From left, Marlyn Graziano, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos and Sukh Dhaliwal, MP Surrey Newton at the pre-budget press conference at Kwantlen Polytechic University.

Details in March 22 budget

From left, Marlyn Graziano, Kwantlen Polytechnic University,  Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos and Sukh Dhaliwal, MP Surrey Newton at the pre-budget press conference at Kwantlen Polytechic University.
From left, Marlyn Graziano, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos and Sukh Dhaliwal, MP Surrey Newton at the pre-budget press conference at Kwantlen Polytechic University.

In a meeting with the ethnic media, hosted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, accompanied by local MPs Sukh Dhaliwal and Ken Hardie, reviewed the agenda of the Trudeau government and their promise to focus on; growing the middle class Canadians, and helping more Canadians be part of that middle class.

“Everywhere in the world, economies that grow are economies where middle class citizens have the ability to invest in themselves and in their communities to make a real difference,” said Duclos. “In my previous life as an economics professor at Laval University I’ve seen tons of evidence supporting the importance of investing in the middle class and those Canadians that would like to be part of that middle class. The second reason is that we are all living in challenging times where diversity needs to be combined with inclusiveness. A country like Canada can be proud of its diversity as long as we all have a real and fair chance to succeed in life. That means removing some of the barriers for various Canadians and various groups of Canadians when it comes to making a real difference in the lives of their families and the lives of their communities.”

“In this agenda around building the middle class, Surrey is a very good example of a region in Canada that is a middle class region,” said the Minister. “In that context, two of the measures we put into place in last year’s budget (2016) are making a real difference in the lives of many families in Surrey and Surrey Newton. Thirteen thousand five hundred families are now receiving more support through the Canada Child Benefit than they used to get from the somewhat disorganized and unfair system that existed earlier. On average, each of these families is receiving about $200 more per month non-taxable. As you can imagine that makes a real difference in the lives of many people here.”

“It’s the same thing for vulnerable seniors, and female seniors in particular,” Duclos said. “They live in very difficult circumstances, on a fixed income with the cost of essentials going up. Last year’s budget increased the Guaranteed Income Supplement for about 2,600 vulnerable seniors in Surrey Newton so each of these people are now receiving about $890 more per year.”

The Minister then opened the meeting to questions from the mainly ethnic media assembled.

Questioned about the severe increases in housing and rents the minister was asked to elaborate on the proposed improvements.

“Affordable housing is key for the welfare and well-being of our families, in particular the lower and middle income families,” Duclos said. “The Lower Mainland and Vancouver are examples of where unaffordable housing creates, not only family pressures, but limits to economic growth as well. We have strong demographic and economic growth which is facing the constraints of inadequate availability of affordable housing. In last year’s budget we effectively tripled the transfers to the BC Government, so that in 2016 and 2017, there were three times the transfers than would have otherwise happened, so that the province can build and renew affordable housing and support the households that need to live in those housing units. This will lead in 2018 to where, for the first time in half a century, the federal government will implement a National Housing Strategy. The details of that will be announced later and some detail will appear in next week’s budget. This will make a big difference here in BC and the Lower Mainland.

Asked about the problem of escalating rents, Duclos responded, “Two weeks ago I was in Vancouver, announcing the first project of an innovation fund to build affordable housing, and I look forward to continuing this agenda with Ken Hardie and Sukh Dhaliwal over the next two years.”

Asked to define what “middle class” was, the Minister agreed there was no simple definition but said the definition was based on three things:

“First, it’s based on income of course; Second, the cost of living, and in particular the cost of essentials which varies across Canada. In Vancouver it’s the cost of housing, the cost of child care, transportation, both money and time costs, food and other essential items; and Third, it also depends on the confidence Canadians have in the future. That’s very important,” said Duclos.  “A Canadian may have a relatively low income and be officially among low income Canadians. Yet, that individual may still feel a part of the middle class, particularly if that person has a job that he or she believes will lead to better job prospects and wage increases in a stable company. It’s the anticipation and the confidence that most Canadians have towards the future. The job is clearly important.

For older workers it’s also retirement income security which makes a big difference, while for younger families, it’s the ability to hope that they will one day own their home, which will signal whether or not they feel a part of the middle class.”

The other part of the equation revolves around the needs of seniors and with the increases in pension, which are not enough to move ahead of the increases in hydro, insurance, rising housing costs and rental costs. There has there been an effort to adjust seniors’ funding on the basis of the cost of living, which varies in different parts of the country. The minister said the items were “deep” questions.

“We understand how vulnerable people can feel to live on a fixed income with a sense that the costs of essentials is increasing,” said Duclos. “We did three things in the last year alone, to decrease the vulnerability of seniors: enhancing the Guaranteed Income Supplement, as I said up to nine-hundred thousand seniors are getting up to an extra $1,000 a year. This may seem modest but for vulnerable seniors it does help. The other thing we did was to bring the eligibility for Old Age Security back to 65 years of age. If we had not done that, one hundred thousand seniors would have fallen into extreme poverty.

Duclos said that in June the federal government enhanced the Canada Pension Plan which will increase the income of “hundreds of thousands of vulnerable seniors making more workers feel secure about their retirement income, and feel that they are secure enough to count themselves part of the middle class as well.” There will be more in next week’s budget (March 22nd).

“On inclusivity,” Duclos said, “a key goal of the government is for everyone to have a fair and equal opportunity to succeed.

Duclos said the Canada Child Benefit is taking two hundred thousand parents out of poverty across Canada, seventy percent of whom are mothers, many are single parents, “who more often find themselves in poverty.”

“The improvements we are going to make in housing, will have a bigger impact for women,” said Duclos, “because more women find themselves in difficult housing conditions. Finally the federal government is going to be supportive of investments in early learning and child care because it makes a big difference in the cognitive and social development of children, and because it creates greater gender equality. With these improvements, parents, and mothers in particular, will have a better opportunity to participate in the labour market, which contributes over time to more gender equality.”

The federal budget will be read in the House of Commons on March 22.