Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-97.
This bill will help implement major investments included in the 2019 budget. Most importantly, it will give the government new tools to help middle-class Canadians, reduce inequality and ensure that in Canada prosperity is truly inclusive.
I will stress that I am talking about new measures. Bill C-97 builds on our accomplishments and the progress we have made these last four years. We have to remember how we got here and how we achieved the results we see in Canada today. In 2015, the situation was very different. Economic growth was slow or even stagnant. Unemployment was up, and Canada was in a technical recession. Wages were not going up fast enough, but the cost of living, as we know, just keeps increasing.
Some families were having a tough time making ends meet, while saving for the future or for an emergency. In the fall of that same year, Canadians made a different choice. I think it was a very smart choice, in all impartiality. They chose a plan that would invest in the middle class, a plan that would make big investments in health, housing and the environment, while also staying fiscally responsible.
One of the first things Liberals did as a government was to ask the wealthiest 1% of Canadians to contribute a little more so that middle-class Canadians could have more money in their pockets. Today, over nine million Canadians are benefiting from the middle-class tax cut.
In 2016, we introduced the Canada child benefit. This measure has helped lift almost 300,000 children out of poverty. What is more, our government indexed the Canada child benefit payments two years ahead of schedule, so that benefits could keep pace with the rising cost of living. In July, benefits will increase with inflation to ensure that hard-working parents continue to have the support they need with the high cost of raising their kids.
With the CCB, nine out of 10 Canadian families with children are receiving more money than they received under the previous system of child benefits, where cheques were sent to families of millionaires, something that the Harper Conservatives and today's Conservatives fought to preserve while voting against the Canada child benefit.
For the 2019-20 year, on average, families benefiting from the CCB will receive around $7,000 to help with the high cost of raising kids, an amount that will continue to rise with the cost of living, as I have mentioned. According to the OECD, and I understand it is not the Fraser Institute, which the Conservatives like to quote, even though the studies they refer to often in the House have been debunked by just about anyone serious who has taken a look at it, precisely, because they fail to take into account the Canada child benefit.
However, according to the OECD, when the CCB is combined with the middle-class tax cut, a typical, middle-class family of four in Canada, on average, now has $2,000 more in their pockets than they did under the Harper Conservatives. This is significant progress.
We did not stop there. We replaced the old working income tax benefit with the more generous Canada workers benefit. The new benefit puts more money in the pockets of more than two million Canadian workers who are working hard to join the middle class.
In addition, to support Canada's hard-working entrepreneurs, we cut the small business tax rate twice, dropping it to 9% in January. It is now the lowest small business tax rate in the G7, and the fourth lowest of the 36 members of the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which I just referred to.
The results of the measures adopted by our government since fall 2015 speak for themselves. More than one million jobs were created in the Canadian economy. Last year, all job gains were in full-time positions. The unemployment rate is at its lowest in more than 40 years, and salaries are increasing faster than the rate of inflation. In sum, the country is heading in the right direction and the Canadian economy is booming.
Moreover, employment gains have greatly benefited groups that are often under-represented in the labour market, such as new immigrants, single mothers, indigenous peoples living on reserve and young Canadians who do not have a high school diploma. This represents considerable progress, but a lot of work remains to be done to continue reducing inequality in this country and to ensure that the growth and prosperity we are enjoying benefit as many people as possible.
Some Canadians remain concerned about the future. They are worried about their job security because the nature of work is evolving. They are worried that they will not be able to buy a home because housing is too expensive. They are worried about their retirement and they wonder whether they will have enough savings. These are legitimate concerns, and we will leave no one behind.
Bill C-97 is the next step in our plan to invest in the middle class and grow the economy today and for years to come. I will take a moment to elaborate on this before getting into some of the details of Bill C-97. Over the past three years, the government's action was based on three main pillars. That is the plan we presented to Canadians and it is working very well.
One of these three main pillars is investment in infrastructure. We know there are infrastructure needs across the country, from coast to coast, and we know how serious they are. Our environment also demands investments in public transportation infrastructure, for example. We committed to investing $180 billion over 12 years in infrastructure. These investments are paying off across the country and are helping many municipalities and provinces carry out meaningful infrastructure projects. Sometimes these projects appeal to the imagination, as is the case with public transportation. Others are a bit less glamorous, but just as important. Take waste water for example. We lose a lot of drinking water to aging waste water treatment systems.
The second pillar involves reducing inequalities through the measures I mentioned. These measures have helped reduce poverty by 20% in Canada. Child poverty was reduced by 40% in just three years. That is huge.
The third pillar is competitiveness. We are making sure that Canada has access to foreign markets, whether through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CETA, the renegotiated NAFTA, reduced small-business tax rates or strategic investments, all of which were sorely needed in Canada during the decade that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada were in power. They neglected the sciences and stopped investing in science. This undermines our country's competitiveness and prosperity over the long term.
Those are the three main pillars. In budget 2018, we reaffirmed the importance we place on science by making the largest investment in science in Canadian history, after a dark decade for scientists, science, research and innovation under Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
The budget and Bill C-97 are based on these three main pillars, which are working and have made Canada one of the G7's leading economies since we came to power three years ago.
Speaking of competitiveness, let us talk about skills.
That is something that I would like to talk about. In the first quarter of 2019, there were more Canadians employed than at any moment in Canada's history, including more women employed than at any moment in Canadian history. That is great news but we cannot take anything for granted. We know that not everyone has the right skills to take advantage of some of the new well-paying opportunities.
The nature of work is changing around the world and the challenge for workers, employers and governments is to find new ways to make sure that people have the skills they need to succeed in the changing work environment. For example, automation is on the rise. The OECD estimates that about one in 10 Canadian jobs are at high risk of automation within the next 10 to 20 years and that one out of three jobs is likely to experience significant changes.
Canada is not alone in this. Other countries will face the same challenge, as workers try to figure out how to get the training they need to keep their existing jobs or to prepare for new jobs.
We are determined to ensure that Canadian workers have the skills they need to succeed on the job market of tomorrow. To get there, Canadians must have access to appropriate training. That is why we introduced a new program, the Canada training benefit, in budget 2019. It is a personalized, portable benefit that will help Canadians get the time and money they need to learn new skills.
Bill C-97 will implement an important element of the benefit, namely a $250 annual credit for every worker to be put toward the cost of future training. This credit can add up to $5,000 over the course of a career. Eligible workers will receive their first credit this year, in 2019, and may start using it next year to register for a course they may need.
The Canada training benefit will open more doors for workers, which will help them contribute to the Canadian economy and benefit from its growth. This measure will be equally helpful for employers because it will give them access to a more skilled workforce, which will help them grow their businesses and create more well-paying jobs.
Clearly, if we want to prepare Canadians for the high-quality jobs of tomorrow, we must pay close attention to my generation and to young Canadians, something our government fully understands. When the Minister of Finance introduced budget 2019, he highlighted the steps we have taken to remove barriers to education and training.
With the measures in this budget implementation act, students would not have to start repaying their Canada student loans until six months after they graduated, and interest would not accumulate during that period on these loans. Paired with the budget's commitment to lower the interest rate on Canada student loans, the interest-free grace period is expected to save the average borrower approximately $2,000 over the lifetime of a loan.
We are taking these steps because young Canadians need our help. They are the most educated, connected and diverse generation this country has ever seen. They are changing our communities for the better and are taking the lead in building a fairer and more sustainable future.
At the same time, we are hearing from many young Canadians that they are still worried about what the future holds for them. Will they be able to afford college or university? Will there be good jobs ready for them when they graduate? Will they be able to afford a good place to live? We are taking action to answer more of these questions for young people and for all Canadians.
Let us take housing. Many young Canadians dream of owning their first home, a feeling shared by middle-class families. However, with rising house prices, it is getting increasingly harder for people to make that dream a reality. Our government believes that every Canadian should have a safe and affordable place to call home. That is why we are taking important steps to make housing more accessible and affordable, especially for first-time homebuyers.
The legislation we are debating proposes measures to help Canadians take their first step toward home ownership. It would amend the National Housing Act to allow the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to offer shared equity mortgages to eligible first-time homebuyers. This important measure would be called the first-time homebuyer incentive. Through this new incentive, CMHC would provide 5% of the value of a home for a first-time homebuyer, helping to reduce the size of an insured mortgage and lowering monthly mortgage payments.
To encourage the construction of new housing, the incentive would increase to 10% for newly built homes. This could mean a lot for many young Canadians. For a middle-class family buying a new condo or new house worth $400,000, the savings could be about $225 a month. That could make a real difference. It is expected that this new incentive could help as many as 100,000 Canadian families buy their first home.
That is not all. The budget implementation bill also proposes to increase the limit on withdrawals from the home buyers' plan, or HBP. These amounts, which first-time homebuyers can withdraw tax-free, can help fund the down payment. As announced in budget 2019, the limit is being increased from $25,000 to $35,000 per person, or from $50,000 to $70,000 for a couple. The maximum withdrawal amount had not been adjusted in 10 years, so we thought it was time to do so. Modernizing the homebuyers' plan will help more people purchase their first home or first condo.
In addition, Bill C-97 will enact the new legislation for the national housing strategy. In concrete terms, it will require the federal government to give priority to the housing needs of the most vulnerable Canadians.
The government will also be required to report back to Parliament on the progress made in implementing the strategy and in achieving the desired results with respect to housing. These targets, such as cutting homelessness in half in this country and building 100,000 new units, as well as repairing and renovating another 300,000, will make a real difference in the lives of many Canadians.
I think these reinvestments in housing are all the more important in light of the federal withdrawal from housing investment, which, I should point out, began before the Conservative government took office and escalated during the 10 years that Stephen Harper was in power.
I think it is time for the federal government to take responsibility for housing and make a bold, ambitious comeback. That is what the national housing strategy does.
The bill also offers meaningful assistance for Canadian seniors, because all Canadians deserve a secure and dignified retirement, free of financial worries. Sadly, retirement can be a daunting prospect for some seniors, especially those living on low incomes.
Since 2015, the government has taken a number of steps to make retirement more affordable. For instance, it restored the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 65. The previous government had moved it up to 67, plunging hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Canadians into poverty.
We increased the GIS top-up for single seniors, a measure that benefited 900,000 Canadians.
Our government also reached an historic agreement with the provinces to enhance the CPP, which will raise the maximum retirement benefit by up to 50% over time. This will help more than one million families who would have faced a drop in their standard of living when they retired.
Budget 2019 and this BIA propose a series of new measures to help even more Canadians age with confidence in their finances. To help low-income working seniors, Bill C-97 proposes to increase the earnings exemption for the guaranteed income supplement and to expand the exemption to self-employment income. This means that more low-income working seniors would be able to keep more of their pay and their benefits.
We are also taking steps to ensure that everyone who is eligible receives her or his retirement benefit from the CPP. While the standard age to receive CPP benefits is 65, some people choose to delay receiving their retirement benefits until age 70, at which time they will receive a bit more each month. A small number of people, however, are currently missing out on receiving their CPP benefits. This happens because some apply too late, and some do not apply at all. To ensure that all Canadian workers receive the full value of the benefits they deserve, this BIA proposes to proactively enrol, as of 2020, CPP contributors who are age 70 or older who have not yet applied to receive their retirement benefits. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 Canadians would begin to receive a retirement pension as a result. They deserve that money. Making sure that they get it is the right thing to do, and this legislation would make it happen.
Budget 2019 and Bill C-97 are about investing in people, and I have given plenty of examples in this speech. However, it is also about investing in communities. That is why budget 2019 proposes to support local infrastructure priorities by providing a one-time top-up of $2.2 billion, doubling the federal municipal infrastructure commitment in 2018-19. This $2.2 billion injection of cash this year would help cities and towns of all sizes, as well as indigenous communities. It would provide them with much-needed funds to address short-term priorities and crucial repairs and help them finance other important projects, such as recreational arenas, soccer facilities, new roads, public transit extensions, improvements to drinking water infrastructure and so on. Transferring funds to communities will get projects built. Supporting this BIA will get projects built.
In recent years, this funding has supported approximately 4,000 projects each year that have contributed to productivity and economic growth, a cleaner environment and stronger communities. We promised this help, and we are delivering in this BIA.
I could go on about what is in this budget, because when it comes to investing in the middle class, there is a lot of good news to share. However, I will conclude with this. Canadians have made a lot of progress since the fall of 2015. They should be proud of the strong communities and the strong economy they have helped build.
I think it is a source of pride for Canadians, or it should be, that in three short years, we managed to turn around the situation that the Stephen Harper government ineptly and regrettably got us into. During that decade, we saw the lowest growth in employment since the Second World War, the lowest growth in exports and a disastrous economic record.
They also managed to add $150 billion to the national debt.
We managed to turn around the country's fortunes with the best economy in the G7, the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 40 years, and a 20% reduction in poverty in 2017. It never occurred to them to reduce poverty and inequality. It was the right thing to do for the country. To us it is obvious that the more inclusive our prosperity is and the more we reduce inequality, the better off the entire Canadian economy will be.
That is what we have managed to do and that is what we will continue to do.