Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this Reform motion, as it concerns family taxation, an issue of particular interest to me. This is not the first and certainly not the last time I address the issue in this House, because we in the Bloc Quebecois have repeatedly demanded, but to no avail, that the government review its taxation policy.
Despite all the arguments put forward by the Bloc in this respect, the Liberal Party never followed up by reviewing its family taxation policy. The ruling party was careful not to do so. It would rather look after the interests of the wealthy. Witness its policy on tax shelters.
As for the Reform motion, it purports to ensure tax fairness by extending the child care tax deduction to all families. There are several reasons why we do not support this proposal. But before addressing the Reform motion, I would like to share a few thoughts with you about the societal value of and the role played by parents, usually mothers, in the home.
All experts agree that the first three years of a child's life are crucial to the child's development. Some psychologists contend they set the foundation for the rest of their lives. This goes to show how important these first three years and the pre-school years are, not only for children and their families, but also for the communi-
ties they live in. In this context, there are two views to the role mothers should play during the first years of their children's lives.
I would like to make it quite clear from the outset that I have no intention of listing the merits of both philosophies. Having said that, I think it is important to respect the many child care decisions made by parents.
About the two philosophies, on the one hand, some say that, for children to develop properly, they need to be in close and constant contact with their mothers during the first few years of their lives. In their opinion, close ties between mother and child greatly benefit the child's development and no one could replace the mother at this stage.
By contrast, others believe that a healthy and stimulating environment, whether in public or private child care, largely makes up for the absence of the mother for a few hours, and that the relationship between the mother and the child will not be affected, and neither will the harmonious development of the child.
As I said, I have no intention of getting involved in this debate. I am simply stating that I respect, and so should the state, the decision of a woman, whether she decides to put her career on hold for a few years and devote her energies to raising children, or whether she decides to be both a mother and a worker.
Governments should not try to influence the choices made by parents. On the contrary, they should support these choices and guarantee a degree of tax fairness to both spouses. This is what today's debate is all about.
I have some reservations about the wording of the motion. I fear such a measure may be interpreted as an incentive for women to stay home. Should this be the case, it could kill the small gains made by women as a result of their hard-fought battle to join the workforce.
When women study side by side with their male colleagues, they experience the same fear of failure, the same stress, the same joys, the same success, the same financial constraints. In short, they experience the same reality as male students. However, once they get their degrees, the picture changes. Women then start experiencing the subtle discrimination which, unfortunately, is still too common in the labour market.
For example, during an interview, they may be asked if they are or intend to get married, if they have or intend to have children. There is no need to elaborate, we all know the story.
The majority of male applicants are not asked such questions. If the female candidate answers yes to one of these questions, she is often immediately excluded as a potential incumbent for the position. Why? Maybe because employers are afraid of children. I do not think it is true of all employers, of course, but there are enough of them to make it harder for graduate women to find work than it is for their male counterparts.
Why are employers afraid of children? Because children may represent a loss of productivity, of efficiency, of availability, and perhaps a loss of money. Obviously, I am simplifying somewhat, but barely. When a female employee becomes pregnant, it means a maternity leave. It means hiring and training a replacement, and it also means that the woman will be less available when she returns to her job. A pregnancy is not necessarily welcomed by all employers, to say the least.
This is what women have been battling since they first began pursuing their education in large numbers. As I said earlier, it was only after a hard fight that they obtained anti-discrimination laws in the area of hiring and employment. They won maternity leave that did not penalize them too heavily, day care centres, and tax regimes that take into account expenses associated with the need to have day care services for their children.
Women have come a long way, and this is very good. We can pat ourselves on the back. However, the survival of a society depends of necessity on its continuation. This is a law of nature to which no society is immune.
In Canada, as in Quebec, citizens and their governments have decided to support the presence of children in families and the presence of mothers in the workforce. The form this support has taken has been uneven and imperfect, but the support is there and I think there has to be a consensus.
This is the direction that society has therefore taken and very few people, except perhaps representatives of the Reform Party, want to change the rules of the game. Everyone wins with this policy: children, parents and society. Women make a very important contribution to the workplace. And this contribution depends on their training and experience, as it does with their male colleagues.
Far from harming our society, women's contribution to the labour force strengthens diversity. A Statistics Canada article published in 1994 entitled Declining female labour force participation indicated that the entry into the labour force of women with children at home was the most important factor in the increase in the female participation rate.
Between 1981 and 1993, when the participation rate of women without children at home remained relatively stable at 50 per cent, that of women with children jumped dramatically. The participation rate of mothers of children under the age of six jumped from 47 per cent in 1981 to 65 per cent in 1993. The percentage of
women in the labour force with children between the ages of 6 and 15 went from 61 per cent in 1981 to 75 per cent in 1993.
In other words, working mothers are with us to stay. The job now is to find the best ways of helping them balance their family responsibilities with their contribution to the labour force. Governments have adopted this approach, and now they have to do something, because there is still a pressing need for child care services.
The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada estimated that in 1995, three million children needed child care, while there were only 365,000 recognized spaces.
We know that in their election campaign, the Liberals promised to create 150,000 new child care spaces by 1996 and did nothing. One wonders where the money went-$700 million-that was supposed to be invested in child care. One wonders where that money is today. From what the minister said, he had no idea; it seems it disappeared just like that. I would like to remind the government of its promises in the red book.
So we are way behind, if we compare Canada with certain European countries. Sweden, for instance, has government funded child care spaces for about 50 per cent of children under six. In Denmark, 85 per cent of children between the ages of three and six are entitled to government funded child care. In France, 25 per cent of children under three are in child care funded by the government.
If we look at the percentages in Canada, we see that only 12 per cent of our children are in recognized child care. We know the need is there. I just told you that in 1993, 70 per cent of parents with children were on the labour market. When we see inadequate financing in a child care policy, we wonder how this government could ever implement a genuine family policy. I may remind the House that women have demanded and still demand adequate, quality child care, which is not about to happen overnight, as I just demonstrated.
Would using the state's meagre financial resources to help families, as the motion proposes to do, not threaten the funding of child care services networks developed by the provinces? Unfortunately, I have to ask the question, but we know perfectly well that this government has no intention of proposing any kind of funding so we can really embark on a genuine family policy. So how can you expect the government to respond to a Reform motion when that same government has shamefully hidden, I do not know where, the $700 million which had been promised for creating 150,000 child care spaces? I have my doubts about this government's political will to implement a genuine family policy.
This motion might not have been debated today if the government had moved. So I think that, considering the importance of such a policy, the multiple needs of families and the realities they are facing, the government has failed to meet the expectations of the public.
Now for the second reason we are against today's motion: the family is an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. The federal government, having gradually and stealthily encroached upon this field over the years, ought quite simply to pull out and transfer the equivalent tax points to the provinces. I am not saying abolish the funding, I am saying transfer it. There is a difference. I do not want people accusing me of not wanting a family policy, because I am calling for it to be transferred. There is a difference.
We know, for example, that at the end of the summit on the economy and employment, Quebec announced the implementation of a parental leave plan. This is a measure designed to broaden Quebec men and women's access to parental leave. This government should transfer tax points so as to contribute to the efforts made by a province-Quebec, in this case, but it could be another province-to implement a real policy to facilitate access to parental leave.
I would like to see this government distribute funds to the provinces in order to enable them to implement a true family policy. The Government of Quebec is calling for the transfer of a portion of the unemployment insurance fund. We know very well that it is destined to pay off the federal deficit, while the provinces will be required to provide more and more of the services the public is demanding.
In the same vein, it is important, within the spirit of decentralization so dear to the Liberals-in lip service at least, but we have yet to see it in action-that all tax points corresponding to fiscal and financial measures for families be transferred to the provinces. They are the ones in the best position to judge what policies are necessary for the development of society. I believe that we will continue to demand such transfers from the federal government, and we know that this trend is spreading to the other provinces.
We are well aware at this time, with all the cuts to the Canada social transfer, that this is another way of preventing the provinces from providing a true family policy. The least well off families will be the first to be penalized by cuts in education, in welfare, in health. I hope that, one day, the federal government will give in to the demands from the provinces.
Finally, the third reason behind our rejection of the motion is that its universality is a thing of the past. It is unacceptable in a society that boasts of wanting to redistribute the collective wealth. In the present context, the families with the greatest need have to be helped.
According to the Reform motion, the tax credit would be the same for all families according to revenue. If we were in fact in a period of wealth, as we have been in the past, as the federal
government has already stated, if the government had all this money at its disposal, we might have to consider it.
However, at the moment, when the government cannot even provide a day care policy, how can it expect to provide a policy on tax credits for women who have decided to stay home to look after their children?
I would like ask the government for the umpteenth time to think about ways to recognize the work women do at home. These women play an important social role and are totally ignored by this government. This is why the government must once again review investments so that, for once, there will be specific measures to ensure that families may count on government assistance.
It is high time the federal government recognized the fair contribution of all citizens whatever their role in building Quebec and Canadian society. I remind the government of the importance of balance in all its policies, and I invite it to very carefully follow its plan for balance between the sexes to analyze the impact of current tax measures on families in Quebec and Canada.
The Bloc Quebecois favours a tax system that ensures equal opportunities for disadvantaged children. This should go even further, but we have to take the current state of the economy into consideration. The Bloc Quebecois favours tax policy that takes account of family needs and of the families with the greatest need. The proposal by the Reform Party does not do so, because it would apply to all families including those in the high income bracket.
We would like the government to consider a real family policy. In my opinion, what we have before us as family policy is nothing. Fewer and fewer families can count on support from this government. The wording of this motion is unacceptable. I propose to the government that it give some thought to a real family policy.