House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was programs.


Social Security SystemGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba


Lloyd Axworthy LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification


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.

Social Security SystemGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Social Security SystemGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Lac-Saint-Jean Québec


Lucien Bouchard BlocLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to thank the minister for proposing this debate in the House. We may not agree with the content or with the minister's announcement, but this debate will at least launch a much-needed discussion of the government's intentions and of exactly where the government is going, considering the real interests of Canada and Quebec.

The government intends to focus its concern on our social security system. With the help of the people of this country, it will to conduct a review of the social safety net.

The minister's speech is full of noble sentiment and references to the dignity of work, leadership, the promise of change, and all those wonderful words people find in the dictionary when they want to make an announcement without saying exactly what they plan to do.

To listen to the minister, one would think this government, mindful of its social justice traditions-the traditions of the Liberal Party -is preparing to strengthen the universality of social programs, give broader access to these programs and provide reassurances for the unemployed, welfare recipients and people in need generally who are suffering most under the impact of the recession.

Unfortunately, that is not the case, because these fine phrases, pronounced so eloquently by the minister, are mere camouflage for an unprecedented attack against our social security system.

Although mouthing noble sentiments, these reformers have their scissors at the ready. Behind the Minister of Human Resources Development, we see lurking in the shadows the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board.

Can there be any doubt about the real motives for this rationalization when it is announced by a government that is trying to keep the wolf from the door?

Let us not be fooled into thinking that this government wants to improve the quality of health care. Do not believe for one minute it is trying to do something about crowded emergency wards or long waits for people to be admitted to the hospital or have an operation. And it certainly does not plan to raise the meagre pensions we pay to the elderly.

The threat is a serious one, because the federal government is involved. As we all know, the role it plays in maintaining and financing social programs is considerable. The federal government has taken advantage of the provinces' lack of fiscal resources and occupied a large section of this area of responsibility, so that today, a very substantial part of our social safety net is controlled from Ottawa. I am thinking of unemployment insurance, disability pensions, old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, spousal allowances, survivors' allowances and veterans allowances and, except in Quebec, the Canada Pension Plan and family allowances.

These programs are administered by Ottawa, which determines benefit levels, benefit criteria and eligibility. Another section of our social security system is dominated in part by the federal government because the services are provided by the provinces. Included are equalization payments; the Canada Assistance Plan, which covers welfare payments; and Established Programs Financing, which covers medicare.

Under these programs, the provinces provide services to their citizens, but in strict compliance with standards set by the federal government. Program costs are shared by both levels of government.

The one thing that all of the programs just mentioned, whether federal or cost-shared, have in common is the participation of the federal government. Whether or not they survive depends on the goodwill of Ottawa.

The provinces have continued to exercise their jurisdiction in the health and social services field, but their jurisdiction is no longer exclusive. Workers' compensation, assistance to residents of homes for the aged and dental care for children are just a few examples of vitally important social services provided by the provincial government.

Quebec was a pioneer in several fields and continues today to provide a range of services not found elsewhere such as maternity allowances and child grants. Quebec was also in the forefront in terms of protecting its rights from being encroached upon by the federal government. It took steps to establish its own pension plan, its own retirement pension scheme and its own family allowances system.

For many in Quebec and in Canada, social security is the very core of our values system. It should be remembered that the old age pension system was first introduced back in 1927. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Family Allowances Act, when the federal government first turned its attention to the plight of the poor. This year's reform initiatives promise to be a sorry tribute indeed to this event. Starting in 1944, the social safety net was gradually cast ever wider to cover the blind, the disabled and finally, the unemployed.

With each federal foray, the provinces found themselves with less room to manoeuvre where social programs were concerned. Indeed, to finance its so-called "national" programs, Ottawa needed a major tax grab and it set its sights on the same taxpayers that the provinces would have liked to target because they were underfunded and no longer able to meet the responsibilities associated with the baby boom. In other words, by encroaching upon provincial fields of taxation, the federal government put the provinces in a vulnerable position. And when Ottawa extended to the provinces an offer to establish social programs which would be partially funded and controlled by the federal government, the provincial partners had no choice but to accept. The joint programs included hospitalization insurance introduced in 1958, the Canada Assistance Plan introduced in 1966 and health insurance introduced in 1968.

Quebec challenged Ottawa's incursions into these areas. At federal-provincial conferences during the sixties and seventies, successive Quebec governments demanded that the provinces, not the federal government, have jurisdiction over health care and social services.

Jean Lesage said in 1965 that the provinces were in a better position than the federal government to take lasting, effective action. Daniel Johnson Sr. and Jean-Jacques Bertrand repeatedly argued that health and social security came under provincial jurisdiction. Even Robert Bourassa called upon the federal government to end joint hospitalization and health insurance programs and replace them with outright grants.

But, as usual, Quebec stood alone. Only once did it succeed in catching the federal government off guard, and this was when it set up its own pension plan, the Quebec Pension Plan, the cornerstone of the Quiet Revolution. Nevertheless, in spite of Quebec's dogged opposition, the provinces lost ground to the federal government. Today, Ottawa collects the taxes and sets the standards. And as it prepares to reduce transfer payments to the provinces, it wants to control programs and at the same time keep the money collected from taxpayers.

The goal of this exercise is patently obvious. The federal government wants to use the money saved by cutting transfer payments to finance the debt, using money it now allocates to social services. And what is likely to happen as a result of this action? Either the provinces will be forced to cut services, or they will have to raise taxes even higher. In either case, they will

have to bear most of the burden and the federal government will piously wash its hands of the whole matter.

The economic security afforded by our social safety net is the envy of millions of people who enjoy no such protection against the whims of fate. This is doubtless one of the reasons why Canada and Quebec rate so highly among the best places in the world in which to live. Canadians and Quebecers are pleased and proud of this affirmation of the values of social justice and, over time, a consensus has emerged on the success of our social system.

We know that social values are one of the symbols of Canada and of Quebec. We happen to be sovereignists. We have said so and we will say it again on numerous occasions. We know that not every program has been a failure in Canada and in Quebec.

We are not naive and extremist to the point of thinking that everything that has been done for the last century and more has been a failure or a weakness. We do not think that everything has been built on bad faith. There have been successes. Many people thought for a time there would be more successes.

One of the successes is the social programs. We should know that when we are trying to touch them. The minister probably knows that more than most of us because he is dedicated to social programs. I know it.

We know this is something very delicate. We know that politicians are devoted to rhetoric. We heard very strong words to qualify the importance of the social programs. Words like "sacred trust" were used and nobody laughed. This was something deeply rooted in the traditions, the mentality and the values of Canada and of Quebec.

I listened to the speech of the minister. Of course there were nice words: leadership, change, better days, to restart the engine. There were all kinds of words used to crank up people and make them believe that what will be done is something very sweet and nice for them.

When one knows the situation of the government and of the federal state, when one knows that we are on the brink of collective bankruptcy, who will believe that this is not a budgetary operation? Who would believe that out of this will stem a better system of security, a better system of health and care. Who will believe it? I suspect no one will believe it and certainly not the Official Opposition.

We have heard speeches like that in the past. For example last year, a few of us were here to hear the rhetoric of the Conservatives. When the Tories brought in Bill C-113 they used words like that. I am sorry but they were the same words. When we heard the ministers of the Tory government last year they said something like this: "to build up a new Canada, to restart the economy, to revitalize faith in our institutions, to put Canada back to work". We heard all those words so many times. The minister did not believe them. The minister was not fooled by those words. He voted against the bill like we did.

Here we are today. The minister is using the same words. I think we must fear that he is probably getting ready to do the same thing as the people he was strenuously denouncing last year.

It is already said in some circles that the federal government does not have a choice, that its disastrous financial situation requires it to reduce its effort to fund social programs but what is not being said is that these cuts have already taken place. In fact, the federal government has been reducing its share of program financing for the last 15 years.

In 1977-78, 45 per cent of total health expenditures in Quebec-I am taking Quebec as an example but I am convinced that it is about the same everywhere else-came from federal transfer payments. Today health expenditures account for nearly $12 billion-which is a lot of money, of course-only 33 per cent of which is Ottawa's share of Quebec's health budget. In 15 years we went from 45 to 33 per cent. That is a reduction, Mr. Speaker. It is indeed a substantial reduction and I think that to determine who must pay for health care, who must support the tax effort and the budget cuts necessary to turn around our financial situation, we must look elsewhere.

The health needs of Quebecers and Canadians have not changed. The fact that social programs will be cut, revamped or whatever term you want to use-restructured, redesigned, redefined, modernized-does not mean that health care needs will diminish. They are not going to decrease.

With the level of excellence-everything being relative-that we have reached in terms of hospital and medical care, people will not resign themselves to inferior care overnight.

The Quebec government allocates every year about 31 per cent of its budget to health and social services. To maintain the quality of its services, it had to compensate for the federal government's withdrawal by increasing spending and cutting operations elsewhere, a step the federal administration has yet to take.

Last year federal cuts produced a $1.121 billion shortfall in health and social services in Quebec alone. The more than $1.7 billion frozen by the federal government last year brought the proportion of Quebec revenues coming from federal transfer payments from 29 to 18 per cent between 1984 and 1993 in terms of health services.

The federal system of transfer payments is a trap that has slowly closed in on the Canadian provinces. Today, because it is facing a chronic deficit, the federal government is trying to make the provinces pay the bill without giving them the money needed to fund these programs or reducing its taxes to clear the tax base to the benefit of the provinces. It has chosen to attack the poor on the back of the provinces.

It will be the provinces and not the federal government that will attack the poor. The provinces will have to play the part of the bad guys, of right-wing governments without compassion while the federal government will make a large contribution to health care by maintaining by law its own standards to keep services at the same level. The problems will be left to the provinces.

Canada is now standing on the brink of the financial abyss. The deficit projected in this year's budget was $32.8 billion but the Finance Minister is now talking about $45 billion. This shortfall cannot be blamed on the federal government's social spending because, while it was slashing transfer payments to the provinces between 1985 and 1993, the federal debt jumped from 33 to 58 percent of the GDP. While social expenditures were being cut the federal debt kept growing, therefore we must not blame social expenditures. On the contrary, they helped to slow the growth of the federal debt.

Social programs have been in existence for a long time but it is only in the last 20 years that deficits have been fuelling the federal debt. But social spending was already on the scene when the deficit phenomenon emerged. Therefore social spending is not responsible for our current deficit. It is wrong to make our social programs responsible for the government's financial crisis. We must look elsewhere for the cause of the chronic deficits in the federal budget.

This problem cannot be addressed by another tax increase. Taxpayers are already feeling the squeeze. An increase in underground employment and in smuggling would deprive the federal Treasury of revenues it is trying to collect.

We cannot borrow more money. The deficit is already draining a large part of savings and the money withdrawn from the economy would no longer be used to buy goods and services, thus reducing government revenues. In addition, increasing foreign borrowing would put us at the mercy of international lenders. Let us not forget that the part of the federal debt held by non-residents has already doubled in ten years.

Like everyone else, we recognize that there must be more cutbacks. The welfare state has become a hunted animal that must bite somewhere, but where? Does the government not realize that it cannot make extra cuts in health care budgets without affecting the level and quality of services?

Since the poor have already been squeezed for money, we have to look elsewhere. Social justice means not only distributing wealth in times of prosperity, but also, especially in times of crisis, sharing the burden of the deficit and the debt before going any further in the direction of cutting social programs. The government must start by exhausting all other means of putting the economy back on its feet.

What is the government waiting for to cut drastically, I would even say mercilessly, just this one time, in the public administration? What is it waiting for to cut its operating expenditures? What is it waiting for to bring the military budget in line with the reduced requirements of a changing geopolitical situation?

The government should address the overlap between levels of government. Billions could be recovered, but the government is not even interested in knowing how much.

What is it waiting for to launch a program to eliminate unjustified tax shelters? What will it do in light of the scandal of family trusts that enable the rich to avoid paying tax on major portions of their capital?

The government made a mistake this morning. The Cabinet member who should have been the first to rise in this House to announce ways of remedying our disastrous budgetary situation is not the Minister of Human Resources Development-whose role it is to protect the less fortunate who need his help now more than ever.

It should have been the Minister of Finance. He should be the one to tell us how his government will cut excessive and unwarranted expenditures to restore tax fairness and put a stop to duplication between levels of government. That is where they should start!

Social Security SystemGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

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11:55 a.m.


Lucien Bouchard Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

In closing, I want to remind the hon. members that social justice is at risk. It could be bearing the brunt of decades of federal government carelessness. This is no time to be reducing the social security net, as there is more and more cause for concern for the situation of the less fortunate. And for as long as we can foresee, we will always have to protect those who, as fate would have it, will not have the same opportunity as other people.

The recession that we are only now starting to put behind us has caused terrible hardship. Take the statistics for 1990. According to the National Council on Welfare, 18 per cent of the

Quebec population, or 1.2 million individuals, had incomes that placed them below the poverty line. Using Statistics Canada's own figures, Campagnie 2000 estimated that 1.1 million Canadian children, or one child out of six, were living in poverty. This is Canada we are talking about here, Mr. Speaker, not some far-away country that we see shows about on TV at night. We are talking about Canada where 1,100,000 children are living in poverty.

At the same time, an international group of research scientists was reporting that Canada ranked second to last among the eight industrialized nations, with 29 per cent of single-parent families living in poverty.

Had it not been for our social programs, this recession would have irreparably affected these people. Can we safely lower our guard now? We say no, because the economy has not completely recovered yet from the last recession.

We also object to reducing the level of social protection while the economy is recovering because of the lingering risk of seeing the gap between the poor and the wealthy widen.

I dare the government to name one good reason for abdicating its role with regard to ensuring fairness. The fact that such poverty exists constitutes a major problem that all social stakeholders in Canada deplore, but this problem cannot be solved by attacking the poor, as the government is probably about to do, but rather by fighting poverty. And to fight poverty, we need programs that allow the underprivileged to regain their dignity and the courage to find a way out of poverty. To fight poverty, we need coherent social programs, not a maze of federal-provincial programs. Finally, to fight poverty, we need stable employment in areas where there is a future. But this government has no job creation program. This is one of the tragedies caused by frustration.

Here is a government which owes its victory at the polls-a very significant victory, with an overwhelming majority of members elected to this House-to a promise heard a thousand times, a quite simple promise but one of tremendous importance to those who heard it: jobs!

What is there to foster job creation? Two things. First, the municipal infrastructure program, which today is a vague measure and one that will lead to patronage tomorrow. Again, in Quebec, we are still waiting for an agreement to define the applicable criteria, which are still unknown. Yet, the government has started handing out goodies, to the order of a few billion dollars a year, this in spite of the fact that no criteria are established. We fully agree that this initiative could be useful and we are not opposed to it, but the fact that it "could be useful" does not solve anything and does not give it the stature of the government's commitment to introduce measures to get the economic job creation engines going again. That was the first measure.

The second measure is the one announced this morning in that speech announcing broad consultations, a major redefinition, as well as a restructuring of Canada's social security system, to revitalize the economy and put people back to work. But how is the government going to put people to work if it cuts into social programs? How is it going to put unemployed workers back to work by reducing their benefits? Who can believe that the measures announced in this speech will indeed turn the job situation around?

The government must avoid the easy solutions it is attracted to, namely the elimination of programs and the reduction of transfers to provinces. If the government opts for those easy solutions, it will violate its social contract with Canadian and Quebec taxpayers.

Is it not intolerable that 725,000 employable adults are out of work? Of course it is. Is it not intolerable that 125,000 young heads of households have to rely on welfare assistance in Quebec? Of course it is. The government cannot let these people down until they find a job commensurate with their skills, their will and their wishes. In the name of that compassion to which the minister referred to, and also to avoid a deterioration of our social fabric, the Bloc Quebecois proposes three solutions:

First, in the short-term, the federal government must maintain at its current relative level the transfer payments made to provinces. At its "relative" level means relative to its current commitment, given the other expenditures faced by provincial governments. Let us not play with words; let us not play little games. Let us not say: We maintain transfers to provinces at their current level when, in fact, those transfers would be frozen. That is not the solution. The government must increase and keep increasing its level of contribution to those transfers, proportionally to the efforts made by the provinces, which are struggling with inflation, increased needs, and so on and so forth. By current level, we mean to truly maintain that level and not merely do some tricky accounting.

Also, in the middle term, we propose, for the sake of economy and cohesion, an in-depth review of transfer payments. Only one level of government should set standards, collect taxes and provide social services on a given territory. And Quebecers will never want to leave those responsibilities to the federal government. In other words, the federal government must stop interfering in provincial jurisdictions.

Sound management of public funds is based on the elimination of overlapping jurisdictions, programs, departments and unhealthy competition, which all lead to the wasting of taxpayers money. Such a measure is simply a matter of ensuring

cohesion. To be effective, social as well as employment development policies must be integrated. Every Canadian understands that.

However, for Quebecers the choice is simple: health and social services policies must be concentrated in Quebec. After some 30 years of making claims, from Jean Lesage to the Allaire report, it must be recognized that such a reform is impossible to achieve. The solution, therefore, is in the sovereignty of Quebec. Then, Quebec will have to make choices. It will be responsible for its decisions, its successes and its failures. It will have to perform without this safety net, from a political point of view, but it will make its own decisions. Conversely, English Canada will also be free to decide which level will be responsible for its social and economic policies.

I strongly suspect that English Canada, at least some groups, will largely support the measures which the minister is about to implement. Indeed, I truly believe that a lot of people will support this government initiative. English Canada has the right to choose its own social and economic measures. I also strongly suspect that other groups from English Canada will be concerned by the minister's intervention in a sector which matters so much to English Canadians. But one thing is sure: English Canada is like Quebec and must deal with the situation by taking action to meet its needs.

Third, the federal government must immediately implement a vigorous economic recovery and job creation program using the cuts made not in social programs but in Canada's heavy bureaucratic and military structure. If Parliament can operate with less resources, the government and the armed forces can as well.

I do not think that many people will believe that this bankrupt government, subject to continual pressure from the right, is not trying to take money from the less fortunate with this reform. Who will believe that this is not a budget exercise? The rhetoric of the department and of the minister, I am sorry to say, is the same as we heard last year from the Conservatives when they imposed their reform with Bill C-113, a reform which after some very fine words, as wonderful as those spoken today, resulted in a 5 per cent reduction in benefits paid to the unemployed.

The Liberals did not fall for that rhetoric then. They rightly and to their credit voted against that bill. We will do as they did and vote against the proposed measure.

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12:05 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Pursuant to Standing Order 43(2), Reform speakers will divide the time allotted them into two equal time periods.

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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Very well. The first speaker for 10 minutes will be the hon. member for Athabasca.

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12:05 p.m.


Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House this morning to discuss the sustainability of our nation's social programs and how this discussion will relate to Canada's aboriginal peoples since this particular segment of society in my constituency is one of the most vulnerable to the social program changes.

I would like to congratulate the minister on his presentation in the House this morning. Certainly he can count on support from the Reform Party for the goals he set out for us this morning. They are certainly goals we can all agree with. We look forward to seeing some substance added to the goals in upcoming months.

The minister spoke of fear of change on the part of members of the House. I assure him that members of our party do not fear change. In fact we stand for real, basic change in the way government operates and the services it provides. We can support him in some real change.

I only hope the government is prepared to act on the root cause of why Canada's social programs are on the brink of collapse. Members opposite say that we do not have a spending problem in the country, that we have a revenue problem. Since arriving in Ottawa I have heard much debate in the pre-budget consultations about broadening the tax base. By my calculations and from the admissions of members opposite this broadening of the tax base can perhaps add, at most, $5 billion a year to the revenue of the federal government which has a $40 billion plus deficit and 60 per cent of government spending, excluding interest costs, going toward the cost of social programs either in direct payments to people or transfers to provinces. It is very clear that we must examine our social program spending in a real and basic way.

The root of the problem is the enormous and increasing debt of the country, a debt with interest payments eating up the amount of tax dollars available for social programs. In less than one decade the debt has more than doubled. In 1984-85 the national debt was $206 billion. By 1994 the federal debt is exceeding $500 billion. Not only has this debt increased by $300 billion in less than a decade, the rate of increase is gaining momentum at a frightening speed.

Interest payments on the debt are not getting any smaller. It is quite the contrary. They are increasing by billions of dollars every year. Interest payments last year were $39 billion while our revenues were only $121 billion. This means that the government will be paying more tax dollars toward interest payments on the debt and less and less on social programs.

While interest payments in support of the debt increase so does the amount of money the government is spending on social programs for Canadians. In 1984 the total amount of money

transferred to Canadians was $25.1 billion. By the end of that decade the cost had increased to $30 billion, an increase of $5 billion in only five years. Transfers to other levels of governments in support of social programs have also increased from $17.7 billion in 1984 to $24.3 billion by the end of the decade.

With less and less money available for social programs spending because of the spiralling debt costs while program spending is increasing at an alarming rate, it is only a matter of time before we can no longer sustain social programs which make Canada such a unique and wonderful place to live. If we cannot sustain our social programs it will be the poor and disadvantaged of our nation who will suffer most.

My riding of Athabasca has a significant aboriginal population. While some reserves are financially capable of sustaining social spending because of revenues from oil and gas reserves, the majority of the reserves of my riding mirror that of the national aboriginal statistics.

Let me give some staggering statistics on natives in Canada and why the sustainability of these social programs is so important to our native communities. The native population today is experiencing a baby boom similar to what Canada experienced in the 1950s. Because of this baby boom natives rely more on Canada's social programs to build houses and schools, to provide health care services and to raise their standard of living above helpless poverty. If the government does not take control and reduce the debt, how can we continue to provide these basic services to the native communities that depend so heavily on these programs as well as other Canadians?

Also, 60 per cent of our natives live in remote rural areas of Canada. It is obvious that because of their location the delivery of social programs becomes very difficult and expensive to provide. Forty per cent of the total status Indian population receives social assistance. Approximately half the adult male population is unemployed, although on some reserves these rates can increase to as much as three-quarters or four-fifths of the able bodied population.

Additional problems face Canada's native communities including the tragedy of alcoholism, gasoline sniffing, suicide and many other problems. Davis Inlet is but one example of what these horrible inflictions can do to a community. How will government be able to help these communities by funding addiction clinics, counsellors and doctors if the debt continues to increase and eat up available funds? If the debt continues to increase we will not be able to sustain the programs we have today, let alone fund new ones.

Federal spending on Indian and Inuit programs has doubled since 1982-1983 and is the fastest growing area of federal spending. Under legislation federal program spending is capped at 3 per cent annually by the Spending Control Act, but for some reason native programs are exempted and far exceed this rate. Total federal spending on Indian and Inuit programs now exceeds $7 billion in non-taxable dollars or $60,000 per family of four. With this level of funding why do we have problems like those in Davis Inlet?

When I review the Auditor General's reports of the last 20 years I notice that every time he examined part of Indian affairs programs concerns were raised about accountability for money spent. He continually questioned whether funds were used for the purposes intended or managed with due regard for economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

Not only must we reduce the debt to be able to sustain Canada's social programs, we must seek ways to lower the cost of providing social programs to natives. Abusers of the system must always be exposed and dealt with in an expeditious manner.

I believe the administration and management of some of these social programs can be much more efficiently and effectively delivered to the native community by natives themselves which in fact appears to be the direction the government is going.

By providing a system of block funding and allowing natives to decide for themselves what their priorities will be, we could cut a lot of red tape and inefficiency out of the system which natives themselves claim is contained in the department. The only qualification I must add to this proposal is that native bands must meet rigid standards of accountability for tax dollars received which is exactly what the Auditor General has been demanding for the past 20 years.

We must end the waste and squandering of dollars that is going on today. The natives must set their own priorities. Are water and sewers a higher priority than Ovide Mercredi travelling to Mexico to assess the aboriginal uprising or other natives travelling to England to protest in front of Buckingham Palace, as well as native leaders taking trips to Geneva, South America, South Africa? The list goes on and on.

Safeguards must be put in place to monitor more closely the funding of projects in aboriginal communities, to end the provision of substandard housing and other infrastructure projects which could possibly pose health hazards and safety risks to the people occupying them in these communities and provide better accountability for the tax dollars spent.

Another recommendation I would like to make is to provide incentives for native students to be educated in fields which are needed back on the reserves, examples being medicine, business management, nursing and so on. By encouraging this type of

training the government can save thousands of dollars in transportation costs to give native people access to the programs because they could receive them in their own communities.

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12:15 p.m.


Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the minister, this morning, I really have the feeling that the government wants to opt out of the social programs, which does not come as a surprise to me, since the Liberal government is following in the footsteps of the Conservative Party. It is a well-known fact. For several months now, the media have been telling us that the Liberal government wants to withdraw from social programs, because of a lack of money.

Faced with Canada's enormous deficit, the Liberals want to dump it in the provinces' backyard as much as possible. Besides, it has been estimated that by the year 2000 the federal government will put no money in social programs. That responsibility will be left to the provinces, but the federal government will keep establishing national standards and criteria, which is totally ridiculous.

The federal government is developing standards for all provinces to follow, while it will be the responsibility of the provinces to pay for these programs. That goes to show how ludicrous the present federal system is, so ludicrous in fact that it convinced Quebecers they had to opt out early.

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12:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Kilgour)

I think this comment was not addressed to the hon. member for Athabasca. Is there anyone who wants to ask a question or make a comment about the speech made by the hon. member for Athabasca?

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12:15 p.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will try not to play politics here and ask a serious question of the member who spoke for the Reform Party. He and his party have constantly argued that we should cut social spending and do so in the interests of those who are receiving the social programs.

I wonder if I could ask him two questions. How does he explain the fact the cuts under the last government merely increased the demand on both unemployment insurance and social assistance across the country? There were major efforts over the last five years to cut social spending, to cut moneys going to the provinces. All that happened was the number of UI recipients went up. The cost of running the program went up as did social assistance.

Second, what notice is he and his party prepared to take of those groups who represent the poor, the recipients of social programs in moulding the new social programs that we rightfully need in Canada?

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12:20 p.m.


Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, the whole thrust of my presentation was not that we must cut social spending, although when 60 per cent of government spending goes to social programs we clearly have to examine the benefit of those programs and assure Canadians that we get real value for every tax dollar spent on social programs.

As I said in my presentation there is a tremendous lack of accountability for dollars spent. In my view a tremendous number of dollars can be saved, or at least greater benefit received by the poorest people in our society, for those dollars spent.

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12:20 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the occasion of my first remarks to this House permit me to congratulate you on your election as Deputy Speaker. As a newcomer here I rely on your expertise and your ability.

I also wish to thank the voters of beautiful Okanagan-Shuswap for putting their trust in me to try to represent their needs and hopes in this historic Chamber. I especially want to thank my wife, Cicely, for her unfailing support throughout the election campaign and I know my wife wants to thank the voters for getting me out of her hair.

Okanagan-Shuswap is a mixed rural-urban riding. Our sources of employment are many and varied. Historically our agriculture grew up around ranches producing beef for the Barkerville gold rush along the Hudson Bay fur brigade trails, north from the Columbia River up through the Okanagan Valley and across to Fort Kamloops.

Lord Aberdeen, the Governor General of Canada, and Lady Aberdeen visited their famous Coldstream ranch in Okanagan-Shuswap each fall for many years. Against the advice of their ranch manager who told them to share crop the vast acreage for profit, the Aberdeens decided to sell a portion of it as five-acre plots to Englishmen to come to Canada and grow fruit, thus launching our modern Okanagan fruit producing industry.

The influences and values shown by these pioneers remain strong in Okanagan-Shuswap today; love for our fertile land, being comfortable with hard work, and being willing to sacrifice for an ideal.

Some of these ideals can be seen by the kind of volunteer fund raising in our area in the past two years. For example, the Okanagan Valley, including Salmon Arm, recently raised over $600,000 for additions to valley wide campuses of Okanagan University. This shows our commitment to higher education.

The area served by the Vernon Jubilee Hospital raised $760,000 for a CAT scanner and the building to house it to help diagnose serious illnesses. This shows our commitment to excellent health care.

The area in and around our biggest city of Vernon, total service area population of about 56,000, went over their target

of $600,000 for a new women's transition home. The original building dated from 1977, one of the first women's transition houses in Canada. This shows our commitment to the family and our concern for the innocent victims of its breakdown.

Today's small community of Enderby, with the highest per capita number of senior citizens in Canada second only to Victoria, was famed in the late 1800s for growing wheat and milling and shipping flour around the Pacific rim, loaded at Fortune's Landing. Today Enderby and all of Okanagan-Shuswap is concerned that government pensions be maintained for households with incomes below the Canadian average.

I wish to praise the government for this motion indicating that it is prepared to ask Canadians what social programs it values the most and, hopefully, what areas of government spending it is willing to see cut in order to pay for those essential programs.

However, the Reform Party already asked Canadians those very questions at the start of the 1993 federal election campaign in our program called, Let the People Speak. Canadians told us most important was health care, pensions for households with incomes below the Canadian average, higher education and the environment. We therefore pledged that if we formed the next government we would maintain those programs at the same level in real dollars.

Canadians agreed that we should cut deeply in other areas of spending, including federally funded bilingualism and grants for multiculturalism and for special interest groups to pay for the most essential programs.

Canadians know that the only way to ensure the future of our treasured social programs is to be sure they are fully funded and on a sound financial footing we can sustain for the future.

Sustaining any program means we as a nation must create wealth. The way to create wealth is to have jobs. I know the voters back home in Okanagan-Shuswap are profoundly concerned about jobs, as are most Canadians. Because I have the honour of chairing the Reform caucus committee on labour and employment, I would like to comment on job implications of this motion.

The 1963 throne speech proclaimed, in loud and forceful terms, that any Canadian, young or old, who wanted a job must be able to find one. Back in the early 1960s the so-called full rate of unemployment was estimated by the Economic Council of Canada to be about 3 per cent, making some allowances for people changing jobs. Today we are not even dreaming about having a job for every Canadian who wants one let alone actually working and planning for that most desirable goal.

According to Statistics Canada there were 14,022,000 people employed in Canada last month. They are the people who carry the load of producing some 58 per cent of this country's total tax revenue on their shoulders. They will be the ones who pay for any presently unfunded programs.

Let me quote from the Year-End Review and 1994 Economic Outlook of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association. It states: "It takes the average company seven hours and fifty minutes in an eight-hour production shift just to cover operating costs. Taxes must be paid on top of that. Manufacturers are responding to these cash pressures by increasing operational efficiency and improving productivity. However, with their backs to the wall there is often little option open in the short term but to reduce costs by focusing on overhead and cutting jobs. Unless the cost burden that governments impose on businesses is significantly reduced prospects for future investment or employment do not appear very bright".

In a section of that report labelled Jobs on the Line, the Canadian Manufacturers' Association states: "The average Canadian manufacturer is having to restructure today in order to cover fixed costs, forcing companies to reduce their labour costs in an effort to keep overall unit costs of production under control. Manufacturers are responding in one or a number of ways: contracting out services once performed in-house; relying more heavily on part-time workers; extending the work day; attempting to freeze or reduce wages, salaries and benefits; or downsizing their work force. Labour costs are being cut because they are one of the few variable costs that firms are able to reduce. Of the more than 325,000 jobs lost in Canadian manufacturing since mid-1989, about 60 per cent can be attributed to cost pressures unrelated to production performances".

In short, increasing taxes decreases jobs. Therefore, I must conclude by urging the government to recognize that the only sure way to keep the social programs which Canadians treasure is to control spending enough to improve the employment picture in Okanagan-Shuswap and all of Canada.

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12:25 p.m.


Laurent Lavigne Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the last speaker and I generally agree with most of what he said. However, there is one remaining problem which has to be solved as quickly as possible.

When you take a look at what has happened in Quebec over the last two years, you realize that the ministers responsible for manpower training, Mr. Valcourt in Ottawa and Mr. Bourbeau in Quebec, met several times and even argued at times to get the results we now know of. Right now in Quebec, there are over 80,000 jobs available and our employment situation is abysmal. More than 25,000 people have applied for development training, but the funds allocated to the institutions delivering those training programs are frozen. This situation is unacceptable.

What we are asking for is for Ottawa to give to Quebec all the money earmarked for training. In Quebec, we know what kind of manpower development is required by the industy. We have very specialized needs at times and they are different from what Saskatchewan, Manitoba or any other province need. So, let us give the money to Quebec in order to enable Quebecers to look after the development of their own labour force.

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12:30 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there was actually a question directed to me in that statement by the hon. member. If what the province of Quebec wants is total control of funding of its UI and the employment picture, I cannot see why other provinces cannot ask for the same.

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12:30 p.m.

Broadview—Greenwood Ontario


Dennis Mills LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say to the hon. member that I listened to his remarks attentively. I share his view that the small and medium sized businessmen are under stress right now because of the incredible paper burden and tax situation which exists at all levels of government. I thought the hon. member's comments, unlike those of the Bloc Quebecois, were constructive.

Today is the day the minister of human resources has said that we are going to start afresh, that we are going to look at new ideas and new proposals. He did not say that we were going to withdraw from all social programs. He said that we were going to look at the existing social programs to see if they are meeting their original objectives.

For example, if there is a Government of Canada program of which only 10 cents on the dollar is going to the end user then obviously we would not want to support continuing that program.

The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition said in his opening remarks-

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12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question has been put. The member has less than a minute to reply.

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12:30 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

There is no reply to that. I thank the hon. member for his remarks.

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12:30 p.m.

Western Arctic Northwest Territories


Ethel Blondin-Andrew LiberalSecretary of State (Training and Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the government's action plan for social reform announced by the hon. Minister for Human Resources Development.

First, I would like to preamble my speech with somewhat of a rebuttal to the statement made by the Leader of the Official Opposition. I wonder what century this leader lives in. Where does he come from? What direction is he coming from? What kind of visionary is this individual to speak in a duplicitous language that does not really relate to what I would call the honest bold truth about facts and figures relating to the transfer of programs or the overall social security programs? As a matter of fact, I am a little alarmed by the lack of substance in the speech given by the Leader of the Opposition.

If the truth were to be known it should be put as such. The federal contribution to social security programs in Quebec is $14.6 billion. This is 28 per cent of all national funds. As the Prime Minister said two weeks ago, Quebecers will lose if Ottawa transfers employment and training programs to Quebec. They will lose because the transfer will have to be done on a per capita basis. It will be a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. It will represent in fact $200 more in taxes for each Quebecer.

I would like to be heard and reiterate: Every Quebecer will have to pay $200 more in taxes. These are figures that we have worked through our officials. These figures are good. These figures are solid. They are substantive. They are validated.

Will that help the unemployed in Montreal, the young people looking for better training opportunities, many of whom I have met? No. If the Leader of the Opposition is honest with Quebecers he ought to tell them what will be the real cost of these transfers. Is he saying to the one million children living in poverty that we do not have the mandate or the leadership given to us by the citizens of this country to do something? Is he saying that the status quo is good enough? Well, we say no. We are the government and we say no.

I would like to address the House on what these social reforms will mean specifically for the young people of Canada. Canadians, aged 17 to 25 have as much to gain from the rebuilding of our social safety net as any other group in the country.

First I would like to address an important question, a question that I am sure many Canadians are asking themselves and will be asking themselves over the course of this rebuilding process: Why is the government reforming our social security programs? The answer is that this government wants to redistribute opportunity more broadly so that many people will have a decent standard of living and can build good lives for themselves and their families.

Not since the great depression have people in this country faced so many economic and social changes. The constant tinkering that has occurred over the years is failing to meet the realities of our young people, our work force, our society in the 1990s and beyond. The failings have become shockingly evident as we see the wasted, alienated and sometimes desperate state of many of our unemployed young people as well as many other Canadians.

We want to rebuild society for young Canadians who need help to get their lives back on track. Being the same, leaving things status quo is not going to do it. Sole parents, mostly young single mothers who want training to find work, cannot afford to lose their benefits to do that. Single young people on welfare who want to go back to school cannot find a job to support themselves while studying full time. As well there are drop-outs who need to improve their reading, writing and job search skills to enter the work force. In restoring security we want to offer employment training and education choices and restore hope to young people and restore hope to the future of our country.

Our long-term goal is to create a more productive economy by investing in the potential of our young people. To do all this we have to recognize the needs of young people who are on unemployment insurance or social assistance and want to break their dependency and do something with their lives.

Their needs could not be any clearer than what Statistics Canada reported last week and I quote: "Young persons were the big losers in the recent recession". With an unemployment rate of 17.7 per cent there were half a million fewer young people working in 1993 than before the recession.

Let us put aside this urgent problem of high youth unemployment for one moment to look at the changing nature of the work force. Forty per cent of young people are working part time. In 1992 youth unemployment was 1.6 per cent of the adult rate. Non-traditional jobs are becoming more common as people scramble to find contract work, part-time jobs or seasonal work to make some money in this changing global economy.

As the Minister of Finance stated last week we are moving away from a resource based economy to an information based economy. Youth are not developing the skills required for this information based economy. Young people have trained for jobs that are now in low demand, while jobs in emerging fields are looking for skilled workers.

Youth who have been taught traditional skills, such as trapping, farming and fishing now face a very bleak future. That is the situation not only for young people but all people in those fields of occupation are facing a very bleak endeavour. That is the situation for young people who have skills to market, but what about the young people who lack the most basic reading and math skills? We can call them early school leavers or we can call them drop-outs but they all have the same problem.

In some provinces the drop out rate is 30 per cent. In the north it can be as high as 95 per cent. These people do not even have the bare minimum qualifications for the workforce.

Companies that once demanded grade 9 or 10 for entry level jobs have raised the mark to grade 12. Chrysler's mini van plant in Windsor is an example. All young people have to wrestle with the same labour market forces but not all are equally prepared to combat them.

This inability to compete for some is the result of child poverty and neglect. One in five children live in poor families. That is over one million children. If we do nothing for fear of interfering with the agenda of other people and maintain the status quo, we are in a sense betraying the mandate we have been given. We are in a sense betraying the trust we have been given to rebuild hope and rebuild opportunities for those people.

Many are children of sole parents, mostly single mothers or teenage mothers who are caught in the poverty trap, dependent on social welfare without any opportunity to progress. Many young people with no education, no jobs and no future are turning to destructive social acts with harmful consequences for all Canadians. Schools, malls and neighbourhoods are dealing with gang violence and youth crime.

Reality is not a pretty picture. Reality is something we are grappling with, something we are prepared to work with, something worth taking a risk for, something to stick our necks for. That is the reality of many of these young and poor Canadians.

Young people are involved in robberies for clothing and other essentials. The link between economic hardship and crime is well known. Young people are bored, looking for an escape, anything to kill time. Some turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort. Some end up homeless on the streets.

The RCMP have a file of 41,000 missing children. They are not all missing. Some have joined the under-class of society. They end up on welfare, some of them locked in for life. We need to break the cycle of dependence. Young people all over the country are hurting. We cannot allow our young people to wallow in abject poverty and grow up in dead-end situations.

Indeed, Canadians all over the world reacted with horror at the sight of children sniffing gasoline in Davis Inlet. I know hon. members on the other side have made statements about their horror and shock at seeing this on television. What happened at Davis Inlet, Labrador is the worst symptom of all that is wrong when we abandon our young people. What hope do the children of Davis Inlet have for a better future if we do nothing for that fear, if we take no risk, if we maintain the status quo? What are we doing? Ultimately we are betraying the hopes of those people for a better future.

I have seen many similar desperate situations in the north throughout my life and in different centres across the country. If most Canadians only knew the kinds of nightmarish conditions young people are battling in some of our most populated areas, some of the inner-city poor. If most Canadians only knew the

horror of the conditions in which some young people are living in some of our most isolated communities then I think things might have a chance to improve.

The housing needs across Canada are severe. We need 11,000 units across this country. Twenty-five per cent of households in the Northwest Territories are in need. This is the highest proportion of households in need compared to the national average of 12 per cent. We need 3,400 units in the north under the severest conditions.

We have probably recorded the coldest month of January in Ottawa. It is minus 17 point something. Think of how cold it must be in the north. The north's population is young and gaining rapidly. The birth rate is almost twice the national average, yet 41 per cent of the children in the north under the age of 12 live in overcrowded housing. These conditions have a direct negative impact on their performance in school, their health, social development and their well-being.

Aboriginal people, as was indicated by my hon. colleague from Athabasca, have among other things the highest illiteracy rate and the lowest incomes of any other group. What does that spell for these young people? Only 3 per cent of aboriginal youth complete grade 12. In a nine-year period 154 students graduated from grade 12 in the Baffin region.

Where will the future leaders of the north come from if not from their own schools, their own communities, their own families with the proper support systems?

Society in a sense is paralysed, is immobilized by a myriad of problems that challenge us as legislators. We sit in the highest court in the land and we are charged with the responsibilities of making laws that will subsequently make life better for those who have the greatest need.

A chaotic family life is scarred by high drop-out rates, teenage pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse, solvent, drug and alcohol abuse, increased incidents of juvenile delinquency and suicide. In the north the suicide rate for youth between the ages of 15 and 24 is more than five times the Canadian average. I was told in Big Cove suicides are one a month. Can you imagine? One a month.

While the problems are magnified in the north, it is happening in southern cities too. The native population has grown an average of 41 per cent in Canada's 25 largest cities between 1986 and 1991. Although more and more are staying in school and graduating into jobs, the outlook is bleak for the majority.

Aside from high levels of unemployment, suicide and substance abuse, many face plain and simple discrimination, even if they try to get a job. Graduates from the Gabriel Dumont Institute who appeared before the aboriginal commission have spoken about the problems of finding employment, largely as a result of systemic racism and stereotyping of Métis people.

Some young people are quite able to guide themselves through the pitfalls because of the support of family, friends and strong self-esteem. What about those young people who need more help, who do not have that hand outstretched to them? What about the neediest of the needy?

In the past, all too often we have sent them to the unemployment line or the welfare line and left them there and tried to forget. Our social security system has become a net that entraps rather than liberates them for greater opportunities. We never foresaw such a multitude of social problems affecting the ability of our young people to make a successful move from school to work. The result is that young people are more dependent on social assistance.

The Province of Newfoundland has found that UI dependence is beginning at a very early age. One out of two 19-year-olds is on unemployment insurance at some time during the year. The cycle of dependency must end. As Geraldine Kenney-Wallace, the President of McMaster University has said, "in order to compete globally we must raise the literacy and numeracy skills in general".

We have to do more. We have to do it better. We all have something to contribute toward finding solutions. Our government is prepared to make a commitment to the young people of Canada. The Ministry of Health is working on an innovative program and many others, such as the aboriginal head-start program. Skills and nutrition and parenting are taught so that the children will begin their lives in an improved atmosphere. This is pro-active; this is progressive. This is something where, before we create the problems, we will have created an atmosphere that will avoid them, an atmosphere where parents have self-esteem that they can pass on to their children.

Our government will take the renewed sense of worth of these children and ensure that programs are instituted to keep these children in school.

The Canada Youth Service Corps will help unemployed youth to discover a fresh approach to learning and building self-esteem. The youth service corps will provide young people with skills to enable them to begin their career path.

Not only that, we also have the national youth apprenticeship program that will garner a lot more attention in months to come.

This again will help young Canadians to develop the skills needed in the growing economic sectors, with business and labour setting the standards.

These programs, along with others, will provide youth with opportunities to compete and better themselves.

I would like to conclude by saying that in the aboriginal society that I come from there are three philosophies that are specific to the success of how people help one another. One, is fundamental change. There is a word called guli gogho agudegha, because we need real change in a big way, fundamental change. It cannot happen without that.

The other thing is working together. Dene tuluh keh egalats edegha: we are going to work on our future path together. It is only by that we can succeed. This is the path that we all come out together and work on. It is our future path.

The third is our destiny, dene galé. We all have one, whether we are aboriginal or non-aboriginal.

I say to my colleagues, that our destiny is brought to us through our hands, through our hearts, through our minds, and we cannot do it alone. This thing we call dene tuluh, our future road, our path, is one that is done together; it is one that comes together. Through each individual effort we will make something for the people of our country.

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12:50 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Western Arctic for her excellent speech, and especially for what she said about the men, women and children of Davis Inlet.

You may be assured that my colleagues and I-as we and as the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean mentioned last week-will make a concerted effort to expedite the kind of action that is necessary to deal with the sad plight of this community, as reported on Le Point last week.

However, I am less inclined to agree with what the hon. member said about the speech by the Leader of the Official Opposition and member for Lac-Saint-Jean, when she commented on his and the Bloc's demands in terms of managing manpower training and unemployment insurance.

These are not the demands of our members but of the people who reside in Quebec and have made those demands since 1988. This is especially true since the creation of what we in Quebec refer to as the forum on employment. Participants include representatives from all parts of the political spectrum, including Ghyslain Dufour, Gérald Larose, and others; and there is a consensus on patriating all components connected with the labour market.

My second comment, and I will be very brief. When the hon. member referred to the surplus Quebec received under the federal system, I would say we have a surplus on some items but a deficit on others. On the whole, since 1988 Quebecers paid $28 billion in taxes to the federal Treasury and got back more or less what they put in.

However, as far as equalization payments are concerned, it is true we have a surplus. I will tell you why: we are the province with the highest percentage of poor families. In other words, 16.2 per cent of low-income families live in Quebec. We rank first, followed by Newfoundland, so it is only fair we should have more in the way of equalization. The same applies to unemployment and welfare. Basically, the federal system prevents us from getting out of the poverty cycle, and Quebecers are fed up with transfer payments and welfare.

Finally, we have to compare this surplus with what we lost during the past thirty years in terms of research and development, transportation, agriculture, and so forth. The real figures are there. Ask your officials to redo those calculations with their net surplus of $200 for each Quebecer.

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12:55 p.m.


Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am really happy that the representative for the Official Opposition, my hon. colleague, has risen to place a number of comments that would be questions. I will respond no less.

He indicated that party officials and leaders were not the ones who wanted this question of jurisdiction to be settled, it was the people who wanted it. Since the election I have been into Quebec twice and I have an idea of some of the things they want. They want leadership. The Official Opposition has been given the mandate to express leadership with a vision to creating jobs and an atmosphere that would be conducive to improving the economy. They have also been given the mandate to create better opportunities for Quebecers.

On my forays into Quebec, on the consultations with the youth service corps, the most popular elements of the five streams of the youth service corps program were the personal development and social development aspects of that program. That had the greatest interest because those were particular to the needs of the people who have the greatest need in Quebec.

We know if we get the co-operation for change, we are engaging in this particular approach to effect change fundamentally, a major restructuring, so that we can provide the opportunities that are lacking there. We are appealing to the Official Opposition for its co-operation.

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12:55 p.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member, for whom I hold considerable respect, for her speech. She pointed out the plight of the young, the unemployed and the aboriginal peoples in particular.

I note that she talked about the need for fundamental change, the need to take risks. She pointed out that leaving things in the status quo simply will not do. I could not agree more.

She also talked about the long-term goal of making the economy more productive. She surely would agree, though, that appointing Gordon Thiessen to the Bank of Canada, following on the principles of John Crow, with a mad obsession with inflation, signing on to NAFTA, increases to UI premiums and reductions to the UI training fund, let alone proposed suggestions for cuts to cigarette taxes, can only harm the youth, can only harm their employment opportunities and their health opportunities.

I wonder how she fits those policy directions, which are clearly not fundamental change in any meaningful, good direction, with her suggestions that we do indeed need fundamental change.

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12:55 p.m.


Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we were given a clear mandate on the things in the Red Book we said we would do. In a very short time we have delivered on most of those promises. We have dealt with a number of issues. I have to say that has not been the case for the proposal that came forward from that hon. member's party.

We have a mandate. We have been given a clear mandate. In a sense, we have been given the authority to do the things that we have done in very little time. Basically we are not going to find a path through which we are going to nit-pick on specifics to stop us from undertaking fundamental change; broad, sweeping moves that will have the most fundamental impact on most Canadians, not to suit the political agenda of one particular political party.

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12:55 p.m.

Broadview—Greenwood Ontario


Dennis Mills LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, since this is a debate on restructuring all the human resource initiatives that exist in this country, I would like to ask the member, through you Mr. Speaker, a very specific question.

An important weakness in the preparation of young Canadians to participate in the labour force is the lack of linkages between the school and the work place. By way of comparison, in Germany some 70 per cent of students enrol at the age of 16 or 17 on the famous dual system, in which a part of each work week is spent in the classroom and part on the shop floor acquiring practical experience under the direction of a professional instructor. My question is, will the minister of youth, in this period of renewal and reform, look into and consider such a system?

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1 p.m.


Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we have looked to the experience of Germany, which has a great trades tradition. They are very good at apprenticeships. We enrol 124,000 Canadians a year; we only graduate 24,000. We know it is not working. We want to fix it. We are looking to Germany, which graduates about 400,000 a year. We know that they have the tradition. We are looking at revamping the whole image of trades and suiting it to modern needs. We are doing that and we intend to get the help of the hon. member who asked the question.