Mr. Speaker, I rise today to outline some of the reasons I will be supporting our government's budget and its budget implementation bill, Bill C-59.
Before I go into the details about the new investments and the tax relief the budget proposes and how Bill C-59 would make this happen, I want to stress how important it is that our government has had all of these significant achievements while balancing the budget. An election promise made is an election promise kept.
As a result of our government's fiscal management, our country emerged from the recession faster and stronger than virtually any other advanced economy. When the recession ended, we charted a course to a balanced budget, but not by following the Liberal approach to budget management of making drastic, sudden cuts to social and health care transfers, or by raising taxes. Instead, we did the opposite, increasing provincial transfers to record levels to help the provinces get their fiscal houses in order and lowering taxes to put money back into the pockets of families and small businesses.
To the first point, Alberta alone would receive $5.5 billion in transfers this year, which would be an increase of 145% over those of the previous Liberal government.
We then focused on controlling operating expenses for federal departments by reviewing all spending to make government operations more efficient. Using this approach, since the height of the great recession the deficit has been reduced from $55.6 billion to a surplus of $1.4 billion for 2015-16.
Due to the growth in Canada's economy and the elimination of the deficit, our total government net debt burden is the lowest of any G7 nation and among the lowest of the advanced G20 countries.
As a result of our efforts, our government has been able to cut taxes 180 times, resulting in our country's lowest tax burden since the 1950s.
To ensure that Canada keeps its fiscal house in order, economic action plan 2015 includes a number of important measures to help Canada stay on the right track, most notably through balanced budget legislation.
Part 3, on page 38 of Bill C-59, presents the framework for this balanced budget legislation by mandating that should Canada again enter into deficit, the finance minister would be required to testify before the House of Commons Committee on Finance within 30 days and present a plan, with concrete timelines, to return to balanced budgets.
Moreover, should the deficit be due to a recession or other extraordinary circumstances, operating spending would be frozen, as would the salaries of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers government-wide.
If, on the other hand, the deficit was due to mismanagement, operating budgets would be frozen automatically, and the salaries of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers alike would be reduced by 5%.
This approach would ensure that increases in spending that might be required to respond to a recession, war, or some natural disaster would be temporary, targeted, and timely.
In central Alberta, one of the key pillars of our local economy is agriculture. This budget, like previous ones, would continue to support agriculture and farmers in our great region and throughout all of Canada.
Agriculture is truly the backbone of our nation. As a farmer, I understand the difficulties individuals in the agriculture sector face. Economic action plan 2015 would embrace the economic importance of agriculture by increasing the lifetime capital gains exemption to $1 million for farmers and fishermen, allowing them to keep more of their lifelong earnings for retirement.
Additionally, this budget would provide funding to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Market Access Secretariat, allowing the agriculture sector to take advantage of new free trade deals to expand and diversify into new markets.
The economic action plan of 2015 would build upon previous support for farmers and agriculture, including over $3 billion in investment, including provincial and territorial contributions, toward innovation, competitiveness, and market development for Canada's agricultural sector under Growing Forward 2.
We have also fully delivered on our government's commitment to marketing freedom by increasing marketing choice for western Canadian grain farmers by facilitating the commercialization of the Canadian Wheat Board, which will ensure a strong and competitive grain handling and shipping network across Canada.
Another major issue that is quite close to my heart is, of course, our government's support for seniors. Through this budget, our government has proposed a number of changes to help make seniors' lives better and to help them stay in their homes longer.
Having just a small amount of time, I can only focus on a few of the many policy initiatives our government has proposed. The first I would like to speak to is the increase in the tax-free savings account.
Seniors have embraced the tax-free savings account for their saving needs. This budget, through the BIA, proposes to increase the annual contribution limit to $10,000. This, coupled with changes to RRSP withdrawal amounts, would provide seniors with even greater opportunities to manage their life savings.
As of the end of 2013, nearly 11 million individuals had opened TFSAs, and the total value of assets held in TFSAs was nearly $120 billion. While the opposition continues to spread misinformation that the TFSA accounts are only for the rich, the facts cannot be overlooked. In the income category of $20,000 to $25,000, over 124,000 Canadians maxed out their limit. Of those who have maxed out their TFSAs, 60% earn less than $60,000. Some 856,000 Canadians aged 65 and over have maxed out their contributions, and another 1.3 million 55 and older have done the same. Close to 2. 7 million seniors had TFSAs by the end of 2013, and 60% of seniors who had TFSAs earned less than $40,000.
I think this is clear proof of how tax-free savings accounts are beneficial for all Canadians and are especially embraced by seniors and middle- to low-income individuals.
The second major policy change to support seniors I want to focus on is one that would help seniors stay in their homes longer. This is important and much needed, because as seniors age, their homes become increasingly less accessible, and they are often forced to move into more accessible housing, such as retirement and nursing homes. This can be incredibly difficult and stressful.
Our government recognizes the challenges seniors face in remaining mobile and independent and as a result has introduced a new home accessibility tax credit. This proposed tax credit would be for home improvements that would allow a senior or a person eligible for a disability tax credit to be more mobile, safe, and functional within his or her own home. This 15% non-refundable income tax credit would apply to up to $10,000 in eligible home renovation expenditures, providing up to $1,500 in tax relief. Through the home accessibility tax credit, Canadian seniors would be able to stay in their homes longer, I cannot stress enough how important that is.
The last initiative I want to talk about is the extension of the employment insurance compassionate care benefit from six weeks to six months. This is important to all Canadians, because from time to time, a large number of Canadians are forced to leave their jobs to take care of their loved ones. This can put a huge financial stress on families. Our government has recognized this problem, and through economic action plan 2015, an allocation of up to $37 million has been made annually to extend employment insurance compassionate care benefits. This would help reduce the stress at a very stressful time and help families help themselves.
In summary, it is clear that our government's economic action plan of 2015 and this budget implementation act, which sets the framework for legislative change, would be beneficial for all Canadians.
Our expanded limit for tax-free savings accounts of $10,000 would allow hard-working Canadians to save more.
Farmers throughout Canada would continue to benefit from our aggressive trade policy, which has opened up new markets that will help grow our agriculture sector and our economy as a whole. The increase in the lifetime capital gains exemption would give farmers and fisherman more money they can use for retirement.
Through our balanced budget legislation, future generations would not live in fear of being saddled with irresponsible spending and mountains of debt.
All in all, this entire budget is something to be proud of, and I encourage members of the opposition to join me in supporting it.