Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this House and speak to Bill C-31, a piece of legislation that comes at a very critical time for a lot of Canadians. Many of my colleagues here in this place speak with people in our home communities and across our ridings about the challenges they face. When I speak to folks these days, so many of them tell me about the rising cost of living and the challenge it is placing on their family budgets.
Many of these people talk to me about it and express how it feels that this is happening to them, and they have very little agency. They did not cause the war in Ukraine. They did not break the international supply chains. They did not force huge corporations to act in a time of crisis to jack up their profits on the backs of ordinary Canadians. People are working hard and are falling further behind.
This crisis of inflation affects everybody, but it affects some more than others. It especially affects those on fixed and low incomes. Some folks have the ability to shift their spending, but when they are living on a limited income and when their paycheque is a fixed amount and the cost of everything is going up, they have very few options. Everyone in this place would agree that it is there that we should focus our policy attention as legislators. Those are the folks who need help the most right now.
Part of this bill is a very simple component. The top-up of the Canada housing benefit would get a one-time $500 payment to Canadians who qualify for that benefit. Specifically, they are families who earn a net income of less than $35,000 a year. That would help 1.8 million Canadians with the cost of living, and it would make a real difference. It is something that the government should have brought in months and months ago, but the time to act is now. We need to ensure that this legislation gets through so that people can benefit from this payment.
The second part of this legislation is also related to the cost of living. It would help Canadians with their costs, but it is different. The other part of this legislation, the Canada dental benefit, is a down payment on something that is going to have a profound and long-lasting benefit for millions of Canadians. It is going to be transformational and to make a difference for generations to come.
Many would agree that universal health care is our country's crowning achievement. This is possibly our greatest policy achievement. It is something that is based on a simple but profound premise, which is that in a world in which so many of the aspects of quality of life correlate with one's financial status, health should be different. Everyone, no matter their income, should have access and the dignity of access to basic health care, yet, ever since the Canada Health Act was first passed into law in the 1960s, it has been a project incomplete. It has been a vision unfulfilled, because we all know that there are aspects of our health that were not included in the legislation that created universal health care. As New Democrats we have always held as part of the vision, right back to the days of Tommy Douglas, that things like our eyes, mental health and dental care are integral to our concept of health and to our health outcomes, and that they must be included in our vision of universal health care for all.
Nobody here in this place can argue that dental care is not a part of health care. We all know people who suffer from extreme health issues as a result of dental pain and dental issues that go untreated. Dental care is expensive; everyone knows this as well. Thirty-five per cent of Canadians lack proper dental insurance, and that number jumps to 50% when we are talking about low-income Canadians. Seven million Canadians avoid going to the dentist because of the cost. It is shameful. It is something that has to change, and the bill in front of us is the first step in heading down that road. Canada's most vulnerable face the highest rates of dental decay and disease and the worst access to dental care. This is something we have to change. We are going to change that. This bill is the start.
The legislation in front of us begins with the children of low- and modest-income families, and that is no mistake. We all know that if we can catch these dental care issues at a young age, we can prevent much more serious issues down the road. This is about prevention, and it is about helping young children address serious health issues before they become even more serious.
In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services recommended precisely this. It stated that the government should, as quickly as possible, implement a dental program for children, yet here we are over half a century later, finally tackling this critical aspect of health care.
Shamefully, tooth decay remains the most common, yet preventable, chronic childhood illness in Canada. The most common reason for kids undergoing day surgery and missing school is dental decay. The most common surgery performed at most pediatric hospitals across Canada is related to dental issues. Left unchecked, these issues affect people's health in profound ways, as I mentioned, but they are preventable and we are finally on the path to making things better.
We are not going to stop at dental care for kids. I sent a mail-out to my constituents asking for their feedback on this proposed dental care program. The vast majority of the responses I received were from seniors. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear some of the messages they sent me.
One woman wrote in and said, “My husband is working at 67 years old to keep his coverage going. It would be great to have support so he could retire.” Someone else said, “We skip dental care because we can't afford it, and dread the day we might need serious attention.” Another senior wrote me and said, “Last year, one tooth cost me $5,000. That is 10 months of my CPP.”
This is something we can address. What we have in front of us with the Canada dental benefit is indeed a down payment on a permanent national dental care plan. It is not only going to help kids under 12. It is going to help seniors. It is going to help youth under 18. It is going to help people with disabilities. It is going to help millions of Canadians who are struggling with dental health issues.
New Democrats have pushed hard for dental care for a long time. Of course, it was always a part of our vision for universal health care. Just a year ago, our brilliant colleague, Jack Harris, stood in this House and put forward a motion urging the government to implement a national dental care plan. It was a sad thing that both Conservatives and Liberals voted down that motion, yet here we are a year later, taking the first steps toward a national dental care plan that is going to help millions of people. We got there for one reason: We did not give up, because we hold on to that vision of universal health care.
It is no coincidence that the last time we achieved a transformational public health policy for Canadians with the Canada Health Act, it was New Democrats coming off the experience in Saskatchewan with universal health care under the leadership of Tommy Douglas, who pushed a Liberal government in a minority Parliament to do the right thing and create a change that has benefited so many people over the years. Here we find ourselves again in a position where this idea of making lives better for people by providing this care that so many people need is at a point at which we can finally move forward, and we are not going to stop until it becomes a reality. Creating a national dental care plan is about dignity, it is about health care and it is about bloody time.