moved that Bill C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak today about the budget implementation act, Bill C-44.
By supporting this legislation, hon. members are supporting the next steps of our government's plan to strengthen Canada's middle class. Those steps were presented to this House on our second budget, titled “Building a Strong Middle Class”.
Over the past 18 months, the government has put in place a plan to grow the economy in a way that works for the middle class, and those working hard to join it.
As a starting point, the government raised taxes on the wealthiest 1%, so we could cut taxes for the middle class; introduced a new Canada child benefit that gives more money to 9 out of 10 Canadian families, and lifts hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty; and strengthened the Canada pension plan to help Canadians have the secure and dignified retirement they deserve.
I want to assure Canadians that we are not done. There is still work to do.
This year, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. If we look beyond 2017, there are many challenges to be met. I would like to draw your attention to what we are doing to support Canada’s greatest strength: its skilled, hard-working, creative, and diverse labour force.
Both young people in school and people whose career has spanned several decades are wondering what kind of education and training they need in order to get a good, well-paid job and to be properly equipped to succeed in this evolving economy.
Today, the changing nature of the workplace means that people are changing jobs several times over the course of their working lives. The emergence of artificial intelligence and automation, coupled with the transformation of entire industries, are realities that we cannot ignore.
In budget 2017, our government laid the groundwork for preparing Canadians to be ready for the economy of tomorrow, and to have more employment opportunities today.
Some of these measures are included in the bill we are considering today. Budget 2017 invests, first and foremost, in skills and training, so that middle-class Canadians, and all Canadians, in fact, can take advantage of the opportunities they need in order to succeed, now and in the future.
By supporting Bill C-44, we will help to ensure that Canadians are able to benefit from the opportunities for success afforded by the economy of tomorrow.
I would like to give the House an overview of the measures that this bill contains.
The Government is firmly committed to helping Canadians of all ages receive the training and skills they need to succeed in the economy of today and tomorrow.
The tuition tax credit plays an important role in this effort, and recognizes the cost of enrolling in post-secondary and occupational skills courses.
Currently, students who take occupational skills courses, such as learning a second language or basic literacy or numeracy training, at a college or university, are not entitled to the tuition tax credit, but those who take similar courses at a non-post-secondary institution are entitled to it.
To improve fairness, Bill C-44 will expand the range of courses eligible for this credit to include occupational skills courses that are undertaken at a post-secondary institution in Canada, and to allow the full amount of bursaries received for such courses to qualify for the scholarship exemption.
The government is also committed to helping working parents who need more flexibility to navigate the challenges that come with a growing family.
Bill C-44 would allow parents to choose to receive EI parental benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings.
For people who want to keep the 12 months of parental leave, employment insurance parental benefits will continue to be available at the existing rate of 55% of earnings.
Bill C-44 proposes to allow pregnant working women greater flexibility. It proposes to allow working mothers to claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date if they so choose, expanded from the current standard of eight weeks.
People are at the heart of our plan. We want to provide the middle class, and those working hard to join it the opportunities they need to succeed. In order to ensure our continued prosperity well into the future, we must help Canadians prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow, while ensuring Canadian employers have access to the kind of talent that can help companies innovate and grow, leading to more well-paying jobs for Canadians.
This means that we need a fair, secure, and targeted immigration policy. Long processing times for work permits is making it difficult for businesses to recruit top talent. Enter the government's global skills strategy, which sets an ambitious two-week standard for processing visas and work permits for global talent. The strategy would support high growth Canadian companies that need to access global talent in order to facilitate and accelerate investments that create jobs and growth, and global companies that are making large investments relocating to Canada, establishing new production or expanding production, and creating new Canadian jobs.
Canada is also planning to implement a targeted employment strategy for newcomers. This strategy would have three components: improved pre-arrival supports, so that newcomers can begin the formal credential recognition process before arriving in Canada; a loan program that would assist newcomers for the cost of having their foreign credentials recognized; and targeted measures to test innovative approaches to help skilled newcomers gain Canadian work experience in their profession.
The strategy would help reduce barriers, and support newcomers as they put their skills to work in the Canadian economy.
His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston has called upon all Canadians to join in the building of a nation that is both smart and caring. He said that a smart nation learns from the past, embraces the future, and looks to the world with confidence and respect, while a caring nation recognizes that the measure of any society’s success lies in its ability to help others, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized among us.
We are a better nation if we continue to care about one another so that we continue to be a Canada where we look after our own.
Three measures in Bill C-44 offer greater support for Canadians who need it.
The first measure is offering support to our veterans. Canada's women and men in uniform have served their country with bravery, honour, and dignity, putting their lives at risk to protect the values we cherish most. Our veterans deserve our greatest recognition and respect for their service. Bill C-44 would help veterans transition from military service to civilian life, and better support the families of ill and injured veterans, including caregivers.
In addition to providing more money for veterans to go back to school, Bill C-44 proposes to enhance the career transition services program. This measure would equip veterans, Canadian Armed Force members, survivors, and veterans' spouses and common-law partners with the tools they need to successfully navigate and transition to the civilian workforce.
Bill C-44 also proposes to provide a more generous benefit directly to caregivers to better recognize, and honour the vital role they play in supporting our ill and injured veterans.
The second proposed measure is the new Canada caregiver credit. The government is taking steps to help improve the current caregiver credit system that applies to Canadians who are caring for their loved ones. Bill C-44 would simplify the existing system by replacing the caregiver credit, infirm dependent credit, and family caregiver tax credit with a single new credit, the Canada caregiver credit. This new, non-refundable credit would provide better support to those who need it the most. The new credit would apply to caregivers whether or not they live with their family member and will help families with caregiving responsibilities.
The new Canada caregiver credit would provide tax relief on an amount of $6,883 in 2017, in respect of care of dependent relatives with infirmities, including persons with disabilities, parents, brothers, and sisters, adult children, and other specific relatives; $2,150 in 2017 in respect of care of a dependent spouse or common-law partner, or minor child with an infirmity, including those with a disability.
Families will be able to take advantage of the new Canada caregiver credit as soon as the 2017 tax year.
The third measure is improving health care services to meet the needs of Canadians. The demand for home care services is growing. Today, approximately 15% of hospital beds are still occupied by patients who could and would prefer to receive their care at home, or would be better off in a community-based setting.
In addition, a majority of those Canadians who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones are still in the workforce, and most are women. Scientific research has made great strides to improve our understanding of mental illness and its prevalence. Today, we know that an overwhelming number of Canadians will be affected, directly or indirectly, by mental illness at some point in their lives.
Science has also shown that it is essential for those struggling with mental illness to have access to timely and appropriate mental health services, and yet, in certain regions, wait times to see a mental health specialist are up to 18 months.
With the passage of Bill C-44, the government will provide funding for home care and mental health services in 2017-18 as an immediate down payment to provinces and territories that have accepted the federal offer of $11 billion over 10 years.
The bill before us has concrete measures that would deliver on the promises we made to Canadians to strengthen our middle class. I urge the members of this House to vote for this bill for the benefit of all Canadians.