Mr. Speaker, the fact I am likely the last speaker today I think you will find the best has been left for last. Since there are relatively few members here to witness this just keep it to yourselves.
I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. I always appreciate hearing his interventions. They are well thought out. Although I would add to his comments about the relevance of debate in this place vis-à-vis the relevance of compromise and discussion in committees.
He will agree with me that it is the debate in this place that really focuses one's attention and really focuses the thinking that needs to surround the very important subjects that we must deal with.
The member for Lévis was talking about the relationship of youth, employment and the social safety nets. It really struck home that this whole discussion and exercise is about the relationship between jobs and the social safety nets.
If everybody were working we would not have need for a social safety net. If there were nobody working we could not afford to have a social safety net. It is really impossible to participate in this discussion without linking at all times jobs and the strength of the economy, which defines the level of our employment, with our ability to provide those social safety nets, those supports for those who for various reasons cannot work, whether they are too young, disabled, too old or they are just not in a position to find employment because of the economy of their area.
In linking jobs to the whole question of social safety nets, I doubt there is really anyone here who has a full grasp of what our social safety net situation is like in this country right now. It is a huge monster in many ways. I feel it is madness to suggest that we should not completely review our social safety net programs. They have evolved over the years by piecemeal additions of one program or another, changes here and changes there, some good and some bad. If we do not take the opportunity now to totally review these programs we are just going to make the problems more difficult to tackle later on.
Many of these programs were instituted by previous Liberal governments, and wisely so, but times have changed and we are the first ones to recognize it. I really pay tribute to our Minister of Human Resources Development who has demonstrated tre-
mendous leadership. As I review the consultation plan that he has put forward I marvel at the breadth of the program.
If you look closely it is a three pronged approach involving the standing committee and members of Parliament, as members of the committee and as representatives of their ridings. It involves consultations with the provincial and territorial governments as a second attack. Third, the minister will have a special task force of non-partisan professionals who have been dealing with these issues for years to also provide advice.
This three pronged approach will conclude roughly the end of March and will tie into the government's action plan which will be the subject of scrutiny until this coming September and then the parliamentary debate and review later this fall and into next year which involves the two years that the minister talked about.
This is such a comprehensive set of consultations but it really bespeaks the kind of government that we are putting in front of the people, a transparent government, a government willing to listen to people and the fact that we are having this debate here.
We really are putting a new face to the people of Canada and giving Canadians a chance to have confidence again in their government.
The first 100 days of the Liberal government have demonstrated that we are serious. There will be some mistakes, no question about it. With due respect to opposition members when the score is counted at the end of another four or five years we will be judged well in our efforts to listen to the people and try to develop programs that make a lot of sense.
Our social safety net is full of holes, unfortunately. Imagine being a trapeze artist with a safety net below you that had holes in it. One would not feel too excited about taking that next swing under the circus tent.
There are young people, seniors and people with families in this country who are very fearful about those holes in the safety net. Like most of us, I am not fully aware of all the elements of our safety net programs.
It really behoves us to look at it all so that we can identify those holes. I will talk about a few as part of my intervention.
In my riding of Algoma we have a single industry town, Elliot Lake, which has virtually lost all of its uranium mining. It is now struggling, struggling valiantly, and doing well to diversify its economy to take advantage of the beautiful natural resources in the area along with the tourism and so on.
The neighbouring communities along the north shore are struggling with the problems that face single industry communities and areas. The problems that come with major shutdowns require a certain kind of response from federal, provincial and local governments.
Those kinds of responses are different than what is required in other areas of the country like the Manitoulin and north shore areas of my riding where we have systemic unemployment and seasonal employment, or seasonal unemployment to look at the reverse.
Tourism is wonderful but unfortunately until we can expand our tourism to all four seasons we will end up with seasonal employment. We have tended over the years to look at joblessness as one kind of problem. Past governments with all due respect have tried to deal with this on a piecemeal basis.
I would like to pick out a few of the holes that have crept into the system. A few years ago in 1985 the previous government made changes to the Unemployment Insurance Act which changed the application of severance pay as it related to unemployment insurance.
Severance pay was intended when it was first designed to allow laid off workers a bit of breathing space while they moved, retrained or made the necessary adjustments in their families to deal with being laid off.
Lo and behold, about seven or eight years ago the previous government changed the definition or the application of severance pay so that it had to be used up as income. There in one fell swoop severance pay was changed from an insurance against loss of employment to simply another form of income that the government took advantage of.
That was a tremendous problem for laid off workers in Elliot Lake and other parts of the riding of Algoma. There was a tremendous hue and cry. That is a major hole in the safety net that we have to deal with as part of our overall review.
How many of us have met people who have been laid off from a certain type of industry and are being retrained in another field for which there is absolutely no prospect of employment. There are cases in which major industries have shut down in the community and we retrain people as welders. However, there is no chance of there ever being employment in any major way for welders in that community again.
We really have to do a better job of matching the jobs aspect of our economy and the safety nets aspect of our economy. When we allow some people on UI to be retrained and others not to be retrained because some are in this part of the country or have faced a designated lay off, when we discriminate between one kind of unemployment and another, then we have problems.
If one is not working, one is not working. It does not really matter in the long run how one became unemployed. We really have to be more fair to our workforce, to individual workers.
The holes in our safety net often leave our seniors behind. How many poor seniors do we have in our economy? There are far too many people facing retirement with little prospect of any kind of comfort in their twilight years. We owe them much more than that, having really counted on them to build the country. We really owe them much more than pushing them off and leaving them to try to survive on limited incomes.
Throughout the campaign last fall I met many young people. It hit me so graphically that unlike when I went to university back in the late sixties and early seventies, believe it or not, young people who are now looking at going to university or college in the next year or two may face a situation where they are competing for fewer seats. Our support programs have withdrawn seats from our post-secondary education institutions.
When I think back to when I was in high school the fact is that I could enjoy high school. I could do a reasonable amount of homework and at the same time prepare for the future socially and scholastically. I look at these young people now and they are under so much pressure to get high marks to go to university that they are almost losing their teen years. When those years are gone, they are gone. The economy has deprived them of that.
Our social safety nets have yet to respond to the big problem, the total problem. I do not believe the debate here is necessarily the place in which to put forward solutions, although many of us have. I have been quite impressed with the level of debate, but I point out that there must be a linkage between jobs and the safety net. We cannot divorce the two. We cannot discuss one in isolation from the other.
As we look forward with some anticipation to great challenge, the most valuable attitude we can have toward our future planning is that of being creative. We must do some lateral thinking: think about things that perhaps we would not have thought about before, think about solutions that maybe we would not have considered five or ten years ago. Now we have to put everything on the table. We have to consider seriously, maybe for the first time in our history, where we are going.
I will conclude my remarks by suggesting to the House that the government was elected fundamentally on its ability to project hope. I suggest we can build on that hope by building on the people who make up the country. It is the people who have jobs. It is the people who fall into the safety net. That is the common denominator. We would not be here if it were not for the people.
It boils down to some very simple points. I believe more members should take the opportunity to share their views and to share in rebuilding the country.