House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was programs.



10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Roberval last Friday, September 30, 1994, concerning comments made by the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister on September 28, 1994.

In his presentation, the hon. member for Roberval claimed that the replies made by the Prime Minister during Question Period were contradictory. This, he argued, impeded the opposition in the discharge of their duties, since the nature of the answers given by the Prime Minister changed a particular line of questioning followed by the Leader of the Opposition. Quoting from Erskine May , the hon. member held that such action constituted a contempt of the House.

To support his contention, the hon. member pointed to the exchanges which took place on September 29 between the hon. member for Sherbrooke and the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and the Deputy Prime Minister during question period, as well as the point of order raised by the hon. member for Sherbrooke following question period.

The hon. member for Roberval also submitted that, in his view, as the behaviour of the Prime Minister constituted an obstruction of the House, the matter should be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where the answers and the behaviour of the Prime Minister could be reviewed and witnesses summoned.

Joseph Maingot, in his book entitled Parliamentary Privilege in Canada at page 205, notes that if a member of the House has admitted to deliberately misleading the House or through his or her conduct in some other concrete, tangible way has become a subject of a question of privilege, then that member would probably forthwith be the subject of a motion for contempt. Maingot goes on to quote Speaker Michener's famous ruling in the Pallett privilege case of June 19, 1959. At that time Speaker Michener stated in part:

Simple justice requires that no hon. member should have to submit to investigation of his conduct by the House or a committee until he has been charged with an offence.

In his May 5, 1987, ruling at page 5766 of the Debates Speaker Fraser said something which is apt in our current circumstance. He stated:

I would remind the House, however, that a direct charge or accusation against a member may be made only by way of a substantive motion of which the usual notice is required. This is another long-standing practice designed to avoid judgment by innuendo and to prevent the overextended use of our absolute privilege of freedom of speech.

I now want to address the allegation of the hon. member for Roberval that the Prime Minister's answers misled the House and whether in the specific circumstances a contempt has taken place.

I have carefully examined the exchanges which took place on September 28, 29 and 30, especially during the Question Periods of those days. It is clear to me that there is disagreement among members over the facts surrounding the issue. And furthermore, no evidence has been presented to support the contention that the Prime Minister deliberately misled the House.

The chief government whip quoted from Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 31(1) which states:

A dispute arising between two members, as to allegations of facts, does not fulfil the conditions of parliamentary privilege.

Speaker Fraser noted on December 4, 1986 at Debates page 1792:

Differences of opinion with respect to fact and details are not infrequent in the House and do not necessarily constitute a breach of privilege.

There are numerous other rulings, such as those of Speaker Lamoureux on February 3, 1971; November 16, 1971; and March 2, 1973; as well as those of Speaker Fraser on June 1, 1987, and finally, December 16, 1988, which amply demonstrate that this is a long-held view of the Chair.

In light of the arguments put forward and the decisions of my predecessors, I must conclude that the matter before us is a dispute as to facts and does not constitute the basis of a question of privilege.

I thank hon. members for their contributions.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), the government's response to 11 petitions.

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Hamilton East Ontario


Sheila Copps LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the House that the government is taking three important initiatives to fulfil our red book promises on environmental assessment.

First, the government will proclaim the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This means that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will be up and running in January.

Second, the government will publish in the next issue of the Canada Gazette a complete list of new, greener environmental regulations required to implement the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. These regulations follow one year of intensive consultation with the provinces, territories, business and environmentalists.

In parenthesis I might add that the legislation follows seven years of intensive consultation. I want to personally thank not only my parliamentary secretary who has done yeoman's service in moving a very complicated file forward but also and most particularly the team headed by Michel Dorais which worked very hard and very long for many years on this issue.

Third, I wish to advise the House that the government is proposing three amendments to the environmental assessment act. The first amendment will entrench in federal law the principle of one project-one assessment. The second amendment will guarantee the public the funding necessary to take part in major environmental assessments. The third amendment will require a decision by cabinet in response to any recommendations of independent review panels.

With the new agency, the new regulations and the new amendments, the government is moving to implement our election promises on environmental assessment.

The federal government intends to proclaim the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act which was conceived and developed by the Hon. Leader of the Official Opposition in the fall of 1989. When the bill was in preparation, my hon. colleague said and I quote: "This law will surely be the best law of its kind in the world".

I would like to take the opportunity on this memorable occasion to congratulate the hon. member for Lac Saint-Jean for his role in the development of this Canadian law. I also want to commend the hon. member for his support, even during the recent election, when he said on Le Point , and I quote: ``There is also the federal government's jurisdiction which must be respected''.

I await the support of the hon. member for Lac Saint-Jean, to whom the environment is more important than petty jurisdictional quarrels between different levels of government.

Members on all sides of the House understand that environmental issues go beyond partisan political bickering. Members on all sides of the House know that whatever is thrown into Hamilton harbour eventually finds its way to Sept-Iles, dans le fleuve Saint-Laurent.

Neither the fish in the St. Lawrence nor the migratory birds on the Prairies carry passports.

As every Canadian knows, the process of environmental assessment in Canada has, in the last decade, become mired in controversy.

Business is unhappy because the current process has become unbelievably complicated and unpredictable. Environmental groups are unhappy because the process is haphazard, arbitrary and incomplete. The public is unhappy with the current process because it drags on forever and the public interest is sometimes lost in squabbling among jurisdictions and various interest groups.

Today's announcement will change that. We are strengthening environmental assessment, and we are also making assessment of projects fairer, less complicated, less costly and more transparent. The new system will ensure that the environmental effects of projects are considered before these projects are approved, will encourage sustainable development and will require that transboundary issues be considered.

What we are putting in place are practical and effective rules that everyone can understand from the start. We are getting rid of a system where clarity and sometimes lack of clarity have resulted in many court actions.

We are going to have a straightforward, streamlined approach. Small scale routine matters will be dealt with through a simple screening process. Big projects or environmentally sensitive projects will undergo a comprehensive study.

The new regime introduces the concept of mediation to see if environmental issues surrounding a project can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction by consensus.

For the first time we are introducing the concept of mediation, in the hopes that some environmental differences might be resolved by the parties without the necessity of long and arduous procedures.

These first three steps-screening, comprehensive study and mediation-will eliminate the headaches and the waste and the bureaucracy that have resulted in so much time being wasted on minor or easily resolved issues.

That means that a project will reach the stage of review by an independent public panel if there are difficult environmental issues that cannot be resolved by any other means.

When the environmental impact is important enough to be subject to an independent public review, the new rules allow for the public to be fully involved and the new rules mean a more rigorous assessment of the projects. For all projects we want everything out in the open and we want to ensure that the public interest is paramount.

With one of the new amendments, when a review panel makes recommendations, no individual cabinet minister will have the power to accept, reject or change those recommendations. Only the government as a whole will have that authority.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act recognizes the importance of federal-provincial co-operation and promotes harmonization of regimes. I am working closely with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and with ministers in each and every province. Indeed over the course of the last few days I have been in touch with every provincial environment minister to assure him or her that it is our intention to work collaboratively. We need to continue a co-operative approach, a common sense approach to environmental assessment.

The government believes that the actions I am announcing are fair and forceful. To be absolutely certain, we shall have a one-year monitoring program. We want to make sure that the new law and the new policies do not place an unnecessary burden on industry. We also want to guarantee that no projects with significant environmental impact slip through the cracks.

The new rules recognize the unique and historic responsibilities of aboriginal people for the stewardship of their traditional lands. Today's actions give Canada what we believe is one of the world's best environmental assessment systems. The whole point is to make the best informed decisions and to make environmental thinking a fundamental part of the planning of any project.

The aim is to prevent environmental damage rather than clean up after the fact.

Sound environmental thinking is essential to international competitiveness and, even more so, it is central to the legacy we leave our children.

What we must do now is try to strengthen the environmental assessment of projects under federal jurisdiction. What we need to do next is find ways to improve how we assess all new policies and programs of the federal government. We must, and we will, clean up our own act. In the months ahead, we shall be announcing further policies for the ongoing greening of government.

It has been seven long years since the Leader of the Opposition first conceived of the idea of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. My hope is that future actions to create a healthier environment can come much more quickly.

We need to do everything we can as members of Parliament and as Canadians to honour our environmental heritage and to honour our responsibility to future generations. I believe that today's announcement is a step in that direction.

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, today the Minister of the Environment and Deputy Prime Minister has announced a decision by her department that affects all those concerned with projects that have an environmental impact. This announcement is consistent with the centralizing approach that drives the federal government and indeed sustains it.

The minister is preparing to proclaim the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which would allow the federal government to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This act, and the related regulations, authorizes the federal government to block projects that are industrial in nature or that relate to provincial trade. Once again, the federal government has gone right ahead and meddled in someone else's area of jurisdiction. Its cavalier attitude is a sign that this new era of so-called co-operation is ultimately just so much window dressing.

When the minister points out that one of the amendments to the act is the principle of one assessment per project, she seems to be disregarding the system already in place in Quebec, which has its own environmental assessment agency. The federal government's action is all the more unacceptable because Quebec's assessment process is recognized as one of the best of its kind. It is credible, well established and has demonstrated its effectiveness.

Seven hundred and forty-five projects have gone through the assessment process since 1980. Two hundred and ninety projects are at various stages of the process and assessments are completed on twenty-five major projects a year. The reinforcement of the federal environmental assessment role will lead to dissension and conflict, sole responsibility for which will rest with the federal government, the very one who wanted to put an end to the provinces' vacillation where environmental assessment was concerned.

With no regard for the process in Quebec and the specific situation in each of the provinces, the federal government has stepped in and imposed a uniform system for all the provinces that adds nothing to what we in Quebec have been doing, with considerable success, for 15 years now. It is therefore not surprising that the minister makes no mention of the provinces' satisfaction with the new regulations being introduced.

This duplication, I need hardly repeat, is completely unproductive. Regulations in hand, the Minister of the Environment wishes to work with each province towards harmonization. The question is whether it will be based on federal or on provincial regulations.

Even more amazing, officials from Quebec and the other provinces have been working with federal officials for a year now on a harmonization project designed to define more clearly the environmental responsibilities of the two levels of government. These discussions, which are still ongoing, deal with the environmental assessment process in particular. With this sort of attitude on the part of the federal government, harmonization is headed nowhere.

Despite the minister's apparent goodwill, the act places environmental assessment under federal jurisdiction. There will be no delegation of responsibilities to the provinces, because a federal assessment is required, even if one has been done by the province. At best, an assessment could be conducted jointly with a province, theoretically anyway, since in practice the federal government would retain final responsibility for the process. As it has the right to participate in the appointment of the chairperson and to determine the mandate of the review panel, whose reports it wants to see, the federal government has exclusive authority in this area.

There is therefore a considerable contradiction between the spirit of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The existing equivalence agreements allow the provinces to settle certain pollution problems without the involvement of the federal government. This will not be the case here. The federal government is not interested in delegating this authority to the provinces.

The Minister of the Environment thinks that industry will be thrilled with this federal initiative. She is quite mistaken.

Last February, the director of the Centre patronal de l'environnement du Québec denounced the Environment minister's wish to make the environmental assessment process more rigorous. This group including more than 50 of Quebec's largest businesses and some 15 associations endorsed a request by the provinces to amend the federal law to provide for mutual recognition of assessments ordered by either level of government.

The Quebec industry is wary of federal legislation because it duplicates provincial legislation, which causes delays and can discourage private sector investment. So it is rather premature to maintain that the industry will applaud the federal regulations.

There is no question that the environmental impact of projects must be assessed in any society. Governments, businesses and conglomerates no longer undertake major building or development projects affecting waterways without first assessing their environmental impact. Such environmental assessments must be rigorous and methodical with a view to sustainable development.

However, the federal government's attitude toward environmental assessments suggests that confrontation with the provinces is the starting point for promulgating the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

If the new regulations to be published soon in the Gazette officielle du Québec reflect our apprehensions, this government has shown its usual intransigence and we can only denounce this practice.

Quebec, which has been a leader in environmental assessments in Canada and acted with exemplary consistency and rigour, will thus continue to assure Quebecers of an open, effective and full process.

From Quebec's viewpoint, the federal minister's initiative has nothing to do with better environmental management. It only appears to be an unjustified intervention in an area already very well managed by the Quebec government. This is another concrete proof of the federal government's ability and eagerness to create duplication and increase costs.

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, for those who are a little bit vague about what the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act really is, it is an information gathering process. That is really what we are talking about. It is used to predict potential environmental impacts on future projects.

The old act was passed by the previous government. However, it was somewhat like a eunuch; it was there in body but it was not very productive because the regulations were not there. I am pleased to see that we are finally getting to the point where we have the regulations coming down.

The problem with the old bill was that there were a number of exemptions. Hopefully these exemptions, for example radioactive waste and exports of oil and gas and hydroelectric projects, will be covered in the regulations.

It has taken us seven years to get where we are today and I am really pleased that we are here. I do have some concerns but they are hard to address because we do not have the regulations in hand as yet. There have to be clearly spelled out rules on what is and what is not subject to these rules.

One major problem is the federal-provincial overlap which the minister has addressed. Until we get rid of this turf war about whose ground it is, federal or provincial, we will be forever fighting about what goes on. The Kemano project is a good example. In some areas people said: "It is clearly provincial" and other people said: "No, it is federal because fisheries are involved". This has to be clarified. For example right now Alberta has an agreement in place but it is really agreeing to agree. We have a long way to go.

In terms of the process, I understand from the minister that on minor or fairly simple projects, it will go along quite easily. It is when we get into the contentious ones that we really get into the glue.

My riding of Comox-Alberni includes Clayoquot Sound. I have been part of the process over the last 10 years. It was sitting on the back burner and then heat started to rise to the point where it was really boiling a couple of years ago. I was able to watch the different processes, the round tables, the square tables, the oval tables. It was open and transparent. However, it became very clear to some people at the table that the process was not going to solve their problem, so they walked away from the process.

We need to have open, clear dialogue. We have to realize that if the agenda of particular people is not going to be solved and they walk away from the table that the government is going to have to step in. That is a double-edged sword because the previous government ruled that in Kemano no environmental assessment was required. We have paid dearly for that in B.C. because we have been fighting for the last number of years. Business is mad, the environmental community is mad, the fishermen are wild and the public is confused.

That is what happened by going the wrong way. In the Clayoquot Sound decision basically the full spectrum of ideas were there. The provincial government stepped in and said: "This is where it is". I believe that was a good ruling.

The government is on tender ground on this one. If it goes to cabinet after the review that is fine. It would be highly dangerous if the government then ignored that review and went off on another track.

In summary, we have to wait until we see the regulations and really have a chance to look at them because that is really what is going to make it work. I look forward to having a look at them and moving ahead.

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order.

I am wondering if I could seek unanimous consent of the House for two minutes to respond as the New Democratic environment critic and as the critic in the previous House who sat through much of the creation of Bill C-13. I would like unanimous consent of the House to have two minutes.

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is there unanimous consent?

The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


The EnvironmentRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the Minister of the Environment has chosen to use Statements by Ministers to proclaim the act today. I think it is an important use of the House to take this route today.

I am also very pleased to see that the act has finally been proclaimed after the amount of time it took in development.

The act has the potential to be the most important environmental and economic legislation that this country has at this time. For that reason I was happy to participate in its development and now to see it proclaimed.

I am disappointed of course that the process has taken so long to get us to this point but in hindsight it is understandable. We all knew that the regulatory process was going to slow us down. It has. We tried to address that in the committee but now that we have that under wraps, I am happy to see it has moved along. In addition to the amendments that the minister outlined she will be presenting to the House this morning I would like to indicate that I think there is a need to further amend the regulatory process and involve members of the House and Parliament to a greater extent than the process. I will be working to see that that happens.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest to the minister that in keeping with her comments about the aboriginal rights and the stewardship of their traditional land that she consider applying the new process to the situation in Labrador and the Innu at this time.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-282, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (medical expenses-disabled senior citizens).

Mr. Speaker, the objective of this bill is to reduce income tax for disabled seniors with extra medical expenses. Under the current law the first $1,614 or 3 per cent of net income is required to be spent before you can take it into account for income tax purposes.

This bill would make it possible for all eligible medical expenses from the very first dollar to be effectively income deductible for disabled seniors. I believe there is a need to do that.

While disabled seniors have higher medical expenses than others they generally have lower income than other people. Paying out of pocket medical expenses is therefore a heavier burden for this group of people, disabled seniors, than for others. This bill is a step in the direction of easing that burden.

In that context I have much pleasure in having the bill introduced at this time.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

Standing Committee On Human Resources DevelopmentRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find there is unanimous consent for the following motion:

That notwithstanding any order of the House, the report deadline for phase II of the order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development on February 8, 1994, government business No. 4, be extended to February 6, 1995, and

That the committee be empowered to authorize radio and television broadcasting of any of its proceedings.

(Motion agreed to.)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to table a petition from several of my constituents who humbly pray that Parliament not repeal or amend section 241 of the Criminal Code in any way to uphold the Supreme Court of Canada's decision of September 30, 1993, to disallow assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Shall all questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members


Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba


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


That this House take note of the progress made to date on the government's forthcoming reform of social security programs and of the views expressed by Canadians with regard to this reform.

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by expressing my appreciation to House leaders of all parties in the House for their agreement in helping to organize this first major debate where we have an opportunity to begin to express our views as parliamentarians.

I have been a parliamentarian for over 20 years. I have always had a deep abiding belief and faith that this is the place where people prevail, not the self-appointed experts and commentators and people who rush to the mikes before they read reports. This is the place where people gain their voice. This is the place where each of us has an opportunity to speak on behalf of our constituents, who really are what makes this country work, to go beyond and around and through the smokescreens and static and noise that we often hear in terms of the immediate surrounding corridors of Parliament Hill and get back to where people really have an opportunity to decide.

The debate that we will engage in for the next day or two is really the first step in inviting Canadians to fully participate. After all, what we are debating are decisions that affect themselves, their families, their children, their training, their jobs, their hopes and their opportunities.

It is not a time to impose top-down decisions, to rush to the barricades with quick answers, but to really say let us give people a chance to become involved in a real way and to express their concerns and aspirations. That is why Parliament is so important. That is why the parliamentary committee will undertake this very monumental task. I extend my appreciation to the members of that committee for the work that they will undertake over the next several months in crossing this country and inviting Canadians to become part of the democratic process.

I hope what we can do today is start that dialogue with Canadians by reflecting for a moment or two on those moments that each of us finds as public servants where certain things happen to us, where we come across an experience, a certain happening, an event that defines for us what the issues are all about, that really begins to explain to us what is happening in our country.

I would like to begin this morning by giving members a brief account of my own sort of sense of epiphany of that happening on an early morning during the last campaign when I was knocking on doors on a very modest street in the Fort Rouge area of my district. When I came down the street I saw a woman leave a house with her briefcase and walk out. As I went up to the door I was greeted by a young man in his early twenties. Behind him was his wife and a young child maybe seven or eight months old.

Before I got to the normal introduction of who I am he said: "You don't have to say anything, Mr. Axworthy, I know why you are here. That woman who just left is my social worker. She comes to my house every two weeks to check up and make sure I am living up to all the rules so I will get my next cheque". He said: "I have been unemployed for 18 months and it is driving me crazy. I have a young family. I want to give them some hope and I need work to do that. I am going to vote for you this time because I am putting my hope in you, Mr. Chrétien and the party to make a difference for me. I know there are no guarantees. I know there are no easy solutions, but I am giving you a chance to show what you can do".

Today we are launching what we can do to begin to restore that sense of hope for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. We can make a difference. We can break away from the tired, old conventional wisdoms. We can begin to look at programs that have been in place for 30 or 40 years which served a valuable purpose but no longer work as well.

We can reach out and talk to those three million Canadians who presently exist on some form of assistance, be it unemployment insurance, social assistance, or some other benefit. They are the ones who really want the change. Forget all the academics with their foundation grants seen on television who have the best answers as to how the system works. Talk to the people who are there now. Ask them if they want change and you will get 100 per cent approval saying: "Let's make a change. It is essential. Let's do something for ourselves".

That young man in my riding did not want a cheque. He wanted a job. He wanted a chance to put his talents to work as an individual. If we write those individuals 100 times or 1,000 times in each community across this country it adds up to a much stronger nation and then we can say to the world: "We have the best trained workforce in the world". We will attract the needed investment, create the required new products, and will develop the innovation we have if we put our trust and faith in investing in the people of this country. That is what this reform and these proposals are all about: trusting and investing in people and giving them a chance.

I hope we will use the debate in the next day or two to draw upon those experiences of small businesses that want to hire people but because of a whole series of rules cannot get workers when they need them. We have a social assistance system that tells a disabled Canadian: "You declare yourself unemployable in order to get a benefit". We are wasting the incredible pool of talent of four million Canadians who want to work if they are given the chance.

Over the next day or two let us talk about the children in this country. Over a million of them live in poverty because there is not proper child care, because there are not proper work opportunities for their parents, because there is no child support system to make sure the custodial parent does not have to raise them by themselves.

Let us talk about those experiences we see every day in our constituencies. Let us break through the fog, the mist and the smokescreens that have been created by those who have a vested interest in the way things are. Let us talk to people who want to change things to make things better and improve our social security system.

I rise today in that spirit of reform, of change, of looking for ideas and inviting Canadians to participate. I call on my colleagues in the House to join in a crusade to attempt to make a difference. Let us give Canadians the chance to define once again who they are and what they can be in this country of the 1990s and into the next century.

We do not want things the way they used to be. We are not living in some nostalgia about the good old days because nostalgia will not help that young man get a job. Harking back to the good old days will not restore the opportunity for young children to get nurturing, proper nutrition and proper care. That is why we must take up this mission together.

Together we must find immediate solutions for all Canadians. Canadians are proud of their social security system, but it is clear that times have changed. Our system no longer meets requirements; the time has come to take action. Too many children live in poverty and this reality goes beyond all jurisdictions. To us, poor children are poor children whether they live in Gaspé or Medicine Hat.

The status quo is not an option. Changes are needed now. Some people do not want us to do, change or cut anything. Others ask us to spend more on social programs. We are also asked to eliminate the deficit. We always have to deal with contradictory requests.

I think that most Canadians would like us to make adjustments but to act carefully and intelligently. They want a new social pact for the coming decades, long-term jobs for them and their children. I think that our first responsibility as a government, as members of the House of Commons, is to look for ways to deal with the problems of poverty and unemployment.

We must do this carefully, deliberately, attentively. We must listen to the great wide voice of Canadians. Those who recommend we come in with an axe in our hands to chop, cut, slash and burn are not listening to Canadians. They are not listening to Canadians who say: "Reform, don't destroy, don't break down. Reform, do it with change, have a new blueprint". The reason is very clear. There are some sobering new facts in the Canada of today.

About 10 years ago, before I was asked to go on sabbatical in the opposition, I was the minister of employment. I have a comparison as to what was happening then and what is happening now. When I was minister of employment about 10 or 12 per cent of those who were on unemployment insurance used the system frequently, every year. Today over 40 per cent of UI users are on that program virtually every single year.

That clearly demonstrates something has fundamentally changed in the workplace. It is not simply a matter of a few people abusing the system. It means there has been an underlying revolution in the way people work in this country. Many of our traditional industries no longer provide the same employment opportunities. They are declining. People are being caught up and are being washed away from the mainstream.

That is why we must make changes. We must help them find ways back into the employment market, find ways back into the labour market. We must equip them with new tools. That is why simply having a benefit program and writing a cheque every month is not sufficient. People need to have opportunities to become more literate, to learn French, English, or mathematics so they can begin to understand the new kinds of work.

All of us get our cars repaired. Have you looked under the hood of your car recently? No longer is it a simple carburettor with a little gas and air going through it. Now there is a computer attached to it. People in the car repair sector say there are 10,000 jobs missing in Canada because we do not have trained automobile technicians with the skills to adapt to that new technology now found in our automobiles.

People ask where the jobs are. Jobs are lost in this country every day because we simply do not have the people to pass the test. Yet on the other side of the ledger there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who want to work but do not have the skills or abilities to pass that test.

People have said to me: "I saw somebody last night from one of the social groups who asked where the jobs are". Last year 170,000 people came into Canada under our immigration program on an employment authorization because there were not sufficient people in this country with the skills we require for our economy.

People I recently met with in the software industry said there are 15,000 potential jobs in this country in the next five years but Canadians are not trained to meet those jobs. At the same time people say: "Don't put a cent into training. Don't transfer resources into where it really counts. Keep people on unemployment insurance". Is that what we really want? Is that the hope for Canadians, to stay on UI year after year? Or do we want to say to them and their kids: "We are going to give you some hope and a chance to get a job that really means something".

In the unemployment insurance system there is an interesting figure we should pay some attention to. Last year 14 per cent of the companies were responsible for close to 40 per cent of the UI payouts. That means that over time because of the existing system a variety of companies, both public and private, have used the UI system not to help people get jobs or make a transition but simply to pad the payroll.

A whole series of layoffs are designed to meet the duration of benefits under the unemployment insurance system. There is a massive cost subsidization taking place from one industry to another, from one region to another. They are basically saying that does not help the other regions develop their economies.

It creates a reliance upon the system and people say: "If we can get 30 or 40 weeks, if we can lay off our workers for June and July-which many school boards do-and we can save some money, then let us do it". What they do not say is that some person down the street, perhaps a short order cook in a restaurant, is paying a premium every week to pay for that layoff when it is not necessary. That is not fair. It kills jobs. As a result, we have seen the premiums double or triple in the last six or seven years.

Is that the kind of system we want to protect? Is that the kind of system those who say not to touch the programs want to maintain, a system that does not reward work but rewards dependency? I do not think Canadians want that. They want us to take a different look at things.

Let us take a moment to look at the whole question of another change going on in our country. Fifty per cent of the jobs over the next five years are going to require a post-secondary education. In fact, statistics over the last year indicate there was a 17 per cent growth in jobs for people who had a post-secondary education or better. On the other side of the coin there was a 19 per cent loss of jobs for those who had less than a post-secondary education.

In the meantime we continue to see dropout rates of 15, 20, 30 per cent depending on the region. Young people who know they are facing a radically different workplace and require radically different skills are dropping out of school. They will become the next generation of people who find themselves pushed to the sidelines.

One of the key issues is how to increase those opportunities in accessibility. That is what the green paper talks about. It talks about that re-equipment. We are saying if we can look at the unemployment insurance system, take money that is exclusively paid for benefits and turn it into an employment service fund, then we can offer those people a chance to go back to school, a chance to become literate, a chance to get good counselling, a chance to have a job corps for older workers, a chance once again to put their talents to work.

We are jointly funding an experiment in New Brunswick. It is the New Brunswick job corps for older workers. Up to now a seasonal worker in that area had no hope, especially when there was no more seasonal work when forestry declined. Now we are putting close to 2,000 workers into reforestation. We are rebuilding the natural resource, creating a wealth and resource base for the next generation. People involved in that project say that once again they have a reason to put their boots on in the morning. They have something that gives real value to what they are doing. That is why we need those resources.

We are saying very clearly in the paper that this will give us an opportunity for new partnerships. As much as we are talking in the paper about changing the programs we are also changing the way government should work. We are saying that the most effective role of government is to put resources into the hands of people and let them make choices. We have an opportunity to develop new partnerships with the provinces, business, labour and local communities.

Two weeks ago I signed agreements with representatives of the North York Board of Education, Niagara Community College, labour and business representatives in the electrical industry. We are putting up 25 cents of every training dollar-not a full dollar like we pay in other places-which is matched by the employees, employers and the province to provide new apprenticeship places for close to 300 or 400 young people so they can begin getting those new skills.

That is what I mean by partnership. That is what I mean by decentralizing decision making. That is what I mean by once again giving people a chance to make decisions in their own communities: by decentralizing the system, by government working in a different way as a facilitator, an enabler, by breaking down the bureaucracies, the hierarchies and by once again restoring at the local level, the business level and the shop level the chance to make decisions for your own self-improvement, your own self-sufficiency.

That is what this paper is all about. It is about a new way of governing that gives real power to people. It is not power to bureaucracies but real power back to the people to make decisions for themselves.

Some accuse us of taking a centralizing approach. I would like to know what is the basis for that assertion, what page of the document are they referring to? I will tell you what page. On page 27 of the green book, we undertake to clarify the roles and responsibilities of each level of government consistent with the Constitution. On page 40, we propose transferring funds and responsibilities to the provinces.

On page 61, we give the provinces the possibility of opting out in the fields of education and student assistance. On page 73, we propose making social assistance legislation more flexible in order to finance Quebec's APPORT program and relinquish decision-making authority to that province. On page 76, we propose a block fund for social assistance to give the provinces more control and flexibility.

Throughout the document we talk about co-operation, about opting out, about flexibility and decentralization. These are not the words of a centralizing government but the characteristics of a new, dynamic federalism.

Let us focus for just a moment on how that applies to the area of higher education. I have heard certain members wax eloquent about how this is some form of intrusion. It shows that they neither know their history nor have read the document.

Since World War II the federal government has supported the educational efforts of the provinces. We did so because, as the national government, we recognized that good education is one of the foundations of a good economy. We also have to ensure that there is equity in all parts of Canada; that a student in Newfoundland gets the same treatment as a student in Ontario or British Columbia. We also recognize that the provinces which also have a responsibility would need support to expand the system to ensure that there was opportunity.

For example we spend close to $1 billion on student assistance. At the present time, with the clear right to opt out, we would simply transfer the funds and the provinces would implement their own system. Quebec and the Northwest Territories have availed themselves of that. We also have a transfer system that was established in 1977 where we transfer moneys to the provinces by tax points and by cash.

What is happening under the existing rules that have been in place since 1977? As the revenue to the provinces grows because of the growth in the economy and the population, they get more money, they get more revenue. It is an invisible endowment from the federal government to the provinces to help them with education. It is a permanent commitment to support them.

Some provincial treasurers may not be prepared to admit it, because they keep getting $200 or $300 million more every year in additional revenue. That is okay. We made the deal. The corollary is that as the revenue goes up with the tax points, the cash begins to go down because on a constant basis there is an escalator clause.

Under the existing rules we could see the reduction of those cash transfers over the next 10 years. That does not mean a loss in revenue because the revenue to the provinces is going up at the same time. It means that the cash directly attached to students and others disappears into provincial treasuries.

We are saying that before we let that vacuum exist, before the money disappears, before it is reduced, let us see if we can do something creative. Let us see if we can do something to substantially broaden accessibility for students across Canada. Let us recognize that tuition rates have been going up every single year under the existing system by 10 per cent per year. They have doubled over the last five years across Canada. Students need some help to meet that problem.

We also have another major issue. People who are presently in the workplace do not have any financial assistance to go back to school. They do not have a program for them. Unless they are on social assistance or UI there is no training assistance. They have great difficulty getting eligibility for university.

They want to go back to school. The woman today who is a seamstress has a dream of becoming a fashion designer. A car mechanic may want to become an engineer. It is our job to help them do that. We are facing continuous learning. That is why we are saying before the cash transfer ratchets down year by year, let us take hold of it and use it to lever another $3 billion back into higher education.

Let us put a lot more money back in the system. Let us make a much broader, wider system of grants and loans available to students of all kinds everywhere. They can get access to our system on a basis where they can repay the money according to income. It would not be like the present system where they repay like a mortgage system with flat rates regardless of what their income is or if they have income or not, but they should pay according to their income.

That to me is a proposition. It is an idea that we want to place before the provinces. If they want to opt out of that new system that is their business. We clearly say in the paper, even though a few have not read it, that if the provinces want to do it they have the right to do it, no arguments. Let us do something to substantially broaden accessibility for young people.

Let us broaden accessibility for people in the work force. Let us give every Canadian a chance to be continuous learners throughout the course of their lives and therefore substantially enrich and broaden the wealth and experience and knowledge of this country as a whole.

We also have to take a look at the social security system. Once again it seems that people have forgotten their history slightly. We have a cost shared system. The Government of Canada pays about $5 billion for tax benefits directed to children. We also have about $7.7 billion that is cost shared with the provinces to help them pay for their social assistance programs.

One of the problems is that over the years a whole system of rules has built up. The rules say that if somebody on social assistance wants to go back to work, have their chance at a job-it may be a minimum wage job, a starting job-we ask that we tax back 75 per cent of their income. They are only provincial rules, but under the Canada assistance plan rules, we do not permit provinces to invest in learning, job creation, training as a result of CAP.

It may have been a rule that made sense back in the sixties when social assistance was only dealing with a small proportion of the population, but we are talking about three million people now. We are talking about half of those on social assistance being employable. We are not talking about the most vulnerable

who have no opportunity at all. We are talking about half the people on social assistance, people who are employable if they are given a chance, if they are given some support.

That is why one of the key proposals in our paper is to provide new flexible rules so provinces can begin to establish their programs to enable people to go back to work. Over the summer we have been signing a series of strategic initiatives with six or seven provinces in a spirit of co-operation to provide them the ability and the resources to innovate.

In my province of Manitoba we have a new program for single parents where they will run the program, not the bureaucrats or social workers. They will have their own centre where they will develop their own child care programs, their own training programs, their own employment programs. Once again it is based on the principle of decentralizing, putting resources in people's hands, working in partnerships.

In Rimouski a couple of weeks ago we, as the federal government, became a partner with a women's group, Ficelles, the local CEGEP, and the local regional development authority, to provide a new centre of resource for women on social assistance to create their own jobs, to create their own employment, to start their own businesses.

Once again we have presented a new principle. It is not the federal government, not provincial government landing on top of them. We are partners with them in the small town of Rimouski where we have said to these women that they will be responsible for their own development and we will give them resource and help.

We will make job creation easier. We will make it easier to develop new approaches to job creation. This is the way the government should work in the future.

That is why we proposed changes in the way we deliver our social security system and in particular to look at the way the rules apply to those with disabilities. Why should they have to declare themselves as unemployable. Just think of the enormous number of job opportunities there are out there for people who have incredible skills but have to sign a piece of paper saying they cannot put any of that to use.

Disabled organizations across the country are saying that benefits should be split from social services and something different should be done. We are putting that on the table for discussion with the provinces.

Our own vocational rehabilitation program is one way of getting away from the sheltered workshop and into giving resources to individuals to make that change.

Similarly, we say this is an opportunity, and maybe the most important opportunity, to come together as a country to take care of children. Let us begin to mobilize all resources; federal government, provincial governments, business, labour, community organizations, people that say they are no longer prepared to accept a million children living in poverty.

Let us give ourselves a goal to bring the provinces together in co-operation to bring that level down 30, 40, 50 per cent in the next 10 years. Let us really go to work.

Through the proposals in this paper there is a way, partly by giving their parents a chance to work. The best way of dealing with child poverty is a job for the parents. Give them the resources to find that job. Break down the rules that prevent them from getting jobs. Create work out there that they can find.

Another way we present in the green paper is the new program of child support. We can work again federally and provincially to make sure that those parents who have been separated and no longer receive support from non-custodial parents have a much tougher enforcement system. If that does not work let us take a look at the program now being introduced in other countries for a minimum basis of child support and let government help people to get those payments back. We could reduce our social welfare costs by 10 or 15 per cent if we had a decent, effective support system.

My colleague, the Minister of Justice, within a matter of weeks will be presenting the results of federal-provincial discussions to initiate a new child support system and I hope all members here will support that initiative.

Finally, we must also look at how we can begin to put together a program or a system that will enable us to provide an income base for children partly because they do not receive enough. The combination of federal-provincial benefits does not give children enough support.

There is an interesting conference this weekend, Prime Minister, that I know you are interested in, where we have groups of child specialists from across the country who have clearly established the connection between early child development in the first couple of years, and what happens to an adult later on.

We can directly relate nutrition to bad health when we are adults. We can directly relate nurturing and support to problems in the court. When we have great arguments in this House about getting tough with young offenders, we should start with children who are two or three years old because many of them are not getting it due to lack of income.

I recall meeting with people from the National Association of Food Banks. I asked what is the one single thing that we can do for children in this country. The answer was get some more money in their hands. That is why we have to combine those benefits and go to work to do it.

I understand this will not be easy. We have to really rely upon full scale co-operation by all levels of government. That is why we will be appealing to our colleagues. For those governments that say they do not want to participate they are condemning the children of those provinces to serious problems in the future. They are creating problems for the future. That is why it is going to be so essential that we spend the next couple of years mobilizing a good will and tapping into the potential for goodwill which I think exists in this country. I think Canadians want to help their kids. I think we have now come to a recognition that it is time we made this a national priority.

This government will take the leadership with our provincial colleagues to put that first on the agenda and make sure that the next generation of children will not suffer the same problems as this generation of children.

That is the point of this debate. That is the reason for getting ideas out and getting a dialogue going. I welcome them. I do not expect everyone is going to agree with us. I would be surprised if they did. However, there are some good examples.

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11:15 a.m.


Jean Chrétien Liberal Saint-Maurice, QC

I have been around for 30 years.

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11:15 a.m.


Lloyd Axworthy Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

I always agree with the Prime Minister.

Bob White, head of the Canadian Labour Congress, put out what I thought was a positive statement. He said: "I do not agree with parts of the report. I take exception to some of the issues on unemployment insurance, but I am prepared to engage in a constructive debate. I am prepared to put my ideas and those of my membership on the table". That is the right spirit, not total rejection, not angry rhetoric without substance, not the kind of posturing that we see from so many who say we cannot do anything.

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11:15 a.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Not cheap shots.

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11:15 a.m.


Lloyd Axworthy Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Not cheap shots. That is a good example. I am glad the member from the Reform Party said that because I saw his leader on television last night who had a string of cheap shots, one after the other. I hope he will pass this along.

Before I conclude, let us deal with one other very important element of this proposal which is this clear linkage that exists between proposals for social reform and how it affects the broader economy.

The Prime Minister announced in Quebec City about two and a half weeks ago that this is one part of a broad national agenda the government wants to put forward. In about 10 days or so the Minister of Finance will be putting forward a paper on economic growth and fiscal requirements. That will be followed by another paper by the Minister of Industry concerning job creation and how to stimulate private sector growth and activity. They are all linked together. They are all part of the same effort to get people back to work and to restructure the fundamentals of this country.

In doing so, that is one reason why we also have to address the fiscal reality of the country. For those who simply say do not make cuts and do not touch the budget, they are not living in the real world. We all know that everybody has to take a hard look at where we spend the money. The Leader of the Opposition said that he does not believe we can do more with less.

I suppose having been a member of the Mulroney government for nine years I can understand why he would have that philosophy. It did less with more. That was its problem. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will be able to overcome his particular disadvantage having been nurtured under that government which when he participated did not have social reform in an open participatory way but did it by stealth. Does the member of that government recall that he was responsible as a member of that cabinet for major slashing of the unemployment insurance program, clawbacks to senior citizen pensions, major changes on higher education, all of those? Now he is the great defender of the status quo. No wonder, look at the status quo he created. Who wants his status quo?

Talk about a leopard changing his spots. How about a leopard with all kinds of coloured spots, you never know which one defines who the leopard is; change parties, change spots, change positions, change philosophies. It does not matter. It is a new interchangeable system that we are in these days.

What we are saying very clearly, and it is outlined on page 23 of the book, is that there is a fiscal parameter that we have to work with. In the February 1994 budget it stated that we would make changes to unemployment insurance which would realize $2.2 billion in savings which we have recycled back into other programs and into reducing the premium to create jobs in this country.

We also announced that we would hold transfer payments at the 1993-94 level and that would gain a saving of $1.5 billion.

We are already talking in the area of $5 billion. We made that very clear. I have indicated that as a result of these changes that we are proposing in the paper, a restructuring, I would like to see another target of 10 per cent in cuts in unemployment insurance so we can again use the money to create the literacy programs, the educational programs, the training programs, the job employment programs and the reduction of premium programs so that we can get Canadians back to work. We have said that very explicitly, very clearly.

The one question that we cannot answer yet is what is the result of the program review. The Minister of Finance has set targets for every department. The Prime Minister has said every department will have a program review. We are all looking at how we can eliminate duplication, how we can eliminate waste and how we can change programs. There is a lot of it to be done.

That is one reason why I think that we are prepared with provinces to do a lot of guichets uniques, to co-locate, to eliminate a lot of excess. We are working with provinces now. There is money to be saved.

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11:20 a.m.


Jean Chrétien Liberal Saint-Maurice, QC

We have signed an agreement with every one of them but one.

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11:20 a.m.


Lloyd Axworthy Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

That is right. That is one reason we have put on the table a new labour market agreement with the provinces which talks about transferring responsibility, which talks about rationalizing programs, which talks about transferring money for training to the provinces so that we can provide a much clearer definition of responsibilities. We can save money on that but the decision has not been taken yet.

That is why we have a consultation, a budget process that will start with the department of finance, a committee of finance, a consultation on social review, and those decisions will be taken. When they are taken we will make them clear. We will make them public. We cannot announce what we have not decided.

I know members opposite sometimes do that. I know they like to speculate. There is even the odd newspaper reporter or two who get into that sort of frenzy, saying: "I think I know what I believe", and therefore prints on the front page of a newspaper.

The fact of the matter is we believe that we have to have as part of this exercise a recognition and a responsibility to have fiscal stability in this country. If we do not, then what is clear is that our social policy decisions will not be made by Canadians. They will be made by bond dealers in New York. They will start telling us.

Right now if we look at the expenditure pattern, we spend close to $40 billion on these programs that we are talking about and about $40 billion on the interest. If we do not make changes in the programs and reallocate in 10 years time we will be spending $50 billion on interest and $29 billion on social programs. I think all Canadians regardless of political stripe recognize that something has to be done.

That is why we are prepared to try to face up to those responsibilities in a clear, sound way, not by simply saying take $15 billion, slash every program in sight, do not try to reform, do not try to make them better, simply cut the programs. That is not the way to do it. Canadians did not elect us to do that. They elected us to use our intelligence and our creative powers to make better programs, not simply to break down existing programs. There is a major difference in that approach.

Those are the options and choices that we have in this green paper. That is the kind of discussion and dialogue that we have to begin to generate beginning today in this House, to show Canadians that we can face new realities, that we can use our best creative powers to come up with better ideas, that we are open and listening and that Parliament is the real forum for this country. It is the crucible where these kinds of answers and solutions will be found, not in the think tanks, not in the interest groups, but here in Parliament where we represent the people.

We can do it right. I fully expect that there will be some difference of opinion. I do not know whether the debate today will immediately result in a consensus but if it does not then I hope we will have those differences expressed in the most constructive way possible, in a way that really gives people a sense that Parliament can work positively, progressively, constructively and not simply become a forum for going after one another.

That is the kind of spirit that we have to create. I am going to use a story that I have used many times. I see that the members from the Reform Party are getting impatient. I guess they do not like staying in Parliament too long. There is no problem in the future for that, four years and they will be gone.

This is a little story that really summarizes what I hope will infuse the spirit of debate in this House and throughout the country. It happened in New Brunswick where I visited a small training program for women on social assistance. It was set up jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

I was talking to the women in that program and asked them how it was working. One of the women said: "I was not too sure, it is darn hard coming back to school but after five or six months I realized how important it was because a couple of days ago, I was able to help my seven-year old daughter with her homework. For the first time I was able to show that we were now able to work together as a mother and a child".

"I wrote a little saying. I hope that you will tell other Canadians how important it is. As a result of the kind of experience I have had here", the kind of thing that we are promoting in this green book, an effort to find new ways of getting people some hope and dignity, "never be afraid to reach for the moon because even if you miss, you will be among the stars".

Today, with this green paper we are asking Canadians to reach for the moon.

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11:25 a.m.

Lac-Saint-Jean Québec


Lucien Bouchard BlocLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, no one in the Official Opposition is denying the need to do something to help out those of the less fortunate of our fellow citizens, who are in difficulty.

The current economic and financial situation has driven these people to live in fear and anxiety and, in that sense, I am in full agreement with the minister's diagnosis.

I think that when it comes to being sensitive to the situation of the disadvantaged, the minister has retained his progressive, left-wing tradition. The problem is that the cure is a right-wing one. While the diagnosis is left-wing, the cure is right-wing. I am not saying that the minister's heart is not in the right place, on the contrary. The problem is that his wallet is not in the same place, as a Liberal minister. Now that he has become minister, he finds himself in a peculiar situation, stuck between a Finance Minister and a Prime Minister whose primary objective is to reduce the deficit and the debt on the backs of the disadvantaged.

Take this speech for example. If you take away the rhetoric, finer feelings, hand on the heart, you realize nonetheless that the official objective of the minister, as stated in the first pages of the consultation paper, is to cut social program expenditures, to effect the massive cut all right-wing circles, all employers and all the business community have been wanting to see for a generation. And now this minister with a progressive background has been chosen by the right to do the job.

Here is this minister who just related to us, with sincerity I think, how sad he felt when, one morning, as he was going door to door visiting constituents in his riding, he met this young couple in which the man was out of work and the woman was also at home. The young man told the minister how much he wished in himself that changes could be made to improve his situation, to help him find a job in particular.

But besides sympathizing with this young man's difficulties, should the minister not have told him: "Look, I sympathize but my government is about to cut $15 billion in social expenditures over the next five years"?

If the minister had wanted to be straightforward with this young man, that is what he would have told him. He should have informed him that, in addition to the $7.5 billion in cuts already announced in last year's budget, more cuts are planned, which I will discuss later.

How can one make a progressive-sounding speech, how can one claim to base social program reform on a desire for expansion, after having coldly decided to cut $15 billion over five years in the funds allocated to social programs? I am not making this up; the minister has described very clearly right from the beginning, on page 23 of the discussion paper, the context in which this reform is to take place. He very clearly ties it to a budgetary transaction, a spending-cut exercise.

Let me quote two excerpts from page 23: "Reform of social security cannot be contemplated in isolation from the fiscal realities facing governments in Canada". And a little further: "And existing expenditures must be brought under control and in some instances reduced". There it is in black and white.

We all heard the budget speech, in which this minister's colleague, the Minister of Finance, announced a $2.4 billion reduction in social expenditures, in particular unemployment insurance expenditures. It was also announced in the budget that the upcoming social security reform was going to take place as part of an expenditure reduction plan.

I think it is obvious that this exercise lies within a framework of spending cuts on social programs. In fact, when you read through the document and get to the essential and sectorial aspects of the reform, you note that the underlying motivation throughout is to reduce the level of protection afforded to those in need.

Worse yet, in my opinion, is the philosophy behind the minister's approach. This is evident from, first, his attitude regarding the unemployed. Perhaps not for the minister, who would gladly do the opposite of what he is doing, but for his government at least, this attitude is expressed in the paper before us: the unemployed are guilty. Here we have a government going through a financial crisis, as we know. Everyone agrees that we are facing some kind of public finance mess, a mortgage on our young people's future, a burden already weighing down adults in their daily activities. With the deficit almost out of control as it is, it is obvious that the government is confronted with an enormous problem and that it is aware of it.

So, expenditures have to be reduced. The deficit must be brought under control. How? By looking for someone to blame. Why are we facing a crisis? Why, in a rich and highly industrialized country like Canada, blessed with so many natural resources, a hard-working population and lots of capital, does the federal government find itself in such a position? There has to be a culprit. Maybe it is the government, which spends too much on its operations. No, says the Minister of Finance, it is not the government's operating expenditures. But we know that, in fact, there are billions of dollars to be saved there.

Is the problem this overlapping between the various levels of governments, the duplication of programs and the waste of energy and resources? No, the government is not trying to save one penny in that area either. A tax reform might be in order. Do we have a consistent and rational tax system? Should it not be reviewed, harmonized and drastically changed? For example,

should we not eliminate unfair tax irritants? I know that there is not enough money to be saved there to solve the problem of public finance, but the issue of family trusts is a bad symbol for taxpayers. Tax shelters which continue to benefit rich Canadians do not represent an astronomical amount of money, but they are important symbols in terms of tax fairness, at a time when the government is asking all taxpayers to tighten their belt. Yet, the minister did not see anything wrong there either.

Instead, the minister sees the culprits to be those who will be targeted by his measures, namely the unemployed and the poorest, who are already the most affected by the current crisis. This, in my opinion, is the most unacceptable side of the philosophy underlying the minister's approach.

The other attitude which I find just as despicable is this belief that the unemployed are unemployed by choice. The government seems to think that Quebecers and Canadians who are currently unemployed, who suffer from anxiety because they are without work, who feel they are losing their dignity as citizens, fathers and mothers, and who are losing hope about their future, live this situation by choice. The government seems to think that what these people need is a good scare to force them to find work. This is what is so unpleasant in the minister's attitude. Why is that? It is because no jobs are being created.

There is nothing in this agenda to make us think that the government will implement job creation measures. There is no employment policy. Yet, that word is everywhere in the document. But it is a euphemism used to conceal the reality and the reality is that there are no incentives to promote job creation.

This government has no creative spirit; it has not made any effort and it has not allocated any money to generate some enthusiasm in Canada and in Quebec to put people to work and to create jobs. No. It seems that those without jobs are in that situation by choice, because they are lazy.

The minister thinks that by making their plight even worse and by making these people even more distressed, he will force them to find jobs. But those jobs simply do not exist and that is the fundamental flaw in the minister's reform and philosophy.

On the subject of philosophy, let me quote an unbelievable principle stated on page 26 of the discussion paper. It says: "A social security system that is financially unsustainable is a dead end. Therefore, social security reform must in part entail making difficult choices about the best use of available funds". With that statement, the government is introducing a new concept for social programs designed to help people with special needs: cost effectiveness. From now on, social programs will have to be cost effective.

This is what the discussion paper is all about. The minister is trying to ensure cost effectiveness, not as regards government programs, operating expenditures, taxation or inefficiencies resulting from overlapping, but in social programs. Government management is not cost effective, but the unemployed will have to be, even though they have no jobs.

There is another aspect of this document, and its spirit, which is truly unacceptable. It is the fact that this whole exercise is a sham. The government is not being honest. Let me give you two obvious examples. First, the minister, who was supposed to prepare an action plan, decided, even if it will take longer, perhaps a year, to hold consultations. Consequently, he drafts a so-called discussion paper, which he is careful not to label a policy statement, so as to always be able to argue that nothing has been decided and that this is still the consultation stage.

It contains some unacceptable things that will make people jump. So when questioned in the House or by journalists or in consultation sessions where people get excited and upset and concerned, he is prepared to say, "Do not worry. These are not decisions; this is only a consultation. I will listen to what you have to say and take it into consideration; then a decision will be made." That is how the discussion paper is presented.

In fact, thanks to a leak published in the Toronto Star yesterday, we now know that this minister and his colleague in Finance have already decided, regardless of the outcome of the ``consultation'', that a further $7.5 billion will be cut from social programs within five years.

That is particularly odious for the people, the members of Parliament, the media and everyone who will be involved in this vast phony consultation. Yes, members of Parliament can go for five weeks throughout Canada to hear people's grievances, suggestions and reactions to this document, this "discussion paper"; members of Parliament can go around, political commentators can comment, the poor can always hope, MPs can always talk, but the decision has been made.

Whatever happens, whatever people say about these consultations, a further $7.5 billion will be cut and no one on the government side has denied it. It took a fortunate leak, I would say, from the Toronto Star for us to learn that this cut has been decided. Furthermore, it was also decided to keep it secret. The leaked Cabinet document shows that the two ministers got together secretly, shut the door and swore that this decision would remain secret and that they would hide it, letting people naively believe that this document is only a discussion paper.

I remember a sentence which has been credited to former President Theodore Roosevelt. I think he said it in a speech: "Speak nicely, speak sweetly, but carry a big stick". I think the minister should be associated with the same sentence. Maybe change it a little: "Speak with compassion, but carry a big knife". That is what he is doing in this exercise.

That is the first deceptive thing: the decision has already been made. The kind, intelligent, friendly minister will attend many consultation meetings and listen to people, pretending to take in what they say. He may take notes when people tell him not to cut this or that, but the minister will have to keep himself from laughing when he thinks that the decision has already been made and he is faced with the credulity of people who will fall for the consultation exercise.

The other deceptive thing is the minister's incredible distortion of the words "decentralization" and "centralization". The minister tells us: "This is an exercise in democracy. The federal government is sometimes accused of being distant and remote from the people, preoccupied with overly theoretical matters; the federal government will get closer to the people, it will establish direct contact with them, it will become populist. We will now have a populist federal government, something like what the Reform Party wants. A government that will get closer to the people, issue cheques directly to them, establish bursary programs that will issue cheques directly to them and will dictate standards for welfare, and when it comes to occupational training, will select programs with local groups, municipalities and individuals; a government that will democratize and decentralize." That is how the minister describes what he wants to do.

What is actually going on? In fact, the federal government has decided to do without the provinces. I remind the government, which tends to forget, that this country has a Constitution established by the founders 125 years ago as a framework for how this country should run. The founders of this country and their successors realized that it takes two levels of government, one to look after things that are closer to the people and which it is better placed to do so, namely the provincial governments, and the federal government to look after foreign affairs, defence, the currency and so on. That was the spirit which guided the Constitution that is binding on everyone.

Now the minister wants us to believe that the federal government is in a better position than the provinces to manage social problems, to look after problems in people's daily lives, in education, in health, which will come later, as we shall see, and especially in social welfare.

So as I was saying, the terms are being misused because what the minister is actually trying to do is to centralize. He is trying to reduce the provinces' role to an insignificant contribution to community life. He wants the federal government to run everything, to so dominate that the provinces will be unable to stop it from centralizing.

Behind this plan is the desire to redefine the federal government's role for the future. Finally the masks are falling. Clearly, the federal government intends to take the provinces' place in fields reserved to them by the Constitution, as they were always meant to be.

For example, you can see that this government is trying to sideline the Quebec state which is such a thorn for Ottawa. It is done in an underhanded way which I find very disturbing. We will have to keep this in mind while reviewing this proposal in the House today, tomorrow and in the weeks to come.

Mr. Speaker, if you allow me, I would like to briefly go over three or four particular elements of the reform as they relate to specific target groups. Let us start with unemployment insurance. The minister gives two options, clearly stating where his preference lies. One of the options is totally unacceptable, he tells us, since it would mean cuts everywhere. In other words, what he really means is that there is no choice, we have to choose the second option because the first one is simply too horrible.

He is asking us to choose between pneumonia and tuberculosis. Well then, let us reject tuberculosis, that leaves us with pneumonia. What kind of pneumonia? It is the second option, the one preferred by the minister, that is to say a two-tier system, one for people who are out of work occasionally, not very often, maybe even never, that is to say a regular system and then, there will be another one for people who are often unemployed. For those who are nearly never out of work, the UI program does not change. They may never need UI benefits, but they will still have to pay premiums, probably at a higher level, since there will be a ceiling put on them.

The other tier will deal with people who really need unemployment insurance and for whom it was originally created, namely unemployed workers, the real ones whom the minister so tactfully calls frequent beneficiaries. These people are going to get less. They are going to be forced to work for community action programs. They may even be forced to go back to school.

Benefits are going to be lower, premiums higher. It will not be much fun to be unemployed once the system is revamped by the minister. People will be so unhappy, things will go so badly for them, they will be so worried that, or so the minister thinks, they will go out and get a job, a job that does not exist. The truth is, those who are really in need, those who are most vulnerable are getting squeezed. This is where the minister is going to cut and get the billions of dollars he needs for the finance minister.

Who is going to be hurt? Who is the most often out of work? Young people fresh out of school are having a difficult time finding work. Single mothers, seasonal workers, people over 50, people my age who suddenly find themselves unemployed after 25 years in the same job and who do not know what else to do, these are the people who are going to be hurt by the minister's reform.

Beyond the tactful language of bureaucrats using such incomprehensible terms as adjustment programs and frequent beneficiaries, what we must read is that those who really need unemployment insurance, who depend on it, will from now on be virtually cut off from it; their benefits will be lower and they will get less coverage.

Women are another group which will get hurt. We all know how hard they had to fight and must still do to reach a minimum of financial independence, since you cannot have equal opportunities without financial independence. What do we find in the minister's reform? He will tell us that it is only an idea, a strange idea for sure; as a matter of fact, he wonders why it is even in there. It could not be his doing, it must come from one of his officials.

People will reject it, but we know full well that things have already been decided. If a woman loses her job, her husband's income is taken into account to determine whether or not she qualifies for UI. As we know, men usually earn more than their spouses. Women who lose their jobs are treated as second class citizens, they will be penalized for having a husband who makes money. They will receive either no UI benefits or significantly lower ones.

This is a clear case of discrimination. I believe that if this was to be challenged in the Supreme Court under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it would be ruled unconstitutional. Then there are the students. The minister went after them with a vengeance. He must really hate them to treat them the way he does in his reform. Let us look at Quebec. The situation is even worse in the rest of Canada. They are talking about cuts in federal transfer payments to the provinces for post-secondary education to the tune of $2,600,000,000. Due to a complicated formula, that means that Quebec will get $300 million less; bear in mind that it is a lot worse in other parts of the country.

But for Quebec, $300 million means quite a shortfall for post-secondary education programs. The minister himself admits, with rare candour, that these cuts will probably lead to higher tuition fees. According to some quick forecast, they will probably double. If Quebec gets $300 million less for post-secondary education, the government and universities will have to double, some say even triple, tuition fees. And it will be worse in the rest of the country. If Canadian students think things are tough now, wait until they see what this reform means for them.

The Minister has recognized that it will create somewhat of a problem. That is obvious. For example, tuition fees at Laval University in Quebec city are now $3,000 and will easily rise to $8,000 with this reform and the impact will be disastrous for students. The Minister says they will find a solution, they will lend money and implement a grants and loans program so that we can help students who will have to put up with the increased tuition fees. What does this mean?

It means, for example, that under post-reform conditions, a student going through law school, as I did, will leave the university owing the government approximately $25,000. And that will be one debt among others because the student will have to borrow elsewhere to buy a car or for other reasons. For a Ph.D, the debt load will easily reach $50,000.

It means this reform reopens the whole issue of accessibility to higher education for students who are not wealthy. In Quebec, we have been fighting for equal access for twenty years now. I know it is the same in the rest of Canada. For twenty years, people have been fighting for a system ensuring equal access to higher education. There was a time in Quebec when only the chosen few could attend university or obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. Only those lucky enough to be born in a rich family had access to that. The others did not study, there were no schools for them. Only wealthy families could send their children to university. Twenty years ago, we changed all that. We fought a social battle and we invested considerable funds. That is one thing we are proud of, it is one of the great achievements of Quebec and the federal reform proposed by the Minister will bring us right back to the starting line. Only rich people, sons and daughters of wealthy families, will have the opportunity to attend university if a program such as this one is implemented.

What is even worse, what adds insult to injury is that Bill C-28 dealing with the Student Loans Program, a bill we fought against vigorously, a bill the Bloc Quebecois denounced, but one that was adopted in spite of everything because we had a majority against us in this House. Bill C-28 extends the implementation of the standards the federal government can impose upon provinces wishing to withdraw from that Student Loans Program. From now on, a province withdrawing from the program must implement a new program in all points similar to the federal program. In other words, because Bill C-28 was adopted, on top of restricting access to higher education, this reform will give the federal government the power to determine who will study and what they will study in each of the provinces, including Quebec. The federal government will be in a position to dictate standards and design curricula by controlling those who want to study.

This is a very real danger from what I have seen by perusing briefly the reform document we received only yesterday. You can say the Minister surely has devised other solutions to give students access to education. Yes he certainly has. He suggests they use their RRSPs to pay for their schooling. He suggests that students pay their tuition fees with their RRSPs. How fantastic! One must be a complete stranger to reality to imagine that RRSPs would be an alternative for students. I know very few students who own a RRSP. For that, you have to be part of a rich family or one who owns a family trust.

You could reply that perhaps the Minister meant the parents, that perhaps he will convince the Minister of Finance, who plans to tax RRSPs, to allow parents to use their own RRSPs for their children's education. I see two main problems there. RRSPs were not designed for such a purpose. They were meant to ensure a certain financial security to families, to middle-class people who work, so that they can have at least a minimum security for the future.

So if, out of their generosity, because parents always want the best for their children, parents are forced to use their RRSPs for their children's education, of course children will get a higher education, but the parents will no longer have a retirement fund. That is the kind of situation the Minister is creating for families.

Furthermore, we must admit that not everybody owns a RRSP. One has to be able to afford it and, again, that applies to a chosen few. So it is absolutely incredible that they would propose the RRSPs as a solution.

Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

An hon. member

They are laughing to our faces.

Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Lucien Bouchard Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Right! They are laughing at us.

Let me conclude. The intention of the Minister and of the government goes far beyond this social reform. The Minister wants to change the position of the federal government in Canada, to restructure the relations between the central government, the provinces and the people.

When the Minister says they will create direct links between the federal level and the citizens who will take advantage of the various programs, manpower training programs for example, when he says they will deal directly with local stakeholders, communities, municipalities, businesses, etc., he is in fact saying they will go over the head of provincial governments. So he is truly asking the most fundamental question. The question he is asking is the fundamental one.

What the minister and the government are telling us with this reform is that there are too many levels of government, one too many in fact, the provincial level. They are telling us Quebecers that the redundant level of government is the one in Quebec City and that, from now on, Ottawa should manage everything.

I do not know what people in other provinces think of all this, but we should know shortly when our friend, the Leader of the Reform Party, takes the floor to give his view on the reform. However, I doubt that provincial governments across Canada would accept to bow down and make way for the imperialistic and centralizing aspirations of the federal government.

For us in Quebec-and I do not speak solely for sovereignists, but for all Quebecers-the main entity is the Quebec State, which we used to call the province of Quebec. It is this government that we want to entrust with the power to make fundamental decisions regarding the future of Quebec, regarding the definition of policies which will shape our soul and identity, regarding the design of education programs, regarding the relationship between social and job-creating measures, because without any close tie between the two no reform of social programs can succeed, and this is the main flaw of this reform. It cannot tie what needs to be tied, it cannot make the gears mesh together. There is no synergy, no cohesion. The definition of social programs must tie into a definition of job creation, but the reform does not do that. It would be possible only in a nation where there is a single level of government, and this is why the minister wants a single government, he wants to seize the powers he does not have to complete his reform.

In Quebec, we want the same thing. We want a government which will make all the decisions that concern it, a government able to mesh social demands and job creation. We want a cohesive state, a machine that works.

I would like to conclude with this. It appears to me that this reform is trying to achieve the reshaping of Canada, to achieve some kind of hegemony for the federal government wherein the provincial governments would have a very limited role, a policy which would state that the federal government would stamp the instructions.

For example, it would be possible for the minister to make sure that social and economic policies would be meshed together so as to produce a synergy, a coherence. It is not possible now; we all know it. The minister has in front of him provincial governments, and in Quebec a very strong provincial government determined to defend its position.

This government would like to push the provincial governments aside. To me and to those in Quebec it means that the message is that there is one government too many in the country and that this government would like to have only one, the federal government. We in Quebec believe that it should be one government in Quebec.

I do not know exactly, but it might be that the rest of Canada would like to reshape its relationship with the federal government.

It might be that there is a fundamental need in the rest of Canada to redefine social programs in a way which would go along the lines of the minister. I am quite ready to respect that. I think we should let them do it, but they should not impose their views on Quebec because we have different views.

It appears to me that if the minister has his way with the cabinet and the government party, and if this reform is enacted, if we have the additional cut of $7.5 billion announced in the Toronto Star yesterday, it means that we are due for a long and historical confrontation again.

The Prime Minister will ride again as a federal fighter against Quebec and we will have a long, very negative, unproductive fight between the two levels of government. We in Quebec are not ready to do that again. We have gone through that for thirty years now. It would be unhealthy to begin again.

I think we should respect our different orientations. We should be able to sit down and recognize that it is a law of nature and necessity to accept that we go our way. That is my conclusion.