KENORA – As we head into a new year, it is time to take pause and reflect on the progress made in the past year. These reflections help to map a way forward and pinpoint opportunities for improvement. While we do this in our own personal lives, it is also an important practice for our Government, as 2018 marks the conclusion of the first half of our mandate.
There has been a lot of progress made throughout the North this past year. With the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, the Kenora riding saw more than $1.5 million in investments for 26 projects, including the Kenora Aerialettes Gymnastics club, the Minaki Community and Recreation Centre, and the Thomas Land Sr. Memorial Arena, to name just a few. Social infrastructure investments such as these help bring families together by providing them with the facilities they need to play sports and participate in an active community.
Substantial infrastructure investments have also taken place, which not only benefits residents but helps to attract new businesses and entrepreneurs to the riding. To ensure Northwestern Ontario is kept up to date with the high rate of change in technology, the federal government has invested more than $40 million in Internet infrastructure upgrades in the riding this year alone, through the Connect to Innovate program. With further announcements anticipated in the coming months, I am confident that even more residents will have faster and more reliable internet connections in 2018.
As we all know, clean drinking water is a priority and right for every Canadian. Since November 2015, 26 long-term boil-water advisories have been lifted, with investments of over $2.5 million for Clean Water Wastewater Funding (CWWF) in First Nations that have funded more than 62 projects in the Kenora riding.
Our government also continues to focus on the importance of strengthening families. One example is the tax-free Canada Child Benefit (CCB) which has been a tremendous success. In the Kenora riding alone, 8,070 payments were made, totaling more than $73 million from June 2016 to July 2017. This works out to an average yearly payment of $9,130 to families. Building on the success of the CCB, in July 2018, a single parent of two children making $35,000, CCB will increase by $560 in the 2019-20 benefit year to help with the cost of raising children. As a parent, I am extremely proud of the commitment we have made to support families
We have also made comprehensive changes to Employment Insurance Benefits to improve the quality of life for families by providing more choices. Parents now have the option to expand their parental benefit to 18 months. Prior to birth, expectant mothers can now start receiving maternity benefits 12 weeks before their due date. Changes have also been made to the caregiving benefit process that will help simplify registration and make it less stressful for caregivers to receive benefits during trying times.
To support low income, single seniors, and help provide greater financial security, we increased the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) by up to $947 a year to support those most vulnerable. Over the past year, this has improved the financial security for nearly 900,000 seniors and lifted an estimated 13,000 people out of poverty. It needed to be done and we are on the right path.
Healthcare has been a longstanding issue in our riding, and I believe we can no longer accept lower standards of healthcare services. Our government has made some strides, including a commitment to fund a Treatment Centre for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. That said, I continue fighting so that the standard of care for Northerners is nothing less than first-rate.
On the national front, Canada is in one of the best economic positions seen in years. The 2017 Fall Economic Statement highlighted that Canada has the fastest growing economy of the G7 countries. In turn, close to 600,000 new jobs were created and unemployment is at its lowest rate in 10 years.
Our government recognizes that housing is a right, which is why a National Housing Strategy has been announced. The 10-year, $40 billion plan will help reduce homelessness and increase availability and quality of housing for those in need. The strategy is designed to meet the needs of all Canadians, including seniors, Indigenous Peoples, survivors of family violence, people with disabilities, refugees, veterans, and the homeless.
On cannabis, the issue is clear: with more than 20 percent of youth and 30 percent of young adults using cannabis in the last year, we proposed legislation that will better control and regulate its production, sale, and possession. The legislation was designed to allow adults to legally possess and use small amounts of cannabis. However, we must protect our young people and that’s why the sale of cannabis to children under 18 years of age could result in sentences of up to 14 years in jail.
We have made progress in 2017, and as your Member of Parliament, I will continue advocating that the North receive its fair share and be recognized for its importance. If we truly want to continue to build a diverse and prosperous nation we must invest and connect the North. We should all have access to safe highways, roads, and airports, to high-speed Internet, and to 21st-century health care services.
I wish you all the best in 2018 and look forward to continuing working on your behalf to make Northwestern Ontario an even better place to live.