House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour will please say yea.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 76(8), a recorded division on the motion stands deferred.

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Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC


Motion No. 3

That Bill C-28, in Clause 14, be amended by deleting lines 27 to 41, on page 12.

Mr. Speaker, proceedings in the House do not always reflect exactly what goes on in committee. I have said that, as the Official Opposition, we have tried to do our job the best way we could, to a point where, at the committee stage, we even moved amendments with which we were not comfortable. For example, we proposed that the minister be at least required to consult the provinces before designating the appropriate authorities.

You can certainly understand that it was difficult for us to do that, but we thought that we had to move such an amendment in order to force the minister to hold consultations. Of course, our amendment was defeated.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the clause that concerns Quebec the most. The committee sat for many hours, but that subject came up only during the last half hour. The clause that we want to delete affects the right of the provinces and territories to opt out. I have to tell everybody who is listening to us today that the right to opt out has been part of this legislation since it was first adopted in 1964, but there was no condition attached to it.

The province that chose to opt out received its share of what was spent elsewhere, depending on its population and the amount of money spent. They were saying: "There are two situations: either you take part in the national program or you opt out and, in that case, inasmuch as you have a provincial program, we will redistribute to you the equivalent of what has been distributed to other provinces".

We have to realize that in the context of the old struggles under Duplessis and later of the first arrangements under Pearson, before centralizing federalists took over the Liberal Party and formed the Liberal government, the right to opt out was not subject to any conditions. The first program, enacted in 1964, has been changed. The current act too, under which we have been operating since 1984, provides a right to opt out, this time subject to two conditions I would describe as light and formulated as objectives to be achieved.

The concern was that the provincial program should have provisions that had essentially the same effects as far as part-time students and exemptions from interest payments were concerned. Those then were provisions related to accessibility. They did not jeopardize the whole program, the whole approach of the program. There was a recognition that a province opting out from the program had its own approaches, its own objectives, its own criteria and its own administration, but on the other hand they were saying: "Make sure that part-time students enjoy the same rights and that in some cases there can be exemptions from interest payments".

But this new measure is quite another story. This bill turns the conditions into bothersome requirements affecting program administration with seemingly very little concern for objectives. Besides, it is not that we would want the program to be different, because Quebec did not wait for the central government to show the way to set up a loan and grant program.

Quebec did not wait for the central government of Canada to invest more in education, even more than the wealthiest province. I want to come back to those figures.

It is important to know that university funding has been largely provided-when I say largely, it should be pointed out that provincial efforts vary, and I shall refer to Quebec's effort-by the federal government; this is money from the provinces redistributed on the basis of demographic criteria. From 1977 to 1985-86, according to the most recent study I was able to find, which was published in 1992, that effort declined considerably.

General financing for the entire education system is not provided through student loans but through a program of transfer payments covering both health and education. The provinces have all chosen to give preference to health over education, resulting in a considerable proportionate decline in funds devoted to education. As to the provincial contribution offsetting the lower level of federal spending, Quebec has made a remarkable effort. From 1977 to 1986, Quebec invested 2.3 percent of its gross domestic product in education. This has since declined to 2.1 per cent, which means that 0.2 per cent went over to health. We do not have the time to go deeper into this.

By comparison Ontario-which is far richer than Quebec in terms of individual and overall wealth, for well-known historical reasons-invested 1.4 per cent of its GDP in 1977, and only 1.1 per cent in 1986-87. This means that Quebec, a poorer province, spent twice as much of its GDP on education. Concerning student loans, the figures submitted by the department indicate that Quebec contributed the same amount in 1992-93, even though the number of students was proportionately lower because Quebec has only 70 per cent of Ontario's population.

Under these conditions, it is a shameful, indecent and unacceptable situation when one is told in a federal bill that Quebec has to respect eight points, that it has to report-and that is why I will be sending additional documentation to the Quebec minister of education-and that most of these points relate to program administration; in particular, it indicates the direction of these reforms. This reform of student aid shows what is in store with the reform of social programs: centralization, meddling in provincial jurisdiction and a right to opt out with national standards that apply even to administration.

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12:50 p.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—Woodbine, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is correct when she says that 30 years is a long time. We have had this program for 30 years. Federal-provincial co-operation has existed under the Student Loans Act for30 years and the co-operation and support continues.

We heard from the parliamentary secretary earlier today that the provinces in this country do support this act. This is very important.

Under this bill provinces will continue to be able to opt out of the federal student assistance program if they choose to offer their own program of student assistance. There is nothing new here.

Opted out provinces will be able to receive compensation if they have a program which has substantially the same effect as the federal program. This is nothing new. The government is simply carrying forward provisions from the previous act.

Moreover we are expanding provisions for compensation to provinces which choose to opt out to ensure that their students benefit from the proposed reforms. This is a positive initiative.

We are also providing for accountability. This is something I believe is very critical if we are to be accountable to the taxpayers of this country. Accountability is something that taxpayers have asked us to make sure we have.

For this reason we are asking those opted out jurisdictions to satisfy the minister that they have in place a program that is substantially the same as the federal program in order to receive compensation. Surely this is only responsible and reasonable.

This can be accomplished by a simple letter once a year from non-participant provinces. It is not an onerous detailed demand. It is a simple letter of response and communication. It is not terribly demanding.

Subclause 14(7) establishes that a province choosing to opt out is compensated for those program elements which are in place at the provincial level. Without subclause 14(7) an opted out province could be compensated for program elements which are not available within that province. To me, that would not be responsible. We must be accountable and continue to be accountable to the taxpayers. We would increase the government cost without any assurance that students are receiving the benefits provided for under this legislation. Again, that is important in this country, and we have discussed it for the last eight months. Accountability on how we spend federal tax dollars is very important.

The provinces have agreed with the provisions in this bill. They agreed to the provisions because they feel comfortable that in fact their jurisdiction is not being affected, that they are protected under the Constitution and that this is a co-operative process working together for the benefit of the students of this country and in doing so, ensuring that students across Canada will receive the same programs and have the same access to good programs for post-secondary education.

I really see nothing new and nothing terribly earth shaking in these changes. I believe they are for the benefit of Canadians. Therefore, I suggest that this motion is out of order. If the motion stands I would urge all members to vote against it.

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12:55 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, earlier an hon. member referred to the duty of the opposition when the opposition looks at legislation such as we have before us today.

I think it is incumbent upon the opposition to give the legislation a thorough vetting. When opposition members come across a clause that they are uncomfortable with, they check it out, consult the stakeholders and find out what the different opinions are on it. After having done that if they are satisfied that the stakeholders do not have any particular problem with it, they should not oppose it for the sake of opposing it.

I point out to the members in the Bloc that although the Government of Quebec was invited to come before the HRD committee to talk about this, it did not. It is comfortable apparently with this particular clause of the bill. It has the ability of course and has taken advantage of the ability to opt out of the previous act and presumably this one as well.

It is very important that the opposition picks its time and place to make a big deal about these things. But to cry wolf too often only guarantees that you will have no audience when it is really important.

I was very suspicious throughout the meetings that we had with respect to this bill about some of the intentions of the government. I wanted to ensure that the provinces' rights were not being tampered with, that they were not being infringed upon.

In looking at it, after talking to all the people involved, talking to the ministers' departments and their officials, they do not have concerns.

I do not understand why we are even talking about this, given that even the Government of Quebec does not seem to have any concerns.

In the interests of expediency, I would hope that we will defeat this motion.

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1 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, to a certain extent, the amendment before us can be considered a symbol. If our amendment is passed, it will be a sign that this government acknowledges that provinces which choose to opt out of the program can do so with dignity, and in full awareness of the situation, and fully take advantage of the opportunity to set their own requirements for their program.

If that clause remains unchanged, however, this bill on financial assistance to students will no longer recognize that provinces have the right to opt out with full compensation; it will reduce them to the status of beggars. Each time provinces want to specify a number of points in a section, they will have to abide strictly by the federal financial assistance program, so that it will be impossible to take into consideration special circumstances prevailing in a given province.

I will give you three examples in the bill before us in clauses 7, 10, and 11.

Clause 7 provides for an exemption from interest costs for a borrower who ceases to be a full-time student. If a province wants to exercise its right to opt out of the program, be it the Maritime provinces or Quebec, which has already opted out, and thinks a more substantial exemption is in order, it will not get it because big brother does not agree. There will be no room for adjustment to special conditions in a province where it is harder to find a job. It could be that in Toronto it would be normal to start paying back student loans the day after graduating, but not in New Brunswick where high unemployment makes it harder to get a job and where the provincial government might want to give students a better chance.

With this bill, the federal government forces all provinces to implement a system which is identical to the one defined in the present law.

The second example I wanted to give you concerns clause 10. These are all examples which pertain to people in everyday ordinary activities. It says that the lenders' obligations end if a student dies before completing his studies. How much latitude is there? Could some provinces not say that if death occurs the year after, the same exemption should apply? Some governments can be more humane than others or they may be able to afford more. Other provinces could impose more restrictions on that kind of situation.

With this bill, we will reintroduce the absurd situation which we now have in the health sector, where the federal government imposes standards on the services offered, but reduces its financing every year.

With the clause as worded in this bill, the federal government prevents practically any province that wants to exercise its right to opt out from doing so, because the conditions for opting out are such that there would be no benefit for the provinces, which are left with no room at all to manoeuvre in the areas where they would like to operate.

Clause 11, which deals with permanent disability of the borrower, is another example. The federal legislation says that when a student becomes permanently disabled, the minister can reimburse the amounts owed by the student. Now, a province might feel that in the case of partial disability, the government could repay part of the loan.

The three specific examples I wanted to give you show that an apparently minor clause that, on the face of it, seems quite benign, in fact hides a deep-seated desire for centralization. Instead of tabling a bill in which the opting-out principle is clearly explained, with full compensation for the province, if the government had told the provinces that there would be no more opting out, of course there would have been a tremendous hue and cry. However, this is an attempt to sneak through what the government has been unable to do in a more direct manner.

We suggested a slightly different amendment in committee, and when it was finally defeated, there was a moment of silence as members realized this was a clear example of the very different view we have of government intervention. On the federal side, there is the perception-perhaps it comes from the bureaucracy which answers directly to the ministers-that they know what to do and that is how things are supposed to work, and last but not least, it has to be the same everywhere.

A loan and grant program may include many areas where a province wants to do things differently. As for the previous remarks by the member from the Reform Party, I would ask him to moderate his enthusiasm about the fact that the current provincial Liberal government made no representations at the hearings, because that government exists in name only. It is nearing the end of its term. It is threadbare. It will soon be replaced by another government that will be genuinely committed to defending the interests of Quebec. It will do so, knowing what is involved, and it will ensure that every time, for as long as it is still part of the Canadian federation, the interests of Quebec and those of the provinces will be protected.

It is not only a matter of defending our powers province by province because it is written in the Constitution Act. It is simply obvious when it comes to loans and scholarships. We have had the proof with the representatives of francophone students in the rest of Canada who came and told us: "The law must provide clearly that we will be able to deal with our banks, caisses populaires and other financial institutions headed by francophones". Therefore, often the institution where a student chooses to negotiate his loan will be the institution he will deal with for the rest of his life.

That is why we need systems that allow provinces to opt out and to establish their own rules in order to meet such demands. I think the situation can be assessed very differently, for instance, in New Brunswick compared to Alberta. They could have different goals. There can also be a link between the way the provincial government is funding universities and the student loan and scholarship system.

For example, if a provincial government advocates free education as much as possible, the operating costs of the university will not diminish. Therefore, the government will support those costs in its administrative operations but its student loan and scholarship program will be reduced. Another province might go for a program in which education expenses, the real operating costs of the university will be paid for almost totally by students, while the government will not significantly contribute to the funding of education.

I think that we should have flexibility and pick one of the two following options: We either opt for a centralized system where the conditions are the same for everyone or we allow the provinces to use the important development tool that is education in order to acquire the leverage which will enable future generations to face the future.

I invite the government to reconsider its position on that amendment. It will only have to retain the right to opt out with full compensation and in no circumstances should a province have to convince the minister that its position is right. It should only have to inform him of its position.

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1:10 p.m.


Philippe Paré Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak on the amendment that the Bloc is proposing in order to eliminate that clause. On May 9, the federal Minister of Human Resources Development tabled his Bill C-28, the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill and I support the amendment on the outright elimination of clause 14(7).

This bill as worded is as if the government wanted to eliminate 30 years of history. The hon. member for Mercier was saying earlier that the Canadian act has been in effect since 1964. Quebec has given itself its own system, but with this bill, it is as if that system did not exist. It is a kind of negation of history.

We must remember that education is recognized by the Canadian Constitution as an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. However, the federal government has long been assuming certain powers in that sector, such as student financial assistance. In order to be able to interfere in the education sector, it refers to its spending authority. It is ironical that a government with an accumulated debt of more that $500 billion and an estimated annual deficit of almost $40 billion, is behaving as if it was on top of it. Because it has spending authority, it says: "Let us spend". Whether or not it is able to spend does not make any difference; it just spends money.

The height of irresponsibility in the bill is that the government, with revenues that it does not have, is preparing to put even further into debt the young people that it wants to train. If this is not the perfect example of what can be called a vicious circle, then I do not know what it is. The government spends money that it does not have and asks the so-called beneficiaries to foot the bill without knowing whether it can create jobs for them!

Until now, provincial governments which, like the Quebec government, managed their own student financial assistance program could almost automatically exercise their right to opt out of the federal program and receive an alternative payment. This system worked relatively well for all. However, with the new bill introduced by the Minister of Human Resources Development, the rules are completely different.

The provinces will not be able to exercise as easily their opting out right. This bill provides unacceptable new procedures with which provincial governments will have to comply if they want to exercise their opting out right and receive alternative payments. I refer here to clause 14(7) of the bill.

We feel that this bill is, as my colleagues from Levis and Mercier mentioned before, a centralizing measure which threatens the provincial autonomy recognized in the Canadian Constitution, by giving the Minister of Human Resources Development too much power. One wonders if the government is not seeking, through this bill, to create its own Department of Education and to impose national education standards.

Speaking of national standards, it is important to recall the basic, recurring problem in this area. The federal government imposes standards, then-invoking a lack of financial resources or other excuses-gradually withdraws while maintaining the standards.

To prove that, I will simply remind you that as far as established programs financing is concerned, including post-secondary education, in 1977-78, federal funding amounted to 48 per cent of the funds required for cost-shared programs, while in 1994-95, they will only amount to 32 per cent. If the federal government pays only 32 per cent, it means that someone else will have to pay the difference and it will be the provincial governments. Even so, they will have to comply with the national standards.

Let me give you another example. I would like to talk about the changes that occurred in the revenues of the government of Quebec between 1984 and the projections for 1998. In 1984, federal transfers accounted for 28 per cent of the Quebec budget, while in 1998, they are expected to account for only 15 per cent. There again, the people of Quebec will have to pay.

That way of doing things and imposing national standards takes away responsibility from the provincial governments which are elected governments and which are much closer to the people than the federal government.

That way of doing things shows that local needs are ignored. Much has been said about the major differences between the various regions of Canada, but national standards do not take those differences into account at all. The bill that we are debating is just like the others. It assumes that as far as student loans and education are concerned, the needs are exactly the same in Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia.

Finally, these national standards infringe upon democracy because people in the provinces have elected members to provincial legislatures, they have placed their confidence in them and given them powers, and the introduction of national standards will eventually erode an important part of provincial responsibility.

In fact, clause 14 provides that, in order to receive alternative payments, a provincial government will have to satisfy, not inform but satisfy, the minister, I quote: "by written notice received by the Minister before the beginning of the loan year in question, that, in relation to the matter in question, the provincial student financial assistance plan has substantially the same effect as the plan established by this Act".

This is totally unacceptable and I wonder, if the Supreme Court were to study this intrusion in a provincial jurisdiction, it would not decide in favour of the arguments presented by the Official Opposition.

It is unacceptable that provincial governments would have to justify their student financial assistance plans to the federal Minister of Human Resources Development since education is exclusively a provincial jurisdiction.

In the context we all know very well, where a large proportion of Quebecers are against the federal system, one could say the central government is doing all it can to provoke a general outcry. This seems due to a very questionable sense of politics; it is hard to say if it is pure stupidity or provocation.

This whole question is particularly important for Quebec because it is crucial that Quebecers manage their own education system.

Let me conclude by saying that Quebec's record in this regard shows that Quebec has acted responsibly in setting up such a system. We must also keep in mind that education is a vital instrument for cultural and linguistic development. Quebec cannot afford not to be in control of this sphere of activity. Our French-language universities are shining brightly. They are almost everywhere and their vitality leaves no doubt. You can find graduates of French-language universities in every sector. I think we set a remarkable example for the rest of Canada. While developing its French-language universities, Quebec was generous enough-I think the word is exact-to allow its anglophone minority to have its own universities. No other province did such a thing, except New Brunswick with Moncton University. Everywhere else, francophones must make do with bilingual universities. We know the results.

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June 16th, 1994 / 1:20 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was refreshing to hear the hon. member for Louis-Hébert give us this historical reminder of what we always accepted in Quebec. The hon. member mentioned the rights of English-speaking Quebecers, rights that we respected to the point that, at one time, there were three English universities in Quebec: Sir George Williams, McGill and Bishop's, in Lennoxville, and only one French university, Laval, which had a campus in Montreal. This does not go very far back in the collective memory of Quebecers. We have to repeat it, over and over again, to show the degree of tolerance we exhibited in the area of education. Of course, we have caught up. The Montreal campus became the Université de Montréal, a university was created in Sherbrooke and then, in the mid 1960s, we had the creation and expansion of the Université du Québec network.

This being said, the rights of English-speaking Quebecers are well protected, and a sovereign Quebec would guarantee these rights in its constitution.

The bill in front of us questions the concept of opting out in the historical meaning of the term, in its constitutional meaning, a concept which was introduced at the time of the first agreements, the so-called Sauvé-Diefenbaker agreements at the end of the 1950s. Quebec could opt out, because at that time it was the only province to ask for the right to withdraw from a federal program in exchange for full compensation. That way, Quebec was not subject to what we call federal standards, and what others call national standards. The opting out provisions were always maintained. We had the Lesage-Diefenbaker, Lesage-Pearson and Johnson-Pearson formulas, and finally the Bourassa-Trudeau formula, although the agreements were scarcer at that time.

Essentially, what Quebec Premiers Sauvé, Lesage and Johnson have obtained is the right to opt out with full compensation without having to justify their decision. Finally, we are back to the concept advocated by Sir John A. Macdonald of a legislative union in Canada. They want to legislate here for all of the provinces while leaving them a small way out. Ottawa tells them: If you want to opt out, you will be able to do so provided you can convince us, the federal government, that your provincial legislation meets federal or national standards. In the end, the one giving that power, the federal government, under conditions precedent, is reserving the right to say: No, you have not convinced us and so we are keeping that power and we are going to continue to administer the program or else you will receive no transfer payments.

Misrepresentation of Canadian federalism did not start with Bill C-28. In fact, federal attempts to do so go back to 1867, but they increased at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s and have been growing steadily.

Quite possibly there may not be a single sector that has not been touched by federal legislation. To my knowledge, according to the research that I have done, the one area in which the federal government has really not been able to venture is the administration of provincial public servants. That was the gist of a Supreme Court ruling when the Trudeau government imposed wage and price controls. This government had succeeded in getting elected on the promise that it would not freeze prices and wages. However, once elected, it proceeded to do exactly the opposite, like any good Liberal government worth its salt.

I agree with my colleague from Kingston and the Islands who followed the events of the Trudeau era closely and who noted this massive incursion into fields of provincial jurisdiction, this disdain for provincial legislatures who are treated as junior level governments, whereas the senior level government for our friends across the way is the federal Parliament of Canada.

Why must we remind the member for Kingston and the Islands and our colleagues opposite, who are fully aware of the situation, that they conducted the same studies we did, that they have lived and will continue to live for the next few months in the same country as us and that they should know that provincial legislatures have as much sovereignty over their respective areas of jurisdiction as the federal Parliament has over its own?

We have to constantly remind them that this struggle for the recognition of provincial sovereignty dates back to our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers. We hope that our generation will be able to complete the task undertaken by those who came before us in the House and in the Quebec National Assembly and who participated in all the struggles for the survival of the Quebec nation. Well, we are tired of merely surviving. We have now decided to start living. We will live as Quebecers under the authority that we will freely delegate to the Quebec National Assembly when we have freed ourselves once and for all from an institution that has more to do with feudalism than with modern democracy. We will rally Quebecers to a collective plan for Quebec's sovereignty and take back our powers so that we no longer have to beg and convince anyone of the legitimacy of our demands. We will quite simply make our own decisions as people who have full political maturity, and that is coming soon.

People in English Canada and elsewhere in the world are already waiting to see a new country emerge and take its place in the international community. The decision for independence is coming soon and we must prepare for it. And we must prepare even more when we see the kind of highly centralizing legislation presented to us by the present Government of Canada which is not so different from its predecessors.

The Gordian knot that has been strangling us for decades in Canada, the fact that there is a country missing in this country-we will have to make a decision on it in Quebec and then of course negotiate with our friends in English Canada on the consequences of our decision. But if we think about it carefully, historically, I believe that both sides can benefit from the decision that we will make in Quebec so that each of us can have our own decision-making bodies and instead of arguing bitterly over bills on which we can have extremely divergent views, we can each make our own decisions in our own legislature and then discuss what unites us as friends and neighbours instead of what divides us.

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1:25 p.m.


André Caron Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-28, the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

The way the federal government is acting here exemplifies, in a way, the failure of the Canadian federal system and can explain, to a large extent, why a sovereigntist political party like ours was voted into the House of Commons of Canada.

Student financial assistance is obviously an education matter. And in Canada, under the existing Constitution, education comes under the jurisdiction of the provinces. The government, the English Parliament that passed the British North America Act in 1867 had clearly defined the jurisdictions of each of the two levels of government we have in Canada: the federal government and the provincial governments. And each of them have exclusive powers within their jurisdictions.

Under section 42 of the British North America Act, education was defined at that time as an area of provincial jurisdiction. But for years, actually decades now, the federal government has been invading this provincial area of responsibility. By virtue of what authority? By virtue of its own power to spend.

It is somewhat ironic to see, while jurisdictions are clearly defined in the Constitution, the federal government is intruding in an area under provincial jurisdiction, saying: "We are rich. We have loads of money. We have money to spend. Therefore you have to take our money".

The bill before us speaks volumes about the government managing to ignore the uniqueness of provincial governments in the end. In time, this practice has caused the federal system to fail in Canada, with the result that communities like ours, in Quebec, have decided to take responsibility for themselves and run their own state business in their interests, according to objectives set by and for themselves.

This bill sets out standards any provincial government would have to meet to avail itself of something we have been enjoying in Canada for over thirty years, namely the possibility of opting out. As you know, since the 1960s, many voices were raised in Canada to warn the federal government: "You are interfering in such and such an area of provincial jurisdiction". With things heating up, the federal government of the day put forward the opting-out formula, which means that a provincial government can invoke its right to opt out, get full compensation for and administer certain programs in the interest of its people.

Quebec opted out of a number of these programs, including the loan and bursary program.

This bill preserves the opting-out formula, but the conditions each province must meet in order to exercise the right to opt out are so stringent that the day will come when opting-out will not be in a province's interest.

The bill says that if a province wants to withdraw, its program must have essentially the same criteria as those of the federal program. So what are they really telling the province? They are telling it to administer-repeat, administer-the federal program in such a way as to obtain the same results.

At first glance, we could say: "Yes, it is quite normal in a federation. The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that all parts of the country and all citizens are treated the same way". We would then completely ignore one important aspect: Within the Canadian federation, there are some very obvious local differences. British Columbia, Newfoundland and Quebec often face particular situations that require adjusting the programs from which they asked to withdraw. Also, they cannot always pursue the same objectives and effects if they want to ensure that the people who stand to benefit get the most out of the programs.

I think it is rather obvious in the area of education. I myself am a teacher by profession. Before being elected to the House of Commons, I worked as a guidance counsellor in a secondary school. I saw that the Canadian education system has its peculiarities. It was quite obvious every year during Canada Career Week. Schools then received boxes full of brochures suggesting activities, in French, of course, because we are still Canada's French-speaking province. We received documents in French suggesting activities geared to the various levels.

Every year, it was something of a novelty for everyone. We were eager to see what was proposed. The school's guidance counsellors and teachers tried to find out together what Canadian people elsewhere thought up for us in French and wanted us to do during Career Week. Often, it was written in acceptable or sometimes even in excellent French. We had difficulty understanding the type of activities proposed and figuring out to which students or levels they were aimed at. The various systems work differently and also the values underlying them vary from province to province. So, in the vast majority of situations, we simply could not use the material provided to us.

Nevertheless, we would do like the rest of Canadian schools and have a career week, except that we would use material prepared in our own school, and it would work very well. This example illustrates how, in a field as critical as education, Canadians and Quebecers have different approaches, views and ways of doing things.

At the time, we more or less did what Quebec wants to do in the next few years, in that we decided to act independently. We told ourselves: Our school will have its own career week, based on our own methods, objectives and procedures, and activities will be geared to our students.

This modest work experience has taught me that, in fields as important as education, the needs of citizens and provinces must be taken into account, and those needs are not the same throughout Canada. That is why the bill before us is a bad piece of legislation. It includes several clauses promoting such standardization, and some provinces might not be able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the system runs smoothly.

Let us go back to clause 7, which refers to the interest-free period for a borrower who ceases to be a student.

Why does that clause impose a standard procedure for every province in the country? We all know that the unemployment rate varies from province to province. It is not true that a student in a given province has the same chances of finding a job when he graduates as a student in another province.

Yet, based on that clause, the situation is presumably the same right across the country. I will conclude by simply asking the House to support the amendment tabled by the Bloc Quebecois to delete this provision which forces provinces to adopt and implement standard procedures, thereby making the option to withdraw from the plan non applicable for all intents and purposes. If this bill is passed in the form proposed by the Liberal government, it will confirm once again that Canadian federalism cannot work in the current context. Consequently, those who are looking for an alternative in the interest of their community have no choice but to withdraw from it, as I hope Quebec will do in the next few years.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, subsection 14(7) we want to see deleted adds to the conditions imposed on the provinces which want to opt out of the federal financial assistance program and establish their own program, just like the province of Quebec and the Northwest Territories are currently doing.

This provision only adds to the existing conditions and Bill C-28 on financial assistance applies, as you know, to new matters. Pursuant to subsection 14(7), in order to obtain alternative payments, the Minister of Education or the province concerned must satisfy the Minister, by written notice received by the Minister before the beginning of the loan year in question, that, in relation to the matter in question, the provincial student financial assistance plan has substantially the same effect.

It must have the same effect not in general, with some small exemptions, but in every matter in question, as the plan established by this Act and the regulations. We have moved to delete this subsection, because section 14 already has six provisions which, according to a study we ordered and have had reviewed, are enough to provide all the provinces which decide to opt out of Bill C-28 with all the financial assistance they need.

Of course, we think the status quo would have been better, because the previous provisions were very specific. Pursuant to the old legislation, the provinces only needed to convince the minister where part-time student loans and special exemption periods were concerned.

To convince the federal minister, is it not a bit much? A provincial government must convince the federal minister when it needs financial assistance! Sometimes, people think that the federal government gets its money elsewhere, but I want to remind Quebecers that their taxes make up 24 per cent of all federal revenues. We do not take this money away from other provinces; it comes from their own tax dollars sent to Ottawa, which in turn provides financial assistance in an area under exclusive provincial jurisdiction. So, the minister must now be convinced. That was also a requirement under the existing provisions and admittedly these people had adopted a centralist approach. Before, we also had to convince the minister in order to opt out of the program, but only about very limited aspects such as part-time studies and special exemptions, not about loans. Let us not forget that fact.

Why is Quebec so insistent on managing its own financial assistance program? Of course, the program is not perfect and some will never be totally satisfied. Most Quebecers would prefer to see more grants than loans awarded, but, up until now, the federal program was restricted to loans. Grants will now be included, although this has long been the case in Quebec. It would take be too long to enumerate all the features of the Quebec legislation respecting student financial assistance, which was amended in 1990, but, as my colleague from Jonquière said, there are many of them.

Here is one characteristic which does not appear in this bill. For example, instead of imitating the federal legislation where a sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of students with poor grades, Quebec uses the carrot rather than the stick approach by saying that students graduating within the required time benefit from a reduction in their loan payments. We are thus encouraging those who succeed without penalizing or limiting access to those who have satisfactory results in certain fields, but who may go through difficult times because of personal problems, illness or family problems. Troubling events can always happen. According to this bill, the federal minister, through the appropriate authority, must ensure that the student has satisfactory results. In Quebec, it does not work this way. In our province, a scholarship program is already in place, even for part-time students. Therefore, the situation is already very interesting in Quebec.

However, it is a question of principle. Quebec must manage its own student loan program. Why? Because, as we know, every province invests in its own postsecondary education system. So does the federal government, but the stakeholders at that level are the provinces. What happens?

In Canada, for example-although this varies from one province to the next and even from one university to the next-the universities, which by getting less money from the higher levels of government, tend to raise their tuition fees. On average, these fees have increased threefold in all of Canada since 1984. In Quebec, universities have succeeded so far in maintaining lower tuition fees, since access to higher education is very important for Quebecers. This is a principle on which they all agree. There is a consensus on that. There must be access to higher education. Members of Parliament and ordinary citizens often say that people must take control of their own destiny and that students are no exception. They must pay a greater part of the cost of their education.

The example of the United States is often given. True, this is the case in the United States but this is the only western country where tuition fees are higher than in Canada. In France, university education is free, because access to university education is also considered to be important. With this right to opt out, Canada looks more and more like two countries in one. We do not want to prevent English Canada from putting in place a loan system according to its own values and needs, but Quebec has its own concepts on this due to its cultural identity. Quebecers have their own values.

We find it unacceptable that a government which said that it did not want to talk about the Constitution anymore is discreetly amending legislation containing quasi-constitutional provisions. It says one thing and does the exact opposite. It waited till the end of the session to force us to adopt its measure in a hurry even before the Minister of Human Resources Development reveals his action plan for social security reform and before the consultations on this subject take place. Students are considered

to be a distinct group since it has already been decided how they should be treated.

The government could have raised the ceiling on student loans simply by amending that aspect of the existing act, but no. It chose to present a bill that represents a further encroachment in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, namely education.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would probably have regretted not participating in this debate, so that is why I am doing it now, even though it is getting near the end. I will remind the members that we are now at report stage and that the study of this amendment will complete the consideration of this bill at second reading. I will probably be the last person to speak at this stage of the process.

The amendment before us is aimed at deleting paragraph 7, in clause 14 of the bill. We want to delete it because, from now on, a provincial government will be able to exercise its right to opt out only if it can convince the minister. And convincing Minister Axworthy is no easy task. The provincial government will have to send written notice to the minister before the beginning of the loan year, even though the number of students is essentially the same from one year to the next in the various disciplines. The federal government wants to put one more obstacle in the way to make it more and more difficult for the provincial governments to opt out of the national standards that the minister of education of Canada-since we may have to call him that from now on-wants to impose on all Canadians.

I think it is extremely difficult to accept such a change. Several of my colleagues who spoke today mentioned that Quebec has always exercised its right to opt out. We also heard that this student financial assistance program was first established in 1964 by a great Liberal, Mr. Pearson, who had a totally decentralized vision of Canada. But we can see clearly in the intent of this bill the centralizing influence of the former Trudeau government since several Cabinet members who were probably involved in the drafting of this bill, including the minister and the Prime Minister, have followed in the footsteps of this great man who, according to some people, marked the history of our country, certainly because of his excessive centralizing policies.

To opt out with full compensation, provinces must also adjust their loan and grant conditions to their particular situation. Over the past few weeks and the past few months, we have been saying it over and over again, there are two countries within this one. Soon, there may be ten or even twelve, because I doubt if provinces will want to operate under such a centralized system. Moreover, people will realize that this legislation contains real danger. It is as if people had fallen asleep all of a sudden; it would appear that parliamentarians have also fallen asleep and are unable to see the traps in this piece of legislation; the danger is real. When they wake up, it will be too late.

I am thinking of the francophones outside Quebec who presented a brief. I do not want to be quoted out of context nor be accused again on the basis of my supposed intentions. I will therefore quote the brief presented by French-speaking Canadians, by our young francophones. It says that francophones and Acadians often have lower standards of living. Their education level is lower than their English-speaking counterparts, which leads not only to lower incomes but also to a situation where post-secondary education should be systematically promoted as a means of breaking out of the vicious circle our communities are trapped in. Besides, because of their linguistic situation, these young students must often leave their community, or even their home province, to further their education at the university or college level.

The provinces should have a piece of legislation or regulations that would be flexible enough to allow them to organise their own loan repayment system according to students' needs. Incentives could be taken into consideration such as Quebec's initiative to grant a substantial break on loan repayment to students who manage to complete their education within the specific time frame normally needed for a bachelor's degree, a master's or a Ph.D.

I urge the government to carefully review this bill before passing it at third reading.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

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

Stanley CupStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the curse is over. Messier, Graves, Anderson and company will no longer have to listen to opposing mocking crowds saying: "1940, 1940", because Tuesday the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years.

Although I was hoping for a Canadian team to win, I am not disappointed that an American based, original six was able to capture Lord Stanley's holy grail. In particular I congratulate

Jeff Beukeboom, a hulking defenceman with the Rangers who is from my hometown area of Lindsay, Ontario.

Jeff, who has never been shy when it comes to rough play, displayed the character, commitment and leadership needed in helping the Rangers win the cup, and there were no riots in Lindsay.

Producers On Orléans IslandStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 7, the shore regions of Beaupré and Orleans Island, near Quebec City, were battered by torrential rains and hail.

The municipalities of Saint-Laurent, Saint-Jean and Sainte-Famille on Orleans Island and Château-Richer on the north shore of the St. Lawrence were particularly hard hit by this downpour. The strawberry and potato crops are the most seriously affected.

Damage reports indicate that potato farmers suffered the heaviest losses. Surface runoffs completely destroyed all of the work which potato growers had done in recent years to control soil erosion.

This torrential rain swept away years of hard work. Potato growers are looking to the federal government and the Minister of Agriculture for support to which they are entitled to repair the heavy damage caused by this disaster-damage which I had occasion to view personally when I visited the area on the weekend.

Brent EppStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to and express profound respect for a young Albertan who has left Canada for the fourth time in his young life to serve needy people in other parts of the world.

While he was a student he spent a summer working as an unpaid volunteer in the refugee camps in Thailand. Upon graduation from university he worked for a year in southern Sudan, Kenya and Somalia at considerable personal danger to bring food and medical supplies to starving and suffering children and adults. Last year, he was in the war-torn former Yugoslavia working at a home for women who had undergone much suffering and violence.

Last Tuesday he left again, this time to serve the suffering people of Rwanda. Susie, his bride of 12 weeks, will be joining him there in July.

I salute this young man, his wife and the Christian relief agencies he has represented. I am especially touched by this young man's humanitarian effort because this man is Brent Epp, and my wife and I are his parents.

Lead Shot And Fishing WeightsStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, lead shot, gun ammunition made mostly from lead, is widely used in Canada for small game hunting. When birds and animals eat lead shot, it dissolves in their stomachs and slowly but surely kills them. The same can be said about lead fishing weights. Loons, eagles, herons and cormorants are among the birds affected by these toxic products.

There are good alternatives. Steel shot has been developed as a practical, effective, economic and non-toxic substitute.

In Denmark and Holland, lead is banned from all products, including gunshot and fishing weights. Lead shot is banned in the United States but Canada does not have similar legislation.

I urge the government to adopt a policy whereby lead shot and fishing weights made of lead are not to be used or made in Canada.

Friendship FestivalStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie, ON

Mr. Speaker, the community of Fort Erie, Ontario is nestled on the shores of Lake Erie at the mouth of the Niagara River. This picturesque community is the co-host of the Friendship Festival.

The festival was originally organized seven years ago to recognize and commemorate 175 years of peace between the communities of Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York and between the countries of Canada and the United States. The festival takes place on both sides of the Niagara River, one of the very battlegrounds of the war of 1812.

The festival's mission statement is to provide a forum for the people of Canada and the United States to celebrate this historical relationship and to enhance community spirit, pride, economic development and cultural awareness. The festival takes place from June 25 to July 4, encompassing these two fine countries' national holidays of July 1 and July 4 respectively.

The Friendship Festival attracts over 500,000 people annually along with hundreds of vendors, artists and hobbyists. Most important, it is a festival focused on the family and the harmonious existence of two communities that were once at war.

In a time of international political unrest and conflict, I am proud to promote an endeavour which celebrates peace and harmony among nations.

Religious LeadersStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the many thousands of Canadian men and women who devote their lives and their work to the service of God. These religious leaders, both Christian and non-Christian alike, serve God through serving the Canadian people. By so doing, they help to mould and shape this nation for the better.

In particular today I wish to thank the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, a brave and dedicated army of men who have done so much to serve the peoples of this land for over four centuries.

I welcome Fathers Charles Sitter and John O'Brien to Ottawa and thank the men and women of all faiths who serve God so well, through serving Canadians so selflessly.

Rail TransportationStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Paul Mercier Bloc Blainville—Deux-Montagnes, QC

Mr. Speaker, for remote areas of Canada, the train is often a prime link with the rest of the country. The train is also a powerful engine of economic development for many communities, and is a factor contributing to the quality of life of the local residents.

The Chaleur line, for example, makes a strong contribution to the revitalization of the entire Gaspé Peninsula by generating tourism activity which benefits from the loveliest coastal region in eastern North America.

This government seriously lacks vision if it does not understand the potential of a railway system offering quality services. Contrary to all other industrialized countries, Canada is giving up on rail transportation. This is a decision of concern to the entire Canadian public, and the government should hold regional public hearings before going ahead with it.

Sexual OrientationStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, our children are the families of tomorrow. It is essential that we do what is necessary to protect them. The inclusion of the undefined term sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act holds dangerous implications for Canadians and their children.

This is not simply a recent concern. The danger of including sexual orientation in the charter was addressed on January 29, 1981 by the Minister of Justice. Allow me to quote his words: "I am not here to determine what sexual orientation means. It is because of the problem of the definition of those words that we do not think they should be in the Constitution".

Those same problems of definition exist today. Consequently, the undefined term of sexual orientation must not be included in any federal legislation.

By the way, the Minister of Justice who acknowledged the problem in 1981 is the Prime Minister of Canada today.