Debates of June 14th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.
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June 14th, 2005 / 1 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today signed by a number of Canadians, including from my own riding of Mississauga South, on the subject matter of marriage.
The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that fundamental matters of social policy should be decided by elected members of Parliament and not by the unelected judiciary, and that it is Parliament's responsibility to define marriage.
The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including the invocation of section 33 of the charter, also known as the notwithstanding clause, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as being the legal union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a number of petitions signed by the good people of Winnipeg Centre and more specifically the people in the area of Weston and Brooklands in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.
The petitioners point out that juvenile gang activity is a serious problem in their area. They are calling upon Parliament to enforce the current provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act more vigorously and to amend the act, so that youths 14 years of age and over may be charged as adults and that parents be held accountable for the criminal activities of their children aged 12 and under.
Questions on the Order Paper
Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions on the Order Paper
The Deputy Speaker
Is it agreed?
Questions on the Order Paper
Some hon. members
The Deputy Speaker
Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, 2005, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.
In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?
Some hon. members
Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB
That the government recognize that its current child care proposals creates a two-tier child care system because: (a) the government ignores the fact that each province is unique and faces different challenges with regard to assisting families in finding and providing child care; and (b) that the federal government is discriminating against families who choose to stay at home or find care outside of a publicly funded system or work shift-work, or who are on a low income
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Nepean--Carleton.
I rise today to speak to a motion that we believe will help rectify a wrong. This wrong occurred when the Liberal government decided to finally implement a promise that was in the works for over a decade.
Shortly after the last federal election campaign, the Minister of Social Development announced that the government would ignore the wishes of parents, families, and frankly our nation's children. The government decided that in the name of some, it was easier to leave out most.
The day care plan that is currently being implemented by the government is unfortunately two tier in nature. There is one tier for those who can actually access the Liberal program and another tier for those who are left, which are the majority, to fend for themselves. In contrast, the Conservative Party of Canada plan is universal. We believe in choice, we believe in equality, and we want to treat all families equally.
The Conservative Party of Canada strongly believes that any child care plan must benefit all children. It must be universal. It must especially benefit those who need our help the most. Whether a child's parents are shift workers, live in rural regions, or live on a low income, it is both the duty and an obligation of the government to look after them. We on this side of the House have not forgotten that.
We have watched the minister put together a patchwork child care plan. We are already witnessing some of the pitfalls of this approach. Instead of the promised national plan, we have numerous side agreements between the federal government and provincial governments that are neither equitable nor equal among our federation.
The Conservative Party of Canada is offering a universal and enhanced child care policy that would be inclusive as opposed to exclusive. Our approach, and we sincerely hope that by passing today's motion we can begin to go down that road, is one that would provide choice and recognizes the needs of parents in the 21st century.
By finding ways to get the much needed money into the hands of parents, they will become financially empowered. This debate is about empowering parents, families, and other essential caregivers, and financially empowering all families equally.
The government should have explored other innovative policies, as the Conservative Party has done, such as providing tax incentives for businesses and employers to build child care facilities on-site instead of relying on an existing framework that frankly needs new ideas in order to be sustainable. As a government we should explore long, low tax solutions as opposed to always relying on high spend alternatives.
The greatest travesty with this program, and I have mentioned this before, is that it discriminates against those who actually may need it the most. There is no flexibility or financial support for stay at home parents. Stay at home parents will be paying into this system, but because they choose an alternative to institutionalized day care, they will have no access to the Liberal child care program or financial support.
There is no flexibility or support for shift workers. The Liberal child care program is designed for families with parents who work 9 to 5. Parents who work the graveyard shift or any other odd hours will be unable to access this child care program. What will a waitress who works shift work do for child care? Why are his or her choices not as deserving of much needed financial support from the government?
This program offers no flexibility or support for rural communities. The Liberal child care program is designed for families who live in cities because the infrastructure is just not there to provide the service in rural areas. Some child care experts have suggested that the $7 per day system found in Quebec be used as a model throughout Canada. However, there are those falling between the cracks in the Quebec model as well.
Even though many believe that those families with a higher income should perhaps pay more for child care, and that subsidized day care should be available only to low and middle income families, the Quebec experience has actually demonstrated that it is often families with the higher income who are benefiting from the subsidized spaces.
Critics also argue that the Quebec experience indicates that federal figures concerning the cost of the program may not be accurate. In Quebec alone, it costs $1.1 billion per year to subsidize 234,000 spaces, and there are 33,000 Quebec children on wait lists right now.
Canadians must therefore question whether or not $5 billion over the next five years will be enough to create a child care program across the country, and whether the program will end up costing taxpayers a great deal more than originally anticipated.
The provinces were also asking for some flexibility. I remember the comments of Premier Lord from New Brunswick. He said:
We should truly meet the needs of children in New Brunswick and not just get caught up in one-size-fits-all that everything's about day care. Everything is not just about day care.
I have received countless letters, emails and phone calls from concerned parents regarding the child care issue. Parents such as Kate Tennier, the founder of an organization called Advocates for Childcare Choice, are asking quite simply for choice. Ms. Tennier stated in a recent Globe and Mail article:
--Advocates for Childcare Choice, along with other groups across Canada, believes parents must retain decision-making power in how their children are cared for. We believe choice must be the cornerstone on which any new child-care deal is predicated.
And the vast majority of middle-class families have no real choice, either, as they are hampered by a regressive child-care tax policy that the government has shown no indication of changing. The new program will severely limit choices; with tax dollars directed to the universal daycare model, parents will not receive equal funding for their own choices.
Those of us in the choice movement are tired of being portrayed as working against the common good of children and society. We find the government's social engineering to be regressive. The rhetoric that charges that a vote against universal daycare is a vote against children doesn't apply to us. We are just asking that the billions of dollars about to be allocated for child care in Canada be given to parents, so they can secure the kind of care and early-learning experiences they believe their children need and deserve.
Ms. Tennier and other members for Advocates for Childcare Choice are not alone. A survey released by the Vanier Institute found in general that Canadians felt that day care was their least favourite option for child care. As well, 90% of working mothers and 84% of working fathers would prefer to work part time if they could afford it.
In addition, a 2002 strategic council survey found that 76% of respondents across Canada stated that they would prefer to have a parent stay at home with their children rather than have them in some other form of care if money was not the consideration.
Rather than heed the voices of concerned parents, the Minister of Social Development has chosen to ignore them. In fact, he has made light of their concerns stating in a previous supply day motion on child care in the House of Commons:
As parents we all feel guilty about the time we are not spending with our kids. However, if we asked the same group of people or any group of people if they would like to lose weight, 90% would say yes. If we asked them if they would like ice cream once a week and chocolate twice a day, about the same percentage would say the same.
The Minister of Social Development has chosen to listen only to those who share his views on child care and disregard the legitimate voices of concerned parents. The future of our society rests upon the shoulders of those who are too young to even realize it. For that reason we must create the conditions for our young to succeed and flourish while preparing them for all the challenges and obstacles that lay ahead.
The Conservative Party of Canada has clearly recognized the importance of early child care. We want all Canadians to be treated equally and all choices to be respected. I sincerely hope that all hon. members will join me in supporting this motion.
Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)
Mr. Speaker, I am having a difficult time understanding, even though we have debated this issue many times, what the hon. member means by choice.
We are giving Canadians a national system of early learning and child care, not babysitting as the opposition has stated, and not only day care but early learning. We are doing that in collaboration with our provincial colleagues. There are five provinces in fact which have already signed an agreement in principle.
The hon. member talked as if money was not a consideration. Unfortunately, money is a consideration for many low income and middle income families across this country. That is why we feel we must have a universal system in order to give children a good start in life.
My children were privileged. They had the benefit of their mother at home and they had the benefit of their grandmother, and also an early learning and day care centre. I have had that experience as a woman, one who chose to work. In general, the women that I speak to, and the groups which the minister and our department have consulted with, feel very strongly about giving the right choice.
The only choice that the opposition has given is a tax break of $400 which does not even buy half a space, as far as I know, either in Toronto or Montreal. But the hon. member and her party have also said that they will honour the agreements in principle. What is really the Conservative policy? Is it going to honour the agreements in principle that have already been signed or is it going to scrap the whole thing and only provide the band-aid solution it provides to every problem in this country, a tax break?
Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB
Mr. Speaker, when I refer to what parents are saying, I refer back to many of the polls and surveys that have been done that indicate that almost 100% of working parents have said they would like a choice if money was not a consideration. What we are pointing to is the choice factor. Parents who are working would like the choice of whether or not to work or stay home part time if they would like. Right now they do not feel that choice is financially empowered.
That then leads into equitable and universal policy. Our policy is universal because we would financially empower all parents equally. That is the difference. The Liberal plan would only financially empower a parent to make one choice. We are financially empowering parents to make any choice they think is best suited not only for their children but for their communities and their families. I hope that explains it a little better.
Yes, our policy in the last election surrounded a tax credit. As everyone knows, we have released a policy that is much more enhanced and much more comprehensive. Part of that includes cash subsidies that go directly to parents, in addition to a comprehensive tax regime and policy, tax reforms that will help families to better meet their child care needs and in other areas of family.
In addition to that, we also have a comprehensive package on tax incentives that work with employers and workplaces to create more infrastructure, which is the other challenge the government is not acknowledging and has absolutely no innovative policy to address.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party has initiated a debate on a very important motion, one that is important to Quebec families.
I am not surprised by the route proposed today, but I am a bit surprised by the inability to recognize that a child care program—we will not talk about a national child care program but rather about child care programs that could be created in the different provinces—is essential. If we want an inclusive program, families need to have choices.
In order to have a real choice, the idea is not to not have national child care. Not having child care is not a real choice. Perhaps we can discuss the $5 million over five years. This amount is insufficient. I agree with the member; it is not enough.
However, at the same time, we have to bring the debate into the 21st century. If we want to do that, we must also realize that, for thousands and thousands of families, child care is essential so that women can work.
We saw, in Quebec, the creation of a child care system that cost us $500 million. That was the amount set aside to set up the child care program. Now, it is $1.7 billion. People have really taken to it. The need is clear. We needed a child care system. Not allowing such a program in the other provinces means denying thousands of women access to a child care system.
I want the member to reconsider her vision of a child care program so that it would be an inclusive program and not an national child care program. It is not an inclusive system if we talk about having the provinces adopt a national program.
Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to address the member's misconception of our policy. I think it is very important for the member to recognize that the Conservative Party supports all forms of day care, which is why we talk about choice. We support any parent's choice to use formal day care but we also support the choice of using informal day care if it meets the needs of the family. The bottom line is that we think parents are the ones who should be making that decision.
I would like to point out to the hon. member that the proposal by the Liberals is far from universal. It only increases regulated subsidized day care spaces from 7% to 10%. This is only a 3% increase. In our estimation this does not even begin to scratch the surface of the child care challenges in this country.
As in Quebec and every other province, we think we need to offer innovative policies and options for parents so that we can actually address the true challenges in the child care arena. We are coming up with a universal program that will offer options and choices for parents to actually meet these challenges head on.
Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House today in support of a motion that stands for the principles of parental choice and responsibility.
Right now the Minister of Social Development has proposed a $10 billion to $13 billion day care scheme that will mean higher taxes for families and, thus, fewer choices for parents.
Where do I get those numbers, $10 billion to $13 billion? They come from the supporters of the minister's program. They say consistently that in order to finance a massive day care scheme of the size and scope that the minister proposes, one would need to spend 1% of GDP.
Our national GDP at this time is in the neighbourhood of $1.3 trillion, meaning that 1% is $13 billion. The minister has tried to tell this House that he can finance his day care scheme with $1 billion a year, meaning there is at least a $9 billion gap in his day care scheme. The program will actually cost $10 billion to $13 billion and he has allotted $1 billion.
Therefore we ask how this $9 billion to $12 billion black hole will be filled. We know the answer to that question. It will be filled through higher taxes on working families and, thus, fewer choices for working parents.
When parents have fewer dollars left in their pockets, they can afford less choice. There are fewer options available to them when their financial positions are constrained. To impose a $13 billion tax obligation on working families and on parents would dramatically diminish the scope of child care options available to those families and to those parents.
I am proud to support a different policy that takes dollars and puts them directly in the pockets of the millions of child care experts who already exist. Their names are mom and dad. We believe in mom and dad. We believe in parents and we believe that no one loves the nation's children more than the people who gave them birth. It is they who ought to have the right to decide what is in the best interests of their children.
The social development minister would take dollars out of their pockets through higher taxes to finance a $13 billion day care scheme that those parents do not want. How do I know they do not want it? I know because the left leaning Vanier Institute, which conducted probably the farthest-reaching and broadest public opinion research of parents, told us so.
In fact, the number one choice among parents for child care options was to have one parent stay in the home. This choice was particularly popular among the female respondents to the scientifically conducted survey but there were a number of other options: having a family member provide child care throughout the day; having neighbourhood-based care; or having a church, synagogue or mosque provide the care throughout the day. All of these options found some support among parents but the option that the minister proposes finished fifth. It was one of the least popular options.
It is his position that we ought to take $10 billion to $13 billion out of the pockets of parents and taxpayers and put all of those dollars into the option that parents favour the least.
On this side of the House, we understand that the child care choice is not the minister's choice and it is not the Prime Minister's choice, but we have the humility to admit that it is not our choice either. It is not my choice or hers or his. It is not a choice for any politician. It is a choice for parents.
We will take those child care dollars and give them directly to parents because we have faith in their ability to do their jobs. We have faith in the love they have for their kids and their desire to see them grow and prosper.
Many of my constituents were deeply offended when they heard the minister refer to stay at home parents as being providers of mediocre child care and when he said that the desire of a young parent to stay at home and raise the kids was about as frivolous as wanting ice cream once a week or chocolate twice a day. That is exactly what he said before this House. He would be welcome to stand at any time and prove me wrong but those words are burned forever into the records of this House and they have done serious harm to parents who found them deeply offensive.
I think this debate will provide the minister with an opportunity to apologize for those very offensive and harmful words. It will also provide him with the opportunity to change course: to admit that his $13 billion day care scheme is unaffordable; to admit that it cannot be financed and will mean higher taxes and therefore fewer choices for parents; to renounce the whole idea and decide to put the dollars in the pockets of parents themselves instead. That would be a real act of humility but it would go a long way to restoring faith in this place.
I want to move on to some of the discussions that we have had in our party. A lot of young families are represented on this side of the House. We have a lot of young parents, some young mothers, and they have put forward some excellent ideas that are supported widely by the young families in my constituency. For example, how about a cash subsidy for parents directly? Let us send them a child care cheque so they can be helped with the daily child care costs they face. They can choose day care if they wish but if they decide to keep a parent in the home, that option would be supported as well.
Once again, that is not a choice for a politician to make. That is a choice for a parent. We on this side of the House understand that child care is not federal jurisdiction nor is it provincial jurisdiction either. It is parental jurisdiction.
The minister said that his plan includes choice, his government's choice. His government will choose how child care dollars are spent and, thus, the system has choice.
What he does not understand is that it is not his choice how to raise other people's kids. It is not his choice how to spend other people's money. However his $13 billion day care scheme takes other people's money and spends it on raising other people's kids. That runs contrary to basic respect of family jurisdiction, of the family unit.
Finally, he says that it is impractical to expect that parents' dreams of having one parent stay in the home and take care of the kids will ever be realized again. He says that is an old-fashioned idea, even though it is an idea that I understand his family used. I congratulate him for doing so. However he says that it is old-fashioned, that it cannot be done and, while parents are telling us that is what they want, that it just cannot happen. He says that statistics show that it does not happen. To whatever extent those statistics may or may not be true, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Government policy has made it impossible for parents to make the sacrifice of staying in the home. A much higher rate of taxation is imposed on a single income family than on a dual income family. If he really wanted to enhance child care options he would bring in income splitting, allowing parents to divide their income so that a single income family earning $60,000 would be taxed the same as a dual income family earning $30,000 each, meaning there would be tax fairness for those people who made the choice of keeping one parent in the home. That is a hopeful idea but it is the kind of idea that can inspire family life, rebuild communities and build a new sense of hope that one generation can pass on all the best to the next.
I would like to work with the minister to accomplish that. I hope he will stand in this House today and announce that we can get started today.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is a subject matter on which I have done a fair bit of work over my career. We heard the member's last comment about the taxation burden on people. I want to try to dispel the notion by this question.
The member suggested that the tax burden of someone making $60,000 a year is greater than two persons each making $30,000 a year. Under our progressive system of taxation that is absolutely correct. The question is not whether or not $60,000 has the same tax burden as two persons each earning $30,000. We have to look at a family.
We look at a family and if one spouse is making $60,000 and the other is perhaps making $30,000, the question is not whether or not somehow we get $60,000 versus two at $30,000. It is whether or not someone gives up that $30,000 a year job to stay at home and care for their children, if that is the person's choice. Comparing two $30,000 a year incomes to a $60,000 a year income really is not a very good argument.
I want to ask the member about how we get money into the hands of families so that they can provide care for their children in the fashion that they wish. All families are different. I do not think we could put very many families into the same pigeonhole.
We have what is called the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit. Both of these programs provide, based on the number of children and their ages, right up to age 18, direct moneys on a monthly basis to families.
There is one difference from what the Conservatives are proposing. There is an income test. There is a means test. There is a certain level of income beyond which the amounts are reduced. The reason is that it is important for us to make sure that those in most need get the greatest amount of money.
The Conservative plan basically suggests that a tax credit be given to all regardless of their income, and it basically dilutes the amount that anyone gets. It gets down to the lowest common denominator and has nothing to do with a person's ability to meet those demands.
I would ask the member whether or not he would concur that there should be a means test for any kind of a benefit to the extent that it is delivered in a way, for instance, that the Conservatives suggest, so that the most needy in our society have the supports they need for their children.
Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, no, I do not. I believe that all families regardless of income should have some support for child care in those crucial early years. I believe that those dollars should go directly into the pockets of parents. Instead of sending the dollars to bureaucrats and public sector unions, we would give the dollars directly to parents.
It is interesting that the member asked a question about dollars allocated. The member did not mention anything about this, but I wonder what he thinks about the fact that in Quebec where the day care system is up and running, workers are going on strike. They are putting parents in a position of peril. Their position is being jeopardized. Those parents have come to rely on the system to take care of their children every day. They are paying for it through their taxes. Now it will not even be provided because the day care workers are going on strike.
Can we expect these kinds of strikes to occur nation wide? Can we expect nationwide day care strikes where parents have committed their children to attend a day care throughout the day? The parents rely on that service being there. A strike could suddenly be called and the parents would be left with no option, even though they had been forced to pay for the service through their taxes.
Those are the kinds of massive hurdles that will present themselves in this bureaucratic scheme.
I note also that the government member did not explain where the $13 billion will come from for the government day care scheme. Will it come from higher taxes? Will it require cuts to health care? Will it require cuts to old age security at a time when the baby boomers are moving into a higher age group? Where will this $13 billion come from?
Why is it that even though he has been questioned almost 10 times in the House of Commons, the minister continues to refuse to answer how much his day care scheme will really cost? He wants to keep it secret. He wants us to pursue a program that he admitted this weekend might never be able to work.