Mr. Speaker, the third party in this House has taken a curious perspective on how best to address the needs of children in Canada today and it is one that surprises me. That party normally has a pretty clear position on the role of the federal government on social policy issues. Write cheques and pop them in the mail to provincial capitals sums it up.
It is also a party that prides itself on its commitment to pare government spending to the bone and probably well beyond.
And here we are today with a motion before us that runs totally contrary to the broad political policies of the Reform Party. It talks about a greater role for government and increased government expenditures.
I do not intend to use the time allotted me today to repeat arguments already made by my hon. colleagues on the child care deduction. Rather, I would like to talk to you about certain initiatives our government has taken to respond to the real priorities of Canadian children.
This is excellent day to do this, for while the Reform Party sits and talks, our government gets up and works. We are working with our partners, the provincial governments, to tackle the real children's issue in Canada, child poverty.
A federal-provincial meeting is taking place in Toronto. Our government is sitting down with the provinces to discuss how we can build a national child benefit and how we can build it together. We are talking about how to align our programs and services so that we can do the most to help children living in poverty.
The idea for this initiative has been around for a long time. It was discussed during the federal social security reform. More recently, the issue of a national integrated child benefit was raised in the ministerial council report last March.
Our government responded favourably. It became a shared commitment of both levels of government at the first ministers meeting in June. Alberta is the co-chair on behalf of the provinces while the Minister of Human Resources Development is co-chairing on behalf of the federal government.
This is an example of the federal government's renewing federalism and renewing our social union by working with the provinces. It offers so much more than hollow calls for unilateral tax policy changes that would only stand to benefit those families that already have a measure of security, middle to upper class income families.
The government, on the other hand, is concerned with the plight of low income families, in particular their children. At a time of limited finances, this is the direction Canadians are telling us we should go. Nine out of every ten Canadians say that the level of child poverty in this country is a problem. They also tell us they do not want to return to programs that treat rich and poor families alike. If public money is going to be spent, they want it to go where it will meet the real needs. That will be the point of a national child benefit.
A national child benefit is something for the future. But what of the present? How is this government addressing the needs of parents and children?
In our opinion, the best way to fight child poverty is to help the parents find work. I would point out simply that nearly 500,000 people have found work since our government's election.
In fact, between 1993 and 1995, Canada created more jobs than Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain combined. This is a pretty impressive result, and it benefits our children.
We recognize that many Canadians work at jobs that offer relatively low pay. These are people who benefit from the child tax benefit and the working income supplement. I remind members that our government doubled the maximum level of working income supplement in the last budget. Over the next two years it will go up from $500 to $1,000. That means more financial help for low income parents to address the extra costs of working.
Helping Canadians get back to work is also the goal of the new employment insurance system. Despite the criticisms of the third party in this place we succeeded in passing legislation a few months ago to build a new system. The key is a set of active employment measures to help people get the skills they need to find new jobs.
Another element of employment insurance that benefits the family and children is the new family income supplement, which comes into effect in January. It will be available to families eligible for the child tax benefit and the earned income supplement.
These families will receive an average of $800 a year, and the children will be the first to benefit.
More than that, EI claimants who get the family income supplement will be exempt from the new intensity rule that would reduce the benefit levels of repeat claims. This is yet another step that reflects the interests of children in lower income families.
Active measures under EI part II will also help Canadians develop the skills they need to build stronger careers. Other measures include grants and loans to students. Here again we have targeted our assistance.
We recognize that parents can find it very difficult to pursue full time studies. Last year we introduced a system of grants for part time students with high financial needs, many of whom are single parents. In the 1995-96 year we started a process that offers as many as 10,000 of these students each year up to $1,200 for every academic year of enrolment. This support will help them get the education that will enable them and their families to prosper.
I will address the issue of child care. A year ago the federal government presented a proposal to provinces to expand child care as was outlined in the red book. Although provinces recognize the importance of child care to working parents, there was no consensus on the need to significantly expand child care. The federal government remains committed to further discussions on child care if provinces and territories can reach a consensus on an approach. However, that has not stopped us from taking action where we can.
For example, our government launched the First Nations/Inuit child care initiative last December. The goal is to bring the quality and quantity of child care services in aboriginal communities in line with those of the general population. The result will be some 4,300 new child care spaces and the improvement of 1,700 existing spaces for a total of 6,000 quality child care spaces. This involves an investment of $72 million over the first three years of the program.
Another example is our child care visions program. This is a research and development fund. It supports studies to help us learn more about the adequacy, outcomes and cost effectiveness of different child care practices. In a world where many parents have no realistic choice but to work, despite nostalgic notions promoted by the Reform Party, this program helps us learn what kinds of child care will be best for our little ones.
Then there are the other joint projects that our government has funded under the strategic initiatives program. For example, thousands of families with young children are benefiting under an improved access to child care project in British Columbia. In Manitoba about 400 lone parents on social assistance are getting help to put them into the workplace. Federal support for Quebec's APPORT program is supporting 27,000 low income wage earners and social assistance recipients.
In all these cases, the children benefit when their parents have better job opportunities and extra help for quality child care services. In all these cases, however, the benefit flows from co-operation between the federal government and the provinces.
Yesterday on national child day we paid special attention to the needs of children. What better way to help children in need than by continuing the commitment to co-operation and action that our government is showing?