House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba


Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate today. In fact, I have nothing but praise for the efforts of the minister who is responsible for this initiative. There is nothing political about this bill. We are trying to respond to the needs of Canadian students who wish to continue their education, and that includes students from Quebec.

This bill has a built-in flexibility which allows people from Quebec, the Northwest Territories or anywhere else to either participate or opt out. So why make this bill a political issue instead of seeing it as a bill that deals with a number of very important issues? I do not understand this attitude. I wish hon. members opposite would discuss specific points and tell us how to improve the proposed legislation, and I wish they would drop the political references. Look at the bill and tell us how you would improve it, if you have any useful suggestions.

As you may recall, I was in the House during the last Parliament, and the hon. member who just made the presentation was there, and many times he and I and a number of other members condemned the Conservative government's failure to act on the student loans issue. There were many problems, and they did not deal with any of them. This government has listened and reacted very positively.

We heard and we acted, and we acted in an extremely positive way.

What did we do? We need to look at it from two perspectives: the perspective of students generally today and what government has undertaken to try to make life more appealing, more accommodating for them as they pursue their education or work in the workforce; and the specific item in front of us today, the legislation with respect to student aid.

What have we done generally for students, in what kinds of situations do they find themselves today? I am referring to the number of initiatives that the government has recently announced. Let me briefly review them because I want to spend most of my time on the specific elements of the legislation.

As you will recall, there were two components. The first was Youth Employment. It covered a number of programs that encouraged youth employment, including Youth Service Canada, which was an attempt to ensure that young people would be able to acquire job experience that would make it easier for them to enter the labour market. We also have youth internship programs to help young people acquire the training they need to find good, well-paying jobs that will contribute to Canada's prosperity.

Within the same component we had summer employment programs to help young people find summer jobs and acquire job experience relevant to their future education or to the skills they will need in a full-time job. As you will recall, there was also a second component.

The second component was called: Learning Strategy. This component embraced a number of initiatives, including the reform of the Canada Student Loans Program.

What I want to discuss in depth in a little while is that we also had initiatives on learning. They were mostly aimed at setting national objectives whenever possible, not to supervise or restrict any province or territory but to try to agree so that the young and the not-so-young could work in any province or territory.

We also had the partnership-based Stay-in-School Program to reduce the drop-out rate.

These are important initiatives.

These are important initiatives for young Canadians. I believe that most fair minded people would say that there has been a tremendous effort on the part of the government and a number of the ministers, including the minister responsible, to respond to the needs of youth, whether it be for educational or work purposes.

Let me talk briefly about some of the more important components of the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. Most people recognize that it increases the loan limits by 57 per cent, $265 a week, which is still not a fortune. One still needs to budget very carefully. It raises the ceiling on part time loans to $4,000 from $2,500. This was a serious weakness in the last program. These are two problems that were really very serious.

It creates a national program of special opportunity grants for special target groups; students with disabilities, high need part time students, women, and doctoral studies. We recognize that these groups are under represented. We need to make a special effort to make sure they are represented.

It establishes a regionally sensitive approach to assessing student need. This was a need and continues to be a need. I am delighted that we have responded to it.

The bill also addresses the whole question of the repayment burden on recent graduates. This will be alleviated by offering deferred grants and by expanding interest relief. These measures make sure that students who have debts can pay them back in a way that responds to their unique situations.

It also addresses the whole issue of consistency and fairness. This would be reinforced by revising eligibility criteria and by using a common approach to the decimation of educational institutions. These were great weaknesses and they have been addressed. That is not all.

It goes on to address new financing arrangements for student loans based on lender risk sharing and access to loans and income sensitive terms and repayment. This will also reduce costs to taxpayers.

For some members the opting out provision is very important. It is maintained. I find this totally supportive, sensible and sensitive. It also addresses the question of provisions which would be made to harmonize federal and provincial student assistance programs by streamlining financing and administration. It also addresses new approaches to providing aid and is prepared to explore income contingency repayment of loans. In fact, there will be some pilot projects on this.

As I just mentioned, this bill raises many questions which should have been addressed a long time ago. Unfortunately, it has not been done. I am not saying that this bill is perfect. After all, what bill ever is?

But I believe that if we look at this bill, at the situation students now find themselves in, at our labour-force initiatives, at the various programs put in place by this government; if we consider this bill in the light of today's situation; if we recognize that there was not enough money for students to continue their education, that there were major weaknesses with regard to part-time students, that we were often insensitive to the problems of students who had trouble repaying their loans; if we recognize all this, Madam Speaker, I believe we will agree that this commendable initiative should be encouraged and supported.

I hoped that we would take the politics out of this bill. I hoped that people would look at it for what it is, a serious and comprehensive attempt to respond to students and their needs across the nation.

If members have specific suggestions to make in order to improve this, we welcome them.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, this bill is of personal interest to me. Before getting into my present line of work I was a teacher.

I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan. Two of my daughters are presently attending the university and I have two more at home who also plan on going to the university. You can see I have a deep personal interest and understanding of university and for how much an education costs. I know that 25 years ago the cost was high and I know what it costs today. I am deeply concerned about the cost in the future.

I have spent much of my working life preparing students for university. Some of them have chosen to go directly from high school into the work world, but some have gone to other post-secondary institutions, including universities.

Since statistics consistently show that individuals with university degrees have considerably larger lifetime incomes, I tried my best to convince as many of my students as possible to go to university. I often explained to them that for every day they spent in high school they could expect to earn $200 extra in their lifetime. In that way, by getting that higher education I hoped it would provide some incentive for them to continue on with what they were studying. Unfortunately not all of my students wanted to go; they just could not afford it.

Even though this bill will increase the amount of loan money available to students by 57 per cent, the fact remains that the discriminatory aspects of the Canada student loans program still remain.

This bill, as in the past, will require students and their families to take a means test. This means those students whose parents are well off are ineligible for student loans. Even if those students receive no assistance from their parents and have to go it alone, they are ineligible.

Low income taxpayers are especially discriminated against as they are less apt to send their children to university. Yet their taxes are used to pay for post-secondary education, including the government's share of the student loans program which is $479 million this year alone.

By 1990 two-thirds of the adult population did not possess post-secondary credentials. This means that two-thirds of the people are helping to pay the post-secondary education costs of the other third who, as stated before, earn considerably higher incomes. We have the poor subsidizing the rich. To put things in plain English, this bill will perpetuate a problem which has existed since 1964. We always have had this kind of thing, the poor subsidizing the rich for their education.

The most serious area of discrimination is in the repayment of student loans which we find onerous and rigid. The current program discriminates against the poor and unemployed by forcing them to pay back their loans at the same level as those who are gainfully employed and/or those students who end up earning far more money.

The repayment plan is inflexible because it forces former students to begin repaying their loans six or eight months after graduation, irrespective of the borrower's income. This is not only unfair but it also results in unacceptable default rates on the loans and increased collection costs, all of which cost taxpayers more and more money.

Reformers maintain that the government cannot just look at one part of the problem of funding for post-secondary education, namely student loans, without looking at the problem of total government support for post-secondary education in its entirety.

Total university enrolment has grown by 42 per cent between 1980 and 1991. In 1980 the government invested an average of $7,700 per full time student to cover university operating expenses. By 1992 this figure had fallen in constant dollar terms to under $6,700, a 13.5 per cent drop. Some provinces have recently announced some absolute cuts in operating grants for universities.

At a time when we need to become more competitive in the international community, when we need to upgrade our skills, when we have to exploit those areas at which we are better at providing well trained people for the workforce, it is not the time to be cutting back on university funding. In fact we should be doing the opposite. We should be trying to take advantage of our global economy.

Suffice it to say with higher budget deficits, with the increasing debt load we are experiencing and a higher and higher percentage of tax revenue needed just to pay the interest on the debt, the budget squeeze for our universities is going to get worse before it gets better.

We need to decide what is important in this country. Higher education is important and we need to preserve that. We need to preserve health care. There are certain priorities we must maintain. We cannot do it all for everyone. This government has to decide what its priorities are and higher education should be one of those.

With declining income from federal and provincial governments, universities have sought other sources of revenue. While revenues from gifts and donations and non-government grants increased an average of 42 per cent during the 1980s, they still account for less than 1 per cent of the general operating income. All of those areas account for less than 1 per cent.

Tuition fees have played a considerably more important role in helping to offset the decline in government revenue. Tuition fees have increased 60 per cent since 1980. In 1980 tuition fees accounted for 13 per cent of general operating revenue for universities and in 1992 they were a source of 22 per cent, a substantial increase.

In 1991 the Smith Commission of Inquiry on Canadian University Education concluded: "A preoccupation with underfunding pervades every campus. The effect is extremely negative". It concluded that: "There is room for increasing tuition fees, provided there is an effective proper student assistance plan"-and here is the key phrase-"with automatic income contingent repayment".

The previous speaker asked for positive suggestions. We are going to give him one of those positive suggestions at this time.

What I would like to explore in more detail is this whole concept of student loans with a built in, automatic income contingent repayment plan. The Reform Party supports a move in this direction for three basic reasons: there would be a reduced cost to the taxpayer if we implemented this; there would be greater flexibility and fairness for students; and the maintenance of high quality educational services would take place. Those are three very strong arguments as to why we should consider income contingent loans.

The reduced cost to the taxpayer is really an important one at this time because we cannot load down our taxpayers with more debt. There is also greater flexibility and greater fairness for our students. They would have more choices. They would have access to funds which they previously did not have. It would allow them to get into fields they would like to pursue. With this increased, or this change in funding, the educational institutions would also have more flexibility.

In fact on April 29, Motion No. 291 was introduced by the leader of the Reform Party which asked the government to consider amending the Canada Student Loans Act to include an income contingent repayment system for the very reasons I have just mentioned. The hon. member for Medicine Hat outlined some of the details of how an automatic income contingent repayment plan would work but I think it bears repeating.

Simply put, an income contingent loan repayment scheme for post-secondary education would allow students to pay back their student loans over a period of time based on their annual income and using the income tax machinery to monitor and collect student loans. That is already in place.

Here in a nutshell is how it would work. All students would be eligible for a student loan. The means test would be eliminated. Upon graduation a student would begin to pay back their student loan. The loan repayment plan would be linked to the student's earnings or the ability to pay. Precisely how much a former student paid back would vary from year to year, depending on his or her salary level. That seems to me to be a very fair way to collect the money. The specific amount would be set as a percentage of income. It would be paid back through the income tax system. We would not have to set up a new collection system. If a person's income did not reach a specified amount, the payment would be deferred until their earnings came up.

This repayment system depends entirely on the supply of accurate income statements long after the individual has left the institution of higher learning. Revenue Canada would have to supply the necessary data automatically. It could be done cheaply through the whole income tax system and through statements those people would supply. This would necessitate the recording of student borrowers with the tax department of course, and the inclusion of social insurance numbers on student loan forms.

With the full details of each student including future incomes and movement within Canada, the income tax authorities would act as the primary monitor of subsequent loan collections. Income tax is already doing this now in the case of defaults on student loans when they apply tax refunds toward the student loan debt. That is a positive suggestion and I hope the government is listening.

Income contingent repayment would save taxpayers money. It would save money by drastically reducing the number of defaulted loans. It would save money between the simple interest paid by student borrowers and the accumulated or compound interest paid by the government. It would dramatically reduce the collection fees on defaulted loans.

Between 1985 and 1990, $44 million in student loans were written off for a total write-off proportion of nearly 5 per cent. The value of the defaults accumulated on the federal books since 1984 is rapidly approaching $1 billion. Collection agencies are now being hired to collect the money which in itself involves substantial costs.

With the total value of default now over $900 million the potential earnings for the collection agencies is estimated to range from $135 million to $170 million. Those are the fees just to collect these. Income contingent repayment could be imple-

mented immediately at far less cost, thereby improving the collection success rate with less frustration and aggravation for students and for government.

In 1993 the Association for Universities and Colleges of Canada developed a proposal called "A New Student Assistance Plan" based on a concept of income contingent repayment. It recently made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development as part of the phase one consultations the minister has on his review of social programs.

The materials provided by the association list the benefits of its proposed student loan income contingent plan. I want to go through three areas of benefits that it lists. I hope the government is listening because this is a key group that has put these forth.

First of all, there are the benefits for students. Students would have increased accessibility and increased availability. It would not depend on many factors that are now put into this whole system. They would have increased access. It would be for all students. That is a very key advantage.

Second, there would be a more fair method of repayment. The student loan would emphasize the student's ability to pay. It would not automatically come into effect six or eight months after they graduated from university. It would depend on their income level. That is a much more fair method.

It would provide student assistance to individuals who do not currently qualify for means tested student assistance. It would be available for everyone. It would provide improved benefits for students in the face of rising educational costs. That is a reality. We must face the fact that costs are increasing.

The second area explained as being of benefit is a benefit for the universities. It would allow universities more flexibility in setting tuition fees, including differential fees by programs. For example, someone in medicine who could expect a higher return after graduation could have higher tuition fees. Another benefit for the university is that it would assist universities in maintaining accessibility in the face of declining government funding. Government funding continues to go down. It would help the universities in that area. It would help universities to meet their mission of providing high quality education for all qualified students.

Of course the third broad area of benefit would be the benefit for government. It explains it this way. It would provide an avenue for the federal government to continue to invest in higher education and to support equality of opportunity across Canada.

Second, it would largely eliminate the problem of loan defaults since students repay only when they reach a specified income level. Right now 70 per cent of loan defaults occur within 12 to 18 months of the students completing their studies. It would address that problem.

It would eliminate the need for and the cost of collection agencies to collect delinquent student loans by using the income tax system to collect loan payments.

It would also be of benefit to government in that it would help the government meet its objectives of encouraging life long learning.

Finally, it would permit more fairness in the way governments provide student assistance.

There are those who oppose income contingent repayment, but I do not think their arguments hold up under serious examination. For example, the Canadian Association of University Teachers made a submission to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. It dismissed income contingent repayment without even attempting to compare it to the status quo. It said that under income contingent repayment, the total cost of education will be greatest for those who take the longest time to pay and that wealthy students will pay the least. It failed to consider that both of these statements are also true under the present system.

Another complaint is that income contingent repayment would serve as a disincentive for the federal and provincial governments to maintain their grant levels once tuition fees begin to rise. This assertion completely ignores the reality of the past 15 years during which students have assumed a greater and greater share of their education costs as a result of financial constraints imposed by both the federal and provincial governments on these institutions. That is reality. That is the status quo.

These increases in tuition have taken place in the absence of a single income contingent repayment plan and for reasons which have nothing to do with student loan programs. With increasing enrolments the government deficit, debt crisis and declining financial support from both levels of government, it is obvious we cannot just bury our heads in the sand and hope that the money genie is going to appear and save our schools of higher education. Let us face reality.

The problem is serious and the problem has to be addressed now. This bill does not really address the problem. I call on the government to embark on a complete overhaul of the financial support system now serving post-secondary institutions and students.

This government continues to tinker with programs. We need a complete overhaul. We cannot continue to just make small adjustments. I believe the federal government's established programs financing should be completely replaced with the voucher system as described by the hon. member for Medicine Hat. The student loans legislation should be amended as moved by the hon. member for Calgary Southwest to provide for automatic income contingent repayment. We do not need another pilot project, we need an income contingent repayment plan for students now.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, one must congratulate the Minister of Human Resources Development on Bill C-28, an imaginative approach to updating and modernizing a measure that has been on the books for some years.

We work in an area of some constitutional doubt. That has existed since the immediate post-war period when Prime Minister St. Laurent and his successors ventured into the field of higher education in the knowledge that without a national presence, a national leadership, we might fall behind in the race to achieving and maintaining world standards.

That remains the situation today. There are limits to constitutional power. They necessarily condition what it is possible to do at the federal level in the field of higher education, although with imagination and some civil courage governments are doing their utmost in that area.

It is also important to remember that we live in the era of budgetary restraint now with us. There are limits to what you can do in any area without taking away from other priority areas.

What this legislation does is change something that has not been fundamentally changed in 30 years. It is very noticeable in terms of the financial provisions, the benefits available to students, which were frozen by the preceding government at 1984 levels. It is very much to be welcomed that the minister has taken the lead here with the substantial increase in the loan limits, a figure of 57 per cent, reflecting the growth in education costs borne by students over the intervening 10 years.

In fact, if you examine the projections for the next five years, the value of aid for students from the federal government would be $6 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion compared with the previous five years. That recognizes the commitments made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign to bring our standards of education in line with the best of the world community, that we would meet the standards of Japanese education, German education, education for society on the leading edge of technology. This is without derogating from the necessary provision which we all respect for the arts and other areas apart from the natural sciences.

Investing in students in higher educational institutions is an investment in Canada's future. The government is honouring its commitment made during the election campaign.

I think there is merit in examining the sensitiveness with which federal-provincial relations have been handled here. For provinces which for their own historic reasons, related perhaps to different views of the role of education, want to opt out of the program, provision is made for compensation so that the students in those provinces can benefit from the increases in federal provisions.

The other measures in the bill relate to rationalization, streamlining and updating the legislative scheme in existence for the past 30 years, increasing the loan limits for full and part time students and special opportunity grants to meet exceptional education costs of students with disabilities, high need part time students and women in doctoral studies, and establishing objective but regionally sensitive approaches to assessing needs.

The issue of repayment of student loans is one which all candidates in the last election who have institutions of higher education within their constituencies or who themselves have experienced education in higher institutions are aware of. It is a matter of extreme concern in a period where summer employment has largely dwindled away and where the economic opportunities and the times of the affluent continually expanding society are no longer there.

Many of us in the last few months have been concerned with approaching the minister or the officials in charge and arguing on a case by case basis the merits of flexibility and adjustment of the terms of student repayment of loans. I must report, although this has been a certain amount of work for my staff, that we have been delighted to assume the burden and that we have had a good success record.

This raises one of the issues which is always true for students of law and society. How much do you try to do by legislation? How much do you try to produce in your legislation an exhaustive code of many many pages? How much must you leave to administrative discretion with proper controls over the discretion to ensure that it is exercised with flexibility and compassion where that is needed?

I believe in amelioration of the conditions of repayment of these student loans. In particular I noted the repayment terms become income sensitive. Borrowers are able to choose between floating and fixed rates of interest based on lender to prime. I think these are measures from which we can take great encouragement.

I would suggest more flexibility in the timing period. There are ways of doing this administratively and, as I said, on a case by case basis. I and I am sure many other members on both sides of the House have experienced a warm response on the part of education officials when we raised the cases with them.

The importance of this is that all eligible students across Canada continue to have access to Canada student loans whether it is directly through the federal government or through their own provincial governments in the case of those provinces that

have opted out or may wish to opt out in the future from the national plan.

The costs of the reform are controlled through development of a consistent method of assessing student need. This is being developed jointly with the provinces. The federal aid sharing approach is caught up with the larger inquiries now being made for harmonizing and improving federal-provincial relations and administrative machinery in the areas where the federal government makes grants-in-aid to the provinces.

On this particular aspect I think the government has already made considerable progress. What is here essentially is a program of updating, modernization, with more flexibility, more compassion, more understanding, if you wish, of student needs that is related to the realities that there are limits to federal power in the field of education. This government and preceding Liberal governments have done their best to interpret federal powers flexibly in the light of the higher policy needs.

There is also the recognition in a period of genuine budgetary restraint that if you grant in one area you cut in another. What is very impressive here is the high priority that this government gives to education. Higher education is the key to our future. It is the key to the job strategy at the beginning of the 21st century. Education that is put forward now trains people with the technology that is necessary to build our industrial recovery and expansion in the next century.

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1:15 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, during the election Liberal members talked a lot about allowing committees to have more power in Parliament.

One of the concerns with this bill actually comes from the Association of Universities and Community Colleges. It is worried that any agreement with the banks that would allow the banks to lend money and collect might be so restrictive that it would not allow income contingent repayments to come into being. It has been suggested that the standing committee might be the appropriate place for any agreement with the banks to be vetted.

I wonder if the hon. member would be willing to suggest to the minister that the standing committee would be the appropriate place to have the agreement with the banks reviewed and whether the government still holds to the commitment of empowering the committees to do that type of vetting.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I thank the hon. member for Medicine Hat for his thoughtful question.

The cases I was referring to-that I have handled personally in the last few months-in fact a species of income adjustment has been reached in the administrative disposition of the cases with flexible responses on the part of the administrators. Whether this should be generated into a general rule is a matter that could be referred to a House committee. I must say I am not familiar with the activities of the committee in charge of this bill, but it seems to me it would be a thoughtful and helpful suggestion to pass on to the committee. As I say it can be reached through administrative arrangement.

Members should not underestimate their ability in raising a case for their constituents with administrators to get an appropriate response. However a more general rule through a committee would be helpful.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Francis Leblanc Liberal Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I want to make a few comments and to commend the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra on a very thoughtful presentation.

My comments refer to my other colleague from Medicine Hat and I make them as chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development which as he knows since he is a frequent attender to our committee is carrying out on behalf of the government an extensive consultation on Canada's social security system, including provisions which are being made by the Government of Canada to assist students. The whole student aid and student loans program come under the mandate that we have been given as a committee in connection with the social security review.

As well, it is to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development that this legislation will be referred. I want to say by way of comment that I think the whole matter of income contingent repayment and other features of the student loan system fall very much within the purview of either of the mandates that the committee has in order to review that part of the work of the human resources development department.

Regardless of what the government proposes in terms of broader social security reform, the points that have been made by my colleague from Vancouver Quadra and by others on this side of the House as to the need to update the loan limits, to make the student loans provisions more flexible, to assist targeted groups that are under represented in the student population, such as women, persons with disabilities and others, and to present that package in a way that is fiscally responsible, has got to be a direction that we as Canadians have to go when it comes to assisting students to pursue higher education.

I believe members on all sides of the House would agree with me that the key to Canada's economic prosperity in the future is a well educated workforce. The key to providing hope for our young people is to provide access to higher learning.

The Canada student loans program which languished and fell behind under the 10 years of the Tory administration needs to be brought up to date quickly and that is really what the Minister of Human Resources Development is doing with this legislation.

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1:20 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia


Mary Clancy LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to be taking part in this debate. I am particularly delighted to follow my colleague from Cape Breton Highlands-Canso who is an important part of the human resources team. I want to underline and echo the words that he spoke with regard to the updating of the Canada student loans program.

I represent the riding of Halifax. Within the boundaries of my riding are Dalhousie University, St. Mary's University, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Technical University of Nova Scotia and the University of King's College. We also have the Atlantic School of Theology and just outside my riding in Halifax West is Mount St. Vincent University. Halifax is very much a university city. Students in Halifax are very much a part of our culture, if you will, and they certainly are very important to our economy.

In my nearly six years as a member of Parliament one of the things I have been concerned about, particularly representing a university town in Atlantic Canada, and I have said this on many occasions previous in this House, is the fact that in Nova Scotia we have the highest tuitions, the lowest salaries for both faculty and administrative staff, and the oldest physical plants. However we still manage to provide probably, indeed not just probably, indubitably, the best university education that can be received in the country. Of course I include not just the universities in Halifax. I include St. Francis Xavier University, with a bow to my colleague from Cape Breton Highlands-Canso, Acadia University, the University College of Cape Breton and Université Sainte Anne at Pointe-de-l'Église.

We have gone a long time without an update to the Canada student loans program. Certainly over the last six years I have met frequently with students. They come to my office in Halifax, they come to my office here in Ottawa as part of their national lobbying process. My house is on the edge of the Dalhousie campus and I meet with students on a regular basis just doing my grocery shopping or walking around in my riding on the weekends.

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of the last several years has been the fact that university students have been very much afraid. Certainly in my riding of Halifax they have been afraid. Their tuition rates have risen enormously because of rising costs and because the Canada student loans program was not keeping up with their needs.

Add to that the problem with getting jobs, with trying to balance studies and part time jobs, and you have a fairly stressed out population among students. These young people worked hard but they saw problems everywhere they turned and they saw unfortunately in the past a government that was not very responsive.

In consequence I am absolutely delighted that this bill delivers on a commitment made by the government in its youth and learning strategy. That commitment was to improve student assistance to better serve the needs of present and future generations of students.

We talk a great deal in Nova Scotia about the brain drain. Perhaps we can be pardoned for reiterating the statement but Nova Scotians have travelled right across this country. They serve in legislatures. They are on the faculties of universities. They are on the boards and in the management offices of large and small businesses. Many of these Nova Scotians who have fanned out across this great country of ours are a product of Nova Scotian education.

We are delighted to make this contribution to the national effort. We are proud of the daughters and sons of our province who go farther afield to make their futures. For a long time we have been concerned that this tremendous outpouring of the educated was going to be stifled because young Nova Scotians just were not going to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that our great universities give to them.

It is important to note that loan levels had been frozen for 10 years while tuition fees were rising at an alarming rate. It is important to note that this legislation sets the stage to modernize the whole Canada student loan program which has not been fundamentally changed in 30 years. This means effectively, while I hate to admit it, that prior to this bill the Canada student loan legislation was exactly the same for the students starting university last year as it was when I started university-perish the thought-30 years ago this September. I could say I was two but it would not be true. The need for change and the time for change clearly had come.

A number of us within the caucus, as we worked on the policy plans that led to the red book, had lobbied very long and very hard with the Minister of Finance, as he is now, and with Chaviva Hosek, who was then head of the research bureau and is now chief policy adviser to the Prime Minister, for changes. I am delighted to see that those changes have come about through the presentation of this bill.

What is particularly edifying about this legislation is the increasing of the loan limits for full and part time students and the providing of special opportunity grants. This is something that was long overdue. Special opportunity grants are in this bill to meet the exceptional education costs of students with disabilities, high need part time students and women in doctoral studies, and to establish an objective, regionally sensitive approach to assessing student need. I will address the last point very briefly by saying that life can be very different for a student in Nova Scotia than for a student in metropolitan Toronto and different again for a student in the prairies or in Vancouver. It is

time that the Canada student loan recognized those regional differences.

I want to say that the special opportunity grants are a tremendous addition to the Canadian student loan program.

I attended as an undergraduate Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax where I later taught. I was fortunate enough to be a member of both the board of governors and the senate and I was also president of the national board of the alumni for Mount St. Vincent.

Mount St. Vincent has special programs for women. It has special programs for students with special needs. However for a long time those of us involved with Mount St. Vincent knew that it was necessary for the Canada student loans program to reflect and be sensitive to these particular needs.

I am particularly delighted that this is being looked at and taken care of in this bill. I sincerely hope that no one thinks that the moneys being expended through this legislation are a waste.

I hope we will not hear that this investment in the future of Canadians, young Canadians, Canadians with special needs, Canadian women and so on, is something we should not be doing. The need to invest in our students, in the next generation, in those who are to carry on nation building and ensuring that this remains the greatest country on earth, is never a waste. I for one sincerely hope that no one in the House would suggest otherwise.

I conclude my remarks by congratulating the Minister of Human Resources Development for bringing forward the bill. The students of Canada, particularly the students of universities in my riding, will rejoice that the government has taken its duty to heart and has fulfilled another promise from the red book. It is taking to heart what is in the best interest of Canadians, particularly young Canadians, making it law and making sure that we as a government represent and put forward the very best.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech made by the hon. member, especially since she hails from the Maritimes. I would like to ask her a question about the decision to abolish the special 18-month deferral given to students who have graduated but have failed to find a job.

The previous legislation stipulated that any student who could not find work after graduation, something that happens often enough due to the current economic recovery situation, was given an 18-month deferral, which meant that the student could continue looking for some work without having to pay back his or her loan.

I wonder if the hon. member would be willing to suggest to her government to reinstate the deferral period in this bill, through an amendment, at committee stage or any other way, so that, given the economic situation, someone who is looking for work will not be penalized and thrown out in the streets merely because society cannot provide him or her with a job.

I am asking hon. members, and especially those from the Maritimes who will have to address unemployment issues, like the increase in eligible weeks and the reduction in benefit weeks following the social reform, would it not be possible to ease things up for students by maintaining the previous provisions which gave an 18-month deferral to unemployed graduates?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question but ask for a clarification. In my experience it was not an 18-month deferral under the previous student loans legislation. It was a six-month deferral and if there were special circumstances the time period could be extended. Before I became a member of Parliament, I acted several times for students who were given longer deferral periods.

Perhaps it was different in Quebec because Quebec had the opting out. There may have been something different in the province of Quebec but, as I understand it, it was six months. As I also understand it, if circumstances warrant deferrals can continue. Given that we have to be very responsible fiscally, if students are working and can pay back they should pay back as soon as possible. Most of us who have bank loans do not get deferrals if we are working. There is flexibility if there is a problem; if the student is not working a deferral can be made. It was not at any time 18 months, but as I say there may have been a different situation in the province of Quebec.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, I have a quick question about the affirmative action part of the program.

Could the hon. member tell us roughly what percentage of women are currently undergraduates in the physical sciences compared to men? What would be the difference between male undergraduates going on to graduate school and females?

The second part of the question is if the government goes ahead with the legislation what steps will be taken to ensure that men still have access to all the spots in graduate school so that there is no discrimination against men through legislation by the government?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I will defend to my dying breath the rights of men to get into graduate school. I reassure the hon. member for Medicine Hat that while I do not have at my fingertips the percentages of women in the physical sciences and the other programs he mentioned, at the moment members of the

male gender are not in any danger of losing their superiority in numbers in graduate schools in the country, particularly in the sciences.

I merely tell the hon. member there is a fairly strong men's group working on the matter. It is called western civilization. However, if he is worried about it, he should get deeper into the whole area of affirmative action to discover that women have been discriminated against most strongly in these areas for a number of years. Any program that comes along to ensure more women in these areas is obviously going to be supported by the government.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate on Bill C-28 regarding student loans and other forms of financial assistance.

I would like to start with a brief historical background. In 1964, Quebec decided to opt out of the student loans legislation, and this has allowed us to develop a different model, more suited to the various regions of Quebec and the different forms of education we have. For example, at the college level, we have one extra year before entering university, something which does not exist in English provinces. We are proud of the model we have developed over the years and, even though there have been a few glitches from time to time, we have something which answers the needs of our students. This is particularly important in regions like the one I represent where we have two CEGEPs, one in La Pocatière and one in Rivière-du-Loup.

There is also one university, the Université du Québec à Rimouski , which serves the riding of Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, and one vocational training centre which you enter after high school. They are all important for the region, not only from an economic point of view because of the students they attract from elsewhere, but also because once they graduate these people can contribute to the economic development of the region.

It is important that the provisions be an incentive to study. The example I was giving earlier to the hon. member is a case in point.

When you remove the possibility for students who have completed their studies to benefit from an exemption period should they fail to find employment, you introduce a disincentive to education. This is particularly so in areas where unemployment, especially seasonal unemployment, is high and where the likelihood of finding employment a few months after graduation is remote. We would have liked to see in this bill a more decentralized approach. Unfortunately, what we see instead is more of the same as in the UI reform where the Minister of Human Resources Development announced an increase in the number of insurable work weeks and a decrease of the benefit period, which is a direct attack against those economies which rely heavily on seasonal employment.

In the same vein, we find the kind of offensive you would normally not expect from a Liberal government, especially given its electoral promises. For instance, you will find that when a former student becomes disabled, for him to claim his permanent disability as a reason for not repaying his student loan, it has to occur within seven months of the end of his studies. Currently, this period is much longer.

Under the guise of making it easier for students to have access to the Canada Student Loans Program, in fact the government is setting stricter limits. It is making it more difficult to invoke conditions beyond someone's control. Becoming disabled is usually beyond one's control. If, for example, a student is disabled as a result of a car accident, during the winter, nine months after the end of his studies, the course of his life is altered forever, and on top of that he has to assume the burden of student loans and grants he was hoping to pay back as soon as he had a job, which he finds himself unable to do because of his new disability.

The hon. member for Vancouver Quadra was just talking about compassion. I think that the government should show more compassion and treat former students who are in a difficult situation more humanely instead of the opposite.

Another aspect of this bill that we representatives of Quebec find totally unacceptable is the departure from what used to be, that is allowing the appropriate authorities to act in the area of loans and bursaries since appointments were made by the provincial cabinet to the appropriate bodies. In the new bill, the Minister of Human Resources Development takes it upon himself to appoint these people. We think that this is unnecessary centralization that will hurt the practical application of this program in every province.

Secondly, before, provinces opting out as Quebec did had to show the federal minister that their own plan met the general conditions of the federal plan, which left them with some leeway to adjust their loans and bursaries programs to their own needs.

Now the new bill says that the province will have to show that the program which it wants to implement meets the requirements of the federal law in every area covered. Obviously, in the medium term, this will force provinces like Quebec that want to have their own loans and bursaries to comply more and more with federal standards and thus, on occasion, to diverge from their own provincial requirements.

On top of the massive centralization it will bring about, this bill also gives the minister too much leeway in defining the reform. We are moving from a system where most of the elements were provided in the legislation to a reform which will, in the end, be implemented through regulations we know nothing about.

This is like signing a contract without seeing it. Before the government signs the contract, we would like to know exactly in which kind of a regulatory framework this legislation will be implemented; we want to avoid any surprises, especially since the examples I gave earlier show these regulations may indeed contain surprises not altogether to the advantage of students.

Since the minister promises to submit the regulations to a committee, I believe it would be important that we get them at this stage so that we may analyze them globally and see if the program, as it will be when those regulations are implemented, will be beneficial for students and will in fact create an incentive for the youth of Quebec and Canada to study, to succeed and to get well-paying jobs that will enable them to contribute to the development of their community.

I think this bill should be improved in order that the reform meets all the requirements of the students and other stakeholders, that is educational institutions, banks and all other banking institutions, and that it results in a better system, more efficient than the one we have now but also more advantageous for future generations.

The cost of student grants and loans, and on that point I agree with the member who just spoke, must be regarded as an investment. It will allow us to see that the generations graduating in the year 2000 will have a maximum chance of finding jobs, leading decent lives and creating adequate family lives.

In the context of this International Year of the Family, I think that is exactly the attitude we should adopt regarding this situation.

In concluding, I would like to call the attention of the House particularly to the rather more difficult circumstances that could result from the fact that students will be asked to undertake a study program with very little assurance of being able afterwards to make use of the time needed to find appropriate jobs. For instance, a student who is presently in high school meets a professional training counsellor to discuss his future choices, and he tells him to get into a loan and bursary system that provides this and that, that he should get an education in order to have a better chance of ultimately making good money and leading a normal life. But if the conditions that are offered to him are less advantageous, we are encouraging these people to leave the system.

A bill such as this could, through changes that seem economically profitable in the short term, have a negative long-term effect in the sense that students, instead of getting into the education system in order to be the most competitive possible, would rather choose to quit school too early, thus not providing the manpower that Quebec and Canada will need in the coming years.

So, I believe it is important that, in the future, the minister not bring about, through his decisions, changes that would upset a system that took several years to develop, especially in Quebec, where the loan and bursary system has sometimes led to major discussions. The government should not, by interfering in an area of provincial jurisdiction, jeopardize advances made in that area.

We would like the minister to insure most of all the tabling of regulations to make sure that the package is an interesting and logical piece of work, rather than a series of scattered decisions or decisions that will make the life of students more difficult.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Ottawa Centre Ontario


Mac Harb LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, several Opposition members have raised an issue which I consider a rather interesting one: jurisdiction over education. They said that education is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Our government agrees with that, but I would like to set the record straight.

In the bill as tabled by the minister, there is a provision under which the provinces are not obliged to participate in the program. As you know, Quebec and the Northwest Territories have already said they do not want to participate. I would appreciate if the hon. member would tell me whether he is satisfied with the bill proposed by the government as far as jurisdiction is concerned, and I want to stress that this bill recognizes the right of the provinces and territories to do what is referred to as opting out.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question, which gives me an opportunity to clarify my position. It is true that this bill is not satisfactory to us, because in the section that applies here, the provinces must satisfy the minister that their plan, in relation to the matter in question, will substantially have the same effect as the federal plan. Previously, this requirement only concerned the effects of the plan.

So there is a big difference between the two. Previously, they said: "What are the objectives of your plan for Quebec?" And the federal minister said they were in line with the federal objectives, and it was all right. However, as the bill stands now, it says that the plan will have to have the same effect in relation to the matter in question, which means that the provinces have lost the flexibility they had before in this respect, and everything will depend far more on the individual minister.

The person who is Minister of Human Resources Development today may not be there a few years from now. And we can expect bureaucratic inflation because when a bureaucracy is allowed to check the details of a program, you may be sure that this will make a lot of jobs for public servants.

Previously, the emphasis was more on political objectives, and so it was more up to the politicians to make a general evaluation. In fact, there have been no major problems with Quebec's opting out in this area for the past thirty years, but there were no reforms during the past thirty years either. We do not want the provisions of the new legislation, as it stands now, to add to bureaucratic constraints, at a time when we should be doing the exact opposite and giving the provinces as much leeway as possible.

I think this is a time for general legislation which allows for defining objectives and clearly identifying these objectives and not a time for setting up audit teams in Ottawa to audit Quebec and the territories concerned who have the same kind of situation and fighting about whether our plans have substantially the same effect. In this respect, the new legislation is not satisfactory to us, and that is one of the reasons why we object to the bill.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Ovid Jackson Liberal Bruce—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, education is a universal norm. I used to be a teacher. One thing about education is that it is dynamic.

In a lot of cases although people develop ideas in different municipalities those ideas might be the same. There has to be some central body to make sure there is some kind of uniformity. That is the role of the federal government.

We are not trying to stifle creativity in whatever this government is drafting. We are trying to make sure that we enhance and use all the knowledge and talents from all the provinces. I do not think any one province has talents exceeding those of another province.

For instance, in my municipality a youngster at one of the high schools I taught at qualified recently for a global scholarship. He will be leaving for Japan. I will be making a statement in this House about that. I know that all provinces, all peoples and all races produce people with these talents.

It is the role of the federal government to make sure that the educational facilities throughout this great country of ours have some semblance of order. Notwithstanding the fact that provinces are innovative and the province of Quebec has done extremely well with its economic base and some restructuring of its industries. In fact, it is a leader. Certainly the rest of Canada from time to time could copy some things from Quebec, but I am sure there are also things in Ontario which could be cross-pollinated.

There is always this movement of the provinces wanting more responsibility. They ask the feds to collect the money and then pass it on. However the feds do have a responsibility to maintain that uniformity.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comment. I singled out two expressions that he used, because they set us apart dramatically. He mentioned a "central body" and "uniformity" as being responsibilities of the federal government. This is precisely what we disagree with.

Education development, in Quebec and in Canada, cannot be uniform from one end of the country to the other. If you take just one example, the Northwest Territories, where the loan and grant system is applied differently, certainly have situations which differ greatly from ours. As to uniformity, a province might consider-and Quebec just did it- extending the loan and grant program to vocational training, to people who enter the labour market after high school, because it makes sense in that province, while it may not be the case elsewhere.

Some provinces may wish to emphasize keeping their graduates at home. This is why we disagree on this subject and why we oppose the bill introduced by the government.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 30(5), the House will now proceed to Statements by Members pursuant to Standing Order 31.

Impaired DrivingStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, drunk driving continues to be a problem throughout Canada. Every year in Canada over 45 per cent of all traffic collisions involve alcohol.

I am told that every 20 minutes in Canada someone falls victim to a drunk driver and every four hours someone is killed as a result of drunk driving. In 1991 over 31,000 Ontario drivers were charged with impaired driving offences. That is one person every 17 minutes.

The Peel regional police through a program called Operation Lookout call upon all Ontarians to report drunk drivers. All provinces should follow this example.

Everyone has a stake in keeping our roads safe and free of impaired drivers. By reporting a drunk driver you could save the life of someone you know, even a family member.

The OutaouaisStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, after 127 years of federalism, the Outaouais is still neglected by the federal government and receives only 1 per cent of the $2.5 billion in federal contracts which are awarded every year. This shameful neglect on the part of the federal government proves how totally indifferent it is to the economic development of the Outaouais and the creation of jobs in this area. Such an attitude has a disastrous impact on its economic situation.

The fact is that the federal government, while saying it champions the cause of the Outaouais, is actually promoting the inequality which has persisted in the Outaouais and Ottawa-Carleton regarding the awarding of federal contracts.

After decades of fruitless protests and demands, Quebecers, especially in the Outaouais, have now understood that it is only through sovereignty that they will be able to develop their country.

Criminal JusticeStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, in August 1992, 73-year-old William Dove was lured from his cabin near Whitewood, Saskatchewan and brutally beaten to death by two men and a teenager. Unbelievably, Hubert Ascoose, one of the two men convicted of manslaughter, is already eligible for parole.

The victim's mother has asked to attend the parole hearing scheduled for June. The parole board has advised Mr. Dove's family that they are welcome to attend the parole hearing "but they won't be able to say anything".

Many people in Saskatchewan feel that the three charged in this case got such light sentences that they literally got away with murder. Once again the system bends over backward for the criminal and denies the victim's family a chance to tell the parole board what they think.

When is the government going to correct this gross injustice? When is the government going to make changes to the parole system to put the rights of the victim and the protection of society as its first priority of the criminal justice system?

Merchant NavyStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a member from Atlantic Canada I am very proud and very pleased that my government, the Government of Canada, has recognized the 12,000 Canadians who voluntarily served in the merchant navies of Canada and other allied countries during the second world war. Many of those merchant mariners came from Atlantic Canada and one out of ten died on the high seas.

Yesterday, after 51 years, this government represented by the hon. Secretary of State for Veterans and the hon. Minister of National Revenue in twin ceremonies in Halifax and in Vancouver presented the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal to veterans of the Canadian Merchant Navy. With the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches just a few days away, it is very appropriate and timely that this government acknowledge the success of the allied war effort vested in large measure in the considerable sacrifices made by allied merchant seamen.

Today Canada salutes the veterans of the merchant navy and we thank them for their ultimate sacrifice.

Lieutenant Colonel Donald Edward George IrishStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to honour an officer and a gentleman on his recent retirement. For 35 years Lieutenant Colonel Donald Edward George Irish has served our country as a member of the Canadian forces. During that time he has made significant contributions to the Canadian cadet organization and the youth in the Hamilton-Wentworth region.

He is respected by his fellow officers, revered by his cadets-I know because I am one of them-and known to his peers to be knowledgeable, fair and impartial in mediation. In fact, Lieutenant Colonel Irish is considered by many to be the most respected cadet instructor air list officer to have ever served in the Canadian cadet movement.

With his time, compassion and genuine concern he has played a major role in guiding the development of one of Canada's greatest resources, our youth.

I am sure my House colleagues will join me in recognizing the accomplishments of Lieutenant Colonel Donald Edward George Irish.

1995 G-7 SummitStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, in 1995 Canada will host the G-7 summit. Even better, Halifax was chosen to represent Canada as the site for this conference.

This decision may have surprised some people but Haligonians have always known that our city is a great place for such an event.

Halifax can compete at the international level in business, education, research and, of course, tourism. The beauty of the city goes unrivalled due to its setting, its significant historic landmarks and its modern infrastructure.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to know of Halifax's fine qualities first hand are very proud of the city's accomplishments and are very proud that we are given the opportunity to represent our great nation from east to west, from north to south, anglophone, francophone and allophone on the world stage.

Thetford Mines AreaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I join the Leader of the Official Opposition in the Quebec National Assembly in denouncing the Premier's statement regarding the Asbestos area. On May 11 last, the issue of Metropolitan Gas expansion was debated by the National Assembly. Mr. Johnson stated at that time that it was not cost-effective to invest in that area.

People there have been ingenious enough to diversify and survive after the demand for asbestos dropped dramatically; Thetford Mines was even declared Industrial City of the year in 1992. We can see that Mr. Johnson is completely disconnected from reality.

I find it despicable for a politician, in his ivory tower, to hamper the efforts of our people who are doing their utmost to develop the area around Thetford Mines.

Mining WeekStatements By Members

May 24th, 1994 / 2:05 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, this week May 21 to 28 marks the sixth annual Mining Week in British Columbia, the focal point being an awards luncheon in Vancouver on Friday, May 27 to honour achievement in B.C.'s second largest industry.

While this industry has struggled in the face of low world market prices with competition from abroad and detrimental land use decisions here at home, the B.C. industry remains a driving force, employing 33,000 British Columbians and generating billions of dollars in annual economic activity.

I congratulate the industry this week. I am sure my colleagues from British Columbia and across Canada wish this vital industry continued growth and a standing offer of assistance.