Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to once more speak to Bill C-22. I would like to remind the hon. members, especially the member for Sault Ste. Marie who was supportive of the bill. that this recommendation came from a committee of the House. That committee did an exhaustive study and recommended to the House that the department should be split. We tend to forget that, and it was a unanimous report of that committee at that time.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today about Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts. This is a department devoted essentially to social development, which demonstrates the Government of Canada's desire to renew its commitment to social development policies.
Social Development Canada centralizes social policy at the federal level, along with all social programs aimed at strengthening the social infrastructure of Canada.
At Social Development Canada, there is a mission. That mission, in short, is to support the well-being of individuals and families and their full participation in the life of our country.
I would like to also remind members who already have spoken that last night we had four hours to question the minister on the mission of the department and what it does.
I think it is rather disappointing that the NDP, through its critic, has now decided not to be supportive of a measure that came straight from the committee's recommendation and which the government accepted. The opposition always talks about how committees have no relevance in the House, but they do have a relevance when it suits its purposes.
Whether it is a senior, a person with a disability, a family, a child or whether it is the needs of the voluntary sector, Social Development Canada exists to help Canadians live full, complex and rewarding lives. I always say that the department takes us from zero up to the death, from the birth of a Canadian citizen up to the death of the Canadian citizen. We touch their lives through the whole sphere of their lives on this earth.
It does this through income security benefits, through programs that promote inclusion and participation, through funding support to organizations that contribute to Canada's social development and through investments in children and families.
However, we want to go further and move faster in enhancing the quality of life of Canadians by fostering even greater participation in society by alleviating poverty, by ensuring every child can get a good start in life, as is the early learning and child care initiative, and by widening the choices available to Canadians as they go through life's transitions.
Many social issues transcend jurisdictional responsibilities and it is the responsibility of the government to have a national vision. It is certainly not one that is shared by the hon. members from the Bloc. I can understand that. After having done politics in Quebec for 30 years, I do not expect them to be supportive of a national vision when they have a vision that only pertains to Quebec. That is obvious.
However, I am a little disappointed that my colleague from the NDP and my colleagues from the Conservative Party do not transcend jurisdictional situations in which the Bloc, because of its mandate, would not be supportive.
No one level of government or segment of the community on its own can address them in their entirety. An effective response means many different players must work together each using the levers and interventions appropriate to their resources, expertise and jurisdictional responsibilities.
I want to reiterate that we have a collaborative relationship with our colleagues from the provincial and territorial governments. That is what a national government does. It collaborates. It shares its resources. It sits at the table and tries to find solutions for Canadian citizens from the age of zero up to their death.
In this way, the departmental vision fits into the partnership framework, a framework that is itself based on consultation, cooperation and commitment and involves the provincial and territorial governments, community organizations and other stakeholders, as well as the people of Canada.
Now for the role of our department. The very core of the responsibilities of Social Development Canada must be a holistic vision of life on which we can base our reflection and strategic orientation, starting at the beginning: our children.
The department shows the way and administers the income support for early childhood education and child care, as well as for low-income families with children, in conjunction with the provinces and territories and other departments, along with experts from the various communities throughout the country. As well, it administers certain programs such as the national child benefit and the national child benefit supplement.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to hold discussions with our colleagues. One of the parties in this House said there was nothing in the budget for families. This is a pro-family initiative, with $10 billion in funding annually, and it comes from the members on this side of the House. The department also administers the federal-provincial-territorial early childhood development agreement and the multilateral framework on early learning and child care.
Studies have demonstrated all the advantages of quality early childhood learning. Child care, nowadays, is a daily reality for most Canadian families, which is why they must have access to top-notch child care services with the potential of getting our children off to the best possible start in life.
The Government of Canada and Social Development Canada is therefore committed to working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments to build early learning and child care.
The essence of our system is collaboration with the provinces and territories. It is respecting the provinces that are willing to sign bilateral agreements at the moment, agreements that will allow access to the funds that we have already committed in order to respond to the needs of their citizens, the families who live in the riding and the children who need early learning and child care.
I want to stress something that came up in yesterday's debate. We are talking about early learning. We are not talking about babysitting, a term used by members of the opposition. We are talking about a national early learning and child care system, not just babysitting. That is a very important point to underline.
Last fall, governments agreed on core principles for early learning and child care that is of high quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental. All provinces were at the table and every one of them agreed on these core principles. As everyone knows, we have signed five agreements and we will continue to negotiate with all the provinces to come to some agreement. It is not a “one model fits all” deal. They each have different needs. They each have other pressures in terms of the families who live within their territories and it is up to them. We are providing the resources and the national policy framework.
The Government of Canada's commitment of $5 billion over five years was confirmed in the recent budget. This includes $4.8 billion for provinces and territories, $100 million for first nations children on reserve and $100 million for activities such as research that will support accountability.
We understand with our provincial and territorial partners that federal support will need to be ongoing beyond these initial years. In February the hon. Minister of Social Development met with the provincial and territorial social services ministers on a new policy framework for early learning and child care. These negotiations are ongoing.
Since April 29, we have reached five federal-provincial agreements in principle on the establishment of a quality early learning and child care program, with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.
Given these recent federal-provincial agreements in principle, we are confident that we will soon be able to finalize a national initiative in which the provinces and territories will have the flexibility to address their own particular needs and circumstances and to be accountable to their own citizens for their investments, a national initiative which will support the development of quality early learning and child care for young children and their families across Canada.
We know that people with disabilities have contributions to make to society and are looking for greater opportunities to make independent choices and to become more self-reliant.
This is why Social Development Canada is working to eliminate the obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from actively contributing at work, at school and within the community. SDC also notes that, while there is a greater awareness of issues relating to people with disabilities, the number of these people is on the increase, because the population is ageing.
Twenty years ago, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allowed people with disabilities to make significant gains. We must now ensure that we have the appropriate tools and programs available, while also developing harmonious intergovernmental relations to continue to forge ahead.
The federal government recently earmarked additional money for the labour market development agreements, as they relate to people with disabilities. It will share the costs of these agreements with the provinces to support the employment programs designed for these people.
The Government of Canada also announced some major tax changes in its first budget, to make the tax system more fair and just in relation to people with disabilities and their families. These changes are in the order of $107 million for 2005-06. They will amount to $122 million by 2009-2010, and will take the form of credits to promote the integration and participation of people with disabilities.
Social Development Canada also looks at the lives of seniors. As the lead department responsible for seniors, Social Development Canada wants to ensure that Canada's seniors live in dignity and live with purpose.
Twenty years from now, one in five Canadians will be a senior wanting to play an active role in Canadian society, participating in the community and benefiting from a retirement income system that sustains a good quality of life.
Social Development Canada ensures that those in need, as well as their survivors and children, get a basic income through public pensions, benefits, and supports. The recent budget announced increases of 7% to the guaranteed income supplement, the allowance and the allowance for the survivor that will put more money into the hands of thousands of seniors. New funding over the next five years will total $2.7 billion.
I, as other members of Parliament, need to constantly assure ourselves that every senior who is eligible in terms of the supplement should have access to that supplement. I check this constantly whenever I meet with my seniors' clubs. This important point was raised by our colleague from the Bloc. This is our responsibility as well as the responsibility of Social Development Canada. We have to continue to make sure that no seniors go without access to this funding.
We also want to ensure that the skills of seniors are tapped, that their potential to give to their communities as they have always done is realized.
Last fall the department launched the new horizons for seniors program to support a range of community based projects to enable seniors to pursue active, useful lives. As it has proven in a short period of time to be very popular, we are gradually increasing its annual funding to $25 million. I had the privilege of having the Minister of Social Development make that announcement in my riding.
There are two projects in my riding of Ahuntsic. One project is a very innovative and interesting one in which an interactive website has been set up between seniors and children who need some help with their school work. It goes all the way to Argentina, Brazil. That is the beauty of Internet. That is the beauty of the new age. Technology is a tool that can be used to reach children not only in Canada, but across borders, even internationally. The demand for that website is growing. Hopefully that organization, which happens to have its roots in my riding of Ahuntsic, will expand and become something other seniors can use across Canada.
The budget announcements also included the creation of a new national seniors secretariat within Social Development Canada.
I would like to mention that the initiative came from this side of the House, from my caucus colleagues. Two task forces made recommendations along the lines of what I said earlier and also in terms of the secretariat. I want to say thanks. This is another example of ideas on how we can help Canadians come straight from either a committee of the House or a task force set up by this side of the House.
The problems that seniors have to face are a concern for many federal departments and for all levels of government. The time has come to develop a coordinated approach for seniors, to ensure that all the efforts being made will help meet seniors' current and future needs. The national seniors secretariat must, in cooperation with its partners from the public and private sectors, ensure that this coordination and harmonization exercise does indeed take place.
Social Development Canada is also looking at the role of caregivers in our society, more specifically those families with young children that also look after aging spouses and grandparents. As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, the government is determined to improve current tax assistance and to hold consultations across the country on other initiatives. For example, the Government of Canada is increasing its support to caregivers by doubling the amount that these people will now be allowed to deduct for medical and disability costs for a dependent parent, raising it to $10,000.
Social Development Canada also looks at Canada's volunteer sector, which is 19 million strong. We support the capacity needs of the non-profit and volunteer organizations across Canada that make such a difference in the lives of Canadians and their communities.
Recognizing this immense contribution, we plan to further increase the sector's capacity, enabling it to meet the challenges of the future. Social Development Canada will be working in partnership with other federal departments to foster the country's social economy.
Before I continue, I want to pay homage to all those volunteers, especially those in the riding of Ahuntsic. I am sure all members of this House will agree that these volunteers are the unsung heroes of this country: people who give of their time and their talent only so other citizens can benefit by those talents and that time. I want to express my thanks to them. I think we should all be thanking them, as I do every year during National Volunteer Week when I hold a breakfast and thank every single one of those members of the riding of Ahuntsic who contribute to making my riding better because of their contribution.
I am running out of time, Madam Speaker, but I have so much to say on the social economy, although I did say something yesterday. Allow me to point out the beauty of the social economy, because there are unsung heroes out there who are doing wonderful things to take people out of dependency on the state and into the economy. Yesterday I had occasion during our four-hour debate to speak about the social economy and to congratulate all the stakeholders who have been working with me on the national round table.
I will wrap up by saying that I hope all hon. members will support this legislation. I hope they will take into account the fact that this came from a committee report. It was a recommendation from the previous Parliament and the committee on human resources and skills development, made in order to divide social development from human resources. We are always talking in this House about the fact that whenever there are reports and recommendations there is no follow-up. Here is a perfect example: this initiative came from that committee and I believe we should all support it.