House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

The House resumed from November 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this morning to rise on Bill C-7. The bill is in fact a reaffirmation of the government's absolute desire and commitment not only to review the responsibilities associated with our natural heritage with respect to our parks and historic designations within our parks and natural environment, but also to make sure of the continuity required with respect to our built history, to make sure that there is a very clear delineation of responsibility with respect to maintaining what Canadians have a right to. Their natural and their built heritage should be protected, administered and managed in manner that is in keeping with the high degree of responsibility we all feel for our heritage.

As members will know, then, the bill is an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts. As I said, it will delineate responsibilities.

The thrust of my comments today will be about the action plan on establishing new national parks and national marine conservation areas within the context of the bill, two subjects which members have said from time to time are issues they really want to get into.

I will give members a little history. On December 12, the control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency was transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. This transfer was given effect through an order in council.

On July 20, 2004, another order in council came into effect relating to responsibilities for our built heritage. It was required in order to clarify the earlier order in council. First, control and supervision of the historic places policy group, that group and its responsibilities, was transferred from the Department of Canadian Heritage to Parks Canada. Second, the powers, duties and functions related to the design and implementation of the program that had built heritage as their primary subject matter were transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment.

Bill C-7, as I have indicated, will update the legislation to reflect these directions and these responsibilities.

The bill deals with the machinery of government and does not contain any substantive policy provisions. It simply gives legislative effect to the direction that the government reorganization was taking, as announced on December 2003, in particular as it affects Parks Canada.

In addition to amending the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act, Bill C-7 also amends statutes through which Parks Canada delivers its mandate: the Canada National Parks Act; the Historic Sites and Monuments Act; the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act; the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act; the Saguenay--St. Lawrence Marine Park Act; the Species at Risk Act; and the Canada Shipping Act. All of these are associated statutes that are implicated by this transfer. But there are no additional funding requirements related to Bill C-7, as the jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to funding, works and associated initiatives obviously are within the budgets of the relevant departments.

Parks Canada's organizational integrity has been maintained. The Parks Canada agency remains committed to working with Canadians to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations.

I think it would be an understatement to say that the examples of that unique heritage, which in fact is a reflection of the various cycles of immigration and our first nations and aboriginal peoples and so on, are top of mind with respect to our heritage.

I would like to take a few moments to talk about the Parks Canada story. I think it is a global best practice. It is a story that is worth repeating often in order for us to have a sense of just how absolutely spectacular this country is in terms of its natural heritage.

I am sure that from the House's perspective Canada's national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas are somewhat akin to the soul of our country. They are a central part of who we are and what we are and in fact what we want to be. It is what we signal to the world that is so important with respect to the preservation and the stewardship of the natural heritage we enjoy.

These places are obviously places of wonder and awe for those Canadians who have travelled from coast to coast to coast. I happen to be one of them. I am never above and beyond being totally impressed with what God has given us as a natural environment. It is just so absolutely awesome, even in the global context.

Each of those places also tells its own story because the people who live in those areas have a special kinship with respect to their natural heritage and their built heritage. In fact, it is a reflection of a very regional kinship that people have with their own immediate environment. It is one that they wish to share with all Canadians and in fact with the world. It is unique. That natural environment, our built environment, is also a reflection of the mosaic that we refer to as Canada.

What we cherish as part of our national identity, we also recognize as part of our national responsibility. If we feel so strongly on the one hand how special our heritage is, then equally we have to rise to the challenge in terms of our accountability to nurture and preserve it.

All Canadians share the responsibility to preserve and protect Canada's unique cultural and natural heritage. Together, we hold our national parks, our national historic sites and our national marine conservation areas in trust for the benefit of this and future generations.

Canada has the distinction of having established the first national park service in the world. Over the decades, our system of national parks has grown to 41 national parks and reserves, preserving for future generations almost 265,000 square kilometres of lands and waters. There are plans to add an additional 100,000 square kilometres through the creation of eight more national parks. This legacy is possible in large part because provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal and first nations people and local communities have worked with us to create many of these new national parks.

The creation and management of national parks is a delicate balance between protection of ecologically significant areas of importance to wildlife and meeting economic and social needs of communities.

The Government of Canada is committed to working with aboriginal people, local communities and other Canadians and stakeholders to protect our precious national heritage through the creation of new national parks and national marine conservation areas. When I say the Government of Canada, I include that this particular issue is a non-partisan issue in which all members of the House on both sides, in all parties, feel the same with respect to the protection of our natural and built heritage.

In October 2002 the government announced an initiative to substantially complete Canada's system of national parks by creating 10 new parks over the next five years. This will expand the system by almost 50%, with the total area spanning nearly the size of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have already created two of these 10 new national parks with work continuing on eight other proposals. Five new national marine conservation areas will also be created.

Canada is blessed with exceptional natural treasures. We owe it to Canadians and to the world to protect these lands and waters. The action plan calls on Parks Canada to work with all of its partners, the provinces and territories, aboriginal and rural communities, industry, environmental groups, labour and all others, to complete this effort.

In March 2003 the government allocated $144 million over five years and $29 million annually thereafter toward this effort.

The action plan has already produced two national parks. The new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada protects 33 square kilometres of ecologically rare land in the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

At over 20,000 square kilometres the new Ukkusiksalik National Park of Canada protects virtually an entire watershed close to the Arctic Circle in Nunavut.

As we speak, the whole issue of ecological balance is being discussed. We have had the recent Arctic report out of Iceland and a conference is going on with respect to countries that have responsibility for the Arctic. Our mandate is to be accountable to preserving the Arctic. We all know there are huge challenges with respect to global warming and the Arctic.

Other parallel concerns are being expressed through reports that will be coming to the House. As a matter of fact, there will be a report today with respect to water quality in some of our natural areas, one of which is the Great Lakes Basin, that will be a parallel effort in an attempt to make sure that these natural areas are protected, the latter being water quality.

The Ukkusiksalik Park is a product of an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut forged over several decades of hard work, all focused on protecting land, water, caribou and polar bears for present and future generations.

Specific sites for more national parks will be selected in other natural regions across Canada, the southern Okanagan; the lower Similkameen in interior British Columbia; Labrador's Torngat Mountains and Mealy Mountains; Manitoba's lowland boreal forests; Bathurst Island in Nunavut; and the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Just to speak about those potential inclusions geographically gives one the sense of the vastness of Canada. Sites for the two remaining national parks are being identified by Parks Canada.

Negotiations to establish the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve in northern Labrador are nearing completion. Members will be pleased to know that this longstanding proposal will protect some of the highest mountains in North America east of the Canadian Rockies.

In March 2004 the Premier of Manitoba and the former minister of the environment signed a memorandum of agreement identifying the boundaries for public consultation for a national park in the Manitoba lowlands. They also committed to negotiating a national park establishment agreement by May 2005. Both parks will make significant additions to our worldclass national parks system.

The government is also working with partners to establish five new national marine conservation areas, adding an estimated 15,000 square kilometres to the system. This will be a major step for global conservation of marine habitat. Canada has the world's longest coastline and 7% of its fresh water.

This commitment to creating a new marine conservation area is consistent with recent Speeches from the Throne in which our government made a commitment to create new marine protected areas as part of the ocean action plan. These national marine conservation areas will be located in ecologically unrepresented marine regions. Four sites have been identified, including the Gwaii Haanas off British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, western Lake Superior, British Columbia's southern Strait of Georgia and the waters off the Îles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

While a site for the remaining national marine conservation area has yet to be finalized, Parks Canada has received a number of proposals from local communities, a testament to the growing interest in the conservation of our marine heritage.

In addition, the government will accelerate its actions over the next five years to improve the ecological integrity of Canada's 41 existing national parks. This will implement the action plan arising from the report of the panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, which was endorsed by the government in April 2000.

These two initiatives, the action plan to establish our system and to expand our system of national parks and national marine conservation areas and the action plan on ecological integrity, are the most ambitious initiatives to expand and protect national parks and national marine conservation areas in over 100 years, indeed, since Banff National Park of Canada, Canada's first, was established in 1885.

Parks Canada needs to get on with the job and Parliament has assigned the job to it. I urge all members, for the reasons I have attempted to articulate in my comments, to support the bill as a major step forward in outlining and saying to Canadians that the House, the government and all parties understand the responsibilities with respect to the stewardship of our natural and built environment, and that the bill is a step toward maintaining that accountability with all Canadians.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was very impressed with the commitment the member for York South—Weston has to the preservation, protection and enhancement of our national parks which, as everyone in the House knows, are the most beautiful national parks that can be found anywhere in the world. He talked about responsibility and stewardship.

My party will be supporting the bill because we have to do whatever it takes.

The member, in his speech, talked about the government's commitment to the protection of our parks. He talked about the ecologically rare areas we have in Canada. I think every one of our parks can fit into that category.

I am wondering if the member for York South--Weston is aware of a very imminent threat that is about to occur and is, as we speak, already occurring on the west side of both the Banff and Jasper National Parks, which is the very large amassing of mountain pine beetles. They are continuing an easterly movement and will destroy every single mature pine tree in both of those parks if they are not arrested and dealt with.

This is important and I have to be critical of the government. This is a natural ecological disaster happening in the province of British Columbia. The reason that those beetles are there is that despite discovering the presence of the pine beetle back in the early nineties and numerous calls to the federal government from the province of B.C. to recognize this as a natural disaster, inasmuch as the ice storms in Ontario and Quebec and the floods in Manitoba, every request for assistance to mitigate and arrest the damage and progress of the mountain pine beetle has not been responded to by the federal government, to the point now that these bugs are on the western side of both Banff and Jasper National Parks.

I would ask the member whether the government is as committed as he says it is. After hearing the passion with which the member gave his presentation, I believe he is committed to doing everything he can, so I would ask him the following.

First, did he know about the presence of the mountain pine beetle and the damage they have caused and are causing on the western side of Jasper and Banff National Parks? If so, will he do everything he can to press the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Natural Resources to come immediately to the aid of the province to help mitigate the damage and stop the spread of the mountain pine beetle?

If we do not do that we will see a forest fire in the province of B.C. and in the westerly part of Alberta where those parks are, just as sure as we are speaking today, the magnitude of which we have never seen. This creates the most absolutely timber dry wood as an ultimate end that is ripe for a lightening strike. We could find both of those national parks in an imminent state of being ready for a fire disaster to hit.

Will the member please direct some efforts toward the ministers responsible to recognize the magnitude of the beetle infestation, the imminent danger and the damage that is already being caused to those two national parks?

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate both the spirit and the substance of the question. As the member was reflecting on the nature and implication of the mountain pine beetles, I also was reflecting on the impact a similar invasive species, the Asian longhorned beetle, has had in my constituency in Toronto. In many constituencies, the Asian longhorned beetle is decimating softwood, in particular, ash, such as mountain ash and other species of ash, in Toronto and the area.

The member might not be aware that there are signs all over, trying to cloister the impact of the Asian longhorned beetle. It is having a similar impact in urban settings where it is so necessary to have trees to maintain the ecological balance. It now has been found that the Asian longhorned beetle is not only just a seasonal problem, but it is permeating itself. It can hibernate in the winter and re-emerge in the summer. It is a very serious issue. In that instance a strategic initiative is taking place, coordinated between the provincial and local governments.

I cannot give a total answer, but I can give a process answer and possibly a substance answer. The first is to get the information as to what is being done with respect to the mountain pine beetle. There is absolutely no challenging the cause and effect that the member has established. It does implicate on this bill and the spirit behind it. That case can be established. Having established the case in terms of what is going on, how effective we are, it then is a jurisdictional issue as to how we can establish a process that will deal with it.

I will get as much information for the member on what the nature of the issue is at this point. Then there might be the opportunity to raise it as a matter before the House and have the appropriate minister give an overview, or an inter-jurisdictional plan from heritage and natural resources, so the whole House can be informed as to not only what is going on, but what the future plan is.

Just in asking the question, the member has done a service to the issue which this bill is based on, and that is that we all are accountable for our natural heritage. This is not a partisan issue. We have been given that responsibility. If the member has defined and identified an issue that is of concern in that geographic area, Banff and Jasper, it is an issue for all Canadians.

I can assure him that I will get the information in the first instance of what we are doing, and then we can use that as the basis to satisfy ourselves as to whether that is enough. Then we can take it on from that point.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put this to the speaker from the Liberal Party and the chair of the environment committee. Does he not think there is a missed opportunity on the part of the government to not only transfer responsibility for Parks Canada to the environment department, but also to strengthen the legislation that would protect our parks and, in particular, would protect the parks from invasive species, from land uses adjacent to the parks?

Could he comment on the need for that type of strengthening of our Parks Canada legislation?

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the member's question, I will read from an overview. It states:

Whoever is appointed the Minister responsible for Parks Canada is bound by the provisions of the Canada National Parks Act. Parks Canada will continue to be accountable to Parliament through its responsible Minister.

That would take some steps toward allaying the fears that have been expressed and have led to an amendment with respect to the bill to take the “may” out and to make the Minister of the Environment as the accountable person.

I think members can see from the responses I have given how seriously I take the accountability with respect to the intent of the bill. Therefore, members might know that I also would not be opposed to being very sharply definitive in terms of ultimate and absolute accountability. If that is determined to be the Minister of the Environment, then I would have no problems with that.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise with a great desire to speak to the bill, not only because of my involvement in the previous Parliament but because our party has concerns with regard to where we go as a country with our natural areas, particularly those areas that are encompassed by the Parks Canada legislation.

Bill C-7, now at third reading, is being treated as a housekeeping bill in the sense that all we are doing is transferring responsibility for our parks, both on land and in water, to the Department of the Environment, from heritage. Our party has pressed for that transfer for a long time. I believe it is necessary for Canada to do this.

Having said that, we need to place in context where we are with our parks, again both on land and in water. One of the things that I want to address is a concern with the attitude of the government toward our parks.

As we have heard from the previous speaker in some detail, we have a proud history of developing and taking care of our parks. However, that is dated history. As we heard from the previous prime minister, the plan is to expand our parks, and we need to do that. There is an international standard that we need to meet.

As I travel both within the country and, more important, outside the country, it is interesting to see the attention paid to Canada in this area. Canada has large undeveloped areas. They are still in their natural state. There is an expectation across the globe that we will foster protection for those areas. The concern that I and my party have is we are not doing a good enough job.

The standard internationally is that 12% of all our land, and that includes both in the water and on land, is to be set aside and preserved in its natural state. If we do a superficial analysis, we are fairly close to that, especially when we take into account the lands that we expect will be moved over into our national parks. We have moved reasonably well at a theoretical level. However, the reality on the ground and in the water is different.

In the last Parliament, we moved to expand our facilities in the water, in the form of marine conservation areas. I would point out one of the other countries that has taken more of a leading role. Australia, is way ahead of us in this regard. It had marine conservation areas of a similar nature almost two decades ago. We only got to it about two years ago.

The concerns we have, with the role the federal government has played or this Liberal administration has since being elected in 1993, is that the parks have deteriorated. Any number of reports, which have come out in the last four to five years, show that not enough money has been spent to maintain the existing parks. Not only are the buildings within the parks themselves deteriorating quite noticeably, so are the natural areas. We need to address those reports and meet the requirements set out in the recommendations, and we are not.

For instance, it was quite interesting to see what happened when the previous prime minister announced that we would have these 10 new parks. That was about two years ago. The funding to go with that was woefully inadequate. It simply would not do it. This is perhaps the height of hypocrisy. Those parks took in areas that had substantial first nations land claims against them. I would suggest, without prejudging the outcome, that it will be established that the first nations claims are valid.

The prime minister of the day was in fact proposing to convey land into the public sphere that ultimately is not public land, it is first nations land. That is a real problem.

Similarly, in the last Parliament, as I said earlier, we passed the legislation dealing with marine conservation areas. However, there is no way near enough money to protect them. In fact, the legislation has some major flaws in the provisions about what would be permitted in those marine conservation areas, including dragging off the east coast that would destroy the coral that is there. This is one of the major reasons that we should be protecting that area.

On both the east and west coasts, it would allow for exploration for minerals, and oil and gas deposits which in most cases require the use of explosives. This would damage the biological integrity of those areas.

We have a situation where at the pronouncement level it looks good. However, when we get down to the reality of what is happening in our parks, whether on land or in the seas, we are not carrying through to meet that international standard that we are being expected to by the world.

I want to go back for a minute to the role that first nations have played in this area. The reason we are close to having the 12%, the international standard, is because the first nations claims, particularly in the northern territories, have provided us with a good deal of that percentage. It is one that I think we have to recognize as a society and as a government. We have to acknowledge that what they have done as a people is to protect the biological integrity of the areas that they control.

I want to deal a bit more with the threats that we are faced with in the parks and that we would like to have seen addressed in this bill. As opposed to this simply being a housekeeping bill to transfer responsibility, we would prefer to see more in the way of regulation and legislation that would protect our natural areas in our parks and marine conservation areas.

I want to talk about the attitude that we saw expressed by the government. We moved as a party, on behalf of our member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, that the responsibility be directly attributed to the Minister of the Environment. The bill, as it originally came before the House before it was successfully amended, provided that any minister or other individuals within the Privy Council Office could be designated as responsible.

This goes to the essential attitude that this government has had since 1993 of seeing parks sort of off on the side and not having a champion, not having an advocate. When Parks Canada was with heritage, the heritage minister obviously had conflicting responsibilities: to protect the arts and culture, broadcasting, et cetera, and Parks Canada was an additional responsibility.

As a result of that, we saw a dramatic deterioration in the parks. It is appropriate that we put it back into an environment where we have the minister who, one would expect, and I do not say we always get that from these ministers, would play that championing role, that advocacy role within the government and within cabinet to see to it that the parks do not further deteriorate and in fact the remedial work is done. They should be brought back to the standard one would expect and new parks would be properly protected. Boundaries would be built around them so that we would not see any deterioration in those parks, or usages within those parks that would be inappropriate and incompatible with maintaining them in their natural state.

We need that person in the cabinet. We moved that amendment and want to acknowledge the support that we received from the opposition parties on that amendment. We got it through successfully earlier this week.

What it says to us as a party is that the Liberal government is really not serious. We would like to see other issues addressed. We are obviously not going to get it. We will support this bill because it is important to have the transfer made from heritage to environment.

However, we would have appreciated and expected that the government would have taken a more proactive role in seeing that other protections were built into the legislation so that our parks would meet the standards that the international community is expecting of us and more importantly, that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are expecting of us.

We talk about the national identity of Canadians and the angst that we sometimes go through. We know that our health care system is one of the programs that we point to that separates us from other countries and that makes us proud to be Canadians.

The national parks fit into that category as well, whether it is in the Maritimes, again offshore or onshore, whether it is in central Canada, in the Prairies, in the Rockies, in B.C., or up north in the territories. In every area there are national parks or natural areas that we are proud as Canadians to say we are protecting and we will protect.

That is the essence I believe of being Canadian. If we travel, especially in the developed world, we are looked at as having the best of both worlds. We have an economy that is strong, but we also have been able within that to protect our parks. It is very important that Canadians do that and it is very important that we continue to do that.

This legislation does not advance us much in that regard. Other than making the transfer and hoping that we end up with an advocate within the government and within cabinet, it does not advance us much in that regard, in spite of the expectations of both Canadians and the world as a whole.

I want to spend a couple of minutes on other threats that are applicable to the parks. Threats that I would ask the government to consider subsequently in regulation, because some of this could be done by regulation. Some of it will have to be done by legislation and some of it has to be done by way of cooperation with the provinces and our neighbour to the south, the United States.

We need to build corridors in order to preserve any number of species. Some of those corridors go down into the United States. A good number of them go east and west across provincial boundaries and cross into areas where there are provincial parks. We need to develop a much more efficient system of working with the provinces and the United States to assure that those corridors will be established and will be maintained so that we stop losing the habitat for so many of our species.

We can point as one example to the grizzly population in Banff which is under very severe threat because the gene pool is so limited. There is not enough diversity in that gene pool and we badly need to develop a corridor for the grizzlies within that park so that they would be able to move in and out in a much more natural and effective way to maintain that gene pool.

Similarly, there are a number of areas that we need to work on with the provinces because we need to protect the area adjacent to our national parks. We have, in a number of places, quite significant suburban types of development, large developments going in immediately adjacent to parks and putting significant pressure on the national parks. We need to be working with the provinces around land use control in order to ensure that there are buffer areas that are natural or semi-natural, that will act as a buffer for our national parks.

We have to be very clear that we will not allow incompatible usages in our parks, whether it is mining or forestry, and we can go down the list. I mentioned earlier the use of explosives in the exploration for mineral resources in marine conservation areas. It is extremely detrimental to the natural species that inhabit those areas and we need to put an end to the ability of the private sector to do that.

In a number of cases, that is work that can be done within the national government, but there are other times when assistance is required in cooperation with the provinces. Therefore, we need to be developing more extensively our relationships in that regard.

In conclusion, we recognize that this is a housekeeping bill. It is one that we as a party are going to support because we badly need to have that champion, that advocate for the parks that has been so sorely missed in the last 11 to 12 years under this Liberal administration. We need that person and we need that person to do the job, which is to fight hard to ensure that protections are there and that the funds to develop and protect the parks are in place.

We will support the bill, but we are also asking the government to give serious consideration to additional regulations, legislation and the diplomacy that we need to build with other jurisdictions.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

Department of Canadian Heritage Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from November 23 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 26th, 2004 / 10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is important because it reflects some of our most deeply held values: the belief, for instance, that all Canadians deserve a chance to live rich and rewarding lives, and the genuine concern that our communities express for our most vulnerable members, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Bill C-22, which would create the Department of Social Development Canada, is a vehicle through which we can achieve a most worthy goal: to help Canadians translate their ideals into meaningful and effective actions on behalf of the society we all share.

The bill would give legal effect to a transformation that began last December when the former Human Resources Development Canada department was split into two departments, including this new Department of Social Development Canada. Building on the many highly successful programs and services long delivered by HRDC, Social Development Canada intends to become a centre of expertise in social policy and programs which will ensure that Canada maintains and indeed surpasses our global reputation as a caring nation.

The mandate of the new SDC is to secure and strengthen Canada's social foundations while respecting the jurisdictions of all levels of government. Its vision is to create a country where everyone plays an active role.

To strengthen Canada's social foundations, SDC will work with its partners to promote the social well-being of and income security for Canadians. In concrete terms, Social Development Canada will focus on the social needs of Canadians, whether that be through income security or other types of programs and services. While all Canadians stand to benefit equally, the department will have a particular focus on children, people with disabilities, seniors, families and caregivers, and the voluntary and not for profit sector.

Let me emphasize that Social Development Canada is hardly alone in this. Indeed, in pursuit of its mission, it is working closely with other federal departments and other levels of government and is actively engaged with non-governmental organizations and communities.

I would also underscore that the legislation before us casts nothing in stone. As proposed, the department would be a living, breathing entity ready to respond to our needs and evolve along with them. In the next few minutes, permit me to outline some of the new department's key priorities.

Let us begin with children, our most vulnerable resource. As you know, Mr. Speaker, my government is committed to ensuring that every child has an opportunity to attain his or her own potential. With our partners, the Government of Canada is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to support families with children. Since 1998 a cornerstone of this strategy has been the successful national child benefit, a flexible tax relief program that helped lift 55,000 children out of poverty in the first two years alone.

All children, no matter what their circumstances, deserve an opportunity to learn and develop even before they reach school age. That is why the Speech from the Throne observed that the time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the four key principles of quality, universality, accessibility and development.

I also believe that it should be a publicly administered and not for profit system and that these objectives need to be entrenched in a legislative framework. That way, each province and territory will be able to address its own particular needs within the national framework. There is broad consensus that affordable and accessible child care is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for Canadian working families, whether headed by one parent or two. We therefore want to work with our partners to respond to this reality. My government will also be investing $5 billion toward the reality of this program over the next five years.

Persons with disabilities are another priority for SDC. We are working to level the playing field for people with disabilities to ensure that Canadians with disabilities have the same chances others do to achieve and succeed in our country. We recognize that they have abilities that differ from others and we want to support them in achieving their full potential.

Social Development Canada delivers Canada pension plan benefits for people with disabilities, along with programs such as the opportunities fund. Under the new labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, the Government of Canada contributes funding to provinces for programs and services to promote the full participation of Canadians with disabilities in the labour market.

With respect to seniors, our focus is on active living. We provide seniors with the support they need to be active participants in their communities. Again, Social Development Canada has programs to achieve that purpose. Nearly five million Canadians receive benefits through the Canada pension plan and the old age security program. Many more are helped out of poverty through the guaranteed income supplement, which my government has already promised to increase by up to $400 for a single person and up to $700 for a couple.

I am particularly enthusiastic about another program spearheaded by Social Development Canada. Known as New Horizons for Seniors, it will work with partners to develop activities that keep seniors fully engaged in their communities.

Canadians have also told us that providing support to families and family caregivers needs to be a priority of the Government of Canada. Indeed, family caregiving is a growing issue as more and more Canadians enter the “sandwich generation”, those with the dual role of raising their children while being an informal caregiver to an aging parent or a person with a disability.

The Government of Canada recognizes the vital role of Canadians who care for aged or infirm relatives or those with severe disabilities and is committed to helping people better balance work and family responsibilities, and it recognizes the important contribution of caregivers in Canadian society. That is why the government will be investing $1 billion in the family caregiver program.

The social economy is a venerable tradition in Canadian communities. We think of co-operatives, credit unions, community economic development associations and a lot of non-profit groups. Canada's not for profit organizations, community groups and volunteers are major partners in building strong and resilient communities. They fill a growing and very real need in Canadian society.

That is why SDC is an enthusiastic supporter of the social development partnerships program and the voluntary sector initiative, measures that reach out to the more than 161,000 not for profit organizations and six million volunteers who work so selflessly to strengthen the social fabric of Canada.

In all of its programs, SDC believes it is crucial to work with partners: the provinces and territories, of course, the municipalities, not for profit groups and agencies, and the voluntary and not for profit sector. This collaborative approach recognizes that many social programs are shared jurisdictions. It also increases capacity throughout the community in both the private and the voluntary and not for profit sector

I am pleased to support the bill.