Canada Education Savings Act

An Act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Joe Volpe  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment is intended to encourage the financing of post-secondary education through savings in registered education savings plans. It provides for the payment of Canada Education Savings grants in relation to contributions made to those plans. The amount of the grant is increased for children of lower- and middle-income families. It also provides for the payment of Canada Learning Bonds in respect of children of families receiving the National Child Benefit Supplement.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.
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The Speaker

There are two motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-5. Motions Nos. 1 and 2 will be grouped for debate and voted upon separately.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 and 2 to the House.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 26th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

November 25th, 2004 / 3 p.m.
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Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue with the opposition motion. Tomorrow we hope to complete third reading of Bill C-7, respecting parks second reading of Bill C-22, the social development legislation, and second reading of Bill C-9, the Quebec economic development bill.

Next week we will give priority to second reading of Bill C-24, the equalization legislation. We also will try to complete any business left over from this week.

When bills come back from the Senate or committee, as the case may be, we will add them to the list. Hopefully this will include Bill S-17 respecting tax treaties and Bill C-5, the learning bonds bill. By the end of the week, we hope to be able to proceed with Bills C-25, the radarsat bill, and Bill C-26, the border services bill.

Next Thursday shall be an allotted day.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2004 / 12:10 p.m.
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Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the member for Mississauga—Brampton South had to say, and I really enjoyed his speech.

Quite rightly, the member has stressed some examples of the grants which the federal government provides to students in post-secondary education. He mentioned, for example, the millennium scholarships, 95% of which are directly targeted to qualified students who have student debt. I know my colleague knows well from his personal and family background the problems associated with student debt. That is one example.

He also mentioned the first year grant for low income students, which was in the last budget and Speech from the Throne. This directly targets students from very low income families and helps them through the critical first year. It encourages them to go to first year college or university.

He also mentioned the disability grants. Each year of college or university, there now will be a grant for disabled students. Again, we welcome that. It seems to me that there are various areas that we have to focus on in terms of our performance in post-secondary education. We have the highest percentage involvement in post-secondary education in the world. However, we know that in low income families the participation is still very low and we know there are problems with inclusivity of disabled students.

My colleague is absolutely right in mentioning those things. He also put particular emphasis on the Canada learning bond. He explained very well the RESP program, now extremely well established. He quoted those figures of billions of dollars of private savings, which have been encouraged through the RESP program. In addition to that, he mentioned that there was a grant portion in the RESP program, whereby the federal government, up to a certain maximum, would give 20% as a grant to parents who invested in RESPs.

Once we are in the area of grants, just like the millennium scholarship program which is helping students directly, we are also into something else, and that is to encourage the families themselves to invest and think in advance of their children's educations. The Canada learning bond, as my colleague rightly described, is an even greater extension of that. Under that legislation, which is Bill C-5, for families that earn between roughly $35,000 and $70,000, the grant portion of the RESP will be increased from 20% to 30%. Therefore, there will be a greater incentive for the families in that middle income range to invest in RESPs.

The Canada learning bond itself is a grant to families who open an RESP account. Assuming this legislation is passed, for a child born this year or later, if a family with less than $35,000 of income opens an account, $500 will be placed in the account in the name of the child. Every year thereafter, until the child is 15, $100 will be placed in the account. Therefore, there will be a $2,000 grant for that child. However, because it is an RESP program, the family will accumulated interest over the 15 years.

The other possibility is that, even though the family is earning less than $35,000, it might be able to make some contributions itself. If it adds to this grant portion of the Canada learning bond, it will get a 40% contribution. For example, a $10 deposit in the account by the family will produce a $4 response from the federal system.

The purpose of this is quite different from the grants, such as the millennium scholarships or the first year low income student program that we have. The purpose here is to encourage families to think of the educational potential of their children from the very beginning. I think it is something quite special.

I would be most grateful if my colleague would comment further on this aspect of encouraging all families, not simply the wealthier families, to start thinking early about the post-secondary education of their children.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to begin by quoting the Prime Minister who said:

We want a Canada where every child arrives at school ready to learn; a Canada where everyone has the opportunity for post-secondary education regardless of geography or means; a Canada where universal literacy and lifelong learning are part of the national fabric.

Full of wisdom and vision, these words summarize entirely the purpose of the bill that is before us today in this House.

In December 2003, the government established the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development through a series of orders in council.

Today, by means of a legislation, we are specifying the mandate and responsibilities of this new department. By the same token, this legislation will formalize the division of Human Resources Development Canada, that is HRDC, into two separate entities.

The goal is not to make economies of scale or reduce the operating expenses. The resources of the previous department, that is Human Resources Development Canada, are rather divided in two in order to obtain better strategic results. That does not mean that we should prepare a negative report on the performance of HRDC for the last decade. On the contrary, this department has rendered valuable services to Canadians, both on the social and economic fronts.

I am thinking of the improved and extended parental benefits plan that allowed thousands of families to fully enjoy their newborn. I am thinking of the implementation of the Canada child tax benefit, deemed the most progressive social action since the universal health care plan. I am also thinking of the youth employment strategy that allowed thousands of young people to regain confidence and to realize that there was a future for them in this country. I am thinking of the transition from unemployment insurance to employment insurance that steered our society toward employability.

In 2003-04, more than 700,000 Canadians received help from the department through the employment benefits paid under the Employment Insurance Act. In Quebec, more that 50,000 people re-entering the labour force received assistance.

I am also thinking of all the measures put forward to ensure that certain groups facing specific difficulties, like native Canadians, handicapped people, older and seasonal workers, can fulfill their dream.

All these measures, programs and initiatives are a testimony to the considerable efforts made by HRDC to strengthen the social fabric of Canadian life.

With this bill today, we are proposing to start writing a new chapter, without erasing the previous ones of course. In short, this bill gives the Human Resources and Skills Development minister and department the mandate, legal powers and tools to ensure that the labour market and the skills development programs, including support programs for students, work properly.

If we create this department, it is mainly because our government wants to pay more attention to some important issues, like giving workers more opportunities to develop and increase their expertise in the workforce. We are studying a few issues, including the promotion of training opportunities in skilled trade, literacy training and the enhancement of skills for workers.

This is why we are working with the provinces and the territories, businesses, unions, workers and the sector councils to develop a skills development strategy in the workplace.

Such a strategy would help to develop a highly qualified and dynamic workforce and a flexible and productive labour market, while meeting the needs of employers who want to create productive and innovative workplaces.

In this changing world where new technologies are redefining complete areas of our society, we have a duty to give all of our citizens, young or not so young, the means to educate themselves, to create and to innovate.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development spent a good part of his career in education. I am convinced that he will be an important ally in our efforts to ensure that all Canadians can learn and develop at all stages of their lives.

Having worked a lot in the area of labour relations and in numerous businesses before being elected to this House, I can assure you that the successful ones are the ones who emphasize in-house training, the ones that are not just marking time,but who decide to go forward and ensure that their human resources will always keep up with cutting edge technology or with the environment in which they are operating.

Thanks to the new department, we will have the opportunity to intensify our efforts to assure that every youth in this country will be able to get a post-secondary education if he or she wishes so. It is estimated that, in the future, 70% of all new jobs in this country will require post-secondary studies. Moreover, only 6% of jobs will be open to people without a high school diploma. These figures are revealing.

As a country, we can't allow young people gifted with talent and potential to miss the boat of the information age because they lack the financial means to afford an education and to get on board. As a government, we must make sure that they can not only get on board, but take the helm, as soon as possible.

To this end, last month, the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development tabled Bill C-5, aiming among other things, to help lower-income families to save money to eventually pay for post-secondary studies for their children. The bill will also allow such families to take greater advantage of the registered education savings plans and the related subventions.

As you can see, that department will help us to promote access to higher education, but it is clear that its mandate will be extensive and far-reaching. It will help us to face other emerging challenges.

Estimates show that by the year 2011, our workforce will not be able to grow without immigration; by 2020, there will be a shortage of one million workers in Canada; and by 2025, our population growth will depend exclusively on new arrivals. This means that over the next two decades, we will have to ensure that our immigration policies are as effective as possible and allow a total and complete integration of immigrants. If we do not meet this challenge, our ability to ensure an harmonious future to our children and our grandchildren will be broadly questioned, as well as Canada's competitiveness at the international level.

This new department's mandate will be, inter alia, to cooperate with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, professional licensing bodies, sectoral councils, employers and a large number of other organizations on the important issue of recognizing foreign credentials, in order to facilitate the integration of immigrants in the labour market and in society.

May I digress for a brief moment to talk about the extremely important issue of the recognition of foreign credentials. No later than a week or a week and a half ago, in Gatineau, there was a symposium held by the Conseil interculturel de l'Outaouais, which I am sure you know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker. The theme of that symposium was indeed the recognition of foreign credentials. Having spent the afternoon with them and having had dinner with them, I can tell you that I was absolutely flabbergasted.

One does indeed hear about it. One does hear stories about medical doctors waiting to be recognized and so on. I tried to draw a very dramatic parallel between that problem and our shortage of doctors and nurses, and our shortages of all kinds of skilled people in the Outaouais, among other places. I was looking at that skilled labour which is there, which exists, just waiting to be recognized by Quebec and Canada who were supposed to welcome them with open arms. That really flabbergasted me.

I heard horror stories from people who showed up that day, for example, a dentist from Colombia, a physician from another country, people that Canada will not even have to train in any way, because they are ready to practice. Nevertheless, we must be very realistic; there is always the issue of protecting the public. On the other hand, we must be careful not to hide behind this notion of protecting the public, what I call the closed shop mentality of a number of professional bodies.

As I told the participants that day, on the other hand, we must carefully respect jurisdictions. In this respect, Quebec has obligations. No doubt we will have to work with the Government of Quebec. If we can help it, that will certainly be very much appreciated. I have talked to a few of my colleagues in the Government of Quebec, and they have told us how much this concerns them as well.

On the other hand, what came out of this symposium, which was attended by very diverse cultural communities in the Ottawa valley, and the following symposium, is that it is indeed the professional bodies that are making the admission process difficult, that are complicating the process and that are making it prohibitively expensive to get these qualifications recognized.

We let these people in and, then, we have a dentist who works on the cleaning staff of a hospital instead of working for the community.

I met a pharmacist. There is a terrible shortage of pharmacists in Quebec. These people are there, they are ready, they can be tested, but not one test after another at a cost of $2,000, $2,500 or $3,000. What my friend the dentist from Colombia explained to me that day is that the cost of these tests was close to $10,000.

This is the challenge we will probably face. We should offer our assistance to our friends in the provinces to ensure that we meet the needs of the people who elect us. Apart from the issues of jurisdiction, I believe that by working together we will find the solutions. Indeed, it was on that day that I realized that it was not just a few isolated cases.

I had a case in my practice. Without revealing any identities, I met a doctor and saw how complicated it was. There was a hospital, in this region, that was ready to accept the individual.

Unfortunately, because of the decisions of some professional bodies and their lack of openness to people from abroad, qualified people cannot practice their profession or sometimes end up on welfare, or they move to other provinces.

We can tell we really have a problem when a physician comes to Quebec and cannot work there, and he or she is accepted as a practitioner in a New Brunswick hospital.

Like the Colombian dentist said, Colombians and Canadians must have very similar teeth. And the rest of their bodies must be very similar too.

That was just an aside. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development minister has said that he intends to work very hard on a new Canadian strategy to recognize the credentials of immigrants. That is great.

In Quebec, as I said earlier, it will be most important to get certain professional bodies to understand how important this is for Canada, so that it can function properly, particularly given the shortages we are experiencing in certain professions. These shortages are sometimes acute in some provinces, including Quebec.

This strategy will focus particularly on crucial sectors—so much the better—like medicine, nursing, where we are already feeling the first effects of the manpower shortage.

Briefly then, these are the mandate and objectives of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, a department that will have a free hand in helping us tackle the challenges of the knowledge economy, a department that will focus on the development of human resources and the acquisition of skills.

Our government is in minority, but certainly does not intend to tread water. For us, the status quo is not a viable option nor is living constantly in the past, going back 10 or 15 years and looking at what has been done or not. This is 2004; we must move forward. The needs are huge and we must respond to them.

This new department that we want to create will allow us to pursue the efforts of recent years. However, first and foremost, it is further irrefutable proof that we are still innovating to ensure an even better future for our children, our youth, our retirees, our communities and our businesses.

Our government wants to make Canada a land of ever wider horizons, where each citizen will be able to benefit from the new economy. I was talking earlier about cultural communities that come here, to Canada, believing that they will find a land that welcomes immigrants and that they will be able to lead a productive life; they cannot wait to do so.

Words alone will not do. We will have to help them and ensure that these people feel totally integrated into the Canadian society.

I know, because I was told during the seminar to which I alluded earlier and which took place last week. I congratulated them, because this was one of the first times that I saw a variety of cultural communities sitting in the same room and not arguing with each other, but working towards a common goal and trying to find sustainable solutions, not only for cultural communities, but for the whole country.

Among other initiatives—and surely everyone heard about this, but I will mention it just in case—they are preparing a petition and they are preparing to sign it. Therefore, while the House is sitting, I urge hon. members who live close to my riding to sign this petition, which will be tabled at the Quebec national assembly. I made a commitment to do the same by adapting it for the Canadian Parliament.

This area and this issue concern us all. In all fairness, we have to get moving and ensure that we find solutions.

In conclusion, as our Prime Minister so aptly said it when he took charge of this country, “The world is not waiting for us, it is evolving, changing. So we must be ready to meet new challenges with new solutions, new ideas.I am not talking about changes that will be required 10 years from now; I am talking about today, about now”.

Today, I invite hon. members to support this bill, which shows our will to act now to help Canadians, and which builds the foundations of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. As I like to say, if it is good for Canada, it is also good for Quebec and for the riding of Gatineau.

Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
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Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this bill to create a Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

This is particularly gratifying to me as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, since it allows me to speak about such topics as the importance of helping Canadians access the skills development and lifelong learning opportunities they need to make their own special contribution to our country, and also how this new department will make this goal a reality.

On December 12, 2003, the government announced the reorganization of the old Department of Human Resources Development into two new departments: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC; and Social Development Canada. The Department of HRSDC was created by a series of orders in council approved on that date. This was done within the statutory framework of the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, a statute which allows the governor in council to reorganize the institutions of government to address priorities and public needs.

Since then, HRSDC has been subject to the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Employment Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Parliament is now being asked to consider legislation that formally establishes the department and sets out the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of HRSDC and his mandate. The legislation also sets out the powers and duties of the Minister of Labour, as well as his mandate.

Let me inform the House that we are proposing as part of the legislation to include a uniform set of privacy provisions governing the disclosure of personal information. These provisions would apply to all programs and activities of the new department.

Since December 2003, HRSDC and Social Development Canada have been working together to ensure uninterrupted services to Canadians. That working relationship will continue as the departments jointly provide services to Canadians on behalf of each other, a fact which will be duly reflected in the draft legislation.

With this legislation we are confirming our improvements to date and building on them by giving the minister and the new department the legal means to fulfill their mandate. The mandate as we have set it out in the proposed Department of Human Resources and Skills Development act is to improve the standard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled and mobile workforce and an efficient and inclusive labour market.

In my opinion, having a department focused primarily on skills development and learning tells Canadians that we are ready to address the profound changes that face our economy and society in coming years, including skills shortages due to the aging of our workforce and an increasingly global and knowledge based competitive environment where having good skills and access to lifelong learning opportunities are key to finding a job and having enough skilled workers are the difference between business success and failure. They are also sound bases for a high quality, fulfilling life.

These profound changes make it vitally important that we have a department in place that can focus on enhancing Canadians' access to skills development and lifelong learning so they can fully benefit from the many opportunities being created by our economy every day and working closely with its partners to share ideas and resources and develop common approaches to preparing our citizens for this very challenging future.

That is where the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development comes in. With a mandate to foster a culture of lifelong learning, where people at every stage in life can pursue lifelong learning opportunities and acquire the skills they need for career success, as well as personal fulfillment, and organizations can find and access the highly skilled workers they need to take on the world.

Access to learning and skills development involves making sure students with the ability and desire to pursue some sort of post-secondary education can get the financial help they need to make their dreams come true. Statistics point clearly to the changes demanded by an increasingly knowledge based economy. Some 70% of all new jobs in Canada will require some form of post-secondary education and 25% will require a university degree.

With that in mind, the Government of Canada already provides considerable assistance. The Canada student loan program helps 360,000 students every year and last year provided $1.6 billion in loans. Some 90,000 students in financial need have been awarded $285 million per year in the Canada millennium scholarship program.

Canada study grants worth over $70 million annually have been awarded to approximately 50,000 students. The Canada education saving grant program has provided almost $2 billion in grants since its inception, leveraging over $13 billion in private savings. To date, some two million children between one year old and 17 years old have benefited from that particular program.

We all know that access to post-secondary education is a work in progress, so the new department will have to find innovative and better ways of improving service and responding to emerging needs. For example, we will need to work with our provincial and territorial government partners to find new ways of enhancing the access and affordability of post-secondary education so Canadians can pursue learning opportunities throughout their lives. This cooperation will be vital in implementing the enhancements to the Canada student loans program contained in the 2004 federal budget.

We will also need to work with our partners to improve assistance to high need students, such as those living with disabilities and those from low income families, to help them overcome the barriers they face.

The 2004 budget announced a new grant and improvements to an existing grant that will help these students as they pursue a post-secondary education. For disabled students that involves a grant of $3,000 each year in college or university.

Finally, the department will need to improve the uptake of RESPs and the Canada education savings grants by low income families to enable more families to start saving early for their children's post-secondary education. This will involve introducing the new Canada learning bond and enhancements to the Canada education savings grant to kick-start savings by low income and middle income parents. The legislation includes informing low and middle income families of the importance of saving early for their children's education and providing assistance to help them access these benefits.

For those reasons I would encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-5, the Canada education savings act, which is currently at committee stage, which would enact the provisions that I mentioned in the 2004 budget. Among other things, interestingly enough, Bill C-5 has built into it cooperation with one of our key sets of partners, the provinces and the territories, in the RESP program and the RESP grants program, which is proposed in the act.

Many or these initiatives will involve areas of provincial and territorial responsibility and will have an impact on key stakeholder groups. Therefore the department will continue to work closely with all its partners, including other levels of government, the private sector, educational and training institutions, financial institutions and other stakeholders, to ensure their needs are represented and addressed.

This is exactly what this new department has already been doing from the beginning, through its participation and support of a number of working groups. For example, the intergovernmental consultative committee on student financial assistance brings together federal, provincial and territorial officials at the director general and director level to develop common approaches to post-secondary education and student financial assistance.

Again, the national advisory group on student financial assistance allows colleges and universities, student groups and representatives of the full spectrum of post-secondary institutions to make their views known to the Government of Canada on federal assistance to post-secondary students.

Another example, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada helps provincial and territorial ministers of education to develop common approaches and cooperate with national educational organizations and the federal government on educational issues.

It is my personal view that the new department should become, as it were, the federal government's designated hitter to the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This does not mean that HRSDC should be the only federal department involved in lifelong learning, far from it. Departments like Justice, Corrections Canada, Defence and Indian and Northern Affairs will, for example, continue to deliver literacy programs which are part of lifelong learning. However the Minister of HRSDC, fully briefed, can become a consistent link between the federal government and the provincial and territorial ministers of education in the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This will strengthen the partnerships that must exist between us and the provinces and territories in the area of lifelong learning.

I chaired the standing committee that unanimously recommended that the former Department of Human Resources Development Canada be split. This bill is, in a very real sense, the enactment of the clearly expressed will of the House of Commons at the time that HRDC be split. The committee recommended the division of that department, not only because it was a very large department but also because it was too diverse to be manageable.

When HRDC was formed by an earlier government, several former federal departments were simply rolled into one. They never really reconciled their different cultures. The bill addresses this directly. It brings together different but related regimes under one set of rules and procedures. As chair of the standing committee that considered these matters, it gives me special pride to speak to the bill today.

Also, speaking personally, I believe strongly that in addition to its formal duties within the federal system, the new Department of HRSDC can become a valuable point of first contact for all federal departments in matters related to lifelong learning and training.

Those are some of the challenges facing the new department to be created by the bill. While addressing these issues may be challenging, the rewards Canada reaps will be enormous. By improving access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning for all Canadians, we will go a long way toward ensuring that no Canadian gets left behind and that businesses and organizations will be able to find the skilled workers they need to compete and thrive in the global economy. This represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.

For most of my time in this House, I have worked with the government caucus on post-secondary education and research. This is a group of MPs and senators who have followed, all the way through from the middle nineties, the various roles of the federal government in higher education and research. It is a group that has a very active interest in those matter, but which has made it clear from the very beginning that we have no interest in the federal government encroaching on the roles of the provinces and territories. Quite rightly, in our Confederation the operation of the elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities are provincial and territorial matters, which is the way it should be. It produces across our country a network of related but different educational systems that are extremely productive.

This is not to say that the federal government and other governments do not have responsibilities in those areas. I can give very direct examples where, very badly in many cases, the federal government organizes elementary schools on the first nations. Some of them should be changed very quickly. We have a used computer program where we give the high schools used computers, and it has worked very effectively. When they get to the end of high school, the millennium scholarship program is a federal program that helps high school students.

We work with the community colleges of Canada. They are, in many ways, a rapid response system that helps Canada keep its economy current.

For example, it was this government that first flowed research moneys to community colleges, recognizing their role in applied research and their role in the commercialization of research. We still work with the community colleges in all sorts of ways. Aboriginal education is a really good example. English and French as second languages are other examples. The federal government has important links with them, as it does with the universities, and has moved the public funding of research, largely in the universities, from being 14th or 15th in the world to perhaps 5th or 6th.

These are all examples of the ways in which the federal government, and not just one department of the federal government, is involved in higher education. Let me say that the Department of National Defence runs a university, the Royal Military College, where one can get degrees in engineering and so on.

The federal government has these roles. One of its roles is to capture the best practices. If in Quebec, Nova Scotia or Nunavut there is something going on which the whole country should know about, it is the federal government that can capture it in higher education.

My enthusiasm for the legislation is that the federal government is going to have a new department, a very large and powerful department, which will be focused on these matters of lifelong learning. It is my hope that, first, it will perform very important functions itself, but second, that it will become a point of contact for all federal departments that work in the area of lifelong learning and that it will also become a key point of contact with the provinces and territories.

I believe the new department represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.

For this reason, I intend to support this bill and urge all members to do likewise.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

November 2nd, 2004 / 10:45 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, introduced at first reading on October 26, 2004.

Note that this bill received very little consideration in the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The bill is the defunct Bill C-34, which was introduced in the 37th Parliament. The federal government wanted to pass the bill quickly by using the Liberal majority steamroller and without hearing testimony at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the bill's repercussions and application.

I was a little surprised because a bill as important as this one certainly deserved special attention from the standing committee, which should have heard witnesses such as the Shipping Federation of Canada, or other representatives of the environmental sector. These witnesses could have explained how to improve Bill C-34.

The former Chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the former member for Davenport, will remember a session at the time when I became enraged at the behaviour of the Liberal members. I remember this bill was rammed through, and the Liberal MPs did not even want to hear witnesses.

Why not? Because it was the eve of the election campaign, and the Liberal Party of Canada was trying to make us forget the fines that some courts had imposed on Canada Steamship Lines. The government also wanted to show that it had good faith by tabling Bill C-34.

Today, a new version of this bill is being presented as Bill C-15. We are in favour of the principle of this bill because on this side of the House we believe that the practices of some companies with respect to coastal oil spills are totally unacceptable for the protection of migratory birds and their habitat and ecosystem.

It must always be kept in mind, if we really want to protect species, whether endangered, at risk or otherwise, it is always vital to protect the habitat. When companies behave irresponsibly, we have a duty, as legislators, to face up to our responsibilities and to introduce a more stringent bill.

I will come back later to the real repercussions Bill C-15 could have. We have to do more than just introduce a bill, we have to ensure that the bill itself, and the spirit of that bill, are respected in its application.

As I have already indicated, we are of course in favour of this bill in principle because, from the environmental point of view, it makes it possible to impose far stricter sanctions on shipping companies that discharge toxic substances illegally at sea.

I hope, however, that our committees will afford us the opportunity to hear a number of witnesses on this subject, unlike our experience in committee during the last Parliament. Then, the majority government literally shoved the bill through, giving us no opportunity to improve it. Unfortunately, that bill met a sad end.

This bill is an amendment to the 1994 Migratory Birds Convention Act. We must place that in its proper context. We on this side of the House have always admitted that this legislation was indeed within an area of federal responsibility. When various bills were being considered, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or Bill C-5 on species at risk, we always agreed that the migratory bird legislation and public lands were federal jurisdictions. The principle, the very spirit, of this bill confirms our willingness to respect an area that is, of course, federal.

We need much more rigorous legislation. Moreover, what the government is proposing is, in fact, harmonization, an adaptation of what is already done in the United States. We know that the laws there are much stricter than here in Canada.

In Canada, according to Environment Canada estimates, over 300,000 seabirds are killed each year off the coasts of the Atlantic provinces by ships that illegally dump their polluted bilge waters as they pass through these waters.

Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we needed to act quickly. Why go through the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994? Because this law applies in the exclusive economic zone of Canada, and because it is intended specifically to protect migratory birds from the effects caused by deposits of harmful substances in that zone. The provisions of the bill will now apply to vessels.

We should have taken action through more restrictive legislation. Nevertheless, some questions do arise about the actual enforcement and the desired effects of the bill before us. We must remember that in the past we have seen large-scale catastrophes, some of them on the east coast, in the Maritimes, that ended with fines of $20,000 or $30,000, sometimes up to $170,000 as in the case of the fishing boat Olga .

Measures were taken. What was the impact of these measures? One: we arrested the operators of the vessels. Two: we turned them loose. Three: fines were not paid to the federal government.

In short, I would like to tell the House that we support this bill in principle. We believe in more rigorous legislation. However, we must be sure that the measures that will be taken will have a real impact, so that the spirit of the law, that is, protection of our migratory birds, can take effect as soon as possible. We shall work in committee to improve this bill.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to address Bill C-5, the Canadian education savings account, I am mindful of the fact that this is the first time that I have actually stood in the House to participate in a debate since I was elected to serve exclusively as the member of Parliament for Halifax.

I no longer carry the responsibilities of federal leadership and now have the privilege of sitting behind my leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, who was successful in being elected to represent his constituency in the House.

It is indeed a pleasure to pledge in a very public way my commitment to work as conscientiously and diligently as I possible can to serve in that manner as a full time member of Parliament. It is an added privilege to find myself seatmate to a former leader of the New Democratic Party under whom I first ran for politics in the federal election of 1979, unsuccessfully I might say, never imaging that some day we would in fact be sitting in the House backing a subsequent leader. It is indeed a privilege to take up my new role in this august body.

I am also very pleased that in addition to my new responsibilities assigned to me by my leader as critic for foreign affairs, I now have the added responsibility of being the post-secondary education critic.

I am extremely pleased with that challenge for a couple of reasons. For a number of years before I entered politics, I had the opportunity to be both a professor at Dalhousie University and also for several years I served as a field instructor for graduate students in the school of social work in employment settings with the City of Halifax's social planner and with the Province of Nova Scotia in the social development division. For me, it is something very close to home.

However, perhaps more important than that is the fact that my riding, the constituency of Halifax, is host to more post-secondary education students per capita and more post-secondary education institutions per capita than any other riding in the country. That is perhaps an accident of history.

It is partly a geographic thing, that they happen to be concentrated in the riding of Halifax, but it is also true that for many years it has been said that because of the excellence of post-secondary education students in Nova Scotia, that one of our best contributions to Canada in fact is the educational experiences gained in our province by students from across the country.

Unfortunately, all too often translating into the deportation of those students to other parts of Canada because they do not have the opportunity to remain in their native province. We continue to need to address that very serious problem.

I am pleased, because of how exceedingly important post-secondary education issues are to my constituents, to have the opportunity to rise in this place as the post-secondary education critic.

Having said that, as I turn my attention to Bill C-5, it is regrettable in the extreme that the bill can probably be described as an attempt by the government to divert attention from the fact that it continues to fail students and their families in regard to the adequate level of post-secondary education funding desperately needed, both at the level of individual student aid and at the level of educational funding for post-secondary education institutions.

Our universities and colleges are forced into the situation of driving tuition fees up even higher than they are now creating an immense access barrier to far too many students in the country today. That is the real crisis that we face in the country. That is the real challenge that the government has sidestepped again and again.

It sidestepped addressing that issue in the spring 2004 budget. It absolutely sidestepped dealing with it in the throne speech. During the election campaign that intervened between the spring 2004 budget and our return to Parliament we saw how little the government had to offer. We heard all kinds of promises from the Prime Minister about finally addressing the crisis of student aid and skyrocketing tuition in this country; however, they were very fleeting commitments.

Nothing in Bill C-5 even begins to make a dent in this serious problem. Bill C-5 is grossly inadequate in our view for a couple of fundamental reasons.

The maximum contributions that will be forthcoming for the Canada education savings grant amount to a paltry $7,200. That needs to be put into perspective. The government needs to recognize the fact that in some Canadian universities, even at the undergraduate level, tuition is now $6,000. Tuition is a great deal higher than that in a good many graduate programs and professional schools.

It is not an unduly pessimistic prediction to make that it is possible that the entire contribution from the government toward the education of a student 19 years from now could amount to less than the tuition fee for half a year of post-secondary education, in other words, for one term. The reality is that there is nothing in this legislation that will begin to deal with the really serious crisis that exists.

There is a fundamental flaw in the government's thinking regarding the real problem. I want to acknowledge that the government has accurately identified that for low income families any possibility of gaining access to post-secondary education under the current circumstances is virtually nonexistent. That is an accurate diagnosis, but the remedy provided is both grotesquely inadequate and flawed. It seems to be based on the premise that there is a real problem about the motivation of low income families to save money and invest money in education.

It is not a motivational problem for families living in grinding poverty in Canada not to save dollars. The problem is they do not have the money to do it. It simply does not meet the minister's own stated objective of levelling the playing field for all students who want to gain access to post-secondary education to say that this program will now make a significant difference. It will do no such thing.

We will have an opportunity in committee to deal with the bill on a clause by clause basis and we will do so. Let me use one or two examples.

First, I do not know how anybody could refuse to acknowledge the fact that families in the lowest income categories, which is what the minister said the objective is, are not going to be able to find money for post-secondary education from their scarce incomes. They do not have sufficient money now to pay for their groceries and keep decent shelter over their head. It defies the reality of the grinding financial poverty in which a great many of those families are living.

Second, when we see what a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare is going to be involved in setting up this program, at least as I interpret it, then one must really wonder about the decision to spend the limited resources the government is prepared to make available to feed a bureaucratic monstrosity.

I want to express appreciation, and I do so genuinely, for a briefing that I obtained earlier today on the legislation. However, as the opportunity to ask some questions was made available and as the discussion unfolded, it seemed to me more evident that for such a very paltry sum of money being made available to low income families, if and only if they could actually access it by finding money out of their scarce incomes to participate in these programs, it is simply unwarranted to set up what is going to be such a bureaucratic nightmare.

It also denies eligibility to a number of categories of young people that surely is unwarranted. For example, if we go to page 7, clause 7, it makes it quite clear that the Canada learning bond may be paid in respect of a beneficiary under a registered education savings plan only if the beneficiary is resident in Canada.

What that means is that the aspiration expressed by the minister, when he spoke to this on first reading, that immigrant families should benefit from the program will not be fulfilled. Immigrant families who might arrive here with children ages 7, 9 and 11 would have failed to qualify year after year for the very small sums that are going to be made available to other families. They are going to be even more disadvantaged.

In such a mobile workforce within a globalized economy with more and more workers being required to go outside of the country by their employers, one must also recognize that they too will presumably not be resident in Canada and not be eligible for the years in which they did not live in Canada. That is just one of the flaws that we are concerned about.

At the end of the day the real concern is what an enormous shortfall there is in the response of the government to deal with the real crisis that is happening. Perhaps the minister needs to have the kind of reality check that would be available to him by sitting down with leaders of the student governments across the country--I did this in my own province with the leaders from across the province from every post-secondary education institution--and be reminded of what it is that they face today with the crippling debt load.

Nothing in the bill is going to change that situation for students for the next 18 years, let alone do anything for those who are already crippled by debt and are having to drop out of university because the resources simply are not there for them.

It is lamentable that the government has not responded at an appropriate level to deal with the serious access problems. We need a post-secondary education act in the country that sets out certain principles. We need stable, solid, adequate funding that is appropriate and will deliver on what the government says that it wants to see happen, and that is that every young person who is able to avail themselves of a post-secondary education institution has the opportunity to do so.

We absolutely need to recognize that we have to freeze tuition fees and it is going to take some funding to do that. We must improve the student aid programs as well as the student debt relief programs, instead of constricting what is available to students by changing the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to put them at an even greater disadvantage when they are in major financial difficulty through no fault of their own.

There are a number of remedies that are desperately needed. It seems to me that in this paltry and narrow response, which will not have any impact for any students for a minimum of 18 or 19 years, the government has simply not responded to this very serious crisis.

We absolutely need to replace the flawed millennium scholarship fund with a needs-based system of grants. It is clear that it is the view of students in the country, as expressed through all their national advocacy organizations. It is clear that it is the position of all the faculty who have stood behind them in this demand. It is clear that it is the view of the university administrators that the number one crisis that has to be addressed is that of crippling student debt and the access problems being created for students who do not have deep pockets or whose families do not have deep pockets. Yet we have absolutely nothing on any of this in the Speech from the Throne, and the legislation does not even begin to address that problem.

During the election I had the opportunity to participate in a student-sponsored debate in my province, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to do it. A student who was involved in the whole discussion made a very telling but simple point that what was a student crisis now has become a family crisis.

As a result of the failure of the government to provide increased funding and as a result of the government's the massive cuts to post-secondary education over the last number of years, a lot of young people are being driven out of their communities and provinces because of student debt. It becomes a deportation or out-migration program for students from northern and rural communities in less prosperous parts of the country. They go where they can get the fattest, fastest salary and income to pay off their crippling debt load. That becomes a crisis in many cases for families who are either left behind or have to relocate.

We have a lot of grandparents who are barely able to make ends meet. They now are having to dig deep into their pockets to help put their grandchildren through university or to help them with their debt load. We have a lot of working families who are sacrificing big time to make it possible for their young people to go to university.

This is what is so sad about the rhetoric around recognizing, and the minister said it, that the Canadian dream cannot be fulfilled in today's world without a post-secondary education. Yet we are not prepared to make it available to young people. What we have is an erosion of the quality of that education. Students have to work at poorly paid jobs simultaneously when they go to school. Universities have to rely more and more heavily on private funds or on corporate sources of funding, which skews curriculum choices. In some cases literally faculty contribution to the educational effort is being measured, not in terms of their excellence in teaching or the quality of the research, but in terms of how many corporate or research dollars they can draw down to help deal with the university's inadequate funding base. These are all distortions that are being created. The minister is quite right that the Canadian dream for future generations cannot be fulfilled without an adequate post-secondary education these days, both because we live in a globalized economy and because it is important in economic competition terms.

This is my final point. Surely the greatest, most compelling and urgent reason for our young people to have the opportunity to get advanced education is the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face in the world, such as dealing with environmental degradation that could destroy the planet, or with disease and hunger, which is unnecessary in today's world because we cannot find the solution, or with the horror of the possibility that we will destroy this planet with increasing weapons of mass destruction and nuclear threats.

These are the real reasons and the major challenges that our young people face in the future. We are failing them in equipping them with the post-secondary education they need to meet those challenges.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 3:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have spoken in this House. I want to thank the voters in the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, and all the election volunteers and workers who gave me their trust during the last election in June.

I would like to say from the start that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-5 in principle. However, we want to consider it thoroughly in committee.

This bill raises several questions that require answers. It is intended to encourage and facilitate access to post-secondary education for children of lower-income families. It enhances the Canada education savings grant.

The Bloc Québécois finds it useful to set up an education savings bond program, as this will directly help lower-income families, which the Canada education savings grant currently does not do. This will be a big help to children of lower income families, who have greater difficulty accessing post-secondary education.

The Bloc Québécois agrees that this measure helps families in planning and saving for their children's education. Accessible education and equal opportunity for everyone are two priorities of the Bloc Québécois and Quebeckers.

We think this measure is clearly inadequate; correcting the fiscal imbalance and returning to equitable transfers between provinces would obviously permit the Government of Quebec to support Quebec's students appropriately.

The Bloc recognizes that Bill C-5 will definitely encourage education for all families, whatever their income. There are figures showing that only 50% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 are pursuing post-secondary education.

As the critic for youth, I am greatly concerned about this situation. This measure will make it possible to increase attendance at post-secondary institutions, but it must not look like federal interference in the system of loans and bursaries. That is why we need thorough study of the bill in committee.

Moreover, this learning bond program is a non-negotiable means of adding to the savings options for low income families. This learning bond program will help children from low income families get into post-secondary studies, which is a comfort for their parents. The Bloc Québécois is concerned about social justice in this matter. This is clearly a sign of hope that the less well off in our society may have access to higher learning.

Although many questions related to his bill have yet to be answered and will be studied by the committee, I can already point out certain weaknesses in the bill's current wording.

First of all, the learning bonds will not help Quebec provide quality education, because they do not give Quebec the means to do so. They enable students to cover part of the cost of their post-secondary education, but do not improve the quality of services provided by the educational system.

I want to point out that, in its current form, the bill says that the government will take back the money it has invested when the beneficiary of the program reaches the age of 21 years. That seems very bizarre because college education is totally free in Quebec.

In addition, the learning bonds will be automatically taken back when the student reaches the age of 21. Only those who go to university will benefit, and not a great deal more. It will only be for a year or two, to use the money provided by the federal government. The Bloc Québécois therefore proposes that the maximum age be set at 25.

Any money provided by the government that has not been used for post-secondary education will be taken back instead of being reinvested where it belongs, that is, in the education system. The Bloc Québécois reiterates that, if it were not for the fiscal imbalance, this money could be put directly into Quebec's education system, instead of being spread around in federal aid packages. Quebec alone can determine what the province's educational priorities are. It should benefit directly from federal transfers in order to distribute the money where it is needed.

With this bill, the government announced a $40 million dollar budget for the administration of the program during the first three years. We are used to the federal government underestimating costs. We need only think of the firearms registry. The Bloc Québécois promises that it will keep a very close eye on how such a registry will be administered, to ensure it is managed properly.

I feel that the administration costs are excessive: more than $13 million annually to distribute some $80 million. This is a fine example of the priorities pursued by the government with this bill: instead of assisting students fully by financing the education system properly, it would rather take a piecemeal approach.

With this bill, the government is trying to improve an existing program, namely the Canada education savings grant introduced in 1998, which, incidentally, has missed the mark vis-à-vis its initial objectives. This grant program does nothing for the least well off families, because the government only contributes up to the amount invested by the parents. Obviously, families with an income under $35,000 seldom manage to set money aside for their children's education.

With this bill, the government is improving the current program by 20%, which contributes up to 20%, to a maximum of $400 per year. The bill not only establishes the learning bond, but it also increases the amount of the education savings grant, which is an additional contribution made by the federal government for each dollar contributed to a registered education savings plan until the beneficiary under the plan turns 17.

The Canada education savings grant rate will double, from 20% to 40%, on the first $500 of savings placed in an RESP by families with a net income of up to $35,000. For families with a net income greater than $35,000 but not exceeding $70,000, the Canada education savings grant contribution will increase from its present 20% to 30%. Any subsequent investments by the family or the beneficiary will remain at the current 20% level. The Canada education savings grant cannot, however, exceed $7,200 for the 16 years during which families and beneficiaries remain eligible.

The Government of Canada announced the creation of a learning bond program for post-secondary education in its March 2004 budget. This takes the form of a bursary of a total value of $2,000 for each child born after 2003, but this is of course only for children of families entitled to a national child benefit supplement. After the initial $500 at the time of birth, the child will receive annual Canada learning bond instalments of $100 a year until the age of 15, provided the family continues to receive the national child benefit supplement.

However, parents must initiate the process by setting up a registered education savings plan. The learning bond is valid until the child reaches the age of 21. Then, the federal government takes back the money that it invested in the registered education savings plan and leaves the family's interest and savings, which become taxable. The purpose of the learning bond is to encourage low and middle income families to save money for their children's post-secondary education.

The Bloc Québécois likes the idea of making higher education more accessible to low income households. Quebec families that qualify for the national child benefit will be eligible for this bond program, without having to contribute to an education savings plan. The Bloc Québécois believes in accessibility to education. Thanks to the improved Canada education savings grant and to the learning bonds, students will be able to pursue a higher education, regardless of their social condition.

However, let us not forget that this program will be very costly to administer and that the federal government could, if the will was there, refrain from needlessly wasting public funds and taxpayers' money by dealing with the fiscal imbalance. The Quebec government would then not be subjected to the current budget cuts and would have the necessary money to invest in education and to improve its loans and scholarships program.

We are very pleased to see that the federal government is concerned about young people and the low enrolment rate in post-secondary institutions. However, we want to mention again the fiscal strangulation of the provinces. Quebec would prefer by far to manage the money to which it is entitled, instead of benefiting from ad hoc and arbitrary donations from Paul Martin.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

October 14th, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
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Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the minister will table the document at the first available opportunity.

With respect to the business going forward, this afternoon, tomorrow and Monday, we will continue with second reading of Bill C-5, which is on learning bonds, followed by second reading of Bill C-6, which is establishing the department of public safety; second reading of Bill C-3 which is the Coast Guard bill; second reading of Bill C-7 respecting national parks; second reading of Bill C-8 creating the public service human resources agency; and second reading of Bill C-4, which is the international air protocol bill.

There will, as the House knows, be divisions at 3 p.m. on Monday.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be the last two days of debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, and Thursday will be an allotted day.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 1:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, certainly the crisis was provoked by the Prime Minister himself when he was finance minister. With the efforts of balancing the budget back in 1995, it was done largely on the backs of the provinces. It is quite clear that was the case and that crisis continues today.

In fact, we had the vision last month of the Prime Minister claiming to be a hero for finally reversing some of the damage that was done. While it was only some of the damage, as the hon. member has pointed out, it continues to be the case that provinces are working to recover from that.

Certainly there will be upcoming discussions that hopefully will give the government an opportunity to advance that exercise. That crisis is an example of how the government has continually operated. It creates the crisis, causes the problem and then comes up with legislation, such as the bill before us, Bill C-5, which would never have been necessary if provinces were not faced with those cuts to post-secondary education.

The problem is being addressed now and I think that is a positive thing for Canadians.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 1:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to deliver my first address in this chamber. I am particularly fortunate to be able to do so on the subject of post-secondary education and the establishment of the Canada learning bond through Bill C-5.

I am pleased that this bill has the support of the Progressive Conservative Party. We feel that further education is a priority if we are to have a prosperous future for each and every Canadian, and for our society.

That is why the Conservative Party supports Bill C-5.

The Canada learning bond is an initiative that I expect will be welcomed by the residents of my constituency of York--Simcoe. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the confidence they have expressed in me by sending me to represent them in this great chamber.

York--Simcoe was the place my grandfather chose to make his home after a remarkable life journey, one that figures greatly in my reasons for getting involved in public life.

My grandparents lived in a small country, Estonia, which asserted its nationhood and became a free and independent country for the first time out of the chaos of World War I. In that new freedom people prospered.

My grandparents prospered too and enjoyed the opportunities that came with higher education. My grandfather worked his way from a farm boy to the respected position of county agronomist. My grandmother became a lawyer, a career that few women had the courage to choose in that time, the 1920s. They made a better life and gave back to their community.

However, with World War II came successive waves of Soviet and Nazi occupation and the ultimate annexation of Estonia into the U.S.S.R. My mother and grandparents had little choice but to flee. Paradoxically the education that they possessed made them a threat to the occupying Soviets and they faced an otherwise certain fate at their hands if they did not leave. In fact many family members did face that fate in Soviet Siberian camps or otherwise at the hands of the Red Army.

My family as refugees in search of freedom ultimately chose Canada. The agronomist went to work in a paper factory in Riverdale and the lawyer went to work on the order desk at Sears. They found what they were looking for: freedom, hope and opportunity.

One of the things that often comes with a higher education is a recognition of the possibilities that exist to improve one's life and that of one's family and to build a better community, regardless of the barriers that may be faced, the hurdles that may be encountered and the setbacks that come along the way in life.

The importance of education was impressed upon my mother, who would do her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Toronto, and upon her children, who both followed their grandmother's footsteps into the career of law.

My grandfather thought that an important part of education was to see what real life was and in his opinion that happened on a farm. So, after I was born, he marshalled his resources and bought the farm in Georgina which anchors me today.

Freedom, hope and opportunity are to me what my contribution in public life should be about, what all our contributions should be about. In Canada we are often complacent about the freedom that we enjoy and the opportunities which present themselves, but among many new Canadians these things are immediate and important. Education plays a crucial factor in all three.

It is not a coincidence that new authoritarian governments and occupying forces target the educated in society, for with that education often comes the ability to organize and to fight for freedom. Education is a companion of liberty. Higher education also gives us hope to understand our world better and to improve health, security and the quality of life that we enjoy.

As the economists and educators continually remind us, education brings with it opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and economic prosperity. When the citizens prosper, all the country prospers.

For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for all, not just those who have the resources and the means, but the opportunity for all to send their children to post-secondary education is an important objective. For too many it is a challenge that creates anxiety, that is daunting, that is a big mountain to climb.

The typical family profile in York--Simcoe is a young couple, both working hard, trying to pay their mortgage, get ahead and make a brighter future for their children. It is not easy for them. They are good citizens with solid Canadian values that we believe in as Canadians, values that we believe in as Conservatives.

Like those families, we believe that hard work should be rewarded. We believe in self-discipline and responsibility for individual actions and for our families. We believe in honesty, that a promise made should be a promise kept. We believe in property rights and the rule of law. We believe in compassion and support for those who are genuinely in need in society.

They are time tested values that have built civil society. They are the values that have underpinned the advance of humanity. They are values that are all too often ignored by this government through its policies. In that way, the government does not reflect the interests of my constituents in York—Simcoe.

For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for them is a frustration. It is something they are grasping at. At every turn those hardworking families are met with heavy taxes and a government that does more to intrude into their lives than to help. They do not understand a federal government that tells them they are not good Canadians if they do not want to pay higher taxes. They would dearly love to save for a child's post-secondary education, but how?

For them they face real choices. Will they give up sending the children to play hockey this year, or will they tell them they cannot have a new bike in the spring? Those are the kinds of choices and sacrifices some of them have to make in order to save for a post-secondary education.

The government could help them most by letting them keep more of their own money. That would give them greater freedom, more hope and genuine opportunity. I hope ultimately the government will do that.

We also believe that Bill C-5, by giving modest income families the means to establish registered education savings plans with an initial $500 contribution, not from the government, but from the taxpayers of Canada, we will help more Canadians achieve their dreams of a higher education. The increased matching grants from the taxpayers of Canada for contributions that those families themselves make to RESPs will also build for that brighter future.

The riding of York--Simcoe can become an even better place if more young people succeed in school and achieve post-secondary education. An educated workforce means more jobs and more prosperity.

An educated population in York--Simcoe can use those skills and ability to improve the quality of our treasured environment. We have a beautiful landscape and environment in York--Simcoe, especially Lake Simcoe. It is our playground. Many take their drinking water from that lake, but it is a lake whose health remains dangerously precarious.

An educated community will mean a richer cultural experience in a community that is already proud of its theatres, its art galleries, its historical sites ranging from the famous Red Barn Theatre to Sharon Temple, a national historic site.

A more educated York--Simcoe will be a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.

Just as York--Simcoe can benefit from encouraging families to save for post-secondary educations for their sons and daughters, so too will all of Canada. Canadians want change and the Canada learning bond represents a change for the better.

In this minority Parliament I am pleased to have been able to stand in a spirit of cooperation to welcome the government's finally taking this initiative. Our party made the Canada learning bond part of our platform in the last election. We are pleased that the government in this case is following our advice and moving forward. Let us hope that that constructive spirit can be an example of how we can work together. If we focus on areas of common ground, we can really see true and genuine benefits for all Canadians.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 1:05 p.m.
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Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I am delighted to be on the agenda as the first speaker to this bill. I want to begin by giving due credit and thanks to my parliamentary secretary, the member for Peterborough, as well as the Minister of State for Human Resources and Skills Development, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, for their assistance the preparation of this proposed legislation.

In addition to being a legislator and a representative of the general public, I too am a parent, like most people in this chamber. Like all parents, I want the very best for my children. In fact some of the have already gone through school, so I am speaking more from a historical perspective than I am from an active perspective, although my children have graced my wife with grand kids. Therefore, I want to provide for them in the same way that I took the disposition for my own children.

I would like to instill in them, as I am sure every single member in the House would like to do, a confidence to tackle life's challenges and to ensure that they have every opportunity to experience the satisfaction that comes with success,.

Like everyone here, I want for my grandchildren and for everyone else's children to have them live a life that is healthy, productive, prosperous and satisfying leading up to adulthood. I obviously want that for their adult life as well. Perhaps this is idealistic but I hope everyone shares in this idealism. I would like to offer my children and their own children all the advantages that living in this great country of ours has to offer. This is true of all parents whether we are rich or poor, no matter where we live and whatever our backgrounds.

Canadian families from coast to coast are doing everything they can to ensure that their children can fulfill their Canadian dream, a dream which, increasingly, cannot be fulfilled if our children do not have access to post-secondary education.

Three out of every four new jobs require post-secondary education, whether it is trade training, a college diploma or a university degree. By comparison, people who have not completed their secondary education now have access to less than 6% of all new jobs.

To give members a sense of just how great this imbalance is, consider that between 1990 and 2003 some 1.4 million jobs were created for university graduates, while 1.2 million jobs were lost for those who had barely completed high school. Consider too that over their lifetime, university students on average earn $1 million more than those without a degree. The advantages can be seen almost immediately.

There is another imbalance that should concern all of us as parliamentarians in the House as it also has serious consequences for our country. Statistics Canada recently reported that 93% of Canadian parents hope that their children will go on to post-secondary education, yet only one-half are currently saving for their education. The majority of that one-half come from the most affluent of Canadian families.

Research indicates that 68% of parents with an income greater than $85,000 are putting money aside for their children's post-secondary education, whereas just 26% of parents with an income of under $25,000 are doing the same thing. Of course for lower income parents, we should not be surprised to find that only 8% are taking advantage of a registered education savings plan which tax shelters the compound interest on their investments. The poorest people in this country who do save are struggling to do so on their own, largely without the benefit of the Canada education savings grant.

This is an imbalance that we ought to rectify. I am pleased that the Speech from the Throne has underlined, underscored and emphasized our commitment to increase access to post-secondary education through Bill C-5, the Canada education savings act.

The bill introduces an innovative new initiative and improvements to existing programs to ensure that each and every youngster with the ability and the desire to pursue post-secondary education studies has the chance to do so, no matter what his or her family's financial circumstances are.

The innovative new initiative to which I am referring is the Canada learning bond, which will help underprivileged Canadian children by allowing them to set up an education savings plan.

The Canada learning bond begins with a one time payment of $500 for children born into families receiving the national child benefit supplement. Families with a net income of $35,000 or less qualify. The bond is available to all eligible babies born since January 1 of this year. The initial payment will be followed by successive instalments of $100 per year up to and including the year in which the child turns 15, provided the family remains entitled to the national child benefit supplement.

By the time such children turn 18, their Canada learning bond, combined with the interest earned on the bond, could be worth up to $3,000 not considering any additional supplements or savings that the family might have contributed. To receive these funds, parents need to open an RESP. If necessary we will provide an additional $25 to help cover the cost of the administration and setting up of such a fund.

The big advantage, as colleagues will soon recognize, of an RESP is that the Government of Canada also tops up the parents' contribution through the Canada education savings grant program. That is another innovation, by the way, that we introduced just a few short years ago to help families increase their savings for their children's post-secondary education.

The Canada education savings grant provides a 20% grant on parents' contributions to a current maximum of $400 per year. We want to go even further. With this legislation we propose to dramatically improve the odds for low and middle income children by giving them an even larger savings grant.

Once the bill is adopted, as I am sure colleagues on both sides of the House will be eager to do, the current Canada education savings grant rate of 20% will double to 40% on the first $500 of savings made by families earning up to $35,000. Let me give an idea of just what kind of difference that can make. If a low income family contributes just $10 per month to a child's RESP from birth, there would be some $7,000 available by the time the child is ready to go to university.

We also want to make sure that children in families with modest incomes have a greater chance to take advantage of a post-secondary education. The Canada education savings grant contribution for them will increase to 30% on the first $500 of savings set aside by families earning a qualifying net income greater than $35,000 but not exceeding $70,000.

These higher rates will affect the contributions made by all eligible families as of January 1, 2005. According to our projections, the Canada learning bond could benefit some 120,000 newborns and the enhanced Canada education savings grant could benefit up to 4.5 million children from low and middle income families each year.

For thousands of young Canadians, these figures mean increased opportunities for learning, improving and developing their potential. Over time, these investments will generate huge dividends for our economy and our society as a whole, when these young people become workers, taxpayers, parents and leaders in their communities and in our country.

Such initiatives have never been as critical as they are now, at a time when the whole world is giving priority to learning and to knowledge. An educated population is a cornerstone of Canada's competitiveness internationally, and it is also critical to maintaining our high standard of living.

I have presented many facts and figures thus far, but as impressive as colleagues will find them, we need to look beyond the numbers. Aside from the tremendous monetary value of these investments, there are other equally important benefits. Studies demonstrate that children with savings for post-secondary education have a more positive attitude toward their schooling. They have better marks and they go further in school. It seems that if the expectation is there that they will go on to college or university, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other research has shown that youth with savings are 50% more likely to go on to study at a post-secondary level than youth who do not. The flip side of that story is that not having money set aside for post-secondary studies presents both a practical and a psychological barrier to many. That is an assumption on the part of some that a person who is poor today will inevitably be poor tomorrow. Their assumption does not recognize that learning is the key to rising above poverty.

In our society education is the great equalizer. Knowledge is blind to race, gender, disability and income status. It creates a level playing field for all who are able to take advantage of learning opportunities.

I might say with some humility that I know this first-hand. I have worked in classrooms, in corridors in Canada's schools. I am not only a politician and a parent, but I am a former educator and I do not want to cast aspersions on members of that profession by trying to tie myself to them.

I have seen first-hand what financially disadvantaged kids can accomplish when given the chance. I have witnessed their successes time and time again. When they get that extra bit of encouragement and support, they succeed like no other. I can say that what might sound like pocket change to some can mean a world of difference to families and children doing without.

By supporting this legislation, the House of Commons will give a vote of confidence to Canadian children. We are sending them a very clear message. We have confidence in them and they believe that they can fulfill all of their dreams. We are doing our share to help them achieve that goal.

These initiatives are just the latest expression of that commitment. My colleagues are well aware of that. The Government of Canada provides a wide range of financial incentives and support measures to ensure that Canadian children get a good start in life, and to make post-secondary education accessible for all Canadians.

Since the first budget, in 1997-98, about one quarter of all new federal spending has been on education and innovation. This means more than $36 billion.

The Canada learning bond and enhanced Canada education savings grant programs contained in the Canada education savings act are critically important steps in this continuum of progress. These strategically targeted initiatives will help increase access to post-secondary education for children of every culture who might not otherwise have that opportunity. They will help to make sure that children currently living in disadvantaged situations have a reason to hope for a better future.

More to the point, they will help to ensure that they have a better future. Post-secondary education will get Canadian children on the right track, but we know it is a long term investment, so let us turn for a moment to the present. What is the Government of Canada doing today to help adult Canadians such as these children's parents in their own efforts to attain the Canadian dream? The answer is, “Many things”.

Complementing our investments in the Canada learning bond and the enhanced Canada education savings grant is a continuum of programs and services to help all Canadians acquire the skills to find meaningful and productive work: literacy and essential skills programs, a national apprenticeship strategy, and speedy and effective recognition of professional credentials earned in other countries. These are the essential contributions we need to make to support a labour market in which Canadians can find and keep meaningful jobs.

I will speak to these priorities in greater detail in the very near future. Suffice it to say that making post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable is just one element of the workplace skills strategy that will enable Canadians to seize more opportunities to obtain and keep meaningful work.

The 21st century will belong to the best and the brightest and to those countries that take early action to respond to this new reality. Just as parents want to do the right thing for their children, so must we as legislators do the right thing for our country. I urge all members in the House to adopt this very necessary and very worthy legislation so that we can make an important down payment on our collective future.

Post-Secondary Education Savings Assistance ActRoutine Proceedings

October 8th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)