Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier, our government's economic action plan worked very well to both stimulate the economy and to improve local infrastructure in our municipalities all across the country, especially in my riding of Wild Rose.
However, dealing with the extraordinary consequences of the global financial crisis forced governments worldwide to run budgetary deficits to keep their economies running. Where Canada has proved to be the exception is in how quickly we plan to return to balanced budgets.
In this next phase of the action plan, our government is committed to taking the steps necessary to balance the books. I can say that this is a priority for my constituents. During budget consultations held all across my riding of Wild Rose and during the election, constituents told me time and again that they were eager to secure the economic recovery and balance the books.
This budget responds by committing to balance the books earlier than originally forecast. We will find savings and efficiencies and reduce expenses through a strategic operating review. This important measure will find savings of $4 billion and help to eliminate the deficit a year earlier than planned. It is important for Canadians to know that this return to balanced books will not be at their expense.
Unlike the previous Liberal government, our Conservative government will maintain transfers to provinces and individuals. Pensioners will not be penalized. Health care, education and our military will be supported. Contrast that with the way in which the previous government gutted provincial transfers and nearly dismantled our country's military capabilities in order to generate its artificial surpluses of the 1990s.
This government will not download the pain of its tough choices on Canadians. This government will not raise taxes. As the private sector revs up again as the engine of growth, our government is forging ahead in a way that meets the needs of Canadians now while creating the right conditions for Canada's long-term economic prosperity.
Some very important measures contained in budget 2011 allow us to do this. For example, we are supporting job creation by helping businesses and entrepreneurs to succeed through a temporary hiring credit for small business that will encourage additional hiring by this vital sector. We are extending the work-sharing program and the targeted initiative for older workers to help Canadians stay in the workforce.
The accelerated capital cost allowance for investments in machinery and equipment has been extended for two years, which is of great benefit to Canada's manufacturing and processing sectors.
Furthermore, this budget supports families and seniors. Through our economic action plan, we have enhanced the guaranteed income supplement for vulnerable seniors who rely on old age security and the GIS for their income. The new top-up benefit of $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples will improve financial security for more than 680,000 Canadian seniors.
The budget also introduced a family caregiver tax credit and a children's art tax credit to support Canadian families. The caregiver credit will help Canadians who care for infirm dependent relatives, including, for the first time, spouses, common-law partners and children.
In my riding of Wild Rose, there are many rural towns and villages. Budget 2011 strengthens these communities by improving the services Canadians need wherever they choose to live.
Rural and remote communities often have challenges attracting health care workers. To help address this, we are forgiving up to $40,000 worth of Canada student loans for new family physicians and up to $20,000 for nurses who choose to work in underserviced areas.
In my hometown of Olds, Alberta, I served for a time as a volunteer firefighter. I can tell members firsthand that the volunteer firefighters in my riding and in communities all across the country are sure to appreciate our new tax credit for volunteer firefighters who perform at least 200 hours of service. These are the men and women who selflessly serve and risk their own safety to keep their neighbours safe. It is important to recognize the service they provide to protect the lives and property of Canadians.
A few years ago, our government doubled the gas tax transfers for communities. In Wild Rose, total tax dollars going to our 16 communities immediately jumped from $4.2 million to over $8 million. These are funds that municipalities use for their infrastructure priorities, such as the improved water treatment plant that the town of Cochrane invested in with its enhanced gas tax transfer.
Budget 2011 will make the enhanced gas tax transfers permanent for communities, giving them the ability to budget and plan with certainty and help address the priority infrastructure needs of their residents.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention how the action plan benefits some other key sectors in my riding, namely agriculture and forestry. For example, the budget provides $50 million for a two-year agricultural innovation initiative that will support increased commercialization of agricultural innovations, and it strengthens food safety with an additional $100 million over five years for improved food inspection.
For our riding's thriving forestry sector, there is a $60 million innovation fund to help forestry companies tap new business opportunities abroad.
Canadians have given our Conservative government a majority mandate so we can stay focused on improving the economy. While Canadians are encouraged by the bright light we now see at the end of the economic tunnel, we are also prudent enough to know that this light could yet be an oncoming freight train, given the uncertainty and fragility of the global economic recovery. That is why our government is committed to nurturing this recovery cautiously and carefully.
In the recent election, Canadians ensured that the obstruction and delays that opposition parties routinely employed in past years will not be a barrier this time to implementing the measures contained in the economic action plan.
In closing, I invite all opposition members to join with us in voting in favour of this budget and show the same commitment our Conservative government has toward achieving the priorities Canadians made very clear on May 2.