moved that Bill C-322, an act to respecting the office of the auditor general for the family, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I count it a real privilege to rise this afternoon to lend my support to the Canadian family. I can think of few things in our country as important as the topic I am addressing this afternoon. In fact, if I raise my sights just a little higher, it is fair to say that worldwide few topics are as unifying as people's desire to look after their families.
The UN declaration that 1994 be the year of the family means that all of us, worldwide, need to care to preserve the family each and every year.
We have just gone through a distressing period in our nation and there may be more difficult times ahead before we are through. However, if strong families make a strong nation then today, more than ever before, we need strong families in Canada. I am proud to say that strengthening the family is the purpose of Bill C-322. Allow me to describe how this will happen by first describing the role of a familiar Canadian institution, the Auditor General of Canada.
As members know, Canada's auditor general does his excellent work by choosing perhaps a dozen government programs and departments every year and investigates them. He then reports any waste or inefficiency to Parliament. That is all he does. However, it seems to generate action in government. That is all the auditor general for the family would do too, except that it would investigate and report on behalf of the nuclear family in Canada.
The auditor general for the family would be a small, inexpensive office set up by Parliament. The legislation restricts it to just 20 people. By contrast, the current auditor general employs 600 people. Even the Status of Women Canada has 93 employees.
Many positive and important legislative changes over the years have been brought about by policy groups funded by the federal government to examine government programs as they affect that group. The government creates them when it perceives that a group is at risk in society and needs some help.
I mentioned the Status of Women Canada a moment ago because the secretaries of state also perform much the same function as would the auditor general for the family. We have secretaries of state for women, for youth, for veterans, for multiculturalism and science, among others. We have an auditor general for the environment. We have the National Council on Aging and the National Council on Welfare. We have advisory councils on forestry, on business, on libraries, on gender integration in the Canadian Armed Forces, on native peoples, on racial equality in the arts. I could go on and on.
What is there for the family? Precious little in the way of recognition by governments.
The kinds of advisory groups, or think tanks, I just mentioned are established when there is a broad public perception that a group is at risk. They have a definite policy focus and have a real effect on public policy.
Let us take the last annual report for the Canadian Council on the Status of Women as an example. That report is now two years old but it contains recommendations that sound very much like the government's agenda today. There were recommendations on a stalking bill, on female genital mutilation and on child custody, all issues that are understandably high on the government's list of priorities. In other words, by bringing these to the attention of the government they eventually became government policy and a government priority. I would like to see the family take a higher priority too.
If we wanted to create a group that would speak for the family, it begs an important question: Is the nuclear family in Canada really at risk? Polls reveal a broad public perception that the family is in trouble, but the federal government has not reacted to it. Perhaps it is because the Canadian family, at least in times past, has not been as politically correct an issue as hundreds of others that I could name.
A poll done by the Angus Reid Group for the International Year of the Family in 1994 told us that the public perceives the family as a group in crisis. Sixty-three per cent of all respondents to the survey agreed that the family is in crisis and 40 per cent agreed strongly. The poll told us more. Even more Canadians, 68 per cent, including single parents, agreed that the traditional two-parent family is the best type of family in which to raise children. There is certainly a clear, broad public consensus in Canada on the need to help the family, even the so-called traditional family.
There might be a broad public perception of need but are there other more objective indicators of need to which we can point? You bet there are. This year the Department of Human Resources Development, a government department, wrote a report called "A Social Outlook" that paints a picture of the family in crisis.
Family incomes are dropping. The poverty rate among two-parent families has risen from 9 per cent to 12 per cent in the last two decades. Families that would prefer the option to choose whether parents work outside the home find that they are forced into the
workplace whether they like it or not. Those that would like to choose to stay at home to look after the kids find that they cannot.
The study also shows that between 1960 and 1986 the time parents had to spend with their kids, that important bonding time with their own family, has fallen by 10 hours a week.
Families also suffer a discriminatory tax regime in Canada. Often it is cheaper to live together than it is to get married. The tax system also discriminates against homemakers.
A chartered accountant from New Brunswick has calculated that a single income family in which one parent chooses to stay at home will pay 36.2 per cent more in tax than a dual income family earning the same gross amount. The tax system clearly discriminates against those who choose to live in a more traditional arrangement, the kind of arrangement that most people in Canada, according to the Angus Reid poll, think is the best one to raise their children, especially at a young age.
Without tax reform, at the very least, we risk losing that vital middle class which forms the backbone of our nation. Unfair tax policy harming the family is the kind of policy that the auditor general for the family could investigate and expose, bring into the light so the government could deal with it.
There is much more evidence. A U.S.-wide study called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth followed 14,000 people since 1979 and found that the children of single parents are almost three times as likely to be single moms and drop out of high school. They are less likely to graduate from college or university. One out of four babies in the States are born to single moms and this adds up to a cycle of continuing poverty, continuing lack of opportunity and obviously something that we would not hope for those families and those children.
The U.S. News and World Report ran its cover story on the family in February this year. This is how its story began. I will quote just the opening words: ``Dad is destiny. More than virtually any other factor, a biological father's presence in the family will determine a child's success and happiness, rich or poor, white or black. The children of divorce and those born outside of marriage struggle through life at a measurable disadvantage, according to a growing chorus of social thinkers''.
The article goes on to describe the various attempts in the States to reconnect fathers to their families. Fortunately, we are not yet as bad off in Canada, but the operative word there is yet. We may trail behind the States in our social trends, but we are on the same road.
For instance, the Vanier Institute for the Family tells us that Canada's divorce rate has jumped from being one of the lowest in the world in 1965 to being one of the highest in the world in 1988. It is about one-third higher than in Sweden and France. We are second only to the United States of America. The problem of family break-up will have and is having measurable negative effects on our economy, on our justice system and on government spending.
If the family is under threat in Canada, then our future is also threatened. This bill recognizes that the family is important, that it is suffering, that children are suffering because families are suffering. Families deserve a voice, a place of priority in the House of Commons and in the legislation dealt with.
You may think this bill is a fringe idea coming from a Reformer, Madam Speaker. I hope you do not think that, but perhaps somebody listening thinks such a thing. This is far from the case. The Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family was struck by the federal government to examine federal family policy during that year, 1994. In January 1995 it presented its recommendations. The Canada committee recommended the creation of a permanent federal secretariat for the family within the Government of Canada. Its mandate would almost be the same as that in my bill: "To serve as a catalyst, to initiate research and education on the changing structure and status of the Canadian family and the impact of federal policies and programs on the Canadian family; secondly, to work as a broker to develop tools and resources to aid in the development of harmonized policies and programs which support and strengthen families; and third, to prepare a family impact assessment statement on all significant new federal laws, policies and program initiatives".
These three functions correspond directly to the auditor general for the family's three main functions that I have in my bill: "To examine government programs, to propose changes to them if necessary, and to report to Parliament on all of its deliberations". This is a mainstream idea whose time has come. The government needs to act now to preserve, enhance and support the nuclear family in Canada.
I want to answer those who might say that the focus of this bill is too narrow, that it touches on the nuclear family as opposed to another more inclusive definition of the family. I have used the term nuclear family in the bill to designate what is commonly understood as a family in Canada.
This is in no way meant to be a pejorative statement or a condemnation of the numerous social arrangements which society accepts. There are many other acts of Parliament, for instance, that target particular groups for assistance and help without any pejorative connotation. For example, we have an act of Parliament granting benefits for unemployed workers, but this is not a jab at
those who have jobs. It simply targets one of the many groups in society with which Parliament needs to concern itself.
It is the same for the auditor general for the family. Society accepts many diverse living arrangements, as it should, but those arrangements are simply not the focus of this particular bill. The bill merely recognizes the importance of one needy group in our society, the nuclear family, and it attempts to enhance its well-being.
I have chosen the definition for the family found in the Dictionary of Canadian Law . It states: ``The family includes a man and a woman living together as husband and wife, whether or not married, in a permanent relationship, or the survivor of either, and includes the children of both or either, natural or adopted, and any person lawfully related to any of the aforementioned persons''.
This is similar to the definition used by other dictionaries and also the federal government and the governments of all 10 provinces. I realize that it is never a perfect definition but we do have to try to do something and certainly this is the standard definition found in the dictionary.
Finally, the nuclear family is hardly a narrow or isolated group. In the enormous study done by Murdock some years ago in which he studied 250 societies around the world, he found that "the nuclear family is a universal human social grouping. It exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society".
Does this mean that all government programs must be focused only on the family or only on married folk or only on their children? Of course not. This bill merely recognizes the importance of the family in our society and it attempts to enhance its well-being.
I was reminded of the centrality of the family in Canada when I attended a wedding just a few weeks ago. The bride was beautiful. The husband to be was very nervous. He was determined to go through with his decision and his promise to stick to his wife for life. The father of the bride was pretty close to tears giving away his little girl, but he was also pretty close to shedding a few tears of joy as well. I should know because the father was myself and Karina is and always will be my not so little girl anymore.
Even though there were a couple of hundred people there, there was something very private, something very personal about that ceremony, and that was the transmission of values from me to my child, from the parents of the groom to him and the fusion of those values into what was really a new family. We watched the creation in a sense of another new family unit.
It is almost like running a race in which one runner passes the torch on to the next one and together each runner helps run the race for the whole team. If the torch is dropped, the race can still be finished but it is not the same. In fact, the race cannot be won.
The torch in this analogy is the invaluable inheritance of secure, committed families. The race is the life of every Canadian. Canadian families are too often too easily dropping the torch during the race. As a result, individuals within families are suffering and the whole country is suffering because our families are suffering.
In Canada 13 per cent of all families are single parent families. That is one million families. Nearly 30 per cent of all Canadian marriages end in divorce. Even if we lay aside the arguments for the family that are based on the emotional hardships suffered by broken families, we can point to strong economic arguments of why we want to promote and encourage the family.
Surely it is in the interests of all political parties, our government, our nation, to find ways to promote the family unit, where a loving, committed husband and wife nurture healthy, happy children. Within that unit they pass on the values of commitment and faithfulness and stability and responsibility to their own children, who will in turn carry the torch in their generation and will pass it on to the next.
Families are the root of a prosperous and peaceful nation. If Parliament is to cultivate the ground from which strong families grow, it must now begin to study the social environment for the family and begin to change its policies to provide a more favourable environment for families.
If the government for whatever reason finds that this auditor general for the family is unacceptable, that this idea just does not carry the day, I appeal to government members to create their own body that would perform a similar function. Listen perhaps to the recommendations of the commission which asked for a permanent secretariat on behalf of the family, but find some ways to encourage and enhance that important institution.
The family in Canada is in crisis. The time to act on its behalf is now. I hope all members will lend their support to the principle of an auditor general for the family.