House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

International Trade
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the United States of America is by far our largest trading partner. Nearly $1.8 billion in two-way trade across Canada crosses the Canada-U.S. border everyday. About 86% of our exports to the U.S. and 96% of our trade is dispute free, but trade irritants from softwood lumber to the Byrd amendment continue to dominate the headlines.

What will the minister do to ease these irritants and improve our trade relations with the United States?

International Trade
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, the U.S. trade relationship is critical to our prosperity. We have opened seven new consulates and we have created the Washington advocacy secretariat. Yesterday, I met in Washington with the new secretary of commerce and I look forward to working with him to resolve our trade disputes, promote North American competitiveness and foster global trade liberalization.

On March 1 I will be leading a Canadian advocacy day in Washington, along with the Canada-U.S. parliamentary group who will meet with our American counterparts. I want members from all parties to attend. We welcome the help of all members with this most important of our relationships.

Aerospace Industry
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the weekend, Robert Brown, the head of CAE in Montreal, was lamenting the fact that despite his approaches to the federal government before Christmas, it still has not made its aerospace policy known.

Does the Minister of Finance intend to use the budget next Wednesday to finally announce an aerospace policy, as the federal industry minister has been promising for months?

Aerospace Industry
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Vancouver Kingsway
B.C.

Liberal

David Emerson Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, we continue to work with the industry and provincial governments. We will have an aerospace strategy announcement in the next few months.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

February 15th, 2005 / 3 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Tuesday, February 1 by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton concerning the authorization required for printing and franking.

In presenting his case the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton charged that during the Christmas adjournment a 10 percenter was sent to residents in the member's riding without either the member's authorization or that of the person in his office to whom he had delegated his authority pursuant to the provisions of section 12 of the Board of Internal Economy bylaw 301.

Further, the member alleged that contrary to the provisions of section 35 of the Canada Post Corporation Act these 10-percenters had been mailed using the member’s franking privileges without his authorization.

The hon. chief government whip then intervened to explain that she had had the opportunity to look into the methodology used in obtaining the delegated authority referred to by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton. She went on to say that she agreed that the methodology had been flawed and apologized to the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for the error.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for raising this matter and the hon. chief government whip for her forthright explanation and apology.

As your Speaker, I am concerned, as was the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton, that printing and franking activities that were not authorized by the member could be undertaken on his behalf. That said, since the hon. chief government whip has acknowledged the error and graciously apologized, I believe that this particular file has been resolved.

It remains only for me to assure the House that I have instructed my officials that in the annual disclosure of MP expenditures, any expenditures related to the production of this 10 percenter not be attributed to the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton.

Both the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton and the Chair have received assurances that this error will not happen again. I therefore consider the matter settled and find no prima facie breach of privilege.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to debate this opposition motion, although the Bloc Québécois will vote against it.

The Conservative motion reads as follows:

That the House call upon the government to address the issue of childcare by fulfilling its commitment to reduce taxes for low and modest income families in the upcoming budget, and, so as to respect provincial jurisdiction, ensure additional funds for childcare are provided directly to parents.

I want to draw attention to the words “address the issue of child care”. I also note a very strong contradiction, in form and substance, in the reference to respecting provincial jurisdiction by transferring funds directly to parents.

Although we will vote against the motion by the Conservatives, this is an opportunity for us to debate the federal government's intention to intervene in the area of childcare, which reflects inefficiency, bad management and investments in areas outside its jurisdiction.

The Minister of Social Development, who was once a famous goalie, now seems to be tending goal for a centralizing and ineffective federalism which is preventing the provinces and Quebec from scoring for parents and families in Quebec. Yet, his child care system could benefit from better funding if the money was transferred directly to Quebec from this government's obscene annual surplus.

We will soon be struggling with a poorly designed and underfunded program that will not meet the needs of Canadians or Quebeckers, if Quebec does not receive an immediate transfer payment with full financial compensation. Since 1998, successive Quebec governments have invested significantly in children so as to create a child care system that helps parents, who benefit from support by competent workers whose salaries continue to rise, and that helps families improve their situation and also fights poverty.

We are proposing a pan-Canadian program in an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. Once again, instead of “Ottawa knows best”, we will see that “Ottawa knows nothing at all”. It knows nothing, but will manage a program as it manages its foundations, the famous foundations where, the Auditor General just told us, $7 billion is sitting, money for which the federal government is not accountable and about which it has no knowledge.

Once again, there will be investment in a child care program that will be costly but inefficient, as well as centrally administered, but with no guarantee, despite what the ministers have been saying one after another outside this House. We are told that 18 questions have been asked here in the House about the child care program. I think that we are now at over 20, with the ones from my colleague from Québec today. Yet there has never been a statement in this House that, yes, the day after the announcement of a federal child care program, even a poorly put-together one, for other Canadians, an agreement would immediately follow to provide Quebec with the funds it has unfortunately had to take from elsewhere. In so doing, Quebec no doubt has had to deprive students of text books and to make cuts to the health system, which is not as good as we would like it to be.

Quebec has had to make some hard choices in order to create its comprehensive and efficient child care system. When it is all in place, in 2006, it is going to cost $1.7 billion. Unfortunately, while Quebec could obtain compensation totalling $1.25 billion over five years, the feds are hemming and hawing indecisively, and it is the old who knows best, who can trample over others' jurisdictions the best.

As a result, we end up with a Canada that is less and less efficient, one that is built on ideologies, not on serving the people. This government is engaged in unhealthy competition with the provinces, arrogantly building itself up and thereby building up public cynicism toward federal Liberal MPs. I hope that the cynicism will stop there. This is an unfortunate situation.

I am a new member of Parliament. I may be a little naive. I thought governments existed to serve the people. I admit we have seen this type of shilly-shallying over the parental leave issue and over employment insurance. In fact, we just received the unanimous—or nearly unanimous—recommendation by a standing committee and the minister said it was not a recommendation, but a suggestion. Some ministers promised—and even the Prime Minister promised on television—that Quebec would definitively receive money for the child care program unconditionally. Now we see that in reality, the minister is waffling. He is the goalie, keeping Quebec from scoring.

I think the whole idea behind child care relates to the struggle against poverty. The federal government has a sorry record when it comes to dealing with poverty. The promises made 15 years ago were not kept in the 2000 campaign. This government is ineffective in fighting poverty. Those that would handle it better, that is, the provinces, including Quebec, do not get any help and do not have enough resources because of the fiscal imbalance. and because this government takes all the resources and plays the sorcerer's apprentice of child care. It is too bad that the great goalie, who was my childhood hero, is the one who is blocking Quebec's progress in the area of child care. It is distressing and sad.

I am the Bloc Québécois housing critic. I realize that in a few years, if we do not resolve this problem immediately, we will have to beg for another transfer to Quebec. This might generate all sorts of absurdities as well, such as at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which enjoys a $2.5 billion surplus and keeps it in its coffers, without helping people get a roof over their head at a better price, as its mandate suggests.

In a few years I do not want us still begging. We must have the right as Quebeckers to exercise our power to emancipate ourselves. The child care system in Quebec encourages employment, skill and parental involvement. It is not a state system as the Conservative ideologues would have us think. It is not a system that takes children away from their parents but one that supports parents' possibilities of having a decent life earning a living and thereby becoming better citizens.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the opposition motion and opposed to the funds going to parents. The Bloc does however fervently wish that this government would get the message, stop its shilly-shallying and decide right now to put its money where its mouth is, that is to say compensate Quebec immediately for implementation of the new child care program. We hope that the Canadian government will also get the message that more money needs to be invested for the other provinces as well, because the program it is proposing is cobbled together, underfunded and an embarrassment not only to Quebeckers, as far as respecting their jurisdictions is concerned, but to all Canadians.

Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member will know that in 1989 the government of the day passed a private member's motion on a Friday afternoon with 20 people in the House to seek to achieve the elimination of child poverty by the year 2000. There was not even a recorded division.

The member probably also knows that 15% of all the families in Canada are lone parent families, but they account for 54% of all the children who live in poverty. It is nonsense to say we are going to eliminate child poverty without dealing with the fundamental and social problem of the breakdown of the Canadian family.

My question for the member is more of a request for information about the Quebec model.

Some people have to work shifts or work seven days a week, or a combination thereof. How does the Quebec system deal with families who do not have Monday to Friday nine to five jobs? What exactly happens with infants? What special arrangements and ratio adjustments of caregivers to children are made for infants?

Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understand properly, am I to interpret the question from my eminent Liberal colleague as a news announcement? In other words, does it mean that Quebec will not be getting its fair share of the child care program, and that they will instead try to impose the Canadian model on it? Is that what I am to understand?

That is not a criticism made of the Quebec program. It does not come from the OECD, or even his own minister, who keeps on using it as an example, while systematically refusing to commit to proper funding via a transfer payment with full compensation. Is he dissenting? Is that what he is telling us?

I have spoken with the director of school child care services in my riding, Mr. Jean Cormier. The program offers parents all possible flexibility. Mr. Cormier also co-ordinates child care services for the Commission scolaire de la Capitale. He was alarmed and outraged to learn that, eventually, there might be a two-fold approach with complicated funding. He thought the federal program might end up perhaps providing direct funding to private child care, which might lack the proper skills and accreditation.

Mr. Cormier wondered, “Are we going to have to fight for our recognition all over again? We have set up a magnificent system. Please, Mr. Simard, help us and prevent this ridiculous overlapping created by incompetents who do not understand anything about the management of child care facilities, since they have never done it, while the program in place in Quebec since 1998 is the envy of the Americas.”

I am confounded by this penny-ante morality of people who know nothing about the social sector, because they are incompetent. It is not their job.

Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member on his comments this afternoon relating child care to fighting poverty and relating child care to encouraging jobs. That is exactly what this is about. This agenda does that and then some. It is a hugely important social agenda for the country and for the government.

I went to Montreal on a couple of occasions on my pan-Canadian tour on child care back in the fall. I was impressed with how rooted in the community and family the child care program in Quebec is. There are boards of directors, advisory boards and parent involvement in a myriad of different ways in the offering of those services. The parents of the children are intimately connected to the child care system in Quebec.

Perhaps the member would care to speak a bit more about that.

Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a fascinating aspect. I have worked a lot in social economy enterprises in Quebec. Day cares and early childhood centres—centres de la petite enfance as they are called in Quebec—are fine examples of social economy enterprises, where parents and staff sit together on the board, with the parents in the majority. These are virtually self-managed, non-profit organizations.

In this context there is more than just learning to being good parents; they also have an opportunity to experience what their children are doing, while they are providing care and they learn to be better citizens and to manage a small business.

For people who have self-confidence problems, for single parents burdened with work, the opportunity to have their children looked after in such facilities, to be part of the management of the enterprise, and to have input as parents in the program and in the daily activities, means that they become better citizens. In the end, it makes for a better community and a better society. It is wonderful to see this. Let us recognize the expertise of people who do this in all provinces, particularly Quebec.

Let us fund it properly and not just play child care apprentices with the children's future, the way the Liberals are doing with their pseudo-program.

Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and participate in this debate on child care in Canada. I want to note that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Edmonton—Leduc this afternoon.

I have a keen interest in this subject for a variety of reasons. First, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. As such, our committee has talked about the proposed national day care strategy. When legislation comes forward, we will no doubt be reviewing that. Therefore, I have a professional parliamentary interest in it.

Second, in a previous life, when I worked at Queen's Park for the provincial government, I served as the Ontario premier's special adviser for children's education. That was at the time when Dr. Fraser Mustard delivered his report on early years learning in Ontario. This is a seminal work and speaks to many of the issues before us today.

Third, I have some personal experience as a teacher. I am a certified ESL teacher. One time in my past I taught English to young children, preschoolers and kindergarten children in South Korea, so I have had some experience.

Last, but not least, I am the father of two children under 30 months of age, so I have a personal interest. I deal with early years learning every morning at my breakfast table and every night before they go to bed.

As a result of all these, last fall I decided to create an early years round table in my riding. I wanted to talk to people active in early years learning and day care. I do not profess to be an expert in the field, but I wanted to bring together a group of people with a variety of perspectives who could inform me on what was going on in the riding, what were some of the challenges they saw going forward and what they were looking for in public policy in this area.

My riding is in central Ontario, Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. It is rural. It is a scattering of small villages and people living between those villages. One thing we have learned over the years is that often programs devised by experts or civil servants living in downtown Ottawa or downtown Toronto often do not work well in a rural community.

Through my discussions with my early years round table and with other groups in my riding, I have identified several concerns going forward in terms of what the government doing. I raise these in a general context because at this point none of us actually knows what the government is proposing. There has been much talk. It has been stressed many times today that the Liberal government's commitment to do something about early years learning and about day care goes back 10 years. On the one hand we are all taking the, we will believe it when we see it approach. Beyond that, the minister has talked in generalities about the program, but we really do not know what is in it yet.

My comments are not specific criticisms or our concerns about the government's program, given that we have not seen it. Rather they are more general comments which I have heard, and they fall under three different categories.

The first group of comments have come from working families in my riding. One concern is that many people work irregular hours. They work shift work. If they are in retail, they may work evenings and weekends. They want to ensure that whatever government does to help them with child care or to help them pay for the cost of child care, that it will be sufficiently flexible for someone who works a 4 to 11 shift or who works on Sunday will have access to a program.

This is particularly true in a rural community where we do not have the critical mass in many of these small villages to create a government owned and operated system. At present, many people scramble to find child care for their kids and pay for it. There is a concern that the minister and the government, in conjunction with our Ontario Liberal government and the Ontario Liberal minister, would like to move toward a national system, or what I would call kind of a monolithic publicly owned and operated system that looks a lot like schools.

Ontario has had grade one for a long time. We have had kindergarten for many years. More recent, junior kindergarten was introduced in Ontario. I guess the concern is we went from SK to JK. Now we will have JJK and JJJK. Basically, we are extending the elementary school system down.

For anyone who works shift work or weekends, the notion that the schoolhouse will not now accept two year olds and three year olds does nothing to solve their problem, if they do not happen to have a 9:00 to 3:00 job, Monday to Friday, with holidays off.

That is a real concern in Ontario. Recent moves by the Ontario minister to introduce day care in schools on the opposite half day of when children are in half day kindergarten suggests that this is where the government will go. That will do nothing for working families in a rural riding such as mine who have to put their kids in care during irregular hours.

The second group of concerns has to do with families who choose to have one parent stay at home with their children. For most families, this is a financial sacrifice. It is a decision that people make because they feel it is important that one of the two parents stays home with the child during those early and formative years.

The concern is this. If government moves forward with some public system, similar to the public school system we all pay for through our taxes, but it is optional whether we participate, those parents who choose to stay at home will effectively be discriminated against, in the sense that they will pay through their taxes for the public system. However, if they choose not to participate, they will also have to pay for the care of the children themselves.

I asked the minister a question this morning. We had the authors of the recent OECD report on early years before our committee a couple of weeks ago. There was much discussion around test results of children who come out of different kinds of programs. One of the authors who participated via video conference from Paris noted that children who stayed at home with the parents did very well in the scores.

I reject the notion that children who are looked after at home by their parents or by relatives will inevitably perform more poorly in tests and will perform more poorly when they ultimately move on to elementary education.

The third point I want to raise has also been brought up many times today. It has to do with cost. The quick math is that the Minister of Social Development frequently refers to the Quebec model, which costs somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion. I am not saying the minister is saying this, but if we put in a similar system is across the country, it would cost about $10 billion a year. The federal government has made a commitment of $5 billion over five years. That is $1 billion a year, which is approximately 10% of the final cost of what this program would cost at full build out.

The minister has said many times, including last Friday when he was interviewed in Vancouver, that this is the first step, that basically the government is opening the door. A billion dollars is a significant amount, but he recognizes it is not nearly enough to pay for what he hopes ultimately blooms from his idea. I agree with him. It is not nearly enough. My question is from where will the other $9 billion come?

Both provincial and municipal officials have had lots of experience with federal governments that announce some grand strategy and program, get everyone excited, get everyone's expectations up, then the federal government puts a small amount of money on the table and the provinces and municipalities are left picking up the balance.

In this case, given that it is only a five year commitment, there is even concern that if the federal government steps back five years from now, the provinces and the municipalities will be left carrying the entire bag.

Any sort of a universal national day care system, even if it is one implemented by the provinces, will ultimately cost many billions of dollars. I suspect it will cost $10 billion or more. The question is, and provincial and municipal governments have the right to ask the question, who will come up with the rest of that money? If it is the provinces, then they will want to have a say at the front end.

The motion we have brought forward today is eminently sensible. The government has made a commitment to reduce taxes to low and middle income families. That is a step in the right direction. If dollars flow through parents, it gives parents the choice to provide or to find the kind of child care and early learning opportunities which work for them in their circumstances.

I agree with many of my colleagues who have pointed out that this is federal incursion into provincial jurisdiction. It seems to me that the federal government has enough of its own problems right now. It also has its own responsibilities which is not doing a very good job of looking after, such as our national armed forces. Why is it wandering into areas of provincial jurisdiction?

I would encourage all my colleagues on all sides of the House to support the amendment. Let us move forward with the program that will ultimately empower parents and put them in a position where they can make the choices that are best for their families.

Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I have listened very carefully all day to the debate that has taken place in the House. I think we have to agree that there will never be much of a meeting of the minds in terms of how we view this issue. Repeating information about what the minister said or did not say or calling him names, as was the case during question period, is certainly not the way to go about this debate.

However, I want to bring something to the attention of the hon. member. We talk a lot about polls. On February 14, the Toronto Star reported on a poll by Ekos. It showed that 61% of Canadians stated how they would like to see more investment in social programs, while only 19% made tax cuts their top priority. Wrapping tax cuts in kids' clothing is not the way to put a system together.

The system does exist. The provinces have said that we should work with them to provide the tools that will be needed. In some cases those tools may be money. In other cases there may be expertise that can be shared around the table. We have a collaborative effort in terms of the provinces, not in terms of imposing our view but sitting around a table and reaching a consensus with the provinces on this issue. That is what the minister has tried to do.

On the other side I have heard nothing in terms of recommendations. How do they propose to work with the provinces? The provinces have already said that they want to work with the federal government. Canadians want us to work together to provide for those families who need early learning and child care, options they have chosen for their children.

What does the hon. member propose to do with the provinces? That was my question this morning to the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. It is the same question for that hon. member. The provinces have already said to the government that they want to work with us, and we have put the money on the table.

Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I have never called the minister names. I do not think there is anything I said in my statement today that was a misstatement of facts. I want to clarify that. In terms of the provinces wanting to work with the federal government, I would say some provinces do and some do not.

I want to make a couple of points.

First, many people believe that government should help them in the provision of child care services and early learning opportunities. That is a provincial jurisdiction. It has been a provincial jurisdiction. Many provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, have made significant strides in those areas. The provincial governments are more than able and capable of dealing with this issue. I do not think that there is either wisdom, or accountability or competence in Ottawa that cannot be found in provincial capitals. I do not agree with the notion that somehow the federal government is necessary to coordinate or to make this happen.

In terms of the money, obviously provincial governments of all political stripes, which are struggling to balance their budgets and fund their programs, are interested when the federal government comes along offering money. I have said many times before that we have a fiscal imbalance in Canada and that there are officials from two levels of government, namely municipal and provincial governments, who go to bed every night and worry about how they will pay for things. It is only one level of government that goes to bed at night and tries to figure out how it will spend all the money.

That is my point in this case. If the federal government is offering money to the provinces to help them with the costs of child care, I am sure that the provinces will accept that money. I do not accept the notion that the federal government in any way can bring things to the debate that the provinces could not find themselves.

Second, we are not just talking about tax cuts. We also are talking about tax credits. If the federal government has made a commitment to investing federal dollars in child care, rather than flow those dollars through large institutions, where they will inevitably absorb a large amount of that money, we think those dollars should be flowed through parents so parents can make decisions about how they want to spend those dollars. Parents in different provinces, based on the options available to them, can determine what is right for them.

Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has some knowledge of this portfolio because of his work at Queen's Park. I was there when Fraser Mustard and Margaret McCain presented a report. On the whole question of flowing money from the federal government to the provinces, why does the member have such a difficult time with the federal government then holding the provinces accountable in some way for the spending of that money?