Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill this afternoon because I have some important things to say. I hope, ultimately, to engage the Liberals in some conversation on this and the Bloc.
What we have in front of us is an opportunity and if we are not careful we will miss it. We have an opportunity to establish a couple of new departments that could deliver some services and programs to the people of Canada if it is done properly and effectively.
Earlier today we debated Bill C-23 which we will be voting on soon. Now we are speaking to Bill C-22. The two bills came forward to divide a department that was in deep trouble a few years ago through its spending habits, lack of accountability and some significant irresponsibility on the part of government and the people within the organization who did not act in a way that reflected the values that this place should represent.
We are here debating the wisdom of dividing a huge department, Human Resources Development Canada, into two departments. On first blush, it may be a good thing to do because perhaps a big department should be broken down into smaller, more manageable bits.
However the way the government is going about this is troubling. The two departments are already there and I think one of the departments has had three different ministers so far. Nevertheless, we must work with this and at committee try to bring forward some suggestions as to amendments that could be made but it is the same old attitude coming from the government.
Where initially we were in support of dividing up Human Resources Development Canada into two new departments because we thought it was a good thing to do in terms of being more manageable and the possibility of a new approach, we then moved to a position where we could not.
I want to talk for a few minutes this afternoon about why we now find ourselves in a position of having to oppose the two bills and the establishment of these two departments.
I also want to say that we are always open to discussion, particularly in the new arrangement that has evolved over the last couple of weeks in terms of the Liberals and the New Democrats trying to find ways to work together on behalf of the people of Canada and on behalf of communities and to do some things that would actually be helpful in the delivery of programs and services.
We are not opposed to the bills from an ideological perspective nor are we opposed strictly on principle. We are opposed for some very practical reasons. For myself, personally, it flows out of some of my experiences in committee as we tried to bring froward some amendments to the bills that we thought would situate them better to actually do the job that we know, and the government knows and the people of Canada know, needs to be done out there under the heading of Human Resources and Skills Development and Social Development.
A lot of work needs to be done in the area of training. Changes to the EI system are needed, on which I know the Bloc members, as well as my colleague from New Brunswick, have worked very hard. However this will not get done simply by creating a new department if we do not include a framework, a commitment and some legal requirements to actually do something different on behalf of the people of the different provinces and of the country.
If the ministers and government members are listening, some of whom have been actively engaged in the debate, I want to say that we are willing to come to the table, sit down and work out ways to make these bills more palatable, more attractive to us in terms of support, but it will require some substantial give on the part of the government on some fronts, which I will talk about in a few minutes.
I do not think one cannot talk about Bill C-23 without talking about Bill C-22. For example, when Bill C-23 came forward we voted on it and it went to committee. In committee, I found, after initiating an investigation into how the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development was changing the way it called for and ultimately decided on requests for proposals to deliver some of the services, that the same old attitude of “Do as we say. Do not ask any questions. This is the way it will be done. Do not mess with us or we will take action that will not make it too comfortable for you”, still existed.
We heard from people who are in the trenches delivering programs on our behalf. When they told us about their experiences of intimidation and harassment when they actually asked questions about the new proposal that was put forward, we began to have some serious concerns.
The Conservatives, the Bloc and some of the Liberals worked very hard on a report that we tabled in the House. The New Democrats and the Bloc appended a minority report to add some of our own concerns that we felt were not captured in the report.
The report now sits with the minister and we want to know what she is going to do with the report. Is she going to respond to some of the issues raised in it? How quickly will she respond? What will be done, in particular from our perspective, to protect those organizations and agencies that were caught up in this flawed process? The department itself referred to it as a process that was flawed.
Several organizations in this country, particularly in Ontario, lost contracts because of this flawed process. So far there has been no indication that any action will be taken to fix the process to ensure organizations can continue to do the good work for which they have developed an expertise and a track record.
If the New Democrats are going to support Bill C-23, which goes along with Bill C-22, we want to hear specifically what the minister is going to do with the report. We want to know what changes she is going to make. We want to know what concrete things we can expect to flow out of the department to indicate it is really serious about taking some action. We do not want what happened in the old HRDC a few years with the billion dollar boondoggle to happen in the new department. We want to sit down and talk with somebody about that before we can support the bills and the government to get them through the House.
Bill C-22, which we are talking about tonight, like Bill C-23, is a bill that the New Democrats once supported and that my party cannot support any longer. At first we recognized it as a housekeeping bill. We saw merit in splitting social policy and social development from HRDC with its scandals. HRDC was too large a department with conflicting responsibilities. We welcomed the new approach and new opportunity for a new department. We saw opportunities to give some prominence to the profoundly important subject of social development.
A few moments ago I heard the member from Quebec express her concern that the government was talking about a type of federalism that does not work for Quebec. I think the government should be engaging the Bloc and the New Democrats in a conversation about what kind of federalism would work for Quebec, particularly where the delivery of social programs and social development in this country is concerned.
Anyone who has spent any time in Quebec or with the Bloc or who has looked at the wonderful programs rolling out in Quebec knows why Quebec and the Bloc are concerned about the government's approach to the delivery of social programs.
The Bloc does not want its programs watered down. It wants to grow them, improve them and make them better. After listening to some of the Bloc members, I have a feeling that what is coming forward from the federal government will water down some of the excellent work that is going on in that province. What the New Democratic Party wants to do is build on that history and make it the reality for all of Canada so that those very good programs that are enshrined in legislation that happen in Quebec, happen for all Canadians.
I hope that in order to get the bill through the House and to finally sanction his department, the Minister of Social Development, who I know is a man of good will, is willing to sit down with us and the Bloc to ask what needs to be done, what needs to be put in the bill and what amendments Bloc members want to bring forward to make this work for them so they can support it.
This will be an exceptional opportunity to finally address some really substantive issues around Canadian social policy, for example its disassembly over the past 10 to 20 years, the Canada assistance plan and the social transfer arrangements with the provinces and territories that is near devoid of understanding, of purpose or of accountability and that fails to protect social program funding against erosion into provincial health care priorities. Those kinds of concerns are of critical importance to us.
I want to take some time to explain why we are no longer supporting the bill and what needs to happen in the department for it to put some real substance into delivering social policy in a holistic community driven fashion.
We saw from the outset a weakness in the bill. It was not defining social development nor was it adequately laying out the mission of the Department of Social Development. There were only vague references to social development and social well-being for Canadians.
I proposed amendments to lay out a definition on social development but did not receive the support of the government. I acknowledge that the department has a decent and well-intentioned minister but, regrettably, there is also a bureaucracy and a Liberal Party that does not know the meaning of collaboration or working together on a progressive agenda for our country.
I guess this is where I stand today after a couple of weeks of some very important, challenging and difficult negotiations back and forth between ourselves and the Liberals on some programs that both of us are now committed to if we can get the budget through the House, a budget that will be good for the people of Canada and for communities, for investments in education, in the environment, in training, in housing and the list goes on, all under the rubric of social development, things for which we as New Democrats came here to fight.
We now see some openness from the Liberal Party to actually entertain and commit itself to doing some of those things, It is dropping the corporate tax break that would have robbed us of the resources we needed to actually do those kinds of things. I am hoping that in that same spirit the minister will be willing to speak with us and the Bloc to see if there is anything that we could do together to give the department the teeth it needs to actually do the job that we know needs to be done.
We have not seen in either Human Resources and Skills Development Canada or Social Development Canada the kind of partnership that is so important in a minority Parliament and we are asking for that to happen now. Even with the new deal on the budget there still, in my experience, and I have a couple of ministries that I am responsible for in terms of being a critic, any real substantial coming together and dialogue around what it is that we can do together to better some of the things that we are working on.
The budget deal for Bill C-48 demonstrates what a minority Parliament can accomplish for the good of Canadians, such as affordable housing, education and more gas tax for municipal infrastructure. Some are saying that it is the minority parliament that has failed when we know better.
It is not the minority Parliament that has failed. It is the Liberal government that too often fails a minority Parliament. Here is a chance for it to prove differently and to show us differently. Minority Parliaments work and can work. They have worked in the past.
We know what the New Democrats were able to achieve for medicare and pensions while working with other parties in other Parliaments. We think we can achieve some things that we will all be proud of here with these bills as well. Contained within these bills is the potential to do some really fabulous things, such as the new national child care program.
Speaking of child care, this is the ministry responsible for child care. This has been another source of great disappointment for our party. We wanted to work with the government on truly creating and enshrining in legislation a high quality, accessible child care and early learning system.
While the first two agreements with NDP governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan held out promise, last week the quality of the system began to be diluted with an openness to funding for profit subsidies.
We wanted a national child care act. None is forthcoming. If the minister wanted to come and talk to me about that, we could talk about that and it would be helpful in terms of our position on this bill. The government fails to see the potential of working together and finding those on all sides who would support such a bill.
We wanted funding only for not for profit. We are aware of the research. Last night during the debate I asked the minister what research he used to substantiate his decision to leave the funding open to both not for profit and for profit. I did not hear of any that was of any note.
We want studies that quality and accountability are best served in the not for profit sector. We know. We have the research. We have the studies. The practical experience is out there to say that we get better quality.
I know that the minister is sincerely and seriously committed to achieving quality in the new child care system. However, he will not do it, I suggest to him, unless he restricts the funding and frames that in a way that makes it happen for the not for profit sector.
We keep hearing about the big box corporations. I keep raising the subject of big box corporations. We wanted to ensure that big box corporations were prevented from doing their business in Canada with their lower wages and higher child-staff ratios, buying out non-profit and smaller mom and pop operations, and closing centres in rural, northern or isolated areas.
I know the minister shares some of my concerns about big box child care. I know that some of the provincial ministers do as well. We have a profound disagreement on how to deal with those concerns. The minister tells me that his bottom line is a quality standard that can be delivered in either the not for profit or the profit sector.
This is not the experience by and large in Australia or the United States. This is not what the research is telling us about quality care being delivered far more consistently in the not for profit sector, and even in Quebec, that is the case.
Big box child care is waiting to come to Canada. A U.S. corporation has already registered itself to do business in Canada. Three of the five provinces that now have child care agreements do not rule out funding for profit operation. They are Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Only the Manitoba and Saskatchewan NDP governments have made that commitment.
Our party cannot support this bill at this time on many fronts. One is the refusal to accept amendments to this bill for its policy on child care.
I wonder why there could not be a real definition of social development to move our social economy forward? I fear, in the absence of a clear and thoughtful mission, that the department's efforts will be as notable for the important work it is not doing as the responsibilities it is carrying out.
The concept of social development is an idea with critical content and with numerous descriptors. For instance, many of us have advocated for years that the term, as does the concept of social policy, has to contain things often in the past considered economic, as well as things regarded as social.
As no doubt members are aware, failure to develop social policy that recognized this more holistic reality weakened the usefulness of the policy, to say nothing of doing a disservice to principal stakeholders of social policy.
We must do something on this front with this opportunity that we have with this ministry to actually live up to some of the responsibilities that we have out there on the international stage. The United Nations has time and time again, with support from Canada, put in place regulations that call for very basic, fundamental supports for human beings, including housing, food, clothing and shelter.
We have no vehicle anymore in Canada, since the demise of the Canada assistance plan, that gives any legal framework or teeth to the government to demand that provinces, in delivering social services, ensure that all citizens gets what they need to live a quality of life that is up to the kind of standards that we have in this country.
We at this point are opposed to both Bill C-22 and Bill C-23, but we are open, in the spirit of the new cooperation between the government and our party, to discussions to find ways to bring us on board, to make us supportive, and to work with the Bloc on this.