Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to kick off the debate on the report stage of Bill , the cost of living relief act, no. 2.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on Health, I had the honour to preside over five hours of meetings on Monday. We heard from the and the for a couple of hours, and then spent three hours considering amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. That brings us to where we are today.
I intend to begin by providing some insight as to how this will impact the people of the good riding that I am proud to represent, Charlottetown. Plainly put, it costs more to live in Canada, and Bill addresses this problem and will help millions of Canadians.
According to the 2021 census, the median household income in Canada was $84,000, but when we look at the riding I represent, the median household income in 2021 was just $58,000. That is $26,000 less than the Canadian median income, or 31% less than the rest of Canada.
While Charlottetown households have substantially less money to support their families and pay their bills compared to those nationally, P.E.I. is leading the country in the increased cost of living. There are some things in Prince Edward Island that we are proud to lead the country in. Over the last couple of years, we have led the country in per capita population growth, among other things, but leading the country in the inflation rate is not particularly a badge of honour.
In May of this year, inflation hit 11.1% in P.E.I., the highest in the country. In fact, we have had the highest inflation rate in the country every month since March 2021. Imagine the average Charlottetown family, with a household income of $58,000, trying to absorb the costs of the worst inflation in the country. When we talk about the cost of living, these numbers reflect where the people of Charlottetown are and demonstrate the direct impact Bill would have in addressing those increasing costs.
Allow me to begin with the rental housing benefit in Bill C-31. This act proposes a $500 top-up to the Canada housing benefit. This is a $1.2-billion addition to the existing $4-billion Canada housing benefit.
There is no doubt the rising cost of housing is an issue from coast to coast to coast, from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Victoria, British Columbia, and everywhere in between in this country. It is also particularly acute in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In April of this year, P.E.I.'s annual inflation rate for rented accommodation was 15.3%. Compare this to the national inflation rate for rental accommodations, at 4.2%.
Let us look at the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment. Nationally, it costs $1,167. In Charlottetown, it costs $1,055. Charlottetown renters are paying national prices with $26,000 less in income. Furthermore, not only is renting more expensive, but it is also harder to find somewhere at any price. If someone was trying to rent in Charlottetown today, they would be contending with a 1.5% vacancy rate. That is less than half the national average.
What do these numbers tell us? Charlottetown renters are paying more, are finding less and need support now. That is why Bill is so important. Specifically, this bill would put $500 more in the pockets of the same Canadians who are struggling to pay for rent, like those in Charlottetown.
We know that Canadians need help today, which is why we are not reinventing the wheel on this. Bill is a top-up on existing housing support, the $4-billion Canada housing benefit. This will cut down on administrative barriers and save time between money going out the door and getting into the pockets of Canadians to help pay for housing.
One critique that is often repeated in the House is that it is not enough and, because of that, one certain party is not supportive of the bill.
First, the $500 top-up is in addition to existing supports under the $4-billion Canada housing benefit to ensure that Canadians can pay for housing, which is on average $2,500 in direct financial support.
Second, to not support the bill, because some members say it is not enough, is quite frankly an insult to the very same Canadians who need the additional $500 top-up today in regions where incomes and vacancy rates are lower and inflation is higher, like in Charlottetown.
Housing is not the only area where people need financial support. Dental care is financially inaccessible to many low- and middle-income families in this country. Right now, Canadians are falling through the cracks trying to access dental care. Bill is a solution to close that gap through the dental benefit act. Specifically, this benefit will provide $1,300 per eligible child over two years. It will be targeted for uninsured Canadians with a family income of less than $90,000 annually, for their children under 12 years old, which is most of the families in the riding I represent.
Regardless of family income, location or employment, Bill will provide financial support for those under 12 years of age to ensure access to dental care in this country.
Income is one determining factor to whether Canadians can access dental care. We know that one in five Canadians are not receiving needed dental care due to cost. This means that seven million Canadians, because of their income, cannot get the basic dental care they need.
Employment is another determining factor with respect to access to dental care. It is true that 55% of dental care services are paid by private insurance through employers. While this provides financial support to pay for dental care services for many Canadians, 45% of Canadians do not have that option. Employment status should not determine whether an individual can afford dental services.
Finally, location has increasingly become a deciding factor regarding which Canadians get dental care and which do not. Some provinces have made strides to publicly fund dental care programs, such as for low-income families. For example, Prince Edward Island, home to my riding of Charlottetown, has a provincial dental care program that provides a sliding scale coverage for low-income families and seniors based on family size, income and other criteria. More than 15,000 Islanders, less than 10% of the population, have applied to use this program. While programs like these have been useful, not all provinces or territories have them, creating an inconsistency of access across the country. That is where the Government of Canada must and will step in to create consistency of access coast to coast to coast.
This is one step of many to come. This new benefit is a bridge to a long-term goal of dental care for all Canadians. We are starting with children first to address current issues and alleviate long-term oral health problems. An estimated 2.26 million school days each year are lost due to dental-related illness.
Increased costs have meant Canadians are making tough decisions, such as choosing between food on the table and dental care. Increased costs have meant paying out of budget rent prices to simply keep a roof over their heads. Bill does not fix all affordability issues, but tangibly targets key areas to put money directly into people's pockets where they need it. That is why I urge my colleagues to continue to support Bill .
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise here in the House of Commons to debate legislation. I have reflected upon this bill. We had time to see it in committee, though very little time I might add. We had little time with stakeholders and very little time in front of ministers to debate this bill, which is, sadly, a gateway to spending $11 billion of taxpayer money.
For that fact, here in the House, having a motion to end debate on this bill very quickly and have it rammed through is a difficulty. That is the same experience that we had in committee. I am unsure why there is an urgency with this bill, other than it really panders to the political aspirations of those across the aisle and their costly coalition dance partners, which, as I mentioned, will jack up the costs for all Canadians as we move forward.
Everybody in the House wants to have their sound bites and their clips for social media. All that type of stuff is potentially important. What I am going to say, I know, will be taken out of context and that is why it is important to preface it in that sense.
There is not a dental crisis in the country. There is no reason we had to run this bill through in this warp-speed manner and try to ram it down the throats of those of us who would suspect we need much more prudence in how we approach spending money in this House and exactly where we spend it, which is important. It would have been much nicer if this were a mental health and rental bill as opposed to the dental health and rental bill. Why would that be more important? We know, and everyone in the House can attest to it, that there is a mental health crisis in this country that is not being addressed and that is the darn shame of it all. This is about where we choose to spend our money in the House, and the difficulty is that we do not have unlimited amounts.
I always liken this to my own finances. When there are urgencies, when the roof is off the house, people have to put the roof on before they put the front step on. Sure, they are both absolutely important, but we have to look at priorities. We have to understand that a roof on the house is, sadly, more important than the front step. Do we need them both? Yes, we do.
That being said, there is a mental health crisis in this country. One in three Canadians throughout their lifetime will have significant problems with their mental health. We see it in the news every day. We see it from our loved ones every day. We know that the government is not funding mental health. It is an odd fact that the commitment the Liberal government made in its 2021 platform with respect to mental health has not been spent or committed to in its current budget. That is a huge difficulty. The irony is not lost that the cost of that Canada mental health transfer would be about $875 million. When we look at the costs in this bill, the exact amount is very ironic. This money could have been spent on the Canada mental health transfer, which would have done so much for Canadians who are in that significant crisis.
We need to look further at all of those things that we hold very dear here in Canada, and one of those things is people's access to our great Canadian health care system. From the president of the Canadian Medical Association, we know that this system is on the brink of collapse. It too is in crisis. It is a catastrophe. It is a disaster and, sadly, any other negative superlatives that I could come up with.
We know that in my home province alone, 100,000 people, or 10% of the population of Nova Scotia, do not have access to primary care. The sad fact is that we also know, when people do not have access to primary care in Canada, it becomes very difficult to access care for mental health. Further to that, we know that there are approximately one million people in Ontario who do not have access to primary care. Therefore, is there a crisis out there? Yes, there is.
I know that my words will be taken out of context and misconstrued; however, that being said, there is a crisis. It is not in dental health care. It is in mental health care and in the health care system in general. I would be so bold as to say that, if we wanted to ask Canadians how we should spend their money, I would suspect that they would say to spend it on mental health care and spend it on health care, and once that part of our house, the roof of our house, is in better shape, we can put on a front porch or a front step. That makes perfect sense.
I think the other part around the dental part of this program is understanding that 11 of 13 jurisdictions in Canada do have dental programs for their citizens. I think it is also important that the Canadian Dental Association stated that a better idea than creating this “Ottawa knows best” federalist program would be to actually help tweak those provinces that are struggling and look at provinces that have excellent dental health care programs, and then help other provinces better understand how they could make a better program.
I think the other part that flows very nicely into that is understanding that the administration of this program, although purported to be very simple, is in the hands of a government that cannot manage other simple programs, even programs that have been in existence for decades.
Let us talk about passports, for instance. The passport system, as far as I can discern in my own life, has worked in an excellent fashion for a very long time. We would get a piece of paper in the old days. We would then sign it. We would get a guarantor, and we would put it in the mail to send it away. Lo and behold, almost as if by magic, our passport would show up in the mail. Nowadays, we do not need guarantors. It has become even simpler than that, but the government has bungled that as well.
It is the government of “everything is broken”. The immigration system is broken. We have an arrive scam app of $54 million that the Liberals cannot even account for. Not only is it exorbitant in its cost, but they also cannot even account for $1.2 million. Who got paid? Who got rich? Those questions cannot even be answered.
How can we ask them to administer another supposedly simple program? If we cannot even run the programs that have existed for decades, how can we create a new program and say there will be no problems with it? How can we tell people to look at how easy it is and that anybody would be able to access it, when we know we cannot even get a darned passport in this country?
We know the immigration system is broken. We hear that 40,000 Afghans are going to come to Canada, but less than half of that number of people have been admitted to this country. This is a crisis. The Liberals cannot function in a crisis, and we know perhaps that is the difficulty. They are unsure, unaware or uncertain of exactly what the definition of the word “crisis” is. I think that, perhaps, is the difficulty.
We also know the Liberals have bungled the whole greenhouse gas and carbon emissions situation. We know they have not met any of their targets, and we now know their provincial Liberal cousins in Nova Scotia are railing against them. We know that for the average Nova Scotian, the premier of Nova Scotia rejected the carbon tax for a more robust, complete and overall well-performing system. He rejected their carbon tax system. Even though it is being rammed down the throats of all Nova Scotians, it would appear it is going to cost $400 per year extra on top of the insane prices of home heating fuel, and we know that is going to create significant difficulties for Nova Scotians this year.
The rental program, we know, is in response to the Liberals' failed housing strategy. We know it is a band-aid approach, and when the patient is haemorrhaging, putting a band-aid on it is like the old story with the little boy with the dike. We will run out of fingers eventually.
We know the average rental cost here in this country is $2,000 per month. We know the cost of housing has doubled, and we know people are living in their parents' basements. The unaffordability is just astronomical, so we have a government that is spending money. Not to be disparaging to drunken sailors, but the Liberals are spending like that. I apologize to drunken sailors.
The Liberals cannot run programs, and now they want to create another “Ottawa knows best” federally directed program that is likely to be a significant debacle.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the much-discussed Bill introduced by the Liberal government. What to think about it?
This is an unusual bill. On the one hand, it proposes helping families with children under the age of 12 access dental care. On the other hand, it provides rent assistance to those who are struggling to make ends meet because of inflation. In essence, these are ideas we cannot very well oppose. The bill is positive, and the intention is laudable.
The question, however, is why and how it was done. I think that how it was done is more important, because although people may have good intentions, the way they carry them out can be less than perfect.
In this case, the Liberal government says that it introduced this bill because of inflation. However, the real reason they introduced the bill is that the Liberal government across the aisle made a deal with the NDP, and the NDP sold out for a pittance. The NDP promised that they would force down anything put in front of them without a peep. They promised they would close their eyes and bury their heads in the sand even if it made no sense. All the NDP asked for in return was that the government implement a dental care program.
2021 is over and done with, and we are now at the end of 2022. The government was not going to do it, and, understandably, the NDP was disappointed. The NDP therefore asked the government to at least pretend to respect the deal under which it gave the Liberals carte blanche.
The government then agreed to develop a program, which it basically scribbled on the back of a napkin. It presented a program that had several problems. Actually, it is not really a program, because all they are doing is sending out cheques. Are they really enabling people to access dental care by sending out cheques? Will people really have less trouble paying their rent if the government sends out cheques? These are reasonable questions. If we take a closer look at the bill, we may be able to answer them. It is even more important to know who will be receiving those cheques. Another issue is how the money will be distributed.
Rent assistance should help everyone. The government plans to send a $500 cheque to families who earn less than $35,000 a year. I must say, it is very difficult to make ends meet when you earn less than $35,000 a year, especially with ever-increasing rental costs. According to one of the program’s eligibility criteria, families who earn less than $35,000 a year must allocate at least 30% of their income to rent.
Therein lies the rub, and it is the same thing for dental benefits. In Quebec, we decided to help our people, but Canada has decided to adopt another approach. In Quebec, for example, we have co-operative housing that fosters sharing. People often pay rent based on their income. Some people pay higher rent to compensate for those who pay lower rent. We try to avoid having people pay more than 30% of their income on housing. That does not mean that these people are fabulously wealthy or that they are driving Ferraris. It simply means that there are people helping them make ends meet.
Unfortunately, these people are not eligible for the assistance in this bill, and that is disappointing. The same is true for people who live in low-income housing. In Quebec, we decided to finance social housing so that many people could have access to rental housing and put a roof over their families’ heads. These are people who do not have a lot of money. Some of them are retired and live solely on their federal pension and a few cents from the guaranteed income supplement. They can barely put food on the table.
The government says that it will help everyone except these people, the very poorest. They are telling those who are struggling the hardest to make ends meet that, since they are already getting assistance, the government will help someone else instead. That is disappointing, because many Quebeckers will be completely ineligible, since Quebec has a social safety net and the federal government across the way did not take that into account when it developed its program at the kitchen table. Naturally, the New Democrats are rubbing their hands together with glee because they can say they gained something. It is disappointing, because, in the end, Quebeckers will be the losers, and they will lose out even more with the second component of the program, the dental benefit.
The Bloc already had reservations about this bill, but it is even more worried about the dental care benefit. I will tell members why. When people think teeth, they do not automatically think federal government. They think that dental care is a health issue and that the health system is under the Quebec government’s jurisdiction. This is even mentioned in sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The Liberals are certainly very familiar with the Constitution. They wrote it themselves in 1982 when they patriated it. They added a few bits and pieces to it, but they must have looked to see what was already in it before adding other bits, to make sure that it all made sense. They are the guardians of the famous Constitution they imposed on Quebec in 1867 and again in 1982. They can say what they want, but there was no referendum in Quebec before the Constitution was adopted in 1867. There were even major debates about whether it was a good thing or not. The vote had a very low turnout, unlike all the other votes, and they wanted to avoid putting the question to the ballot box and to Quebeckers.
Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, are important. I remember hearing members across the aisle yesterday saying that it is crazy, that we cannot vote on the monarchy, we cannot sever ties with the King, because we would have to open the Constitution. For them, the Constitution is like the Bible. They lie in bed at night reading and praying to the Constitution. We cannot overlook that fact. It is obvious. However, when we see the great bills introduced here on a daily basis, we realize that the Constitution is practically used as toilet paper. Clearly, when it does not suit them, they do not respect their own Constitution.
That is sad, because under the Constitution, health care is the purview of the provinces and Quebec. If the Liberals had said that they were going to give dental benefits to indigenous people or military members, that might make sense, because their health care actually is a federal responsibility. However, it is outrageous for them to meddle in matters that are none of their business when, as we know, they are not even capable of providing us with passports. People want to take flights, but they have to wait in line for days to get a passport. Once they get to the airport, they have to wait for hours to collect their bags. Then they have to stand in never-ending lines to board the plane, and when they get out, they do it all over again.
I went on a flight very recently, and I was amazed to discover there was no waiting in line in Europe. Everything moved quickly. I was really surprised. I wondered how this could be possible, since we were told that the problem was global. Apparently, we are different from the rest of the world. Canada has even ranked among the worst countries.
The federal government is not even able to provide the services it is actually responsible for. It can take years to process immigration applications for temporary foreign workers, leaving businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy. They are calling us in a panic because they cannot get the workers they requested a long time ago, and yet this federal government is telling Quebec that it knows how to deal with the problems. It says that it knows better than Quebec about things Quebec is already doing. It says it will impose a new system on top of the system that already exists in Quebec.
Let us not forget that all children under the age of 10 are already covered in Quebec. There is already universal coverage in Quebec for youth who need dental care, so this federal program does absolutely nothing for all children under the age of 10. The sad part is that Quebeckers will continue to pay their taxes to the federal government. What will happen? The federal government will take Quebeckers' money and send it elsewhere, because Quebec already helps its residents. What I was saying earlier about rent will help happen again with children. Ultimately, we are getting shafted.
The federal government will not only cover children under the age of 10, but children aged 10 to 12, as well. We are talking about a two-year gap. It could be argued that getting a little something for children between 10 and 12 is worthwhile, but that emphasizes another difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. We have a much higher unionization rate than the rest of Canada. The NDP should be happy about that, but that is not reflected in their support for the bill. Since Quebec has a much higher unionization rate, that means that Quebeckers often have better working conditions and are able to negotiate to obtain better coverage, including dental care. As a result, many children between 10 and 12 are already get dental coverage.
It is sad because, once again, they built—
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to join in the debate this morning on Bill .
As members know, Bill has two provisions to it. One is to ensure that children under 12 in families with limited incomes will be able to get support for their oral health. We have heard that the Conservative members are opposed to this. I have heard them say over and again that dental care is not a priority. I have heard them say, very specifically, that children who cannot access dental care do not need it. I can hardly believe it, yet I hear it over and again. In fact, the member for said at committee, “I think very clearly we've obviously established there's no dental crisis here.”
I do not know which rock the Conservatives have been hiding under because the reality is this. Over 500,000 children cannot access dental care because their families do not have the financial means to do so and they do not have the coverage. Children miss school, they suffer and they are in pain because they do not have access to dental care. People end up in emergency rooms because they need dental care support.
Just because the Conservatives, including their leader, have had dental care support covered by the taxpayers for decades does not mean that there are people who do not need it. I have met families in my community that need this service. They are very thankful. The dream of the NDP, the vision of Tommy Douglas, who brought all of us national universal health care to years ago, was always to see dental care included along with pharmacare. Now, 60 years later, in a minority government, the NDP has forced the Liberals to deliver exactly that, and I am very proud of this work.
The other provision related to this bill is with respect to housing. It is not everything I want, but it is something. The NDP was able to force the government to provide a one-time payment to low-income families, a $500 housing benefit for approximately 1.8 million people across the country.
I also moved four amendments at committee. Three of them passed, which is why we are back here debating the amendments today. I am glad the government supported these amendments and that the minister has, on the two that require royal recommendation, undertaken to do that.
What are these amendments?
One is with respect to the application process. Bill originally only provided a 90-day window for people to apply. I was very worried about that, because people have technology issues. They do not have access to technology or some may not even be technology literate. Many seniors in my riding also have a language barrier. Therefore, my fear was that 90 days would not be enough time for people to access this program, because they have to apply for it. It is not automatic. Therefore, I moved an amendment to change the 90-day requirement to 120 days to give that bit of extra time for people to make the application. I am glad it was supported and the motion passed, not because of the Conservatives but because of the Bloc and the Liberals. I am thankful for that.
The other amendment I moved at committee was about the provisions related to eligible rent that a person could claim if they were in a room and board situation. The original bill said they could claim only 75% of that rent. I was able to move an amendment to change it to 90%, to increase it slightly. Why? If people are paying room and board with other services like utilities, the utilities may not be 25% of their total rent, yet 25% will be deducted from their claim. My view was that we needed to close that gap, so I moved an amendment to change it from 75% to 90%.
I am very glad the government and the Bloc supported it, wanting to support people who need this one-time housing benefit to help them out. I am very thankful for the passage of that amendment.
Lastly, the amendment that also passed with the support of the Bloc and the Liberals was to ensure that families who are in a cohabitation situation are able to claim the benefit according to the actual rent the respecting partners pay, not 50%. The original bill says they can claim only 50% of their total rent. To me it should be according to the amount they pay, not some arbitrary number like the 50% the government had put forward. I am glad that an amendment to say it should reflect the actual rent was adopted with the support of the Bloc and the Liberals.
These are the enhancements we were able to bring forward as New Democrats to this bill. That is what we are debating today.
There are people, the Conservatives, who say no, they do not support it. I keep hearing them say we cannot afford it. That is their underlying message. Despite the fact that the oil and gas sector made $147 billion last year, they will not have any discussion about imposing a profiteering tax and making sure those companies pay their fair share so that those who are most vulnerable and in the greatest need in our community will have a bit of support during this time.
Who are the people who will benefit? We are talking about people whose income is less than $35,000 a couple or less than $20,000 for a single person, who are paying more than 30% of their total income toward rent. It is a pittance, if we think about it, $500 to support them, yet the Conservatives say no, we cannot afford it. My goodness, how could we? The roof is falling in. We cannot even fix our steps. What are these steps? These steps that we need to address are the very people who have the greatest need.
To all the members of the House who oppose this, let me just put on the record how many people would benefit from this in their respective provinces: In Newfoundland, 16,800 people will benefit from this; in P.E.I., 4,000; in Nova Scotia, 45,400; New Brunswick, 28,500; Quebec, 568,800; Ontario, 718,400; Manitoba, 63,700; Saskatchewan, 49,500; Alberta, 130,900; British Columbia, 159,600; all together, 1.785 million people. That is the number of people who could receive this housing benefit.
We are talking about a $500 housing benefit at a time when inflation, the cost of living and the cost of food are skyrocketing. That is what we are talking about. Can we really find it within ourselves to say we cannot afford it? Can we really say that those people do not deserve some help at this critical time?
I know the Conservatives might be frustrated with my comments. They should be, because they are being called out. They are being called out on their approach to this. I get that being in government is about determining where the priorities are. New Democrats are here to help people. That is what this bill is all about.
Madam Speaker, today I am proud to speak to the government's plan to make life more affordable for hard-working Canadians from coast to coast to coast, through Bill , an act respecting direct financial support for dental care.
It is fundamental that I begin my remarks by reminding the House why this legislation is essential for Canadians as we make the cost of living more affordable. In a time of global inflation, families are having to make challenging decisions at the grocery store, when paying rent or other essential bills, and with all aspects of their daily lives.
Inflation is a global challenge that is not restricted by borders and does not discriminate based on socio-economic status. It is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by Russia's unprovoked and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, and the government is committed to helping families weather the impact of the higher cost of living by putting more money back into the pockets of middle-class Canadians and those who continue to work hard to join them.
When the government came into power in 2015, we understood how critical it was to cut taxes for the middle class and raise them for the wealthiest 1%. We have continuously stood with Canadians during the most challenging times, and we will continue to provide essential support through the implementation of Bill .
The current oral health care system does not provide equal access to services for Canadians. We know families have made the challenging decision to forgo essential dental treatments due to the high costs. To ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities have access to dental care, we have proposed Bill , an act that will deliver more than $900 million to support oral health through the Canada dental benefit.
Beginning in 2022-23, children under the age of 12 without insurance will be eligible to receive dental coverage. Advocating for improved access to the Canadian oral health care system is essential to Canadians. We understand that many families find themselves in a difficult position when they consider seeking oral health services. We do not want parents to find themselves in the position where they must decide between their children postponing or forgoing dental care at a time when their teeth are still developing.
In Canada, dental surgery performed under general anaesthesia in pediatric hospitals is the most common day surgery. This procedure accounts for one-third of all surgeries performed on children between the ages of one and five. We know that 57% of children aged six to 11 have had a cavity, with an average of 2.5 teeth affected by decay.
In more severe cases, tooth decay in young children can lead to an infectious disease, one that causes pain, interferes with their sleep and growth, and causes lifelong impacts to oral and general health. It is the children in our communities who have experienced the painful and detrimental effects of poor oral health. It is our responsibility to ensure that no child, present or future, will experience the pain of not receiving essential dental treatments.
The Canada dental benefit will ensure that children who have not had access to routine oral health care will have improved oral health and an improved quality of life by reducing the potential need for more invasive and costly treatments later on in life. The benefit proposed in this legislation would help break the cycle of poor oral health for the youngest Canadians.
The Canada dental benefit would provide direct payments to eligible applicants, totalling up to $650 per year per child for families with an income under $70,000. An estimated $390 will be provided for families with an income of $70,000 to $79,999 and $260 for those with a family income of $80,000 to $90,000.
It is estimated that over 500,000 Canadian children could benefit from this targeted investment of over $900 million. To access the Canada dental benefit, parents or guardians of eligible children would apply through the Canada Revenue Agency. Applicants will need to confirm that their child does not have access to private dental coverage and that they will incur out-of-pocket dental care expenses for which they will use the benefit.
To be eligible for the funds, people may not have received a full reimbursement for treatment under another government plan. They will also need to provide documentation to verify the out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the benefit period. This may include providing receipts to the CRA.
Our government will take action to ensure that Canadians receive the benefit as quickly as possible, so that children may begin receiving necessary dental care. This legislation will give the authority to implement this application-based upfront benefit payment to eligible Canadians later this year.
Our government has established December 1, 2022, as the target implementation date of the Canada dental benefit, pending parliamentary approval and royal assent. The benefit will retroactively cover expenses from October 1, 2022, as long as the child remains eligible until December 1.
In addition to our government's commitment to this program, we will continue to support oral health in Canada for all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We will continue to work with partners and stakeholders in providing oral health services and making life more affordable.
In budget 2022, our government committed $5.3 billion over five years, and $1.7 billion ongoing, to provide dental care for Canadians who otherwise could not afford it. Our government is working diligently to design and implement a long-term national dental care program to ensure that every Canadian can have access to oral health services.
It will take time to ensure that this complex national program is sustainable long-term. However, it will remain a top priority for our government. We will continue working closely with key stakeholders, industry partners, academics and dentistry associations and organizations to help inform decisions on implementing a national dental care program. Until such time, the proposed Canada dental benefit would provide parents with children under the age of 12 with financial support to help address the children's dental care needs and increase their quality of life.
To provide the time necessary for Health Canada and the CRA to make the necessary preparations to deliver the benefit to Canada, the legislation we are proposing needs to be approved urgently.
I trust that all members will agree that oral health services are essential to Canadians, and join us in supporting this bill that will help thousands of families from coast to coast to coast.
Our government understands that parents want to do what is best for their children, and that financial barriers should not prevent them from accessing the necessary dental care their children require. Passing this bill is an important step toward protecting the oral health of children throughout Canada and ensuring that we eliminate the cycle of forgoing necessary dental care.
Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to rise and speak in ths House on behalf of the constituents of Saskatoon West. I thought it would be fair to let members know, right up front, that I am planning to vote against this legislation. I know they are always curious about why we vote the way we do, so I would like them know why I am going to be voting that way.
First, I want to set the stage regarding the rental benefit that is in this legislation. We are in an era of the highest inflation that we have had in 40 years. We have food prices that are at double-digit inflation right now. Our housing costs are among the highest in the world. It is very difficult for people to afford to live right now.
Our energy costs are high. They are higher than they need to be because of all the taxes, including the carbon tax that was put on by the current Liberal government. Home heating is more expensive than ever. In fact, this winter many people in Canada will be paying double or more on their home heating bills than they have paid before. It is partly due to the tripling of the carbon tax that is happening.
These are difficult and challenging times for people with low incomes, seniors and also for those who have fixed incomes. It is very difficult for them to find a way to stretch that money to make it work with the increased expenses that we have.
There is an old proverb that says this: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. I suggest that this plan is in the first category and this is why.
What we need are long-term solutions. We need a way to fix things. This is a short-term band-aid. It is a one-time payment.
The average rent in Canada right now is about $2,000 a month. Take that payment of $500 on a monthly basis and it is a quarter of a month or one week. Realistically, thinking of it over a year, it is $42 a month for a year. The truth is that there probably is not going to be an additional payment of this type during the tenure of the government. If the tenure of the government happens to be four years, which I certainly hope it is not, that would be $10 a month over four years. Ten dollars a month on a $2,000 rent bill makes no difference at all.
Nobody is going to refuse that $500, and I am certain that people need that money. The problem is that it is going to alleviate the problem for today. What about tomorrow, when the next bill comes due? How are they going to do that? This is not a long-term solution.
What is a long-term solution? We could be encouraging more housing and not simply throwing money after housing. I was a home builder for 12 years, so I am well aware of the challenges faced by home builders and housing providers in this country. One of the things that always frustrated me was how our municipalities would slow down the process and gum up the works. When people wanted to get a building permit, for example, it would take months to get one when it should not happen that way. Builders who are experienced and accredited should be able to get building permits quickly.
Members may have heard the term “gatekeepers” used around this place. That is a great example of a gatekeeper. They are some of the municipal systems that are in place to restrict and prevent things from happening in a quick way. That is something that we need to encourage them to fix.
Another thing is reducing red tape in bureaucracy in general. I am thinking of the building codes. We keep having more complicated building codes piled on top of building codes. Every time a new requirement is added to the building code it adds costs to the product they are building, which in this case is a house, and to the time to build it. Building codes are another thing that really reduce and end up restricting the amount of housing supply.
Ultimately, we need lower interest rates because everybody has to pay and it affects the cost to everybody. How can we lower our interest rates? What we need to do to lower our interest rates is build up our economy. Some people may not realize it, but over the last three years, most of the jobs that have been created in this country have been government jobs. They have not been private sector jobs. They have been government jobs that are ultimately paid for, through our taxes, by all of us who are working.
What we really need to do is focus on the natural resources that we have in our country. When we develop, sell and export our natural resources, that produces not only wealth for our country, but also tax revenues for the various levels of government, including the federal government. We have oil and natural gas. They are the third-largest reserves in the world. Canada has the best standards, when it comes to environment and labour, and we pay very well in this country. Compared to almost every other country, we are far ahead in being a better producer and a more environmentally friendly producer of oil and gas. We need to do that.
We need pipelines so that we can get our products to the east and to the west. Right now, we cannot help Europe very much with natural gas, which is a huge need because of the war in Ukraine. It is a shame that we cannot help Europe when we have exactly what it needs.
We have rare earth elements, and in my riding we have potash. We have potash all over the place in Saskatchewan and have a company called Nutrien. It has thousands of employees in Saskatoon, and we lead the world in potash production. The government is trying to push through a reduction in potash use in our agriculture sector, which is simply going to reduce the amount of output and the amount of food that is grown, ultimately raising the price of food.
We cannot do that. We need to encourage non-government jobs and private sector jobs that create wealth for our country and raise tax revenue. Ultimately, this will stop inflation, and if we stop inflation we can stop our deficits and our borrowing and can start to enjoy the benefits of a strong economy. To do that, we especially need a “pay as you go” law so that when new spending is introduced, we find a way to save it somewhere else. The result of that would be low inflation and lower taxes. That would be teaching a man to fish.
I want to talk a bit about the dental benefit. There is a dental health crisis in Canada. Actually, no, there is not. Now that I think about it, it is a mental health crisis. That is what is happening in Canada. I have not heard of a dental health crisis in this country.
What about the mental health crisis? One in five Canadians experiences mental illness. Every day in Canada, an average of 10 people die by suicide. Mental health challenges affect every Canadian in different ways. Some of us struggle with diagnosed conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Others struggle in silence with shame, eating disorders, addictions or alcoholism.
Causes are hard to pinpoint. It can be trauma or tragedy of the worst kind in childhood or adulthood. It can be a physiological chemical imbalance. The DNA and genes we inherit from our parents play a role. Learned behaviour growing up at home, in school and in the workplace can also contribute. Add in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income bracket and other factors, and treatment, unfortunately, is haphazard. Some mental health disorders are diagnosed by the police and treated by the courts with prison sentences. Other people are fortunate enough to find themselves a physician, psychiatrist or other professional who can help them.
What we do not have in this country is an actual strategy to tackle mental health, particularly the causes, symptoms and treatments, on a national scale. Over two years ago, my Conservative colleague from proposed a national suicide hotline. Surely we would think this is a no-brainer the Liberal government could support for Canadians. However, if I dialed 988 right now, it would tell me to hang up and call a different number in English only.
What should we do when a francophone experiences a mental health crisis?
We therefore continue to wait. In the last election, the Liberals promised $4.5 billion for mental health, and we continue to wait. Instead, we have $700 million for the dental health crisis.
Why are we looking at this legislation today? We have a problem to be solved. All legislation is like this: There is a problem to be solved and legislation is supposedly going to fix that problem. What are the problems we have today? We have the cost of living. The rental benefit would not fix that; it is a short-term band-aid. We have a mental health crisis, and this dental benefit certainly would not fix that. Why do we have this legislation? Was there research, focus groups or surveys? I doubt there are many people who want a short-term band-aid on our economy. I also doubt there are many people who want to spend more money and put us into more debt.
I suggest this bill is simply the equivalent of a sideshow, a carny trick or a shiny object in the window meant to distract Canadians. It is meant to have Canadians believe that action is being taken to address poverty and affordability issues while nothing is really being done. Bill is like those fixed games at the carnival. It is flashy and exciting looking, but as we keep playing the NDP-Liberal game and keep losing our hard-earned money with little return, we realize it is a sucker's game. They are taking money away from us in the way of higher taxes. They continue to have Canadians pay more hoping to get that oversized stuffed animal. Then they give us a free play and another free play, except in this one they say we do not have to pay for it. However, it is our grandchildren who are going to be paying for it in the future when our national debt comes due. In the meantime, they give us some scraps. The government is running that kind of game.
There is a better way to run our country. For years, the Conservatives have warned that there are consequences from the Liberal-NDP's actions. The Conservatives call on the government to scour government spending, find savings for proposals like the $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank and stop useless spending like the $54-million ArriveCAN app. Finally, the Conservatives call on the Liberals to cancel all planned tax increases, including the payroll tax hikes on January 1 and the tripling of the carbon tax on gas—
Madam Speaker, I want to recognize that I am speaking from the House of Commons in Ottawa, which is on unceded Algonquin territory. We are speaking today about a bill that is extremely important for those of us in the House, but also for Canadians listening to the debate and Canadians feeling the pressures of affordability right now.
Bill would address two key facets of affordability in this country, housing and dental care, and the first thing I want to broach is why we are targeting these two particular areas. It does not matter which ridings members represent in this chamber or which part of the country they come from, Canadians are feeling the same sentiment about the cost of living: Prices are escalating and life has simply become too expensive. This is partly a function of the pandemic, partly a function of global conflicts, such as Russia's unjust invasion of Ukraine, and partly a function of supply chains and the need to make them more resilient. What we are doing as a government is listening to those concerns and responding directly to them.
Last week, we provided a doubling of the GST rebate, something I believe all parties in this chamber supported, for which I am thankful and I believe Canadians are thankful. Today we are again talking about targeted relief on two indicia: housing and extending health care to include dental health.
This bill would do two pivotal things. In terms of the housing benefit, it proposes to provide a top-up payment to something called the Canada housing benefit. It is a $1.2-billion investment that would result in a $500 benefit being made available to approximately 1.8 million people in this country who rent, including students and people struggling with the cost of rental housing. The second key facet of the bill, as we have heard in the debate thus far today, is that it proposes to provide dental care for uninsured families with incomes of less than $90,000 annually, targeting dental relief to children under the age of 12.
It is important to recap for Canadians where we are in this fight to build a more affordable Canada and ease issues related to the cost of living.
What have we been doing on the housing front since I was elected to this place in 2015? About two years into our first mandate as a government, we launched a national housing strategy. At the time it was launched, it was approximately $40 billion deep. That housing strategy has expanded to the tune of $72 billion now, which included a $14-billion investment in housing in budget 2022.
Key for the purposes of this debate is what we are doing now with the national housing strategy. It involves the Canada housing benefit, a $4-billion program within our broader strategy that provides an average of $2,500 in direct assistance to help those who have low incomes with the high cost of rent they are facing.
There are also other aspects of what we have been doing with respect to affordability. We could talk about the Canada workers benefit or something that I am very proud of, the Canada child benefit, which is a means-tested, non-taxable benefit that is targeted directly to families that need the assistance the most. With respect to child care, we can talk about what we have done in just the past 12 months to alleviate the costs of child care for people raising young families around the country, reducing those costs by 50% by the end of this year and to $10 a day by the end of four years.
We have taken significant steps, and what I have found troubling in my time in this chamber as a parliamentarian is the consistent opposition we have faced, particularly from His Majesty's loyal opposition, on many of the programs I just outlined. I was very pleased to see support for the doubling of the GST rebate as recently as last week, but I am still troubled by the fact that an initiative such as the one we are talking about today, which is, again, targeted relief to assist those who need it the most with some of their most basic necessities such as housing and extended health care, are being opposed by some of the members opposite. I would urge them, through the course of their deliberations on this bill, to change their position and vote for it.
I want to dwell a bit on housing and dental care as specific topics. We know that housing has become more expensive in this country in recent times. At the end of September 2022, the average rent for property types across the country saw a monthly increase of 4.3%, an annual increase of 15% and a 21% increase since the market low that was experienced in April 2021.
The city of Toronto consistently ranks as one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, somewhat neck in neck with Vancouver. We know this has become a challenge for the constituents I represent and for the people in Toronto, Vancouver and right across the country, something I am reminded of by my constituents and the stakeholders in my community.
I want to highlight a couple of key stakeholders that have been doing consistent work in the area of affordable housing for many years.
One is the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, which has taken it upon itself to index the amount of rooming houses that are available as deeply affordable housing in the community of Parkdale. As well, through its land trust initiative, it has collaborated with city and provincial partners to purchase land and keep rooming houses viable in the city of Toronto, in my community, and to keep people who need supportive and affordable housing properly housed. It is a tremendous initiative. It does that in conjunction with the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, which manages the property it was able to purchase in 2019.
Another program I want to highlight with respect to housing is what we have been able to do very successfully, as part of the national housing strategy, with the rapid housing initiative. This is an initiative that started out with about $500 million for urban cities, $200 million of which was dedicated to Toronto, and was subsequently doubled in budget 2021 because of the popularity of the program. It provides acute, targeted assistance to those who need it the most and does it quickly, as the name denotes. Within 12 months people are housed very quickly.
What the new totals mean for the rapid housing initiative, as part of this broader suite of housing assistance that we are providing, is that the city of Toronto will be receiving $440 million to create more than 1,000 new homes and do it very quickly. How does this impact Canadians? It impacts my constituents. We have $14 million of that money coming directly to Parkdale to assist with the creation of about 50 modular units on Dunn Avenue. That type of housing policy takes root, takes hold and starts to work quickly.
This bill would help in the same vein. Bill would provide an additional benefit for those who already receive the Canada housing benefit. When I say targeted, I mean tested. The facts are important to articulate in this chamber. We are talking about a one-time benefit that will go to applicants with incomes of less than $35,000 if they are a family or less than $20,000 as individuals. Certainly, every member in the House can agree with the idea that the people in those low-income brackets deserve our help the most and deserve targeted support on behalf of the Parliament of Canada.
Last, I want to turn to the idea of dental care. We know it is part and parcel of health care as we conceive it in our country. Members heard my intervention with respect to the previous speaker. We have heard from entities the Canadian Association of Public Health Dentistry talk about people who do not receive the dental care they need because of the costs associated with it. In fact, 55% of dental care right now is delivered by those who have private insurance, 40% of Canadians pay out of pocket for their dental care, and some just do not access it because they simply cannot afford to. That creates a knock-on impact to our health care system. People who do not receive the primary health care they need pre-emptively to prevent problems from mushrooming end up in our emergency rooms in our hospitals, which are publicly funded, and that has a knock-on cost for our health care system. Let us avoid that cost by providing something as simple as basic dental care for people who need it the most.
I would dare to say that it is hard to argue with the needs of children with respect to their growth and development. Addressing their extended health care needs by providing free of charge something as basic as visits to the dentist is an important thing to do, and we try to do that through this legislation.
Targeting housing and extended health care benefits through the lens of dental care is critical to dealing with the affordability challenges being faced by Canadians right now. That is why I support the bill and I urge my colleagues to do the same.
Madam Speaker, today we are discussing Bill , known colloquially as the rental and dental bill. Before discussing the substance of the legislation, it is important to give some context as to the position we are in.
The bill is largely in response to the economic conditions that were created by the Liberal government. After seven years in power, we have seen a dramatic rise in the cost of living and the pain for Canadians has risen exponentially over those past seven years.
Let us take a bit of walk in history. When the government was elected in 2015, the then candidate, now , said that there would be a tiny deficit, so small that one could not even see it. It appears that maybe he was a little off in that math calculation. We know that the NDP are not well renowned for their math abilities. It is perhaps not surprising where we are with the NDP-Liberal coalition. Under the previous finance minister, there was a $100 billion deficit spending before COVID even touched our land. That is $100 billion of reduced fiscal firepower that the government could have used to help Canadians. Instead, it piled on to the deficit.
Then let us go to COVID, and let us put the record straight. The Conservatives supported COVID benefit supports. People were in difficult situations so we supported many of the programs to help them through it. What the Conservatives did not support was the wasteful spending. Over $200 billion, according to the government's Parliamentary Budget Officer, were not used for COVID. Therefore, we have $100 billion and $200 billion of non-COVID-related deficit spending.
Let us look at the government's track record. It has racked up more debt than all the previous governments combined, from Sir John A. Macdonald to Brian Mulroney to Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
History, it has been said, repeats itself. In this case, we are certainly seeing that. In Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time we saw record spending, record deficits and record debt. What followed that? Inflation.
I was watching the finance committee when the Leader of the Opposition, then just the member for , talk about the fact that if we printed money, we would get inflation. The response from the Governor of the Bank of Canada was, no, that we would not have inflation. The response from the was that inflation was not an issue; it would be deflation.
If doctor is completely off with his or her diagnosis that has consequences. If an economist is completely off in his or her predictions that has consequences. Unfortunately, for the government, it is going to very much fulfill the definition of insanity and keep doing the same things over and over again.
Let us talk a bit about the pain that inflation is causing Canadians. Food inflation is now at over 11.4%. For the members in the House, it is not fun to go to the grocery store, but for the most vulnerable in our society, it is downright devastating. When they go to the grocery store, when they look at their bank accounts on their apps or count the cash in their wallets, they realize they simply do not have enough to feed the whole family. There are literally moms out there who are watering down milk. In 2022, over 20% of Canadians went to food banks. This reached a record high in Canada in March of 2022, with 1.46 million Canadians going to the food banks. Fully one-third of the clients of food banks are children. This is a desperate situation.
Seven years in, I love how the government seems to think inflation is something that just came in, and that this affordability crisis is something that was out of its control. It has had seven years to control the economy and take the steps necessary to make life more affordable for Canadians. Instead, it has done the exact opposite. It continues to tax and spend, and tax and spend.
Conservatives definitely believe that all Canadians should pay their fair share, yet there has been no nation on this earth ever in the history of humanity that has taxed itself into prosperity. Once again, the Liberal government seems to be finding this out the hard way.
When we look at the costs of living, one of the primary drivers of our everyday costs is the cost of energy. The government has done nothing but drive up the cost of energy. Some will even say that is perhaps on purpose, as it continues to reduce our ability to extract and explore great clean and sustainable Canadian energy. At the same time, it is piling on its carbon tax. The carbon tax is set to triple, which will increase the cost of home heating, groceries and everything.
When we look across G7 countries, every single one has attempted to reduce the cost of fuel. The Liberal government has not. It is going to go ahead and triple the carbon tax. It just does not see the suffering of the people of Northumberland—Peterborough South and the rest of Canada, as they go to work every day trying to put gas in their cars and feed their families while inflation continues to increase year after year after year.
What is the government's next step? If we look at the workers of this country, we are dealing with a labour shortage, and what is the government's response? On the affordability crisis, we have seen its response is to make things more expensive. It does not make much sense to me, but I do not know. Its response to a labour shortage is to disincentivize work. The average employee earning $65,000 a year will pay $750 more in payroll tax because of the government's efforts to increase taxes over and over again on our workers.
We have the best workers in the world. We should be incentivizing and celebrating their work going forward, not continuing to add additional layers of taxes and regulation that do nothing but suffocate workers and business owners. We need to have an environment where we encourage, celebrate and incentivize work.
Once again, the government's response to an affordability crisis is to increase expenses. It is to raise the inflation tax and raise the carbon tax. Its response to a labour shortage is to disincentivize work through incredibly high amounts of taxation. There are people who are earning $50,000 or $60,000 a year who are being taxed at a cumulative rate of taxation of 30%, 40% or even 50% after we add clawbacks, and provincial and municipal taxation. It is simply not leaving enough in their pockets.
The government's response to this affordability crisis, in addition to increasing taxes and making life less affordable for Canadians, is to virtue signal to make it look like it is doing something. There is a rental bill that would offer a $500 one-time payment. In my riding, in communities such as Port Hope, Cobourg, Orono, Cramahe, Campbellford and Brighton, the average rent is more than $2,000, if one can find a place. That $500 would be a mere drop in the bucket in helping our residents.
What the government needs to do is give itself a look in the mirror and reverse the policies that have caused the conditions Canadians are currently in. A simple $500 one-time cheque, more of the same tax and spend, will not solve the issues that plague this country. We need to celebrate workers. We need to empower businesses, and we need to make life more affordable by getting this inflation machine under control.
Mr. Speaker, I thank all my colleagues for coming here today to listen to my speech, my colleagues on this side of the House in particular. It is an honour to stand in front of the House and talk about a bill that is going to affect Canadians for a long time going forward, another trinket.
Let me start, because it is a big bill, by focusing my comments on the dental care benefit that is part of this bill, Bill . I see the Liberals over there are shrugging their shoulders about the support they gave the NDP when it brought this legislation forward. They know the support from the NDP, to continue on with its support of the government, came cheap. Dental care is a cheap trinket for them to push forward here.
The House will note that the government has aligned with the NDP, continuing to drip a dental care plan into delivery with its continued deficit. Why would it not? No sooner would the Liberals deliver on their full promise for dental care than the NDP would up its demands for continued support of this spendy government. Who is playing whom in this support agreement? It allows the Liberals to continue to plunge the country into an economic hole, and it will take decades of responsible government to recover our previous fiscal stability.
That is why dental care is in front of the House. It is not for any health reasons and not because it is going to give something to Canadians that has been taken away with the inflation that is making a dent in their take-home pay. It is a political support agreement, so that the NDP can show people that it might be relevant, even though it is backing a government whose spending is out of control. A great amount of taxpayers' money is going to Liberal lackeys.
Dental care support is a nice gift. Like my colleague said earlier, it is a nice shiny trinket in the window. Dental care promotes good health. There is no doubt about it. Oral health leads to better health overall. We have known this for years.
I spoke to a friend at home. She brought it forth to me, asking why the federal government would establish a new federal bureaucracy in charge of Canadians' dental care, and why there is an “Ottawa knows best” approach to superimpose a new federal program on top of the existing provincial dental programs across Canada, because each provincial jurisdiction has a provincial dental care program. She asked how costly the program would be and how much taxpayer funds would be spent, or lost, in bureaucratic overlap. Federal bureaucrats would be interacting needlessly with provincial bureaucrats in a program that is already being delivered in every province across Canada. It would not be a health transfer to fix an underfunded health care system in Canada, but a new program overlap.
Let us ask the NDP about the Halloween candy it has bargained for with the government. It is provincial responsibility. Did any premiers, including the NDP premier in British Columbia, ask for dental care funding in their provinces? The answer is a very clear “no”. What did the premiers ask for? They asked for an extra $26 billion from the federal government to help the strain on our health care system, a strain that has been exacerbated by a pandemic that lasted two years, and to help with costs thrust upon the shoulders of the provincial governments.
Notably, all of this is provincial responsibility. The Canada Health Act imposed standards of health care delivery on the provinces, so it was a shared jurisdiction for a while. Health care was funded fifty-fifty, until the Liberal budget cuts of the mid-1990s, when suddenly it was changed and became not the fifty-fifty that the Health Care Act was premised on. Now, 22% of health care funding in Canada is funded by the federal government, and for every province health care spending has become the largest budget item.
The government has been running huge budget deficits the entire seven years since it was elected, so with this new program it is going to continue to buy Canadians with their own money and continue to put it onto the backs of taxpayers who are not paying taxes today and may not even be born today. This intergenerational transfer of taxation, versus the benefits that are being felt by Canadians today, is unjust.
The country's finances right now are more strained than they have been since the Liberals cut health care funding in the 1990s. Perhaps the NDP needs to take a lesson from history about how this ends.
My friend in Calgary and I did a little more research on dental coverage for people in my province of Alberta. Alberta child care benefits provide full dental coverage for low-income families. There are notable differences between the Alberta plans and the proposed coverage in this bill. The Alberta plan covers low-income households for full coverage up to the age of 18 in low-income families. This new plan would be for low-income families to cover children up to $650 per child up to the age of 12. In Alberta, it is up to the age of 18, no matter the number of children.
Additionally, the definition of low income ends in Alberta at $46,932, again, to cover 100% of the dental expenses of children under the age of 18. This new program would give a sliding amount per family up to a family income of $90,000 down to $260 per child. Will there be overlaps with these different definitions? Yes, of course, and obviously there will be. Private insurance pays out first; provincial insurance on top of that is a close second; and then there is the federal plan. Is this just another public service jobs debacle on the horizon? They are all different formulae and all different eligibilities. This spells huge bureaucratic overlap in the delivery of this new service.
Obviously, we would have to hire more federal government employees on top of the 15% increase we have had over the last two years. We are on a job-hiring spree, and we are getting less and less from federal government services. Surely, a realistic, accountable federal government could deliver a program like this a little more effectively. Unfortunately, a realistic approach to better dental care would not allow the government to buy the support of the NDP. This is another Liberal-NDP boondoggle. Canadians deserve better. They deserve not just optics, but the actual delivery of programs that help them and do not overlap with all their other provincial benefits.
Let us talk about inflation and how this is actually impacted. Every Canadian is having more expenses, including dental expenses, expenses for food, and expenses for housing, which is pronounced and is addressed by a minuscule amount in this bill. These are all mounting expenses for Canadians, and the government has thrust this upon Canadians with its full-on federal spending of over a half a trillion dollars in deficits over the past handful of years. It is a ridiculous financial strategy that has led us to where we are today, with mounting inflation, with mounting government debts and with no insight as to how or where this ends, except on the backs of future generations of Canada.
The cost of living is going up; inflation is going up; deficits are going up, and the government does not have a handle on how it deals with those real problems that are affecting the lives of Canadians. Its approach is to give trinkets. There are trinkets in this bill that would not be able to deliver but would place a huge cost upon the Canadian population writ large.
Mr. Speaker, as always, it is an honour to enter the debate in this place, but I hope you will indulge me for a moment.
I learned just a couple of hours ago that in a small community, one of the many I represent, there was a World War II veteran, the last in that particular community of Coronation, who passed away a number of days ago. As we are approaching Veterans Week and, of course, Remembrance Day, I would like to pay tribute to Wilf Sieger in this place. He died at the ripe age of 99 years old. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. I know he was an active member of the community and passionate about many things, including agriculture and service. I am very thankful to be able to acknowledge him in this place today.
We are debating Bill . I find it very interesting that over the course of the last number of weeks, certainly since Parliament returned in the fall and of course with a new , there has been a dramatic shift in the attitude of the government. I would suspect, based on what I hear from constituents, and I occasionally get feedback from across the country whether it is though travel, friends or people who reach out to my office looking for that common-sense Conservative perspective from areas that are not currently represented by Conservatives, there has been a fairly dramatic shift.
All of a sudden, the economy became a priority. All of a sudden, the cost of living became a priority. All of a sudden, I think, the NDP realized that maybe its not holding true to the democratic part of the party name was coming home to roost in terms of fleeing support. We have seen the consequences of that in the legislative agenda.
I find it continually ironic that the Liberals especially, but we are hearing it equally from their coalition partners in the NDP, are quick to say that our doing our jobs in this place is somehow not what Canadians want us to do. When it comes to many issues, virtually everything that we are debating here today but also over the last number of weeks, these are all the priorities and the things that Conservatives have been talking about for months.
I find it very interesting when it comes to the inflation. That was not a big deal up until the new was pushing it as an issue on the national stage. Now, of course, we are seeing the devastating consequences of that.
When it comes to the issues surrounding health care, that is where there is going to be a very close connection that I will get to here in a moment. When it comes to making sure that the federal government is seen as a partner, not an overlord but a partner, with the provinces. We just have not seen that and not only over the past number of years. In the last seven years, we have seen a true erosion of what I believe and what constitutional experts suggest our federation should be.
When it comes to the issue of housing, Conservatives have been talking about this for a long time. I was sent a meme recently of a reference to our country. It was a picture in front of a dumpster fire. If we look at passport offices, Canadian unity or any host of metrics, service delivery to Canadians or whatever the case is, in so many ways we see that Canada is broken. It is unfortunate. I believe, and I say it often, that we are blessed to be Canadian. It is the greatest country in the world, but over the last seven years, and especially as we have seen an unprecedented crisis over the last number of years, certainly since I have been elected, we have seen so many things erode.
When it comes to Bill , we see something that is very troubling, and it is a continuation of an attitude. I even asked a question on this of the parliamentary secretary earlier today. It is a continuation of the idea that Ottawa knows best. It is the Liberal government suggesting that its will should be imposed on every other level of government in this place.
I would like to unpack that a little with respect to why it is so problematic.
The true essence of our federation is that we have a national government based here in Ottawa, but there has to be strong regional governments. The approach is not one of overlordship. We have seen numerous case precedents in the Supreme Court. We have seen the very clear constitutionality of having, in our case, provinces. Different federal systems around the world call them different things, but in our case, the provinces need to be respected. However, we do not see that. When I asked a question of the parliamentary secretary earlier today, he said that he was willing to be criticized for telling the provinces what they should or should not do.
Here is why that is problematic. The Liberals, from the position of being the national government in Ottawa and a minority government, one which, I would remind them as they seem to have forgotten, received fewer votes than the Conservatives, but legitimately won the most number of seats of any other political party, are unwilling to acknowledge there has to be an ability to work together whether they agree with their provincial counterparts or not. That is key because we see how in our country the Liberals only want to dance with those they agree with. That is not how our federation is supposed to work, and we see the consequences of that, whether through this bill or so many other aspects of the way the current Liberals approach governing here in Ottawa. The result is poor outcomes for Canadians. The result is a dental program that is being proposed but that is not going to have the intended effect.
In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer unpacked some of these things, and the PBO's numbers are different from those of the Liberal government. There is this weird political dynamic within the coalition partners to try to get something across the finish line so they can point to it and say they won, when the reality is that had they taken the work of governing seriously we would be in a very different situation. Therefore, I think the overall attitude we are seeing that has led to Bill before us is very problematic.
I will reference another bill that the Conservatives actually supported, Bill . We supported sending a few dollars back to Canadians who are facing immense challenges from the inflationary pressures they face. However, what the Liberals failed to acknowledge, let alone give credit to, is that the Conservatives proposed measures that were not all that different with respect to cuts and removing some of the taxes on products and commodities that were facing significant increases in price. We have been proposing those things for many months, but now all of a sudden because, I hope, the Liberals listened to their constituents, although sometimes it seems that may not be the case with some of the Liberal constituents who have reached out to me and some of my colleagues, they finally decided to act many months after the Conservatives made the suggestion.
I will close with this. I think we have a troubling precedent within the governance of our country that has resulted in poor outcomes for Canadians. Canadians are struggling to get ahead. They are feeling left behind. A patchwork of federal programs implemented without appropriate consultation and without a true acknowledgement of the pressures and challenges Canadians are facing may make good headlines today, but the question I urge every member of this place to ask is whether it will solve the problems of tomorrow.
There is one further comment I would like to make. It is more of an open question. Yesterday in question period, the referenced a 10% increase coming to the Canada health transfer. I believe that is something that needs to be stated again in this place to try to get some clarification as to whether it is an Ottawa imposition or whatever the plan is, and what that actually means for our nation's future and, specifically, our publicly funded health care.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to talk about budgetary measures and legislation that will really have an impact on the lives of Canadians in all regions of our country.
We talk a lot about inflation, and there are a couple things I would like to convey right at the beginning.
First, we have to be honest with Canadians and tell them exactly what the situation is. When we compare Canada to the rest of in the world, much like the pandemic, we are not immune to inflation. We had a worldwide pandemic and have worldwide inflation. How does Canada compare to other countries, like the United States, our greatest trading partner, Europe or England? Canada compares relatively well. Our inflation rate has been consistently lower than those countries. It does not mean we do not have an inflation issue.
We hear it every week within our caucus and every day in our constituencies. As the has indicated not only to Liberals but to all members, our responsibility within our constituencies is to take those ideas and concerns and bring them to Ottawa. Liberal members of Parliament do that on a regular basis. As a result, what we see is a government that is trying to deal with the issue of inflation.
That brings me to my second point on inflation. It is not good enough for us to say that because Canada is doing relatively well compared to other countries in the world that we do not need to do more. We are committed to providing relief where we can.
I made reference to this in a question to the previous speaker. Bill complements other pieces of legislation, in particular Bill . Bill C-30 provided a doubling of the GST tax credit. That has impacted over 11 million Canadians. Our population is about 38 million and 11 million Canadians have benefited from it. That is money in their pockets as a direct result of the House of Commons ultimately passing the bill.
Contrary to what some of my Conservative friends will try to tell everyone, they initially opposed that legislation. To their credit, they did come onside and support it because they recognized that Canadians would benefit from it.
The challenge we have before us now is saying to the Conservatives that Bill , like Bill , is good, substantial legislation that will help the constituents we serve.
When we think of inflation, we talk about going to the grocery store and the cost of food. It is going to places where we have to purchase commodities and widgets. Those are real dollars that need to be spent. Canadians are concerned about that and we should be as well.
When we talk about children in our communities who do not have the financial means to get critical dental care, this legislation deals with that in good part. We have a national government that wants to provide direct support for children under the age of 12 so they can get dental care, children who might otherwise not receive it. As a direct result of not receiving that dental care, they could end up in our hospitals.
We can check with the children's hospitals and community hospitals. We will find that children are going to these health care facilities virtually everyday because they have been unable to have their dental issues addressed.
I applaud the New Democrat members in recognizing and prioritizing this issue. It complements our health care system.
However, I am not surprised by the Bloc member, because they want Canada to break apart. They are separatists, and they do not believe in national programs. On the other hand, members of the Conservative Party, a national party, not supporting what our constituents want is so out of touch with Canadians if they believe the federal government has no role to play in health care. Every one of them is out of touch with reality with respect to what their constituents want. Their constituents not only want but demand that the national government play a role in health care. We see that in our Health Care Act.
Talking about long-term care, have the Conservatives not learned anything from the pandemic when it comes to health care? Do they not realize that Canadians expect issues like long-term care to have national standards? Do they not recognize that Canadians want a national government to invest in mental health? Some members of the Conservative Party have said maybe not for dental care but more for mental health. Therefore, some of those members seem to acknowledge that the federal government should play a role in mental health, but they are definitely not consistent. We, on the other hand, recognize that Canadians want leadership on the health care file, and that is what they will get from this government.
We get misinformation from across the way when those members say that the federal government provides 22% funding. I used to be a provincial health care critic during the 1990s, and that is just wrong. In fact, the history of health care funding goes back to when there was a tax point transfer given to provinces as a compromise, which saw the percentages go down, and, yes, there was somewhat of a cut in the 1990s. However, there was also a guarantee of ongoing national involvement in cash transfers or equalization payments as we call them today. However, this government has not only invested historical amounts of money into health care transfers, but we have also invested in long-term care, mental health, and today we are making a commitment to dental health.
Today we are talking about children. Tomorrow we are going to be talking about seniors and people with disabilities, recognizing that there is a need. At the same time, it would help with the issue of inflation. Bill might get a lot of attention with respect to the dental program, but where the Conservatives are losing it, once again, is on the rental support of millions of dollars. Close to two million people will benefit from this. A substantial amount of money will go to low-income families and individuals in rental support. One would think this is something the Conservatives would want to support.
When the Conservatives talk about fighting inflation and helping Canadians through inflation, not only does the doubling of the GST credit assist but so will Bill . For my Conservative friends, because I anticipate there will be a recorded vote on this, I suggest that they reflect on whether they have constituents and children under the age of 12 in their ridings who would benefit by the passing of this bill. Do they have tenants in their ridings who would benefit by the passage of this bill? The short answer is, they do. Hopefully they will flip-flop and support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, is it not ironic that it should take a separatist to remind the House how the Canadian Constitution works?
The government reminds us at every opportunity that we must not touch the Constitution and that all related matters are not important to Quebec, Quebeckers and Canadians. The measures included in Bill , which we are studying together today, have a noble objective: to take care of people affected by the difficult economic conditions in which we find ourselves.
The problem is that these measures are ill-suited to the different realities of Quebec and Canada's provinces. Even with all the good faith in the world, health and housing are not federal jurisdictions. The House has no say in these jurisdictions. I plan on demonstrating why these measures are ill-suited to Quebec and also other areas.
Why is it that the federal government cannot mind its own business, especially given that it cannot even take care of its own jurisdictions?
Just ask anyone from Terrebonne who is still waiting for their passport whether they trust the federal government to solve the housing crisis. Just ask any single mother who is still waiting for her employment insurance cheque whether she trusts the federal government to look after her child's teeth.
The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-31. Its objectives to improve dental care and access to housing are noble. However, as is too often the case, Quebec was not consulted and this bill was drafted without taking into account what is already being done in the provinces, especially Quebec.
I would like to remind the House that we voted in favour of this bill at second reading in the hopes of being able to improve it to make it a better fit for Quebec. Unfortunately our numerous attempts to improve this bill were shut down, even though the Bloc Québécois represents a lot of people in Quebec who would have benefited from a better bill or even from the opportunity to correct the fiscal imbalance.
This bill is another example of one of the many flaws in the Canadian federation, namely the fiscal imbalance, as I mentioned. By fiscal imbalance, I am referring to the fact that the provinces do not have sufficient financial resources for their own jurisdictions, while the federal government has surpluses to carry out the responsibilities under its jurisdiction. Simply put, as Bernard Landry used to say, the needs are in the provinces but the means are in Ottawa. It defies logic.
The reality is clear. The Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed our fears. Under this bill as currently drafted, Quebec will only receive 13% of the $703 million allocated to the program. This program is unfair to Quebec. In order for it to receive its fair share, 23% of the program funding should go to Quebec, as Quebec represents 23% of the population of Canada. Quebec is systematically underfunded. Is a Quebecker worth less than a Canadian? Unfortunately, history has shown that the federal government thinks so sometimes.
Although the federal government tries to deny its existence, the fiscal imbalance is a major problem that has been recognized since the 1990s. Thanks to population aging, the cost of Quebec's social programs is rising rapidly. It is up to the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Quebec only, to determine where social program funding should go.
The federal government's repeated intrusions in areas of provincial jurisdiction add up over time and ultimately erode Quebec's spending power. Quebec is the one facing an aging population and the massive cost that comes with it. The federal government is in a good position. It is not responsible for health care, yet it gets to send out cheques and reap the political rewards.
Once again, the reality is clear. A careful reading of Canada's public accounts reveals the extent of the fiscal imbalance. In 2020, consolidated per capita spending on health care and social services rose rapidly in Quebec, by about 20%. Since health spending increased, it would be logical to assume that the generous Government of Canada must have contributed. However, the opposite is true. Canada health transfer payments per capita in Quebec rose by only 2.5%, and even worse, by just 1.8% for social programs.
The Government of Quebec is shouting itself hoarse asking for increases to health transfers. The federal government's response is to intrude once again on its jurisdiction by creating a program that is already covered by the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec, thank you very much.
Given that health is strictly under provincial jurisdiction, the fact that there is even a federal health department is absurd. This department spent over $5 billion last year. That is an example of serious inefficiency that only the federal government can provide.
The Bloc Québécois is acting in good faith. We first voted to have this bill studied in committee. We made constructive proposals in a sincere desire to improve the bill and make it viable for Quebec.
For example, in the housing section of the bill, the rule that restricts rent cheques to tenants who put more than 30% of their income towards housing leaves Quebec at a significant disadvantage, since three-quarters of the citizens eligible for the program are in Quebec. In committee, we proposed that this rule be removed, but the amendment was ruled out of order. I am asking my colleagues to remove this 30% threshold so that people who really need this assistance can receive it.
The reason the proposed dental cheques policy is so bad is that the government still stubbornly refuses to consult Quebec and the provinces when developing its programs. Let us not forget that Quebec already has the most progressive dental insurance program of all the provinces. With its progressive labour code, Quebec has the highest rate of unionization and group insurance in North America. That makes workers ineligible for the program. As always, Quebec is again on the losing end with the federal government because it has a decent social safety net of its own.
Ultimately, this bill is nothing more than a conditional transfer that increases federal spending authority and accentuates the fiscal imbalance. This is just another example of the archaic federal framework that is slowing down Quebec's progress.
The heart of these debates is the role of the federal government. If our colleagues want a unitarian state where all the decisions are made in Ottawa, let them say so. Some countries operate that way and it is a vision that can be defended. However, the Constitution would need to be reopened, which terrifies them. I am convinced that Quebeckers would never accept losing their autonomy.
My colleagues in the other parties call themselves federalists. Let them be federalists, then. Let them accept that they do not have all the power and must trust Quebec and the provinces to take care of their own areas of jurisdiction.
Once the problem of the fiscal imbalance and the need to act to protect our most vulnerable are recognized, the House will have to ask itself the real questions. When the federal system was put in place, the real needs were under federal jurisdiction. The British Empire had to wage war to take over the diamond mines from the Boers, battleships had to be built to support London in its colonial competition with Germany, and the indigenous nations had to be destroyed through famine, reserves and residential schools. Those are great causes.
In 2022, the real needs are in Quebec and the provinces. The solution to the real problems is also in the hands of the provincial governments. If the House really wants to help people with housing and their children's dental care, it should reflect not on implementing projects that are clearly ill-suited from coast to coast but on bringing the federal government to stop wanting to control everything. Let us reverse the fiscal imbalance and give Quebec and the provinces the means to care for their own.
They might try being sincere, because sincerity is lacking in the House, reopening the Constitution and proposing a unitary Canada run by a single government, unless of course my colleagues are afraid Quebeckers would break up with them for real this time.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill , which we are debating today.
The principle of the bill is very important, but the execution is very poor. I will explain why this bill is bad for Quebec and also discriminates against Quebeckers.
The bill has several components. I will address the first one, the dental benefit, but I will first put forward the Bloc Québécois's position.
My colleagues and I supported the bill at second reading because we agree with the underlying principle. During a cost of living crisis such as the one we are experiencing, it is both commendable and necessary to lighten the financial burden of low-income households, which are the most affected by the rising cost of gas, groceries, housing and just about everything in daily life. By funding dental care for low-income families with young children and also supporting renters, the bill could help Quebeckers and Canadians get through these tough times.
However, good intentions are not enough to make a good government or good laws. As drafted, the bill does not give Quebeckers their fair share because it discriminates against them and is unfair to them. That is why we will not support it at third reading as long as Quebeckers's interests are not more fully taken into account.
I will begin with an overview of the dental care part of the bill. First, to be eligible for a benefit, whoever submits a claim must meet the following conditions: They must have a dependent child under the age of 12; they must have a family income under $90,000; the dependent child must not be fully insured under a government or private plan; they must have incurred or plan to incur dental care expenses during the period in question; they must receive the Canada child benefit for the year prior to the claim.
Whoever meets all the requirements I have just listed can then qualify for the following benefits: $650 if household income is under $60,000; $390 if household income is between $70,000 and $80,000; and $260 if household income is between $80,000 and $90,000.
The bill provides for the possibility of receiving a payment for two separate periods, one from October 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023 and the other from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024. It is already clear that this is far form a permanent and sustainable program. This is the program being lauded by the government and the NDP, who want a universal dental care program. Those are nice promises in theory, but the reality is quite different.
I will clarify the injustice against Quebec in this bill. At first glance, it seems fine; the bill could even be said to be a very good thing. However, when we look at the amounts that are meant to promote the oral health of young children in Quebec and Canada, we can see that that is clearly not the case.
Shaping public policy requires careful consideration of the consequences of the measures being proposed. In reading the independent and in-depth report prepared by the Parliamentary Budget Officer—the Bloc Québécois did not dream this up, or rather have a nightmare about all the details of this bill—we see that, as the bill stands, Quebec would only receive 13% of the total amounts allocated to the dental component, or $92 million out of $703 million.
If the NDP-Liberal government had introduced a truly equitable bill allowing Quebec to receive its fair share of the funding based on population, which is nearly 23% of the total population of Canada, Quebeckers could have received $162 million.
A $70-million injustice is literally being inflicted on Quebeckers, thanks to the NDP-Liberal government. As an aside, $70 million is a little more than what the monarchy costs Canada. The government could help people by abolishing the monarchy.
I will come back to dental care, but when we look at all of this we see that there is a $70-million injustice. I am already prepared to answer questions and I have not even finished my speech. People think that we do not want to help Quebeckers, those who need financial support for dental care. Who would sneeze at $70 million? It is unbelievable.
It is obvious that this $70 million will not go into the pockets of families with young children, who currently need this money more than ever. To illustrate the blatant injustice Quebeckers will face, let me just say that they will receive an average of $83 per child under the age of 12, while families outside Quebec will receive an average of $168 per child. In reality, these are one-time payments. On the ground, this reality will mean that half of the families who would be entitled to a cheque if they lived outside Quebec will not be entitled to anything at all.
Let me explain why Quebec families will receive less money. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, there are two reasons why this bill puts Quebec families at great disadvantage. The first reason is that the Quebec government has implemented a government program under which many parents do not pay any fees when they visit the dentist. The second reason is that the unionization rates in Quebec are higher than elsewhere in Canada and, therefore, Quebeckers are more likely to have group insurance that covers dental expenses.
It is clear that Quebec is being denied its fair share because its government set up a dental care program for children in 1974 and because its workers have better benefits. Quebec is being penalized because visionary, progressive decision-makers decided long ago that it is right, just and equitable in an advanced society like ours for kids to get dental care regardless of their parents' income.
There is another consequence to this bill, possibly an unintended one. I refuse to believe that the Liberal-NDP government deliberately set out to inflict this injustice on Quebec with this bill. I believe that all my House of Commons colleagues are well-intentioned. I am sure they want only the best for all the Quebeckers and Canadians they represent. I believe this is a mistake caused by the federal government's desire to implement a complex system quickly despite having no expertise in this area.
Obviously, this is a hastily conceived piece of legislation that was cobbled together following an agreement between the Liberal government and the NDP. This bill is designed to keep a shaky coalition alive. The idea of bringing in a dental plan is nothing new. It was in the NDP platform in 2019 and 2021. The only reason it is now being included in Bill C-31, which is flawed and will be passed under a gag order, is to keep their shaky, half-baked deal alive.
As a final point, I just want to mention that some civil society actors like the Canadian Dental Association have told us that the best way to proceed with this bill would be to transfer the money to Quebec and the provinces.
I hope the Bloc Québécois amendments will ensure that some real progress can be made, so we can move forward, so Quebec can have its fair share of the measures and, of course, so the government can fix its mistakes.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today.
We are here talking about Bill and I thought, because it has to do with the inflation issues in Canada, I would quote the famous economist Milton Friedman. He was not a Canadian economist. Nonetheless, he was a Nobel Prize-winning economist.
This is what he had to say about inflation. He has been dead for years, but obviously this rings true today. He said, “There is one and only one basic cause of inflation: too high a rate of growth in the quantity of money—too much money chasing the available supply of goods and services.” That quote is from approximately 50 years ago, and it was as true then as it is today.
Another thing he said was that people learn and governments never learn. I think that is also true today.
If we look at what is happening in Canada with the M2 money supply and how it has continued to increase, based on the numbers I have, it has increased a lot in the last two and a half years. However, if we look at where it peaked, which my numbers say was in July, that is also roughly the time when inflation peaked in Canada, which was in June, at 8.1%. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the comments economist Friedman made many years ago ring as true today. They are evidence-based here in this country. There is only one place where inflation starts, which is with the government and the money tree, the printing of money.
Former finance minister Bill Morneau and the current , in my opinion, have very little credibility on where the cause of inflation started and even less credibility on how it should and shall be fixed. Let me go through some excuses that have been proposed in the last year alone.
In September and October of 2021, it was, “Don't worry, folks. Inflation is transitory.” Do members remember that?
I can hear a child crying in the gallery because she just found out how much she will be paying for her fair share of the debt.
In November, it was because of greedy corporations. Do members remember that? It was then said, in December, that it was because of supply chain bottlenecks. In February, the blame was laid on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the spiking of gas and oil prices. At the end of the day, the root cause of the inflation in this country can be laid at the feet of the finance ministers and the Governor of the Bank of Canada.
Another point of reference and data on inflation is from October 2015. There was a Conservative balanced budget and the inflation rate in Canada was 1%, further proving our point that fiscal policy directly impacts the inflation rate. In October of 2015, with the Conservative balanced budget, which was the last time we saw a balanced budget, the inflation rate was 1%, but today spending is out of control and inflation is over 7% or 8%.
If we went up and down the country roads and main streets to ask people where their biggest point of pain is right now with respect to inflation, almost 100% would say that it is the costs of heating their homes, paying their electricity bills, keeping their vehicles on the road, and putting groceries in their cupboards and fridges to feed their kids or family.
I am not saying these other things are not important, because they are, but if we were to ask people today what the most important things are, it does not matter what political party we are from, the people we represent are probably going to tell us that. We heard it today, and I am glad it was brought up because it has to do with consultation.
The idea of this bill goes back a long way. Jack Harris had a motion similar to this in the previous Parliament, Motion No. 62. That was my old buddy Jack.
With this particular bill on dental, it is obvious there have been no consultations. When the made the announcement, it was not with provincial health ministers. It was not with premiers to say look what we have done together. This was a direct cash payment support to keep the government of the day in government.
It would have been great to have a consultation with the provinces, health care professionals and dentists to ask what the benchmark is. I know our Deputy Speaker is from Nova Scotia, and there is a good possibility that Nova Scotia has one of the best dental care programs in the country.
In Ontario, the province I represent, it is the healthy smiles program. On average, the Nova Scotia plan is enhanced from what Ontario has. It would have been great for everybody to get together to say that Nova Scotia has a great plan. Maybe we would need to put it in over a number of years, but let us have it all hammered out and have a five-year plan or a 10-year plan to make it happen.
What we are looking at today, we can call it dental care, but it is not dental care. This is not a form of dental care. The provincial programs, I would argue, are a form of dental care. We can argue if they are good, bad or need enhancing, but they truly are forms of dental care. What we are seeing today is a direct payment to people to help pay for a dental bill.
If we went around the countryside and asked people what their number one priority is for health care, I do not believe dentistry would be in the top two or three answers, depending on who we asked. If we ask families what the number priority is, they would say not having a family doctor. That is probably the number on problem. If people are sick, they have no place to go other than the emergency room, and they have no doctor who has a reference of their medical history.
I just mentioned the emergency room. In the hospitals in the area I represent, their emergency rooms are closing at night or are completely closing. For many members of Parliament, it is just like it is in Huron—Bruce. If we asked the people in my communities, such as Clinton, Walkerton or Seaforth, what is more important, and they would say it is all important, but this is probably the most important thing for them: They do not want to wait 12 hours for a kid to be seen by a doctor to find out what is wrong with them. People who are parents have probably had that experience before. There are a lot of issues.
We can think about how the times have changed just in the last seven years. I heard an anecdote today on the television. It was someone saying that they used to worry about if they could get a parking space downtown. Now they are worried that, if they go downtown and park, they are going to get stabbed in the back by somebody and get robbed. This is all in just seven years. I do not completely blame the Liberals, obviously, on that one, but that is what people are thinking.
What I would say on the rental issue is that I am in a rural area. I know, Mr. Speaker, you are from a rural area. We have huge affordable housing needs in our ridings, along with many others. The dollars that are offered in this rental program will help, but if we are really looking at what can make a difference in the country and make a difference in rural communities, we should give that money to the provinces and let the provinces work with the counties and municipalities to build long-term affordable housing. That would have been a far better use for it. Mayors In Saugeen Shores, Kincardine, Goderich, Exeter and Clinton, in my area, would have been well-served by commitments for affordable housing.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to speak this afternoon to such an important piece of legislation that our government brought forward and that I hope to see in place to help millions of Canadians very quickly.
We know we live in very challenging times. We live in times that require flexibility from the government, and swift responses. We live in a time when Canadians from coast to coast to coast are facing increases in the costs of everything from lettuce to gas to rent to everyday essentials, and we understand that. Canadians elected all 338 members of Parliament to ensure their interests are put forward and that we put in place programs that assist them and their families to have a better future, not only today but going into the future.
Today we are debating Bill , an act respecting benefits in relation to dental care. I have said before, with regard to dental care, that the Canada dental benefit is an interim first step. No child under the age of 12 and no family that cannot afford to bring their children to the dentist should have to go without it. This is a measure not only for today, to address increased costs that Canadian families are seeing from coast to coast to coast, but also a longer-term measure in line with other measures our government has put in place, including the Canada child benefit, the increase to old age security, two tax cuts for middle-class Canadians and asking the wealthiest 1% of Canadians to pay more, to build a strong economy, strengthen our social fabric, reduce inequality and ensure that inclusive growth happens for all Canadians. That is what we are doing.
The interim Canada dental benefit will provide eligible parents or guardians with direct, upfront tax repayments to cover dental expenses for their children under 12 years of age. This is a first step. In accordance with the proposed legislation, direct payments will be made to eligible applicants, totalling up to $650 per year per child for dental care services for applicants with a family income under $70,000, $390 for those with a family income of $70,000 to $79,000, and $260 for those with a family income of $80,000 to nearly $90,000.
Starting in 2022, the interim Canada dental benefit will deliver over $900 million to support oral health for children under the age of 12 without dental insurance. This is tangible progress to help Canadian families and their children. This is tangible progress to ensure that we help Canadians, especially our most vulnerable, who are faced with the increased costs of everyday expenses that we all know and speak about. That is what Canadians sent us here for. This is the first stage of the government's plan to deliver dental care for families with incomes under $90,000 who do not have access to dental insurance.
Our government introduced this bill because we know the costs of dental care can be difficult for some families to bear. This means many parents have to postpone or forgo important oral health care for their children at a time when their teeth are developing. That is unacceptable. Dental care is essential to maintaining good oral health. Unfortunately, we know that poor oral health can lead to a range of health issues, with consequences that can be lifelong. Furthermore, poor oral health can lead to a reduction in quality of life and associated factors, including mental health issues, employment challenges, social shame, nutritional issues and isolation.
In 2018 alone, it was reported that approximately 6.8 million Canadians avoided visiting a dental professional due solely to cost. In the same year, 10 million Canadians did not have dental care coverage. We are addressing that, first starting with children under 12. Then we will also ensure that seniors are covered, so that my constituency office in the city of Vaughan does not get phone calls from seniors asking how they can get emergency dental care service when a $500 or $1,000 bill comes and they cannot afford it at the end of the month. That is a decision seniors make today in Canada, between putting food on the table and getting dental work done, which we know is very important.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, early childhood tooth decay is a severe form of tooth decay that can affect baby teeth, especially the upper front teeth. It is the most common, yet preventable, chronic childhood disease in Canada and around the world.
Furthermore, treatment of dental problems is the leading cause of day surgery under general anaesthesia in Canada among children under the age of five. It is estimated that negative impacts of poor oral health account for over two million missed school days annually. That is unacceptable. Applications will be processed quickly, automatically in many cases, with payments received within a week for individuals requesting direct deposit.
Bill , if passed, will give the authority to implement an application-based interim benefit payment to eligible Canadians. Starting later this year, applicants will be able to apply for and receive the interim benefit up front before accessing dental care, before they incur the cost, because we know that going to the dentist can be, yes, expensive and absolutely necessary. Eligible Canadians will apply via the CRA's secure My Account portal or by calling the Canada Revenue Agency's client contact centre.
Our government recognizes that dental care needs vary from one person to the next. In this regard, the interim dental benefit can be used for any dental care provided by a licensed member of a regulated oral health profession in good standing with the pertinent regulatory body. The exact care the interim benefit is used to purchase will be decided between families and, yes, their oral health care providers.
Families will have choice. To access the interim benefit, parents or guardians of eligible children will need to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency. In addition, they will need to attest that first, their child does not have access to private dental coverage; second, they will have out-of-pocket dental care expenses for which they will not be fully reimbursed from elsewhere; and third, they understand they will need to provide documentation to verify out-of-pocket expenses occurring, i.e. to show receipts if required.
The interim Canada dental benefit is an important step in the right direction that assists Canadian families by ensuring that they have access to dental coverage for their children first. Then, later on, we will do it for seniors, to ensure that all Canadians have access to dental coverage. I am sure my fellow members would agree that this strategic investment in dental care, which fits in perfectly with our fiscal framework, will most certainly have a ripple effect that will improve the lives of children from coast to coast to coast for years to come.
I am pleased to note that the work is under way to set the stage for the development of a comprehensive, longer-term national dental care program. Specifically, the Government of Canada is working with key stakeholders, industry partners, academics and dentistry associations and organizations to help inform decisions on implementing a new national dental program.
The interim Canada dental benefit is intended to help make life more affordable and bridge the gap for families who struggle to pay for dental care for their children. Our goal is to ensure that eligible children under the age of 12 are able to access the interim Canada dental benefit before the end of this year, before the end of calendar year 2022.
For that to happen, the legislation we are proposing must receive royal assent as soon as possible. I ask all parties to support this common-sense measure that is going to assist Canadian families with children under 12 who do not have dental care coverage or insurance like all of us here enjoy as members of Parliament. For myself, with three kids under the age of 12, I know full well the cost of bringing my child to the dentist, and I know full well the benefit, as an MP, of having dental coverage. We must provide the same benefits to Canadians.
The government is of the view that measures in this bill build on the strong action we have been taking since 2015 to make life more affordable and build an economy that works for all Canadians. From cutting taxes for the middle class in 2015 to increasing the basic personal exemption amount to $15,000, to asking the wealthiest 1% to pay their share, to reducing the age of eligibility for old age security and GIS from 67 to 65, we are on the right path. We are increasing the Canada workers benefit this year, with up to $2,400 more for lower- to middle-income working Canadians to receive when they file their taxes.
The Canada child benefit, again, is tax-free, monthly and helping nine out of 10 Canadian families raise their children and receive more funds. We are not sending cheques to millionaires like the party on the opposite side did when it was in government. We are doing what is right for Canada to grow our economy, make it more inclusive and lift literally hundreds of thousands of children and families out of poverty, which we continue to do.
We know we are in waters that are rough due to global conditions, but we are guiding Canada on this ship in the right direction, to continued prosperity, low unemployment and ensuring that Canadians have a great future ahead of them.