Madam Speaker, I am really pleased to be here to speak to Bill C-74, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures.
I want to begin by making some general remarks about what we have been doing as a government since our arrival almost two and a half years ago. The key message I want to leave with Canadians and members of the House this evening is this: that we have a plan and that our plan is working, that we chose to invest in our people, that we chose to invest in our country, that we did not choose to cut, that we did not choose austerity, that we left those choices to other political persuasions in this House.
Our plan is undoubtedly, objectively, and factually working. Over the last two years, Canada’s economic growth has been fuelled by a stronger middle class. Canadians’ hard work, combined with historic investments in people and communities, chiefly in infrastructure, such as light rail here in the great region of the national capital region of Ottawa-Carleton, has helped to create more good jobs—almost 600,000 since November 2015—while more help for those who need it most has meant more money for people to save, invest, and spend in their communities.
At the same time, and it is important for Canadians to know this, with respect to unemployment at the national level, the jobless rate stayed at 5.8% in March for a second consecutive month, and for the third time since December, to match its lowest mark since Statistics Canada started measuring the indicator in 1976. The only other time the rate slipped to this level was in 2007. That is the lowest unemployment level in Canada in 42 years.
At the local level, right here in our national capital region, which I have the privilege of representing, we added 2,500 net new jobs in February, helping to push down the local unemployment rate to 5.1% in February from 5.2% in January. However, in March it dropped to 4.9%, and in April it dropped again to 4.2%, the region's unemployment rate remaining well below that of the country as a whole. That is a 30-year low in the national capital region, so the economy is on fire and unemployment is way down. It is dropping.
Canada has the best balance sheet in the G7, with the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7, which we are convening and hosting here next week in Canada. Our debt as a function of our economy is steadily shrinking. It is projected to soon reach its lowest point in almost 40 years. That means that Canada has the confidence to make investments in our future that will strengthen and grow the middle class. It will lay a more solid foundation for the next generations of Canadians to come. It means we can retrofit our core infrastructure—housing, transit, post-secondary institutions, and research and development—and we can partner with our provincial and municipal partners to leverage additional billions of dollars of investment in those four critical areas of our future by co-operating. It has been a central tenet of the government's approach since it arrived two and a half years ago to leverage as much support as we can from other orders of government for priority investments.
Budget 2018, entitled “Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class”, supports the government's people-centred approach. It is guided by a new “gender results framework” and proposes to ensure that every Canadian has a real and fair chance at success. This is about taking the next steps to build an equal, competitive, sustainable, and fair Canada where science, curiosity, and innovation spur economic growth.
Here are some of the key budget 2018 measures that the bill aims to implement, which I want to spend a bit of time sharing with Canadians.
First, I want to remind Canadians of this. The budget introduces a new Canada workers benefit. We know that Canadians are working very hard to join the middle class and they deserve to have their hard work rewarded with greater opportunities for success. That is why we are introducing the new Canada workers benefit. It is a more generous and more accessible benefit, which will put more money in the pockets of low-income workers than the working income tax benefit, the so-called WITB that it replaces.
The CWB will replace both maximum benefits and the income level at which the benefit is phased out. As a result, low-income workers, earning $15,000 for example, could receive up to almost $500 more in 2019 to invest in things that are important to them. By allowing more low-income workers to keep more of their paycheques, this will deliver real help to more than two million Canadians who are working hard to join the middle class, raising about 70,000 Canadians out of poverty.
Why is that important? It is important because the economic consensus is clear. Only a foolish country, only a foolish jurisdiction would let its people slide behind. Only a foolish country would not want to avail itself of all the talent in its talent pool by giving effect to it, by helping to shape it, to educate it, and to give it an opportunity to move forward, and prosper. Therefore, the first big announcement in the budget is the Canada workers benefit of which we are more than proud.
The second thing I want to remind Canadians about is what we are doing with the Canada child benefit. The Canada child benefit was introduced in 2016. We are strengthening that very benefit in this budget. We know from our last year and a half of experience that nine out of 10 Canadian families have extra help each and every month to pay for things like nutritious food, sports programs, music lessons, school supplies, and the basics. Families receiving this Canada child benefit are getting about $6,800 on average in payments this year. Millions of dollars, for example, are being shared with families in my riding of Ottawa South every month to provide that very help.
To ensure that the almost six million children who currently benefit from the CCB continue to benefit from it in the long term, here is a big change. We are indexing the Canada child benefit, starting this July, so it continues to increase in value every year going forward. For a single parent of two children making $35,000 a year, a strengthened CCB will mean $560 more next year, tax free, for books, skating lessons or warm clothes for winter.
To help more families access the Canada child benefit and other benefits, budget 2018 will also provide funding to reach out to more indigenous Canadian communities that face distinct barriers when it comes to accessing federal benefits.
As Canada's economy continues to grow and creates good, well-paying jobs, the government will ensure that all Canadians share in and benefit from the success.
Just recently I received a phone call from a single mom in my riding. She makes $14 an hour, soon $15 an hour with the Ontario minimum wage increase. She was in tears of gratefulness. As a single mom of three children, she receives almost $9,000 a year, tax free, of additional support. She told me she could not make ends meet without that support and would have to look for new housing. She would have to move her three kids into a one bedroom apartment, as opposed to a two bedroom apartment. I think that makes a difference in that mother's life. I think it makes a difference in those three children's lives.
Turning more specifically to the economy itself, I want to talk about lower taxes for small businesses in Canada and some of the opportunities for all Canadians that flow from those lower taxes.
Despite what people may say otherwise, the fact is that our government is lowering taxes on small businesses, from 11% in 2015 to 9% by 2019. This will leave more money for small business owners to reinvest in their business and create jobs, up to $7,500 more per year. We know that 99.8% of all Canadian businesses are 100 employees or less. That is the lion's share of the economy. We are targeting those very businesses with those small business tax drops.
As we move ahead with the small business tax rate reduction, we are taking action to ensure the small business rate is not used to gain unfair tax advantages. We are proposing to take further steps to limit the ability of very high-income earners to use private corporations to hold millions of dollars in passive investment portfolios and receive significant tax benefits. We consulted widely about his, and we listened. The design of these proposals is based directly on the feedback we received during those consultations.
With these proposals, less than 3% of private corporations would be affected. Ninety per cent of the tax impact would be borne by households in the top 1%; that is the very wealthiest of hard-working Canadians.
Why is it important to focus on small businesses? Because eight out of 10 jobs are being created today by small businesses. Therefore, we will continue to support our entrepreneurs and owners of SMEs as we move forward.
Another theme, which I believe is indispensable for the future of our economy, and for that matter our well-being and survival, is the question of addressing carbon pollution, climate change, and supporting clean growth. As has been said in the House many times, a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.
We have decided to make further investments toward a healthy and sustainable low carbon economy going forward, one that creates growth and middle-class jobs, while preserving our natural heritage for future generations. In fact, globally, this is the trend. We are embroiled in a race. It is a competitive race that involves the United States, China, Indonesia, and the Congo. Pretty much every country is involved now in the global race to retool their economies. They are in a global race targeting efficiency. It is about becoming more efficient with energy, with water, with material inputs, more efficient when it comes to transportation of goods, and more efficient in minimizing waste. All of these efficiency races that we are running are global races, so we have no choice. From an economic perspective alone, we have no choice but to get on that track and run that race.
Some would have us not even lace up our running shoes. We believe that would be a mistake. Jurisdictions all over the world understand that is the competitive edge, which is why we have decided, like every European Union country, like so many other jurisdictions in the world, to put a price on carbon pollution. It is central to Canada's plan to fight climate change and grow the economy. Economists everywhere have told us this. They recognize that this is one of the most effective, transparent, and efficient ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is the use of a market mechanism to achieve an environmental outcome. That is why Ronald Reagan and the Republicans in the United States negotiated a deal with then prime minister Brian Mulroney to use the cap and trade system to eliminate NOx and SOx, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides, from American power plants burning coal to generate electricity. That is how we eliminated acid rain in North America. That is how we were able to protect so much of our freshwater systems in the American and North American northeast. It is in fact an idea that comes from the right. It comes from the Conservative or Republican-leaning thinkers in most economic schools of thought.
That is why Preston Manning supports the use of pricing carbon. That was why Stephen Harper went to London, England, and gave a major energy superpower speech to the world's energy top executives, saying he was moving to price carbon. He even gave them a planned price by 2018 for a tonne of carbon dioxide.
In December 2016, the Government of Canada, along with most provinces and territories, worked with our indigenous partners and adopted a pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change. The framework includes an approach to pricing carbon pollution, with the aim of having carbon pricing in place across Canada by 2018. However, the kicker is that provinces and territories will have the flexibility to choose between two systems: an explicit price-based system, or a carbon tax; and a cap and trade system, which is in place, for example, in Ontario, whereas B.C. has chosen a carbon tax. We know that 80% of Canadians already live in jurisdictions where a price on carbon exists. Therefore, Canada will move forward and build on those provincial successes to make the progress we need to make.
This is not only about doing good; this is about doing well economically. There are vast markets to conquer. There are huge energy efficiency opportunities and technological opportunities all over the planet, for which Canadian entrepreneurs can conquer and compete. That is why it is so important for us to marry both carbon pricing and support for our clean tech sector, which is why one of our primary investments, when it comes to supercluster innovation hubs, is in the area of supporting clean growth technologies going forward.
I will now speak on an issue which is fundamental to many of my constituents and tens of thousands of seniors in Canada, and that is the Canada pension plan. As an MP for 14 years, I have been fighting for this both in and out of government. For over a decade, I have been trying to see progress made on the CPP. I am extremely proud of the fact that our government made a commitment to Canadians to help them realize their goal of a strong, secure, and stable retirement. It was, after all, Paul Martin, as minister of finance, and I think we can objectively agree in the House on all sides, who ensured that our CPP was actuarially sound for at least 85 years going forward.
We can compare and contrast that with the American social security system. The last time I looked at it, I was informed its shelf life was about 18 months. The distinction is that the Americans have not retrofitted, they have not reformed, they have not worked to ensure a safe and stable retirement fund for their people the way we have here in Canada.
Every three years, finance ministers review the Canada pension plan together to ensure we continue to respond to the needs of Canadian retirees, workers, and employees.
In this budget, we want to build on the strong partnership on the historic agreement signed in 2016, a major breakthrough to enhance the Canada pension plan for everyday working Canadians. The 2016 agreement will increase the maximum CPP retirement pension by about 50% over time. That is an incredible step forward. At their recent meeting, finance ministers agreed to strengthen the Canada pension plan to provide greater benefits, for example, to parents whose incomes dropped after the birth or adoption of their children, or to persons with disabilities, or to spouses who were widowed at a young age, and to the estates of lower-income contributors.
It is important not to allow our retirees to slip into poverty. Poverty costs. It costs much more at the back end than it does at the front end, which is why we are addressing this issue of poverty as best we can going forward. Is it perfect? Not nearly. Are we making progress? Absolutely, we are. Canadians are counting on us to continue to work in this regard.
All of these changes to the CPP will be done in this budget without any increase to the Canada pension plan contribution rates paid by workers and employers. Ministers agreed to move forward with regulations to ensure the CPP enhancement would remain appropriately funded over time.
Finally, I want to talk about support for Canada's veterans. Our government is committed to the well-being of veterans and their families. We have delivered in this bill on a pension-for-life option. We are looking forward to making progress in that regard. It is a monthly payment for life, tax-free—