House of Commons Hansard #13 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was programs.


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5:25 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB

Mr. Speaker, in my time I would like to address the remarks made by the member.

I have to say that on a number of issues I would agree in terms of where the speaker would have us go. He mentioned things such as a consultative process that would buy Canadians into the new programs the government will get to. He mentioned the need for a consolidated income program, which I would also support.

The difference, however, is what would motivate the direction that is proposed. I made note of the fact that he mentioned that the UI program is unfair to contributors-or there was a reference to that-or that sometimes UI is too user friendly. As a contributor to unemployment insurance, I would rather be me than most people in Canada who have to draw on that benefit.

If there is an unfairness out there, if there is someone who needs relief and needs the government to take their side, I really believe it is the people on the other side of the spectrum who need my contributions, because I really believe they are a lot worse off than I am.

Having said that, I look forward to the debate. I think it is important that Canadians buy into the programs they are called upon to finance and support. It is important for the people who receive benefits from these programs to know that Canadians support these programs as well. I welcome the opportunity to debate this. I suspect it is going to be an interesting debate.

In large part the kinds of change promoted by the previous speaker and the kinds of change promoted by the government side are similar. Maybe it is just the motivation that is a little different in terms of who it is we are trying to help.

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February 2nd, 1994 / 5:30 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the comments that have just been made. I also appreciate the atmosphere that exists in this House at the present time. It is non-confrontational and we are working together. We do not have all the solutions, but I think we can work together toward some of them.

One thing mentioned was the unemployment insurance. If we had taken some of the recommendations of the Forget commission and implemented them, if we had put UI on an actuarially sound basis where the premiums paid for it and employers and employees were responsible for administering it, we would not have the deficit or the debt that we have at the present time. It is good to implement some of these recommendations and not just throw out the baby with the bath water.

I look forward to working together on this. I do not know if there was a question asked, but those would be my comments. We should try to get some of these plans on a more financially sound basis. We cannot continue to go into debt at the rate we are now. It is going to threaten all of our social programs. The interest payments, over $40 billion, are horrendous, and that is going to bring this country to its knees. We have to do something right now to preserve our social programs by being careful about how we spend our money.

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5:30 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

It is a privilege and a great honour to stand and address the House. Again I would like to thank the citizens of Surrey North for providing me with this opportunity.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I offer my congratulations to you on your successful appointment to the position of Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons. It is a challenging role at the best of times but even more so now, with over 200 brand-new members of Parliament here. I am confident that we will receive the guidance and direction needed to participate successfully in the ways of the House. I wish you every success in that role.

Today I will address health care. Specifically I will direct my remarks to the national forum on health and to women regarding health. My remarks on both topics will be brief and general in nature in order to comment on both today.

First I would like to congratulate the hon. member on her appointment to the position of Minister of Health. I wish her success in her new and challenging role.

Since health care is a major interest of mine, I shall be following closely the activities of the government in this field. I can assure the minister I will assist her to meet the health care challenges ahead by providing constructive criticism and alternate options whenever it seems necessary.

I commend the government on its decision to recognize health care as a high-priority social program. I think very few, if anyone, could find fault with that decision. Its agreement to continue to support and fund this program is encouraging news, and its objective to seek more efficient ways to spend our tax dollars in this field is even better news.

The question before us is the nature and effects of these more efficient ways. The establishment of a forum on health as a vehicle to gather data from as many sources as possible, to identify these more efficient ways, has been mentioned by the government in its red book, in the speech from the throne and in the minister's speech here last Friday, to name but a few occasions.

I think we can safely say that this will come to pass in the near future. It seems a main objective of this forum is not to change from the five main principles of our health care system, but to identify alternate methods or to streamline the existing ones so as to allow us to continue with and even enhance our health care programs while maintaining these five main principles.

In her speech the Minister of Health offered some suggestions as to how this may be achieved, and many of her suggestions are echoed by other groups such as the Canadian Nurses Association. In a brief prepared by this association entitled Nurses Make a Difference, reference is made to such things as better use of health resources, greater public involvement, more equitable access and so forth.

I understand there is a project presently under way at the University of Ottawa that is being funded by both federal and provincial funding sources as well as from some professional associations and private enterprise sources. This group is examining specifically cost effectiveness in our health care system and is also offering suggestions or recommendations, some of which are very similar to those made in the speech by the Minister of Health.

Opinions and options about health care have been expressed by health care professionals, other professional groups, the general public and our colleagues in this and other Houses across the nation. Potential solutions range from managing our resources better, changing the structure of transfer payments, increasing the provincial jurisdiction over health, and increasing public awareness, to name a few.

I welcome the decision to establish a national forum on health care so that these and other possible options can be identified and debated to produce a solution to our economic difficulties in maintaining a high standard of health care for all Canadians.

I return to the Canadian Nurses Association brief once more. It also mentions the need for national health goals, and that nurses and nursing associations across our country support this. It seems that in September 1991 an agreement was obtained from the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health to establish a process to develop national health goals. To date little action, if any at all, has been taken to this end. I recommend to the Minister of Health that the development of national health goals become another objective for the national forum on health.

I shall now turn to my second topic. Reference has been made to women as having special conditions or requiring special attention in the health care field. The Minister of Health said: "Women do have special conditions, from osteoporosis to menopause, and they merit equal attention from research to treatment, to care and prevention." One could say the same thing about men, by changing two words, women to men, and menopause to prostate.

I caution our use of the word special in this context. Special tends to imply a situation or circumstance that differs from the norm or status quo. The normal composition of the human race is female and male or women and men. The biological nature of the body structure and, to some extent, the physiological aspects are the reasons for the two categories or components.

I advocate that neither one of these components, the male or the female, should be seen as special unto itself, but both should be seen as equal parts of the whole of the human race, and that our health care system should be addressing the needs of the

human race as a whole by meeting the needs of both components and not singling out one over the other.

Today we recognize this as a weak area in our health care programs, a weakness in the sense that our main focus has been and still is more on one component than the other. I believe that applying the word special to this weak area in our system, in this case the programs for women, will lead to approximately half the Canadian population being seen as a special needs group, a special interest group or possibly even a minority group. Such a concept will be detrimental in successfully achieving equal status for and equal attention to the needs of both sexes, genders or components, and thus the entire human race. I repeat that we should use caution when using the word special so as not to single out one component or sex over the other.

My time for speaking is slipping away rather quickly it seems. In closing I would remind the government that the promotion of health and the prevention of disease must continue to be the major focus in our deliberations on our health care programs.

I also advise the government to employ a wellness approach versus an illness approach as we seek solutions to manage our health care resources more efficiently and effectively. In this time of fiscal restraint we face many challenges in our nation and an efficient health care program is but one, and a very important one, for the well-being of all Canadians.

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5:40 p.m.


Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe this is the first speech of the hon. member and I would like to express my congratulations to her on her comments.

I listened to her speech very carefully. I want to ask her about what seems to me to be a lack of a recognition that much of the health research over the last decades in this country, and maybe the industrialized world, has been focused on men.

For example, I believe there is much more information on heart disease in the male than there is in the female. I do not think in our program we are talking about distinguishing between men and women in terms of the care they need when something is wrong when they are sick. I think we are focusing on the fact that there is not enough data and not enough history available on the special health needs of women.

I wonder if the hon. member would explain in more detail what she meant and whether she is prepared to recognize that there is very much lacking in our database and in our research with regard to the health needs of women.

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5:40 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his comments on my first speech. I would also like to say that possibly we are saying the same thing but using different words.

I agree with him that today and in the past the emphasis has been on men in health care. I personally can recall that the average height of a human being when I was studying was that of the average man and at that time he was considered to be 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

What I am saying is that the component of women and women's needs have not been addressed. It should be seen as a weakness in our overall assessment or how we are approaching health care. Instead of looking at this as being a special area it should be looked at as being part of the whole. At the present time we are much better with our approach toward the male body than we are to the female body.

My fear is that we may go through the next 100 years by putting women's health before men's. Let us get matters even and look at it as a whole. There are two sexes.

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5:40 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to commend the hon. member for Surrey North on her first speech. I will be very brief.

She mentioned consultation in regard to the national health forum. I would like to bring something to her attention and get her reaction. In my constituency of Fredericton-York-Sunbury we are holding a forum of our own on February 27 that will involve probably 100 residents of the riding. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and the minister of health in the province of New Brunswick have agreed to be there. In that way we intend to promote participation in this debate of all the people that can make it. It will be a televised discussion in the riding. My guess is that we will have between 100 and 200 people there. We are going to prepare for it with a lot of background information. Many of the stakeholders are participating, but also health care consumers and many people with alternative ideas on how health should be dealt with. I would welcome the member's comments on that.

Just before I sit down, the member mentioned her support for the five principles of the Canada Health Act. I welcome her support for our position against user fees being used in the provinces. I would also like her to comment on that.

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5:45 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, first I will comment on the health forum. It is not a new role that we are looking at in relation to gathering data on health problems or situations. In my address I said that there were already a great number of people out there who have seen the deficiency in the economic situation, have already been conducting studies on it and have

been offering recommendations either at a federal or provincial level. I have named two such groups.

Instead of reinventing the wheel over the next few months, we must make sure that these groups are part of the national health forum and that many other new ideas are brought forth from other groups or forums such as the ones the member is talking about. Maybe this is something that we should all be looking at to get the data. However there are people out there already who have some tremendous ideas that certainly should be in front of the forum.

As far as the five basic principles of the health care program are concerned, I do not think anybody is arguing them. They are the basis for Canadians having one of the best health care programs in the world. User fees come into it as they are a component of one or more of those five principles. That aspect goes more to the management of achieving those five components and providing the service than being one of the five components.

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5:45 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I noted the member for Surrey North indicated in her comments that the average height of a man was five feet, seven inches. I would be interested in what the average weight is at some point.

I have been sitting here trying to sort out exactly what it is that I want to say in only 10 minutes. This is an immense topic. I have spent most of my working life in what we are defining as the social services.

As a teenager I worked in the core area of my city in settlement houses. I have worked with handicapped people, the disabled and emotionally disturbed kids. I ended that portion of my career as the director of child welfare in my province. I have wrestled with some of these issues for some time.

It is interesting in a sense when I reflect on how I became involved in politics. It was in the mid-1970s. I received a call from a friend of mine who worked in an agency that was similar to the one I was directing at that point. He said that a politician wanted to speak to us, that he wanted to meet with a few people to talk about social policy.

I was a little unsure just what that meant because my view of politicians was like that of most people who are somewhat removed from the system, but I went. I was maybe a little in awe that somebody who we see on TV and who sits in a legislative chamber would want to talk to me. That night I met the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre. We spent an entire evening just sitting on the couch with a few people talking about what was happening in social programs in the city of Winnipeg in 1975.

As we talked we sort of wrestled with what are the things that are helping people, what are the things that are supporting people, what are the things that are showing signs of success and what are the things that need change. Therefore when I see Lloyd stand in the House-

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5:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

You must refer to the member or the minister but not to the member by name. That is a strictly enforced rule in this place.

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5:50 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I cannot even argue the rule at this point. When I see the minister stand in the House I see him making the same offer. He is not standing to put on record a whole bunch of Liberal Party rhetoric. He is making a very genuine request: "I ask members of the House and all Canadians to work with my government to develop an action plan".

Obviously this is an area that interests me, so I read very carefully what the Leader of the Official Opposition and the lead speaker of the Reform Party had to say. I must say I was a little disappointed in what I heard coming from the Official Opposition. When I meet with members of the Official Opposition, when I talk to members of the Official Opposition, I hear them saying some fairly progressive things about social policy. I think they have a fundamental understanding of the issue. However when I heard their leader speak he said something I have become accustomed to hearing from the New Democratic Party in my province: "Don't touch anything. Don't change anything. You dasn't muss a hair of this program". That is unfortunate because I think there is a great deal of wisdom to be shared with the House as we search for a solution to make the lives of Canadians better.

Frankly I do not know how to respond to the intervention by the Reform Party. I read it several times and made some notes on it because I was trying to figure it out. It seemed to say we have to cut everything today so we will have it tomorrow. There is a curiousness in the logic there that escapes me somewhat.

These are serious problems. They affect the lives of real people living in our communities. We have right now a tremendous opportunity. In the mid-1960s in Canada and the United States, at a time when government had huge revenues, we created the social safety net or the core of it. Some pieces were already in place. Canada has been a progressive country for a long time. We created a network of services that was the result of our best thinking at that time. We have had experience with it. We have learned over time that some of the things we did were good and that some were not so good.

We learned, for example, that a lot of the services that we provide tend not to empower people. They tend to remove their ability to function independently. We confronted that in the provision of services in a great many communities.

We have a fiscal crisis right now. If we want to look at the glass half full side of the fiscal crisis, maybe it is a good thing the crisis is forcing this debate. Maybe we will finally challenge some of our assumptions about how we provide help to people.

However let us do it from the perspective of providing some assistance.

I want to make a few quick suggestions to frame out some of the structural issues that I think confront us. Technology offers a tremendous opportunity right now. We now have the technological capacity to begin to understand what is happening out there and to look at the ways in which our services collide. Over the years we have built up a patchwork of services.

The classic case in the business of child welfare that I know best is when one calls for a consultation on a particular individual and 15 agencies show up. Obviously there is an abuse, a misuse or an inefficiency in the way in which we use the resources we have. Technology gives us some opportunities to identify that, to iron that out and to understand not the reality presented in the newspapers every day. If we read the newspapers every day we see terrible problems. In fact when we begin to look beneath the headlines at how people are doing we forget that the murder rate is going down, that people are getting healthier and that people are living longer. In fact we forget that we have succeeded enormously in the programs we have delivered.

We forget it was only a few decades ago when to be old meant to be poor, to be old meant to be living in substandard housing. Today they cannot rent out all the bachelor apartments in housing for the elderly. The elderly have now achieved, because of the programs we have created, a certain level of wealth that has allowed them to live independently. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. That is a thing to be proud of as a Canadian, not to be afraid of.

The Official Opposition presented some interesting issues about interjurisdictional areas.

The minister whom I cannot mention by name has made comment in the past that when he was a minister in a previous government between 1980 and 1984, he often spent more of his time debating interjurisdictional issues than he did debating problematic issues.

Maybe it is possible to look at the fact, for example, that the federal government delivers support to people directly. It does right now through unemployment insurance. We forget that we give support in many different ways through student aid, pensions and half the income security costs. Maybe we should look at providing a basic level of support, maybe a guaranteed annual income or a basic level of living support to people who require it. That may be a good idea. Maybe we should allow the provinces to look at the services that get added on to that to reflect local needs. It would be a very radical change. Maybe it is time we begin to think about it.

The last couple of Reform speakers mentioned the income tax system. That is an idea that is worth exploring. It is interesting there has long been a concept called negative income tax. It says that we make our tax system very progressive: when we earn money we contribute to the community, we contribute more as we earn more and when we do not have the capacity to earn for whatever reason we receive basic support. That support increases as we move further and further into difficulty. A proposal like that was put forward in the 1970s by Richard Nixon. It was very progressive. I see the member sort of struggling with it, but I think there are some aspects to it worth exploring.

I would genuinely like to see us sitting here struggling with how to make the lives of Canadians better, how to help them. The speaker before the last one said that we needed radical new ideas. I would like to hear a radical new idea from the Reform Party on how we help a million children living in poverty. I would like to hear an idea like that.

On the one hand we talk about a new form of debate, but on the other hand we have the same old kind of politics of just sitting and picking little holes in things. Let us get some radical ideas on the table. Let us make this a better country for the people.

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5:55 p.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Winnipeg South. I would like to make a few comments on his speech. Obviously there are political disagreements in terms of philosophies in the House, but I want to ask the member a couple of questions about some of the things he said in his 10-minute usage of time.

He attributed to my leader words to the effect of "cut it now so you will save it later". We in the House need to budget our own personal finances in such a way that they do not come after us. We need to live within our means. Do we then just spend it all now? What happens later?

Let me use the analogy of credit cards. Is the member then saying that he would be happy or he thinks it is advisable for those of us in the country who are responsible for social policy to use our American Express card to pay off our Visa?

Somehow this vicious cycle needs to end. Having worked in the child welfare system he realizes how important it is to look after the lives of children. What if his government that is responsible for the funding came to him in the province of Manitoba and said: "The gig is up; there is no more cash?" How is he going to protect the lives of the children? Should we not specifically target spending to make sure that the people who absolutely need it will get that funding? How will American

Express paying off his Visa bill make sure that we do look after one million poor children in Canada?

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5:55 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to an opportunity to debate this question at great length with the member for Beaver River and other members of her party in the House.

The problem is twofold. Frankly I hear very simplistic things coming out of the Reform Party. I hear this constant noise about this being like a business; that if we are going to run it like a business and we have no money, we should cut off things, fire employees or lay people off, downsize. That is a fallacious understanding of how the economy works.

In a business you do not set the interest rate. You do not set the exchange rate. You do not set the regulatory environment. You do not have a myriad of levers to pull or buttons to push in order to affect the lives of people. That kind of analogy is just a non starter for me.

The second thing is that it is a little like trying to change wheels on a moving car. You cannot abandon everybody who sits out there, everybody who receives support and help right now while you try to move to this brave new world. You have to move through some kind of transition.

There are tremendous opportunities to create efficiencies in the current system. The problem the member references in terms of the size of the economy and the size of the debt is a very serious one. Everybody in this House acknowledges that and it is one that must be confronted. I believe there are ways to find significant resources in the social policy envelope without harming a single individual.

If we step aside from some of the antiquated ways in which we have delivered services and move into the 1990s or if we even moved into the 1980s it would be an improvement. We could find some resources. There are other ways to find resources and they are in the management of this economy. They are in putting people back to work. They are in helping to revitalize the business community. Simply stepping back from the responsibility as a government is not good enough. It does not work.

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6 p.m.


Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asked if there were anyone over here who could give him a radical new idea to support the millions of children who are living in poverty. This is a serious question.

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6 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

I am listening.

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6 p.m.


Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

What can we do to insure that the people who have children, particularly the fathers, support those children?

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6 p.m.


Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned in my remarks empowerment and how we have tended through our programs to take power away from people. One way to empower people is to hold them responsible for things. In my province we brought in a very aggressive policy of enforcing child support payments. That is a policy that could be looked at nationally.

I do not think you let people off the hook and buy them a free lunch or any of that kind of stuff. You have to treat them like powerful individuals, provide them with some supports and let them get on with the management of their own lives. You have to be there for them at times.

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6 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the motion on the modernization and restructuring of our social security system which costs Canada at all levels of government $130 billion a year.

We in this House are keenly aware of the dual mandate we have been given by the Canadian people. On one hand we are told to live within our means and cut the cost of government so as to reduce and ultimately eliminate our national fiscal deficit.

On the other hand we all know well that we must continue to provide the kinds of opportunities and services Canadians expect from their government to reduce or prevent the human deficit. I believe we can follow through on both orders. The two are interdependent.

What are the objectives of the review? We would like to find out what really works, to eliminate disincentives to work and training, to head off the alienation of youth and perhaps transform unemployment insurance as an instrument of re-education. We must synchronize our social security system, definitely not to reduce the spending per se but put more people back to work. The objective of the process is to allow a partnership among all of us in the review of the system and to seek the agreement of the provinces and thereby achieve a truly participatory process.

Why the need for this review? The realities are there. We have seen the increasing numbers of users of the system, the difficult transition to work, the duplication of government programs that we feel are no longer responsive to the needs of the day. We have noticed that there have been too many disincentives to work and so we would like to modernize the system.

The ultimate objective at the end of the review is to have a modern social security system that sustains the ethic of work through its incentives and at the same time guarantees the security of citizens in their hour of most need.

I said earlier that the twin challenges of reducing the fiscal deficit and reducing the human deficit are interdependent. We cannot cut the fiscal deficit in isolation without due regard for the anguish of the unemployed, for the pain of the poor and their children, for the fear of the student facing escalating tuition fees, for the anxiety of seniors about their pensions. We should not betray the seniors who trusted their governments during

their working years. Nor can we disregard the decay of our cities and municipalities which help secure our streets and our homes.

Cutting the fiscal deficit without taking heed of the human dimensions of cost cutting would be utter insensitivity and would constitute inept governance. At the same time, spending on economic and social programs for our citizens without attention to their efficiency and effectiveness, even in times of plenty, is poor stewardship and particularly in times of fiscal restraint would also constitute inept governance.

Our social assistance programs which include old age pensions, aid to education such as student loans, the Canada Assistance Plan, unemployment insurance, training grants and medicare ensure that there exists a form of social justice in Canada. Very often there is unfairness.

It is not fair when you have skills, education and qualifications and are denied employment opportunity due to a lack of available jobs or to discrimination, be it traditional or reverse, or to the inability to have one's credentials recognized in another province.

It is also unfair when immigrants and new citizens find no orderly process for accreditation of their foreign obtained credentials. It is unfair when you are unable to work because of an illness, injury or physical disability and are not provided with a means of overcoming it. It is unfair when after 65 years of paying into a pension plan your monthly cheques do not reflect the many years of hard work to earn your retirement.

The social justice contract under which this nation operates dictates that Canadians share their privileges and benefits so that no one is left stranded in times of great need.

Unemployment insurance is similarly designed for periods of crisis, to ensure that basic necessities continue to be provided for those who lose their pay cheques.

The idea is to see to it that misfortune, in and of itself, does not result in a loss of personal dignity. Social programs are not a haven for dependency. They exist to serve our fellow Canadians in their acute and genuine continuing needs.

This is the commitment of people and therefore of government, which makes such privileges possible. It is to people and to government that we must turn to fix our distressed social security system.

The numerous privileges our social security system offers are accompanied by a number of equally important obligations. It is incumbent on all members of society to use the system only when needed. Abuse of the security net ultimately results in the funding hardship we now face.

We must remind those who are inclined to abuse the system through a public information program that the people footing the bills for their actions are their neighbours, their families, their parents and their friends. We must appeal to Canadians' innate sense of good citizenry.

It is crucial that people come to view social assistance as a treatment for the symptoms that ail them, and not as a definitive cure. Permanent relief can only come about after we have attacked the root causes of financial difficulties.

How can this be accomplished? A Canada-made modernization of our social security system should reflect our values, our priorities and our interests, thereby fostering pride in our citizens, who will then be loathe to abuse it.

The system might include measures such as the income supplement program being considered today in Newfoundland and which has been piloted in New Brunswick.

It could also include provisions for an income contingency repayment plan for student loans and other programs such as the guaranteed annual income supplement. Let me reiterate that the key to achieving a successful betterment of our current social security system lies in our willingness to seek the input of Canadians.

As people on social assistance take on jobs not only will their self-esteem be restored but they would then begin to contribute to the growth of the economy as consumers and to government revenues through the taxes they would pay.

In conclusion, I would like to convey a message to my constituents and to all Canadians that we on the government side can achieve the dual mandate issued to us by voters. We can eliminate our national fiscal deficit while at the same time ensuring opportunities and services for Canadians in their hour of need. Citizens and government can work as partners to defend and strengthen our shared social values of equity, fairness, co-operation and generosity.

Then and only then can we help ensure the security and sensitivity of Canada's social programs for the present and for the 21st century.

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6:10 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, speaking as a woman who is aware of the problems of social development, I welcome this opportunity today to take part in this debate on

social programs. In the riding I have the honour to represent in this House, like all regions in Quebec and Canada, we see daily so many examples of social problems that are unacceptable in a society that ranks among the wealthiest in the world.

The lingering recession in Quebec and Canada has added to the ranks of the unemployed and welfare recipients whose numbers were already unacceptable, considering the standard of wealth in our communities. That the federal system has failed is reflected in Quebec's high unemployment rate, low job rate and unusually high percentage of Canada's poor. According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, nearly one-third or 31.82 per cent of low income families live in Quebec, although we represent only slightly more than 25 per cent of the population of Canada.

In the course of this debate, the Official Opposition intends to condemn any attempts to cut social programs targeted to the neediest in our society, while the government tolerates unfair taxation, the underground economy, costly and counterproductive government spending, and programs where taxpayers' money is being wasted, as a result of duplication by provincial and federal governments. The government is mistaken if it thinks it can deal with its financial crisis by drastically cutting social programs that are essential to maintaining a minimum of human dignity among the neediest in our society.

I would urge hon. members on both sides of this House to look at the many pockets of poverty that have emerged in their respective ridings during the latest recession, and realize that we must deal with the problem through effective programs instead of cutting into the basic essentials these people need. We believe that cutting social spending is the easy way out, to deal with budget problems caused by previous governments' failure to act. I would ask this government to use a little more imagination and provide some hope for the neediest in this country who are often the victims of government inefficiency.

What must be addressed are the real dangers that threaten the economies of Quebec and Canada and which, especially in the case of Quebec, are holding back economy recovery. We can point the finger at unemployment, the monetary policy, unfair taxation, duplication of services, which is not only costly but also inefficient, lack of expenditure control, and the unbearably high deficit the federal government unloads on Quebec and the provinces. Those are the many evils which put counterproductive pressures on social expenditures, and prove, beyond any doubt, the failure of the Canadian federalist system whose unchanging characteristic is that it cannot be renewed, in spite of the many attempts to do so.

Fifty years after the publication of the first report outlining the premises for our social policy, things have not changed that much. Due to poor management in the past few years, the state of our social security system is giving rise to a growing concern.

For social programs to be better integrated and more faithfully reflect national policy, we need uniform standards regarding efficiency, fairness, consistency and work incentives. These are the characteristics which should still be guiding us today. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

In the last few years, the federal government has in fact cut and altered social programs. Moreover, it has reduced transfer payments to the provinces and Quebec for their social programs. And, as I mentioned earlier in this House, neither Quebec nor the provinces are asking for charity in this respect. All they are doing is demanding what is owed them under a duly signed agreement, let us not forget that.

By raising the standards for unemployment insurance eligibility with Bill C-21, and later on, by imposing new conditions for entitlement with Bill C-113, the federal government gave notice that it had little respect for those who were the hardest hit by the recession.

While doing the less affluent such injustice, at the same time it made Quebec and the provinces bear a heavier portion of income security expenditures. In spite of further tax increases, the federal contribution to provincial governments for health care and social programs has drastically declined, shaking the very foundations of the system.

Between 1978 and 1993, the federal contribution for health care and post-secondary education dropped from 47 per cent to 34 per cent. This means that less money is channelled back to the provinces for established program financing. However, the standards that have to be met in the management of these programs are not being adjusted.

It is not surprising then to hear about user fees. By unloading its financial problems onto Quebec and the provinces, the federal government sees, as a result, the principles underlying the Canadian health policy being undermined.

Quebec and the provinces are faced with increased health care costs. This increase in due primarily to the following factors: the aging of the population, new medical technologies that are more costly and a significant increase in spending for pharmaceutical products.

Canadian and Quebec taxpayers give the federal government large amounts of money, some of which is earmarked for health care under the agreement of 1977. The problem is that, for the past 10 years, the federal government has not been giving back to Quebec and the provinces the portion that is rightfully theirs, thereby depriving them of the funds intended for health care. Instead, it transfers its deficit to Quebec and the provinces, all because of the inability of previous governments to control their spending. The federal government must be aware that, by increasing the tax burden for Quebec and the other provinces, it would create a two-tier health system, where the rich will be

able to afford health services while the underprivileged will tend to delay or forgo medical treatment.

We believe in the basic principles of universality, integrality, accessibility, transferability and public management of the health system. What we are criticizing is the fact that these basic principles are being threatened, in every province including Quebec, by the inability of the federal government to honour its commitments.

If you decrease or freeze the federal transfer payments, you jeopardize our health system, which is the one component of our social programs we most rely on. In Quebec, according to the established programs financing legislation, 45 per cent of health cost was to be picked by Ottawa. However, faced with the economic crisis of the early 1980s and the disastrous state of our public finances, the federal government decided to unilaterally opt out, so that by 1992-93 the federal transfer share of health expenditures had dropped by 33 per cent.

This opting out process, often described by the Quebec government as unacceptable, unfair and incoherent, was not followed by a reduction in terms of federal intervention, since Ottawa is maintaining national standards and undertaking parallel programs, hence causing overlap problems. The end results, as I said earlier, are steady pressure for users' fees or other forms of billing, the delisting of some services, a service tax on drugs, drastic cuts in hospital budgets and outrageous waiting lists in many specialties.

Thus, the very foundation of our health insurance plan, that is free, universal and accessible care, is in jeopardy. That brings me back to my starting point: it is always those most in need who are the worst affected.

How can anyone speak about social programs without crying out against a level of poverty so high that 4.2 million people live in poverty in Canada, with Quebec being the main victim? There are 1.2 million children living in poverty and that hard core poverty is the fate of a large majority of single mothers and women raising a family alone. Let us turn now from the current costs of that unusual situation to assess the real issues underlying that crisis and its long-term impact.

Beyond the figures and the statistics, there are real people out there who hurt, who are sick and who go hungry. Those people wish the government would act responsibly, quit squandering money and find lasting remedies. We readily admit that people in government need to travel, but how many families could we get out of the mess for good with what it costs for a single Challenger flight? Every little bit helps.

Many studies demonstrate a clear relation between poverty and bad health. According to a study by Health Quebec on the 25 most common health problems in Quebec, almost all of them were more acute among low income people than among wealthier people. Poor people consume more medicine than rich people and require more health care.

A report made public by Campaign 2000 revealed a 30 per cent increase in the number of children living in poverty in Canada. In addition to being a bigger drain on the health care budget because they get sick more often, these children suffer more often from learning problems and are more prone to becoming school dropouts, twice as often as the children of the wealthy. Finally and most regrettably, they are more likely to become dependent upon social assistance than to participate in development.

In order to better control the global state of health of the population in Quebec and in Canada, and hence to limit health care costs, we must first wage a merciless war against poverty. Therefore, those considerations have to be taken into account in the review of our social programs. Ignoring them would have the effect of worsening the spiraling deficit and the spiraling poverty. We have more than enough of one tragedy already.

The only effective remedy against poverty is the creation of long-term jobs for people who will have first enjoyed adequate benefits. In this context, the direct duplication of similar federal programs and provincial initiatives is an absolute waste of public money and is also, in most cases, counterproductive. Quebec wants an end to this mess in the manpower and job training sector which costs its taxpayers $250 million every year.

In this area, as in many others, the existing rivalry must be replaced by effectiveness and efficiency. Our debt as well as the chilling reality of the unemployment rate and the number of welfare recipients do not allow us to condone waste through sheer stubbornness. Administrative overlapping generates real costs, one of the most important of which is the inability to solve the problem of poverty, especially in Quebec.

Poverty, especially in the case of young people, leads directly to welfare, drug and alcohol consumption, sometimes jail, and even despair and suicide. The fact is that the drop-out rate in schools is alarming. In some districts of the island of Montreal, close to half of the students quit school without any diploma and, as we all know, dropping out of school leads directly to poverty, since the job market massively rejects people without diplomas. According to Statistics Canada, 65 per cent of the new jobs between 1990 and 1993 were filled by university graduates. No speech made by governments on employment makes any sense if it is not supported by an energetic program to change

the objectives and the education system itself. Young Quebecers and Canadians must have access to a very high quality education to be able to take advantage of the need for a highly-skilled manpower.

The federal and provincial governments cannot afford to waste time and energy in futile bickering over who has jurisdiction, at the expense of a coherent and structured financing for post-secondary education.

We believe it is more urgent than ever that a House committee look into government spending in order to eliminate waste and duplication, and to reduce operating expenditures. This would enable us to allocate the budgets necessary to maintain social programs.

We also believe it would be more appropriate to cut military spending rather than reduce the budget for health care. We also propose a courageous tax reform to eliminate tax evasion, unfairness, as well as tax shelters such as family trusts, which only benefit the wealthy. This type of reform, and not a charge led against the poor through cuts to social programs, would get our support.

Those are useful solutions to help solve the budget crisis which we are concerned about. However, we will strongly oppose any violation of the commitment made by this government during the election campaign not to dismantle social and health programs.

In conclusion, there is no doubt whatsoever that the health of Quebecers and Canadians is closely related to poverty.

This House and the government have the moral obligation to put in place the necessary mechanisms to provide for the urgent needs of more than four million people, mostly women and children, for whom poverty has replaced hope.

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6:30 p.m.

Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis Québec


Clifford Lincoln LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Environment and Deputy Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I could have sworn that I was in the Quebec National Assembly listening to PQ members. The same fancy words, inconsistency, unfairness, inefficiency. Sure, and the hon. member who just spoke and her colleagues are the only ones who possess virtue. They are the only champions of the cause of the poor and the disadvantaged and, of course, any federal initiative by definition does not work.

I would like to remind the hon. member that it was a federal Liberal government that instituted universal medicare in Canada as well as old age pensions, the Canada pension plan that the Quebec pension plan takes after, the UI program and guaranteed income maintenance programs for the less fortunate element of our society and our seniors. If you check in our red book, our electoral platform, every subject you have raised is in there: education for young people, apprenticeship programs to start doubling the number of graduates immediately, childcare programs, pre-natal nutrition programs for women, with a focus on the underprivileged, as well as a full range of social, education and training programs. This entire book deals with just that. You say that this government has two months and a half-

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6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. member that members are to address only the Chair, never one another.

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6:30 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. The hon. member being a paragon of virtue stated that all the faults of government, our common government, at the federal and provincial level, would of course fall back on the provincial government. I sat for nine years in the Quebec National Assembly. Problems arise in areas of common jurisdiction. We all know that there is duplication and that adjustments are needed. Just this morning, the Minister of Human Resources Development, responding to questions from the opposition, said that he was negotiating to avoid duplication in the area of manpower.

The other day, the Minister of Finance met with his provincial counterparts and managed to come up with a tax equalization payment program guaranteed for the next five years which was approved unanimously by the provinces, including Quebec.

Two and a half months later, the hon. member comes and criticizes us for having done nothing. But that is what this debate is all about, to hear constructive ideas, not only the destructive ones, to talk about previous governments from 1978 to 1988 that her leader was a member of. He too flew on a Challenger and had extravagant expenses when he was ambassador in Paris. Perhaps those amounts should been transferred to the less fortunate as well.

The hon. member and her colleagues must also keep in mind that this debate is an opportunity for us to find together the remedies we will take to help the underprivileged. Criticizing, being destructive and saying that the federal government is at fault, while they, over there, are all virtuous, will not resolve anything. You solve problems by working together, in partnership, by making constructive suggestions.

Having listened to the hon. member for 20 minutes and heard nothing but a litany of criticism, I could have sworn this was the same speech I had heard back in the days when I was sitting across from the Péquists either as a government member or as a member of the opposition.

Everything and anything that goes wrong in heaven or on earth is the fault of the federal government. That may not seem to change, but we will change. We will listen patiently and try to work constructively, in partnership-and I hope that the opposition does not expect us to act on our own-to solve the problems of the less fortunate members of our society. We will solve them

together with constructive solutions, and that is what this debate is about.

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6:35 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

The policy that the hon. member has just alluded to is outmoded. The fact of the matter, as I mentioned clearly in my speech, is that Quebec and the provinces are facing a different situation. With respect to health care, I stated that health care costs had increased because of the situations I described earlier. The problem right now is that the government is not channelling back to the provinces the funds that are rightfully theirs.

As a result, the provinces cannot balance their health care budgets. Take, for example, Sainte-Croix Hospital in my constituency. It is experiencing an acute crisis because it is underfunded. This facility serves a population of 80,000 and has a shortage of 100 acute care beds. Hospital equipment is outdated and there is shortage of specialists. The situation is growing more critical by the moment and it is always the less fortunate who suffer.

That is what I wished to say to my hon. colleague.

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6:35 p.m.


Harold Culbert Liberal Carleton—Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, during the presentation of my hon. colleague, the member across the way, there were a couple of points that became very obvious, the first being the reference to programs currently not working in Quebec and also that federalism had failed.

I would suggest that with the minister's tabling of his report and his release on Monday of this week that the exact opposite has occurred. There is no question as the old saying goes, at least in my riding, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

My hon. colleague's statement that in Quebec it is not working quite obviously there appears to be a need to upgrade, to review, reform and make better the programs that we have for all Canadians and that is exactly what the minister stated.

I would like to quote once again from the minister's own words. He said: "I am asking the House, our colleagues in the Senate, our counterparts at the provincial and territorial level, members of business and labour sectors, the leaders of our communities and indeed every Canadian to throw out the old ideas, put aside vested interests", which the hon. member referred to, "and begin thinking of the kind of ground rules we need in Canada to restore fairness, hope and a sense of security".

I would ask the hon. member to refer to those in light of her suggestion that federalism has failed and the programs are not working in Quebec.

I believe just the opposite with the minister's statement here in the House and she has an opportunity to relate, to provide the input that the minister is asking for.

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6:40 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for St. Catharines, may I first congratulate my fellow colleagues for being part of the 35th Parliament of Canada.

As this is my first speech in this House, I would particularly like to congratulate the hon. member for Welland-St. Catharines-Thorold on his election as Speaker of the House. I have had the personal privilege of knowing and working with the hon. member for many years and I know that he will continue in the tradition he has set as a parliamentarian in this Chamber.

I have the honour and privilege to speak on behalf of the constituents in the riding of St. Catharines. The city of St. Catharines, better known as the Garden City, is located on the southwest shore of Lake Ontario in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula.

The famous Welland ship canal runs through our community bypassing Niagara Falls and linking Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The riding is surrounded by vineyards, tender fruit orchards and the picturesque view of the Niagara escarpment.

St. Catharines is also home of the great educational and cultural organizations. Brock University has gained recognition not only in education but through its national basketball championship team. The folk arts festival held in May celebrates with 35 local ethnic organizations and is always one of the high points of the year.

The city is also home to the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and the famous Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. In all modesty I suggest that St. Catharines is a microcosm of Canada. We are proving daily that people can and do live in harmony.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of serving my community as director and chairman of many organizations. My involvement in these organizations will I am sure assist me in serving my constituents more effectively.

Unfortunately the difficult economic times experienced by Canadians in recent years has hit St. Catharines and the Niagara Peninsula particularly hard. Unemployment in St. Catharines has reached record levels. Automotive and small manufacturing businesses, the major employers in the area, have seen major restructuring and downsizing. The St. Catharines private shipyard has been forced to downsize its work base from 1,100 to some 200 employees. "Job loss grows in Niagara" read a recent headline in the St. Catharines Standard . Statistics show that joblessness is not only more prevalent today but joblessness also lasts longer.

Many of the social programs set up in the past decades no longer serve Canadians as they should. The result is a misalignment between what the government should be doing to assist Canadians and what the outdated programs are providing.

We are here today in the House of Commons to discuss the motion of the Minister of Human Resources Development that a committee of this House consult with Canadians and make our recommendations on modernizing and restructuring our social security system.

Our challenge is clear. We are committed to maintaining Canada's social programs but we are also faced with the economic reality of the national debt which absorbs almost 25 cents of every government dollar.

It is clear that a fundamental change in our social programs must occur if we are to effectively put people back to work and reduce the deficit. As a former executive from industry, I would like to focus my remarks on education and training and the importance of co-operation between business, industry, government and the educators in setting priorities for change.

My background in industry has taught me the importance of education. Future economic health means investing in people. That is the key. The question is this. How do we train and retrain Canadians so that they are effective and active members of the work force?

Do we need to spend more money? Canada presently spends more than $44 billion a year on schools, colleges and universities. We devote 6.2 per cent of the gross domestic product on education, ranking fifth among OECD countries and despite these high expenditures rising unemployment rates create a growing concern that our system is off target.

It has been mentioned many times before that youth unemployment is of special concern. In June of last year while the national unemployment was some 11 per cent, unemployment for young people between the ages 15 and 24 was approximately 18 per cent. In 1993, 400,000 young people were looking for work each month.

In theory the employment system assists in the retraining of the unemployed for greater long-term employment. In reality most funding goes directly to pay unemployment insurance benefits with a small portion remaining for training.

The financial overview for 1993-94 shows that while unemployment benefits will be approximately $18 billion, spending on training and other active measures totals $3.6 billion. We are spending. We need to spend more effectively and setting priorities for effective spending for future jobs cannot be accomplished blindly by governments. Educators, business and industry must be involved.

In the mid-1980s Canadian business spent .25 per cent of gross domestic product on training and education. In Germany this figure was 1.96 per cent, in Great Britain 2.17 per cent, in Japan 1.4 per cent and in the U.S., .66 per cent.

Business must realize, and some do, that the future is at stake. Poorly trained employees cost business money. Business must participate not only in the funding of programs but in the reform of the process being started by the government. More and more education will be key to competitiveness as higher levels of education are required within the work force overall.

In 1986 just over 45 per cent of jobs required less than 12 years of education. That figure is estimated to drop to just over 32 per cent between now and the year 2000. Conversely, jobs requiring 17 or more years of education represented only 22.4 per cent of jobs in 1986 but should rise to almost 50 per cent by the turn of the century.

The government's election platform in the speech from the throne reaffirmed the commitment to investing in people. We will work with business, educators and Canadians to ensure that a final plan for modernizing our social programs is a workable solution. Specifically we must work with the provinces and the private sector to help youth be prepared for the transition from school to work.

The youth service corps is a priority and the Secretary of State for Training and Youth has already completed a round of consultation on the corps. Apprenticeship or internship programs prepare youth for the work force. We are committed to bridging the gap between education and employment.

Training and skills development must also extend into the present work force. Several minutes ago I spoke of the increased training levels required for jobs of the future. An enormous portion of the present work force will also require retraining and educational upgrading in the future.

As the Minister of Human Resources Development said in the House this past week: "If we are to speak of reform of the social safety net we must include in that discussion the issues of training and education". Unemployment insurance, social assistance and education are all interconnected. We must address all of these to create, in the minister's words "a total fabric of opportunity".

Better trained employees create better systems. They reduce waste, they make business more competitive and in the end reach that objective of creating more jobs. The changes must be comprehensive. It must include Canadians; Canadian business, Canadian industry, Canadian educators and it must be done immediately. In the Niagara area, the Niagara Peninsula Industry Council is just beginning and is starting to make improvements in our area.

Today we begin an action plan for reforming our social security system. I am pleased the minister has asked me and members of this House to participate in the working groups. We have a lot of work to do, but I join my colleagues in welcoming the challenges ahead. I encourage all Canadians to participate in this process.

In closing, I would like to thank my constituents in St. Catharines, my family on whom I rely, my wife, Carol, daughters, Tamara and Virginia, and all of those in the riding who worked tirelessly to give me the opportunity to serve in this Chamber.

The riding of St. Catharines has been represented by some very effective members from my party, namely Jim McNulty, Harry Cavers and the Hon. Gib Parent. It is a proud moment for me to join my predecessors in service to my city of St. Catharines. I look forward to representing St. Catharines in this great House.

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6:50 p.m.


Laurent Lavigne Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the comments made by the hon. member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis a few moments ago. I had the honour of serving with him in the National Assembly.