Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and address those in this beautiful chamber. I would first like to thank the constituents of Winnipeg North for once again affording me the opportunity to be here representing what I believe is the best and most diverse riding in our country. I suspect there might be 337 other people who might challenge that thought, but it is an absolute privilege to be representing the residents of Winnipeg North.
That said, I want to reflect on a number of the issues I heard from constituents. Another member gave his perspective earlier on what people were saying. We often hear about the middle class. When I sat in opposition in the Stephen Harper era, it was very rare to hear about Canada's middle class. If one were to perform a word search, one would find that to be the case. We would hear it periodically, but this would come from the Liberal Party, the third party at the time, and particularly its leader.
Nothing has really changed with respect to this government's priority. Whether as the third party or as we are now, having received a second mandate, we talk about the importance of Canada's middle class. We understand and appreciate how important the middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it are to our society, economy and the social fabric that we call Canada today.
In terms of some of the actions that have already taken place, the Minister of Finance today talked about another tax break coming to Canada's middle class. One of the very first actions we took after the 2015 election was a tax break to Canada's middle class. We have seen consistency from this government with regard to Canada's middle class, which I believe is the reason we have seen, with the help of Canadians in all regions of our country, the generation of a lot of good, positive news. This is highlighted by the fact that over one million jobs were created in the last four years.
I know there are significant portions of the country that have not done as well as others. If we look at the history of Canada, we find that at different points in time some areas have been more challenged than others and that at times it is necessary for the government to be more involved. We have seen this in the Prairies, specifically with the province of Alberta and the federal government. When one region has been suffering more economically than others, the government has listened very carefully and supported regional interests where it could.
I suggest that members take a look at issues surrounding western diversification funds and their allocation or at the percentage of infrastructure dollars that have been committed or in many ways spent in some of those areas. This federal government has worked more with municipalities than Stephen Harper ever did, because we recognize that in many ways it is the municipalities that deliver so many of those services, particularly in relation to infrastructure services.
For Canada's middle class, Liberals have made huge strides in the area of international trade. We have seen a government that has not only had discussions but has also signed off on some very important trade agreements around the world. In fact, this government has signed off on more trade agreements with other countries than any other government. We even did more than Stephen Harper did, because we understand and appreciate the value of those trade agreements.
No matter what the Conservative Party attempts to say about trade, it cannot rewrite history on the facts. What I just stated was factual.
There are many things we have done over the last four and a half years that have had a profound and positive impact on all regions of our country. Thinking about the years ahead and reflecting on the mandate, and based on discussions I have had with my constituents, I believe Canadians want us to continue moving forward on the many progressive policies that we have brought in over the last four years and to lobby and advocate for those progressive policies. A vast majority of them would want me to say that. I am committed to doing that, and I believe the government will continue to do that as well.
I also recognize that Canadians want to see a higher sense of co-operation, a higher sense of responsibility from members on all sides of the House, not just from the government side.
The biggest disappointment I had at people's doors was a negative attitude toward politics. Many people did not vote because they were discouraged by the negative attitude that too many politicians have, and we see it virtually every day when the House is sitting.
In my previous speeches in the House, I often talked about the character assassination by the official opposition of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance or other selected individuals, whether justified or not. Conservatives put politics before people. It is that sense of negativity, the “Prince of Darkness” negativity or whatever we want to call it.
At the end of the day, Canadians want to see a higher standard in the House. I would suggest it could start right on the floor of the House. We do not need to make things as personal as we have witnessed over the last four years. It is not warranted. As my colleague would say, park the politics as much as possible. Personal character assassination does not do well to build a consensus.
There are many areas we could agree to support. The previous speaker talked about the importance of our children and that she is going to work with the minister in Alberta regarding them. This government has done a great deal for Canadian children. We have lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty through the Canada child benefit program. This has helped children in every region of our country. Over $9 million a month goes into Winnipeg North alone through the Canada child benefit program. That has an incredible impact on disposable income to support our children. It helps to lift children out of poverty.
I have good news for members opposite. This government is going to continue to support our children in all regions of Canada. As the Conservative member opposite just alluded to, when we have positive measures, and there are a lot of positive measures, members can support what the government is doing.
There has been some criticism of the throne speech. I have been a parliamentarian for 30 years and I have been in opposition for most of those years. I hope to tie it up at the government level at some point. It was 20-plus years in opposition and five or six in government. I am an optimistic person.
I am suggesting that, at the end of the day, throne speeches are very much general documents. We are always going to find things, whether it is in this throne speech, Harper's throne speech or the 10-plus provincial and territorial throne speeches that come out. It is very rare that one will get into the real nitty-gritty specifics. We are always going to find things that we would like to have seen incorporated into a throne speech.
However, if we take a look at the important issues that we are highlighting, such as Canada's middle class, the environment and reconciliation, these are all ideas that I believe should generate support from both sides of the House. One does not need to vote against it because it is a government throne speech. There are many things within this throne speech that I suspect everyone will, in fact, support. I would suggest the vast majority of things stated in this throne speech are things members on both sides of the House should get behind and support.
I have heard members across the way talk about seniors. We did a great deal in the previous four years. I ask members to remember that one of the very first initiatives we did was to reverse the Conservatives' decision to increase the age of retirement for OAS. When I was first elected a person had to be 65 in order to collect OAS, old age security. The former Stephen Harper government increased the age to 67, but one of the very first things we did was to put it back to 65.
In addition to doing that, we recognize that there is always a limited amount of finances to be put into any given envelope. We wanted to help the poorest of our seniors, so we substantially increased the guaranteed income supplement, which lifted hundreds plus thousands of seniors in all regions of our country out of poverty. In Winnipeg North alone, hundreds of Canada's poorest seniors were actually lifted out of poverty because of that particular initiative.
However, it does not stop there. We talk about moving forward with our seniors, and there are a couple of other items, one of which is highlighted quite well in the throne speech.
My New Democratic friends talk about the guaranteed income supplement increasing at age 75 and ask why not have it increase at age 65. That is a good question. It is a very good question. I raised this issue at the doors of my constituents. If there are x number of dollars to put into supporting seniors and trying to assist seniors in the best way possible, there is a big difference between a senior who is 65 years old and one who is 75 years old. I am going to be 65 pretty soon myself. I am 57, turning 58.
If we have the choice of giving a greater increase to those people who are 75 as opposed to those at the younger age of 65, I suggest that there is a greater benefit to society if we can give a larger percentage increase to those who are 75 and over. As a direct result of targeting it that way, we are going to be able to assist them more. My colleagues will find that there are many 65-year-olds who choose to continue to work. It does not mean that we have to stop there.
At the end of the day, one of the good things we did was to bring forward a seniors directorate. This is a government that genuinely and truly cares about the future of our seniors. That is one of the reasons we have been very selective and effective at getting more money into the pockets of the seniors who need it the most. That is what we should be striving to do, and we have been very effective at doing that.
I ask members to stop and think about this. We are giving a bigger increase to those who are 75 and older. We are giving another tax break to Canada's middle class. These are things that reinforce the tax cuts and the increases that we gave to the Canada child benefit and the GIS in the previous Parliament.
All of those money breaks are going to put money into the pockets of Canadians in every region of this country. By doing that, we are increasing overall disposable income, and by doing that, we are allowing Canada's economy to do that much better. With an increase in disposable income, we see more expenditures in our communities. That is one of the reasons that this government has been so successful. By investing in people, we have had an economy that has done relatively well.
I was a bit discouraged when one member tried to point out that because of job losses there have been people committing suicide, and that somehow the government should feel guilty. When hundreds of thousands of people were finding themselves out of work in the manufacturing industry, in particular in Ontario and so forth, the Liberal Party cared. We were compassionate toward that. Equally, we care about and are compassionate toward those who have been losing jobs in our natural resources sector.
Sadly, when a person loses a job, and it does not matter in what region of the country, it can be a very trying time. To say it is one person's fault or the government's fault is somewhat irresponsible. Let us look at the bottom line and the way the economy and policies have been presented in the last four years. If we listen to what is being said in the throne speech and what is being said by the Prime Minister in the many speeches he delivers, and the speeches of ministers and many of my colleagues, we will see that we are on the right course.
That is why a major theme for us going into the election was that we want to continue to move forward on what is important to Canadians. We know it is important to Canadians because we have a Prime Minister who has continually said to members of Parliament, in particular Liberal members of Parliament, that here in Ottawa we represent the constituents first. We do not represent Ottawa to our constituents. It is the constituents and their interests that we represent first, here in Ottawa, and that is why we have the relationships that we have built within our caucus.
We have a great caucus that is committed to the long-term viability and strength of building Canada's middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it. We have a caucus that understands the importance of the economy and social programs. One of those social programs that has to be highlighted is Canada's pharmacare program.
Prior to this Prime Minister, I very rarely heard the word “pharmacare”. It is only because of this Prime Minister and this government, and through the members of Parliament and their constituents that we have raised that whole issue to where it is today, a point where I feel very confident that we will have a national pharmacare program.
I would like to see all members of this chamber, whether they are New Democrat, Bloc, Conservative, Green or independent, get behind a national pharmacare program. This has taken a great deal of time to put together.
We have a government that is prepared to work with all the different stakeholders and listen to what they have to say. However, if the need is there to make that decision, we should make that decision for the betterment of all Canadians. This is a government that understands that every day is an opportunity to work hard and provide better results for all Canadians in all regions.