Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about the importance of literacy for Canada and Canadians. In particular, in speaking to Bill C-509, introduced by my colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, I am particularly pleased, as the son of a librarian, to be supporting this bill.
I am pleased today to highlight some of the government's ongoing investments in and support of this vital skill and to speak about the important role that the library book rate plays in supporting literacy.
Improving the literacy and essential skills of Canadians is a key part of the government's commitment to building a highly skilled, adaptable and competitive work force. The ability to read is just one aspect of the essential skills today's workers need in a competitive marketplace. Others include document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, continuous learning, thinking and computer skills. These are skills that many of us in our daily lives take for granted.
Recognizing how important and fundamental these skills are, the Government of Canada invested $38 million in 2010-11 in the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills. This office serves as a national centre of expertise in literacy and essential skills that complements the work of the provinces and territories in adult learning. It works to ensure that Canadians have the skills they require to participate fully in the labour market and their communities. It does this by developing and sustaining networks of pan-Canadian coalitions and bringing together the key organizations and partners that play a role in literacy and essential skills across Canada.
The office plans, develops, tests and disseminates new ideas, tools, and strategies for effective interventions in literacy and essential skills, and supports organizations and institutions in bettering literacy and other essential skills in their activities and policies. Through the work of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, the government provides core funding to literacy coalitions across Canada. It also supports a number of innovative projects that work with businesses to design and test new approaches for addressing the essential skills challenges of workers.
In our global economy, a highly skilled population is a key asset for any nation and is fundamental to economic growth. Globalization and new technologies have propelled us in this knowledge-based economy. Reflecting this, the occupational composition of Canada has shifted toward occupations that require higher levels of education and skill. A knowledge-based economy requires workers who can adapt quickly to changing skills and requirements. Literacy is fundamental to this adaptability. Without literacy, it is difficult to keep up with the rapid evolution of working environments, let alone the increased computerization often required. In order to preserve Canada's competitiveness in today's global economy, it is essential to invest in workers who will be ready and able to keep up with these changes.
There is little doubt that essential skills like literacy contribute not only to the national economy but also to people's personal, economic, and social wellbeing. These essential skills are key to someone's ability to realize their economic and social potential and are the foundation upon which they acquire additional knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Positively associated with good health, employment stability and remuneration, literacy enables people to participate in their communities, to make wise community decisions and to construct social networks.
However, these skills also have to be understood and appreciated for their large social implications in the 21st century. Essential skills, especially literacy, are linked to civic participation, community building and the development of social institutions. Without these skills, there is an increased risk that certain groups could be excluded from these kinds of social and civic activities.
A lot of work remains to be done to improve literacy in Canada. About 9 million individuals or 42% of working-aged Canadians currently score below the minimum literacy level required to function well in a knowledge-based economy. There is evidence of a significant gap in literacy rates between rural and urban Canadians. The gap is found in our schools, with remote students not performing as well on average as their urban counterparts, a trend that persists into adulthood. Similarly, the literacy performance of aboriginal populations is lower than that of the total Canadian population, especially in remote areas.
Canadians without access to information and communications technologies, who do not use computers to access information via CD-ROMs, CDs, DVDs and the Internet, also tend to have lower literacy levels than the rest of the population. Not only are they faced with a digital divide but also a literacy gap.
The key to adults' literacy proficiency and the development of literacy in their children seems to be reading at home. It increases a person's proficiency through engagement in literacy activities, such as reading books, magazines, manuals or newspapers. Libraries play a fundamental role in providing Canadians with access to a wide range of reading materials and literacy activities. With the help of Canada Post's library book rate, libraries are able to dramatically increase rural and remote library users' access to a consolidated Canadian collection of around 465 million items.
In recognition of the important role of libraries in literacy, Library and Archives Canada recently partnered with TD to support Canada's literature and literacy as part of its commitment to foster reading and literacy programs in communities throughout the country. Through this partnership, Library and Archives Canada is involved in a number of programs, like the TD summer reading club, the TD Canadian children's literature awards and, to support higher learning, the TD Canada Trust scholarships for community leadership, as well as other scholarships, bursaries and in-school programs.
These programs help children and students improve their reading skills and develop a greater interest in reading. In particular, the summer reading club increases the number of books that participating children read and teaches them to use the library to open up cultural, community and social horizons. Last summer, half a million Canadian children participated in this club, with over 27,000 events held at 1,995 libraries nationwide. Through the initiative of the summer reading club, participating children read almost 2.4 million books last summer.
Efforts to create future readers and learners and to engage current readers and help all Canadians build and maintain their skills are vital to our economic development and growth. Libraries and literacy programs are fundamental to our future for this very reason.
The library book rate, which my colleague's legislation supports, has played an important role in the sharing of these books across the country, especially with rural and remote locations. The support it has provided to libraries and their communities cannot be overstated.
It is for these reasons that I support this legislation. The library book rate will help with literacy. It is not the only or sole solution but a very small piece. However, it is a piece that helps librarians serve their communities and teachers to access new resources and helps remote students to access the entire world, not just the world on the Internet but also the world still on the printed page, and the world on CDs and DVDs. It is something that is good for our economy. It provides equality of citizenship all across the country and, more importantly, it provides access to the world in remote places all across the country.
I urge all hon. members to support this legislation for the literacy support it provides, as well as its support for remote regions and our current and next generations that are striving to build a better Canada.