That the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development be directed to consult broadly, to analyze, and to make recommendations regarding the modernization and restructuring of Canada's social security system, with particular reference to the needs of families with children, youth and working age adults;
That the Standing Committee's work be undertaken in two phases as follows: (i) an interim report by March 25, 1994 on Canadians' concerns and priorities regarding social security and training and preparations to receive the Government's Action Plan and proposed changes; and (ii) a final report by September 30, 1994, including a review of the Government's Action Plan and recommendations for reform.
Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak to what I consider a very important motion I would like to begin by acknowledging and giving my appreciation to the deputy minister of my department and his staff. They have worked very diligently over the last two or three months to help prepare the groundwork for this proposal.
As well I wish to thank the members of my staff, my colleagues in cabinet, particularly the Secretary of State for Youth and Training and the leader of the Senate who is responsible for literacy, and members of the Prime Minister's Office who have been working very closely with us in establishing terms of reference.
Finally, my thanks to many of my caucus colleagues who over the past several weeks of discussion have given me a number of ideas and proposals that we hope to pull together as part of this very large scale and important undertaking.
The first order of business in speaking to this motion is to issue an invitation to Canadians to join in the rebuilding of the social security, labour market and learning framework of this country.
I ask members of this House and all Canadians to work with the government to develop an action plan for the renewal of our social safety net. Our social programs cost billions of dollars and in one way or another affect all Canadians.
I am asking members of the House, our colleagues in the Senate, our counterparts in the provincial and territorial assemblies, members of business and labour, leaders of our communities and each and every Canadian to start fresh, to throw off old ideas, to put aside vested interests and regional differences and begin thinking as one group of people on how we can begin to set a new framework of ground rules that will restore a sense of fairness, hope and security for the future in Canada.
I do this in acknowledgement that in the past different generations of Canadians have had real successes in developing important and essential social security for this country. One of the defining features of Canada has been that we have tried to treat each other with a sense of compassion, a sense of tolerance and a sense of sharing. There are seniors' pensions, unemployment insurance, family allowances, vocational rehabilitation and various health programs. Each generation has constructed in its own way a different response to the problems of its time. In many cases they have worked. They have been an important net for giving Canadians that sense of security.
What is also clear is that the pace of change both in this country and around us has overtaken many of these programs. They no longer have the same resiliency, strength or effectiveness that they have had in the past. For that reason we must begin to think anew and rebuild anew.
The starting point began in October when Canadians in overwhelming numbers revealed that they wanted change. They gave a mandate to the Prime Minister and his team of members to use the tools of government to put people back to work, to make government a constructive, positive force in the lives of people; no more passivity, no more indifference, no more avoidance of the problems. They wanted a government to
provide leadership, direction and to begin to restart the engine of employment and job creation in this country.
The message was clear. Jobs are the issue and Canadians want action. I believe our government has taken a number of important steps to begin a systematic approach to jobs, not a series of ad hoc initiatives. We have to see one piece as it fits the other. A full range of government policies and departments are presently engaged in this exercise of trying to re-establish the work world for Canadians.
We launched the infrastructure program. We have set in motion the development of a new set of incentives for small business, new programs for technology, a national apprenticeship program and a service corps for youth.
We are beginning to redial the codes of fiscal and monetary policy as the Minister of Finance consults across the country in preparation for a budget.
But in Question Period or in the speeches in reply to the speech from the throne, I have noticed that members on both sides of the House share the same concerns about unemployment, the future of Canadians and of some training programs. We share the same concern for all unemployed Canadians.
The time has come to put that concern to work and to begin to meet the challenge that has been placed before us, to restore employment as a central focus of this Parliament and of this government. That will require an overhaul of existing systems.
We are asking this House and all Canadians to look with clear eyes at ways of delivering unemployment insurance, training and employment programs, social assistance, income security, aid to education and learning, labour practices and rules affecting the workplace, taxes and premiums that affect job creation, management of programs within the government and between governments and the more effective delivery of services.
All programs-unemployment insurance, training, employment, labour market regulation, taxes, program management and administration-will be reviewed.
The purpose of such a thorough review and redesign is not to slash and trash. It is to renew and revitalize, to build a better system. Canada needs a social security network that makes meaningful connections between different programs, that integrates, meshes and merges the resources and energies of people in a new synergy of output, a system that better rewards effort and performance, that offers incentives to work. Our redesign is based on compassion and will be designed to enhance it, not diminish it. We must ensure that the system continues to offer basic security to all those in need.
There are voices out there-I have heard them from time to time in this House-that say redesign is simply a code word for cutting costs. They are wrong. The purpose is to find out what really works so that we can help people get back to work. That is the purpose of redesign.
The test for members of this House is, are we prepared to recognize new realities. Are we prepared to deal with the realities, or are we simply going to live in the past using obsolescent ideas and notions for the sake of trying to make a political case?
This will be an opportunity for Canadians to really see how Parliament works. Is it to be the engine of change, the forum for real dialogue, the place in which Canadians can begin to see their country moving forward again? Or will it simply be the old talk shop, using old outworn ideas and old outworn arguments that no longer fit the contemporary needs of Canadians?
For those who say change is not necessary, for those who are going to stand on a soap box saying to keep the system the way it is, I say to them: Look at the stubbornly high unemployment rate that has existed over the past 10 years. Regardless of the cycles of the economy the deeply embedded structural unemployment must be dealt with.
Canadians are out of work for longer periods. Under our unemployment insurance system people now draw benefits on a basis of one out of three, which used to be one out of six. The system is not working any longer. Anyone who tries to defend that system is wearing blinders.
Canada has unacceptable levels of illiteracy. There are close to a million Canadians who cannot read or write. Is that not reason for looking toward serious change?
Far too many children live in poverty. There are 1.1 million Canadians below the age of 12 who are considered to be living in poverty. One of Canada's great embarrassments and shames is that the United Nations itself in its UNICEF report called Canada into question for not doing enough for its children. Is that a reason to defend the existing system? No. It is a reason to begin to put our best energies and resources and ideas into how to deal with the nurturing and nourishment of our children, to give them a better place to live and a better start in life.
We have a generation of young people who cannot find meaningful work, who find it increasingly difficult to make their transition from the formal school place into the world of work. Unemployment rates are close to 18 per cent for those in the age bracket of 18 to 25.
It was interesting to watch the consultations under the guidance of the Minister of Finance, to look at what is now called the generation x problem. It is no longer simply a question of the old shibboleths of left and right, business and labour, or rich and poor. I heard those millions of young people saying to the rest of us:
You have your social security programs, you have your pensions, you have all that you need to give you a certain security, but we do not.'' They are tired of part-time work. They are tired of being told that their education does not count any more. They are beginning to say:If you are going to invest, invest in us, invest in the future, invest in people, that is what we want this government to do''.
Our country is increasingly divided between those with well-paying, secure and interesting jobs and those with part-time and low-paid intermittent work. We have a society where, to use an analogy, there are people who are able to drive stretch limousines with the windows blacked out in order to ignore the homelessness around them. It is time we stopped that car, opened the doors and brought all Canadians into moving ahead, to give everybody a good ride into the future, not just an exclusive group. That is what this review intends to do.
The message is that we must invest in people to create hope, not dependency. We must recognize that investment in people is the key to both our economic and social renewal. Those who divide and categorize policy saying: "That is economic over there, and that is social over there, and the bleeding hearts can worry about one side of the spectrum and the hard-nosed realists the other", is not the kind of world we live in.
I refer again to the kinds of views which are coming out of the consultations the Minister of Finance has been holding. How many times have we heard in those sessions that if we are going to be productive, if we are going to be competitive, if we are going to be able to meet global challenges, then we must make use of every single human being in this country. We must bring out the best in our talent. We must bring out the best in our brains. We must make sure that a country of 27 million people does not leave one person on the sidelines. Every person must give their best and it is up to the Government of Canada to open those doors for them.
That is why we need to make a change, not piecemeal, not ad hoc, not chipping away or tinkering with one program or another. We have to understand that it is systematic. They link. They connect. They merge. There is a synergy of programs. It is time for us to look at how we can better design those programs to meet the problems Canada faces today.
Let me set out two goals for our action plan. First we must clearly confront the issues facing us: long-term structural unemployment even in times of growth; the impact of accelerated technological change on our labour market and training systems; unacceptably high drop out rates and illiteracy levels and skills shortages; the unrealized potential of a generation of youth with diminishing opportunities; and a mindset in the business world that decides that down-sizing and job fretting is the way to solve problems rather than making better use of workers and providing new opportunities for new workers.
There is also poverty, especially among children; a lack of training and work for young people; tensions between new family structures and the demands of work; duplication of government programs; and the limited financial ability of governments.
Over the coming weeks this Parliament will be listening to Canadians. We will ask them to help define the issues and set priorities.
The first part of our judgment is to open our minds and our hearts to what people want us to do. That period will last six weeks to two months. We will scope out together the nature of the exercise and the objectives we will ask Canadians to meet.
In the second phase the action plan will propose clear options for change. I give them to you not as an exhaustive list but ones that I believe are key: to meet basic labour market adjustments and insurance requirements; to restructure parts of the unemployment insurance program and Canada Assistance Plan to create a new form of employment insurance; to help people make that crucial transition from school to work by providing a range of options and training, apprenticeship community service and work; broadening our educational and training assistance to support life-long learning; enhance support and care of our children in society; to redefine the distribution of work and rules of the workplace; to ensure that individuals with disabilities can achieve equality, independence and full participation; to seek a much better balance between incentives for job creation and payroll tax levels; to ensure basic security for those in need; and to redefine responsibilities between governments and strengthen co-operative arrangements and to achieve savings through greater efficiency; and to design new smarter ways to deliver services and avoid duplication.
That is not a complete list. Canadians will have the opportunity to react to these proposals and introduce other ideas, other notions, other directions.
Canadians, provincial governments and all interested groups will be able to propose changes.
There will have to be extensive public discussions and continued interaction with provincial and territorial governments. That phase should be completed by early fall. We will then move
to legislation for a new employment and social security system in Canada.
To carry out this task I am announcing the following process and propose following: First, I am tabling the motion that is before the House today asking this Chamber to direct the soon to be formed standing committee on human resources development to begin a two-stage examination of the proposed reforms.
The first stage will last until April. Canadians will be given the chance to express views, hopes and concerns about social security in the job market. This will form an important part of the preparation of the actual proposals.
The second stage will begin in April. The government will present action plans setting out the options and choices. Committees will then consider those in the second stage, working through the summer until September using the widest possible means of public dialogue: the parliamentary channel, weekend conferences, whatever means they can to engage Canadians in this important exercise.
The third stage of parliamentary action will take place when it examines the specific legislation we hope to introduce this fall.
There will be three different distinct phases in which this Parliament will act as the forum in which Canadians can become involved and feel that they are engaged in restructuring this country.
All these governments are our partners. Several provinces have already begun the reform exercise. These provinces have shown a desire to co-operate. For example, before Christmas, all first ministers at the meeting agreed on social reform. We must work together constructively so that changes at the federal level complement those at the provincial level.
This partnership of working with us in Parliament is essential. The provinces have already become the incubators for social reform in this country. They have been waiting for the federal government over the past several years to show leadership and to give a definition at the national level so that they can tailor their programs and needs according to their regional requirements but based upon a sound base of national support, national standards and national interest. We must mesh our efforts in a combined, collaborative way. We will begin that exercise at the meeting of federal and provincial ministers on February 14.
In addition to these discussions with the provinces, we want to work with them in establishing a series of agreements, joint ventures and projects to test new approaches to unemployment insurance and training assistance. This will all be designed to avoid duplication, to achieve savings, to improve performance and to test out new ideas.
To do this it may be necessary to come back to Parliament early in the session in order to alter the Unemployment Insurance Act and the Canada Assistance Plan to provide authority for such innovative federal and provincial collaborations, a request the provinces have been making for the past two years.
We also want to engage key sectors of society in developing their own proposals and views. Business, labour, equity groups, organizations and social community organizations in the private and voluntary sectors will be invited to participate, as will the existing government advisory groups: the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, the Canadian Labour Market Productivity Centre, the National Council of Welfare, and the National Advisory Council of Women, to name just a few.
We will assist those groups in society that would not otherwise have the resources to contribute fully to the process. We will be making available parts of our grants and contributions programs to those groups needing that assistance so they can fully participate in this activity.
In addition to those phases, a thorough study of the distribution of work and the rules of the workplace will be undertaken in co-operation with labour and business. We have already received requests from these sectors and will be setting up a special group to work with them.
It is clear there are too few jobs. The Minister of Finance is working on expanding those opportunities. However, the challenge lies not only in the number of jobs but also in their distribution. Sharing of work is becoming one of the most important public policy concerns around the world. We will be undertaking that study in concert with the kind of work I have just outlined.
A new definition of work is needed to correspond to changes in the labour market and to meet new family structures and new family needs.
I take the opportunity to invite all interested organizations and associations to participate in this process and to send me briefs, studies and comments.
To help me pull together all these different elements and to help the government work, I will be chairing a small task force comprised of Canadians who have been working on matters of social insurance and unemployment over the years. They will help look at the research, the past records, the history, the consultations, the various views, and pull them together in a series of proposals that our government will then consider as being the basic elements in the proposed plan. The names of these people will be released shortly. They will be carefully
selected to ensure broad representation both on a regional and an occupational level.
I recognize this is an ambitious plan. No one knows more than I do just what is involved. It has a tight timetable and engages all of us in a very complex task.
We know very well that it will not be easy, but I am encouraged by the interest shown by the newly elected members on the government side and in the opposition.
Total reform of the social safety net is a good response to the demands of the poor and disadvantaged and these changes are essential for developing an employment program for many Canadians.
I hope members of the House are not afraid to make change. I hope members of the House will understand the responsibility that Canadians have placed upon us to put forward a new blueprint, a new map to lead us into a new world. It will not be easy but it is worth doing. It needs doing. Canadians want us to do it. It is the real reason for government to give leadership, to mobilize energy, to set directions, and to foster a common will to improve our common lot. It is the reason we are all here.
If we do our work well together we can do much to renew the country, to give Canadians a sense of their own uniqueness in a country where people care for each other and are prepared to share opportunity. We can prepare ourselves for all new challenges the world has to offer. We can look to a new century with a real sense of hope. Our people really are our strength. We will look to our people for both guidance and inspiration. If we work together as a Parliament with groups outside I truly believe this can be one of those moments in which we will make a difference, that we will define who we are and where we want to go.
In closing my remarks I want to recount to the House an experience I had within the first couple of weeks of taking over this ministry. Perhaps in its own way it provided a little of the inspiration for the initiative we have announced today. I visited the joint federal-provincial project in New Brunswick called Canada Works, designed to give primarily single women on social assistance new opportunities to be trained to get back in the work force.
I spent the day going around to the different workshops and classrooms. I sat in on one group in a small classroom in Fredericton. I asked the women what being involved in the project meant to them. One woman said that she had only been in the program for a couple of months but already there had been a big improvement because now she could help her daughter to do her homework. She was now learning to read and write in a way that gave her a new sense of relationship with her child. She said: "If nothing else happens that is an important step. It has given me reason to go on to do something more. Some day I will be making a real contribution to my family, to my community and to my country".
She went on to say: "When I helped my child with her homework she gave me a little saying that I wrote on the blackboard". I turned around and there written on the blackboard was: "Never be afraid to reach for the moon. Even if you miss you will still be among the stars".
I invite members of the House today to reach for the moon.