Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-74 and budget 2018 today. This plan will help increase growth in urban communities in Pontiac and our rural communities, and will make them more prosperous. I feel engaged and inspired by the potential to make our country more equal for Canadian men and women. I am very proud of our government and this bill. This plan is based on the principles of growth, reconciliation, advancement, and equality. I would like to talk about some of budget's many initiatives that are particularly important to Pontiac.
I want to start with the assistance that workers will receive through the Canada workers benefit. There are many low-income workers in the riding of Pontiac, especially in the rural areas, but also in our communities in Gatineau. For example, in 2014, the average salary in the RMC of Pontiac was $32,556 per year. In the RMC of la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, the average yearly salary was $28,603. Some people in our riding are really struggling. The Gatineau valley has the highest level of low-income families, at 14.4%.
I was so pleased when I saw that the government introduced in the budget the Canada workers benefit, which will take effect in 2019. Thanks to this benefit, low-income workers who earn $15,000 a year will have nearly $500 more in their pockets. That is important for the people in my riding of Pontiac. The Canada Revenue Agency will automatically establish eligibility, which will ensure that 300,000 additional low-income workers receive the Canada workers benefit.
Seasonal workers are another important issue. In Pontiac, many people work in the outfitting, forestry, and ecotourism sectors. Many municipal officials in the Pontiac area approached me about the shortcomings they have seen in the employment insurance system. I am thinking in particular of the mayor of Montcerf-Lytton, Alain Fortin, and the Gatineau Valley council of mayors. Our government listened to what they had to say, and it will invest $230 million over two years to improve the situation of seasonal workers who depend on employment insurance in the off-season. The terms and conditions will be presented in the coming months following discussions with the provinces. Simply put, this measure responds directly to the needs and requests of people in the Pontiac region who work in the forestry, outfitting, and tourism sectors.
Another very important issue in my riding is Phoenix. I am personally very concerned about the Phoenix pay system and so are many people in my riding. It affects far too many residents of Pontiac. No one should have to worry about being paid incorrectly or not at all. As members know, our government inherited the Phoenix pay system, a project that was poorly managed from the outset, before we took office. The previous government demonstrated a lack of governance and oversight, failed to allocate adequate technical and human resources, and used a poor change management strategy, which led to problems with the launch of the Phoenix pay system.
Nevertheless, we understand the urgency and the magnitude of the problem, and we know that it is up to us to fix it. Our government is doing everything in its power to ensure that federal employees are always paid on time. We have already taken a number of measures, such as steadily increasing the number of employees who process pay transactions.
The federal government has hired approximately 561 employees in recent months to make the Phoenix pay system work better. In budget 2018, I was pleased to see that our government is continuing to allocate resources to resolve this problem. Budget 2018 proposes an investment of $431 million to continue to address the problems with Phoenix, including the hiring of additional employees to support the system. The government is also proposing to invest $16 million over two years to work on the next steps of implementing a new pay system with the help of experts, federal public sector unions, and technology providers.
I hope that our government will finally be able to resolve this problem. When I knock on my constituents' doors, they ask me to do something about this. I will be there for them, and I will continue to work to resolve the problems with the Phoenix pay system.
With respect to official languages, as I am sure everyone knows, Pontiac is a very bilingual region. Both the francophone and the anglophone communities have a lot of cultural activities going on. I was pleased to see that the 2018 budget includes $400 million in new funding over five years to support the 2018-23 action plan for official languages. That includes funding for English and French community newspapers and radio stations in minority communities. There will also be money to provide better access to official language services for anglophone communities in Quebec as well as funding for local cultural activities, which are very important in ridings like Pontiac.
On the issue of environment and conservation, earlier this year, as the media reported significantly, 116 of our parliamentary colleagues signed a letter that I had the privilege of drafting, sent it to the finance minister and to the Prime Minister, and urged them to deliver a budget that would allow us to achieve our commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 17% of our terrestrial land mass and 10% of our ocean by 2020. I was so proud of members opposite, members from our party, and senators.
These are really important commitments. This is one of the issues that most motivated me to run for office. I was so proud of the finance minister, the Prime Minister, and our government for making the decision to invest a historic amount of $1.3 billion over five years to conserve Canada's ecosystems, landscapes, and biodiversity. This budget, on this measure alone, is an incredible victory for all of Canada.
In addition to thanking the Prime Minister, I would like to thank a number of people in our community of Pontiac, in particular Alison Woodley and Éric Hébert-Daly from CPAWS, who worked so hard on this issue. This achievement is theirs as well.
I would also like to thank all the parks and wildlife officials working in the federal civil service, who, for so many years, desperately needed this kind of investment. It really is a big boost, and I would like to thank them for working so hard on this issue for so many years. We all know that conserving our environmental heritage is an issue that transcends partisan politics. Canadians believe in it, and we have stepped up to do it.
On infrastructure, I was so pleased when the federal government announced that it would increase its portion of financial support for rural infrastructure projects up to 60%. This would allow communities of fewer than 5,000 people to tap into an extra percentage of funding from the federal government so that we can move beyond the formula of one-third, one-third, one-third, where municipalities have to pay one third of the cost. For small municipalities in the Pontiac, that kind of contribution is crucially important.
I want to give credit where it is due, to our infrastructure minister, who made that decision and is now working with the provinces so that our small municipalities do not get left behind in terms of infrastructure investments.
Regarding the Internet, when I knock on doors in the Pontiac, this is the number one topic. This is what people want fixed. It is an infrastructure issue for sure, but it is also an issue of democracy and socio-economic development. I am absolutely convinced that we are going in the right direction.
I would like to highlight the fact that we have doubled down on our $500 million over five years. The connect to innovate program has already delivered results in the Pontiac, but this budget brought forward something more: $100 million over five years to update to the next generation of broadband Internet services in rural regions, using new satellite technologies. This is good news, and I am looking forward to making more announcements like the $6.7 million that was just announced in the Gatineau valley. There is more good news to come about the Internet in Pontiac, and I look forward to working hard.