Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to thank the officials from my department and Mr. Siddall from the corporation for being here as well to provide parliamentarians with answers about the estimates.
Of course this is a vast job for us to do. This department is the largest in dollar terms, about $112 billion. It touches on everything from old age security, guaranteed income security, Canada pension plan, to employment insurance, job training, and of course hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgage insurance. We have a vast array of matters that will come before the House in the estimates for authorization.
I always like to simplify, though, the purpose of this department. It really does come down to jobs, families, and communities, the three pillars of good social policy. I've always believed that the best anti-poverty plan is a good job. The best social safety net is a strong family. For those who, through no fault of their own, do not have a job or whose family struggles, we have a third pillar called community.
Let's start with jobs. Our jobs plan is based on the three Ts: trade, training, and tax cuts. Trade is self-evident and it's not directly under the purview of this department, so while I support the Canada-EU trade agreement, the trade agreement with South Korea, and the trade agreements we've signed with roughly 40 countries in total, I won't spend a lot of time talking about them.
Training is definitely a big part of what we do. Our approach at Employment and Social Development over the last several years, especially under the leadership of my predecessor, Jason Kenney, has been to reorient our training programs towards matching Canadians with jobs that actually exist. For too long we told our young people that there was only one way for them to succeed and that was to get a job after going to university, wearing dress shoes in a white collar position. We now know that those jobs are great, but there are a million skilled positions that are needed, many of them in blue collar trades where we don't need dress shoes, where we need hard hats and workboots.
That is why we have reoriented our program to renew respect and value for the skilled trades. We believe that trades deserve the same respect as professions, colleges and polytechnics the same respect as universities, and blue collars the same respect as white collars. So we have created the Canada apprenticeship grant to help with the cost of initiating and then concluding an apprenticeship. We supplemented that recently, in fact just this year, with the Canada apprentice loan, a $4,000 loan that helps students with the in-classroom costs of being an apprentice. Already, I think we have over 10,000 young people who have taken advantage of this interest-free loan.
Finally, the Prime Minister recently announced that the Canada student grant, which had been available only to programs of a duration of 60 weeks or more, will now be available for more vocational-style training of a duration of as little as 34 weeks. That, of course, opens up that grant for a vastly broader array of training opportunities for young people.
Finally, we had something called the labour market agreement, with which all of you are familiar. That gave half a billion dollars a year in training dollars to our provinces. But we found, unfortunately, that it wasn't matching people with jobs that actually existed, so we've transformed that into the Canada job grant whereby an employer pays one-third of the cost and the Government of Canada pays the other two-thirds of the cost of training an employee for either a promotion or a new job within the work setting. That means that the employer gets a tailor-made employee, and the employee gets the guarantee that their training will actually lead to a job. We've had many successes with this already.
That is a small sample of the changes we're making to our training program.
Finally, with regard to tax cuts, in my department we are strongly supportive of measures to reduce the costs on employers. That's why I'm pleased to confirm that in 2017 we will reduce employment insurance payroll taxes by 21%. That will make it much less expensive for employers to hire. When they do, their employees will pay less payroll tax as a result of this change. That means more money in the hands of people who work and more money in the hands of those who would hire them.
We also announced in our recent budget plans to cut small business taxes from 11% to 9%. This is the largest small business tax cut in 25 years. The CFIB confirms that this will help small enterprises hire more people, build their payroll, and strengthen our economy.
Mr. Speaker, that brings me to our next point, which is families. We believe the child care resources that the government has should go directly to the child care experts, and those are the eight million people we call moms and dads. I see that Mr. Cuzner already knew what that line was, so I'm very impressed that he's coming around to our point of view. We hope he will convince his leader to do the same one day. We have cancelled bureaucracies that were erected by previous governments on the child care front, and replaced them with direct cash payments to parents that they can spend on anything they believe is appropriate.
I've asked my department to look into the impact this has had on child poverty, and we have some good news in this area. Colleagues, the universal care benefit—it's the original $1,200 payment—has already lifted 41,000 children out of poverty and into the middle class.
The methodology of this calculation is simple. We looked at families who would be below the low-income cut-off line if that benefit did not exist but are above it because of its existence, and there are 41,000 kids, based on the original program. That does not include the recent increases to the universal child care benefit announced in the previous fall economic update. That increase will mean $2,000 for every child under six and $720 for kids six through seventeen. It augments the family tax cut or income splitting, and a whole variety of other pro-family, low-tax measures instituted by our government. The overall approach is to put money directly in the pockets of parents so they can lift their kids up and strengthen their families. It's working.
UNICEF looked at child poverty in this country. They looked at child poverty all around the world. What they found was that during the great global recession, while you would have expected that children would suffer the most, in Canada, the opposite happened. We had 108,000 kids lifted out of poverty between 2009 and 2011. UNICEF specifically said that was the result of government policies to put money directly in the hands of moms and dads.
Finally, with respect to community, probably all of us can think of great philanthropic community leaders, people who have gone out into the world and done great things and want to give back. Often when they make these impressive donations to build hospital wings or university libraries or expand food bank operations, they don't have that money sitting under their bed; they have it invested in a small business, in real estate, or in shares. You all know what happens when they sell those assets. They pay taxes. That never hurt the philanthropist; they were planning to give that money away regardless, but it hurt the charity. It was a tax on charities. I'm pleased to share with this committee a recent announcement by our government that any sale of assets for the express purpose of donating to a non-profit will be exempt from all capital gains tax going forward. That means those donations will go 100% to the charities to which they were destined rather than to the government and the taxman.
Another inspiring area where communities have stepped up is in helping our new Canadians achieve their full potential. We have a problem and an opportunity in this country. Here's the problem. Despite the fact that we have 24,000 skilled tradespeople and professionals who immigrate to Canada every year, only about 26% of immigrants work in the field for which they were trained.
Thirty-six per cent of immigrants report difficulty getting their credentials recognized in Canada. Despite the fact that immigrants are more likely, vastly more likely, to have Ph.D.s and master's degrees, they have more difficulty putting those credentials to work in the Canadian economy. Now one of the reasons is that, in the licensed professions and trades, it can often be difficult to get a licence to practise and to get credentials recognized. It's very costly. Many newcomers have no credit history or collateral, so they can't get a loan in order to go and take the training, testing, and time off work necessary to get their credential recognized.
A group of business leaders in Calgary came up with a really innovative idea. They said that if they can't get a traditional bank loan, they will sign loan guarantees for them so the banks can be sure the money will be repaid. A group called the Immigrant Access Fund administered the initiative and helped these newcomers with charting a course to obtaining credentials, planning their studies, and preparing for a job find after the credentialization was finalized. They took small loans of about $7,000 a year. Our department, under the leadership of Jason Kenney, funded the administration at the outset of this. Then we provided a little bit of extra loan capital and loan guarantees to support it as well.
We're starting to get the results of this pilot project. Roughly 1,800 immigrants took these loans. On average, they were about $7,000. So far, the default rate is well under 3%. Employment is up by 47%. At one of the sites where these loans were delivered, incomes have doubled from before they took the loan until after they paid it back, and there's been a very large increase in licensing in the original field. We are still waiting for additional information and data to come, but I am almost certain and very confident in saying that the very small amount of money that we put into this will be paid back many, many times over through the increased taxes that will result from the growing incomes of participants in the program.
We announced in the recent budget that we would transform this pilot project into a full-blown program. The terms of that program have not yet been established. We are not yet prepared to announce how many loans will be available or how exactly they will be delivered, but I can tell you that we are going to keep the budget commitment to institute a micro-loan program to help newcomers get fully credentialed in their fields and working in high-paying jobs so that they can fulfill the outstanding potential that they bring to Canada.