Mr. Speaker, today I take this opportunity to speak to Bill C-29, the budget implementation act. This budget will have such a profound, progressive, and positive impact on the families, kids, students, and workers in my riding. It will make a tremendous difference in their lives.
However, by their nature, budget bills are largely collections of various budget-related matters, and many of these matters can be very technical in nature and mind-numbing, I would say. However, other parts of these bills pertain to matters of substantive policy, including the important policy choices made by governments. I will address you on the parts of this bill that pertain to the important policy decisions made by this government.
The first policy decision made by this government that I will speak to is the Canada child benefit. I refer to its indexing to inflation, the maximum benefit amounts, and the phase-out thresholds under the Canada child benefit beginning in the 2020-21 benefit year. This decision will keep the Canada child benefit up to date, effective, and relevant, regardless of any future inflation.
The Canada child benefit is a critical program for Canadians, now and into the future. Our Canada child benefit is responsible for lifting over 300,000 Canadian children above that poverty threshold. In a stroke, it reduced Canada's child poverty rate from 11% to 6%. It cut our child poverty rate nearly in half. That is outstanding. It is something that many of us have talked about for decades and never seen done. To see this happen before our eyes is truly amazing. This is the sort of societal-changing action we all entered into politics to effect.
Moving over 300,000 children out of dire need means nearly one-third of a million Canadian children will eat better, will be better clothed, will be better educated, and will benefit from the opportunities many other Canadian children can take for granted. These opportunities might include soccer lessons, music lessons, or science camps. Not only is this program, which this legislation underpins into the future, the right and decent thing to do, it is the clever thing to do.
Children raised out of poverty have better health outcomes. These better outcomes will save us untold billions of dollars in health costs in the future. Children not burdened by poverty get better educations. These better educated Canadians will result in a more productive Canadian economy in the future.
The increased productivity from this poverty-reduction program will contribute billions in extra Canadian economic growth and Canadian government revenues. Children not haunted by poverty have better life outcomes. They are less likely to suffer from debilitating social problems, such as crime and addiction. Reducing such social problems will not only prevent untold personal grief and tragedy but will save all levels of government more billions of dollars.
Poverty reduction might even have a surprising effect on our democratic system. There is some evidence that increased income increases the likelihood of voting. This makes intuitive sense. If we feel our society has cared about us and our children, we will tend to care more about our society. Therefore, we are likely making more engaged and better citizens with this measure.
It is no wonder that the Canada child benefit has been described as “one of the most ambitious social policies to be implemented in Canada in decades”. Bill C-29 supports this progressive and ambitious societal change.
Bill C-29 also makes post-secondary education more affordable for low and middle-income families. Further, it makes it easer to repay any student debt incurred to obtain that post-secondary education. These are yet more progressive and forward-thinking government measures to position Canadians and Canada for the future.
Successful world citizens in the future will not be working harder, but will be working smarter. It is our duty to ensure that Canadians are overrepresented in the future cohort of successful, highly educated world citizens. These budget measures are some of the ways we are fulfilling that duty.
The measures I have addressed so far relate to our duty to the youngest Canadians and future generations. The measures I now address concern our duty to the most vulnerable of our oldest Canadians, our seniors.
Currently, these vulnerable seniors—i.e., those couples receiving the guaranteed income supplement under the Old Age Security Act—are penalized when one or both of them become so ill that it requires the couple to split up for health reasons. While they are forced to incur the extra costs of living as two single people, they are not each entitled to the single-person supplement. Currently, they are restricted to the couple supplement only. The couple supplement is less than that for two single persons.
The amendment in the budget would correct that unfairness by allowing each involuntary single to claim that single-person supplement. This would recognize their increased costs, which are beyond their control.
CARP is a 300,000-member national, non-partisan, non-profit organization advocating for financial security and improved health care for Canadians as they age. It “applauds the government for the proposed amendment to the Old Age Security Act, contained within Bill C-29”, and our earlier increase in the guaranteed income supplement. While certainly wanting us to do more, CARP further states, “these amendments have our unconditional support”.
This measure is a part of our commitment to ensuring that Canadian seniors have a dignified, comfortable, and secure retirement.
The bill would also implement the part of the election platform that Canadians voted for last year regarding increases in infrastructure spending, some $180 billion over 12 years. Canada, like the rest of the world, has realized that monetary policy, including the low interest rates that we find ourselves with now, is no cure for sluggish growth. It cannot fix everything. These needed investments are not necessarily made because of the low interest rates. That is why, with government intervention, we are able to get some of that needed infrastructure built. We are in such a situation right now.
We also realize that there is an infrastructure deficit in Canada. Sewer systems, bridges, railroads, social housing, and rural high-speed Internet are but a few of the areas in which we must invest more. The timing is right for this infrastructure push right now. As the British magazine, The Economist, said on October 4, 2014, there are concrete benefits as a result, because “Public investments in infrastructure do the most good at times like the present”.
Municipal leaders, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, are raving about the leadership that we have taken on infrastructure and the improvements that will come to municipalities coast to coast to coast.
Our current prosperity did not come out of thin air. We have to realize this. It came out of investments and hard work. Canada's most iconic infrastructure investment was the “National Dream”, that is, the building of the transcontinental railway. That investment helped make Canada. It created untold wealth and knitted us together. It is a classic example of the far-sighted infrastructure investment that we need.
We must be equally far-sighted today. There is a myriad of new infrastructure opportunities that exist in public transit, local and regional airports, disaster mitigation, community energy systems, health care facilities, and I could go on and on.
Many societies around the world are confronting new tensions and perhaps even a questioning of the traditional bonds between citizens and their leaders. This legislation would address those strains by emphasizing the inclusive nature of our Canadian democracy.
I am concerned about the state of our democracy and the world's democracies. To that end, I allude to the broader positive societal impact of the measures to help Canadian children whose families are struggling.
I have also highlighted the long-term nation-building implications of infrastructure investment.
We are determined to ensure a strong economy based on a strong middle class. When middle-class Canadians have more money to save, invest, and grow the economy, everyone benefits. These benefits are not only economic, but democratic, social, and cultural.
I think about Canadian parents, who are struggling to join the middle class, and working hard. This bill is a concrete, monthly, and effective demonstration of Canadian societal concerns for them. I support this legislation wholeheartedly, and encourage everyone in this House to vote in favour of Bill C-29.