moved that Bill C-31, An Act respecting cost of living relief measures related to dental care and rental housing, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion.
I am thankful for the opportunity to rise today in the House to open this important debate on Bill C-31, an act respecting cost of living relief measures related to dental care and rental housing.
These days everyone is feeling the effects of the increased cost of living. This situation is particularly difficult for families. We know that all parents want what is best for their children.
However, with inflation the way it is, oral health care may be out of reach for the more than one-third of Canadians who do not have dental insurance and their children.
That is why, this week, we introduced a bill that proposes a Canadian dental benefit to help families who are having difficulty paying for dental care for their children. The introduction of this benefit is the first step toward a comprehensive, long-term national dental care program.
Investing in oral health is about more than just avoiding cavities. It is essential to overall health. By making routine dental care more accessible to Canadian families, we can prevent children's minor oral health problems from becoming major issues that are more costly, painful and difficult to address. For example, poor oral health is linked to major chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Poor oral health clearly places a heavy burden on children, parents and the health care system across the country. The direct and indirect costs affect us all, and we can all benefit from the improvements that proper oral health care can bring to the overall health of the Canadian population.
The proposed Canada dental benefit is a first important step toward that goal. The proposed benefit would start by helping children who are more in need, because when it comes to poor oral health, kids have the most to lose. Many oral diseases can begin in the preschool years, and tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Canada for children. That is also true around the world.
In Canada, the treatment of dental problems is the leading cause of day surgery under general anaesthesia for children under the age of five. Once again, these dental problems are not shared equally among all kids. Research shows that dental diseases tend to be found mostly among children from lower-income families, indigenous children, new immigrants and children living with disabilities or who have special health care needs. The good news is that with the right amount of care, these oral health issues and the longer-term health problems they create are preventable.
Here is how the Canada dental benefit would work. Beginning in late 2022, parents whose adjusted family net income is under $90,000 and who do not have access to private dental insurance can claim the Canada dental benefit for their eligible children under 12.
The Canada Revenue Agency, the CRA, will administer the benefit. Parents will be able to apply through the CRA's My Account portal or their contact centre. If eligible, they will receive an initial payment that they can use to see a dentist with their child.
We want to eliminate as many obstacles to accessing dental care as possible by making sure that families do not have to cover dental expenses they cannot afford.
The Canada dental benefit will provide up to $650 per year per child under 12. It will be available to eligible families and children and will not be taxed.
We realize that it is essential for Canadians with urgent dental care needs to get funding quickly and easily. That is why the benefit will be offered to claimants before the dental care is provided. That money can be used to cover oral health services offered by any independent, regulated oral health care provider in Canada.
In the event a person has paid for care before applying for the benefit, they can apply for the benefit retroactively, as long as the care was received during the eligibility period and was not reimbursed by another program.
If this bill is passed, Health Canada and the CRA will work closely together to ensure that Canadians receive their benefits as quickly as possible.
The CRA has the necessary resources and experience to offer this program thanks to its vast, secure infrastructure and its long-standing experience in delivering services to Canadians. The CRA will verify compliance before and after the payment to protect itself against fraud and ensure that the program is being used as intended.
If the bill is passed, Health Canada will act quickly to ensure that Canadian families who qualify for the Canada dental benefit are well informed about how to apply for it.
In collaboration with the CRA, Health Canada will launch a national public education campaign to inform qualifying families about the program and will oversee the implementation of the benefit.
As I mentioned, the proposed Canada dental benefit is an interim benefit. This measure would provide immediate financial support to low- and middle-income Canadian families, allowing them to begin addressing their eligible children’s dental care needs sooner rather than later. While this interim program is in place, the Government of Canada will take the necessary steps to build a comprehensive, longer-term dental care program. That includes engaging with key stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, indigenous organizations, dental associations and industry to help inform our approach to implementing a long-term Canadian dental care program.
This past summer, for example, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and I launched a request for information with industry representatives, and Health Canada reached out to provinces and territories to better understand what is needed to successfully implement a long-term Canadian dental care program. What we learned through that process will help inform our approach as we work toward a permanent program.
I am pleased with the progress our government continues to make on this front as we develop and take necessary steps to put in place a robust, sustainable long-term dental care program for Canadians. I look forward to providing more details on that front in the coming months.
If passed, this bill will help hundreds of thousands of Canadian children who do not currently have access to dental care because of the cost of that care. Bill C-31 proposes an interim benefit, because children, whose teeth are still developing, are a priority for our government and for anyone who cares about oral health.
That being said, in closing, I would like to take a moment to talk about timelines. In budget 2022, our government committed to helping our youngest Canadians access dental care by the end of the year. Our goal is to ensure that children under 12 can access the Canada dental benefit by the end of 2022. I therefore urge all hon. members of the House to support this bill, an act respecting cost of living relief measures related to dental care and rental housing, without delay.