Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the motion of the hon. member for Vancouver East. This motion deals with a very important issue, that is access to post-secondary education. I will read the motion before explaining the Bloc Quebecois' position. Motion M-132 reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should reverse the privatisation of Canada Student Loans, reject proposals for income contingent loan repayment, and should instead implement a federal student grant program and establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education.
Let me say from the outset that we oppose this motion because it is clearly based on a centralizing will, in an area that comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces under the Canadian Constitution.
We are not of course opposed to investments in education, but it is not the federal government's role to get involved in this area. Indeed, beyond the Constitution itself, we have always defended Quebec's education system, which clearly differs from those that exist elsewhere in Canada.
The Quebec model has been successful, and it is to protect it from a centralizing federal program that, this morning, I tabled a bill to make changes to the millennium scholarship foundation. If that bill is passed, it will allow Quebec, and the other Canadian provinces interested, to opt out of the foundation's activities, with full financial compensation. It would be possible for a province to opt out, provided there already exists in that province a program aimed at providing financial assistance to students in order to promote equity in access to post-secondary education.
I will not read the bill in detail here, but I will invite anyone in the rest of Canada who would like to see national education standards to do so, for it is a faithful reflection of the consensus in Quebec. That consensus will manifest itself each time the federal government tries to interfere in education in Quebec.
For a clear understanding of the difference between Quebec and the Canadian provinces, I need to provide a brief description of how we have tried to guarantee equality of opportunity for access to post-secondary education.
Quebec already has a program for providing financial assistance to students. This would enable it to meet the conditions for withdrawal with full compensation, as defined in the bill I have made public this morning.
This comprehensive system was not created yesterday. After the Quiet Revolution, the Government of Quebec created a loan and bursary program aimed at promoting equal opportunity. It is the only government in Canada to have developed such a system, and to offer student assistance based on need, not merit.
Year after year, the Government of Quebec assumes approximately 80% of the costs of this program. The rest, a marginal amount, comes from the federal program Quebec opted out of in 1964 with full compensation.
We have to assume that Mr. Pearson, the Canadian Prime Minister of the time, reached such a good understanding with Mr. Lesage, the Premier of Quebec, because he had read the Canadian Constitution, which provides clearly that education comes under Quebec's jurisdiction.
I introduced a bill this morning to remedy the problem created by the Liberal government. By insisting on setting up this millennium scholarship fund the Prime Minister precipitated a dispute with the National Assembly in a field where the separation of powers is very clear. Because of this, it managed to turn all—and I stress that—parties in the National Assembly against its proposal. All parties in the National Assembly, including the Liberal Party of Quebec, are opposed to it.
He succeeded in uniting all the stakeholders in education in Quebec in opposition to him. Whether we are talking about university rectors, professors or students, the world of education opposed with a single voice the meddling by the federal government in the field of education.
In this context, I must reject today's motion, which would engender the same problems as the millennium fund scholarships and apply uniformly across Canada—in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
At the risk of repeating myself, I reiterate that the people in education in Quebec want to retain the ability to fashion their own future according to the choices made by Quebec society. My action this morning is intended to fight this same sort of meddling by the federal government. It aims to have Quebec's consensus on the matter respected.
This consensus is not surprising. Where education is concerned, Quebec has its own developmental tools. It has had promising results as far as accessibility is concerned. Tuition fees in Quebec are twice as low as in the rest of Canada. The average student debt load is estimated to be $11,000 per student, compared to more than $25,000 in the rest of Canada. We in Quebec can boast as well of having the highest proportion of university undergraduates in terms of our population.
In other words, we know how to manage education. We do not need new national standards or a new campaign to increase the federal government's profile.
There is too little money available for education to take any of it for artificial country-wide standards, or to buy the Prime Minister publicity, which is the main purpose of the millennium scholarship foundation.
Looking at recent federal initiatives in education and assistance to youth, it is obvious that raising the Liberal government's profile is more important than students' real needs. That is particularly clear in the case of the millennium scholarships.
The Prime Minister is prepared to totally duplicate a government structure that is already working perfectly well. The motion is aimed in exactly the same direction as the millennium scholarship foundation.
For example, the Government of Quebec has already accredited all educational institutions within its borders. It has already put into place a system which selects students based on need and not on merit, systems for auditing records and distributing assistance, an appeal process, and so on. This structure has been in place in Quebec for a long time now, and works very well.
My bill urges the federal government to transfer financial assistance directly to Quebec's students through Quebec's existing system, consistent with the wishes of the elected representatives of the National Assembly. It is a system that is based not only on the needs and on the societal choices of the PQ government, but that reflects the wishes of all parties in the National Assembly.
I wish to point out that the money in the millennium scholarships fund properly belongs to Quebec and to the provinces who wish to opt out of the program. The money the federal government is putting into the foundation comes from cuts to transfer payments intended for Quebec and the provinces.
In Quebec alone, federal government payments to the education sector have been cut by $500 million annually. It is not surprising that Canadian provinces and Quebec are demanding that the federal government resume transfer payments before creating any new programs. Nor is it surprising that Quebec's education sector is condemning the government for giving $75 million in millennium scholarships with one hand, while removing an amount six times greater from the education budget with the other.
I have not addressed the issue of privatization of student loans, or of proposals for income contingent loan repayment. The reason is very simple: these measures do not apply to Quebec which, as I explained, has designed its own system of financial aid for students.
I therefore urge all those interested in education to study this system, which has nothing to do with privatization or income contingent loan repayment.