Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from Carleton for his excellent speech. I very much enjoyed his vision of history, although I still find it a bit creative, when he mentioned the financial crisis in 2008 and how well Canada did.
I must point out that, when former prime minister Stephen Harper was in the opposition, he was all worked up about deregulating Canada’s financial sector. It was Paul Martin, a Liberal prime minister, who refused, which is the reason why the Canadian financial sector did so well in 2008 and why Canada as a whole did better than other countries.
While we are on the topic, I would say that the Conservatives reaped what Liberal governments sowed for 10 or even 12 years, which is sound management of public funds under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.
I am willing to concede that they got through the financial crisis of 2008, but since they were in power for 10 years, overall, they had the poorest growth of the previous 69 years. They had the lowest job creation numbers since 1946 and the smallest increase in exports since World War II, at 0.3%. I think that we need to take the opposition’s economic statements not with a grain but a block of salt, because they were clearly unable to do the job for Canada, either when they were in the opposition, with Stephen Harper’s suggestions around financial regulations, or when they were in power for 10 years.
That brings me to my speech today. In 2015, Canadians had to choose between the Conservatives’ austerity measures and budget cuts, some of which were made to the cultural sector. We saw major cuts to the CBC, as well as veterans services, with the closure of nine offices. While the Conservatives were in power, several hundred employees who provided direct services to veterans were terminated. Similarly, payroll specialist jobs were cut, all to achieve an artificial surplus just in time for the general election. That is about as cynical as you can get. We are still paying for these ill-advised cuts, which did not stimulate growth or provide Canadians with the services to which they are entitled.
We took a different approach when we came to power. We determined that we should invest in our communities when interest rates are low.
I am pointing this out, because you cannot talk about the motion put forward by the hon. member for Carleton without talking about the progress we have made since 2015. Since November 2015, more than half a million full-time jobs have been created in Canada. Unemployment is now at its lowest rate in 40 years. Salaries are on the rise and, if the trend continues, they may rise more quickly in 2018 than they have in almost 10 years. In 2017, Canada’s growth outstripped that of every one of the other G7 countries, and we are still growing. Economists expect that Canada will have one of the largest economic growth rates among G7 countries in 2018 and 2019.
This is not the result of good luck. It is the result of Canadians’ hard work and our government’s wise choices. In the past three years, we have invested in Canadians and in what is most important to them. We decided to focus on strengthening the middle class and not on austerity measures and budget cuts.
To truly understand the motion put forward by the hon. member across the aisle, we need to look at all of the investments the government has made in the past three years, and we are indeed talking about investments. The first measure implemented by our government was a tax cut for the middle class, which the Conservatives opposed. This tax cut means more money in the pockets of some nine million Canadians. This is money that makes it possible to save, invest and grow the economy.
A fair tax system is the basis for a stronger middle class and a growing economy. Fairness inspires confidence and helps create possibilities for all Canadians. The tax cut for the middle class contributed significantly to the Canadian economy, but we did not stop there. To help families cover the costs of raising children, our government implemented the Canada child benefit, and began indexing it two years earlier than announced. The Canada child benefit is simpler, more generous and better targeted than the former system of federal child benefits which, if you remember, sent out cheques regardless of family income, some to millionaire families. Thanks to our Canada child benefit, nine out of 10 Canadian families with children receive more money every month than they did before. This benefit contributed to lifting 521,000 people, including almost 300,000 children, out of poverty.
Measures such as the middle-class tax cut and the Canada child benefit are making a real difference in the lives of Canadians. As a result, by this time next year a typical middle-class family of four will receive, on average, about $2,000 more each year. This is real money to buy good things like healthy food, new winter boots or skating lessons for their children. This is real money that makes it easier for hard-working Canadians to make ends meet.
However, we did not stop there either. Our government understands that we as a country need the hard work and creativity of all Canadians because more people participating in the economy means a stronger economy. Making sure that every person has an equal chance to contribute to and share in the success of Canada is a no-brainer. We all benefit from this. For example, we all benefit from gender equality. Over the last 40 years, the increasing participation of women in the workforce has accounted for about one-third of Canada's per capita economic growth. Canadian women are among the most educated in the world, yet they still are facing barriers to achieving their full potential. They often earn less than men and are more likely to work part time. Our government would like to see a world where women's participation and earnings match those of men.
Our government is committed to helping women and girls overcome the barriers they face. Advancing gender equality promotes economic growth and increases incomes for Canadian families.
The good news is that progress has been made. Now more than ever in Canada, more women are employed and are contributing to our shared economic success.
The percentage of Canadian women who have jobs has risen steadily since 2015, after years of relatively weak growth. However, more work needs to be done.
Wage gains for Canadian women are still 31% lower on average than men's gains. The government has already shared its plan to adopt pay equity legislation, which will help bridge that gap. The legislation would require federally regulated employers with 10 or more employees to establish and maintain a proactive pay equity program.
Pay equity means equal pay for work of equal value. This measure will apply to 1.2 million people, including federal public servants, employees at Crown corporations and employees at federally regulated private sector businesses. This will include banks, airlines, cable companies and radio broadcasters.
The government will also create a pay equity commissioner position to ensure that the law is obeyed. The commissioner will provide annual reports to Parliament to ensure that our goals are being met.
That being said, equal pay is not always sufficient to achieve equal opportunity. For example, child care duties still fall disproportionately to women. To further promote gender equality, the government announced in this year's budget that a new employment insurance parental sharing benefit, a use it or lose it top-up to parental benefits, would be available starting in 2019. It will provide parents with access to an additional five weeks of parental benefits if they agree to share parental leave, or an additional eight weeks if they choose the extended option. The intent is to encourage all parents, including fathers, to take some leave when welcoming a new child and to share more equally in the work of raising their children. This policy will be available to same-sex couples and adoptive parents as well. It is a policy that has worked very well in Quebec and in many countries in Europe. I am very proud that our government has made this a federal policy.
Growing our workforce is key to growing our economy and another of the government's initiatives, the Canada workers benefit, or CWB, will play a major role to achieve this. This will not only raise around 7,000 Canadians out of poverty, but it will also encourage more people to join the workforce, further strengthening the Canadian economy. In addition, the government is making it easier for people to access the benefit they have earned by making changes that will allow the Canada Revenue Agency to calculate the CWB for any tax filer who has not claimed it. That means everyone who can benefit from the CWB will receive it when they file their taxes.
The government is also committed to helping today's seniors and those who will be seniors one day, which means everyone. Therefore, these past two years the government has worked to ensure that Canadians can have the secure retirement they deserve, free of financial worries. We increased the guaranteed income supplement payments by up to $947 per year for single recipients, helping nearly 900,000 vulnerable low-income seniors. We restored the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement benefits to 65, which will greatly benefit tomorrow's seniors. We also reached a historic agreement with provinces to enhance the Canada pension plan, meaning more money for Canadians when they retire and less worry about their savings.
Thanks to Quebec’s similar measure to enhance the Quebec pension plan, workers across Canada can expect a safer and more secure retirement. All Canadians are entitled to reach retirement age with peace of mind.
That is not all. We also adopted the very first national housing strategy in Canada, since nothing is more important than a home. The national strategy is a 10-year, $40-billion plan that will meet the housing needs of 530,000 households and reduce chronic homelessness by 50%.
I mentioned the investments our government made for families, but we should not forget those made for Canadian businesses, which contribute to Canada’s vitality and economic prosperity, which we on this side of the House want to be inclusive. For example, the government took important steps to support the competitiveness of Canadian businesses. In January of this year, the tax rate for small businesses decreased from 10.5% to 10%, the lowest rate in any of the G7 countries. We intend to do better still. As of January 2019, in just a few weeks, the rate will drop again, this time to 9%. For businesses, this tax cut represents up to $7,500 in federal tax savings a year. That is money that can be reinvested in new equipment, business growth and the creation of more jobs for Canadians.
The government also reached new free trade agreements with our neighbours to the south, the United States and Mexico, with our partners across the Atlantic, the European Union, and Asia, with whom we share access to the Pacific Ocean. Today, Canada is the only G7 nation to have trade agreements with all the other G7 nations. That is a considerable advantage. In all, we have 14 free trade agreements with 51 countries, representing privileged access for Canadian businesses to 1.5 billion consumers worldwide.
Our government has also invested in the next generation of Canadian researchers. On this side of the House, we believe in science. The 2018 budget is an example of our commitment. It includes unprecedented investments of more than $4 billion to support scientists and their research and to purchase the equipment Canadian researchers need. That means that they will be able to continue to innovate and develop new technologies, for example, technologies that will allow us to diagnose diseases more quickly or to develop new drugs for treating patients.
Let us also not forget our historic investments in infrastructure. For example, we allotted new money for public transit to shorten commuting time and give families more time together. Thanks to the federal government's ambitious plan, my region, Quebec City, has a visionary project. I think that Quebec City has a lot of potential, and the project would not have been possible without such involvement from the federal government, without the desire to invest massively in public transit. For us, protecting the environment is an obvious necessity, but not everyone in the House shares this view.
Our government also made important investments to advance reconciliation between Canada and indigenous peoples. We invested in priority areas identified by first nations, Inuit and Métis nation partners. This is helping to close the gap between the living conditions of indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples, facilitating self-determination and advancing recognition of rights.
I could go on and on. Together with Canadians we have made a lot of progress. The government knows there is more work to be done, and I will leave this topic to the Minister of Finance as he tables the fall economic statement in the House later this week.
In the meantime, there is one thing of which I would like to remind the member for Carleton. Our government made the investments I mentioned and then some while keeping its fiscal house in order. The federal debt-to-GDP ratio remains firmly on a downward track and could soon reach its lowest level in over 40 years. Canada's total government net debt-to-GDP ratio is the lowest among the G7 countries. In fact, the deficit-to-GDP ratio is projected to reach a low of 0.5% in 2022-23.
What we need to balance first and foremost is the need to make smart investments to support economic growth and the need to preserve Canada's strong fiscal situation for current and future generations.
In a few days, the government will unveil the next step in its plan to strengthen the middle class, ensure economic growth and give more people a real and equal opportunity to succeed.
I must admit that I very much look forward to the finance minister's economic update on Wednesday. I am pleased to see that the member for Carleton shares my eagerness and enthusiasm. For sure, the economy is in better shape than it was three years ago. Job creation is strong and the unemployment rate has reached a 40-year low.
More and more Canadians benefit from the strength of the Canadian economy. I can assure all hon. members that the government will keep stepping up its efforts to make Canada a more egalitarian, competitive, sustainable and equitable country.