House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Harold Culbert Carleton—Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to my hon. colleague's presentation. I certainly want to congratulate him on it. As usual he is very astute when it comes to families, family relationships and once again has portrayed that to this House. My compliments to him.

We hear a great deal about the family today and we know that over the last number of years there have been changes to what we considered the traditional make-up of the family.

However, we know that even with all the challenges that our young people and our students face today, there is a tremendous opportunity in the future with the education opportunities for our young people, the changes in the world of technology and their adaptation to those new technologies. I think it is a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity for the youth of today to develop the future of this country. I believe we have a glorious future when I think of our young people. Quite often we hear a small percentage of criticism, but it is the 98 or 99 per cent of the young people who are going to carry the country forward into the future.

I would ask my hon. colleague to comment on that in his perspective with regard to the family.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a good point. We served on the health committee together and we did a study on preventive strategies for the good health of children.

Members and Canadians should know that according to the very best research the first three years in the life of an infant are the most critical in terms of the probability of positive future outcomes of the child. In fact, the mental health of a human being is more than 80 per cent locked in or established by the age of 3. That is why parents intuitively know that they want the choice to provide direct parental care during those first three years. If we looked at the statistics we would find that the demand for child care spaces for ages 0 to 3 years in Canada is about 270,000 spaces but from ages 3 to 5 years it jumps up to 524,000 spaces. That means that after a child reaches the age of 3 years, more and more families feel they have stabilized the situation.

The member is quite right that we must focus our attention on the formative years. That is when children get a good start. If we do that there will be a healthier outcome, lower health care costs, lower social program costs, lower criminal justice costs and a healthier country because healthy families and healthy children make a strong country.

Also the finance minister said that good fiscal policy makes good social policy and good social policy makes good fiscal policy. This is very good social policy and it will make good fiscal policy as well.

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this Reform motion, as it concerns family taxation, an issue of particular interest to me. This is not the first and certainly not the last time I address the issue in this House, because we in the Bloc Quebecois have repeatedly demanded, but to no avail, that the government review its taxation policy.

Despite all the arguments put forward by the Bloc in this respect, the Liberal Party never followed up by reviewing its family taxation policy. The ruling party was careful not to do so. It would rather look after the interests of the wealthy. Witness its policy on tax shelters.

As for the Reform motion, it purports to ensure tax fairness by extending the child care tax deduction to all families. There are several reasons why we do not support this proposal. But before addressing the Reform motion, I would like to share a few thoughts with you about the societal value of and the role played by parents, usually mothers, in the home.

All experts agree that the first three years of a child's life are crucial to the child's development. Some psychologists contend they set the foundation for the rest of their lives. This goes to show how important these first three years and the pre-school years are, not only for children and their families, but also for the communi-

ties they live in. In this context, there are two views to the role mothers should play during the first years of their children's lives.

I would like to make it quite clear from the outset that I have no intention of listing the merits of both philosophies. Having said that, I think it is important to respect the many child care decisions made by parents.

About the two philosophies, on the one hand, some say that, for children to develop properly, they need to be in close and constant contact with their mothers during the first few years of their lives. In their opinion, close ties between mother and child greatly benefit the child's development and no one could replace the mother at this stage.

By contrast, others believe that a healthy and stimulating environment, whether in public or private child care, largely makes up for the absence of the mother for a few hours, and that the relationship between the mother and the child will not be affected, and neither will the harmonious development of the child.

As I said, I have no intention of getting involved in this debate. I am simply stating that I respect, and so should the state, the decision of a woman, whether she decides to put her career on hold for a few years and devote her energies to raising children, or whether she decides to be both a mother and a worker.

Governments should not try to influence the choices made by parents. On the contrary, they should support these choices and guarantee a degree of tax fairness to both spouses. This is what today's debate is all about.

I have some reservations about the wording of the motion. I fear such a measure may be interpreted as an incentive for women to stay home. Should this be the case, it could kill the small gains made by women as a result of their hard-fought battle to join the workforce.

When women study side by side with their male colleagues, they experience the same fear of failure, the same stress, the same joys, the same success, the same financial constraints. In short, they experience the same reality as male students. However, once they get their degrees, the picture changes. Women then start experiencing the subtle discrimination which, unfortunately, is still too common in the labour market.

For example, during an interview, they may be asked if they are or intend to get married, if they have or intend to have children. There is no need to elaborate, we all know the story.

The majority of male applicants are not asked such questions. If the female candidate answers yes to one of these questions, she is often immediately excluded as a potential incumbent for the position. Why? Maybe because employers are afraid of children. I do not think it is true of all employers, of course, but there are enough of them to make it harder for graduate women to find work than it is for their male counterparts.

Why are employers afraid of children? Because children may represent a loss of productivity, of efficiency, of availability, and perhaps a loss of money. Obviously, I am simplifying somewhat, but barely. When a female employee becomes pregnant, it means a maternity leave. It means hiring and training a replacement, and it also means that the woman will be less available when she returns to her job. A pregnancy is not necessarily welcomed by all employers, to say the least.

This is what women have been battling since they first began pursuing their education in large numbers. As I said earlier, it was only after a hard fight that they obtained anti-discrimination laws in the area of hiring and employment. They won maternity leave that did not penalize them too heavily, day care centres, and tax regimes that take into account expenses associated with the need to have day care services for their children.

Women have come a long way, and this is very good. We can pat ourselves on the back. However, the survival of a society depends of necessity on its continuation. This is a law of nature to which no society is immune.

In Canada, as in Quebec, citizens and their governments have decided to support the presence of children in families and the presence of mothers in the workforce. The form this support has taken has been uneven and imperfect, but the support is there and I think there has to be a consensus.

This is the direction that society has therefore taken and very few people, except perhaps representatives of the Reform Party, want to change the rules of the game. Everyone wins with this policy: children, parents and society. Women make a very important contribution to the workplace. And this contribution depends on their training and experience, as it does with their male colleagues.

Far from harming our society, women's contribution to the labour force strengthens diversity. A Statistics Canada article published in 1994 entitled Declining female labour force participation indicated that the entry into the labour force of women with children at home was the most important factor in the increase in the female participation rate.

Between 1981 and 1993, when the participation rate of women without children at home remained relatively stable at 50 per cent, that of women with children jumped dramatically. The participation rate of mothers of children under the age of six jumped from 47 per cent in 1981 to 65 per cent in 1993. The percentage of

women in the labour force with children between the ages of 6 and 15 went from 61 per cent in 1981 to 75 per cent in 1993.

In other words, working mothers are with us to stay. The job now is to find the best ways of helping them balance their family responsibilities with their contribution to the labour force. Governments have adopted this approach, and now they have to do something, because there is still a pressing need for child care services.

The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada estimated that in 1995, three million children needed child care, while there were only 365,000 recognized spaces.

We know that in their election campaign, the Liberals promised to create 150,000 new child care spaces by 1996 and did nothing. One wonders where the money went-$700 million-that was supposed to be invested in child care. One wonders where that money is today. From what the minister said, he had no idea; it seems it disappeared just like that. I would like to remind the government of its promises in the red book.

So we are way behind, if we compare Canada with certain European countries. Sweden, for instance, has government funded child care spaces for about 50 per cent of children under six. In Denmark, 85 per cent of children between the ages of three and six are entitled to government funded child care. In France, 25 per cent of children under three are in child care funded by the government.

If we look at the percentages in Canada, we see that only 12 per cent of our children are in recognized child care. We know the need is there. I just told you that in 1993, 70 per cent of parents with children were on the labour market. When we see inadequate financing in a child care policy, we wonder how this government could ever implement a genuine family policy. I may remind the House that women have demanded and still demand adequate, quality child care, which is not about to happen overnight, as I just demonstrated.

Would using the state's meagre financial resources to help families, as the motion proposes to do, not threaten the funding of child care services networks developed by the provinces? Unfortunately, I have to ask the question, but we know perfectly well that this government has no intention of proposing any kind of funding so we can really embark on a genuine family policy. So how can you expect the government to respond to a Reform motion when that same government has shamefully hidden, I do not know where, the $700 million which had been promised for creating 150,000 child care spaces? I have my doubts about this government's political will to implement a genuine family policy.

This motion might not have been debated today if the government had moved. So I think that, considering the importance of such a policy, the multiple needs of families and the realities they are facing, the government has failed to meet the expectations of the public.

Now for the second reason we are against today's motion: the family is an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. The federal government, having gradually and stealthily encroached upon this field over the years, ought quite simply to pull out and transfer the equivalent tax points to the provinces. I am not saying abolish the funding, I am saying transfer it. There is a difference. I do not want people accusing me of not wanting a family policy, because I am calling for it to be transferred. There is a difference.

We know, for example, that at the end of the summit on the economy and employment, Quebec announced the implementation of a parental leave plan. This is a measure designed to broaden Quebec men and women's access to parental leave. This government should transfer tax points so as to contribute to the efforts made by a province-Quebec, in this case, but it could be another province-to implement a real policy to facilitate access to parental leave.

I would like to see this government distribute funds to the provinces in order to enable them to implement a true family policy. The Government of Quebec is calling for the transfer of a portion of the unemployment insurance fund. We know very well that it is destined to pay off the federal deficit, while the provinces will be required to provide more and more of the services the public is demanding.

In the same vein, it is important, within the spirit of decentralization so dear to the Liberals-in lip service at least, but we have yet to see it in action-that all tax points corresponding to fiscal and financial measures for families be transferred to the provinces. They are the ones in the best position to judge what policies are necessary for the development of society. I believe that we will continue to demand such transfers from the federal government, and we know that this trend is spreading to the other provinces.

We are well aware at this time, with all the cuts to the Canada social transfer, that this is another way of preventing the provinces from providing a true family policy. The least well off families will be the first to be penalized by cuts in education, in welfare, in health. I hope that, one day, the federal government will give in to the demands from the provinces.

Finally, the third reason behind our rejection of the motion is that its universality is a thing of the past. It is unacceptable in a society that boasts of wanting to redistribute the collective wealth. In the present context, the families with the greatest need have to be helped.

According to the Reform motion, the tax credit would be the same for all families according to revenue. If we were in fact in a period of wealth, as we have been in the past, as the federal

government has already stated, if the government had all this money at its disposal, we might have to consider it.

However, at the moment, when the government cannot even provide a day care policy, how can it expect to provide a policy on tax credits for women who have decided to stay home to look after their children?

I would like ask the government for the umpteenth time to think about ways to recognize the work women do at home. These women play an important social role and are totally ignored by this government. This is why the government must once again review investments so that, for once, there will be specific measures to ensure that families may count on government assistance.

It is high time the federal government recognized the fair contribution of all citizens whatever their role in building Quebec and Canadian society. I remind the government of the importance of balance in all its policies, and I invite it to very carefully follow its plan for balance between the sexes to analyze the impact of current tax measures on families in Quebec and Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois favours a tax system that ensures equal opportunities for disadvantaged children. This should go even further, but we have to take the current state of the economy into consideration. The Bloc Quebecois favours tax policy that takes account of family needs and of the families with the greatest need. The proposal by the Reform Party does not do so, because it would apply to all families including those in the high income bracket.

We would like the government to consider a real family policy. In my opinion, what we have before us as family policy is nothing. Fewer and fewer families can count on support from this government. The wording of this motion is unacceptable. I propose to the government that it give some thought to a real family policy.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member's comments on debate. I recall that she spoke on Bill C-256 with respect to splitting income between spouses and made a very similar speech, arguing on behalf of the women who want to have careers.

I would like to mention another point that I failed to mention in my speech. This motion comes on an allotted day, under supply in the estimates, and therefore constitutes a motion of non-confidence in the government. On that basis alone the Reform Party probably should have realized that this motion must be defeated. However, I thank members of the Reform Party for raising the issue because it gives members a chance to talk about the family.

The issue that the hon. member for Quebec raises with regard to family policy and child care policy are very important. I believe all members would agree. However, in the province of Ontario the average income of a trained child caregiver in a day care centre is about $19,000 a year. That is absolutely obscene when we consider what is expected of those trained people. As a result of that, the turnover in the child care industry is extremely high. That says to me that the security and the consistency of the bonding of a child with an adult during the period of institutionalized care is not as good as it would be with a parent. A person could probably make $19,000 a year working at McDonald's.

I do not believe that anyone is suggesting, and I hope the member is not suggesting, that there has to be one model and that women must work. I hope the member agrees that we have a complex society and complex family structures. We need flexibility and options more than anything else. If there is a choice, we should let the families, not the women, but the parents make the choice.

The member continues to talk from the perspective of women. I respect that. However, as members of Parliament we must speak on behalf of families and the parents who are trying to make choices.

The member well knows that under the current Income Tax Act the lower income spouse must claim the child care expense deduction. That usually means that the net take home pay after taxes, child care expenses and the cost of employment is so small that it is less than $100 a week. That is one of the reasons we have to make an effort to reform the tax system in order to help bridge that gap so that the decision is not financial, but a decision based on a family value, on a societal value and on a parental value.

Would the member at least concede that the important thing is what the parents want to choose for their children? Should we as legislators try to provide those options, those choices and that flexibility so that they can provide the care arrangement which they feel best fits their family and social values?

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1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is in a better position that I am; he is a government member. He should get his government to act on the decisions made in terms of family policy.

The advantage is yours, dear colleague, and I urge you to talk to your government to ensure that women can choose between staying at home to care for their children or joining the labour force.

You are in the best position to do that.

I realize that, ideally, the decision should not be made on a financial basis. There is also a need to give women the opportunity to achieve their full potential through employment. And this is no easy task nowadays. Many women are facing divorce. We know very well how hard it is for women who are returning to work.

In this respect, I would like to say a word about a policy put in place by this government with its new employment insurance plan that will penalize any woman who has been away from the labour market for any length of time. Women will be required to work many hours to qualify for benefits under the new Employment Insurance Act. We all know that the magic number is 910 hours of work, just to qualify for benefits under the new employment insurance policy.

I could go on for hours about some government policies that do not necessarily help women decide whether to stay at home to raise their children or to re-enter the workforce. Start by implementing real, equitable measures for women, then raise the issue again for discussion.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I will give you half a minute.

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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member just raised the issue of doing nothing for women. In fact, if the member would look, she would find under the new EI program wage subsidies and training allowances that allow parents who take parental leave to get back into the workforce.

I ask the member again if she would not concede that the important element of any strategy dealing with families is to provide choice, flexibility and options for families and not to deal with it on any basis other than what is the choice and the value of the family and parents.

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1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Again, Mr. Speaker, we know about the policy that was put in place and how flawed it is. We know full well that this requirement will exclude community organizations and that employment must be ensured.

Do not come and tell me that measures are being introduced to help women decide whether to stay at home to raise their children or to join the labour force. I suggest my hon. colleague press his government to put in place real measures to help families.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

As it is about 2 p.m., we will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Elaine Pomajba
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to share a story which shows that Canadians do care for those who suffer misfortune.

The following story appeared in the London Free Press . Elaine Pomajba received an emergency liver transplant from the Lung and Health Sciences Centre's multiple organ transplant service which saved her life. In gratitude, Ms. Pomajba decided to donate the proceeds from selling her prize steer at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Before selling the steer, the auctioneer recounted her story. Buyers then bought and sold the same steer seven times. Manuel Taveres of Dominion Meat started the process and it snowballed from there. Other buyers included Norwich Packers in the riding of Oxford; St. Helen's Meat Packers, Expedite Plus, MCI Packers and Longos Brothers who donated the meat to University Hospital. Elaine Pomajba donated a total of $13,776 to the transplant centre.

I want to congratulate all who contributed to this heart warming event.

Kenworth Plant Workers
Statements By Members

November 21st, 1996 / 1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Mercier Blainville—Deux-Montagnes, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the days to come, workers from the Kenworth plant in Sainte-Thérèse, which closed last April, will stop receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

The Quebec government has been negotiating for several months with the owner, PACCAR, to have the plant reopen. As for the federal government, it remains silent on this issue. I am asking the government to review, with diligence and compassion, the plight of these 800 workers, whose future depends, in many cases, on their being retrained. Current negotiations would also be easier if Ottawa showed some openness and specified how Kenworth can pay the back taxes it still owes the federal treasury.

If we include the families of these workers, the fate of 2,000 people is at stake, and, in turn, hundreds of local jobs.

John Munro
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is good reason to be concerned about the government's treatment of former Liberal cabinet minister John Munro.

In 1991 Mr. Munro was acquitted of charges of corruption, charges based on allegations that arose while he was a minister of the crown. The defence of his reputation cost Mr. Munro approximately $1 million in legal and related fees. Mr. Munro requested that the government pay his legal fees which would be consistent with previous policy and practice. In 1996, five years after he was acquitted, the government rejected his request for compensation.

In law Mr. Munro is innocent. Yet he has been impoverished because of the unsubstantiated allegations with respect to his conduct while a Liberal cabinet minister. In fairness the Minister of Justice should reconsider the decision to deny compensation to Mr. Munro or at the very least explain why compensation has been denied.

Government Of Prince Edward Island
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, this past Monday night the PC Party under the leadership of Pat Binns won a landslide victory and formed the government in P.E.I.

When I was mayor of St. John, New Brunswick I brought in the Calgary Flames AHL team. Every time one of those boys would score they would do a "yes".

I think all my colleagues on both sides of House should give Pat Binns and that beautiful blue wave a "yes".

Royal Commission On Aboriginal People
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Audrey McLaughlin Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People's report was released today. The commission outlines some 400 recommendations which are an attempt to address the serious issues facing Canada today.

The commission's report is not about how to address what has been called the Indian problem. It is about restructuring the relationships between federal-provincial-territorial governments and aboriginal people to redress the current problems which have been created historically by those same governments.

The Prime Minister has two choices on this issue, shelve the report or assume real leadership. In 1990 the Prime Minister told aboriginal people that he wanted "aboriginal issues to be front and centre on the agenda of the Liberal government". Here is the chance to do it.

The government can begin by immediately establishing a working special committee of parliamentarians and representatives of aboriginal people to develop an implementation plan.

Ben Powell Sr.
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence O'Brien Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to a constituent of mine, Mr. Ben Powell Sr. Ben was born in Carbonear, Newfoundland. At the age of 15 with only a grade three education as his mainstay he decided to leave his hometown and head for Labrador where he has lived ever since.

He has developed a deep love for the land and its people and has pursued life to the fullest as a fisherman, sawmiller, merchant, trapper, fishing camp operator and writer. Uncle Ben, as he is known, has made many outstanding contributions to Labrador.

In 1950 he founded and named the community of Charlottetown, Labrador. During his lifetime Ben has worked tirelessly for Confederation. In 1979 Ben became a writer and now has 12 books about Labrador in print. Ben's desire is that the younger generation will hold fast to its heritage.

To you, Uncle Ben, I join your family and great friends-indeed I consider myself to be one of these great friends-in thanking you for your contribution to Labrador, to Newfoundland and to Canada as a whole.