Mr. Speaker, as the member for Lévis, I am pleased to take part in this debate. As a man, I felt it was my duty to do so, because anything to do with child support is wrongly seen as being a subject that is primarily of interest to women.
This is based on the fact that, in reality, unfortunately, it is women who, as things now stand, more often find themselves responsible for families after a divorce.
I can understand the Reform Party member for Edmonton Southwest, who is one of the more moderate members of his party in many respects, including social issues. Nonetheless, I am not happy to hear him say that it would be better to tough it out than to get divorced. Toughing it out means, in certain cases, for many women and children, and perhaps for men too, putting up with intolerable suffering.
There is one statistic we cannot ignore. In 1990, in Canada, there were 78,152 divorces, and there are undoubtedly more now. Naturally, these divorces involve men and women, so if we multiply this number by two, we see that they affect 150,000 men and women. Furthermore, if we presume an average of two or more children per family, we are looking at 300,000 children affected by these divorces in Canada, and that is just for that particular year. It is not cumulative. Therefore, there were so many instances of divorce that affected 300,000 people in 1990, and probably 300,000 people and up were affected in 1991, and the numbers continue to rise.
We also know that an overwhelming majority, 98 per cent in 1988, of those receiving child support payments were women. The percentage is lower today, but it is still very high. That is why I say that I, as a man, and the men that I represent, should also be concerned about the situation. We can, however, have different points of view, depending on the party line and depending on the objectives of the various parties concerned.
I am a former member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and a current member of the Standing Committee on Health, together with the hon. member for Mississauga-South. We both know how important the first years of life are and how economic and social conditions may have a subsequent effect on health and also create problems, I was going to say with respect to delinquency, but also for a person's social and individual development.
Ideally, and I am sure we all agree, everyone would have a father and mother who stay with their children until they reach the age of majority or even beyond that and who pay for their education. That is the ideal situation we would all wish for.
However, there is one factor we cannot ignore and I am referring to those 78,152 divorces that occurred in 1990. This does not include people living common law, who separate without first having been married and who have children. That is why when last year I saw the Minister of Justice table his plan, and we even saw a glimmer of hope in the last federal budget, something that had changed following the Thibodeau judgment. Basically, the well-known debate on deduction of support payments was no longer about considering one parent or the other, but about what was best for the children.
Twenty per cent of the children in this country live below the poverty line, and the vast majority are in single parent families.
We can say quite confidently that most of the time, in 80 per cent of the cases, these families are headed by women. That is a fact. I must say I am particularly sensitive to the situation of these mothers. In the final instance, children will suffer if we do not deal with the problem in the best possible way. And they will suffer for a long time.
If the economic situation gets worse, with all the psychological and other stress this entails, and this goes on for a number of years, the impact on the children can be catastrophic. Sometimes I hear members of this House, especially members of the Reform Party, say that the rate of juvenile delinquency is terrible, the crime rate is terrible and what is happening in our society is terrible. People often say they do not feel safe any more. I am willing to believe that, but we must try and understand how this happens.
Certain megastudies, which take into account the results of every possible analysis have discovered that these problems are often due to socio-economic problems that affect children when they are young and are not even aware of what is going on in the world. Stress is not always transmitted in an explicit and verbal way. It may be expressed through family tension, bickering, the tension that may exist between spouses, whether they are living together or not.
When spouses take legal action against each other, that affects the children. I am not saying this is so in all cases because some couples divorce amicably. Some men meet their responsibilities properly.
We are not accusing those who are acting properly. But there is one social fact the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest ought to understand: regrettably, a good proportion of people do not meet their responsibilities toward their children properly, and most of these are fathers. Sometimes they may feel that since they did not obtain custody, or joint custody, they are justified in making their ex-wives suffer without realizing that the ones suffering the most are their children. And that is intolerable.
I do not want to sound too critical. Let me take a different approach, since I feel that it is important for this debate to be held. It is important for we men to shoulder our responsibility, just as women responsible for single-parent families must. We must be aware that single parents need our help, be they women or men.
Recently, I attended a function of a single parent association in my riding. It was celebrating its 15th anniversary. There was a time when no men were seen in such associations, but I could see that now there are. Men are also heads of single parent households, and they find that incredibly difficult, as indeed it is.
I do not want to get into details of the private lives of the people here in this House, but I am sure that some here are single parents. Their duties here demand a lot of their time, and they may not have as much time as they would like to devote to their children, who may well have complaints about this.
I know that similar discussions go on in other professions, where there are also heavy responsibilities, where much is demanded of single parents, not just financially, but the financial aspect is a very important one, and ends up being intolerable. As I have already said, 20 per cent of the children in Canada, a country said to have one of the best standards of living in the world, 20 per cent of Canadian or Quebec children, are living below the poverty line.
Among the leading causes of this poverty is the situation of single-parent families and people not fulfilling their responsibilities properly.
While agreeing with the objective pursued by the minister and finding relatively few faults with his bill, I cannot help but notice that the bill shifts away from the strategy announced last spring. We, in the Bloc Quebecois, were afraid there would be discrepancies in the bill or that some of the provisions might be harmful.
Speaking as a former member of the human resources committee, I also notice through all this, good intentions and all, the excessively paternalistic attitude of the federal government in this area. I am also speaking as a Quebecer. Since last year, we have had in Quebec a scheme providing for all the conditions regarding support payments, including provision for support payments to be automatically be collected from spouses who are in default. It is complicated. It is all new and already there are growing pains. The scheme is still in its infancy.
The strange thing is-I can hear you from here, saying: "Here goes the Bloc, the official opposition, again with their line", but spouses who do not fulfil their obligations are in fact not honouring their marriage contract or commitments. And in wanting to interfere in this area, the federal government is interfering in an area of provincial jurisdiction. Let me elaborate.
Marriage comes under the jurisdiction of the provinces, while divorce is a federal matter. There are also those who are not married. When they separate, it is not a divorce. These people form a different group and they are not in any way subject to this bill, which only deals with the issue of divorce. However, the fact is that, in Canada and in Quebec, more and more people are involved in common-law relationships.
Again, the paradox with the current federal system is that people get married under the laws of the province but divorce under federal laws. This is somewhat odd, but such is the situation right now.
In this area, the federal government displays a committed, pervasive and embarrassing paternalistic attitude, as it does in the education and health sectors. In this area, as in the other two which I just mentioned, the federal government introduces guidelines in a bill, presents the whole package to the provinces and tells them: "Sure, you can get involved in this, but provided you do this, that and the other thing. If you do not accept our guidelines, then we are sorry but the federal system will prevail as regards the issue of divorce, because it comes under federal jurisdiction".
This creates a strange situation. For example, if a married couple with two children divorces, the federal legislation will prevail. However, the same situation involving common-law spouses whose children have the same financial needs will be dealt with under provincial law.
Given all the differences in treatment that can take place, I ask you: Is this a fair and balanced situation that will promote consistent social development? This is one of the flaws of the federal system. We have no choice but to say it again: the federal government, the federal "big brother" feels compelled to get involved, with its not so subtle approach, in issues that come under provincial jurisdiction.
When one province does not agree, it is punished, it is not entitled to the benefits of the federal system, or, when there are no benefits, the federal government carries the day.
That, therefore, is the opposition's opinion of this bill. I hope that debate goes well. It is possible that the Liberal government, which has the majority, will decide not to make any concessions or compromises, but that would not be conducive to harmony. At the outset, I hope that government representatives agree to the compromises that will be proposed by official opposition members, who are trying to make a constructive contribution, because these are situations affecting human beings, individuals on whom the decisions made will have important social repercussions, particularly for children, and therefore for everyone's future.
I know that the member for Mississauga South is a sensitive man. He sits with me on the Standing Committee on Health. As I know the influence he has over his colleagues, I challenge him to try to convince them to think about the health of children, given that we want to see more harmonious relations between men and women who have responsibilities with respect to children, and, although there has been a softening of their position, to convince them to be receptive to the compromises we are proposing.