Madam Speaker, as this is the first time I have stood in the House since the election, I want to thank all the residents of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley for once again showing their support for me and returning me to Parliament.
I would also like to congratulate all members of the House and all my parliamentary colleagues on their re-elections, and also congratulate the campaign teams that worked so hard and diligently day and night to send them back here.
The democratic process is something we all value. People who put their names on a ballot, whether they are successful in the election or not, should all be congratulated for the effort they put forward.
I wish to encourage all parliamentarians to support this excellent budget, because I believe it is the right budget for Canada.
One major priority that budget 2011 outlines is this government's commitment to lowering taxes. It was Winston Churchill who said, “We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle”. Canadians know this. They know we have to keep taxes low to grow the economy and to create jobs.
This budget does just that. It lowers taxes on job creators. It lowers taxes on families who enrol their children in artistic activities. It lowers taxes for volunteer firefighters. It lowers taxes for those who stay at home to care for an infirm parent or a disabled child. It also forgives student loans for doctors and nurses who settle in rural areas and provide needed health care service to those struggling in rural communities.
This is a budget that Winston Churchill would have been proud of. It keeps taxes low, invests in projects of national importance and maintains Canada's brand as one of the best places to live in the world. It supports families and communities so that all Canadians can enjoy a high standard of living and our communities can stay vibrant and safe. It invests in innovation and education and training. It promotes research in leading-edge technologies and provides Canadians with the opportunity and the incentives to acquire the skills needed for jobs in today's labour market. It also preserves our fiscal advantage in order to be able to invest in the priorities of Canadians and to keep Canada's economy growing strongly.
For families, it implements a new child arts tax credit worth $500. That is money in the pocket for people to embrace when they engage their children in artistic and community activities such as Scouts, Cubs, Guides, drama, art. This is a big advantage to the youth of our nation and to their parents, who struggle to pay registration fees. It is something the federal government can do to provide them a little help.
There is a new family caregiver tax credit of $2,000 for someone who stays home and gives up income to stay home with an infirm parent or a child who is struggling at school or who has a disability. We need to support these people who are willing to give up their employment to stay home and support a family member.
There is an enhanced medical expense tax credit. It is a $10,000 tax credit for those families who desperately need it when they need it the most.
The budget will also allow full-time students to earn more money without affecting their student loan income. This is a good initiative for young people across this country.
For small business, it establishes a new hiring credit of $1,000 in EI premium forgiveness. This will help over half a million small businesses defray the costs of hiring a new employee.
I also want to compliment the Minister of Finance in extending the accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturing and processing, which is something that is very important in my community. This measure will support many manufacturers across Canada and will protect jobs.
There is an additional support of $10 million for a work-sharing program. This was implemented by companies like Stanfield's in my hometown of Truro. It allows these companies to retain employees by having the government cover part of the costs for those employees. It will allow industries that have periods of boom and boost, such as the textile industry, to retain employees during these tough times so that they will still be there when the market recovers.
There is help for farmers in rural areas of this country in terms of a $50 million initiative for agricultural innovation. The budget provides for an increase in funds for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada by $500 million annually and also establishes a $1 billion investment in income stabilization programs for farmers.
In this budget, one of the most important planks for rural communities is the $3,000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters. Our government recognizes that many rural communities across Canada are struggling to maintain their fire protection.
As some of these rural communities become smaller, it is becoming more difficult to attract volunteers to become firefighters in those communities. The issue is a negative spiral, because the fewer young people we have living in a community, the smaller the pool becomes for recruiting volunteers. In some communities, families are finding a challenge in obtaining insurance coverage, as the community does not have adequate fire coverage. If a young family looking for a place to raise children cannot get a homeowner's insurance policy because it cannot find adequate fire coverage, it is not going to move to that small rural community. This is having a devastating effect on many small communities across Canada.
We have 33 fire departments in my riding and, of those 33, 30 are staffed solely by volunteers. In fact, the riding is about 18,000 square kilometres and 98% of that geography is protected solely by volunteer firefighters. These are 600 volunteers who give up their time to train and risk their lives to protect the private property of others. We owe them a great debt.
This budget provides part of the solution by providing a $3,000 tax cut credit, which will amount to roughly $450 in the pockets of our volunteers to help reimburse the money that they invest out of their own pocket to support and protect their own communities. We have recognized that the government should not benefit financially from these volunteer activities and this will be a start to rebuild our fire protection in rural communities across this country.
We are investing in key areas like innovation and research at universities and colleges, which is why universities and colleges have spoken out strongly in support of this budget.
There is some other funding in terms of investment in research and development contained in its pages. Over $50 million over the next five years will be provided to support the creation of 10 new Canada excellence research chairs such as the one at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in my riding.
There is an additional $65 million for Genome Canada to continue its work. This was called for by all four political parties in this House before the election.
There is another $60 million over three years to promote increased student enrolment in key disciplines related to the digital economy, one of the fastest growing segments of our economy.
I do not want to ignore seniors because they are an important part of this country. They have made sacrifices in previous generations to build Canada into the great country that it is now. For seniors, the budget puts an additional $300 million into the GIS program, which will increase money for our lowest earning seniors, those who rely on their old age security and their GIS for their income. It will be a $600 boost to single seniors who are living alone and an $840 boost to qualifying seniors who live as couples. As the House knows, this was asked for by the parties and was strongly supported by our caucus. I ask all parties and all members in this House to support it when the budget vote comes up.
As well, I would like to recognize the extension of the eco-energy retrofit program which will allow Canadians, many of them seniors, to reduce their carbon footprint while allowing them to lower their own personal energy costs.
The budget also paves the way to a balanced budget. In addition to lowering taxes and making targeted investments, this budget will allow Canada to eliminate deficits in the future. Our government will complete a strategic view of government spending and find efficiencies so we can balance the budget one year earlier than announced.
Unlike the Liberal Party, which, in the mid-90s, devastated health and education transfers to the provinces, we will not choose that path. That path closed hospitals, closed schools and laid off teachers. We will choose a path to first look within the federal government for efficiencies, and we are committed to that.
In the time remaining in my speech, I will to quote a number of organizations that have come out strongly in support of this budget.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce applauds this low tax budget. It stated:
Canada’s low tax plan has created a healthy economic environment for business investment and we applaud the government for staying the course.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also came out and endorsed this budget. It endorsed the EI hiring tax credit. It stated:
CFIB is extremely pleased to see its top budget priority - an EI Hiring Credit for Small Business - announced in the 2011 budget. As this budget forecasts rising EI premiums in each of the next three years, this credit will be a major help to small firms in growing their workforce.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons said that it was very happy to see the guaranteed income supplement increase. It said that it has been an issue that it has raised many times before and that it is finally something that is being addressed.
The Canadian Police Association said:
The inclusion by the Conservative government of a renewed investment in the Youth Gang Prevention Fund...will help provide police services across Canada with the tools and resources they need to target at-risk youth, and keep them away from the lure of organized crime.
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs said:
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) commends the federal government for reintroducing a $3000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters in the 2011 Federal Budget. We were delighted.... This measure will help with the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters across the country, which will in turn help protect Canadians and our communities.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations says:
...(CASA) is pleased to see positive reforms to the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP), such as an increase to in-study work income exemption, improved access for part-time students--