Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the motion of the hon. member for Yorkton-Melville. Though well intentioned, the motion is misdirected. Imagine bringing forward questionable research to support arguments.
Few issues matter more to the millions of parents in the country than ensuring that their children have every opportunity to play and learn in safe, nurturing and healthy environments. I am surprised that the member, who travelled with the human resources development standing committee, who listened but really did not hear the voices of the parents who appeared before the committee on this subject. Assuring the welfare of our children is critical to this country's future. Quality care provides the foundation for lifelong learning and increases the employability of the next generation.
Happy, well adjusted children today will go on to lead productive and rewarding lives as parents, workers and taxpayers. While I am sure that we all agree on that, I am convinced this motion will not advance that objective.
Motion No. 101 seems to be based on a number of incorrect assumptions. As my colleagues have already noted, the delivery of child care services as well as their regulation and licensing comes under provincial authority. The federal government only indirectly funds social service programs such as child care through the Canada health and social transfer. This provides maximum flexibil-
ity to provinces, allowing them to design and deliver their programs according to their priorities and to suit the needs of their communities.
The changes suggested by the hon. member's motion would require revisions to the CHST, changes that would be unwelcomed by provinces and in fact would be contrary to the spirit of the speech from the throne.
The Government of Canada has stated that it will not use its spending powers to influence how provinces provide social services, including child care. I am sure that the hon. member supports this position.
I would like to remind the House that at last summer's first ministers meeting, the premiers and the Prime Minister agreed that more effort should be directed to improving the well-being of Canadian children. The government is currently discussing a possible national child benefit program with the provinces.
The federal government is investing $90 million over three years in two initiatives alone. The government already provides support to families and children through such initiatives as the child tax benefit, which is targeted to low and middle income families; increases in the working income supplement; the child care expense deduction; changes to the child support regulations in the Income Tax Act; funds which can be directed toward child care expenses under the Employment Insurance Act; the First Nations and Inuit child care initiative; the child care visions research and development program. There are many programs totalling millions of dollars. This is a reflection of the importance we attach to this issue.
These programs highlight the legitimate and appropriate role of the federal government in fully addressing the needs of families and underscores two important points. The first is that the federal government supports parental choice. I think this is lost on the members of the other party. This especially applies to aboriginal communities. Child care there must reflect the unique traditions and circumstances of First Nations and Inuit families and must be sensitive to their cultural priorities.
The federal government is concerned that Canadian families have access to quality child care. Ideally, parents should have reasonable and affordable alternatives, whether found in community based centres or regulated home day care.
Women particularly could be penalized by this motion which might severely limit rather than strengthen their child care choices.
Women's participation in the workforce is increasingly important to family incomes and women's career aspirations. Many families now need two incomes just to make ends meet. Today almost two-thirds of women with children under the age of six work outside the home. I am sure that the hon. member recognizes that our economy depends on the contributions of women in the workplace.
We also know that accessible and affordable child care can help more mothers move into the labour force and off social welfare rolls. Being able to leave their children with qualified care providers can mean the difference between dependence and self-sufficiency for these women. They must have child care choices that will allow them to enter or re-enter the workforce and provide for their families, something which Motion No. 101 could restrict.
The second key point I want to make is that we are beginning to understand the factors that go into assuring quality care. That is why the child care visions emphasis on research and evaluation is so important. The hon. member's motion rests on the assumption that parental care in the home is always the best option. Doubtless in the vast majority of cases this would be true if working parents had the choice.
No member in this House today would argue that the best setting for young children is at home in the care of a loving parent. However, this is not a viable choice for an increasing number of parents who must work, take training or who, for other reasons, cannot remain at home. The facts are that more and more children are spending longer hours each day in the care of adults other than their parents. This fact cannot be denied.
Is it not, therefore, incumbent on all levels of government to ensure, to the degree possible, that children receive quality care not only for their safety and well-being but also to contribute to their healthy development? It is not enough to assume that child care is just child minding and that anyone can do. Do we not want the very best for Canada's children?
There are no easy answers to the child care question. Canadian parents are often confronted with difficult choices. That is why it is essential we increase and improve their options, something this motion clearly would not do.
I urge the members of this House to bear in mind that we should not play politics with something so precious as our children. This is why I urge them to defeat Motion No. 101.
What really matters is doing what is best for Canada's families. Let us work together to ensure that we do precisely that.