Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to the budget entitled “Growing the Middle Class”.
Let me start with a quote from the Minister of Finance himself. He really summed it all up in his opening remarks. He said:
Today, we begin to restore hope for the middle class. Today, we begin to revitalize the economy. Today, we begin a long-term plan that will use smart investments and an unwavering belief that progress is possible to ensure that Canada's best days lie ahead.
As I said, that really sums up what this budget is all about. It sums up the objective of the budget. However, the budget is made all the more difficult by what the previous government has left us, or has left us without. Program after program was cut by the previous government. Earlier, the Leader of the Opposition talked about how the Conservative government had a surplus. No it did not. That was a surplus on a monthly basis, but accounting is usually done over the long term. The Conservatives left this country with $160 billion of added debt imposed on every citizen in this country. Not only did they leave us with debt, as I said, but they also cut programs and services. Even worse, they created disunity in the country.
If we are going to bring Canada ahead as a federation, we need to have a government that is willing to work with the provinces, to work together to grow the economy, to put in programs that we can utilize together to create growth in the economy and jobs for Canadians.
In reality, the budget builds on the measures introduced in December which provided a middle-class tax cut. We are dealing with that now with Bill C-2. Really what that did is bring better balance to the taxation system by giving those in the middle class a tax break and balancing that by taking a little more from those who can afford it. This budget builds on that commitment.
One of the key parts of this budget is looking to the future. That is done with the Canada child benefit, assisting those families in raising their children, giving them better opportunities to spend money where it is needed. The Canada child benefit will replace the current complicated child benefit system.
The Canada child benefit will provide a maximum annual benefit of up to $6,400 per child under the age of six, and up to $5,400 per child for those ages six through 17. Families with less than $30,000 in net income will receive the maximum benefit. Nine out of 10 families will receive more child benefits under this program than under the current system. Specifically in my own province of Prince Edward Island, they will receive $47 million more in child benefits during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 period. That is a benefit to families. It is putting the money where the resources should be put.
Not only are we dealing with families, but we are also dealing with the education of students so that we build for the future down the road. We are making post-secondary education more affordable through this budget. We are enhancing Canada student grants to give young people the opportunity to be able to afford to go to university and college.
Budget 2016 proposes to increase Canada student grants by 50%, from $2,000 to $3,000 per year for students from low-income families, from $800 to $1,200 per year for students from middle-income families, and from $1,200 to $1,800 per year for part-time students. We are not only building on the very young people, but we are building the education system as well for all Canadians.
I know this area is a little controversial, but for all Canadians we are improving the safety net for those who find themselves in difficult times as a result of being out of work. We are improving the employment insurance system after the disastrous way it was handled by the previous government.
We are expanding access to new entrants and re-entrants by dropping the 910 hours' entrance requirement to whatever the regional rate is. We are reducing the two-week waiting period to one week. We are improving the program for working while on claim. That is extremely controversial. It was extremely controversial in my area, because under the previous government's system, a person was penalized for going to work. Even people who were on maternity leave were penalized for going to work and keeping up their skills, especially those who worked in a hospital setting for one day a week while on maternity leave.
I do not mind admitting that there is some controversy around the next point I will make, and that is extending the five-week pilot project to those areas that were hardest hit by the downturn in the economy. I would say there is some controversy in my own region over that because that five weeks was not applied in that particular region, but it is targeted to those areas which have been greatly impacted by the downturn in some of the commodities in the marketplace.
The minister has committed to look at that into the future. The minister has committed to review the employment insurance system and those measures going down the road. I look forward to that review, to ensure that we get fairness and equity throughout the total measures around employment insurance in this country.
We improved the safety net for those finding themselves out of work. I do not have the time available to go into it, but we do look beyond employment insurance and we are investing in skills and training. We are enhancing the investments in training itself, strengthening the union-based apprenticeship training, supporting flexible work arrangements, and improving labour market information for Canadians. We are trying to put that workforce in a place where their skills will be needed in the future and expand on those skills to grow the economy.
However, it is not enough to deal with today's reality. We are looking at the long-term future. During the election campaign we talked a lot about investment in infrastructure. While we are looking at $11.9 billion over five years starting right away, budget 2016 puts this plan into action with an immediate down payment on this plan: $3.4 billion over three years to upgrade and improve public transit systems across Canada; $5 billion over five years for investments in water, waste-water, and green infrastructure; $3.4 billion over five years for social infrastructure, including affordable housing, early learning and child care, cultural and recreational infrastructure, and community health care facilities.
We are investing in the future. Specifically in my comments I should make this point: Major transfers to Prince Edward Island will total $582 million in 2016-17, an increase of $29 million from the previous year; $380 million through equalization, an increase of $19 million from last year; $147 million through the Canada health transfer, an increase of $8 million from the previous year; $54 million through the Canada social transfer, an increase of $1.6 million from the previous year.
My point is, my province benefits from this budget in terms of the transfers, in terms of the programs, and Canada as a whole can look to the future with opportunity and excitement because of what this budget does.
It addresses the problems created by the previous government and puts in place investments in families, infrastructure, education, and skills training, which is what Canadians really need to grow, with opportunity and the hope for prosperity in the future. That is what the Minister of Finance has done in this budget. I ask everyone in this House to be supportive of that to help build Canada's future.