Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to respond to the motion moved by the hon. member for Mercier.
I am very glad to reiterate for all hon. colleagues of the Bloc Quebecois the Liberal vision of Canada. It is a Canada that offers to all young Canadians the kind of opportunities to work, to grow and to prosper as so many other Canadians enjoyed before them.
It should be noted that part of a government's vision is responding in an accountable, responsible and innovative way to what it sees around it, and not only responding to the problems but capturing the spirit of the potential that is there. This is what we as a government are attempting.
I also welcome the opportunity to expand on this government's actions to date on how we will create jobs and opportunities through an integrated and effective approach to investing in people. As the Secretary of State for Youth and Training, I specifically would like to address the House on what concrete measures this government is taking to improve the job prospects of our young people, to get young Canadians back to work in the mainstream of the workforce.
I should perhaps preface the rest of my speech with some comments about how inspired I have been in my travels across this country since having been appointed secretary of state. I have met young people from all across the country, from the east to the west, from the north to the south. It has been very inspirational for me to know there is vast potential for us to work with.
We have a wealth of resources in the ideas, the energy and the leadership among young people. It should be noted that generally young people have the potential, the talent, the ability and the willingness. They need the opportunity and this is what I would like to address today.
Other hon. members of the government will rise to speak on the Liberal vision for Canada and how that vision is fuelling concrete measures on several fronts to mobilize Canada's economic and human resources to create jobs and opportunities for all Canadians.
During the election last fall the Liberal Party articulated a vision for a Canada where people live and prosper with a sense of hope and opportunity. Our vision was clearly spelled out in the Liberal platform called "Creating Opportunity" or the red book.
It is a vision of an independent country that is economically strong, socially just, proud of its diversity and characterized by integrity, compassion and competence. These are the guiding principles that generations of Canadians live by and they laid the foundations for a great country and a fair society. The government stands behind these principles and we will create opportunities that reflect our strong belief in them.
As the hon. member for Mercier is no doubt aware, the Liberal vision for a strong, cohesive and productive country hit a responsive chord among many Canadians. They increasingly felt isolated by their institutions, worried for our young people and uncertain about their future.
The previous government adopted a wait and see attitude to social and economic policy and left Canadians to fend for themselves. However, this government has acted quickly to address the new social and economic realities of a global
economy by inviting Canadians to engage in a far reaching examination and rebuilding of the very structures that have made this country so great.
The impetus for change can be seen all around us. Where Canadians were once sure footed, they now feel they are slipping. Nowhere is the degree of uncertainty and the desire for change greater than when we hear the call from our young people to give them opportunities to contribute to their community, their country and to join in with other Canadians in building a brighter future for this nation.
Canada cannot risk seeing a generation of young people sidelined in the job market because we did not have the right programs at the right times. Canada had over 400,000 young people under 25 who were looking for work each month in 1993. That is an unacceptably high unemployment rate of over 18 per cent. Without opportunity they will lose hope.
In human terms, there are a lot of idle young people whose talents are being wasted. We need to ensure that young people have better opportunities like access to work, education, job training or community service. It is not for lack of interest. It is for lack of opportunities that this situation exists.
The most recent labour force survey shows that while the number of unemployed in Canada is down, the youth unemployment rate is rising. It reached 18.1 per cent last month, its highest level since last June.
We want to rebuild the social safety net for young Canadians who need help to get their lives back on track. In restoring the sense of security and opportunity, we want to offer choices that will help them make their way in the workforce. That is what the social security reform will accomplish.
I want to make it clear that helping young people make the transition from school to the workforce is a major focus of social security reform.
The government is calling on all Canadians to join in rebuilding our social security net. We are strongest when we act as a team. We are strongest when we combine the talents of governments, business, labour, educators, community groups and our youth. Together we have the human resources necessary to find solutions. Together we can do a better job.
Young Canadians have as much to contribute and to gain from the rebuilding of our social safety net as any other age group in the country. They are a top priority because they are our future workforce.
Young people will be the beneficiaries of these revitalized social programs. They will see the productive outcomes of a social security net that rewards effort, offers incentives to work and restores hope for the future.
Our vision is to create a more productive economy by investing in the potential of our young people. To do this we have to recognize the needs of young people who are in the workforce now and looking for a meaningful outlet for their talents, energies and ideas.
We also have to plan for the next generation too: those students who are just entering high school now and who will be planning their careers for a yet unknown job market and the generation after them as well.
Social security reform is being propelled by a strong desire to meet the social and economic needs of Canada head on. Canada's social programs have served us well but they were designed in a different time for different circumstances. We cannot keep waiting. The realities of the next century are on us.
On January 31 the Minister of Human Resources Development announced a three stage process for social security reform. It involves the participation of Canadians from all levels of the community.
A parliamentary standing committee has been holding public hearings and is scheduled to submit its report to the House later this week. We have met a number of times with our partners at the provincial and territorial levels. These meetings will continue. A task force has been appointed to advise the minister. From these discussions an action plan will be drafted and tabled in the House in late April or early May. Canadians will be consulted on proposals for social security reform to be outlined in the action plan.
We are moving quickly because the economic prospects of young Canadians can only improve if our system which can help them make that transition from school to work is redesigned and improved to meet their pressing needs.
It is time to rethink our priorities and come up with a plan to meet the needs of our young people, our workforce and our society in the 1990s and beyond. In doing so we will also put in place a system that is responsive, compassionate and economical.
The majority of jobs created now to the year 2000 will require at least 17 years of education and training. That is high school, plus four or more years of further schooling. Employers have raised the ante. Yet approximately 60 per cent of young people go looking for work right after high school. The doors to entry level jobs will be closed to them unless we give them the opportunities to improve themselves.
Youth unemployment is directly linked to education and training. Between 1990 and 1993 jobs held by university graduates increased by 17 per cent. The uneducated and undereducated are being squeezed out of the workforce. The longer they are out of the job market, the harder it will be to get back in. The gaps on a young person's résumé will put them at a great
disadvantage when they are up against newer graduates just entering the workforce.
Young Canadians have the highest unemployment rate and are the most vulnerable to economic downturns. There may be fewer youths compared to their baby boomer predecessors. However, their needs are more pronounced because of the increasingly complex world they are entering, in terms of the workforce, what is productivity for a nation per se and because of global competitiveness as well.
The federal government is offering jobs and hope to young people who have been hit hard by the recession and have fallen between the cracks in trying to find a job after leaving school. The failure to make that transition has a ripple effect on the economy and society.
What is particularly disturbing is the growing number of young people who have never held a job. That is why it is essential that we help young Canadians.
The Liberal government is committed to helping young Canadians make that transition. It is a top priority and that is why we are moving ahead with the youth service corps that was outlined in the red book. The youth service corps will help offer young Canadians an opportunity to serve and learn about their country and gain important skills and valuable work experience.
The government will reach out to young people to prepare them for the challenges of the future. Liberals believe now more than ever that Canada needs the skills, talents and energies of every young Canadian. The youth service corps will get unemployed youth working in community service projects to address the diminishing opportunities for young people as a result of the tough job market.
It is not a question of whether young people want to work, because they do. It is a question of giving them the opportunity to do something constructive and rewarding that benefits the individual, improves their community and strengthens our country.
Canada simply cannot afford a lost generation. Demographic trends clearly demonstrate Canada will soon suffer a worker shortage. As baby boomers leave the workforce in large numbers we will increasingly count on your young.
To compete globally in the next century we will need a highly educated, highly skilled workforce. You need not be a futurist to know our continued growth and prosperity depend on the workers of tomorrow who are generally the unemployed youth of today.
This venture will be less costly than unemployment insurance and welfare and will give young people the tools to build better lives for themselves and for our society. Young people are searching for relevant work experience that will give them saleable skills to get their foot in the job market door.
During my discussions with young Quebecers on the concept of the youth service corps I heard firsthand their enthusiasm for such a program. Quebec youth eagerly identified with the goals of the youth service corps to give them practical skills and work experience while contributing in a meaningful way to their country.
The youth service corps is a smart and necessary investment in our future workforce. It is a concrete measure which addresses the serious need to help the unprecedented number of youth who are squeezed out of the workforce, who are giving up on finding work. Canadians age 18 to 24 who are out of school and unemployed will have opportunities to gain a sense of accomplishment, self-reliance and marketable skills through practical work experience in the community.
Do we act now to offer young people opportunities so that they can acquire some skills and learn good work habits? Or do we write off a generation of youth and leave them unprepared to compete for jobs? The government has decided to act.
The youth service corps represents one of several concrete measures by the government aimed to better prepare youth for the fast changing labour market. It is part and parcel of our underlying vision to invest in Canadians. The same vision is behind the social security review process.
Young people today want what other Canadians want: good jobs; opportunities to enter and re-enter the workforce; the right to be part of the mainstream and to be treated with dignity. That is the essence of our vision for young people.
The government stands for creating opportunities for young people. For the great majority of Canadians, jobs are at the top of the list. A job is the best form of security. We want to give young Canadians all the tools necessary to aim for, prepare for and find jobs.
I should mention a number of other things that relate to youth between the ages 18 to 24 who are unemployed, left on the sidelines, out of reach of the opportunities. We also have a general preoccupation with the poor, the disabled, the street people, the people who are most in need and at risk. The initiatives we have outlined in the red book express that very well.
Let me give a few examples. We have proposed an aboriginal head start program that will deal with preschool child development. It will help greatly those sole parents who struggle on their own with their children in the area of parenting skills and nutritional skills. We have a great need there. These are for the inner city poor.
In a particular area of Winnipeg, one out of three children lives in poverty. This program is designed for the inner city poor. We now have a program designed to help keep young children in school called the stay in school program. It has been
hailed as a success across the country. Many regions have supported the program. There has been a marked difference in the attendance of people who have been impacted by the program.
We also have the brighter futures program, which is a carryover from the last government. We do not discard what works. We try to perfect, adjust and make better things that would work under our mandate.
We now have Youth Services Canada which will break the cycle of dependency. It will take youth between the ages of 18 to 24 years off unemployment insurance and assistance. It will be an enabling process.
We also have the summer challenge program on which the minister will speak later. It is a very successful program. It is a program for the young people of Canada who are out there right now educating themselves, training and working. This is their opportunity to work between the months of April and September. They want to work and they are working.
We also have the proposed youth internship program. I could go on and on about the wonderful things we want to do but my time is running out. We have laid out our priorities. We have expressed a commitment. We have looked at the human side of all the misery out there. We have laid out our plans concretely. For the first time in the history of the country the government has come forward and laid out on paper what it wants to do.
In particular reference to my mandate we are committed to helping our youth. Our commitment will be expressed over the months to follow. It has only been since November that I have been in this mandate. Conversely I have been inspired by these young people. They are knowledgeable. They are mature. They want an opportunity. They are a leadership resource and we aim to work with them.