Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I’d also like to thank the finance committee for inviting me to discuss the pre-budget consultation process that we began on January 13. As well, I’d like to thank the department officials for being here with me this evening.
Before I begin, I would like to talk about a very important measure we put forward last year. Our government introduced a proposal that would lower taxes for the middle class and people working hard to join it. We would do that by letting people keep more of what they earn, up to $15,000, before they have to pay any federal income tax.
We made this proposal because we know a lot of people are feeling the squeeze at the end of the month and need a little help to make ends meet. All told, it's a change that would mean lower taxes for close to 20 million Canadians. At the same time, we've also chosen to take steps to ensure that this help goes to the people who need it most. The wealthiest people in Canada, those in the top 1% of income earners, wouldn't benefit from this change.
This brings me to our work as we prepare budget 2020.
To establish policies that work for everyone and that contribute to a country based on inclusive growth, we need to know more about what Canadians need.
As you know, we have undertaken pre-budget consultations in an effort to reach out to Canadians in every corner of the country to learn what their priorities are. We are meeting with important stakeholders in rural, urban and remote communities across the country to find out what matters most to Canadians.
We recognize that there is still much to do in order to build an even stronger middle class. We are asking stakeholders and individual Canadians specific questions that will shed light on their priorities. We want to know what will make the biggest difference to Canadians’ to improve their quality of life, whether that means reducing the cost of living or supporting well-being.
To better understand the situations facing Canadians and the problems they are dealing with, during our meetings and round tables, we are focusing on four key themes: strengthening the middle class and growing the economy; fighting climate change and protecting the environment; keeping Canadians healthy and safe; and moving forward on reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
As these four themes demonstrate, we are building on the work we started during our last mandate. In that time, we grew the economy while protecting the environment. The themes are also in line with the mandate I was given to establish growth indicators that will provide a clear picture of Canadians’ quality of life and the economy.
Budget 2020 will take into account the findings that have emerged from these pre-budget consultations. Understanding the priorities of Canadians living in different realities—whether they are in Vancouver, Napanee or Montreal—has been very informative to us as we develop the next budget, because we know that a strong economy is one that works for everyone.
I would like to highlight some key ways in which we have helped strengthen the middle class over the last four years.
Since 2015, through government investment and the hard work of Canadians, our economy has added over one million new jobs. The unemployment rate is at its lowest levels in more than 40 years. Our policies have lifted almost 900,000 Canadians out of poverty, including 300,000 children and almost 60,000 seniors.
Our investments in people have also strengthened our economy. We have continually reduced our debt-to-GDP ratio, which is the lowest in the G7. Canada continues to have the best balance sheet in the G7, which gives us a real competitive advantage.
Canada is predicted to have continued growth through 2020. Wages are on the rise. Business profits are solid. We maintain a AAA rating. Thanks to the Canada child benefit, nine out of 10 families with children now receive more money than they did previously. With the enhancements to the guaranteed income supplement and the Canada pension plan, seniors have and will continue to have a more secure and dignified retirement. We created the Canada workers benefit, a strengthened, more generous and more accessible benefit to help low-income workers keep more of their hard-earned money.
We have put gender at the heart of government decision-making. Today, more women are employed and contributing to our shared economic success than at any point in Canadian history. We've made a lot of progress these past years. However, we recognize that far too many families still feel that they are struggling to make ends meet. We know that we still have work to do.
During the pre-budget consultations in Hamilton, I heard that parents see real value in the Canada child benefit, but there is still more work to do to help those caring for young children find available, flexible and affordable child care.
Meeting and round table participants in Montreal highlighted the important role entrepreneurs play in strengthening competitiveness. In every city, we’ve heard about the importance of skilled trades in the workforce.
Another theme at the heart of our conversations with Canadians has been fighting climate change and protecting the environment. We all know that one of the most important issues of our time is the effects of climate change on our communities, our lives and our economy.
From forest fires to floods and droughts to the extreme temperatures and intensifying storms, we are feeling the impacts of climate change everywhere in the country and around the world. Canadians have been clear. They expect their government to take action on climate change and to protect the environment. This is why, over the past four years, we've taken serious action to fight climate change and to protect our communities from its impacts.
Since last year, it hasn’t been free to pollute anywhere in Canada. We put a price on pollution to protect the environment, while putting more money in the pockets of Canadian families. We are phasing out coal power and moving towards 90% clean electricity for cleaner air and healthier communities. Canadians know that climate action can no longer be put off, and we, as a government, know that too. We need to be ambitious as we fight climate change. Finding solutions to both challenges is what will make a real difference in the lives of middle-class Canadians.
We know that, for Canadians to thrive, they need to be healthy and safe. This is why, in our pre-budget consultations, we have focused our discussions on how we can better meet the needs of Canadians when it comes to health care and pharmacare.
We also discussed the needs of communities and the need for people to feel safer. What does a safer community mean for Canadians? How can we protect our communities to ensure the overall well-being of Canadians? This is a vital point of focus as we move forward to better understand what contributes to the quality of life of Canadians and how we can build stronger, healthier and safer communities.
Budget 2020 will also continue to walk the path toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Real progress has been made over the last four years, but much more work needs to be done. We are delivering on a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples, working together to improve quality of life and advance self-determination. We know we have a long way to go, and we will continue to work in partnership with indigenous peoples toward closing the socio-economic gaps that exist today.
Clearly, then, our pre-budget consultations are useful. They give us an opportunity to hear what Canadians think about many issues affecting their everyday lives and how they feel those issues should be addressed. We want to know what further actions we should take to make their lives more affordable. We’d like to know what other measures we could implement to put good jobs within their reach.
In short, we want to know what we can do to strengthen the middle class and continue growing the economy.
Our goal is an economy that works for everyone. That said, Canadians have made it clear, both online and during round tables, that helping them earn a good income and keep more money in their pockets is not enough to improve their lives. While they are important elements, truly making the lives of middle-class Canadians better also means ensuring that Canadians are safe, secure and healthy, that the environment they live in is protected, and that the progress towards reconciliation continues.
Whether it’s strengthening our public health care system, providing better access to medications, cracking down on gun crime, protecting the environment or fighting climate change, we know these are the issues that matter to Canadians. The issues raised by meeting participants are complemented by suggestions we receive from Canadians online.
Not only have we been meeting with Canadians in person, but our pre-budget consultation process has spread a wide net, using the Department of Finance's online consultations website. Since the start of the consultations, more than 16,000 Canadians have submitted their ideas on how budget 2020 can best meet their needs. This engagement is very valuable and will be used as we develop this very important budget.
While I have the opportunity, I would like to talk a bit about my mandate as Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance and the importance of it in the pre-budget consultations, as well as within our government.
While the economy is strong and growing, we know that families are struggling to make ends meet. My role is to work alongside my cabinet colleagues to ensure that economic growth is shared fairly and that opportunities are created for all. This is what the OECD and other countries worldwide have identified as inclusive growth. By factoring inclusive growth as the baseline of our government decisions, we are ensuring that our policies address the gap between economic growth and the financial squeeze felt by too many Canadians. We will work, using a whole-of-government approach, to ensure that the prosperity of the middle class is at the heart of policy decisions.
Through these pre-budget consultations and within my mandate, we want to know how we can best help Canadians have a safe and affordable place to call home, a good well-paying job to support their family, a secure retirement, access to health care and the ability to build a better future for themselves and their families. It is by understanding the full scope of the well-being of Canadians that we can build a framework that informs how we grow the economy in ways that it grows for everyone.
On that note, Mr. Chair, I would be happy to answer any questions you or the committee members have about our pre-budget consultation work.