Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
Opening Remarks, Families in Canada Conference 2019 (Check Against Delivery)
Delivered in Ottawa, Ontario on March 27, 2019
I would like to say that it is a privilege for me to join you today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and across Canada at the simultaneous satellite events (St. John’s, NL; Charlottetown, PEI; Halifax, NS; Guelph, ON; Winnipeg, MB; Calgary, AB; and Victoria and Vancouver, BC). I’d also like to show my respect to the Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging.
Many thanks to the Infinity Convention Centre for hosting this year’s Families in Canada Conference and all the universities across the country that are hosting events at the same time. I hope everyone has a productive conference.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with such a fantastic group of diverse leaders who understand, serve and support families in Canada. You have two full days ahead of you, during which you’ll share knowledge and talk about two of my favourite subjects: data and the well-being of families.
Last week, we introduced Budget 2019, which is our next step toward building a better future for all Canadians; and the well-being of children and families is key to that future.
Budget 2019 continues our government’s plan to invest in the middle class, with a special focus on investing in people and the things they need to succeed: more affordable places to live – especially for renters and first-time homebuyers – support for seniors and investments in skills for a changing job market, to name a few.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a father of three children and I’m actually an economist – I graduated from the London School of Economics (a while ago) and shortly after, I became a Professor of Economics at Université Laval in Québec. So for 23 years, as a researcher and as a professor, I have gathered, analyzed and written about facts. Numbers and stats were my bread and butter!
Let me tell you about how I got into politics. I promise you, it’s data-related. When I heard about the decision of the previous government to increase the age of eligibility for old age pensions from 65 to 67, I became alarmed about the negative impacts this could have. I became even more alarmed when I learned that the previous federal government had no idea of what those negative impacts would be. So I decided to put together a team to assess the social and economic impacts of that change.
Our research was conclusive: increasing the age of eligibility for old age pensions from 65 to 67 would plunge 100,000 seniors, aged 65 and 66, into severe poverty, every year. Finding these results, and wanting to increase the role of scientific evidence and facts in the governmental decision-making process, I decided to have a part in reversing this change: I ran for elected office. And to my own surprise, I won.
Soon after, I was appointed as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development with a clear mandate to:
- grow the middle class;
- help those who are working hard to join the middle class; and
- ensure that every Canadian has a real and fair chance at success.
And this is what I’ve been working hard to do with my team in the last three years. Yet for all the progress we’ve made over the last three years, Canadians are still worried about their incomes, their job security, the cost of living and their ability to raise their families.
The Vanier Institute’s 2015–2016 listening tour asked people to complete the phrase “Family is… ” and the answers were overwhelmingly:
- Family is LOVE;
- Family is CARE; and
- Family is SUPPORT.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring people can LOVE WITHOUT LABELS, get CARE WHEN NEEDED and SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER at home, at work and in their communities.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) mission
In my department, I am particularly proud of the work being done for families, children and social development.
We deliver programs and services that affect Canadians throughout their lives, and data is essential for making programs and services as useful as possible to Canadians.
Challenges facing Canadian families
This conference is about looking at the new realities that families face and analyzing them so that we can develop effective and inclusive policies and programs. As a father, I know there is no shortage of challenges when you’re a parent.
Raising a family requires support. Child care fees can be very expensive, and the quality of child care is so important. Finding an affordable home close to schools, services and work is often a challenge. And the rising cost of food, clothing and extracurricular activities is on the minds of many. Knowing this, we need to ensure that children and parents thrive. After all, our future depends on them.
Let me summarize some of our most recent and important measures in that regard.
As was announced recently, Canadian employees who are planning to start a family can now take advantage of increased flexibility in Employment Insurance benefits when choosing to begin their maternity leave.
Eligible workers are now able to receive EI maternity benefits earlier, up to 12 weeks before their due date, making mother’s and baby’s health a priority.
And once their child arrives, parents now have two options for paid leave: up to 35 weeks of parental benefits paid over 12 months, or up to 61 weeks of extended parental benefits paid at a lower rate over 18 months.
Our government is particularly committed to supporting equity to address the gender pay gap, because we know that women represent about 85% of all parental benefit claims made, indicating that child care duties continue to be taken up mostly by mothers.
This is in contrast to Quebec, where 80% of spouses or partners claimed or intended to claim parental benefits (compared with only 12% in the rest of Canada) due in large part to the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan, introduced 15 years ago.
So, as of March 17, 2019, we are also providing parents – including adoptive and same-sex parents – with access to an additional five weeks of EI parental benefits when they agree to share parental benefits, or an additional eight weeks under the extended parental benefit option. Up to 97,000 Canadian families are expected to claim this parental sharing benefit per year. And implementing the parental sharing measure three months sooner than promised means that even more parents can benefit.
Many parents are also the primary caregiver for an aging parent or adult family member while they are raising their young families. That’s why we introduced an Employment Insurance family caregiving benefit of up to 15 weeks to support those who are providing care to an adult family member recovering from critical illness or injury. This benefit can be shared among family members. It’s easier than ever to apply, and it can help support more gender equality in the home and the workplace.
As of December 30, 2018, about 13,700 claims were established for caregiving benefits for adults and children. And looking ahead from December 2017 to October 2019, it is estimated that approximately 24,000 claims could be made for the new EI caregiving benefits.
One of my first tasks as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development was to introduce the new tax-free Canada Child Benefit in 2016. On top of that, we indexed this benefit to the cost of living in 2018, two years ahead of schedule. The CCB is putting more money in families’ pockets to help with the cost of raising children.
Since 2015, the CCB has helped lift more than half a million people – including 278,000 children – out of poverty. And across Canada, nearly 3.7 million Canadian families are receiving an average of $600 a month, tax-free.
Early learning and child care needs across the country are vast and diverse. For Canadian families, high-quality, affordable child care is more than a convenience – it’s a necessity to ensure the best possible start in life. That’s why we created an unprecedented framework that will allow us to provide affordable, accessible and high-quality child care services to Canadian families.
The Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework, in which we are investing $7.5 billion over 11 years, forms the foundation of a long-term vision in which all children benefit from quality early learning and child care. Part of this investment includes supporting innovative practices in early learning and child care, and addressing data gaps through a $195 million investment in data and innovation. We have also entered into bilateral agreements with all provinces and territories to invest in the creation of up to 40,000 more affordable child care spaces by March 2020.
To complement the Multilateral Framework, we jointly released the co-developed Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework with Indigenous leadership, and announced $1.7 billion over 10 years. By continuing to work collaboratively with First Nations, Métis and Inuit partners, the Government is working to foster more opportunities to access the quality early learning and child care and culturally relevant social supports that Indigenous children need to succeed.
Evidence-based decision making
To make informed decisions and inspire innovation, we are investing in research, data collection and data analysis. To reach this goal, governments must absolutely collaborate with academics and stakeholders, just like you. Sound data and up-to-date information are essential to a healthy democracy. For this reason, the Government is taking action to increase the quantity and quality of information that is available to Canadians while improving the delivery of services.
This fiscal year, ESDC will have invested an estimated $50 million in the development of, and access to, survey data that supports research, development and implementation of policies and programs that touch the labour market, learning, social development and income security.
And as part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to evidence-based decision making, Statistics Canada will conduct the next census in 2021, building on the successes of the 2016 Census of Population. The 2016 Census had the highest response in history to the long form component and set a world record for Internet response.
The re-implementation of the long form Census improved the accessibility, accuracy and coherence of statistical information. In particular, the long form component is giving us data on smaller communities across Canada that was unavailable in 2011 due to the National Household Survey’s lower response rate.
Data that provides researchers and policy-makers with a better understanding of Canada and Canadians is integral to establishing public policies that help those who need it most.
Poverty reduction strategy
Last year, to help more Canadians join the middle class, Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy was launched. To be effective, Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy needs to be based on data and research – it must have transparent indicators and clear targets, and establish tangible actions. While we recognize that poverty is a continuum, and our indicators ensure we measure it in that way, an official poverty line had not yet been identified in Canada.
We now have, for the first time ever, such an important indicator to measure our progress and deliver on our commitments. The poverty line is based on the cost of a basket of goods and services that individuals and families require to meet their basic needs and achieve a modest standard of living in communities across the country.
This measure is also being reviewed by Statistics Canada to ensure that it accurately reflects the realities of today’s families. The Strategy also sets out clear targets and measurable goals to reduce poverty by 20% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030, as measured by Canada’s Official Poverty Line.
These are ambitious targets, but we are confident that we can reach them. In fact, the recent results of the 2017 Canadian Income Survey show that we have met our first poverty reduction target three years ahead of schedule. Between 2015 and 2017, the poverty rate fell by more than 20%, in large part because of our investments. This represents approximately 825,000 fewer individuals living in poverty.
By meeting this target, Canada has reached its lowest poverty rate in history. I cannot overstate it enough. I am very proud of this huge accomplishment.
We are also investing in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). As mentioned earlier, we have restored the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement to 65, putting thousands of dollars back in the pockets of Canadians as they become seniors.
We also increased Guaranteed Income Supplement payments by up to $947 per year for single seniors, helping nearly 900,000 low-income seniors a year and lifting about 57,000 seniors out of poverty.
As a government and as a country, we know how important it is to invest in people, in families and in communities. This is central to our agenda of helping more Canadians join the middle class and growing our economy. And our plan is working.
Since 2015, Canadians have created more than 900,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 1976. Federal debt relative to the GDP is falling and will soon be at its lowest point in four decades. Canada’s economy is among the fastest-growing in the G7. Poverty is at its lowest level in the history of our country. And the typical four-person family is $2,000 better off now than in 2015.
I am proud of the outcomes for families and children, but I know that there’s much more to be done. I am therefore proud to be here with all of you today, and I look forward to hearing more about the conversations taking place here and at each of the satellite events.
Thank you. Enjoy the conference.
Edited for publication. Reprinted with permission by the Vanier Institute of the Family.
Published on April 8, 2019