believes precisely the opposite, and that is why we are providing choices and options for Canadian families when it comes to providing care for their children.
I would like to add that the hon. member's concern for the ability of women to join the workforce is not reflected in their participation rate. In fact, our nation continues to have one of the highest rates for women's labour force participation among all OECD countries. It has risen more rapidly as well.
What women have told us is that they want choice in how they care for their children. That is what our programs offer: support and respect for individual choices.