Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak about some of the key provisions of the economic action plan, 2015, and to support its implementation with Bill C-59.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.
On April 21, our Minister of Finance delivered a balanced budget that shows strong support for seniors and families, encourages growth, supports our business and manufacturing sectors, and focuses on the security and prosperity of our great nation. Today I would like to speak to those elements that stand out for me and especially to the constituents of Kitchener—Conestoga, whom I am so humbled and honoured to represent.
As a long-time supporter of and collaborator with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, I was beyond proud to see economic action plan 2015 announce a renewal of the Mental Health Commission's mandate, starting in 2017-18, so that the commission can continue its important work of promoting mental health in Canada and fostering change in the delivery of mental health services, giving specific attention to suicide prevention.
The Mental Health Commission has achieved a number of important milestones since its creation in 2007, including creating a national mental health strategy, developing a national anti-stigma initiative to help reduce discrimination faced by Canadians living with mental illness, and establishing a knowledge exchange centre as a source of information for governments, stakeholders, and the public.
I am proud to have collaborated with the Mental Health Commission of Canada on numerous occasions, and I am hopeful for what the future holds for mental health initiatives and suicide prevention with this 10-year extension. I know that it is eager to continue its work across the country and to implement new programs to help youth, veterans, and all Canadians.
The Waterloo Region is home to organizations such as the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, which works tirelessly with partnering organizations, professionals, and the community to help those struggling with mental health issues.
I have said in the past that the conversation about mental health is just as important as the legislation, and I know that local groups in my riding would benefit from the ability to continue their work on mental health issues and suicide prevention efforts.
All of these efforts are very effective in getting important conversations out in the open, thereby reducing stigma and bringing hope. Hope is what this is about. I have said on many occasions that hope is the oxygen of the human spirit. Without it, the spirit dies. While the budget implementation act is about numbers, dollars, and cents, at its core it is a message of hope for Canadians.
As the Mental Health Commission of Canada stated, “This is wonderful news for the mental health community.... Together, we have advocated for change. And together, we are succeeding”.
When we put a strong emphasis on mental health as a key priority for our country, we all succeed.
I was honoured to be co-founder of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care and to have served as its co-chair since 2010. We worked across party lines to promote awareness of deficiencies in palliative and compassionate care in Canada. In 2011, we released a landmark report entitled “Not to be Forgotten”, reporting on the state of palliative care and suicide prevention, which was endorsed by key organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association, among many others.
One of the recommendations arising from our report was to expand the provisions of the employment insurance-based compassionate care benefit to 26 weeks and to ensure its flexibility to allow partial weeks to be covered, allowing caregiver leave for episodic care.
Through the employment insurance program, compassionate care benefits provide financial assistance to people who have to be away from work temporarily to care for a family member who is gravely ill. Canadians should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for their families.
I have always advocated for better availability of care for our society's most vulnerable. The new extension of the compassionate care benefit under EI from six weeks to six months, allowing those taking leave to care for their families, will make a significant difference in the lives of many families who want to care for their loved ones in times of severe health challenges.
I was thrilled to see that the parliamentary committee's palliative and compassionate care report was actually quoted in the budget along with this exciting initiative. As the report states:
Family and friends have been described as the invisible backbone of the Canadian healthcare system.
I am proud of our government's achievements in supporting families.
Speaking of families, there has been tremendous support in my own riding and across the country for the new credits and tax cuts for families. Let me list just a few of them: the doubling of the children's fitness tax credit to $1,000; the family tax cut, saving couples with children up to $2,000 through income splitting; an enhanced universal child care benefit, providing up to $1,920 per year for each child under six and up to $720 per year for each child between the ages of six and 17; and, finally, a $1,000 increase in the maximum claim amount for the child care expenses deduction. These measures would support Canadian families and put money back into the pockets of all families with children.
There is even more good news in the budget to help families and communities prosper. I am particularly pleased with the new initiatives to help seniors and persons with disabilities.
As a result of actions taken to date by the government, seniors and pensioners are receiving about $3 billion in additional annual targeted tax relief. We have doubled the $2,000 maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit. We have introduced pension income splitting, which the opposition parties say they would take away. Actually, 2.2 million Canadians take advantage of pension income splitting. I have heard from dozens of pensioners, seniors in my riding, who have told me what a big difference this makes for them.
This budget also supports seniors by reducing the minimum withdrawal factors for registered retirement income funds, RRIFs. This measure, in conjunction with the increase in the TFSA limit to $10,000, would support the retirement income needs of seniors by providing them with increased flexibility to manage their own savings in a tax-efficient manner.
I am also proud of the new home accessibility tax credit to help seniors and persons with disabilities who may face special challenges related to gaining access to their own homes or being mobile or functional within their own homes. Making improvements in their homes can be costly, which is why this new permanent tax credit would apply on up to $10,000 of eligible home renovation expenses per year, providing up to $1,500 in tax relief. These improvements would help ensure that seniors and persons with disabilities could live healthy, independent lives in the comfort of their own homes.
Allowing families to make arrangements to care for their family members through EI compassionate care benefits, helping seniors to have more flexibility with their retirement funds, and introducing new tax credits to help with mobility and accessibility are all concrete efforts to help all Canadian seniors.
As Canada's population ages, age-related cognitive impairment and chronic conditions are sadly becoming more prevalent. The burden on families is vast and continues to grow. Research on aging and brain health issues, such as dementia, can lead to better diagnoses and more effective treatments, which will improve Canadians' quality of life. That is why I am hopeful that the establishment of the Canadian centre for aging and brain health innovation will support new research and the development of products and services to support brain health and healthy aging. This investment would build on the government's strong record of investment in research and support for Canadians suffering from dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Since 2006, our government has cut taxes 180 times, reducing the overall tax burden to its lowest level in 50 years. Bill C-59 would continue our record of reducing taxes with measures such as reducing the small business tax rate from 11% to 9% by 2019, saving Canadian small businesses billions of dollars, and increasing the tax-free savings account annual contribution limit to help make it easier for all Canadians to save for their futures.
While the benefits to all Canadians included in this budget are important, it is crucial to remember that as promised, this is a balanced budget. Canadians understand the importance of living within their means, and they expect their governments to do the same. Balanced budgets keep taxes low and also ensure that government services like health care, education, and money for bridges, roads, clean water, and sewage treatments are sustained over the long haul for Canadians.
I am proud of this balanced budget and the benefits it would bring to Canadians, especially families, seniors and, finally, the most vulnerable among us.