Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in support of Bill C-29, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2016 and other measures.
Members of Parliament know better than most the staggering importance of the federal budget. I am speaking not only about this budget in particular but federal budgets in general. The spending choices federal governments have made since confederation have in fact shaped the Canada we live in today.
We know that billions of dollars of investment, if spent wisely, can transform our nation for the better. Indeed, a good budget has the capacity to push Canada closer to our shared ideal, a country where every Canadian, especially those struggling or who have been historically neglected, has a chance to succeed and find happiness, to feel secure, included, cared for and valued by his or her government.
I believe the budget we are debating today is one of those budgets, a very good budget, one that leaves no Canadian behind, and one that I am proud to support.
I represent a very diverse riding as the largest metropolis in Atlantic Canada. The riding of Halifax is home to people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. It is part of what makes my city so great. However, as with any diverse urban core, there is a range between those who are doing well for themselves and their families, that is those who are financially secure, and those who struggle every day to put food on the table, to pay rent and to make basic ends meet.
This is a city that is on the leading edge of some truly amazing things, gripped by an excited, ambitious energy, a city on the rise, growing every day at an exceptional pace, second in Canada only to Vancouver. Now more than ever, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
Yet the hard truth is that some of our most vulnerable populations in Canada have been overlooked for too long. For 10 years, their potential was left unrealized, their interests put on the back burner, their most basic needs often ignored. Therefore, I want to focus my remarks today on some of the important provisions proposed in budget 2016, in particular investments that will support Canada's struggling vulnerable and otherwise neglected communities.
I would like to begin with our government's investments in indigenous communities, which seek to support a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. Members may know that I have the honour of serving as the chair of the House Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. It is a role that, for me, has put a sharp focus on the extraordinary challenges facing indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as the daunting work that lies ahead for our government to address the tragic state of affairs caused by years, centuries, of neglect.
This budget demonstrates our government's commitment to begin this important task to remove the obstacles faced by indigenous people through investments in on-reserve education, training, and infrastructure, to name just three.
All in all, the government seeks to invest $8.4 billion over five years “to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous peoples and their communities and bring about transformational change.” That funding includes $40 million for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls; $3.6 billion for ensure all first nations children receive quality education, including building and repairing schools; $1.2 billion for housing, early learning and child care centres on reserve; $2.2 billion for water and waste water treatment on reserve; and $33 million to support first nations to build sustainable fishing enterprises.
Many members here will know that following the release of the budget, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called the $8.4 billion investment historic and a break against the status quo. However, this funding is only the beginning and there is still much work to be done on this matter. It is the start of transformational change that is long overdue, and it is one of the sections of the budget of which I am most proud.
The next set of investments I would like to speak to are those supporting Canada's seniors. Our government understands that many seniors in Canada are facing difficult financial times after retirement, in particular single seniors who are three times more likely to live with low income than seniors more broadly.
For this reason, our government has proposed to enhance seniors' pensions, including an increase in the guaranteed income supplement for single seniors by up to $947 per year, a measure that will improve the financial situation of 900,000 seniors across the country. Further, as promised, the budget returns the age of retirement from 67 to 65, giving seniors thousands of more dollars as they retire from the workforce.
Another matter addressed by the budget is housing for seniors. On the campaign trail, I spoke with many seniors living in conditions that were inappropriate or inaccessible or where their rent and associated costs would eat up a devastating share of their monthly earnings. To help address this problem, the budget would invest $200 million in the construction, repair, and adaptation of affordable housing for seniors. These investments would unburden struggling seniors across Canada, allowing them the secure and dignified retirement that we all want for our grandparents, our parents, and ultimately ourselves.
I would like now to speak about support for students.
My riding of Halifax is home to seven colleges and universities. I learned this summer from representatives of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students that one in 10 Haligonians is a student. As their MP, the issue of student debt is very important to me. We must make post-secondary education affordable to everyone, without burdening our future workforce with an impossible debt burden on the day of their graduation. That is why I am proud to support this budget, which would increase the Canada student grants program by 50% for low and middle-income students and which increases the loan repayment threshold, which is the amount an individual must be making per year before being required to make a student loan payment, from $20,000 to $25,000 per year.
I am also happy to support a budget which would double the number of Canada summer jobs available to students. This is money that would go right into the pockets of Canadian students and would give them valuable work experience. In my riding, students benefited tremendously from the Canada summer jobs program this year, but so did the employers of students as many would otherwise not be able to hire student help. It is truly a win-win for our students and our community in Halifax, as it has been across the country.
The final item I would like to speak about is the budget's support for low-income families.
One of this government's flagship initiatives, and one I was proud to bring to the doorsteps of voters when I was running to be the Halifax MP, is the new Canada child benefit. It just did not make sense for the previous government to be sending cheques to millionaires to cover their child care costs. It sure did not make sense that it was sending the exact same amount to millionaires as it was sending to the low-income families. That was unfair and plain wrong, and yet the Conservatives and the New Democrats thought it was the proper approach. Canadians saw just how out of touch that scheme was and they voted for a plan that included an improved child benefit, the new Canada child benefit.
The CCB is a simple, tax-free, and more generous benefit tied to family income where those who need it most receive the most, and no more cheques to millionaires. Now, nine out of 10 families receive more in child benefits than before, with the average family seeing an increase of $2,300 per year, and 300,000 fewer children will live in poverty in Canada. Simply put, the CCB is a transformational tool for low and middle-income families and it is another part of the budget that makes me so proud to support it.
There is one other item that will improve the living conditions of low-income families, and that is affordable housing.
All Canadian families deserve safe and affordable housing. Without stable housing at a price they can afford, every other goal families seek to achieve becomes secondary. Without adequate shelter, families struggle to raise their children, to get educated, to find employment, and even to stay healthy. Therefore, I am very glad, as an MP and as a career city planner, that budget 2016 would invest $2.3 billion over the next two years in affordable housing investments, which would be a great help to many low-income families and would lay the groundwork for a healthy economy for all.
At the beginning of my remarks today, I spoke about how the federal budgets had shaped the Canada we know today. Budget 2016 would reshape Canada again, for the better, a Canada that would work for everyone, including our most vulnerable Canadians, those who are struggling to make ends meet and those who have been neglected for far too long. I support the vision this budget puts forward, and I will be voting for it. I implore my colleagues in this chamber to do the same.