Mr. Chair, a solid middle class is the foundation of Canada's economy. Our government has consistently recognized that our country can only be as strong as its middle class. Fortunately, Canada's middle class has been steadfast in an uncertain world. They have seen increases of about 30% in their take-home incomes since 1976. The share of Canadians living in low-income families is now at its lowest level over the past three decades.
A recent Statistics Canada study has revealed that since our government has taken office, the middle class has flourished significantly:
The median net worth of Canadian family units was $243,800 in 2012, up 44.5% from 2005 and almost 80% more than the 1999 median of $137,000, adjusted for inflation.
Another study, this one from the New York Times, has indicated that Canada's middle class is better off financially than that of the U.S.:
After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada—substantially behind in 2000—now appear to be higher than in the United States.
Furthermore, since 2006, Canadian families in all major income groups have seen increases of about 10% or more in their take-home incomes. However, in an economic context, as well, Canada is doing well and continues to improve, which sets a positive environment for the middle class.
Our country continues to move forward in the face of a fragile external environment and profound global economic uncertainty. In fact, Canada has achieved one of the best economic performances among G7 countries after the recovery. Real gross domestic product has increased more in Canada than in any other G7 country since the end of the recession. It goes to show that Canada's economic action plan is working.
At a time when other countries' financial systems were brought to the brink of bankruptcy, Canada's banks remained the soundest in the world. When other countries increased taxes, Canada kept its taxes low. In fact, the overall federal tax burden is the lowest it has been in over 50 years.
One of the easiest and best ways to help the middle class is to let them keep more of their money not in government coffers, not in wasteful bureaucratic programs, but directly with them in their own pockets. It is why our government has been so committed to cutting taxes for all Canadians, but especially for the middle class.
Indeed, since 2006, Canadians have benefited from significant, broad-based tax cuts introduced by our Conservative government. These tax reductions have given individuals and families the flexibility to make choices that are right for them and have helped build a solid foundation for future economic growth, more jobs, and higher living standards for Canadians.
In total, our government has introduced over 180 tax relief measures since 2006, reducing taxes in every way the Government of Canada collects them. Canadians of all income levels are benefiting from tax relief, with low- and middle-income Canadians receiving proportionately greater relief.
Some of the key actions we have taken to reduce taxes for all Canadians include the following: reducing the lowest personal income tax rate and increasing the basic personal amount; cutting the GST from 7% to 5%; introducing pension income-splitting; establishing tax credits to support low-income workers, public transit users, first-time homebuyers, and families caring for disabled relatives; and providing additional support for families with children through the children's arts and fitness tax credit and enhancements to the registered education savings plan and the adoption expense tax credit.
Our government has introduced even more measures to go even further to help families make ends meet.
For example, we are implementing the family tax cut, which would allow a higher-income spouse to effectively transfer up to $50,000 of taxable income to a spouse in a lower tax bracket. We are increasing the universal child care benefit for children under six and are expanding it to children aged six through 17; as of January 1, 2015, parents are eligible for a benefit of $160 per month for each child under the age of six and for $60 per month for children aged six through 17. We are also introducing the child care expense deduction dollar limits by $1,000, and for those parents who put their children into sports, we have doubled the children's fitness tax credit to $1,000 and made it refundable.
Our government has also established the tax-free savings account, which is the most significant advance in the tax treatment of personal savings since the RRSP. This year, in order to help Canadians save even more of their hard-earned money, economic action plan 2015 proposes to increase the TFSA annual contribution limit to $10,000.
As a result of our government's actions, a typical two-earner family of four would receive tax relief and increased benefits of up to $6,600 in 2015. This represents real, concrete savings for the middle class.
These important measures are just a handful of examples illustrating how our government has responded to the needs of Canadian families and helped Canadians keep more of their hard-earned money.
However, the opposition members think very differently. They believe that taxing Canadians more will in fact bring long-term prosperity. We will not raise taxes on Canadians. They believe that it is not fair when our actions benefit every single Canadian family. We believe that is completely counterintuitive. When we are benefiting every Canadian family, that is the exact definition of fairness.
The opposition members believe that plans of high debt and high deficits have no bearing on the everyday Canadian. We reject this idea, which would raise the cost of living in Canada, saddle families with higher taxes, and burden future generations with these reckless schemes. There is a clear divide between our Conservative government and the opposition, which does not seem to understand just how devastating tax hikes and reckless spending would be, not only to the Canadian economy but more so to the middle class.
Perhaps one of the most significant ways to ensure the prosperity of Canadians is to keep Canada's books in order and bring the budget to balance, as I mentioned. When the great recession hit us, we responded quickly and effectively with a historic stimulus program, and we emerged from the recession faster and stronger than virtually any other major advanced economy. When the crisis passed, we promised Canadians that we would balance the budget. We delivered on that promise, but we did not do it by raising taxes or cutting transfers for education and health care. We focused on controlling operating expenses for federal departments, identifying efficiencies to make government operations leaner.
A balanced budget will preserve Canada's low-tax plan and allow for further tax reductions, fostering growth and the creation of jobs for the benefit of all Canadians.
Balanced budgets play a significant role in helping the middle class. By taking the time to make smart fiscal and economic decisions under the leadership of our Prime Minister, we are ensuring that the choices we make today will not hurt the futures of our children and grandchildren. I know that is what many Canadian families are concerned about, and let us make no mistake: high debt and high deficits now will saddle future generations with an even greater burden.
This government understands the importance of middle-class Canadians and their future, and as our actions have shown, we listened and worked diligently to ensure that Canada's middle class is among the richest in the developed world. Needless to say, we will continue this trend and look for more ways to help the middle class thrive and contribute to the Canadian economy.
I have a question for the finance minister. On that note, I wonder if he could elaborate on how the government is helping to create jobs for the middle class.