Thanks to the committee for the opportunity to make the voice of students in Canada heard here today.
The Canadian Federation of Students represents more than half a million students from colleges and universities across Canada. It is Canada's largest and oldest national students union.
The right to education at all levels is enshrined in international law and is prescribed by existing moral and social imperatives of Canadian society. Our public post-secondary education system was built with public dollars and, implicitly, must be accessible to all citizens of Canada, just like health care is. However, Canada's college and university system continues to operate without a national framework and is increasingly cost-prohibitive. The federal budget bill, despite its size and scope, fails to implement a strategy to address rising tuition fees, skyrocketing student debt, and youth unemployment. However, Bill C-38 does many other things, such as threaten our generation's prospects for job and retirement security and seek to reduce environmental regulations.
Due to its size and scope, Bill C-38 overreaches and will contribute to public cynicism. Five minutes is insufficient to review 425 pages and the nearly 70 acts being amended, repealed, or introduced. I cannot but conclude that the government's objective must be to limit the Canadian public from fully assessing the omnibus bill.
I would be doing a complete disservice to my organization's members and the Canadian public if I did not use this time to implore each of you on the government side to abandon this hypocritical tactic of forcing through legislation en masse.
To use the Prime Minister's own words during his time in opposition:
...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block of such legislation
Students today are facing a very precarious labour market. With rising student debt, caused mainly by tuition fee increases, job opportunities are even scarcer because of the government's decision to eliminate Service Canada centres for youth and student positions in the public service. In addition, government investment to improve access to education has slowed significantly. At a time when over 70% of new jobs require some form of post-secondary education, the government has to substantially increase its investment in the Canada Student Grants Program to reduce student debt and help graduates in the labour market.
Making matters worse for students and youth, Bill C-38 proposes changes to Canada's old age security program, the temporary foreign worker program, and employment insurance, all at once. Raising the benefits eligibility age of OAS from 65 to 67, reducing the wages of workers, and eroding the retirement prospects of future generations is itself a solution without a problem and requires at least further study by committee.
If the government is concerned about the well-being of young people and truly wants to protect our future, then cuts to OAS should be taken off the table. Young people in Canada have all of our working years ahead of us. If anything, giving young people a chance to make a decent living requires increased access to education and training and a more robust OAS program.
The federal government's lack of vision with respect to tuition fees comes at a significant cost to our economy in the form of lost economic opportunities. For every Canadian who is denied access to post-secondary education, the costs of health care, employment insurance, social assistance and public safety all grow, and the tax base shrinks.
The OECD estimates that the economic benefit of any investment in post-secondary education comes to $1.63 for every dollar spent by government. If the government is serious and genuinely wants the economy to grow, it should give serious consideration to rejecting this bill and investing in post-secondary education.
Last, when it comes to environmental regulations, Bill C-38 erodes the government's ability to hold companies accountable for their practices. The next generation will inherit the environmental issues to come. We will be saddled with the effects of climate change, unchecked resource development, and potentially irreversible damage to Canada's wildlife. Environmental sustainability is top of mind for today's youth but appears to be a governmental afterthought. The callous disregard for the environment in Bill C-38 is completely irresponsible.
We believe in the strongest of terms that the alterations to OAS, GIS, and EI ought to be removed from Bill C-38, studied by their relevant committees, and voted on separately from the budget bill. We hold the same sentiments with respect to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, the Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the Seeds Act, the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, etc.
Again, I thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation.
I look forward to your questions.