Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg South Centre.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to economic action plan 2015, a balanced-budget, low-tax plan for jobs, growth and security.
Our government is balancing the budget while taking prudent action to lower taxes, create jobs and economic growth, while providing security to Canadians.
A balanced budget allows the government to cut taxes further for hard-working Canadians across the country and putting money back into their pockets. It is money they can use to either choose to go on vacation, pay down their mortgage, and ensure their children have access to more activities and sports.
The budget support small businesses and entrepreneurs: first, by reducing the tax rate to 9%; and second, by expanding the services offered by the Business Development Bank of Canada to help small and medium-sized businesses.
Entrepreneurs are supported by our investment of $14 million in Futurpreneur Canada to allow young entrepreneurs to excel, and also investing in women, an action plan for women entrepreneurs to help women business owners succeed.
This economic action plan is helping families and communities by increasing the tax-free savings account annual contribution limit to $10,000, effective for 2015 and subsequent taxation years. It is an opportunity for people to create a tax-free nest egg for the future.
We are supporting seniors and persons with disabilities by introducing the home accessibility tax credit to help with renovation costs, so that they can live independently in their own home longer, which is exactly where they want to be.
I have a great friend, Geoff Ball, who is a full-time wheelchair user. This will be outstanding for Geoff in ensuring that he can stay in his own home as long as possible into the future. These measures are what matter most to Canadians.
In my role as Canada's Minister of Labour and Status of Women, I also want to talk about some of the good initiatives in this budget for federally regulated workplaces.
We are very proud of economic action plan 2015. It responds to the evolving realities of the 21st century, while supporting our mission to create safe, fair and productive workplaces.
As mentioned at the beginning of my speech, our priority remains the same: keeping Canada's economy strong. A strong, healthy economy depends on strong, healthy and diverse workforces.
Amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Government Employees Compensation Act, as well as measures to increase the number of health and safety officers, will help ensure safe and healthy workplaces and contribute to a greater number of employees being healthy. It will contribute to their wellness and productivity long-term.
Our government recognizes that supporting and protecting employees is a sound decision for the well-being of workers, their families and communities across Canada.
It is also a key driver of business productivity, economic growth, and long-term prosperity.
That is why economic action plan 2015 introduces amendments to strengthen Canada's Labour Code and to simplify its administration and enforcement. The proposed amendments would give employees more flexibility to balance work and informal caregiving, would strengthen and streamline employer provisions for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, and would ensure that interns working in the federal jurisdiction are protected.
Our government recognizes that supporting and protecting employees with informal caregiving responsibilities is good for the well-being of families. That is why we are proposing to increase flexibility for employees through new short- and long-term unpaid leave for families who have to take on certain responsibilities. We would expand the EI compassionate care leave as well so that families could take care of those they care about the most in their time of need. That could be a federally regulated worker who has a child with cancer and could spend more time with that child when she or he needs a parent the most. We would create that flexibility to ensure that moms and dads are with their kids or that moms and dads are with their parents in their time of need.
Our government is committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and are protected from harm in the workplace, including from violence and sexual harassment. This is a basic right for all Canadians. No woman, no Canadian, should feel unsafe at work, and all that is needed and what we would do is create an efficient mechanism to enforce this protection to make sure that particularly women, but all Canadians, are safe at work.
We are also listening to Canadians' concerns about the potential for abuse and the lack of protection offered to unpaid interns and other unpaid individuals, and we are responding.
The proposed amendments would ensure that all interns under federal jurisdiction, regardless of pay, will receive occupational health and safety protections. The proposed amendments would also clarify the circumstances under which unpaid internships can be offered.
Claire Seaborn, the president of the Canadian Intern Association, has actually welcomed this. She states, “We are thrilled that the Gov[ernment] of Canada has agreed to strengthen interns' workplace protections”.
Internships can provide important work-based learning experiences and support youth, as well as other Canadians, in making a successful transition from school to work or a transition for new Canadians into the Canadian workforce. Young people working gain valuable job experience and should not have to worry about their safety or being treated fairly in the workplace. In fact, no Canadian should have to worry about this.
Our government wants to make sure that federally regulated employers have the information and support they need to adhere to health and safety provisions under the Canada Labour Code. We also want to better promote and enforce health and safety measures in areas of federal jurisdiction. To do this, we need more people.
That is why our government would invest to increase the number of health and safety officers responsible for promoting compliance and for ensuring that the Canada Labour Code is enforced.
Our HSOs are educators. They are advocates for fair, safe, and healthy workplaces. Not only do they investigate accidents, but more importantly, they work with employers and employees to help prevent them. Funding to support the hiring of additional health and safety officers would ensure more protective coverage of workers in areas of federal jurisdiction, especially in remote and high-risk areas. This would help to prevent workplace accidents and fatalities and would contribute to greater employee safety.
Building on the government's commitment to maximize wellness and productivity for federal employees, we are also proposing to modernize the Government Employees Compensation Act. The proposed amendments would simplify and accelerate workers compensation claims processing so that employees would receive their compensation faster and could return to work in a safe and timely manner. Most importantly, they would get the care they need as quickly as possible.
Economic action plan 2015 builds on the government's track record of support for women's economic empowerment in Canada. The good news is that the economic action plan would expand and extend the universal child care benefit. For every child under the age of six, a family would receive $2,000, and for every child six through 17, in an expansion of the universal child care benefit, a family would receive $720. That is regardless of the family's income or the child care it chooses. This means that individuals who have two children under the age of six would receive up to $4,000 per year, and they would be able to choose the type of child care they need. People going to work at 7 a.m. would still receive this benefit. It would not be just a 9-5 scenario, which some of the other parties may be advocating.
Earlier this week, the government announced an action plan for women entrepreneurs, which will be put in place to help connect women with the tools they need to succeed in business.
This action plan includes a series of initiatives targeted at supporting women entrepreneurs through mentorship, networking opportunities and increased access to financing and international markets.
The key initiatives in this action plan include an online platform for networking. It is called “It Starts With One—Be her Champion”, a campaign just recently launched to encourage mentorship and championing, which I hope all members of Parliament will participate in. It focuses on women under the age of 35 and making sure that they are successful.
There are enhanced trade missions for women entrepreneurs, including one to Brazil, and others in the future. There is a $700-million investment by the Canadian Business Development Bank over three years to finance women-owned businesses and national forums.
Our government is focused on making sure that we have opportunities for women and for workers. In fact, our economic action plan is good for Canadians. Most importantly, it is good for women, good for Canadian families, good for the Canadian economy, and great for Canada.