Mr. Speaker, before I speak to the budget, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Speaker. Your family is proud of you and your colleagues are proud of you.
I also want to take this opportunity, as it is my first time to speak in the 41st Parliament, to thank the fine people of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for their overwhelming trust and support given to me in the recent election.
I also congratulate the Minister of Finance, the hon. member for Whitby—Oshawa, on his sixth budget and the second this year. As promised, this government is continuing to focus on the economy. It is our top priority.
Canada's economic recovery is still fragile so we are focusing on creating jobs and economic growth for Canadians. The Speech from the Throne and yesterday's presentation of the 2011 budget outline priorities that are important to residents of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and certainly all Canadians.
Today I want to discuss what this government is doing for our economy, families, farmers, our seniors, students, our businesses, large and small, our small towns and rural communities, and the actions our government will take to return to balanced budgets in the years ahead.
The next phase of Canada's economic action plan will invest in the key drivers of economic growth: innovation, investment, education and training. Canada's economic performance during the recovery stands out among advanced countries having posted the strongest employment growth in the G7 since mid-2009.
We are proud to say that we have more Canadians working now than before the recession. Jobs and economic growth are important to the residents of my riding and certainly to all Canadians. Canada's economic action plan is working. This government's investments have been effective in shielding hard-working Canadians from the worst of the global recession. Over 28,500 projects have been completed or are under way, which have generated new jobs in small communities right across Canada. These projects have contributed to the creation of approximately 540,000 jobs since July 2009.
However, this government recognizes that our economic recovery remains fragile and, for this reason, we are continuing to take measures that will foster long-term growth and support job creation.
I spent 12.5 years in municipal government. I worked hard, along with other colleagues at the time, to have the gas tax funding refunded to municipalities. In 2008, our government, a Conservative government, announced that the gas tax fund would become a permanent measure. This measure will provide greater certainty to the provinces, territories and municipalities. The budget proposes a permanent annual investment of $2 million in municipal infrastructure through the gas tax fund, which will be welcome news to municipalities in my riding.
Budget 2011 also invests more than $300 million per year to enhance the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, for seniors. This measure will provide a new top-up benefit of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This will improve the financial security of seniors in my riding and of the more than 680,000 seniors across Canada.
This government also recognizes the personal sacrifice that many Canadians make to care for their family members with serious illnesses such as MS or ALS. We are proposing a family caregivers tax credit, which will provide a 15% non-refundable credit on an amount of $2,000. This will help many families in my riding and an estimated 500,000 caregivers across the country.
My sister suffers from MS so I understand the toll that this disease and other diseases can have on victims and on their families. This tax credit can help to ease the financial burden of individuals who provide care for family members who are combatting serious illnesses.
An issue that is currently impacting communities in my riding as well as other rural and remote communities is access to health care. Our government is committed to health care and to strengthening health care in underserved communities. To combat the shortage of doctors and nurses in these communities, the budget proposes to forgive a portion of the Canada student loans for new family doctors and nurses who practice in underserved rural and remote areas. This is good for my riding.
Starting in 2012-13, practising family doctors will be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $8,000 per year to a maximum of $40,000 of their Canadian student loans and nurses will be eligible for loan forgiveness of $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000.
This government is also committed to enhancing federal financial assistance for students. We will provide financial support to college and university students through the Canada student loans program. In the 2009-10 academic year, more than 400,000 students benefited from over $2.5 billion in federal student loan assistance, whether in the form of a loan or a grant. The 2011 budget proposes to enhance and expand the eligibility of part-time and full-time post-secondary students for Canada student loans, with an investment of over $34 million a year once fully implemented.
This government has also pledged an additional $37 million per year to the three federal granting councils that support research at Canada's universities, colleges, and research hospitals. We are also proposing to invest $53 million over five years to support the creation of 10 new Canada Excellence Research Chairs.
Now, on to agriculture, the biggest business in my riding and certainly a major one in Canada's economy. One of our government's priorities is to continue to promote the long-term profitability and global competitiveness of the Canadian agricultural sector. We have announced a two-year, $50 million agricultural innovation initiative to support knowledge creation and transfer and to increase the commercialization of agricultural innovations. This is on top of the present agricultural programs.
In early 2011, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food had the opportunity to travel across Canada during its biotech study. One key theme that was top of mind, which we heard everywhere we went from producers and industry stakeholders, was the importance of research to the competitiveness and profitability of Canadian farmers.
Another thing that I am very happy to see the budget is the abolition of the gun registry. This registry has been an anchor around farmers and law-abiding rural people all over this country for 16 years. Thanks to this government, it is going to disappear.
Our government also recognizes that small businesses are job creators and help stimulate our economy, which makes them a crucial part of economic recovery. A lot of people do not realize that small businesses employ more people collectively across this country than big business by far. For this reason, we have created the new hiring credit for small business, which will provide a temporary one-time credit of up to $1,000 against any potential increases in 2011 EI premiums over those paid in 2010. This new credit will help over 525,000 employers pay the cost of additional hiring.
My riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound relies very heavily on the services of volunteer firefighters. Our government is proud of the nearly 85,000 volunteer firefighters who keep our communities safe. This budget introduces a 15% non-refundable volunteer firefighters tax credit on an amount of $3,000.
This government is also committed to strengthening integrity and accountability in government and political activity. We have announced the phase-out of quarterly allowances for political parties. This government will introduce legislation to gradually reduce the $2.04 per year per vote subsidy in 51¢ increments, starting on April 1, 2012, until it is completely eliminated by 2015-16. The hard-working taxpayers in Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, in the Yukon, in the Maritimes, or in any other community across Canada should not have to fund political parties they do not support, such as the Bloc Québécois, which wants to pull our great country apart. All Canadians have the opportunity to provide financial contributions to the parties they believe in and support. That is what they should be doing.
This government has a plan in place to balance budgets one year ahead of schedule without raising taxes or cutting transfer payments. Our plan for returning to balanced budgets includes winding down the economic action plan's stimulus as the economy recovers, targeted measures to restrain growth in direct program spending, and a comprehensive review of government administrative functions and overhead costs.
The long and short of it is that this budget is a sensible, realistic budget, and I urge all my colleagues in the House to support it. I look forward to taking some questions.