House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on the establishment of this new department, the Department of Social Development. This is a department that could be perceived as a lure for all Canadians, smoke and mirrors, mirrors that can distort. As far as Quebec is concerned, I could elaborate on several important issues it could become a distorting mirror, not constructive and inapplicable.

This department will employ 12,000 civil servants and administer a budget of $53 billion, of which 97% will be spent primarily on meeting the expectations of seniors, either for senior citizens benefits, income security or the guaranteed income supplement.

This means that some 3% of this $53 billion will go to various support programs for the Canadian community, that is to say roughly $2 billion at most.

We are told that the stated goal is to strengthen the social foundations of Canada. Looking at the whole issue of employment insurance, there is much to criticize about the way this government manages the money of those who contribute. We know how the program came to be. During World War II, because of the war effort, it was felt that it would be better for unemployment insurance to be administered by the federal government in order to meet the expectations of the general public. In light of the state of emergency, Quebec and the provinces relinquished part of their jurisdiction, never to regain control over the employment insurance fund.

It is well known that $45 billion was stolen straight out of the pockets of taxpayers, employers and employees. The federal government was well-intentioned in wanting to meet the expectations of the public. It asked to be allowed to manage the EI fund, to take on that responsibility. Later, what happened is that it used the fund as it pleased. It has excluded thousands of workers, who are no longer eligible under the Employment Insurance Act. It has tightened the eligibility criteria and cut the number of benefit weeks workers could count on.

You can understand the Bloc Québécois position. We have been fighting since 1993 and are still fighting today to have this employment insurance fund managed by those who contribute to it. In fact, a bill is currently being considered on the Employment Insurance Commission. They do not want the commission to include more than two people: a commissioner and an assistant commissioner.

How can we trust them? How can we be enthusiastic about this bill? We too have our heart in the right place. We support families, children and the less fortunate in society. I have thought about the thinning of the social safety nets, the federal government's diet program you could say.

It also makes me think of the guaranteed income supplement. It was meant to help people in difficulty. There was a guaranteed income supplement added to the income of seniors. Apparently there were 270,000 people in Canada, including 68,000 people in Quebec, who were entitled to the supplement and never got it.

In other words, the Government of Canada kept $3.2 billion in its pockets. That is $800 million for the people in Quebec who did not receive this benefit.

The Bloc Québécois has carried out a whole operation in order to inform seniors that they might be entitled to it. As a result, we found 25,000 eligible people. Of course we could not get through to everyone eligible, but the Bloc Québécois does deserve a pat on the back for what we did accomplish.

We cannot give the federal government the go-ahead to invade more jurisdictions, rather than attacking the real problem of fiscal imbalance, a problem they are totally in denial about. I hope that it is the same in the rest of Canada, and that each opposition member is doing his or her duty explaining the impact of fiscal imbalance.

We in Quebec are starting to make some progress. Individuals, organizations, social, political and economic leaders are now beginning to understand the game the government is playing here in Ottawa. In the last election, there was the sponsorship scandal, but I can tell you that was not the only issue. There is also the way the government is handling Quebec's expectations.

As far as the creation of this department is concerned, moreover, the National Assembly is unanimous, regardless of party affiliations. When the federal government says it wants to negotiate with the federalist party in Quebec, I can tell them that that party is not in agreement with the department's creation, since it knows very well what pitfalls the government has in mind for us, especially since we did not sign the agreement on the social union.

The federal government's reputation, as far as its intention to respect jurisdictions is concerned, is already made. Let me remind hon. members about the Young Offenders Act, and all the battle that waged around that. I remember the eloquent oratory of our colleague from Berthier—Montcalm when they were trying to pass it here. It ran counter to the way things were being done in Quebec, where we are concerned with rehabilitation of young offenders who have done something society considers unacceptable.

We should not stick our head in the sand. When young persons commit a reprehensible act, we know full well they will eventually be back in society. Instead of putting them in jail with hardened criminals and prosecuting them in adult court, we need the youth tribunal to support them from the time of their arrest to steer them towards rehabilitation. The government wanted to interfere with Quebec's jurisdiction over young offenders support.

The millennium scholarship program is another case in point. We waged a battle of epic proportions to allow Quebec to keep its own system of scholarship and bursaries. As we know the millennium scholarship program works as a loan program. We spent time, money and energy trying to make the federal government understand that it was heading in the wrong direction in Quebec. Again, it was another battle of epic proportions.

I have been asking a lot of questions here in this House of the new social development minister, or the minister in charge of the parental leave file, namely the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. He says Quebec will be respected.

We want more than respect. What we want can be spelled out in a few words. “Opt out with full compensation”, that is what we want. That is what it means to respect the provinces. However, every time I ask him to answer my question, he always finds it difficult to say, “respect with full compensation”. So he says, “Yes, we will respect you”, but at the same time he forgets the principles.

Today, they are trying to hoodwink us again about parental leave and daycare. Soon it will be about the social economy.

So you will understand the position of the Bloc Québécois on this bill that seeks to create a new department that will increase the size of the federal public service to manage its programs. It is all that too.

It is not just a department, but also the monitoring of a number of the federal government's programs and expenditures. The operating expenses of every department have been growing by leaps and bounds.

Social development belongs to the governments of Quebec and the other provinces. The others can do as they wish, but we shall defend our unique character and governance in the various files. Whether it is in the health or education sectors, or in municipal affairs, we know that we have strong institutions. That is why we are fighting to keep them from weakening. We know that the whole problem of fiscal imbalance is weakening those institutions we consider essential.

When the community is not happy with its government in Quebec, it can change it. It can decide to elect different people to power. It does not necessarily have the same opportunity when it does not like the government in Ottawa. We have been rather quiet here since 1993. Where are the huge demonstrations in front of Parliament that will make this government tremble and change course? Perhaps that is why the Liberal government, election after election, never manages to change its tune; it is because the people do not make a fuss.

I can see the parliamentary secretary smiling; she is a member of our Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. She would be well advised to listen to what I have to say. When we in opposition listen to the witnesses who appear before the committee, they very often tell us that our programs are on the wrong track. But what happens is that they are not heard at all. Everyone smiles and thinks what rabble-rousers these witnesses are, and the witnesses feel that no one wants to listen to them.

These structures are new and useless to Quebec. It is another kind of interference. I would call it the social development tentacles—tentacles Quebec does not need in order to continue with its own social development.

The government can simply send Quebec money, since we already have the know-how. In parental leave, child care or the social economy—we could then move ahead with developments much faster than we do now.

The Department of Social Development will coordinate all the activities of the Minister of State--a new Minister of State--whose powers will extend to families and care-givers. Once again, this pertains to the area of health. A large number of the initiatives that will be taken by the government pertain to education, early childhood development and homelessness. For sure, if some goodies are handed out and are needed to finish out the day more agreeably, we will say yes. On the other hand, this does not mean that the problem will be fixed for the rest of the day. To a point, this what is happening with the policies of the federal government.

Turning to the creation of programs, we are told said that this will be citizen-oriented and that it will promote the well-being of people. We note that there is an issue that has been raised by the Auditor General, that is, the whole aboriginal issue. We have an aboriginal affairs critic, and we are in the process of setting up the whole federal follow-up file. This is one of its jurisdictions and powers, and yet it is not even able to satisfy the expectations of the aboriginal community. I say that it must first do its homework in its own jurisdictions, let the other provinces exercise their own jurisdictions and stop creating programs which it costs a lot of money to follow up.

The situation of people with disabilities was also turned into an election issue. As hon. members know, the Bloc Québécois also worked very hard so that disabled people would have a tax credit. We cannot be opposed to any type of tax credit, because it goes directly into the pockets of those who expect concrete measures that are easy to follow.

The government's involvement with community organizations is also another hobby horse of the federal government, which is doling out money and intruding in provincial jurisdictions. I could raise the whole issue of the homeless. The government created a new program in which funds were invested. However, we have yet to hear what it will do in terms of extending that program. We are talking about $56 million for Quebec, when $100 million are needed in the next agreement to meet the needs of the homeless. But we still do not know what will happen.

I am not the one who says that. We also consult social organizations in Quebec. We are told that the federal government sets up programs that last three or for years and then disappear, because it decided to change its priorities. There is no follow-up, no integrated policy that would indicate where the federal government is headed.

It is often very difficult. Quebec, for example, has an integrated family policy. It wants an integrated policy for the whole issue of homelessness, but it needs money to move forward.

The federal government may have decided to also provide some help with its national standards, but these standards are often a burden in the operations of our communities. Organizations have to ask both the federal and provincial governments for help. They often give up during the waiting period to get a subsidy. They are often too late, or else the money is already spent. Also, the amounts are often so small, so minimal, that it is better to direct them to a program that is already in place, than set up a program that is too small and one for which these organizations do not even qualify.

Launching a program may make the government look good and it may make it feel like it is doing the right thing, when in fact it is not from a practical point of view. Indeed, one of the objectives of that department is to ensure better management. I am quite curious to see how this will be achieved. For the time being, we are definitely not seeing better management in the various programs for which the federal government is responsible.

Then there is the New Horizons program for seniors in the community. This is for agencies, which have to submit projects. There will be a round table, along the same lines as the one on homelessness. Then there is the volunteer sector initiative.

Then there are all the other family and child policies. The government is casting a very broad net. Take the matter of parental leave for one thing. What did the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development do immediately after the federal election? Just appointed, he accepted the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada of the Quebec appeal court ruling on parental leave. According to that ruling, this constituted an encroachment on areas of Quebec jurisdiction, an intrusion. According to the Constitution of 1867, parental leave is a Quebec responsibility.

Rather than accepting the Quebec Appeal Court decision and saying that, yes, they would respect it and authorize Quebec to opt out with full compensation, they referred the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. They would like us to buy their expressed desire to respect provincial areas of jurisdiction. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is giving us one very concrete example of federal intentions.

As far as the family and child policy is concerned, we know very well that there is consensus in Quebec. There is talk of a new child care project, but it is still embryonic at this time. Will there be respect this time for Quebec's jurisdiction, and not just on one point. What Quebec needs is the right to opt out, with full compensation. The cost to implement the program in Quebec is $1.7 billion at the present time. That is a lot of money, when their contribution is $5 billion over 5 years. According to the experts, the cost will be $10 billion over 10 years to implement the program Canada-wide.

So there needs to be some realism, knowing what lies ahead. I do not have much hope that this new department will have any concrete ability to change people's day-to-day lives. These are fine principles, I will admit, and I share their fine principles, let me assure you.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a surprise for me to hear my colleague opposite making such a comment on the bill before us today.

She is talking about respect for provincial areas of jurisdiction. I consider that our government is, and has been for many years, a government that respects provincial jurisdictions.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

I think it is quite inappropriate for the members opposite to laugh. I would like to give you some examples of this respect that we have for provincial areas of jurisdiction.

Let us talk about immigration. We have spoken with Quebec and with other provinces also, and we have given the provinces some powers, along with a very generous resource envelope that goes to Quebec every year.

Let us also talk about the work and the job training that the federal government has given to the Province of Quebec, also accompanied by resource envelopes.

Let us also talk about parental leave and day care centres. We are in talks with the Quebec government to determine how these new parental leave and day care programs, that are offered by the federal government but based on the Quebec model, could help families. The federal government is in talks with the Quebec government in order to reach an agreement that will help not only Quebec families, but all Canadian families.

I think that my colleague opposite exaggerates wildly. Splitting this department will allow both ministers to focus more on social policy and human resources. I think that this is an excellent idea.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am smiling. We may both get a bit carried away, but that is not the issue. It is because we have different viewpoints. And we must also be able to debate and defend those viewpoints.

I would like to remind the hon. member, who chairs the committee on which I sit, of some of our epic battles. She says her government respects provincial jurisdictions. She ought to consider how the Bloc Québécois battled here in this House about the millennium scholarships, young offenders, and so many more topics. Remember the battles we have had here.

With respect to jurisdiction over young offenders, the Bloc Québécois had to fight fiercely to make sure provincial jurisdictions were respected. It does not happen easily.

On the contrary, we must be ever on the alert, because one never knows. We know that the true desire of the federal government is to infringe on provincial domains and set national standards. Such standards are contrary to the way things are done in Quebec.

As for parental leave, why has the hon. Minister of Human Resources referred a Quebec Appeal Court decision to the Supreme Court? Because it did not suit his purposes, and because there is something to consider. He said, in effect, “If we succeed in reaching an agreement with Quebec concerning its priorities, we will settle, and we will forget the Supreme Court's response. If not, we will wait and come to terms with the Supreme Court's decision”. I do not think that can be called respect for Quebec's jurisdiction and Quebec's wishes.

The entire National Assembly is opposed to the creation of this department. That is because we know what kind of traps the department will set, to try to get public servants to work on and decide on realistic, long-term positions and guidelines.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member covered an awful lot of ground. One of the areas that she mentioned a few times, even in response to the last question, was with regard to maternity and parental leave and the extension to a full year.

I have a particular interest in that one because on October 28, 1998, I introduced private member's Bill C-204 to effect that change. I am very proud to say that on January 1, 2001, it was implemented by the Government of Canada for the benefit of all Canadians. It took three years, but with a little cooperation in the House and a bit of discussion with all stakeholders, it was viewed to be a progressive policy.

Three years later, did the Government of Quebec ever talk about extending maternity or parental leave? If the federal government had not taken on that initiative and extended it, it would never have happened, not even today. The member referred to national standards. Is it not true that sometimes even the province of Quebec may not have all of the ideas and may not be able to provide all of the benefits without cooperating with the Government of Canada?

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, what a great opportunity I am being given. Obviously, the Government of Quebec cannot provide all the benefits it would like to provide, because the priority is to deal with the fiscal imbalance.

For example, when the federal government invests $10 billion of the profits accumulated at the expense of taxpayers across Quebec and Canada, if this money were redistributed among the provinces, there is no doubt that the Government of Quebec would move forward on the issues of parental leave, child care centres and homelessness. In Quebec, we have very strong institutions and structured groups pressuring the government in the National Assembly. Antipoverty legislation was even passed, in spite of the fact that Quebec does not have all the tools required, as these include funding to meet expectations in Quebec.

When it comes to having good ideas, I think that ours must be very good, because they are being taken up in this House today. Ideas can be borrowed from other countries or people from elsewhere, the same way ideas can be borrowed from our friends opposite, provided that provincial jurisdictions are respected and that a fair distribution of taxation powers is restored across Canada. This would take care of a big problem. Perhaps we would not be here, considering the establishment of the new Department of Social Development. This department will be expensive to operate and, in the end, the expectations of the public will not be met.

In fact, the Auditor General referred to this extensively today in one of her criticisms. In her report, she deplores the raiding of the employment insurance fund, as well as the fact that government programs do not provide aboriginal people with access to post-secondary education, and the list goes on. The government has a lot of mea culpa to do with respect to its operations and what it has control over. Let it start by dealing with what is wrong in its own jurisdictions; then we will talk.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am new to this place and new to the committee on human resources and skills development. I am actually enjoying myself there. There are a lot of opportunities to interact and ask questions. In fact, we have been successful in convincing the committee to do a number of things such as setting up a subcommittee to review EI and a subcommittee to look at disability issues.

As the member for Quebec has been here longer than I have, I will ask her to tell me if that is the normal attitude and experience of that committee over the years or not.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie for his question.

When the House of Commons reconvened, we worked very hard to have a subcommittee established concerning the use of the money in the employment insurance fund. The government knows very well how we worked with opposition parties. I will spare you the details of the procedure. However, without the support of the NDP and the Conservative Party, we would not have seen the creation of a subcommittee to study the issue and to make recommendations about the employment insurance fund.

I want to thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie because he had tabled in committee a motion that would allow us to debate this before December 17. We will soon be able to receive the recommendations of this committee. We will see whether the Liberal government is acting in good faith. Liberal members will have to do a very interesting exercise in democracy. I invite them to focus on the positive responses to give to this committee.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties. I would seek unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, during the debate tonight on the business of supply, notwithstanding Standing Order 81(4)(a), within each 15 minute period, each party may allocate time to one or more of its members for speeches or for questions and answers, provided that, in the case of questions and answers, the minister's answer approximately reflect the time taken by the question, and provided that, in the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allocated may speak one after the other.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Business of the House
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

November 23rd, 2004 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this evening. While I have had the honour of rising in the House to ask questions, make statements and participate in a take note debate on the BSE crisis, I do consider this my maiden speech in this chamber. It is indeed an honour to be here. It is an honour, too, as the member for Sault Ste. Marie, to be the first individual to represent my riding in northern Ontario in both the provincial legislature of Ontario and now here in the House of Commons.

I would like to recognize the contributions of my predecessors in this place, particularly the most recent, Carmen Provenzano, Ron Irwin, and a member of my own party, Steven Butland, some few years ago.

Today we are discussing what on the surface appears to be a housekeeping bill giving a legislative framework to the new ministry of social development that has been operating since last December. However, while the legislative framework may be housekeeping, the mandate of this department, which is social development and the social economy, is not housekeeping. Rather, it is about nation building. This mandate goes to the very heart of who we are as Canadians.

Today at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in estimates, the Minister of State for Families and Caregivers talked of this ministry as the heart of the government. I agree with him. What we can yet become again in building a nation where all are equal and all are included could be very much under consideration here as we debate this department in Parliament.

I must say that this mandate of social development and the social economy very much connects with my own journey, both personally and politically. I want to begin with the wisdom I have gained from that journey. I am one of seven children of parents who arrived in Canada in January 1960 from Ireland. My father Martin came nine months earlier than the rest of us to establish a home, ending up in Wawa in northern Ontario working in a mine in that small community. My mother, Rose Savage, also from County Louth, Ireland, on her own escorted her seven children across the Atlantic to a new life in this wonderful country.

It was very exciting for us as children. We took a train in the middle of January up through the hinterland, ice and snow hanging from the trees. We children thought that we had died and gone to Disneyland. My mother, of course, thought she was in Siberia and some suggest that perhaps she was. It was very exciting, though, for all of us. I am an immigrant from Ireland who for the first nine years of his life had no electricity and no running water. I think in that there is a lesson for all of us, particularly where the social economy is concerned.

We came to a country whose social policy then was inclusive and welcoming. It was my first taste of Canada, a country rich in diversity and resources, filled with hopes and dreams, people working hard and playing hard, as northerners do, supporting one another and building community. The only way to survive this challenge was in fact to do it together with neighbours and with fellow workers and to do it in community.

It was out of this collective experience, in fact, that this nation came to believe in the power of community and the necessity of working together through the hard times such as the weather, the geography and the distance, all of life's hardships for those of us who have lived in northern Canada or in rural Canada.

It was with this experience of community and family and the need to care for one another that I saw first-hand what led me to want to work to create a society that reflected those values.

Those Canadian and community values connect very well with my faith journey, which was anchored in the social gospels. My faith led me to politics and the New Democratic Party, to people like Tommy Douglas, who allowed us to concretely root this care for other people and to build other structures that are fair and just.

I was able to work with this in a very concrete way in my home community in Sault Ste. Marie where, with some like-minded people, we established a soup kitchen in 1983. Half of our major industry had just been laid off. I am talking about a drop in employment of 6,000 people in a community of 80,000. It was major and it had a major effect. It was in Sault Ste. Marie, surrounded by really good people, that I saw the need for government programs and interventions if we are going to provide opportunities for everyone.

It was in that capacity I discovered that not only could government be helpful when it chose, it could also be hurtful in the choices it made. It was there that I committed to changing the structures and attitudes that contributed to the pain and suffering of so many people. That was what I saw happen under the Conservative government over the last eight years in Ontario, for example, with it taking away 21.6% of the income of the most marginalized and at risk individuals and families, decimating a support structure that had been put in place over many years by different stripes of government, New Democrat, Liberal and Conservative, all in the interest of lowering taxes, and judging some people not worthy of government assistance.

It was in this period that my resolve was born to fight poverty and to help create a society that was supportive and helpful of our people. This fight is not won, by any stretch of the imagination. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, said recently that he believes that today poverty is not “central on the global agenda”. I would add that it is not central on this government's agenda. Wolfensohn believes that “today lip service is given to the question of poverty”.

He states:

There are safe statements made by just about everybody about the issues of the Millennial goals and about poverty. But the real issues today that seem to be on the mind of the world, terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, strains in the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, budget deficits, and parochial problems...while attention is given less to the equally inevitable and equally dangerous problems that come with poverty.

Wolfensohn says that “poverty and the environment in which we live are the real challenges for peace and that we need to give them priority.”

This global fight against poverty has a human face, a face that all of us here see on a daily basis if we are going back to our communities and listening to and looking at what is happening there.

I remember like it was yesterday learning during my people's parliament on poverty hearings of the news about the death of Kimberly Rogers, a story that more than any other painted the picture or told the story about what happens when government actually abandons people or chooses to abandon people.

For those who do not know, Kimberly Rogers was a young pregnant woman who was on social assistance and chose to go back to college and better herself. She became caught in a legal wrangle; in Ontario it was deemed to be illegal to collect student assistance and social assistance at the same time. She was found guilty and assigned to house arrest. In the heat of a very hot summer, she passed away in her apartment.

That is what can happen when governments put in place policies that have not been fully thought out and will ultimately come back to haunt them and all of us.

Being here in Parliament now allows me the opportunity to take this fight to a higher national level. When I announced my intention to seek a seat in the House of Commons, I spoke of the two kinds of politics in our country: the politics of access and influence and the politics of building a better society that includes everybody.

What matters to me is a politics of inclusion, politics as if people and communities matter. Among our New Democratic priorities for this new ministry will be, among other things, fighting the clawback of the national child tax benefit supplement and fighting child and family poverty, which is getting worse, according to news stories today reporting on tomorrow's Campaign 2000 report card, which says that family poverty is getting worse in our country.

This is shameful at any time, but intolerable when in our country the surplus currently stands at $9.1 billion and we have an EI surplus that sits at $44 billion.

New Democrats also pledge to work for a credible national child care plan.

I believe that splitting the former Human Resources Development Canada ministry into two ministries and creating a Ministry of Social Development gives us a wonderful opportunity to revisit what we can do as government and as members to ensure that every citizen at a very basic level lives a life reflective of the dignity inherent in every person and is able to participate fully in the life of their community.

I believe that government has a pivotal role to play in stabilizing our economy so that we all have a chance at good, secure, safe and well-paid jobs.

From my experience of fighting poverty in the community, it seems to me that the government needs to take a different, more fundamental track in its program development and approach. It needs to begin with a respect for the inherent value in each human being and the potential in each person to contribute to their own livelihood and the life of their community in a way that is often unique and particular.

We have fundamental questions to ask about social policy in our country and communities. When someone stands before us as legislators or as public servants to access a government program, for example, who do we see? Do we see someone who is valuable, someone who is worthy or do we see someone inherently lazy or bad, someone that some parties and policies would blame for their very own situation? The social development question is, how do we build a community around that person and for that person?

For our party, the essential difference is that we need to break out of a notion that sees society only as a collection of individuals, all in competition with each other, and to build a society that is supportive and cooperative, a society seen through community eyes as a community of communities. This is the social democracy we New Democrats offer this country. I am convinced that the more progressive social agenda from the throne speech we heard a couple of weeks ago is in good part there because New Democrats have a central role in this minority government.

I am proud to be affiliated with the party of Tommy Douglas. I make an unabashed plea in this place to anybody who is listening to vote for Tommy Douglas as our greatest Canadian. I know that there will be some out there who will want to make a plug for perhaps Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Pearson, but if we look at the contribution that Tommy Douglas made, particularly at a time when we had a minority government in this place, and the introduction of national programs like our health care and the role that he played in that, we will understand why some of us feel so strongly about his contribution. He introduced the last really national program to this country, a program that we now hold up as that which identifies us as Canadians.

My passion in coming to politics, as I said before, is to wipe out poverty. It is the reason I am in politics. The just released National Council of Welfare's poverty profile for 2001 reported that about 240,000 Canadian families with two working parents lived below the poverty line in 2001. Low paying jobs continue to fall short in providing workers a living wage. Almost 60% of poor single mothers, 128,000 women, reported earnings that could not lift them above the poverty line.

Some of the programs that the government has introduced to reduce poverty has turned out to be an exercise in simply moving people from one state of poverty to another. The working poor in this country find themselves still unable to pay for and have those things that are basic to a decent standard of living to support them, their families and their children.

I have been touching on the social justice and community themes that are an inherent part of the Ministry of Social Development. Let me use my remaining time to briefly elaborate on those priorities at this time for our party in that context.

The government is finally, after years and years of promises, saying it will put in place a national child care system. Our party wants to support this national system if, and it is a very big if, we get it right on crucial issues, such as child care being publicly funded and publicly delivered.

As we talk more about a national plan, we need the stark reminder that by the time a truly national child care system is operating, today's toddlers will be finishing university. As I have said on a number of occasions over the last couple of weeks, we do not have more time on this file. As a matter of fact, we are into overtime. Our party believes that a national child care system must be sustainable, well past the five years promised by the government.

It will be important to ensure that provinces spend this money for child care. We need enabling legislation sooner rather than later to lay the foundation for this plan. This legislation would be part of the growing confidence of citizens in a national child care and early learning system.

There are some positive conditions, I must say, at the moment that give me confidence that the government may actually deliver this time on its promise of a national child care system, the most important being that we have a minority government at play here with a central role for the New Democratic Party.

Our commitment is to work with those people in this place who sincerely want to put in place a national child care system based on the principles that have been studied and developed over a long period of time now, that have a commitment from all those out there who understand and have worked, and are looking forward to a national child care system that is enshrined in legislation and that is publicly funded and publicly delivered.

We have here the kind of Parliament that produced our health care program, something put together by the New Democratic Party, government and the CCF government in Saskatchewan. Our party's priorities for a national child care system include building a not for profit system.

There has been a trend to privatization in health care under Liberal and Conservative governments. Governments de-fund or underfund a system and then say that they cannot afford a universal plan. We have already seen a creeping Americanization of our health care system. We must not allow an Americanization of the child care system.

Supporters of for profit child care say providers can create child care spaces more quickly than the not for profit sector and at a lower cost. They argue that giving private providers public child care funds maximizes choices available for parents. The OECD report, which was delivered here a week ago, is clear that quality suffers with private child care. For example, it becomes more costly and it becomes, in time, mediocre.

In an era of free trade and global trade agreements that exert wide influence on domestic social policy, Ottawa's money must be restricted to non profit programs or we risk falling into the hands of foreign big bucks child care.

Let us not forget that quality child care is about the social and economic development of a community and of our country. A national child care system would be a place of employment for thousands of people. It would constitute an essential resource which would enable parents to participate in the labour market, study, and pursue professional development opportunities. It could nurture better self-esteem for the child and the parent, and better economic development for both the child, the family and the community.

I want to speak for a few minutes on the national child benefit and the clawback. The national child benefit and its supplement was supposed to fight child and family poverty. The rationale was to reduce child poverty, promote labour force attachment, and reduce overlap of government services and benefits, but we know that the clawback robs the poor in very real ways. Only in families where an adult has a job is one allowed to keep the national child benefit supplement of a $126 for the first child and decreasing amounts for subsequent children. Parents on social assistance or a disability pension are out of luck. When the rent is $775 and total income is $1,334, the extra couple of hundred dollars for a family with two children would make a huge difference.

Research from the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto documents how ending the clawback would reduce the number of families with children that have to turn to a food bank to put food on the table. Daily Bread Food Bank estimates that 13,500 children in the greater Toronto area alone would not need to rely on the food bank if the clawback were stopped.

Finally, I would like to comment on the social transfer. The government has a wonderful opportunity, with the empowerment of this new ministry, to go to the people of this country and ask them what they think we should be doing in terms of delivering social programs, where the money that is flowed to the provinces through the social transfer should go, what the priorities should be, and how we should be tackling this terrible blight on our society of so much poverty in such a rich country.

I would urge the government, in my support for the development of this ministry, to take that task on, and to take this opportunity at this time and go to the people of Canada and ask them what they think about the social transfer, and where they think it should be spent and what the priorities should be.

Department of Social Development Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for raising a couple of important points. He talked about the Campaign 2000 report which was just released regarding poverty, and children and families.

He also mentioned the OECD report which was sharply critical of Canada's child care system, describing it as a patchwork of uneconomic, fragmented services within a small child care sector and seen as a larger labour market support often without a focused child development and education role.

If child care is not kept in the not for profit sector, what kind of impact does my colleague think it will have with regard to NAFTA and the WTO?