Bill C-5 (Historical)
Canada Education Savings Act
An Act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Joe Volpe Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Foreign Credential Recognition Program
Private Members' Business
June 6th, 2005 / 11 a.m.
France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, today, we are going to debate Motion M-195 put forward by the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale. This motion concerns skills development, which is Quebec's responsibility.
The Bloc Québécois is denouncing the federal government's interference in an issue that is clearly within the purview of Quebec. There are currently loads of unprocessed immigration files. Out of the blue, the government found some money to include in this year's budget. I will quote the exact figures. On April 25, 2005, the government looked under the mattress and found $75 million over five years to accelerate and expand the integration of internationally trained health care professionals.
Speaking of health, many people in my riding received degrees or diplomas abroad. Canada made them all sorts of promises. They were lured to Canada with the promise of a job. Once settled in this welcoming land, the reality hit them, hard.
The government, which is loaded with money, should give some to the provinces. Matters pertaining to diplomas and degrees and to immigration are the responsibility of the provinces and Quebec. The federal government is creating an extra level of administration to manage those who manage the managers. Clearly, that is more interference on the part of the federal government.
In addition, $68 million over six years is earmarked to facilitate foreign credential assessment and recognition. Here again, the federal government is trying to interfere in and meddle with areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provinces have the necessary expertise to assess diplomas and degrees themselves.
We also have many immigrants in my riding of Compton—Stanstead. My office is located in a multicultural district with Serbs and Croats among its residents. In their home countries, these individuals obtained diplomas and degrees which have never been recognized here. I know that professional associations in Quebec have the standards and expertise necessary to recognize foreign diplomas and degrees.
The hon. member for Brampton—Springdale has said she wants to have a national program. This is not easy, since the conditions are not the same in all the provinces. My daughter is a doctor of chiropractic. The hon. member should know as well as I do that when a chiropractor moves from one province to another, he or she has to get a new licence. Health professionals are not licensed nationally but provincially. I know what I am talking about. If my daughter wants to practise her profession outside Quebec, she has to get special permission from the other province. If this were a national program, it would be chaos once again, but the federal government seems to like that.
Besides, under the Constitution, professional corporations are under Quebec's jurisdiction. It is in the Constitution Act, 1867. This is nothing new. It is right in the Constitution. I have not been a member of Parliament for a very long time, but I have realized this government does not seem to abide by the Constitution, even if the Liberals themselves wrote it in 1867, at a time when there were only two political parties.
In case anyone does not know what I am talking about, section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, grants exclusive jurisdiction over education to the legislatures of Quebec and other provinces. Education and degrees are under provincial jurisdiction. One day, the federal government will understand that.
We also have section 25 of the Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration. It was not signed in 1867, but in 1991, only 14 years ago. What it provides concerning the reception of immigrants is clear. For those who forget, I repeat that this is section 25 of the Canada-Quebec Accord, which says, and I quote, “Canada undertakes to withdraw from specialized economic integration services to be provided by Québec--”
I hope the translation was well done so that people are able to clearly understand what this means.
Our dear colleague from Brampton—Springdale should talk to the member for Vancouver Centre. I will quote what she said:
The recognition of foreign credentials is a provincial responsibility regulated by provincial legislation, and many of the regulatory bodies subject to this legislation are also under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government cannot interfere and say what it wants done in this regard.
I would add that this is a federalist talking.
I think that there should be a consensus. In fact, one MP says one thing and another MP says something else. Ideally, everyone should agree. That would be best.
Also, by simply having discussions on professional associations signifies that Ottawa does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to legislate this area. All this could compromise the discussions underway between Quebec and professional associations in Quebec.
I do not know if it works the same way in the other provinces but, in our case, we have professionals handling these diplomas. As a result, interference—yet again—by our good old federal government could slow down a process already begun.
In order to make it easier for newcomers to participate, this money should be transferred so they could learn French faster. These people are here, they want to work, share their professional skills, explore and be full-fledged citizens in their new land. However, they face a language barrier.
Last year, some people came to tell me about funding cuts to language training. The fiscal imbalance is to blame. If it were resolved, many other things could be too.
The federal government is interfering in a number of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. We are debating Motion M-195 on the recognition of foreign credentials, but manpower training is another area in which there is interference. The government also wants to keep the new Canada learning bond set out in Bill C-5.
Then, there is the child care system. The feds are in the midst of signing a pan-Canadian agreement on child care. Quebec has had such a system for over 10 years and has yet to sign anything. What a surprise.
Then there is regional development. Looking at the Summer Career Placement program, it is obvious that there is a movement of young people into the urban centres. One wonders why we still have regional development. As far as I am concerned, it is for urban regions. I also mentioned earlier the small amount of money that we were given for health, which falls strictly under the purview of the provinces. Infrastructure is another national farce. It is a responsibility of the municipalities and municipalities are managed by the Quebec government.
Moreover, they are busy enough without getting involved in the immigration sector. Immigration is very important in Quebec because it gives us a new vision and new knowledge. Quebec is already doing the work and doing it well. However, this takes time and negotiations. The federal government has just created another level of negotiation. In other words, it has just slowed the negotiations under way.
In closing, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against Motion M-195 because it basically deals with staff managing staff managing staff.
May 3rd, 2005 / 8:50 p.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Mr. Chair, I have a comment to make rather than a question, but it backs up what my hon. colleague has just said.
I have tried as a member of Parliament to vote with the wishes of my constituents and to do so in a way that to some degree would replicate the kind of citizen engagement there would be if there was a formal referendum process in this country. We do have the Referendum Act, but it is used very selectively. Over the course of the last 100 years it has been used three times. There have only been three referendums from 1896 to 1992.
We do have what we call constituent referendums where a postal ballot is mailed to all households. I have done this with respect to a number of laws. I explain in the mailing why I am consulting my constituents and why I regard an issue as important. I provide a non-partisan description of the bill as well.
I did this in the prior Parliament with respect to Bill C-5, the Species at Risk Act. I included the review that was done for members by the Library of Parliament and included it in the mailout. I included it so people would understand the general purpose of the bill in a non-partisan kind of way and also included arguments for and against the legislation.
In order to ensure that I provide fair and reasonable arguments, I took arguments from individuals who actually advocated for or against the legislation in debates in committee, in debates in the House or from newspaper editorials and so on. I tried to give a representative sample of the arguments for and against the legislation. Thanks to the magic of the Internet further documents and links could be put in to allow people to look at it and consult. This is particularly easy on something like same sex marriage where there are numerous websites that promote either side of the argument.
Having done this, I can say this produces a lot of citizen engagement as well as a lot of respect for an MP. I did it on two pieces of legislation in the last Parliament where I actually voted against my party based on the recommendations of my constituents. One was the most important piece of legislation that faced the 37th Parliament and that was the Anti-terrorism Act. When I asked my constituents whether I should vote in favour of the bill at third reading if no sunset clause was included in it, the majority told me not to vote in favour of it. I voted against it. Only four members of my party broke ranks and voted against that legislation. I was one of those four.
On another occasion I was the only member of the entire opposition to vote in favour of a law. It was a lonely experience, but it was what my constituents had instructed me to do.
The number of people who respond to these constituent referendums can be substantial. In one constituent referendum I asked whether I should opt in or out of the MP pay raise. I had over 3,000 responses.
This kind of mechanism, if used by MPs, can produce a lot of citizen engagement and involvement. It seems to me that it is a healthy antidote to the danger that worries many MPs on the government side. They think that we are just going to get anarchy and people going off in different directions. If we have to go through the process and the discipline of explaining in an objective way to our constituents what the nature of an argument is, we are unlikely to be led astray unless the government itself has wandered astray from where public opinion actually happens to be.
Civil Marriage Act
May 3rd, 2005 / 4 p.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Mr. Speaker, if the flood of petitions and letters to my office over the past six months is any indication, Bill C-38, the same sex marriage bill, is by far the most important bill that will be dealt with by the 38th Parliament.
I have received about five times as much mail on this subject as on any other that I have dealt with in my four years as a member of Parliament. I have received many thousands of signatures on petitions in the constituency. For example, last week I presented nine such petitions to the House, and this week I have a further eight petitions that I am ready to submit. As members can see from the size of this pile, there are many hundreds of signatures on these petitions. As well, of course, I listen to many of my colleagues on all sides of the House presenting one petition after another, which is a very strong indication of the depth of interest expressed by Canadians on this issue.
Another sign of the depth of interest and commitment is the number of letters that are received and that are individual handwritten letters, letters from people who, although they are constituents, are not regular correspondents. People have been moved to write to me on this issue when they have written on no other issue. That is a signal to me of the depth of their interest in and commitment on this issue.
It was my practice in the 37th Parliament, that is, the one that sat from 2000 to 2004, to seek instruction from the electorate in my riding as to how to vote on key legislation via a mechanism that we refer to in the constituency as a constituency referendum.
I have conducted constituency referenda in which I asked constituents, by means of a mail-out ballot to all households in the riding, how to vote at final reading on, among other things, the species at risk act, which was Bill C-5 in the 37th Parliament, and the anti-terrorism act, Bill C-36 in the 37th Parliament. I have asked about whether to opt in or out of the MPs' annual $20,000 pay increase and also about how the riding boundaries of my then riding of Lanark--Carleton ought to be redrawn so that I could submit to the Electoral Boundaries Commission a submission that accurately reflected the community of interest as expressed by my constituents.
My party leader, the Leader of the Opposition, is a democrat, which means a lot to me because I am of course the shadow cabinet critic for democratic reform. He is a democrat. He strongly supports the right of MPs, including members of the shadow cabinet, to vote their consciences or to vote the collective consciences of the people they represent. That is why three members of our shadow cabinet are able to vote for this bill without fear of sanction, reprisal or losing their posts.
This contrasts dramatically with the Liberal benches, where no such freedom is available to members of the cabinet. I am also the critic for FedNor, the federal agency for regional economic development in northern Ontario. My opposite number in the Liberal cabinet, the minister for FedNor, has indicated very strongly that he personally is opposed to same sex marriage and is opposed to this legislation. He has been faced with a choice between resigning his post or abdicating his conscience. Unfortunately, he seems to have chosen to abdicate his responsibility to his conscience in choosing to fall in line with the government.
How many others have done so without at least speaking openly as he has done I do not know, but certainly there is very little in the way of democracy on that side of the House and on something that is the most important issue in the minds of many of the constituents of many of the members opposite, and of course also in the minds of many of the members opposite themselves, as it is in the minds of so many opposition members of Parliament.
The same lack of freedom to follow one's conscience or the conscience of one's constituents is even more evident in the New Democratic Party, where one member, the member for Churchill, in northern Manitoba, has essentially been knuckled under, read the riot act and told she must vote the way her party leader tells her to, without regard for her personal conscience or for the will of her constituents.
As our party's critic on democracy, I am proud of the courageous and democratic position adopted by our leader, but also of the democratic position adopted by our party, the Conservative Party, at its March policy convention in Montreal. I want to read from our policy platform a policy that was adopted in Montreal at our March convention. It states:
On issues of moral conscience, such as abortion, the definition of marriage, and euthanasia, the Conservative Party acknowledges the diversity of deeply held personal convictions among individual Party members and the right of Members of Parliament to adopt positions in consultations with their constituents and to vote freely.
My intention personally has been to vote against this bill at second reading and to conduct a constituency referendum to determine how I should vote at third reading.
At second reading a bill is being approved or rejected in principle. As such, it is the stage of the bill's life where it is most appropriate for a member of Parliament to vote his or her conscience. My conscience dictates that I cannot support a bill that fails to provide adequate protection for religious freedom when such protection could easily have been included in the text of the bill.
I have largely based my political career on the defence of religious freedom. My very first statement in the House of Commons, as a new member of Parliament, was the defence of the freedom of religion of Falun Gong practitioners in mainland China. When I turned to my constituents to ask how to vote on the Anti-terrorism Act and ultimately when I broke ranks with most members of my party, and with the government of course, in order to vote against the bill, I was primarily motivated by the unwarranted restrictions that the bill was placing on freedom of religion which I believe set a very dangerous precedent in this country.
Freedom of religion that is nominally protected in clause 3 of the same sex bill is quite frankly a fictitious protection of freedom of religion. It is a section that Liberal members will cite constantly. Let me read what it says because it is revealing when the text is read. We realize how hollow this protection of freedom of religion really is. Clause 3 of the bill says:
It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
There are two things to note about this. First, which my hon. colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla so clearly identified, this does not take care of all of the other impositions on freedom of religion, of many other actors in society that are not contained within the wording of this section, such as people who serve as commissioners of marriage who find their personal conscience violated.
It would be no great effort to find someone who finds it in accordance with his or her personal conscience to perform a same sex marriage as opposed to leaving it, requiring that all people who are commissioners of marriage must be willing to do so should the condition present itself. That is just unreasonable. It provides no extra rights to a same sex couple, but it takes away a fundamental and profound right to those who find that it is not in accordance with their personal religious or philosophical beliefs.
That provision could be taken care of by provincial law. It cannot be taken care of by federal law, but the federal government could have engaged in negotiation with the provinces to ensure those kinds of protections are built into provincial law. It has made no such effort and in fact is standing by while the opposite starts to happen. There are many other instances that my colleague cited, but I will not go through them all now.
The other thing to note about this clause is that in the draft of the bill, the earlier version that was submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada, an almost identical provision was written into clause 2 of that draft law except that it did not have the wording “it is recognized” at the beginning. Clause 3 states that “It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages--”.
The inclusion of those words makes this a purely declaratory provision. It has no weight whatsoever. It should be up in the very long preamble to the bill because it has no weight in court. The reason it has no weight in court, even written as the original clause 2 of the prior bill was, is because the court said it can have no weight. It is ultra vires; it is outside of federal jurisdiction.
The solemnization of marriage under section 92 of the Constitution is a provincial responsibility. So putting this in the bill is disingenuous. It should not be given any weight. In fact, it should not even be in the text of the bill.
At third reading my intention is to go to my constituents and ask them how I ought to vote. Some people feel there is a contradiction between voting one's conscience and vote consulting one's constituents.
I want to indicate here that I heartily disagree with this bill. People know where I personally stand, particularly on the issue of freedom of religion. However, it would be arrogant of me to suggest to my voters, to my constituents, that on an issue of such great importance my conscience is somehow superior to the consciences of each of the 113,000 people I represent in the House of Commons. That is not the case. I am proud of them. I am proud of the good sense and conscientious, thoughtful and general sentiments that have been expressed over and over again in the hundreds of letters and many petitions that I have received on this subject, and that I have taken many hours to read and review personally.
If all members of Parliament of all parties showed the same good sense, goodwill, openness and respect that my constituents, and the constituents of all members, have shown, this debate would be a much more civilized debate than it has turned out to be so far.
Message from the Senate
December 15th, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend the Honourable the Deputy to Her Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber, Her Honour was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill S-10, a second act to harmonize federal law with the civil law of the Province of Quebec and to amend certain acts in order to ensure that each language version takes into account the common law and the civil law--Chapter 25.
Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings--Chapter 26.
Bill C-34, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2005--Chapter 27.
Bill C-35, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2005--Chapter 28.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 7th, 2004 / 3:15 p.m.
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-5.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 6th, 2004 / 12:30 p.m.
Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS
Mr. Speaker, I will try to answer the member's question in two ways. First he says that if we were to add a room on to a house would that not be improving it. It could. However what is happening with our university infrastructure is that the foundation is crumbling and the walls are caving in. The libraries and laboratories in our universities are in trouble because of the lack of investment. The walls are falling down and the roofs are leaking.
Would this be the wisest investment? Yes, we could add a room but is it the wisest investment to add a room when the educational infrastructure is in such desperate shape?
My second comment may be perhaps more persuasive for the member. I probably will not do justice to André Lareau from Laval University when I quote him, but I want to remind the member of what this Quebec expert said on Bill C-5 in pleading for it to be set aside. He said:
However, one of the objectives of the tax system is to distribute wealth fairly. How can we justify a government financial assistance program that targets the well-off members of society?
To summarize, richer families are the big winners in the income splitting that results from the education savings plan. Furthermore, they benefit from these amounts because their children are less likely to have to work. We have a double impact that benefits upper income families.
I would not have thought that would be the position of the Bloc. I say, with no reservation and no hesitation, that one of the reasons that it is so shocking to see the Bloc supporting this flawed bill is that in the province of Quebec, under both Liberal and Péquiste governments, there has been an understanding of the comprehensive approach that is needed. In fact, we have the asymmetrical educational measures taken in Quebec, an approach that goes in the opposite direction to this one.
I hear in this member's question the same thing I am hearing, and dismays people so much, is that is it not better to do something than to do nothing. It is not better if the choice we are making of the something is the wrong choice, that there are other things that are more important in both the short term and the long term and certainly in the medium term to which the educational dollars ought to be directed.
I make that plea again, particularly for the Bloc members because I think Quebec, I do not want to go over the top here, has closer to a model of what is needed in the rest of the country. The only thing that has interfered with Quebec governments, the previous Péquiste government and the current Liberal government, from doing an even better job on supporting the educational needs of students, particularly access to post-secondary education, is the fact that the federal government still has not even replaced the massive unilateral cuts that it introduced, starting with the so-called 1995 budget.
I do not know why the Bloc would be voting for this bill.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 6th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to participate in the debate on third reading of Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings.
A weekend has passed since several of my colleagues had an opportunity to very ably address the bill in debate on Friday and I want to say how appreciative I am of their contribution to that debate. Perhaps we need to take just a moment to remind ourselves that Bill C-5 is an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, the stated purpose of which is to encourage the financing of children's post-secondary education through saving from early childhood in registered education savings plans.
On the face of it, one might ask how anybody could not be in favour of people setting aside savings for the future education of their young people if they are in a position to do so. Nobody in their right mind could be opposed to that.
The difficulty with the bill and the reason why the New Democratic Party will not vote in support of the bill is that it is fundamentally flawed.
It is fundamentally flawed because it takes the approach that what is really needed in order to make sure that young people can access our post-secondary education system is just for their families to act more responsibly and, in order to get them to act more responsibly, the government needs to put some money out front, a small number of dollars, a token in terms of the actual cost of post-secondary education, and then families will act more responsibly.
They will learn from this because it is an important symbol. The government is saying that post-secondary education is so important that it is prepared to put some money into people's pockets to take out a registered education savings plan and that will take care of the educational needs of their children in the future.
This is a false signal, because of course the real problem with post-secondary education is that for yesterday's students, they are now crippled with debt. For today's students, their educational quality of experience is being eroded because they are so desperately trying to work at part time and underpaid jobs, which robs them of attending classes and getting assignments done and so on to pay for the privilege of being there, or they are having to drop out because the debt load has become so great that they simply cannot carry on.
Even for tomorrow's students the problem is not solved with the bill that is before us, because tuition is going up and up, the government has massively eroded its commitment of dollars to post-secondary education, and students simply are not able to get into the system in the first place in many cases.
Why? Because the government's commitment--and not the commitment of low income families who are supposed to be the target of the bill and who are supposed to be able to solve the problem by pulling savings out of their pockets--to post-secondary education is woefully inadequate. It represents doublespeak by the government. It is constantly reminding young people of the importance of post-secondary education to their future, which of course is absolutely true, but then the government acts so irresponsibly that it makes that post-secondary education virtually inaccessible for large numbers of students.
I know it is a subject for another day and it is certainly a subject when it comes to the budgetary priorities of the government as we go into the next budget, but the reality is that the government has so massively and unilaterally withdrawn dollars from post-secondary education that we have sent exactly the wrong signal to all Canadians about whether it is really important or not.
The result is that we have students faced with crippling debts. As an outstanding student leader in my own riding said during a debate in the recent election, what used to be a student crisis has now become a family crisis for a great many people in this country, especially low and modest income families, and I want to say especially families that live in the least prosperous areas, because it becomes part of an out-migration policy of our youth.
I know that one of our elected members from Cape Breton absolutely understands this: that not having adequate funding for post-secondary education at the public level becomes a deportation policy from rural areas, from remote areas and certainly from Cape Breton. I have to say that one of the most eloquent presentations before the human resources committee on this bill came from the spokespersons for and the representatives of the students at Cape Breton college, the University College of Cape Breton. I apologize for tripping over that name; unbelievably, I understand that UCCB is in the process of stripping “Cape Breton” out of the name. But that is another topic.
I want to get to what it is about the bill that is so absolutely flawed, and it borders on the immoral. The rhetoric, the flourish around the bill is it is about helping low income students first and foremost. This is simply a number's crunch that will lead to the conclusion shared with the committee, and particularly by an outstanding Quebec economist who gave us the numbers, that this is a bogus bill because the principal beneficiaries of it would be those earning over $70,000 a year.
It is no good for government members to get up as they have and say that is not the intention of the bill. They say that the intention of the bill is to help those in the lowest income category. If that is its intention, it does not live up to its billing. It does not deliver on its intentions. In that sense, it is fundamentally flawed, dishonest and it is immoral. Bill C-5 purports to do one thing, but it would do something different from that.
Students, from low income and modest income families across the country, who did their homework on the legislation, non-governmental agencies and community-based groups, whose resources and expertise are primarily allocated to helping low income families deal with the challenges they face to get into post-secondary educational institutions, came before the committee. With two exceptions only, every one of them said that the bill should be scrapped.
The reason given by those who spoke from the other three parties in support of the bill is that it would be better than nothing. Why? It is either the bogus claim that it will benefit low income families, which it will not, or in some ways worse still, it shows an impoverished state of mind and a lack of understanding of the problem.
I will not name any members when I say this, but I find it repugnant that several members said to me that they agreed with my analysis of the bill and that they had listened to all the witnesses who appeared before the committee who had said the bill should be scrapped. However, they admitted that they would not look good if it appeared they would not support giving money to low income people. I call that a lack of principle as well as a lack of leadership.
The voices that have expressed themselves in opposition to the bill and that have said to scrap it include, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Council on Social Development, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada and Low Income Families Together. The most stunning thing of all is the fact that the Bloc would support Bill C-5 in defiance of the eloquent, informed pleadings of la Fédération étudiante Universitaire du Québec, a group of highly informed students who represent the whole student body in the province of Quebec. These students also told us to scrap the bill because they felt it was offensive.
Another group from Quebec that also told the committee to scrap the bill was the Fédération des associations de familles monoparentales et recomposées du Québec, or in other words, the federation of single parent and blended family association.
The economist about whom I spoke briefly, André Lareau, a highly respected professor at Laval University, made it clear in his detailed analysis that the chief beneficiaries of Bill C-5 would be the highest income earners in Canada, not the lowest income earners.
Let me make one more plea. It is never too late to change one's mind. There is nothing weak-kneed or feeble-minded about changing one's mind in the face of the facts and the voices that came forward and who pleaded to scrap this bill. There is nothing wrong with changing one's mind in the face of the evidence.
This is what Ian Boyko of the Canadian Federation of Students said:
To begin with, we believe the learning bond will not get anywhere close to the heart of the problem. Just speaking in purely financial terms, the amount of money that low-income Canadians may accumulate under the learning bond will be wholly inadequate to cope with the rapidly increasing costs of colleges and universities in most jurisdictions. Until spiralling tuition fees are brought under control, the federal government is just throwing good money after bad money in student financial aid.
Let us remember that the majority of the OECD countries have tuition free post-secondary education. In addition to tuition free post-secondary education, there are a good many countries that are far less prosperous than Canada that also provide considerable financial support in terms of living costs and helping to cover related costs to post-secondary education.
This is what the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations said, apparently falling completely on deaf ears in the House of Commons, except for the New Democratic Party caucus. He said:
The greatest problem of learning bonds, however, is that they place heavy expectations on low-income families that simply do not have the resources to contribute significant amounts annually to an RESP for each of their children. Even if families are completely aware of the benefits of saving for education, low-income Canadians cannot afford to save the necessary funds to pay for education funds while still putting food on the table. As we've said before, it's like giving a low-income family $500 and a Mercedes-Benz and expecting them to finance the rest of the car.
Finally, I want to quote from the very powerful testimony of the representative from the University College of Cape Breton. Jamie Crane is a woman leader at UCCB. She said:
Low-income families, even if they did have the time to invest in registered savings plans, would not be able to contribute huge sums each year. Add that to the small amount of $2,000 that the government would contribute in the Canada Learning Bond and we're not looking at an amount that would even allow a child of a low-income family, or even a middle-income family, for that matter, to get their foot in the door, considering the rate at which we know tuition is estimated to rise over the next 10 to 20 years.
One really ugly charge has been made about the student leaders in the country today, which includes the Canadian Federation of Students, CASA and the Quebec federation of students to which I have referred, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. That charge has been made by some of those who support the bill, but criticize the student leadership. They have said that they only care about themselves, that only care that they are facing crippling debts and that they are not willing to let the government introduce a bill that will, and let us be clear about this, only begin to benefit a student for the first time 18 years from now.
That completely ignores the fact that all the other education stakeholders who have spoken, who very much have a long term investment and interest in the post-secondary education system, have also condemned this bill as ill-conceived, inadequate and a false signal to Canadians that what needs to be done about the financing of post-secondary education is actually accomplished by this bill.
Furthermore, as I have already said, every one of the community-based organizations, the NGOs, the non-profits, the research bodies, whose sole focus is on the question of how to help give low and modest income families a leg up in meeting the challenges that they face in this world, have also condemned the legislation as flawed, inadequate and not supportable.
At the end of the day, I hope it is never too late to say to people that we are supposedly in a minority Parliament that is more receptive, not less receptive, and more responsive to hearing the voices of Canadians. We have heard overwhelmingly voices that have informed themselves on the bill. They have analyzed and experienced this. They have lived and breathed every day the challenges that students and their families of yesterday, today and tomorrow have faced and that their community have faced in trying to support them. They have all said to scrap this legislation. This is supposed to be a Parliament that is renewing democracy. How is it a signal that the democratic process is alive and well and more responsive today when just about every witness and those who have commented outside of the hearings before the human resources committee have said that the bill should not be supported?
The voices that have said to scrap this bill have not done so because they are unaware of what is needed for low income families to support their young people to get an education. The single parent and blended family association from Quebec is stunned that it does not have the support of the Bloc in its position. It has said that since access to quality education is one of the surest ways to fight poverty, it should be one of the federal government's priorities, coming well before tax benefits for the more affluent. However, the bill effectively is about a tax benefit primarily for the most affluent. Not that this is the intention. I see the impatience of some members, wondering how I can say that. I can say it because that is the fact of it. That is what the figures clearly indicate.
We know there are a great many low income families who are struggling now to figure out how to pay for their groceries and rent and at the same time have money left over to help pay for school supplies and equipment of their elementary, junior and senior high sons and daughters. They are trying to help support them through the education system.
I again implore members not to close their ears to the voices that have been speaking out and pleading with us to address the real problems with respect to access and crippling education debt for today's and tomorrow's post-secondary students.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 3rd, 2004 / 1:15 p.m.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to focus on that. It has been the subject of some serious discussion and debate within our caucus. In fact our colleague from Halifax has sponsored Bill C-236 which is meant to change that very issue and move it from 10 years to two years so students have some opportunity to have a sound footing for a future.
It makes no sense to go through the whole process of doing everything we can collectively to provide accessibility and professionalism in a post-secondary education system if students who come out of that system in their early twenties feel their financial life is over before it has even begun.
We see this as an important critical component. We hope colleagues would look at Bill C-236 in that light. Hopefully, if not the Prime Minister, his representative would acknowledge that they made a mistake when they made that change. Now in this minority government, we have a unique opportunity, through the bill of the hon. member for Halifax, to correct that mistake. That represents another positive step forward as opposed to the sort of pretend step that Bill C-5 is taking.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 3rd, 2004 / 12:50 p.m.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
In a minority government, my friend from the government benches reminds me. That is another good reason to continue with a fine tradition we have started with the 38th Parliament. In those years the premier of the minority government of Ontario recognized that, with a little pressure, sure enough, but I try to give credit where credit is due. We have a warm spot for former premier Davis in our province for the initiatives that he took as the education minister, which were significant and made a difference.
Our generation, people who are my age, give or take, the boomers, benefited from the dividends of those public investments in the university system, and in the creation and funding of the community college system. For those whose skills, talents and desires did not suit university, the college system was there to provide skills development, so that those with other talents still had an opportunity to play a significant role in our economy and have the best quality of life for themselves and their families. We benefited from that.
At that time, the politicians of the day, like us here, said this was important and so they made the investment. These were Tories who saw this, not as my friend earlier referred to as willy-nilly throwing money but investing. Tories understand that. They understand investing today. Then it builds and we have something down the road. We are investing the time in trying to educate those who are having some trouble with this because they need to understand that not all Canadians are going to benefit from this.
We are benefiting from the dividends of that investment, and believe me they were massive. This is the same party, the Tories in Ontario, whose mantra was often “tax cuts, tax cuts”, but there was a recognition. It scares me when the younger Tories are like that. The older ones I can almost understand, but I do not know how one gets to be 25 years old and is already 50.
We are benefiting. My colleague who was applauding is at the tail end of the generation that benefited from that investment. I hope I am not wronging the member in any way by assuming that he went on to pursue some post-secondary education, but if he or other members did, they benefited from the investment that was made in post-secondary education in the post-World War II era, in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s. The difficulty is that without a reinvestment, like maintenance money for machinery and other means of production, it is going to break down, and when it breaks down it is not going to serve us the way that we expect it to.
The education system is the same way. There have to be investments along the way to maintain it, to build on it, to make sure that we maintain the vision that the original architects had of what post-secondary education would be in this country. If they had not done that, we would not have that benefit now, but it is petering out because there has not been the subsequent investments over the last 10 years or so.
Instead of addressing that head on and being the generation that picks up the gauntlet to make sure that the investment goes back into the post-secondary education system, we get this system that benefits families with disposable income. I grant that for families that have disposable income, that have enough money to make the investment, this is not a bad thing. This is not an evil bill. What upsets us is the suggestion by the government that this bill addresses a real need.
Odds are for those who have a few thousand dollars and it is not a big deal, they could put it into an RESP. The reality is that that is probably a nice financial tool in their portfolios but it is not the determining factor in whether or not their children will be able to go to university. In other words, if they have the money to put into an RESP, some of those folks are going to have the money to send their kids to university.
That has never been that problem. The wealthy in Canada, the wealthy around the world, the wealthy historically have always made sure that their children were well educated. All of us want that for our children but historically it has only been those who have the means who have been able to send their children to get the kind of education that people took for granted when I was younger.
I want to take just a moment to talk of the role of post-secondary education. I want to set the stage here as to how this fits into the context of education now in Canada and what it means to individuals, the students and their families, but also to our nation on the broader scale.
One of our economic advantages is not that we have the lowest tax structure in the world. Our competitive advantage is not that we have the lowest environmental protection laws in the world, where people can come in and make all the investments they want without having to worry about environmental protections or any of that sort of thing. That is not why. Our competitive strength does not come from having the weakest labour laws in the world so people can come in and exploit our citizens.
Our competitive advantage in large part comes because of the value added that our workforce--and I say that whether one is a doctor or a bus driver--is healthy, skilled, and well educated in the broadest sense. That is the advantage. If it was pure tax cuts, we could go to one of the southern states in the U.S. If it was just about exploitation, right now the hot spot seems to be China or other third world nations.
We have significant investment in Canada. I read a report the other day that suggests Ontario is about to surpass Michigan in terms of the greatest number of cars produced.
That is not done for the reasons I have mentioned and it is not done because we have weak environmental laws. It is not based on our weaknesses or how we can undercut other states and jurisdictions around the world. Those who can pay their workers the least amount get the investment will not work in Canada. It never has and never will.
This is what does work for those who want to invest in Canada. First of all in honour of Tommy Douglas, we have got about a $6 to $10 an hour advantage because Canadian employers do not have to pay health insurance premiums for their employees. It is part of the national system. It is part of our general revenue system. We have that built in structurally. It is another good reason to maintain our universal health care system.
More important, modern assembly plants now require people who can operate a lot of high end technical equipment, and it is changing all the time. Exploited workers do not learn how to adapt to a new technology very quickly. The fact that we have a skilled and educated workforce, homegrown, makes the difference. It is everything. That is our competitive advantage.
If we could not do it on that front, then unfortunately, we would have to say, “We will have to water down environmental protection, health and safety and cut the minimum wage. We will have to find some other way where we have an advantage over others”. No, most countries would give their right arms to have the challenge that we have, which is simply to maintain what we already have which is one of the most educated, healthy workforces in the world.
As a result, we do get investment. It is not always the best, but I can say that the billion dollars that just went into Ford in Ontario was very welcome. Ford did not make that investment based on all those other issues I mentioned. Ford made it because it can make money in Canada, in large part because of the workforce we can provide to any future employer.
We talk about the university level, the Ph.D. Obviously I do not have a post-secondary education and maybe I appreciate it more than most because I do not have one. However, I know that the more people who graduate from universities, the more people who graduate from our colleges and the more people who get active in our apprenticeship programs and become journeypersons, like my friend from Winnipeg Centre, the stronger I will be, the stronger my family will be, the stronger my hometown of Hamilton will be and the stronger this country will be.
We do not disagree on that. I did not hear a whole lot of heckling or see too many dirty looks as I was making these comments. Most people accept that the value added of our skilled workforce is one of our key competitive advantages.
That takes us full circle, right back to the inevitability of the critical importance of providing the population with an education system that is accessible to them. All that I have talked about means nothing if ordinary families cannot send their sons and daughters to the post-secondary education institutions. It does not work. That is why we are a little louder in terms of raising this issue than we might otherwise be. We are not so much opposed to what Bill C-5 does. What Bill C-5 purports to do and what the government says it will do, is what upsets us.
The parliamentary secretary and I had an interesting exchange earlier. We talked about the fact that while enrolment rates are up, it is going the wrong way for lower income families. With the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, not just in the world but in our own country, it means that we need to take steps to ensure that those students are getting an opportunity to go on. We are acknowledging that this will not do that, so we are still left with the problem.
I would feel a whole lot better about this whole debate if the government would simply stop saying that this is some kind of panacea, that this will be the big piece that solves the problem. It will not. All the major student union groups are opposed to this for that reason, because of what the government says it will do and they know it will not.
Leading educational experts, not just a small group here from the opposition, are opposed to Bill C-5. Why would students oppose it if it worked? If it worked they would be happy and we would not be having all these great quotes. They are here because the students themselves see that Bill C-5 will not answer the question.
This legislation will still leave a lot of students with debts of $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, or $100,000. We talked earlier about the fact that a lot of them are not going into the system. They are not going into the system because they are looking at that debt and they do not want to start their lives with that kind of anchor around them.
I do not recall my contemporaries when I was growing up being fearful of going to university because it would somehow have a negative impact on their lives. That is not the way it was. It ought not be that way now. It does not have to be that way now.
It makes so much sense to invest the dollars where it will help the nation, where it will help all of our respective provinces and territories, all of our hometowns, right to the centre of each of our universes, our own families. That is the impact of this issue. We collectively, and the government specifically, are not responding in that fashion.
Maybe the government has taken a look at the demographics. Maybe it has done its polling and found that the people who are not accessing post-secondary education or putting money into RESPs do not have the money, or whatever reason, and that most of them do not vote anyway. We all know the truth. The reality is the higher the income, the higher the education, the higher up people are on the socio-economic scale, the more likely they are to vote in this country. I would like to think that is not what is happening.
I am at a loss to understand why the government would be so reticent to make investments that would give back so much. If this were done right, as former premier Bill Davis did, those dividends would pay for generations. It requires each of us in our time, during our watch, to stand up and ensure that we make the necessary investment to pay respect to those who came before us and to maintain and make better the education system that we want and need for our young people.
I look forward to the give and take over the next 10 minutes. Bill C-5 does not do any great harm, but it sure falls short of the speechifying of the Liberal caucus.
Canada Education Savings Act
December 3rd, 2004 / 12:50 p.m.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate with my own remarks as they relate to Bill C-5. I had an opportunity earlier this morning to raise a few comments in response to the speeches of others. The message, for any members who were here earlier, certainly has not changed.
The difficulty we have with this is not what it does, so much as what it does not do. It provides for those who already have some means, to the extent they have disposable income, to put away money for their children's education. It does not address the needs of those families and individuals that do not have the means to make the contribution, which at the end of the day means that accessibility is not what Canadians have come to believe accessibility to be.
Let us take a step back. This is a whole new era. Parliamentarians and middle aged people who are watching did not see all of this when we were younger. We did not have the registered education savings plans and the whole notion that individuals needed to put money away for university. When I was growing up, if a person was smart enough, worked hard enough, and wanted it bad enough, a university education was not out of reach even though mom and dad were not rich.
In fact, one of the things that has made this a great nation is that we ensure that people with the ability, desire and willingness to work hard can achieve their goals in this country. We see it somewhat differently from our friends to the south, who see it almost as a dog eat dog situation. We have approached it in a somewhat more gentile manner. We think that the more successful people we have in Canada, the more successful everyone will be. It is not a question of pushing someone down so someone else can get ahead. The more of us we can lift up, the stronger we are as a nation.
I run the risk of getting into serious trouble with the highest authority in this room, but I suspect the Speaker is of an age where he would recall, through his studies I am sure, as I can, that throughout decades past, serious investment was made in post-secondary education at the college level and university level. Certainly in Ontario, which I know best. That is when the college system came into being.
I have attacked a former Conservative Ontario premier, Mike Harris, which I will probably do frequently in my time in this place. However, I am also prepared to acknowledge when a Conservative premier does the right thing. The premier who brought in the college system and beefed up the university system as it is now known in Ontario was Bill Davis.