House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

The House resumed from April 20 consideration of the motion.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca concerning the taking of the division on M-261 scheduled for today at the conclusion of Private Members' Business and I believe that you will find consent for the following:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on M-261, all questions necessary to dispose of the said motion shall be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders today.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak in favour of Motion No. 261 as proposed by my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: ( a ) develop, along with their provincial counterparts, a comprehensive National Head Start Program for children in their first 8 years of life; ( b ) ensure that this integrated program involves both hospitals and schools, and is modelled on the experiences of the Moncton Head Start Program, Hawaii Head Start Program, and PERRY Pre-School Program; and ( c ) ensure that the program is implemented by the year 2000.

We in the official opposition are pleased that the motion is receiving so much support in the House.

The motion clearly states that the federal government should develop a national head start program along with its provincial counterparts. This would be a comprehensive program for all Canadian children in their first eight years of their life.

As a member of parliament I have divided my mandate into four components of society which I would like to focus on. They are: youth, senior citizens, families and women. I find this helpful in my work because, for example, I find that I learn a great deal about youth when I meet with students at schools.

We should provide a good start in life for our children. Our federal government tries to help all children through our health and education programs. The motion simply asks the federal government to concentrate on our children in the first eight years of their life, which is a critical stage in a child's development.

We know that inadequate attention and nurturing for our youngsters can often lead to subsequent developmental difficulties. We know that with a poor start the life of a child is at risk of winding up on the wrong side of the law. Our federal government should be interested in any opportunities that result in successful crime prevention. We spend more money dealing with criminals than on early detection and prevention of crime. The dollars spent on providing a good head start for our children will result in the saving of many dollars in the future that would have been spent dealing with anti-social and criminal behaviour.

The government has already implemented head start programs for our aboriginal communities. They have been primarily limited to reserves, but most aboriginal people living off reserve and non-aboriginal people also need this kind of program. We should treat all Canadians equally.

We have head start programs for our aboriginal children. Why are head start programs not available to other children who are not living on reserve?

This motion proposes that the government explore models based on the Perry Preschool Program, among others.

This government's National Crime Prevention Council has been very of supportive a national head start program. On page 2 of the executive summary of its 1996 report it states:

There is ample evidence that well-designed social development programs can prevent crime and be cost-effective. Rigorous evaluations, mainly American, show that crime prevention through social development pays handsome dividends.

In almost 30 years of participant follow-up the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan has been shown to be responsible for very significantly reducing juvenile and adult crime.

The Secretary of State for Children and Youth has already spoken to this motion on behalf of the Liberals. She acknowledges the success of the aboriginal head start program and pointed out that funding had doubled due to its benefits.

We need to expand our efforts to include the protection of all children and to assist needy parents to properly nurture and care for our country's children.

The motion we are debating should be supported by all members of this House, but especially by Liberals. The motion is not in conflict with the comments made by the secretary of state.

It is known that healthy babies become healthy children. Hospitals could screen all new mothers to identify babies and families who may need extra support and services.

Supporting this motion would pave the way for providing high risk families with the parenting help needed to avoid child abuse and neglect.

The official opposition justice critic spoke on this motion during its second hour of debate. He recounted that during the justice committee's recent 10-year review of the Young Offenders Act the committee travelled across the country. It listened to witnesses. It heard experts, professionals and lay people who have an interest in the whole area of the development of youth and the prevention of youth crime. During the hearings experts told the committee that teachers could detect aberrant and over-aggressive behaviour in children as early as grades one, two and three.

The Bloc fears that the motion encroaches into the area of provincial jurisdiction. As such, it has tied this motion into the Canadian unity debate. That is unfortunate.

In Quebec the justice committee found programs that are far ahead of some of the other provinces. That province has done an excellent job. There are programs in Quebec that ought to be looked at and perhaps emulated by other provinces if they have a real concern about dealing with early detection and preventive programs.

This brings us to the heart of the role of our federal government. Far from being threatened, Quebec should be anxious to share its technology and some of its successful programs with the rest of the country. The Bloc members should also support this motion.

Our federal government should pursue this motion and pool our resources to reduce the cost of implementation. Ideas and successes could be shared. National standards would ensure that children from all parts of this country receive the necessary assistance and protection in a national head start program.

Back in August 1996 the former minister of justice commented about the justice system and how the harm has already been done by the time people come before the courts. He stated “We must do more than deal with the symptoms of the problem. We must go to the source”. Programs, as proposed by this motion, go to the source.

In 1996 the Child Welfare League of Canada argued the need to create a comprehensive and permanent universal program across Canada to address funding for early intervention measures to assist our children.

I would like to give an example. Sandor Nyerges was a constituent of mine and a veteran of the two great wars. He was deaf, mute, 80 years old and lived alone. He became the victim of a ferocious attack by an assailant who has a long record as a young offender. My constituent died in the hospital from that attack. The alleged assailant was apparently intoxicated, a youth, possibly on drugs.

The constituents of Surrey Central and I are furious. In Surrey and elsewhere we hear about such crimes day after day. We have had another murder in Surrey, a caretaker at the Sikh temple, another victim of youth.

If our federal government had been acting in a timely fashion in the direction of the motion we are debating today, maybe Sandor and many other Canadians might not have been assaulted or murdered.

At the Princess Margaret Senior Secondary School in Surrey in March 1998 I met with students shortly after Sandor died. During my meeting with these students they raised the issue of crime as a major concern.

This is just another example of how the government continues to put the rights of the accused first and the safety of Canadians second. The government does not have a national head start program.

In closing I would like to say that Canadians are suffering. We want safer streets and safer communities. We want the Liberal government to respond to society's justice needs. That is why we should all support Motion No. 261.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Motion No. 261 put forward by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. The member continues to demonstrate his commitment to progressive social policy. I have spoken about this issue previously in the House and it is with great pride that I do so today.

Good government means providing the vehicle for a prosperous Canadian economy and also ensuring equality of opportunity in that prosperous economy.

The best economic system to provide prosperity is the free market, but the free market is only sustainable if all citizens have access to the economic levers. I believe that if we were to implement a national head start program and focus on early intervention, we would be going a long way in addressing the equality of opportunity and the access to those levers.

Recently several issues have been debated in the House and focused on by the Canadian people. One is the Liberal government's $2.5 billion millennium scholarship fund introduced in Bill C-36 which will be debated later on and which has been debated quite extensively in the House lately. Another is the government's new posturing on the Young Offenders Act. Not surprisingly the Liberals have missed the point on both programs.

Motion No. 261 speaks to a process that is far more admirable, effective and economical than these government sponsored programs. Motion No. 261 is an early intervention program that promotes prevention instead of punishment.

Study after study suggests that one dollar invested in a child in the formative years, particularly between birth and three years of age, and some studies say birth and six years of age, can deliver a six dollar and some say a seven dollar return on a child during those formative years. Some studies indicate that a one dollar investment in a child between birth and the age of three will provide a return of seven dollars to society.

Programs like the head start program in Moncton, New Brunswick offer this alternative, an economic return already in Canada. Not all areas are so fortunate.

From personal experience, I grew up on the Hants shore in rural Nova Scotia. In grade 6 there were 23 students who left grade 6 at the same time I did to go to another school. Only 8 of those students ever graduated from high school, 8 out of 23. I have some degree of experience and indeed a very personal empathy for this issue.

More recently in that community there has been significant progress by that school. The Dr. Arthur Hines School has become a leader in Nova Scotia in terms of providing equality of opportunity in rural Nova Scotia. I commend the principal, Hazel Dill, for her hard work. I also commend grassroots organizations such as the Hants Shore Health Clinic that work on these head start and early intervention programs.

There are other programs in my community, including an adult literacy program which is being promoted by Patricia Helliwell. It is achieving significant progress with people who have fallen through the cracks in the system early on. I commend that adult literacy program for its commendable work and its effectiveness in helping provide these people with an opportunity.

I cannot help but think what if we really started to deal with the roots of the problem. What if we got to these people earlier, when they were children and a significant impact could be made. Then someday perhaps we would not need adult literacy programs in Canada because all Canadians would have achieved a basic competence in communication and literacy.

The government has chosen a different more politically palatable route. It has decided to use the memorial fund for the Prime Minister. This Canadian millennium scholarship fund will only benefit 7% of Canadian students who attend university when it is implemented two years from now. If the government had put this $2.5 billion toward a national head start program, it would have provided a better economic return on that money for Canadians.

However the Liberal Party's focus group and polling data have told it to spend the money on university students, that post-secondary education is a more politically palatable initiative than is early intervention. The facts are contrary to this. Experts on post-secondary education will agree that the best bang for the buck for the Canadian taxpayer is to invest in the youngest of Canadians, those Canadians who are most vulnerable to negative influences and who can benefit most from positive influences, those between birth and the age of three.

I assume based on focus groups and polling data that the government has recently decided to get tough with young offenders. Arguably it is extremely important that the Young Offenders Act be tightened and that young people be made more responsible for their actions. Again the Liberals have really missed the point.

Harsher penalties will not prevent young people from committing crimes. We must address the flaws in the Young Offenders Act but what can we do to prevent these young people from turning toward crime? Why are we not dealing with these issues in a more holistic manner instead of by knee-jerk reaction and crisis management? The real answer is early intervention. A national head start program would go a long way toward addressing that.

A stable and caring environment during a child's formative years offers the best opportunity to provide a productive and stable adolescence and ultimately a productive and prosperous adulthood. Studies have demonstrated that this early intervention is one of the best social policy approaches.

In the finance committee hearings earlier this month I questioned Professor David Stager from the University of Toronto. I asked him how he felt about early intervention. Professor Stager is an expert on post-secondary education. When I asked him how he felt about the investment we could potentially make in early intervention he said that the best bang for the buck would be before school. There was a splendid synthesis done this past fall of the research in the area of human capital. It concluded that early intervention has the greatest pay-off for a number of reasons.

This man is an expert on post-secondary education and an advocate for post-secondary education who has spent his life advocating investment in areas of post-secondary education. He told the finance committee that the best investment for society to make is in early intervention before children even get to elementary school where much damage could have already occurred if positive environments were not provided earlier.

I commend the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his forward thinking and his commitment to progressive social policy. His motion would be very effective in addressing the real needs of Canadians at a very critical time. We are entering the 21st century. We have a global knowledge based economy that will generate the economic growth of the 21st century.

We in this House can make a difference so it is absolutely imperative that we focus on ensuring that young Canadians have every opportunity. If we as public policy makers and parliamentarians can ensure that young Canadians do not just have as good a chance but that they have a better opportunity than people in other countries, we will be doing a great deal to ensure that Canada is on a firm footing and that young Canadians are poised to participate actively and prosper in the new economy.

This type of commitment will prevent the necessity of a TAGS program in the 21st century. It will prevent the necessity of a lot of the social investment that has been more reactive than proactive.

As an Atlantic Canadian, I have watched over the years as successive governments have tried to effectively deal with the situation in Atlantic Canada frankly by using money on social spending as opposed to social investment. Unfortunately these governments in trying to protect Atlantic Canadians from the risks of the future have prevented them from participating in the rewards of the future.

That is where aggressive and forward thinking social policy, such as an early intervention program, would make a difference. Then we would not have to be engaged in regional economic development debates in 20 years in this House because we would have provided the equality of opportunity which is necessary to allow all Canadians to participate in growth. As an Atlantic Canadian it is very important to me that we continue to work to this end.

I would urge every member of this House to consider very carefully and to support this motion. I think it is very important for us, when provided with the opportunity, to make the right decisions, to make decisions that will last much longer than many of us will be in this House and to provide those types of benefits. It would be an affront to the people who put us here not to do so.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address the House today on this motion advocating a national head start program for Canadian children.

I want to applaud the hon. member for his strong support of early childhood development. The Government of Canada shares his enthusiasm for early childhood development as a way of positively influencing the health of children. In fact the government has made increased knowledge of and action on early childhood development a top priority.

In the next few minutes I would like to share with the House some of the things we have learned about early childhood development and how this knowledge is shaping our approach to prevention and early intervention initiatives on behalf of Canada's children.

The most important thing we have learned from a vast body of research over the last 30 years is that the experiences of Canadian children especially in their early years profoundly influence their health and well-being throughout their lives.

We have long known that early negative factors such as low birth weight, low income, abuse, neglect and poor physical and mental health are barriers to healthy child development. Government initiatives such as the community action program for children, the Canada prenatal nutrition program and aboriginal head start have achieved considerable success in responding to these factors.

Nevertheless, research and experience tell us we must do more to recognize and support positive factors that contribute to healthy development. These factors range from healthy pregnancies and birth weights to loving parents, to supportive mentors or role models, to caring families and communities.

Another key thing we have learned is that developing these positive factors requires the involvement of many partners across society. These include parents, who are children's earliest and most influential teachers, volunteer organizations, health service providers, schools, neighbourhoods and communities. We need strong involvement from across society because we all have a stake in ensuring that Canada's children get off to the best possible start in life.

As the Minister of Health recently noted in this House, Canadians and their governments have a moral responsibility to help improve conditions of childhood for the seven million children in this country. He went on to say that taking collective responsibility for children is not just the right thing to do, it makes good economic and social sense.

How early do we need to focus on childhood development? Research tells us that we have the best opportunity to make a positive impact in the very early years of life. This is because 85% of a child's core brain development occurs by age three.

While negative experiences in these early years can result in disorganized and underdeveloped brains, positive experiences often stimulate overall brain development. What are the social implications of negative versus positive early experiences for children?

Research shows that negative experiences tend to produce impulsive, aggressive adults. On the other hand, positive early life experiences tend to produce more intelligent, caring and responsible citizens.

Another area where we have made advances is our increased knowledge of the developmental pathways children pass through on their way to adulthood. These pathways can be influenced by a wide variety of negative or positive factors.

Researchers have found that all children pass through critical periods along their own developmental pathways. During these periods, there are windows of opportunity where support and intervention can make a difference in their development. The period from conception to the age of five or six is seen as the most critical of these periods.

While families are first and foremost responsible for the development of their children in this early period, they are not the only ones that must assume the responsibility. Families need support. Governments, communities, corporations, employers, unions, teachers and individual Canadians all have a role to play. We must work together to help children move along healthy pathways to adulthood.

With this in mind, I call on fellow members to join me in encouraging Canadians to make healthy child development a priority in their own neighbourhoods and communities. By acting together we can make a world of difference for Canada's children.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion by the Reform Party member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

To begin with, although we support the motion in principle and the underlying reasoning concerning youth crime, we cannot support it for the following reasons.

First, family policy is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, and this has always been the case. Second, as far as Quebec is concerned, it has well established policies in place to reduce juvenile delinquency, to help young people reintegrate society and to divert them from a life of crime. One thing the Reform Party member should understand is that youth crime will decrease when other Canadian provinces do as Ontario has done and follow Quebec's example with respect to youth protection, creating youth centres to help young people and tracking those at risk throughout their formative years.

I would like to provide some very important, and very revealing, statistics, which were brought to light by my colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, a little while ago.

The figures on juvenile delinquency recidivism rates are eloquent and speak for themselves. Quebec has been active in this area for 30 years, through its youth centres and through its youth protection legislation. The result is that it has the lowest rate of recidivism in Canada. It has the lowest rate of recidivism for youth crime anywhere in North America. The number is 195 per 100,000 in Quebec while, for a province such as Saskatchewan, where the accent has been much more on punitive measures than on reintegration into society, the number is 800 per 10,000. That is high.

Four or five years ago, Ontario decided to follow Quebec's example and model part of its youth protection program on what is being done in Quebec. The results are very impressive. For the past five years, the rate of juvenile delinquency in Ontario has steadily decreased. Right now, it is around 400 or 500 per 10,000, as opposed to 800 per 10,000 for provinces such as Saskatchewan. These are the two points I wish to make regarding the motion per se.

As for the fact that this motion is being introduced by the Reform Party, that I find somewhat confusing, because we no longer know where Reformers are coming from.

Do they have a common party policy regarding youth protection and the Criminal Code in general? We have heard all sorts of things in the past five years. We even heard of a delegation of Reform members planning to visit a country, whose name I forget, to look into the benefits of flogging criminals.

Private members' bills were tabled and remarks were made by members of the Reform Party, which were extremely harsh and made no mention of reintegration or social rehabilitation, only of punishment per se.

Now, there is this Reform bill, which is kind of mild compared to the ones tabled previously. This is somewhat confusing. What do members of the Reform Party think? Are they in favour of reintegration?

Recently, Reformers criticized the Minister of Justice for lowering the age at which children may be tried in adult court for a serious crime. They argued that lowering the age was not enough. They wanted provisions included in the legislation whereby children under the age of 10 who are charged with a serious crime may be tried in adult court.

During this debate, when the Minister of Justice lowered the age for transferring young offenders charged with serious crimes, not once did a Reformer raise the importance of reintegration and the need to help young offenders re-enter society for its greater benefit. This is a bit confusing.

Another concern we have is with the fact that, in their remarks on this motion, Reformers failed to mention that there is a major reason why youth crime is on the rise, as crime in general may be, and that is the social and economic conditions people live in.

Over the last four or five years, the Liberal government has imposed drastic cuts to social transfers for welfare, health and provincial funding for higher education.

Such cuts, which total billions of dollars and which will continue to be made until the year 2003, have an obvious impact on the economic situation of households, particularly those with children. Social problems surface whenever the economic well-being and development opportunities of families are targeted.

A child whose basic needs are not met because of financial problems experienced by the parents, or because of psychological distress also related to reduced federal transfers is more likely to become a juvenile delinquent.

Let us look at what this government has done regarding employment insurance since January 1996. The changes it made had a significant impact on the economic conditions of Canadian families, thus creating a tendency among children to become juvenile delinquents.

The statistics on employment insurance are shocking and revolting. They amount to political and administrative barbarism. This government has made so many cuts and has tightened the eligibility criteria for employment insurance so much that, for the fiscal year 1997-98, only 42% of the unemployed are eligible for EI benefits, compared to 83% just nine years ago. In 1989, 83% of the unemployed were entitled to benefits, compared to only 42% today.

When you tighten eligibility criteria to that extent and when you triple the number of hours that must be worked, you create conditions that are conducive to a rise in juvenile delinquency. You also create conditions which, in the families that suffer psychological shock and stress as a result of these cuts, promote delinquency.

In 1989, there were a million unemployed. Now, there are 1.4 million unemployed, but we are paying out $3 billion less in employment insurance than in 1989. So, there are 400,000 more unemployed and $3 billion less. This can only cause increased distress and lead to juvenile delinquency.

For instance, eligibility requirements for parental leave, leave that is often necessary, have doubled. It now takes 700 hours, or 20 weeks of 35 hours each. This is one of the major areas that was tightened up, along with the way seasonal workers and those on the labour market for the first time are treated when they are hit by unemployment. The requirement now to receive employment insurance benefits is 910 hours, whereas before it took 20 weeks at 15 hours per week.

Clearly these cuts, which are pushing families toward welfare, are increasing the distress of these families and the likelihood of the children of these families turning to delinquency.

Had the Reform Party taken a coherent and intelligent approach, it would have supported the Bloc Quebecois in the matter of provincial transfers for welfare, post-secondary education and health and it would have supported the Bloc's demands for reform of employment insurance, which is needed immediately to avoid psychological and economic distress to the people of Quebec and Canada.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to indicate my support of Motion M-261, presented by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I would like to draw particular attention to his proactive action in proposing a preventive solution to crime.

Motion M-261 is composed of three elements. First, that the government should develop, along with their provincial counterparts, a comprehensive National Head Start Program for children in their first eight years of life. Then, that they should ensure that this integrated program involves both hospitals and schools, and is modelled on the experiences of the Moncton Head Start Program, Hawaii Head Start Program, and PERRY Pre-School Program. Finally, the government should ensure that the program is implemented by the year 2000.

Motion M-261 is a good idea, because it addresses the fundamental causes of crime and prevents criminal behaviour in later life. This government's strategy toward crime involves reacting once a crime has been committed. We spend millions of dollars on the criminal justice system processing offenders through the court and prison systems. This approach to the problem is very costly in both financial and personal terms. Anyone who has been the victim of a crime can say that the effects linger long after the actual incident.

If we are really concerned about victims' rights, we should work at decreasing the number of crimes and this will decrease the number of victims.

The purpose of this motion is to address the fundamental needs of Canadian children at a very early age. The NDP has long recognized the importance of meeting our children's basic needs so that they may develop to their full potential with the right nutrition and the right environment. In 1989, the then NDP leader Ed Broadbent introduced a motion aimed at eliminating child poverty by the year 2000. This motion was adopted by all parties, but now in 1998 the situation has not improved, in fact it is even more critical. We must invest in our children in order to ensure a better future, with less crime.

The program this motion is suggesting is not a new one. Head start programs were introduced in Michigan, Hawaii and Moncton, New Brunswick. Hawaii's healthy start program was one of the first early intervention programs for children. It focussed on high risk families and on interventions during pregnancy. By tackling problems such as basic parenting skills, nutrition, conflict resolution and substance abuse, it was able to reduce child abuse by 99%.

The PERRY Pre-School Program in Michigan has focused on improving parenting skills, improving infant health, bettering family circumstances and promoting cognitive and social development. Assessments of this program have shown that it has reduced the adult and juvenile crime rate by almost 50%, decreased the number of teen pregnancies by 40%, and increased rates of employment and income. Long-term savings to taxpayers were substantial and, in all, amounted to six times the initial investment.

The Head Start Program in Moncton, New Brunswick, provides children of parents who are socially, emotionally or educationally disadvantaged with an environment that focuses on children's and parents' basic needs. For each dollar spent under the Head Start program, it is estimated that six are saved in social assistance services. In addition to saving money, we are preventing the considerable emotional difficulties suffered by crime victims.

We should set aside political discourse that talks about crime as though it is inevitable. A proactive approach that invests in our children not only ensures a future with less crime but it also ensures a promising future for our young people. I can think of no better investment.

Motion M-26l should go further. Federal and provincial governments should urge first nations chiefs to take part in the program, because we know that the problem of crime among aboriginals is incredible. By inviting them to join us in our efforts, I think we will be able to accomplish something.

For these reasons, I urge all my colleagues to support Motion M-261. All our children deserve a head start.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We have three minutes left in the debate.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, since the debate is to be terminated in three minutes and since Government Orders do not start until noon, I ask for unanimous consent of the House that we continue until noon to debate this motion.

I also ask that the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London be allowed five minutes, that the member for Lethbridge be allowed five minutes, and that I would have a minute to thank everyone.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the suggestion of the hon. member. Is that agreed?

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Gar Knutson Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for putting forward the motion we are debating today. I remind members of the House that the motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should (a) develop, along with their provincial counterparts, a comprehensive National Head Start Program for children in their first 8 years of life; (b) ensure that this integrated program involves both hospitals and schools, and is modelled on the experiences of the Moncton Head Start Program, Hawaii Head Start Program and PERRY Pre-School Program; and (c) ensure that the program is implemented by the year 2000.

I could speak for some time on the substantive merits of the proposal. I support the intent of the motion quite strongly. It has been stated eloquently by members who spoke before me that by investing in children in the early years of life we get a tremendous compounding effect of benefits throughout a person's life. If we invest early we get better literacy rates. If we invest early we get lower criminal rates. If we invest early we get better health rates. All social factors are improved by investing early between the ages of zero and eight. I certainly hope the member knows that I know that and that I know the intent.

However, if we had questions and answers I would raise some concerns over the bill. For the federal government to partner with the provinces these days is a difficult task. Anyone who reads the newspapers knows that it is difficult.

Unfortunately in many parts of the country the provinces want the federal government to write a cheque. Then we would let provinces go off on their merry way and devise programs. They would thank Ottawa and take the money, but they do not want the federal government involved in their jurisdiction.

Quebec would have some opinions on federal government spending on what traditionally would be seen as a provincial jurisdiction. That causes me some concern. Other provinces whether out west or whatever would also have some concerns about the federal government embarking on a new spending program. I am not sure we can put a time line of the year 2000. These things would involve some very difficult negotiations. They would have to be processed and I do not know whether that can be done by the year 2000.

I do not think the member is suggesting that the federal government, if it does not have an agreement to bring in a program by the year 2000, would unilaterally embark on its own program. I do not read that in the bill so I am not sure what would happen if the motion passed and the federal government could not get agreement by the year 2000.

That is not to suggest I do not support the bill. I have some difficulty with the wording. I ask members when they vote on the motion not just to vote on the intent of the bill. All members can see the intent is worth while. It is worth supporting.

However it is not simple and straightforward to embark on new federal-provincial programs. The federal government is trying to get a new federal-provincial program on home care. It has on its agenda that at some point it would like a new federal-provincial program around a national pharmacare program. This would become another program that would be added to the agenda.

We saw it on the hepatitis C issue. The government is trying to work out another agreement with the provinces on how to treat the people excluded from the original agreement. Those negotiations are proving to be difficult. I could throw some stones at those on the other side who are in some respect playing politics.

My main point is that federal-provincial agreements are not as simple as a simple private member's motion might suggest on first read. I ask members to think about what they are voting on when the motion comes before us for a vote. I advise members opposite that I support the intent of the bill, but I will have to reflect on whether I will be voting for it.

National Head Start Program
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank members present for allowing us to carry on. It is a pleasure to rise to speak to Motion No. 261 advising the government to develop a national head start program.

My colleague for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. I know many members in the House have respect for him as well. He has dedicated his life to helping the injured and the sick. He has had a firsthand opportunity to witness breakdowns in our health care and education systems as the two are so closely linked.

I am confident all members of the House will support the motion because almost all of us are parents and many of us are grandparents or soon to be. We know that in an ever increasing competitive global market technological advances make leaps and bounds but should never come at the expense of our children. The generations to come will require every head start they can get, every advantage their health and happiness will allow, giving them the support and positive reinforcement required to excel in a competitive world.

As my colleague recently wrote in a note:

—research has clearly demonstrated that events in early childhood can have a dramatic effect on an individual. Ensuring that children's basic needs are met (i.e. proper nutrition, strengthening parent child relationships, good parenting skills, preventing child abuse, etc.) has proven to have a profound effect in producing stable, happy children and thereafter, well functioning adults. Programs that address these needs are not only effective in their outcome, but also, extremely cost effective.

I doubt any member of the House would refute that youth crime is becoming increasingly common and increasingly violent. While legislative changes can bring about statistical changes in youth crime, my colleague urges us to consider the motion, to support it, and to get to the root of youth problems before they start.

The operative word here is prevention. The time has come for the House to start taking a proactive stance on youth problems and to stop relying solely on reactionary solutions.

The problem of youth crime may not be the only problem in society but it is one issue we can try to resolve before it materializes. If we can implement a national head start program, children who may have began an early life in crime can be helped in the right direction through such a program.

The cost of implementing a national head start program will be returned many times over, as has been previously mentioned, with every child that is helped. Youth criminals can easily become serious adult offenders and we all know how expensive our judicial and penal systems have become.

If we invest the money now we could save the costs associated with youth criminals and their subsequent adult crime life. Children do not begin lives in crime out of choice. My colleague has done a great deal of research on the issue and I urge all members here today to seriously listen to the facts and act in the best interest of Canadian children.

The motion before us today will help children, plain and simple. Regardless of our political affiliation let us put our partisan politics aside and act in the best interest of our youth.

It is imperative we remember to whom we owe these seats in parliament: our constituents, the men, women and children who rely on us to represent their best interest. Today we can prove to all our constituents that we recognize a good thing when we see it. Today's motion will only improve the conditions of our children by addressing basic parenting skills, proper nutrition, conflict resolution and abuse issues.

The statistics are in and early intervention programs can be very successful. Members of the House cannot ignore the 50% decrease in juvenile and adult crime as a result of early intervention programs. Nor can my colleagues ignore the 40% reduction in teen pregnancies and the resulting higher rates of employment and income. The long term savings to Canadians are enormous.

I do not need to do the math to remind my colleagues about the huge price tag associated with crime. Costs go up and insurance premiums rise. Policing expenses, court costs, in addition to incarceration and counselling are all extremely expensive.

To simplify the decision of whether or not to support the motion—and my common sense tells me that all in the House will support a decent and worthwhile initiative such as this one—I liken the situation to a favourite poem of mine “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

In our great country we have and will often come to a crossroads, two diverging roads that branch off in two different directions. I see today's motion on the implementation of a national head start program as exactly that. It is a fork in the road. Either we take the road that has been travelled many times, the reactionary road of detention and incarceration, or we take a new path, a proactive path of crime prevention through social development.

Every child in Canada deserves the opportunity to develop as a normal human being. I urge all members here today to support my colleague's motion.