Madam Speaker, today, I will be sharing my time with the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola. I apologize to the people who reside in Similkameen because I probably said it wrong. In any event, I am honoured to be here today to discuss the budget with all parliamentarians and with Canadians.
Specifically, there are a lot of things in the budget that may be good for Canadians and may be good in 10 to 20 years, but I have a lot of concerns and I heard many concerns from our local residents of Elgin—Middlesex—London during our break week. However, I am actually going to start off with some positive things that I did see in the budget that I can actually applaud the government on, some good initiatives. Initiatives are one thing, but it is the implementation that is going to be the biggest hazzard here.
I would like to applaud the government for the caregiver employment insurance. Over my time as an assistant, working many times with families who had critically ill children or critically ill parents or a family member who had been in a terrible car accident and was in the hospital, I saw that a lot of times that would create a lot of chaos for people in their homes. Having the opportunity to have this employment insurance allowing people up to 15 weeks so they could take care of a loved one is very important, especially when it is not compassionate care but we are looking at people who will indeed be better in a few months. I do applaud the government on this.
I had a lot of people coming through. It might be someone's wife who is suffering from cancer, who needed to go to the cancer clinic, and so, being able to be there to support a family member is really important. I believe a lot of times we expect others to do it, but it is very important for families to have that opportunity. So I, too, would like to commend the government on the caregiver EI.
Parental leave is another thing that we actually had in our 2015 budget, as well, extending it to 18 months. This is going to be a really tricky one, though, I believe, for the government. Although it is a really good, honourable thing to do, we have to recognize that there is a cost to extending it to 18 months to allow families to be able to nurture and raise a child for the first 18 months. We know that those persons taking off time to raise a child would have 33% of their income for the period of 18 months. A lot of times when we are dealing with that, we hear people say employment insurance at 55% is not enough and it is very difficult to get by. Therefore, we have to recognize that, for 18 months at 33%, there are going to be struggles as well.
By no means am I saying that the government should be increasing or decreasing those amounts. I am just saying the government might end up in a real pickle and it should be very aware of that.
I actually sit on the status of women committee. Just a few weeks ago, when we were talking about employment insurance, we were talking about men getting involved in the caregiving of their children. I believe the uptake currently on parental leave is 2% for men, meaning 98% for women. We really talked about equality and things of that sort. One of the things that I heard from witnesses was, “Well, they're going to have to have employers top up the employment insurance”.
One of my biggest concerns is, when it is a government and these people are working for taxpayer dollars, there may be programs available to them in the public service that might top them up to 90%. I know that my sisters, as school teachers, were able to have that. They received the 55%, and then an additional 35% that topped them up to 90% of their actual earnings. We have to understand the effect and the impact that this may have on those people employed in the private sector. We have to be aware that, at the end of the day, it might end up costing employers more.
Those are some concerns that I have in the long run. I believe the idea is very good, but at the same time, we have to see what we are going to be doing to private employers, people who work for non-taxpayer dollars who may not have those benefits available, because I do know that there are advocates out there saying it should be the employers. I think anytime we are discussing those things, we need to really take that into consideration.
We talked a lot about the gender lens and the fact that this entire budget was looked at through the gender lens. I know there was an entire chapter in the 2016 budget. However, when we are talking about the gender lens in this one, I do not see it actually applied because I do not think that the government is taking into consideration what would happen. Is it going to be mothers who are going to be taking off those 18 months and then going back to a job?
We also have to recognize that the Canada Labour Code has to be addressed, as well, because currently we can only take one year off; so that is another thing, as well. There are a lot of Canadians who are pleased with that but, at the same time, are extremely concerned, and it could cause a lot of issues.
Finally, another positive thing is the targeted funding for housing. There is some funding that I saw in a little note talking about housing for persons who are leaving domestic violence. I would once again applaud that.
During my time, during my work not only as an assistant but as a member of Parliament and within my own community, I recognize there are not the financial resources available to help victims of violence. One of the greatest things is the need for shelters. Having targeted funding that is going to help people escape violence and get into a safe home that is going to be assisted through the federal government, that is very positive.
However, we also need to make sure that it is going to hit all 338 ridings. Domestic violence is not a rural issue. It is not an urban issue. It is not a first nations issue. It is an issue for all Canadians. We know that one in four young women are part of a sexual assault within their first eight weeks of post-secondary schooling.
We have to be aware of all of these situations before we target this funding. We need to make sure it is available to everybody, and not just going to urban centres.
We know some of the key issues. When we are looking at housing in rural areas, we may see the resources very limited. Just last week I was in the municipality of West Elgin, where we were looking at the Canadian index of well-being and discussing some of the resources or lack of resources that communities have.
It was interesting because they were talking about all of the resources available to them in southwestern Ontario. One of the biggest and most important, crucial impacts that they have is the fact that there is no transportation to many of these services. They are not actually located in the municipality of West Elgin and the transportation for them is limited, because there is no busing other than that from West Elgin to Glencoe.
If people need to have services in the city of London, the city of St. Thomas, or the city of Chatham, things like that are not available to them. It is not just the domestic violence piece, but it also has to do with mental wellness and mental illness. We have to understand that when we are doing targeted funding, we need to think of all Canadians and not just punt the money into government-held ridings. That is something I am very concerned with: we have to make sure we are looking at this as a broad issue and not specifically in one riding or another. It is something we all have to deal with.
As I continue with this, I am going to look at some of the other concerns I have. I have talked many times about helping our youth. One thing we saw last year was that the tax credit for textbooks was removed, and this year we are seeing that the tax credit for transit is being removed. A few minutes ago I heard the member from Quebec say that it was not helping his riding.
I live in the city of St. Thomas, actually the municipality of Central Elgin. We do not have a municipal bus there. I have a son who goes to school in Toronto, and because of the cost of living in Toronto, he is looking at living outside of Toronto proper. He will be moving into a community outside. Therefore, we really looked into transit, to make sure there was public transit available to him.
Last week we heard the member of Parliament for Milton talk about the fact that those people using GO Transit will no longer be able to get those passes and credits that will help with those costs. It is not just for those people who are using GO Transit, but it is families like my own, families like most Canadians. A child leaving and going to post-secondary education is not going with a car. Therefore, important things like public education and transit credits are very important when people are living outside a large city and trying to travel in to their schools. This is just another cost to the student.
We saw that the tax credits for tools are also gone. Anyone working in apprenticeships or the trades programs are kind of being nickle-and-dimed. They are not going to be able to take some of those initial expenditures and use them as tax credits.
I am going to shift away from that and look more at Elgin—Middlesex—London. Last week I was speaking to some of our mayors. Immediately, they brought up the SWIFT program. It was interesting, because we speak a lot about the infrastructure and the need for Internet. What we saw in budget 2016 was a $2 billion amount to be spent on infrastructure for rural Canada. All we have seen in the 2017 budget is the money that was not spent in 2016 being transferred to the 2017 budget and still not getting out to Canadian rural municipalities.
When I spoke to the mayors, the mayor from Central Elgin and the mayor from Southwold, I asked them specifically about the budget. These are people who would be very honest with me. If they were very happy with the budget, they would say, “Karen, it is a great budget.” Instead they said, “Karen, there is nothing in it for us.” As mayors, they found there was nothing for their municipalities. There was nothing in it for the farmers. Worrying about rural infrastructure, worrying about Internet, we are not seeing that.
Just six months ago the Minister of Innovation announced the SWIFT program that was put forward by our Western Ontario Warden's Caucus. We do not see it mentioned in the budget. The caucus is concerned this program will not be supported.
As a person from rural Canada, as a person representing many municipalities with populations of 300 and 400, I am concerned that much of our money will go to larger municipalities and not to rural Canadians.