The spring sitting of the House of Commons has wrapped up and it is worth looking back at what was accomplished. The 41st Parliament was one of the most productive in the history of Canada.  We passed 117 Government Bills, 40 Private Members’ Bills, 4 Private Bills, and 30 Private Member’s Motions. In fact, this last Parliament saw the passage of more substantive Private Members Bills than any other Parliament.  In an age where many suggest that average members of Parliament can’t advance issues on their own, 70 individual MPs from both sides of the House had legislation or motions of the House of Commons passed on a range of subjects from criminal justice to palliative care. The final weeks of the House session saw private members business change the way the Speaker of the House of Commons is elected and how parliamentary caucuses govern themselves with the passage of the Reform Act brought forward by my friend and colleague Michael Chong. Never before has the House of Commons seen such a strong impact from active Members of Parliament. I was honoured to speak on many of the Bills that had an impact on Durham from our economy to our heritage. I was also very proud to introduce new trade legislation as a Parliamentary Secretary and veterans legislation as the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

The most important milestone of this last session was the passage of the 2015 Budget as part of our ongoing Economic Action Plan that has led Canada through the worst global recession since the Great Depression to today when Canada is leading the G7 on most economic measures. In this historic budget we made good on our promise to balance the budget without raising taxes on Canadians. We have raised spending in priority areas like health transfers to the provinces, infrastructure, veterans and public safety, but controlled spending across government to meet our goals. We are the first country in the G7 group of nations to balance our budget following the 2009/10 global recession and it will take a few more years for another country to join us in this achievement. We have also created 1.2 million new jobs since that time with the vast majority being fulltime jobs in meaningful industries across the country. We have more to do on this front, as economic growth is stable but modest and there are still areas of the economy where we need to see stronger job growth, but Canada is the envy of the developed world in terms of our overall economic performance. This did not happen by accident, but was the result of many years of strong planning and setting priorities for the country.

The second part of our promise to balance the budget by 2015 included additional tax relief for two groups of Canadian families that we know have had rising pressures on their budgets over the last few years. First, we wanted to give more flexibility for families with children who saw pressures from the cost of everything from clothes to children’s activities. We brought in the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and Music & Arts Tax Credits to provide some additional flexibility for families to engage their kids in positive and active programming. Most importantly, we also brought forward the important Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), which provides families with children direct payments on monthly basis to help with family decisions related to child care. This program is universal, so all families benefit and have the choice to use the benefit in the way that helps them most. The 2015 budget increases and expands the UCCB, by increasing the monthly payment for children under 6 to $160 per month and by extending the program to include children 6 to 17 who often have needs for after school care or other arrangements. Now, families with children under 6 will receive almost $2000 per year and those over 6 will now receive $720 per year.

The second group of families we wanted to assist were our seniors. Seniors helped build the country we all enjoy and in their retirement years they are generally on a fixed income and heavily impacted by the rising cost of goods and services. A few years ago we brought in pension income splitting for seniors to give more favourable tax treatment for couples. We also introduced Tax Free Savings Accounts that allowed seniors to save in and around retirement. We also reduced the GST by 2 points, which has the largest positive impact on those with fixed incomes. In the 2015 budget we continued this approach to provide support and flexibility to our seniors. We doubled the amount eligible under the Tax Free Savings Accounts. We also reduced the mandatory withdrawal rate required from Registered Retirement Income Funds to give seniors in their 70s more flexibility each year. We also introduced a Home Accessibility Tax Credit to help seniors and persons with disabilities pay for the cost of renovations to help them stay in their homes by making them more accessible. I am very proud that we kept our word to offer additional tax relief once we balanced the budget. In fact, the federal tax burden is now at its lowest level since the days when John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister.

This year also began with a profound personal honour for me when I was asked by the Prime Minister to serve as the Minister of Veterans Affairs.  Growing up in Durham, I was instilled with the values of service from my family and from our community. I served in the Canadian Armed Forces for twelve years and then joined the Bowmanville branch of the Royal Canadian Legion when I returned home after my service. The military and veterans have been an important part of my adult life and I was honoured to be able to serve our veterans as Minister. In the last 6 months, I have introduced a serious of reforms and updates to ensure that the needs of modern veterans and their families are met. I brought forward legislation with new benefits for our most seriously injured veterans and their families and it just received Royal Assent last week. We have made positive progress to modernize the department and address new needs like mental health. The work we have done has been well received and it has also been special for me to include events with the Ontario Regiment and our local Legions as part of my work as Minister.

With a productive session in Ottawa now behind us, I get to spend more of my time in the communities across Durham listening to people, assisting wherever possible and recognizing the exceptional people and places we have in our area. I look forward to seeing you on the farm, at a fair or one of the other excellent events we have over the course of the summer. I would also like to pass along a passionate Happy Canada Day from my family to yours!

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