Mr. Speaker, as the most recent arrival in this honourable place, I have been listening to the opposition very intently and I am beginning to believe it is the opposition's position that the Conservative Party probably also sunk the Titanic.
I will be splitting my time with the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.
It is good to have the opportunity to speak today about the budget. The global economy is emerging from the deepest and most synchronized financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. In particular, I would like to talk about the significant improvements this budget would make in the lives of Canadian seniors.
Canada's seniors have made many sacrifices and contributions to our country, for which we are forever grateful. That is why we are committed to doing everything we can to improve their quality of life.
Our budget lays out a low tax plan for jobs and growth. As part of the plan, we will keep taxes low. We will undertake additional targeted investments to support jobs and growth. We will control government spending and stay on track to eliminate the deficit. We will not do what the previous Liberal government did when it cut $25 billion from transfer payments to crucial services like health care and education. Nor will we impose massive tax increases or tax our way to recovery because we know that increasing the tax burden is not the way to build a robust economy.
We remain focused on securing our economic recovery. We are focused on improving the financial security of Canadian workers and families and especially helping seniors. Canada's seniors represent a generation of Canadians who helped us build a country and a quality of life of which we can all be proud.
Our government recognizes the need of seniors in communities across our great country. We are committed to ensuring that seniors have the opportunity to enjoy their retirements in comfort. This is part of a strong record of supporting seniors, their safety, security and quality of life.
Indeed, since taking office in 2006, our government has provided unprecedented support to Canadian seniors and pensioners. We have provided over $2 billion in annual tax relief for seniors and pensioners. We completely removed 85,000 from the tax rolls. We raised the guaranteed income supplement exemptions from $500 to $3,500 and introduced pension income splitting. We introduced an automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement, meaning seniors no longer have to reapply each year. Our government has made significant investments in affordable housing for low-income seniors. We raised the age credit amount twice and doubled the pension income credit.
Since being elected a few months ago, I have met with hundreds, if not thousands, of seniors across the land. They have told me as recently as today that they are certainly in support of what we are endeavouring to do. Those seniors need to be heard. They told me about the hardships they faced. Many of them were never married or their spouses have passed away and they live alone on very low incomes. I heard loud and clear that we need to do more to help these vulnerable seniors.
I passed this message on to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and it is the message that is embodied in the budget submissions that have gone forward. It has been taken to heart. We listened to seniors and we responded.
This budget proposes enhancing the guaranteed income supplement by providing an additional $600 per year to single seniors and $840 to couples who are below the income threshold. Some people have trivialized this amount. According to the seniors I have spoken to, this is very meaningful and they are grateful.
These new measures are expected to help improve the quality of life for more than 680,000 of the most vulnerable seniors across Canada and this represents a significant commitment. In fact, the changes to the guaranteed income supplement proposed in this budget represent an investment of more than $300 million per year. However, we believe that it is the right thing to do at this time.
We are dedicated to improving the lives of Canadian seniors. After living lives dedicated to their communities and families, low income seniors deserve the same quality of life as everyone else. Passing this budget would go a long way toward ensuring they receive the support they need and justly deserve. While important, this is only one of several measures in this budget that would benefit Canadian seniors.
This budget proposes providing $10 million, over two years, to the new horizons for seniors program. This extremely successful program provides funding to support local community-based projects across Canada. These projects enable seniors to participate in social activities and contribute to their community. New horizons also funds programs to raise awareness of elder abuse and to give front line workers the training they need to recognize the signs of abuse, and know what to do when they suspect it. It is an important program that allows our seniors to live more active lives and helps protect them from exploitation and abuse.
This budget also proposes two very important measures for seniors and near-seniors who want to keep working.
First, it proposes extending the targeted initiative for older workers for the next three years. The economic downturn was especially hard on older workers. While it is never easy to lose one's job, it is particularly hard for an older worker who has worked at the same job for many years. Thanks to our government's economic action plan, Canada has recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession. Since the beginning of our economic recovery, we have created 480,000 net new jobs.
However, there are still older workers who need our help, with training and support, to help them find new jobs.
The targeted initiative for older workers ensures older workers have access to training and employment programs that help them find new careers. It also opens training and employment programs to displaced older workers. This ensures that these workers have the support they need to find new jobs. It is a good program that is helping people in real need. I hope that everyone in this House will join us in voting to extend it.
The next phase of Canada's economic action plan also proposes to make an important legislative change. It is a change that would benefit those Canadians who decide that they want to keep on working longer. Canadians are living longer, more active lives than ever before. Seniors who want to remain active in the workforce should have the freedom to make that choice. It should not be forced upon them. That is why we are proposing to introduce amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit federally-regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age. This would apply unless there is an occupational requirement for a mandatory retirement age.
Banning mandatory retirement would allow Canadians the freedom to choose how long they remain active in the workforce. This budget builds on the progress that we made through the economic action plan.
It is a responsible low tax plan that does not threaten the economic recovery by raising taxes. Instead, it lays out a path to a balanced budget by 2015-16, while making certain key investments. It does so while providing real, tangible support for Canadian seniors.
I urge members to listen to all of the people across our country who are looking to us to support our most vulnerable seniors. It is time to put politics aside and think of those vulnerable seniors who are looking to us for the help they need, for the help they so badly need.
If members want to support them, I ask simply that members do the right thing and support this budget, so that we can collectively continue to improve the quality of life of the very people who sent us here.