Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House and also to be the last speaker on this issue of minimum wage.
We have heard today about our government's outstanding record of achievement with respect to creating jobs and economic growth. I would like to dedicate my time to exploring in more detail how we are building on these results by helping to connect Canadians with available jobs.
Despite our excellent employment performance, our government is constantly looking for ways to make it even better, and we find it unacceptable that many Canadians are out of work or underutilized at a time when skills and labour shortages are emerging in certain sectors and regions. Indeed, many employers agree with us and continue to identify the shortage of skilled labour as an impediment to growth. In fact, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce lists skills shortages as the number one barrier to Canada's competitiveness.
Faced with this challenge, we have taken effective and concrete action to support the development of a skilled, mobile, and productive workforce.
To begin, let me go back to budget 2007, when our government introduced the working income tax benefit, or WITB. The WITB fulfilled our government's commitment to help make work more rewarding to low-income Canadians already in the workforce and increased the incentive for other low-income Canadians to enter the workforce.
Economic action plan 2009 went even further by effectively doubling the benefits provided under the WITB. Today this initiative is making a real difference in the lives of Canadians. It has lowered the welfare wall so that low-income individuals now keep more of their earnings. In 2013, over $1.1 billion in WITB benefits were provided to individuals and families.
Recognizing that families are the cornerstone of our society, economic action plan 2011 took action to further reduce the tax burden on hard-working Canadian families. In doing so, we recognized that some families need additional support. For example, many Canadians have assumed added responsibilities in caring for infirm parents or other family members. These family caregivers make special sacrifices, often leaving the workforce temporarily and forgoing employment income.
In support of these families who care for infirm dependants, economic action plan 2011 introduced the family caregiver tax credit, which came into effect in 2012. This 15% non-refundable credit on an amount of $2,058 in 2014 provides additional tax relief for caregivers of all types of infirm dependent family members, including, for the first time, spouses, common-law partners, and minor children.
To further help caregivers, economic action plan 2011 removed the $10,000 limit on the amount of eligible expenses a taxpayer can claim under the medical expense tax credit for a financially dependent relative.
We also established the registered disability savings plan, or RDSP, based on the recommendations of the 2006 expert panel on financial security for children with severe disabilities. The RDSP is designed to help individuals with severe disabilities and their families save for their long-term financial security.
Since its implementation in 2008, our government has made a number of improvements to the program. For example, to make sure that RDSP beneficiaries with a shortened life expectancy can access their savings, economic action plan 2011 provided them with more flexibility to withdraw their RDSP assets without requiring the repayment of Canada disability savings grants and Canada disability savings bonds.
In 2011 our government launched a review of the RDSP to ensure that RDSPs are meeting the needs of Canadians with severe disabilities and their families. Based on the feedback received during the review, economic action plan 2012 announced a number of measures to improve the RDSP.
These measures provided greater access to RDSP savings for small withdrawals, gave greater flexibility to make withdrawals from certain RDSPs and ensure the RDSP assets were used to support a beneficiary during their lifetime, enhanced flexibility for parents who save in registered education savings plans for children with disabilities, introduced greater continuity for beneficiaries who cease to qualify for the disability tax credit in certain circumstances, and improved the administration of the RDSP for financial institutions and beneficiaries.
More than 81,000 RDSPs have been opened since they became available in 2008. Thanks to a measures like the RDSP, our government is making sure Canadians with disabilities get the support they need.
Let me now say a few more words about the government's tax reductions for seniors and pensioners. On this subject I once again have plenty of material to draw from.
Our government increased the age credit amount by $1,000 in 2006 and by another $1,000 in 2009. We doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit to $2,000. We introduced pension income splitting and increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs to 71 from 69 years of age. As a result of these actions, seniors and pensioners are receiving about $2.8 billion in additional annual tax relief.
Overall, actions taken by this government have substantially increased the income seniors can earn before they are required to pay income tax. In 2014 a single senior can earn at least $20,054 and a senior couple at least $40,109 before paying federal income tax.
Seniors and those who support them may also take advantage of tax credits, such as the disability tax credit, the medical expense tax credit, the caregiver credit, and the family caregiver tax credit, which, as I have mentioned, was introduced in economic action plan 2011 and came into effect in 2012.
In the same year our government enhanced the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, for those seniors who rely almost exclusively on their old age security and the GIS and may therefore be at risk of experiencing financial difficulties. The measure provided a new top-up benefit of up to $600 annually for single seniors and $840 for couples, and is improving the financial security of more than 680,000 seniors across Canada.
Finally, let me add that new measures we have introduced recognize that the health of the Canadian economy ultimately depends on providing opportunities for a high quality of life for all Canadians. That is why economic action plan 2014 continues to implement the government's plan for jobs and growth by connecting Canadians with available jobs through helping them to acquire the skills that will get them hired or help them get better jobs; fostering job creation, innovation, and trade by keeping taxes low; reducing the tax compliance burden; continuing to provide Canadian businesses and investors with the market access they need to succeed in the global economy; and supporting families and communities by taking additional steps to protect Canadian consumers, keeping taxes low for families, and improving the safety of Canadians.
Keeping taxes low is an important element of our economic action plan. It helps Canadians succeed in the global economy through the creation of high-quality jobs and greater opportunities for success.
Economic action plan 2014 is the next chapter in our government's long-term plan to strengthen the Canadian economy in an uncertain world and create jobs and growth while keeping taxes low for families and businesses and balancing the budget in 2015.
Taken together, the measures our government has introduced since 2006 and those in economic action plan 2014 will continue to keep taxes low and help Canadians succeed in the global economy, creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
In the deliberations prior to my speaking, we talked a lot about the macro aspect of the minimum wage. A $5 increase over the Canadian average of $10 or $11 means a 50% increase. Divided over the five years that are recommended, that is a 10% increase a year. That is quite significant.
Let me address this issue from a micro point of view and as a former business owner for 20 years. If the minimum wage were to increase by 10% a year, I would not hire additional staff. I would not pass it. I would have to keep my costs down to run my business.