House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have spoken in this House. I want to thank the voters in the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, and all the election volunteers and workers who gave me their trust during the last election in June.

I would like to say from the start that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-5 in principle. However, we want to consider it thoroughly in committee.

This bill raises several questions that require answers. It is intended to encourage and facilitate access to post-secondary education for children of lower-income families. It enhances the Canada education savings grant.

The Bloc Québécois finds it useful to set up an education savings bond program, as this will directly help lower-income families, which the Canada education savings grant currently does not do. This will be a big help to children of lower income families, who have greater difficulty accessing post-secondary education.

The Bloc Québécois agrees that this measure helps families in planning and saving for their children's education. Accessible education and equal opportunity for everyone are two priorities of the Bloc Québécois and Quebeckers.

We think this measure is clearly inadequate; correcting the fiscal imbalance and returning to equitable transfers between provinces would obviously permit the Government of Quebec to support Quebec's students appropriately.

The Bloc recognizes that Bill C-5 will definitely encourage education for all families, whatever their income. There are figures showing that only 50% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 are pursuing post-secondary education.

As the critic for youth, I am greatly concerned about this situation. This measure will make it possible to increase attendance at post-secondary institutions, but it must not look like federal interference in the system of loans and bursaries. That is why we need thorough study of the bill in committee.

Moreover, this learning bond program is a non-negotiable means of adding to the savings options for low income families. This learning bond program will help children from low income families get into post-secondary studies, which is a comfort for their parents. The Bloc Québécois is concerned about social justice in this matter. This is clearly a sign of hope that the less well off in our society may have access to higher learning.

Although many questions related to his bill have yet to be answered and will be studied by the committee, I can already point out certain weaknesses in the bill's current wording.

First of all, the learning bonds will not help Quebec provide quality education, because they do not give Quebec the means to do so. They enable students to cover part of the cost of their post-secondary education, but do not improve the quality of services provided by the educational system.

I want to point out that, in its current form, the bill says that the government will take back the money it has invested when the beneficiary of the program reaches the age of 21 years. That seems very bizarre because college education is totally free in Quebec.

In addition, the learning bonds will be automatically taken back when the student reaches the age of 21. Only those who go to university will benefit, and not a great deal more. It will only be for a year or two, to use the money provided by the federal government. The Bloc Québécois therefore proposes that the maximum age be set at 25.

Any money provided by the government that has not been used for post-secondary education will be taken back instead of being reinvested where it belongs, that is, in the education system. The Bloc Québécois reiterates that, if it were not for the fiscal imbalance, this money could be put directly into Quebec's education system, instead of being spread around in federal aid packages. Quebec alone can determine what the province's educational priorities are. It should benefit directly from federal transfers in order to distribute the money where it is needed.

With this bill, the government announced a $40 million dollar budget for the administration of the program during the first three years. We are used to the federal government underestimating costs. We need only think of the firearms registry. The Bloc Québécois promises that it will keep a very close eye on how such a registry will be administered, to ensure it is managed properly.

I feel that the administration costs are excessive: more than $13 million annually to distribute some $80 million. This is a fine example of the priorities pursued by the government with this bill: instead of assisting students fully by financing the education system properly, it would rather take a piecemeal approach.

With this bill, the government is trying to improve an existing program, namely the Canada education savings grant introduced in 1998, which, incidentally, has missed the mark vis-à-vis its initial objectives. This grant program does nothing for the least well off families, because the government only contributes up to the amount invested by the parents. Obviously, families with an income under $35,000 seldom manage to set money aside for their children's education.

With this bill, the government is improving the current program by 20%, which contributes up to 20%, to a maximum of $400 per year. The bill not only establishes the learning bond, but it also increases the amount of the education savings grant, which is an additional contribution made by the federal government for each dollar contributed to a registered education savings plan until the beneficiary under the plan turns 17.

The Canada education savings grant rate will double, from 20% to 40%, on the first $500 of savings placed in an RESP by families with a net income of up to $35,000. For families with a net income greater than $35,000 but not exceeding $70,000, the Canada education savings grant contribution will increase from its present 20% to 30%. Any subsequent investments by the family or the beneficiary will remain at the current 20% level. The Canada education savings grant cannot, however, exceed $7,200 for the 16 years during which families and beneficiaries remain eligible.

The Government of Canada announced the creation of a learning bond program for post-secondary education in its March 2004 budget. This takes the form of a bursary of a total value of $2,000 for each child born after 2003, but this is of course only for children of families entitled to a national child benefit supplement. After the initial $500 at the time of birth, the child will receive annual Canada learning bond instalments of $100 a year until the age of 15, provided the family continues to receive the national child benefit supplement.

However, parents must initiate the process by setting up a registered education savings plan. The learning bond is valid until the child reaches the age of 21. Then, the federal government takes back the money that it invested in the registered education savings plan and leaves the family's interest and savings, which become taxable. The purpose of the learning bond is to encourage low and middle income families to save money for their children's post-secondary education.

The Bloc Québécois likes the idea of making higher education more accessible to low income households. Quebec families that qualify for the national child benefit will be eligible for this bond program, without having to contribute to an education savings plan. The Bloc Québécois believes in accessibility to education. Thanks to the improved Canada education savings grant and to the learning bonds, students will be able to pursue a higher education, regardless of their social condition.

However, let us not forget that this program will be very costly to administer and that the federal government could, if the will was there, refrain from needlessly wasting public funds and taxpayers' money by dealing with the fiscal imbalance. The Quebec government would then not be subjected to the current budget cuts and would have the necessary money to invest in education and to improve its loans and scholarships program.

We are very pleased to see that the federal government is concerned about young people and the low enrolment rate in post-secondary institutions. However, we want to mention again the fiscal strangulation of the provinces. Quebec would prefer by far to manage the money to which it is entitled, instead of benefiting from ad hoc and arbitrary donations from Paul Martin.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. What the hon. member just said is out of order.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Since the early 1990s, federal transfers for post-secondary education have dropped drastically. Even the Canadian Association of University Teachers came to the conclusion that the weakening of the provinces' ability to fund post-secondary education is primarily due to the reduction in federal transfer payments.

When Paul Martin became Minister of Finance, Ottawa was contributing 17¢ for each dollar—

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that we must show courtesy to the members newly elected to this House, and I respect that. However, a written document is being quoted in which a member of Parliament is referred to by his name, which is clearly out of order. It has happened at least twice in the last three minutes. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I always appreciate the comments of the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. He is right. It is unparliamentary to refer to a member of Parliament by his given name. Hon. members can only be referred to by the names of their ridings or the positions they hold, like minister, leader of their party, and so forth.

I am sure that the newly elected member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who has the floor, will find out about our Standing Orders during his time here. One of our rules was just pointed out to him. I am sure he will not be making the same mistake in the rest of his speech.

The hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister became Minister of Finance, Ottawa paid 17¢ for every dollar of revenue in the transfer for education and social services. When the Prime Minister left his position nine years ago, Ottawa paid no more than 1¢ for every dollar of revenue. This decrease currently represents a 40% drop. The federal contribution to total expenditures in education and social programs is now 12%.

Quebec would rather fund its own education system than be part of such programs.

In conclusion, I would like the government and this House to know that the situation in Quebec is unique, as is often the case. Our education system is different from that of the rest of Canada, particularly with respect to our Cégep system. Since college programs are practically free, Quebec students benefit little from the student aid and loan program.

Quebec students usually start their university studies when they are 20 and the bill, as worded, stipulates that once the student turns 21, the government keeps any unused portion of the financial assistance.

The Bloc is voting in favour of the principle of Bill C-5 on the education savings bond program with the changes I just mentioned.

The Bloc considers the objectives of Bill C-5 commendable. However, the conditions of application need to be clarified, and we will have to see how the Government of Quebec receives it.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among representatives of all the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the third report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be deemed tabled and concurred in.

This involves changes to the members of certain committees, members of the Bloc Québécois.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 3:30 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on his speech and on his patience during the point of order.

I was very interested in the suggestion about changing 21 to 25. My colleague is quite correct. The province of Quebec, alone among the provinces, has maintained two years of free post-secondary education through the cégeps. It is something very admirable.

First, he said that typically these students would go to university at the age of 20. I would like to know just how general that is. Second, when we are talking about post-secondary education in the legislation, one must realize we are referring to trades, apprenticeships and to other types of colleges where students can obtain an education. What are his comments on that?

Is cégep the only route? Are there many students who in fact go to university before they are 20 years old? Also, could he explain to me how the cégeps are involved in apprenticeships, for example?

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. The reason why students start university at age 20 is very simple: the Cégep system. They finish secondary school at around 17 and Cégep at 19 or 20. The system is organized so that university follows thereafter.

What is more, after secondaire V there are also trade schools. Students there finish also at around 20. They are then qualified. The role of the Cégeps is to teach specialized techniques such as informatics, and graduates from these courses move out into the work force.

That is why people have finished trade school or cegep by the age of 20, and have a diploma with which they can enter the work force. Others go on to university, and so the age of starting university is generally around 20.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to address Bill C-5, the Canadian education savings account, I am mindful of the fact that this is the first time that I have actually stood in the House to participate in a debate since I was elected to serve exclusively as the member of Parliament for Halifax.

I no longer carry the responsibilities of federal leadership and now have the privilege of sitting behind my leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, who was successful in being elected to represent his constituency in the House.

It is indeed a pleasure to pledge in a very public way my commitment to work as conscientiously and diligently as I possible can to serve in that manner as a full time member of Parliament. It is an added privilege to find myself seatmate to a former leader of the New Democratic Party under whom I first ran for politics in the federal election of 1979, unsuccessfully I might say, never imaging that some day we would in fact be sitting in the House backing a subsequent leader. It is indeed a privilege to take up my new role in this august body.

I am also very pleased that in addition to my new responsibilities assigned to me by my leader as critic for foreign affairs, I now have the added responsibility of being the post-secondary education critic.

I am extremely pleased with that challenge for a couple of reasons. For a number of years before I entered politics, I had the opportunity to be both a professor at Dalhousie University and also for several years I served as a field instructor for graduate students in the school of social work in employment settings with the City of Halifax's social planner and with the Province of Nova Scotia in the social development division. For me, it is something very close to home.

However, perhaps more important than that is the fact that my riding, the constituency of Halifax, is host to more post-secondary education students per capita and more post-secondary education institutions per capita than any other riding in the country. That is perhaps an accident of history.

It is partly a geographic thing, that they happen to be concentrated in the riding of Halifax, but it is also true that for many years it has been said that because of the excellence of post-secondary education students in Nova Scotia, that one of our best contributions to Canada in fact is the educational experiences gained in our province by students from across the country.

Unfortunately, all too often translating into the deportation of those students to other parts of Canada because they do not have the opportunity to remain in their native province. We continue to need to address that very serious problem.

I am pleased, because of how exceedingly important post-secondary education issues are to my constituents, to have the opportunity to rise in this place as the post-secondary education critic.

Having said that, as I turn my attention to Bill C-5, it is regrettable in the extreme that the bill can probably be described as an attempt by the government to divert attention from the fact that it continues to fail students and their families in regard to the adequate level of post-secondary education funding desperately needed, both at the level of individual student aid and at the level of educational funding for post-secondary education institutions.

Our universities and colleges are forced into the situation of driving tuition fees up even higher than they are now creating an immense access barrier to far too many students in the country today. That is the real crisis that we face in the country. That is the real challenge that the government has sidestepped again and again.

It sidestepped addressing that issue in the spring 2004 budget. It absolutely sidestepped dealing with it in the throne speech. During the election campaign that intervened between the spring 2004 budget and our return to Parliament we saw how little the government had to offer. We heard all kinds of promises from the Prime Minister about finally addressing the crisis of student aid and skyrocketing tuition in this country; however, they were very fleeting commitments.

Nothing in Bill C-5 even begins to make a dent in this serious problem. Bill C-5 is grossly inadequate in our view for a couple of fundamental reasons.

The maximum contributions that will be forthcoming for the Canada education savings grant amount to a paltry $7,200. That needs to be put into perspective. The government needs to recognize the fact that in some Canadian universities, even at the undergraduate level, tuition is now $6,000. Tuition is a great deal higher than that in a good many graduate programs and professional schools.

It is not an unduly pessimistic prediction to make that it is possible that the entire contribution from the government toward the education of a student 19 years from now could amount to less than the tuition fee for half a year of post-secondary education, in other words, for one term. The reality is that there is nothing in this legislation that will begin to deal with the really serious crisis that exists.

There is a fundamental flaw in the government's thinking regarding the real problem. I want to acknowledge that the government has accurately identified that for low income families any possibility of gaining access to post-secondary education under the current circumstances is virtually nonexistent. That is an accurate diagnosis, but the remedy provided is both grotesquely inadequate and flawed. It seems to be based on the premise that there is a real problem about the motivation of low income families to save money and invest money in education.

It is not a motivational problem for families living in grinding poverty in Canada not to save dollars. The problem is they do not have the money to do it. It simply does not meet the minister's own stated objective of levelling the playing field for all students who want to gain access to post-secondary education to say that this program will now make a significant difference. It will do no such thing.

We will have an opportunity in committee to deal with the bill on a clause by clause basis and we will do so. Let me use one or two examples.

First, I do not know how anybody could refuse to acknowledge the fact that families in the lowest income categories, which is what the minister said the objective is, are not going to be able to find money for post-secondary education from their scarce incomes. They do not have sufficient money now to pay for their groceries and keep decent shelter over their head. It defies the reality of the grinding financial poverty in which a great many of those families are living.

Second, when we see what a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare is going to be involved in setting up this program, at least as I interpret it, then one must really wonder about the decision to spend the limited resources the government is prepared to make available to feed a bureaucratic monstrosity.

I want to express appreciation, and I do so genuinely, for a briefing that I obtained earlier today on the legislation. However, as the opportunity to ask some questions was made available and as the discussion unfolded, it seemed to me more evident that for such a very paltry sum of money being made available to low income families, if and only if they could actually access it by finding money out of their scarce incomes to participate in these programs, it is simply unwarranted to set up what is going to be such a bureaucratic nightmare.

It also denies eligibility to a number of categories of young people that surely is unwarranted. For example, if we go to page 7, clause 7, it makes it quite clear that the Canada learning bond may be paid in respect of a beneficiary under a registered education savings plan only if the beneficiary is resident in Canada.

What that means is that the aspiration expressed by the minister, when he spoke to this on first reading, that immigrant families should benefit from the program will not be fulfilled. Immigrant families who might arrive here with children ages 7, 9 and 11 would have failed to qualify year after year for the very small sums that are going to be made available to other families. They are going to be even more disadvantaged.

In such a mobile workforce within a globalized economy with more and more workers being required to go outside of the country by their employers, one must also recognize that they too will presumably not be resident in Canada and not be eligible for the years in which they did not live in Canada. That is just one of the flaws that we are concerned about.

At the end of the day the real concern is what an enormous shortfall there is in the response of the government to deal with the real crisis that is happening. Perhaps the minister needs to have the kind of reality check that would be available to him by sitting down with leaders of the student governments across the country--I did this in my own province with the leaders from across the province from every post-secondary education institution--and be reminded of what it is that they face today with the crippling debt load.

Nothing in the bill is going to change that situation for students for the next 18 years, let alone do anything for those who are already crippled by debt and are having to drop out of university because the resources simply are not there for them.

It is lamentable that the government has not responded at an appropriate level to deal with the serious access problems. We need a post-secondary education act in the country that sets out certain principles. We need stable, solid, adequate funding that is appropriate and will deliver on what the government says that it wants to see happen, and that is that every young person who is able to avail themselves of a post-secondary education institution has the opportunity to do so.

We absolutely need to recognize that we have to freeze tuition fees and it is going to take some funding to do that. We must improve the student aid programs as well as the student debt relief programs, instead of constricting what is available to students by changing the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to put them at an even greater disadvantage when they are in major financial difficulty through no fault of their own.

There are a number of remedies that are desperately needed. It seems to me that in this paltry and narrow response, which will not have any impact for any students for a minimum of 18 or 19 years, the government has simply not responded to this very serious crisis.

We absolutely need to replace the flawed millennium scholarship fund with a needs-based system of grants. It is clear that it is the view of students in the country, as expressed through all their national advocacy organizations. It is clear that it is the position of all the faculty who have stood behind them in this demand. It is clear that it is the view of the university administrators that the number one crisis that has to be addressed is that of crippling student debt and the access problems being created for students who do not have deep pockets or whose families do not have deep pockets. Yet we have absolutely nothing on any of this in the Speech from the Throne, and the legislation does not even begin to address that problem.

During the election I had the opportunity to participate in a student-sponsored debate in my province, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to do it. A student who was involved in the whole discussion made a very telling but simple point that what was a student crisis now has become a family crisis.

As a result of the failure of the government to provide increased funding and as a result of the government's the massive cuts to post-secondary education over the last number of years, a lot of young people are being driven out of their communities and provinces because of student debt. It becomes a deportation or out-migration program for students from northern and rural communities in less prosperous parts of the country. They go where they can get the fattest, fastest salary and income to pay off their crippling debt load. That becomes a crisis in many cases for families who are either left behind or have to relocate.

We have a lot of grandparents who are barely able to make ends meet. They now are having to dig deep into their pockets to help put their grandchildren through university or to help them with their debt load. We have a lot of working families who are sacrificing big time to make it possible for their young people to go to university.

This is what is so sad about the rhetoric around recognizing, and the minister said it, that the Canadian dream cannot be fulfilled in today's world without a post-secondary education. Yet we are not prepared to make it available to young people. What we have is an erosion of the quality of that education. Students have to work at poorly paid jobs simultaneously when they go to school. Universities have to rely more and more heavily on private funds or on corporate sources of funding, which skews curriculum choices. In some cases literally faculty contribution to the educational effort is being measured, not in terms of their excellence in teaching or the quality of the research, but in terms of how many corporate or research dollars they can draw down to help deal with the university's inadequate funding base. These are all distortions that are being created. The minister is quite right that the Canadian dream for future generations cannot be fulfilled without an adequate post-secondary education these days, both because we live in a globalized economy and because it is important in economic competition terms.

This is my final point. Surely the greatest, most compelling and urgent reason for our young people to have the opportunity to get advanced education is the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face in the world, such as dealing with environmental degradation that could destroy the planet, or with disease and hunger, which is unnecessary in today's world because we cannot find the solution, or with the horror of the possibility that we will destroy this planet with increasing weapons of mass destruction and nuclear threats.

These are the real reasons and the major challenges that our young people face in the future. We are failing them in equipping them with the post-secondary education they need to meet those challenges.

Canada Education Savings Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to the member's speech and to another one made by an hon. member earlier. It is interesting to note what we have just heard.

I heard the Bloc member make his first speech, for which I congratulate him. I think he seemed to be somewhat supportive of the bill, but always worried that it would go too far in terms of what he saw as provincial intrusion. I do not think the bill does that at all. Essentially it is the equivalent of a registered retirement savings plan with the purpose of assisting education and establishing a fund to help start that off.

The hon. member started her comments by telling us that we needed a national bill that would somehow put a cap on the price of university education. That is beyond the other extreme. It goes further than anything imaginable.

I want to comment on something else the member said. I know she said it with well-meaning, but I disagree with her profoundly nonetheless. She said that the minister's bill, and perhaps the minister's remarks too, reflected the fact that the government side of the House thought that somehow there were groups in society that did not put a premium on education. I believe she disagreed with that.

For my part that I disagree with her. There are groups in society, regrettably, who think that is the case. I come from such a family. No one before me ever had a university degree. I did my entire university education after I was elected to the House of Commons. I know that did not exist in my family. To pretend that does not exist elsewhere in society is fundamentally wrong.

To do something that encourages family to focus on something that could be a nest egg so the next generation puts a premium on something they did not have is quite laudable. I want to associate myself with that. I know how it is to have come from the other side of the track and to have crossed it. That is what I want for the next generation. My children are very well educated, much better than I was able to achieve, even after I received my university degree. My hope is that their children will have even better. That is why I particularly cannot agree with any comment like that.

The minister's bill establishes these kinds of encouragements and goals for future generations, even though the government will not provide all the funding. We know it will not, but it is a change of that mindset that I see as being visionary. That is why I hope we all vote for the bill with enthusiasm.