House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was education.

Topics

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 8th, 2006 / 10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you will find consent for the following motion. I move:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the hon. member for Halifax West, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, 2006.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Mississauga South have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

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

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

moved:

That, in light of the rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar, high global energy costs, the overhang from huge budgetary and trade deficits in the United States of America, the rise of new economies such as China, India and Brazil as major global players, and the unprecedented demographic change that is about to take place in Canada with the imminent retirement of the Baby Boom generation, in the opinion of the House, future Canadian economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand--in addition to a competitive tax regime (especially in relation to income tax rates and brackets) and the strategic positioning of Canada at the centre of global commerce and networks--focused and immediate investments by the government in:

(1) measures to reduce financial barriers that now stand in the way of students seeking greater access to post-secondary education, including most particularly grant programs aimed at offsetting the high costs of tuition;

(2) labour market partnership agreements with provincial/territorial governments to help promote a culture of lifelong learning and workplace skills development in conjunction with business and labour;

(3) targeted initiatives to strengthen skills, job-readiness and successful workplace participation among First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples--as envisioned as part of the Kelowna Accords--as well as among new immigrants, older workers and people with disabilities;

(4) a suite of measures, including more adequate support for the indirect costs of university-based research, for graduate studies, for Canada’s three major granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada, to strengthen Canada’s hard-won global lead in publicly-funded research and development;

(5) the accelerated commercialization of new technologies and the practical adoption of the best advanced technologies by Canadian business, industry and academia.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.

One of the most vital roles of government is to respond to the challenges of its time, to empower Canadians to meet those challenges, to prepare the country through strategic investments and sound policy, and to show true leadership and a clear vision.

Over a decade ago, the government in place brought forward a bold, new vision for the future of Canada, one that provided the economic conceptual framework which governed policy decision making during a decade of progress and growth.

Canadians remember the daunting challenges facing their government at the time. Unemployment was above 10%. The national debt was nearly 70% of national revenue. There had been one deficit budget after the other for over a quarter of century. A sad state of affairs was threatening to turn our country into an economic disaster.

However, what a difference a decade makes. Today Canada has emerged as a global leader: strong, proud and prosperous. We now enjoy the best job creation performance of the G-7.

Since the deficit was eliminated, Canada has ranked first among all G-7 countries for growth and living standards. The average standard of living has risen faster in the past eight years than in the previous 18 and the incidence of child poverty in this country has declined.

Canadians are proud of their achievements, but it is not enough to sit on our laurels. It is time to build on our successes, not implement a handful of priorities that look more like an election platform than a path forward.

It is time to set out a real vision for the future and offer Canadians a plan to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. Since the Conservative government came to office, we have seen no plan, no vision for the future, not in the throne speech, not in the budget.

Nowhere have we seen measures to deal with productivity. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with the rise of new economies like China, India and Brazil. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with high global energy costs or the rapid increase in the Canadian dollar.

These are the responsibilities of this government. Without a comprehensive strategy to meet each of these challenges our country will be like a rudderless boat, doomed to flounder on the rocks.

The focus of the motion before the House today is to ensure we remain on a steady course and to ensure we take the measures which our future economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand. Canadians expect their governments to stand firm as unmistakable champions of balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility and declining debt.

Only then will we be in a position to continue enjoying the benefits of a healthy economy and general prosperity, increased employment and better jobs, higher disposable incomes, a better standard of living and a continually improving quality of life.

As a nation, we must continue to invest in the talents, brains and creative powers of Canadians and bring higher education and innovation to their highest levels ever, not only for economic reasons, but also to ensure that every member of society—students, aboriginals, people with disabilities, new Canadians and older workers— maximizes his or her potential.

We must achieve the smartest possible marriage between Canada's economic success and environmental sustainability. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see our country from a new perspective. It is a new perspective from this side of the House as well, as my hon. colleagues have laughingly noted.

As the Liberal critic for human resources and skills, I have had the pleasure of discussing the future with a wide range of Canadians. I have met with student groups like the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students and with nurses, labour leaders, university presidents and others, and a clear theme ran through each of these discussions. The prerequisite for entry into the global economy of tomorrow is education, quality education that gives Canadians the skills not only to survive in a competitive world but to thrive in it, to seize their potential throughout their lifetimes.

I think we all agree on the importance of lifelong learning. It is important to individuals themselves to enhance their quality of life and their employment options. It is important to employers who want the well educated and skilled employees who will contribute to productivity and prosperity. A determined focus on the future, on preparing for the impact of demographic change and the rise of emerging economies, is absolutely necessary to allow Canadians to succeed.

Canada approaches today's world from a position of strength. We have the highest proportion of people with some form of post-secondary education, but here is the crucial thing that the government fails to understand: when we can identify a strength, when we can identify our competitive advantage, we build on it.

Rather than truly expanding access to higher education, the government has chosen to tinker around the edges of the tax system, with a minor tax cut here and a rebate there. That is a short-sighted approach. It does not come close to recognizing the potential of our greatest resource, our young minds. Too many Canadians, particularly those from low income or modest income families, are not pursuing post-secondary education because of high financial barriers.

Canadians need expanded access to higher education and real support for undergraduate students, more opportunities for Canadians to study abroad to learn about the world outside our borders, and more opportunities for foreign students to study in Canada and experience our country and our culture. We need to increase the support to graduate students in science, engineering and other disciplines.

Instead of a far-reaching vision that prepares us for the future, all the government has offered are tax credits for textbooks and tax breaks on scholarship income. These measures do not go nearly far enough. We see the same nearsightedness from the government when it comes to lifelong learning. It has walked away from labour market partnership agreements, agreements that would increase workplace-based and employer-led training and apprenticeships and that would improve literacy and essential skills, develop workplace skills and enhance workforce participation of aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and new Canadians.

It is time for this House to look beyond just the next election, and to look to the future, to admit to and embrace the challenges and opportunities before us, to build on Canada's progress over the last decade and to ensure this kind of progress for generations to come.

The diligent work of the previous government has given this nation the freedom to plan and the strength to succeed, to improve access to universities, to promote a culture of lifelong learning, to live up to the Kelowna and Kyoto agreements, to strengthen Canada's hard-won global lead in university research and development, and to make Canada a leader in transforming R and D into new technologies.

It is time for the government to step up to show Canadians a plan for the future. We need a government that recognizes these clear objectives, that mobilizes Canadians to reach them, that is truly committed to a country of economic and technological excellence, a country of fairness and equal opportunity, a country that is ready, willing and able to take its place in an ever-changing world. We have yet to see that from the current government, and this is worrisome, because what is at stake is Canada's continued leadership in a new world of giants.

Therefore, I ask my colleagues to support the motion before the House today and call upon the government to take action today.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of empty rhetoric in the House this morning.

Tuition fees have almost tripled in the last 12 years and students now graduate with an average debt of at least $20,000. The former Liberal government had nothing in its budget. In fact, the only section that it had was to give student loan forgiveness to students who had died. That is a really amazing policy. The former Prime Minister, on national TV in the CBC debate in 2004, said that he would restore the billions cut in the 2004 budget. Of course, that did not happen.

The EI fund has been taken away. It has been ripped off of workers instead of going to apprenticeship programs and instead of being given back to the workers who need employment insurance. The new immigrant settlement fund has been cut. There are computer scientists and doctors driving taxis. They cannot find jobs they want.

I want to ask the hon. member the following question. Which part of the policy and practices of the former Liberal government does the hon. member not support? Certainly in the last 12 years we saw a lot of talk but not a lot of action in any of these areas that are in front of us today.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague talks about empty rhetoric and then engages in a great deal of it. The fact is that we have taken action.

First of all, I should say that we really ought to be looking forward. The hon. member wants to look back and rehash the past. The fact of the matter is that her party never supported any measure taken by the previous government to get our finances in order, to get our economy stronger, measures that allowed us to have the strength we have today and that allows the present government to have a surplus of $12 billion so that it can do the things it is not doing and that we are still waiting for it to do. But at least it has the ability to do that because our economy is strong.

The member's party did nothing to assist that. It opposed every measure possible that the previous government took to get our finances in order, so how she can stand there and complain about that is beyond me.

The member talked about us doing nothing for students. She totally ignores, for example, the Canada access grants gave students $4,000 a year for the first and fourth years of university. As we can recall, her party was opposed, I guess, to the proposal we brought forward in the election of extending that to all four years.

In fact, the measures we had in the economic update in November provided $2.75 billion for education, but those members did not want to have that happen. They wanted to have an election instead and put a Conservative government in place. That was the choice. The Conservatives are obviously delighted about that, but it is remarkable to me that the NDP would be delighted about that also. That seems to me to be most peculiar in view of what they tout as their priorities.

I think we have certainly heard a fair amount of empty rhetoric in a very short time from my hon. colleague.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find this motion brought forward by the Liberals very strange. It is clear that the motion encroaches somewhat on the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. It deals with education, tuition and labour force training and development. All these areas are under Quebec's jurisdiction.

The motion says nothing about the role the federal government could play in areas such as the furniture and the textile industries. We know that the Liberals did nothing to help the textile industry during their tenure, over the last years, despite repeated calls for action from the Bloc. As for the furniture industry, there seems to be no plan to take action in that area. The motion is totally silent on the subject.

I would like my colleague to comment on that and to explain why he avoided dealing with the industries that are the most threatened right now in Quebec.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the health and welfare of Canadians are really a federal responsibility. My colleague should know that. We have to take action in these areas. We have to take measures that will guarantee a strong economy in the future and good living conditions for our people. That is our responsibility as federal government. We are the government of the whole country, which includes Quebec and all the provinces.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, right now across our country there are Canadians at work in some of our most important industries: manufacturing, high tech, financial services, and resource management. There are Canadians who are recognized the world over as being at the top in their fields in mathematics, computers, and engineering. There are Canadian families enjoying the benefits of our strong economy, buying new homes in a time of low interest rates and finding good jobs that pay well.

For many this is a prosperous age, and Canada ranks among the world's leading economies, but let us look beyond our borders. In the city of Bangalore in India, new skyscrapers are jammed along the horizon, each filled with thousands of people at work in banking, high tech and research and development, jobs that used to be the privileged domain of the world's established industrialized nations and those of us who live in them. In China, new universities are being built by the dozens. Hundreds of thousands of new engineers and scientists are graduating. They are entering into a better paid, better educated workforce.

They and so many others have abruptly become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing and members of a burgeoning middle class. For China, for India and for other nations such as Brazil, this brings a tremendous potential for growth. It means the world is now their marketplace.

During the latter stages of the 20th century, even in the context of an evolving world, there were some things that stayed constant: the United States as the world's largest and most dominant economy and China and India as populous countries seemingly doomed to repeat the cycle of poverty.

Meanwhile, the baby boomers ensured for decades through demographic might that we had the resources to expand and support our social foundations, including medicare. The century has changed and so has the story. The baby boomers are retiring, which will put serious financial pressures on governments as they strive to protect social services.

Moreover, we are in the midst of a reordering of economic power. In a globalized world, that reordering will bring unprecedented challenges to all nations and certainly to Canada. We will need to move faster just to stay in the same place.

As for those Canadians at work today in our most crucial industries, will their jobs be protected? And those Canadians at the top of their fields, can they remain there? Will the next generation be able to reach those same heights? Will Canadian families be able to continue to rely on the tangible benefits that come from a strong and dynamic economy?

China and India are two great nations with 2 billion people and one undeniable message for the world: everything we know is about to change.

Let us think back to the mid-1990s. Then, the primary challenge facing the federal government was different but equally clear: deficit and rising debt, which threatened our national prosperity and held us back from achieving our potential. The government of the time made the right choice. It chose to attack the deficit, to fight it and eliminate it. We dug ourselves out of that hole and all Canadians today are enjoying the benefits of that shared sacrifice.

Even as we marvel at the difference a decade can make in our national life, we need to be aware that a changing world is calling on Canada to make a new choice. Government cannot single-handedly prepare Canada for what is to come, but it has an obligation to do what it can. It has a duty to the Canadians of today, and to the Canadians yet unborn, to understand that the events of this time are no less crucial to the future success of our country than the battle to overcome the deficit.

The challenge is different and the choices are different, but what we do now will go a long way to determining to what extent Canada thrives in the 21st century. Economists have some pretty dull words for it. They talk about maximizing productivity and human capital. The terms we use are not important, but the truth they reveal sure is.

We are a country with a small population. Canada has 32 million people and we cannot afford to waste the potential of even one of them. For Canada to succeed, Canadians need to succeed. And for Canadians to succeed in our new world, they are going to have to be among the best educated and best trained on earth.

That is why government needs to lower the financial barriers to post-secondary education, countering high tuition with more grants, to make certain that more Canadians get the education they will need to compete for work and thrive on a global playing field.

That is why government needs to ensure that the youngest Canadians get the best possible start in life, with quality early learning, because everything in research tells us that an early start makes for more successful kids.

The government needs to invest in research and in our universities to ensure post-secondary education is valuable and that Canada stays on the cutting edge of ingenuity, pioneering, new technologies and medicines.

The government has an obligation to work with the provinces and the territories to help foster and support a culture of training and lifelong learning so Canadians have the talent and the ability to adapt and to seize the opportunity in new trends and areas, whether at the beginning or the end of their careers.

This need for skills training and development is especially great among immigrants who we need to succeed as new Canadians, and among aboriginals who, for far too long, have been denied the opportunity to share in Canada's success.

A focus on education, innovation, training and lifelong learning has to be our driving focus at the national level, the touchstone for our performance as politicians over the next decade.

As a result of the choice the government made in the mid-1990s as a result of strong fiscal management, we have the means to make those kinds of investments. We have the freedom to think big and to make smart choices.

What is lacking is the political will of the government. In an era that demands that Canada takes two steps forward, we have a government that is taking a big step back.

The members across want to terminate the agreements on child care and early learning that we signed with all 10 provinces, agreements that would have provided funding to create a real choice in child care: affordable, high quality spaces with a focus on development and on ensuring our youngest Canadians, regardless of family income, get every chance to enter school, ready to learn and leave school ready to succeed.

The times are calling for a government with the foresight and the determination to invest in our collective future but what we are seeing is a government of tinkering and tax credits.

The Prime Minister will give us 80 bucks if we have a kid who plays organized sports. He will give us of a few more bucks to help us pay for our tools or work clothes. It is not that the money is not welcome, it is that Canadians want more, expect more and deserve so much more from their government and for their country.

Canadians have big aspirations for themselves and for their nation. We learned in school that our country has accomplished great things and we want our children to grow up to see Canada do more great things and to accomplish them together.

When the Liberal government talked about child care and early learning it often referred back to the creation of medicare, which came into being in very much the same way: a series of agreements with the provinces.

The story of medicare is an integral part of Canada's history and of Canadian lore. It speaks to the values of fairness and generosity that have defined our country and to a sense of determination, a tribute to those who, throughout our history, have fought to overcome the challenges of the times and to make our nation a better place to live.

We need that kind of leadership, leadership that understands the value of action, not complacency, and a government that understands that Canadians want to help build a country, not just live in one.

The government and the Prime Minister have taken office at a time when Canada stands confronted by two challenges of such magnitude that they could easily come to define our new century: the rise of China and India as economic powers and the threats inherent in climate change.

Each challenge demands a prime minister who recognizes that Canada is bigger in its aspirations and richer in its potential than is reflected in the practice of modest ambition and custodial governance.

Each challenge demands a government willing to turn its gaze away from the Holy Grail of a majority government and to focus, not on tinkering and tax credits, but on guiding Canada's economic destiny and putting in place a long term plan that will ensure Canada's continued success.

The Canada that I love, that we love, is a progressive force that should lead change in the world, not resist it. On global warming, that means rallying the nations of the world, not turning away from them. On the new economy, it means making a priority of acting today to ensure we are competitive tomorrow.

Prosperity is not a birthright of Canadians. Our accomplishments are the result of the hard work and ingenuity of Canadians and the foresight and resolve of past governments. Our success in the decades ahead depends on the same kind of hard work, foresight and determination on the part of Canadians, on the part of business and certainly on the part of government.

If we all do our part and if government does it duty, then the world in the 21st century will have its own constant: the ongoing success, through change and in spite of challenge, of the great nation of Canada.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is rather interesting that the member talks about vision, the 21st century and where we are going.

As she knows, my interest is in the environment. She should also know that we are 28th out of 29th in the OECD ratings. The fact is that we had 13 years of inactivity in the area of climate change and the environment. It is rather strange that within the year we will show some real vision and 21st century thinking.

It is rather amazing to hear her talk about the government, of which she was a recent member, and its great vision and so on. I wonder if she could tell me just one bit of environmental vision that she might have seen in the Liberal government of the past?

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I talked about economic prosperity being linked with economic and environmental success. This is what we have to focus on. We must ensure we lay the foundation now, and not look backward, so Canada will be prosperous and successful in the future.

However, that does not mean it should be at the exclusion of the environment. I believe Canada can take a leadership role in the world. The two can be done hand in hand. We need to look, in a very broad way, at creating the incentives where not only the economy will prosper but enterprise and the environment will prosper. By doing it that way it will have a huge impact on achieving our Kyoto targets in the long term.

The great shame is that Canada took a leadership position in rallying other nations to sign on to Kyoto. Many will say that Kyoto is not perfect, but the good thing about it is that it did bring the world's attention to the issues of climate change and to make it a priority. The other shame is that the government has not recognized that and has let the momentum fall to the wayside.

I am not saying that the government does not have some good initiatives but it is missing the big picture, which is unfortunate. We want to ensure the environment does not take a back seat. The government did not include the environment in its top five priorities, which does great injustice to Canadians.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand my colleague and her concerns about the economies of emerging countries, such as China. However, when the Liberals were in power, why did they not do something about the textile industry? That industry was affected by competition from emerging countries. Or how about bicycles? The Canadian International Trade Tribunal made a recommendation, so they could have acted to protect this sector, which was affected by the Chinese economy.

In the current motion, why do they not even mention these vulnerable sectors that are suffering because of serious competition from emerging countries?

Maybe they want to help, but the solutions they are proposing all interfere with areas of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces.