Madam Speaker, as the Official Opposition critic for training and youth, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-28 amending the Canada Student Loans Act. However, before commenting the bill per se I would like to say a few words about the presentation the Minister of Human Resources Development has made. Just to say it seems to me that he had much more to say about the programs included in this education and work strategy for young Canadians and what he planned to do with his bill than about the bill itself. As far as I am concerned, this bill exemplifies the kind of vague wording used as a smoke screen by a government which tries, unsuccessfully, to hide its centralizing designs. The bill does not say much. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for the accompanying regulations to be able to fully appreciate its impact.
One can wonder what the Liberal government's real intentions are with Bill C-28. For example, by raising the ceiling of student loans, is the government setting the stage for a further reduction of its contribution to the funding of higher learning institutions? As vague as are the wording and the general statements with regard to amending the existing legislation, one can nonetheless identify certain guidelines out of this bill.
At a time student indebtedness has become unbearable due to lack of available jobs, the government is taking measures that will only put them further into debt and make it more difficult to pay off their debts. Let us bear in mind that Bill C-28 is part of the youth education and work strategy announced April 15 by the Minister of Human Resources Development.
On that very day, I denounced this strategy that I considered as a further infringement in the area of education, an area which, according to the Constitution of Canada, comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Must we remind the minister that this goes against the fundamental interests of Quebec, a position which was reaffirmed unanimously in the Quebec National Assembly on April 14?
These amendments to the students grants and loans system is but one element of the social programs reform on which the Minister of Human Resources Development has supposedly undertaken consultation with the people of Quebec and Canada. What is the rush? The minister did not even have the decency to wait for the results of the consultation held by the Standing Committee on Human Resources and to secure the support of the provinces before going ahead with this part of the social programs reform.
Again, what the Prime Minister meant when he said during the election campaign that he did not want to talk about the Constitution is becoming apparent today. Reading between the lines, we can deduce, as he actually invited us to do, that from now on he will pay no attention to provincial jurisdiction and impose such things as national education standards. As it turns out, this government has not learned a thing. It is going ahead with measures that can only increase duplication which is a shameful waste of public funds.
The most important question we should ask on Bill C-28 is this: Why does the government want to change financial assistance to students? The first reason is obvious. Bill C-28 gives more power to the Minister of Human Resources Development. That is essentially the first and most important reason in our opinion.
First of all, with respect to the appropriate authority, this bill says that the Minister may designate for a province an appropriate authority, which may designate educational institutions that offer courses at a post-secondary school level in or outside Canada.
Under the old Canada Student Loans Act, the appropriate authorities were designated by the Lieutenant Governor in Council of the province concerned. This will now be done by the Minister of Human Resources Development himself because Clause 3.(1) specifies that:
3.(1) For the purposes of this Act, the Minister may, by order, designate for a province (a) an appropriate authority, which authority may designate as designated educational institutions any institutions of learning in Canada that offer courses at a post-secondary school level, or any class of such institutions; and (b) an appropriate authority, which authority may designate as designated educational institutions any institutions of learning outside Canada that offer courses at a post-secondary school level, or any class of such institutions.
(2) An appropriate authority may revoke any designation made by it under subsection (1), and any designation made in respect of the province under the Canada Student Loans Act and, in the case of a designation of a class, may exclude any named institution from that designation.
4.(1) The Minister may enter into an agreement with an appropriate authority, or with an appropriate authority and the government of the province for which the authority was designated, respecting the exercise or performance of any of the authority's powers, duties or functions under this Act or the regulations.
In this case, the Minister of Human Resources Development is the authority in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction recognized by the Constitution.
4.(2) The Minister-
-of Human Resources Development-
-may give directives to any appropriate authority respecting the exercise or performance of any of its powers, duties or functions under this Act or the regulations, and such directives are binding on the appropriate authority.
The minister could enter into agreements with the provinces to harmonize the administration and financing of student loans throughout Canada. Does abolishing the existing provincial loan allocation formula mean that the minister can require the provinces to respect a greater number of national standards in order to receive the allocation?
What will happen to a province like Quebec, which respects the Canadian Constitution by taking care of its own student loans, which come under the area of education, an area, again, of exclusive provincial jurisdiction? Will Quebec receive its fair share of compensation?
We also notice that, in pursuing the centralizing and insidious intentions of the federal government in matters of education and training, the Minister of Human Resources Development may now enter into risk-sharing agreements directly with lenders.
The enactment of these will abolish the existing provincial loan allocation formula established by the minister.
Another question raised by Bill C-28 is the maximum amount of loans. The act currently provides for a specific maximum amount of student loans.
This morning, the minister talked about a maximum amount but there is no mention of it in the bill. It may have been announced but it is not in the bill. There is no specific maximum amount. What the bill says is that it can be set by the minister.
Bill C-28 only says that, subject to the regulations, the lender is required to make to a qualifying student who has been issued a certificate of eligibility a loan in an amount not exceeding the maximum set out. What is this amount? Is it the 57 per cent increase in the maximum loan announced by the minister or is it something else? The part of Bill C-28 relating to the repayment of loans also raises questions. Clause 9 says that the borrower
may be liable to pay a portion of the interest during the loan period under certain conditions. What are these conditions?
According to section 10 b) of the current act, the student borrower simply does not have to pay interest during the loan period while he is in school. That provision has been eliminated.
Clause 11. (2) of Bill C-28 provides that the termination of the borrower's rights by reason of disability or insufficient family income becomes effective if the borrower's condition deteriorates after the first day of the seventh month after the month in which he ceases to be a student.
Does that mean that a borrower who is the victim of an accident or any other cause keeping him from working after the first day of the seventh month after the month in which he ceases to be a student will have to repay the loan, or will he have to declare bankruptcy? Considering that 10 per cent of personal bankruptcies in Canada are student bankruptcies, does the minister want to see that figure go even higher?
Clause 12. (1) creates a major ambiguity. It states that a certificate of eligibility will be issued to students who have attained a satisfactory scholastic standard or who are in need of financial assistance.
Can a student be refused a loan because of his marks? Who will determine the amount required by the student? Will unpaid parental contributions be taken into account? Will there be national eligibility standards?
Clause 12. (7) reads:
The maximum amount of financial assistance in respect of which a certificate of eligibility is issued, other than a loan to which subsection (4) or (6) applies, is the prescribed amount, or the amount calculated in accordance with the prescribed formulas.
How will this amount be calculated? We have no idea.
Will it be possible to give additional amounts through scholarships once the ceiling for loans is determined? This morning, the minister alluded to subsidies. We will see.
Also, clause 14. (7) of Bill C-28 states that amounts paid to compensate a province which does not integrate the federal loans program will be included in the calculation of the program net costs only if the provincial government satisfies the Minister of Human Resources Development, within a given period, that the provincial program has substantially the same effect. The provinces will have to convince the federal minister, in spite of the fact that this is a field of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Will the minister base his decision on national standards regarding education or education financing?
Clause 15. (i) reads in part:
-the circumstances under which a new loan- may be denied to a student, or an interest-free period- may be terminated-
Which criteria will justify such action? We have no idea.
We believe that such measures may have disastrous consequences on the future of some students experiencing financial, personal, academic or other problems.
At first glance, Bill C-28 does not look reassuring to borrowers. In my opinion, the government does not have a clear idea of the true socioeconomic situation of young people. It is worrisome to see that banking institutions have an increasingly greater discretionary power. And what about the risk premium which will probably be paid to them, given the profits they make? Banks are in the best financial position; yet, a provision is included to allow the minister to pay a premium and eliminate risks for these institutions. This is not reassuring.
Clause 15. (n) of Bill C-28 provides for the establishment and operation of a program to provide special interest-free or interest-reduced periods to borrowers, according to pre-set conditions. However, section 9. (1) of the current act provides for exemptions, under certain conditions. Is the government adding new exemption conditions, or is it amending the current ones? We have no idea.
If so, it would be interesting to have more details. Finally, I come to the most controversial clause of Bill C-28, namely clause 18 which includes general provisions. This states that the minister may enter into agreements with federal or provincial departments to facilitate the administration of the act, or to harmonize its administration at the various government levels.
This is seen as a major improvement over the existing legislation on student loans. It reflects, however the centralist concept of federalism, a concept that ignores the specific identity of the provinces. There is a desire to control everything from the top, with no concern for the people who are trying to get along on what they have.
After this brief overview of the main provisions of Bill C-28, there is an important point that I feel should be made. The government apparently wants to reform the federal loans system by regulation, but these regulations, which undoubtedly would shed more light on the matter, are unfortunately not available today. The most immediate impact of Bill C-28 may well be to increase student debt and thus compromise the future of our young people who, in addition to getting deeper in debt, may not get the jobs they want when they graduate. This will make it
harder for them to pay back their loans and may increase the number of personal bankruptcies.
Perhaps I may expand a bit on the subject of student debt. In Quebec, for instance, university tuition fees almost tripled in three years. In fact, the situation has been similar across Canada since 1984. Since Quebec had the lowest tuition fees, there was a certain amount of catching up to do, but the fact remains that the increase was rather drastic, and more is yet to come.
As governments reduce their financial commitments to educational institutions, these will have to raise the amounts they charge students. In Quebec, the average amount of student debt at the post-secondary level is $8,500. It is estimated that in Quebec, 60 per cent of parents pay nothing towards their children's post-secondary education, and since the parental contribution is taken for granted by governments when they calculate the amount of financial assistance to be given, these students are actually losing quite a bit of money in the process.
As for personal bankruptcies, it is estimated that 10 per cent of these are filed by students. That is a considerable proportion. And these bankruptcies represent a major cost for governments. As a member of the Human Resources Development Committee, when we were analysing these particular budget items, I heard officials say it was difficult to establish the cost with any precision because there were tremendous problems with recovery.
So what happens now? Because of a lack of effectiveness in this respect among governments in English Canada-in Quebec, the Government of Quebec has a withdrawal right-the responsibility is transferred to the banks, and when you consider the attitude of some banks, there is certainly cause for concern.
According to an article published on April 11 in Le Devoir , in Quebec in 1993-94, former students who went bankrupt had loans totalling $4.7 million. This is more than twice the loans for 1990-91, which at the time totalled $2.2 million. That is a lot of money.
We therefore believe that this bill will increase the number of loans, and thus the number of bankruptcies, as well as the amounts involved.
More and more students are obtaining loans and bursaries. In Quebec, an estimated 175,000 students at the post-secondary level are receiving financial assistance this year; in other words, nearly 50 per cent of the students enrolled at this level.
In British Columbia, it cost the government $17 million in 1992 to reimburse the loans of 3,037 former students. In British Columbia, 3,037 former students were unable to pay back their student loans. Seventy per cent of the students were apparently unable to pay back their loans because they were unemployed, which seems pretty obvious, but I think we should realize that unemployment was the culprit in 70 per cent of these cases.
According to an article published in Le Droit on January 10, 1994, 248,000 students received financial assistance directly from the federal government in 1991-92, for a total amount of $743 million. Although the vast majority of student borrowers pay back their loans, we must realize that 13 per cent will not be in a position to do so.
The Minister of Human Resources Development has tabled a bill on student financial assistance which unfortunately does not take into account recommendations made by the student community and especially by student associations. So what do students want?
First of all, the associations which I contacted in Quebec want a student assistance program to be developed, one which would draw a distinction between tuition fees and living expenses. In determining these expenses, consideration would also have to be given to the true costs of the program or field of study in question, because this can vary according to the field, region of the country, family situation and associated costs.
Secondly, when it comes to calculating loans and bursaries, parental financial assistance should not be a determining factor. All students should be considered as independent. The amount of the loan or bursary should not be an incentive for students to continue living at home, but rather it should encourage them to acquire a certain measure of independence as quickly as possible after reaching the age of majority. Obviously student associations in Quebec recommend that the federal government withdraw completely from the field of education, in particular post-secondary education.
The federal government wants to increase the amount of student loans without taking into account the real ability of students to repay the money. Precariousness is a concept used with growing frequency in discussions about youth employment. It is concept which the government does not seem to grasp fully. So-called precarious jobs are the exclusive lot of young people in Quebec and in Canada. Fifty per cent of young Quebecers and Canadians are reported to hold down precarious jobs.
Generally speaking, a precarious job is one that is low-paying, often paying minimum wage, with minimal opportunity for advancement. A precarious job is one with no security, often non-unionized, one that can disappear overnight for various, more or less justifiable reasons. A precarious job is one which a person holds out of necessity and would willingly give up for something better. Young people with precarious jobs often hold many such jobs for relatively short periods of time. Therefore, the definition of a precarious job stands in sharp contrast to that of a regular job with a good salary, job security and a pension plan.
Why is it that the majority of precarious jobs are held by young people? The primary reason for this phenomenon is the growth of the services sector. Seventy per cent of all jobs are in the services sector. Furthermore, 70 per cent of young people who work do so in the services sector, that is the restaurant, hotel and general services industry.
Another factor responsible for the widespread precariousness of jobs held by young people is the increase in unemployment in all age groups. Clearly, young people are especially affected because, as recent entrants in the job market, they often must settle for the leftovers, that is the jobs no one else wants. Another identifiable cause of job precariousness among young people is the emergence in the past few years of a second wage scale reserved exclusively for new job market entrants that businesses can let go if necessary.
Furthermore, adolescence has long been considered a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. The situation has changed, however. Where once it was traditional for young people to study full time before moving on, almost automatically, to the job market and then starting a family and buying a house, now the line between adolescence and adulthood has grown somewhat blurred. Indeed, it is not unusual in this day and age to see young people having children, working and studying all at the same time.
Young people experience all kinds of situations that were uncommon in the past. Their lives are far more stressful than ours were when we were their age. They leave home later because of their chronic inability to make it on their own. According to the last two census reports, 41 per cent of young people between the ages of 20 and 24 lived with their parents in 1981 compared to 50 per cent in 1991. If the trend continues, this figure will hover around 60 per cent by the year 2000.
Furthermore, young people are heavy consumers. This finding is consistent with what the social model suggested during their childhood. However, the living conditions of today's young people are vastly different than those of their parents. Two major considerations dominate the relationship between young people and employment, namely access to employment and loss of employment. Young people must be patient when it comes to finding a job, while at the same time, they can only hope to hold on to the job they ultimately do find.
In 1986-87, 60 per cent of young people aged 20 to 24 changed jobs; 45 per cent of this group changed jobs twice, not counting those who simply lost their job and could not find another one. In 1992, young people aged 16 to 24 were without work for 17.6 weeks. The new realities of the labour market hit our young people hard.
Nearly 40 per cent of those who work have a part-time or contract job. Thirty per cent of employed young people work in companies with 20 employees or less, which reduces their chance of keeping their job because, as we know, small business is very volatile.
In Quebec, 72 per cent of employed 20- to 24-year-olds are not unionized; 85 per cent of these young people have no pension plan and will not be eligible for one. This is very significant for the long-term security of our young people, especially since they enter the labour market when they are between 25 and 30 years old, compared to 20 years old for those entering the labour market in the 1970s.
Young people would also like to be able to save for retirement, but as student debts increase, given the labour market and job entry conditions we just mentioned, we may well wonder whether the government has evaluated the long-term impact of this action. Young people are increasingly aware of what they have to do. They study more than their predecessors. They are proud and fear both rejection and their difficult living conditions. But young people also want to be independent. They do not want to depend even more on governments and financial institutions. But this government tends to consider young people as a threat, as potential social problems to be contained.
Did the government seriously consult those involved in the student community before it reformed student loans? No, Madam Speaker. It proceeded in the same way as with unemployment insurance reform. Education was one of the few hopes young people still had to avoid unemployment, but what is the situation now, since 50 per cent of the young unemployed have not graduated? It is true, but 33 per cent have a high school diploma, 17 per cent a college diploma and 8.6 per cent a university diploma, and still they are unemployed.
The government must make it possible for young people to study with dignity and without becoming too indebted. The government must launch a real youth employment strategy.
Now I would like to say a little about education funding, because as student debts are allowed to rise, we must see that the federal and provincial governments throughout Canada are spending less on education.
As a result, these institutions have no choice but to raise their tuition fees. Under particular arrangements between the federal and provincial governments, the federal government contributes to post-secondary education through established programs financing; 32.1 per cent of EPF transfers are for post-secondary education. Of the funds allocated to education in Quebec in 1991-92, of course most came from the provincial government, $10.1 billion or 82.4 per cent of the total; 7.7 per cent from private sources; $913 million or 7 per cent from the federal government and $302 million or 2.5 per cent from local governments.
Statistics Canada estimates total education spending in Canada at $50.6 billion. In 1991-92, $14.3 billion or 28.2 per cent of total spending was spent on post-secondary education. For that period, Quebec spent a little over $4.2 billion on post-secondary education, or 34.5 per cent of the total education budget, compared to Ontario, which spent a little over $5 billion on post-secondary education, or 25.3 per cent of its total education budget.
Between 1973-74 and 1991-92, the average annual increase in government spending on post-secondary education was 10.2 per cent in Quebec and 8.9 per cent in Ontario. These figures may seem impressive at first glance, but upon analysis, we can see that federal aid for post-secondary education has been declining for years.
In the beginning, the federal assistance introduced by a 1977 federal act was to be index-linked to general economic growth. However, the federal government limited the indexing of transfer payments for post-secondary education to 6 per cent in 1984 and 5 per cent in 1985. In the following years, other cuts were announced limiting the annual indexing to the increase in the gross domestic product less 2 per cent for 1986 and less 3 per cent from 1989. The 1991 budget brought more cuts by freezing subsidies for established programs financing until the 1994-95 fiscal year.
In constant dollars, the total federal envelope allocated to the Canada Student Loans Program has fallen substantially since 1986-87. This reduction in resources at a time when the student population is increasing has shifted to the provinces a significant amount of responsibility for financial assistance to students. The federal government's policies are reflected in its alternative payments to Quebec.
Alternative payments have not increased since 1987-88 despite an increase in the student population.
I would now like to talk a little about the situation of francophones outside Quebec. Again, the figures speak for themselves. If we look at a statistical profile on the link between education and labour force activity prepared in 1992 by the Canadian Institute for Research on Regional Development, we see that the regions where francophones are the most disadvantaged are those with the highest concentration of francophones.
An analysis of recent data from Statistics Canada also shows large disparities in education levels between francophone and Acadian communities and the rest of Canada. For instance, 45.2 per cent of francophones did not complete Grade 13 compared with 37.8 per cent of other Canadians.
Only 17.2 per cent of francophones completed high school compared with 17.4 per cent of other Canadians. Only 20.2 per cent of francophones have some post-secondary education compared with 23 per cent of other Canadians. And merely 17.4 per cent of francophones have gone to university as compared to 21.7 per cent in the rest of Canada.
Based on the same statistics, the rate of illiteracy within the francophone and Acadian communities in Canada is estimated at 30 per cent. At the same time, the rate of assimilation in these communities continues to grow, by 3.6 per cent per year on average now, a 4.5 per cent increase since 1986. I can see a direct link between the level of resources allocated to the education of francophones and Acadians and their rate of assimilation.
To conclude, I would like to quote some figures from the OECD. According to the OECD, between 35 and 50 per cent of the population in developed countries is living on the fringe of the labour market, not because they do not want to work, but rather because in the world today, not everyone is expected to contribute any more.
The fact of the matter is that the social fabric is deteriorating very rapidly and an increasing number of people are being more and more permanently excluded from work. It has got so bad that many young people, our future, now see no point in going to school and looking for a job impossible to find.
High drop-out rates in high school and unprecedented rates of functional illiteracy among young people are alarm bells that we can no longer ignore.
In view of the fact that all the experts agree that job creation through economic growth alone is a dangerous mirage, one can wonder what the Minister of Human Resources Development is trying to do by making it easier for students to get into debt while knowing that it will be next to impossible for them to find, in the short term, a decent job to pay off their school debts.
With this bill, the Minister of Human Resources Development proves once more that this government has no intention whatsoever of dealing with the real problems or trying to meet the real needs of the young people in terms of post-secondary education.
Where are the positive measures to boost employment? Certainly the minister does not expect to improve post-secondary education in Canada with those contained in Bill C-28.
This government is turning a deaf ear to the harsh realities our young people are confronted with today and it is dismissing the impact of the many changes which hinder their integration in our society.
In the absence of any real job development strategy centred on their needs, many young people have simply decided to quit school and join the ranks of UI and welfare recipients.