Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to support the motion on the address in reply to the throne speech and to explain how the government intends to dedicate its resources and energy to the future of our young people.
First, however, I want to thank those hundreds of volunteers and the people of Vaudreuil who elected me to speak on their behalf in this venerable institution, the House of Commons. I will represent them with great pride, integrity and a sense of purpose, to defend our common goals.
To my friends and fellow citizens from Kirkland, selected as one of the top ten towns in Canada, thank you for your confidence, your support and trust over the past ten years. I have been honoured to serve you in my capacity as councillor and mayor. I am now proud to include you in the new family of the riding of Vaudreuil where I hope to serve you with equal dedication.
I also want to express my love and gratitude to my wife Mary Alice, to our four children, Lisa, Laura, Michele and Marco, for their patience and unconditional support. They have been a true source of inspiration for me. To my parents, Domenico and Immacolata, thank you for teaching me the values and the importance of education and family values.
To you, Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to say that I admire your setting down a code of ethics for politicians, in order to restore the dignity of public office. Your great integrity is an example to us all. I thank you for it.
To you, Mr. Speaker, I offer my sincere congratulations upon taking up your new duties.
As a Quebecer, I always felt the opportunities for myself and members of my family were unlimited. Thirty-seven years ago, four Discepola brothers left the village where they were born, Volturara Irpina in the Campagna region in Italy, to settle in Canada with their families. Their dreams came true.
Today, their children include judges, one doctor, teachers, engineers and accountants. One of them even wandered off to become a member of the House of Commons. I do not know of any other place in the world, any nation, any country where this would have been possible.
The riding of Vaudreuil has many concerns and a number of priorities, but I have decided to use my maiden speech in the House of Commons to talk about the government's program for the future of our young people, because like all Quebecers and all Canadians, I am concerned about the future of my children and my children's children.
It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to explain what the government intends to do to ensure that our young people have a decent future.
Canada is proud that it can give its young people a wonderful place to grow up in. They enjoy the kind of life that is the envy of the whole world. Like the generations before them, these young people are looking for rewarding jobs, a comfortable standard of living and a satisfying family life. The ideals of youth have changed very little, although the circumstances have changed dramatically.
The recession, high youth unemployment and the prevailing uncertainty in the work force put enormous pressures on our youth, pressures that older Canadians have never had to experience.
Today, students who graduate with a high school graduation certificate and choose not to further their studies seriously limit their future. In the 1990s, 60 per cent of available jobs will require grade 12 education or better. It is evident that our youth are not very well prepared to penetrate the work place. Their lack of competency will have tremendous social and economic consequences for us all.
Science and mathematics are the two engines that power innovation and progress that in turn will determine our survival in the age of technology. According to international studies, Canadian high school students are barely average in science.
Compared with other OECD countries, Canada has a low percentage of graduates in science and engineering. There is no question that we must improve our performance. As the 21st century fast approaches, Canada must find the way to make its labour force more competitive. We believe that co-operation at all levels among governments, the provinces, management and labour will enable us to find solutions to our country's human resource needs.
Canada spends in excess of $55 billion per year on education and training. Of this total, $13 billion comes from the federal government, which represents 7.4 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. This puts us well ahead of all OECD countries in this area.
Not only is this government determined to promote education and the acquisition of knowledge, it also wants young people to get the best possible training to fill the jobs of the future.
Despite the current high rate of unemployment among young people, some employers are still having trouble finding skilled workers. Serious gaps exist between school and the work world. With the emergence of new technologies, training in traditional fields has become outmoded. Many young people continue to opt for careers in fields which have become saturated, ignoring others in which workers are more in demand.
Within the context of the new economy, there is a shortage of training programs in emerging fields in which job opportunities are plentiful. I am thinking here, for example, about information technology and telecommunications.
Governments, labour and business leaders must join forces to revitalize our training system and create new apprenticeship opportunities geared to new, rapidly growing sectors of the economy.
This recession has dealt a harsh blow to the aspirations of our youth. After years of study and part-time work, they cannot find work, even with a degree in hand.
We have to come up with better solutions. It is clear that our country's social security safety net is not working in its present form and does little to encourage integration of young people into the labour force and develop their full potential.
The hon. Minister of Human Resources Development will be consulting with the Canadian public and working with the provinces to ensure that together we are able to adapt our social programs to the realities of the nineties. Our social security system is the envy of the entire world. Whether it survives and remains effective, however, will depend on its ability to adapt to the new labour context.
One of the options that the government is presently considering is the development of more and improved training programs geared to employment in order to ease the transition into the labour force for young people and help them acquire the skills in demand by employers.
The second option under review by the government involves setting up a program in which young people would have an opportunity to serve their community. The government has made a commitment in this area by announcing plans to create a Youth Service Corps to give young people who are out of work the chance to gain some experience.
The goal of the Youth Service Corps is not only to enhance the quality of life in our communities, but also to give young people back some hope and sense of accomplishment. Young people up to the age of 25 who participate in the Youth Service Corps will gain some on-the-job experience, have a head start on finding work and maybe even have a chance to break out of the vicious cycle of social dependency which destroys ambition and wastes talent.
The Minister of Human Resources Development is determined to improve the Canada student loans program. He will consider making some changes which would increase the amount of short-term assistance provided and will hold consultations with the provinces and the other interested parties.
The government also wants to increase the level of support provided to the co-operative education program which it sees as a way for students, the provinces, labour and business to work together to build a highly skilled workforce.
Canada's future rests with our young people who need an opportunity to become productive adults. In its pursuit of this objective, the federal government will vigorously support programs that enable young people to acquire the know-how to get good, well paid jobs and to look to the future with optimism.