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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, the history of the leadership and democratic rights of women in this country developed long after the male population had achieved those things.

When the first women were elected to the House of Commons it was decades after the House was created.

The true reality of the Indian Act and the relationship that we have with aboriginal people throughout the country has brought the archaic structure of the Indian Act to light. I think this bill brings forth the fact that aboriginal women and children must have their rights thoroughly respected. It is time.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with my colleagues in voicing my concerns about Bill C-49.

After listening to the debate all afternoon, certainly I do not think there is a great deal of difference in what we all want to achieve for aboriginal people. The great differences are probably in ideology and how we might achieve those things. We, myself and my party, do not think that this particular bill is the way to achieve what we all hope to achieve for aboriginal people.

The aboriginal people in my riding, who are many, often come into my office expressing concerns with the direction that this government seems to be taking Indian affairs.

For example, I can remember back in 1993, after I was first elected to the House of Commons, meeting with an aboriginal woman, a lawyer, who represented a band that had expressed great concerns about this bill. As a matter of fact, she expressed the idea then that this bill was nothing new, that in fact it was a leftover from the Mulroney government. She had huge concerns about the amount of money the government was pouring into the process and what this bill was going to achieve.

The impression that the government has been trying to leave all day, that this is part of the process of creating some kind of a new partnership with Indian people, is quite fraudulent and shameful.

This bill is well intended to bring into force a framework agreement on first nations land management to give first nations control over their land and the resources upon and under their land. That goal is long overdue.

The idea that any income from aboriginal lands has to flow to Ottawa and then Indian people have to come to Ottawa begging for their money should be corrected. Sometimes they find out many years later that their money has not in fact been held in trust, but has been squandered, spent and misused.

If we can correct that it will be an achievement. However, I do not think this particular bill is the way to do it for several reasons.

With respect to the issues of land management, this bill calls for the creation of what would essentially be a third level of government. In order to create a third level of government, most Canadians would agree that it would require a Constitutional amendment and all that goes with that. We cannot create another level of government and change the structure of government in Canada simply by bypassing the required process, as the government is trying to do here as well as in the Nisga'a land claim process.

This partial and yet substantial form of self-government would apply to all first nations that have signed on to the framework agreement. The framework agreement gives first nations the power to pass laws for the development, conservation, protection, management, use and possession of first nations land. The agreement also gives first nations control over licenses, leases, property and other interests. These self-governing powers are properly placed with aboriginal people, but the powers have been dangerously placed in the hands of a select few first nations leaders with no provision for accountability to the people they represent.

I am particularly concerned with clause 37. I have heard a lot of others say they are concerned with the same clause. This clause states that the framework agreement act will prevail in the event of any conflict between this act and any other federal law. There is no constitutional basis for the creation of this third level of government, nor is there a basis for granting even partial powers such as these.

In fact, Bill C-49 undermines the Constitution by giving first nations the power to create laws that would supersede federal laws.

I would point out that I am not opposed to native self-government. I am simply opposed to giving sovereign jurisdiction over certain issues to such a level of government.

My colleagues and I recognize the need for effective self-government. However, we believe that aboriginal self-government should be a delegated level of government, not one in which one segment of the Canadian population is given special rights or privileges. When we say that certain laws apply to all non-aboriginal Canadians but no longer apply to aboriginal Canadians we are creating two classes of citizens. This division is unacceptable.

It is over two weeks since Nelson Mandela visited and spoke in the House. Already some members of the House are forgetting the important struggle which this remarkable man represents. President Mandela dedicated his life to breaking down barriers between different cultural groups in South Africa. He pursued equality for all South Africans regardless of race or colour.

Creating these first nations reserves, nations within the nations of Canada, is no different in my mind than the creation of the homelands of South Africa. The same kind of squalor, poverty, disease and abuse is taking place on the reserves in Canada that the black people of South Africa suffered for so many years until Nelson Mandela was able to break that system.

Does this government not realize that by affording special privileges to one cultural group it is creating rather than eliminating such divisions? Not only is it creating divisions, it is promoting an “us against them” mentality. For years this mentality existed on the part of aboriginal people, and rightly so. Poor treatment by our ancestors gave rise to animosity between aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians.

For 131 years successive Liberal and Conservative governments instituted well-meaning programs, but programs that were disastrous for aboriginal people. They have not given aboriginal people the same rights as the rest of Canadians enjoy, such as the right to own a home, to raise a family in reasonable conditions, to travel the country and to have a reasonable income.

Those things are denied. As my colleague from the NDP said, aboriginal people are being corralled in reserves where conditions are making it very difficult for them to leave and participate in mainstream society.

We are now at a point in history where we have the opportunity to promote and ensure equality among all Canadians. Instead, this government would rather perpetuate the animosity by affording special privileges to those first nations which are signatories to the framework agreement.

This legislation is frustrating to non-aboriginal Canadians and also to most grassroots aboriginal Canadians who see a particular segment of Canadian society getting special privileges and constitutional rights beyond those afforded to the average citizen.

The creation of such an unconstitutional inequity is only one of my concerns. I am also troubled by the fact that through this legislation major sections of the Indian Act will no longer apply. My colleagues and I certainly support repealing the Indian Act, but not by this cherry picking method of taking the good and leaving the rest.

Stanley Cuthland, an elder at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, says that the traditional customs regarding divorce laws are vague. Therefore, by giving first nations' leaders control over property division and possession in the case of marriage breakdown, we are putting the well-being of native women and children in jeopardy. That is certainly an issue that I heard raised by almost every member who spoke on this side of the House. I also heard some feeble justification for it from the other side of the House that really would not provide much comfort to any Indian woman looking at this bill.

There is no guarantee that the divorce laws, which the member opposite talked about the first nations creating, would respect the individual rights of the individuals they affect. That is only one example of the problem that may arise from enacting this legislation. There are all kinds of problems. I guess the devil is in the detail and the development of the regulations that will be enacted on the reserves.

I would also like to point out that one of the biggest factors contributing to the cycles of dependency on reserves is the fact that reserve land and property is held in common.

We heard a lot of discussion about the traditional Indian way of holding property in common, but the Indian people who come into my office to talk to me about problems on the reserves do not see their aspirations any differently than I do. They have a great desire to own their own home, or their own piece of property, or to make improvements to their home, when they can afford to, because it is theirs and they can pass it on to their children. They want exactly the same things the rest of us want.

This idea that all Indian people still want to have this tribal custom of holding everything in common for the tribe is, in my opinion, an excuse for the aboriginal leadership to maintain control and the wealth of the reserve.

Giving a select few native leaders control over those common properties provides an opportunity for those in power to take advantage of the others in the community. I see it all the time. I cannot understand how members on the opposite side of the House can continue to turn a blind eye to the poverty and despair on so many reserves.

The member opposite even spoke about how we should not be so critical of these incidents that we continue to bring up of abuse of power and mismanagement of money because these people somehow have to learn to manage their own affairs and they will be better for it. That is idiocy. As long as we allow a system of tyranny to continue on the reserves, with the grassroots people having no tools at their disposal to correct those things and make their leadership more democratic, more responsive and more transparent, that system will be perpetuated forever. It will never change. The reserve natives will continue to live in substandard conditions while many of their chiefs and councils live in big houses and drive new cars and trucks.

Anyone who has been on a reserve knows about these things and what takes place on the reserve after a band election when the chief and the entire administrative structure of the band change. People are evicted from their houses. Relatives of the new chief move into the houses. These things happen every day. People talk to me about it.

I had a lady visit my office who had a wonderful well paying job in social welfare on the reserve. She enjoyed her job. She was well educated and she was good at her job. She witnessed the abuse and corruption on her own reserve. Money was being taken out of services for children and people on the reserve and being put into places where it should not have been. When she complained her life was threatened. She was evicted from her house on the reserve and had to move off the reserve into town to preserve her life.

The stories go on. I had a young man come into my office with a lot of documentation regarding mismanagement and corruption on his reserve. I looked at the papers and realized he had a solid case. I went with him to the RCMP and had it look at the evidence. The RCMP said there was solid evidence that something was wrong. The RCMP said it would begin a criminal investigation. The investigation went on for months until the RCMP phoned me and told me this young man turned up dead on the reserve and there was no sense in continuing any further with the investigation. I can go on and on. There are endless stories such as these.

The leadership on these reserves seemingly enjoys the funds originating from the federal government but they are unevenly distributed among other people. Indian people refer to this system as the Indian industry and how hideous it is.

It is an outrage to think this legislation would benefit most native people when it is only a select few native leaders controlling the show.

The problem on reserves needs to be fixed before native leaders are afforded any more power. That is the message being sent to me all the time. Otherwise we are only contributing to an already enormous economic and social problem.

It is time this government asked the grassroots natives, not just native leadership, what they want rather than giving full authority to the aboriginal leadership to impose whatever system it likes.

Many native constituents have walked through my office door to express their concerns over the secrecy and corruption on reserve. I can assure members that not one of them has ever suggested affording their native leaders greater control over their lives. Most natives feel the leaders already have too much power and the basic rights of the individual are being trampled.

I am frustrated by the government's automatic dismissal of anything offered by Reform members with regard to aboriginal issues. While I recognize that our philosophies may not always agree with the government's, I am here to represent my constituents. That is what I am attempting to do.

When I say a constituent has approached me with a concern, the frequent response from the members opposite is that was just one person, the majority support them. Under most conditions they would quote one poll or another to support their position.

The truth is there are no polls reflecting the views of grassroots aboriginal people. When it comes to native issues there is a secrecy and sensitivity that makes it difficult for grassroots natives to speak out about what they want or need. They feel threatened by the chief and councillors who already wield much control over their lives. If that control is increased, as it will be by this legislation, it will be even more difficult for those natives to speak out.

I cannot accept any legislation that supersedes federal laws of general application. Amendments must be made to ensure that in the event of a conflict with constitutional and federal laws, constitutional and federal laws will reign supreme.

In the event of a conflict, individual rights and freedoms must be protected under the charter which, I might add, is a cornerstone of liberal society. This is an absolute necessity, a necessity that was at one time acknowledged and expounded by the Liberal government.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, previously a member talked about having had the band's approval for entering into this framework agreement. Does everybody understand the law?

The B.C. Native Women's Society certainly does. It understands the implications of this law and opposes it. The society speaks for women and children, not just in B.C. but right across Canada.

The status quo creates desperation as people look for anything that might help them out of the situation they are in. When this bill was presented, as it has been consistently by the Liberal government as the best answer to the problems besetting natives, who spoke for the opposition to this bill?

Would the member comment on what has happened in the area of Canada he represents? Do people hear both sides of the debate?

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, certainly I agree with my colleague that generally grassroots on reserve Indian people probably know very little about the bill and what the government is proposing to do.

The aboriginal leadership on reserve generally maintains a pretty solid control over the agenda that is taking place and any information that would be coming in about the proposed legislation by the federal government is, I am told, not explained in an unbiased or reasonable way.

There has not been one aboriginal person out of probably hundreds who have spoken to me over the last five years who has asked me to support legislation that gave their leadership more control over their lives. They want control over their own lives.

When the member opposite speaks about giving aboriginal people control over their lives, that is a commendable objective but she is not talking about giving aboriginal people control over their lives, she is talking about giving aboriginal leadership control over reserve families' lives.

That is not what aboriginal people want. They want control over their lives just like we have.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter this debate for a number of reasons.

My province of Saskatchewan has the largest percentage of Indian people of any province. I am very familiar with that, besides the fact that in my constituency I have four or five or maybe more reserves.

Wednesday is November 11. When I look at this date, I really feel sorry for the misdeeds and the wrongs that have been done to those people of native ancestry who joined the Canadian forces.

I take this opportunity to say that I fully extend my sympathy with them. They volunteered. They were not recruited. They fought. Some of them gave their lives but they were never given full recognition for their services.

To this day, as far as I know, the Department of Veterans Affairs has never issued an apology for the way those fine young men were treated. I have some of those veterans of the Indian ancestry within my constituency.

Throughout history we, meaning caucasians, committed many wrongs against the natives of this country. But one is so outstanding as we approach November 11. It really hurts me. Some of them were even denied the right that they were really people within the army. They were denied such things as Veterans Lands Act rights. The Department of Veteran Affairs denied them the same rights for continuing education. I have talked to many of them. I hope someday I will be able to correct that wrong whether through a motion or a private member's bill.

In my constituency we have Moose Mountain, part of the name of the constituency. I want to tell members about another terrible wrong we did to those people just before the turn of the century. We allowed white people, caucasians, to come in. Yes, they gave a dollar for the land, but within a few years these same speculators sold the same land for $2.50 an acre. They really destroyed a whole potential reserve at that time.

Since that time we have tried to correct, through the Indian lands entitlement act, a wrong that was done. As a result of that, we have created two new Indian reserves out of what was forced into one reserve.

I want to say this to correct a wrong. Every member in this party believes fundamentally, without question, that we want to see the treaties honoured. It is a fallacy for the members opposite to say we do not want to see the treaties honoured. We do. But what we do not want to see is a continuation of these piecemeal events as they relate to natives in Canada which will only perpetuate the myth that we have in Indian affairs at the present time. We really are not taking any substantial measures with this bill to correct a problem in the societal system we have out there. We simply prolong it. This is what my colleagues and I agree on fundamentally.

In 13 months we are facing a brand new millennium. It is time we got with it. It is time that we took a look very seriously at the greatest social problem we have, honour the treaties and let us go into the new millennium, not with the same old rolling over of disputes but with something that looks new, is new and will respect the dignity of every man, woman and child.

This bill will not do that. The Indian Act today does not do that. I do not know how many times I have had people come to me and say “I want the same right that you have, Mr. MP. I want to be able to go down to my office, just like you go to your town office, and look at a financial statement. I want to see an audited financial statement”. It is not only one call; this goes on and on.

For us to say that they are not ready for it, I say if they are not ready now, and I know the women and children are ready and most of the grassroots people are ready, this bill does not face that issue. Until that issue is faced, we are going to continue with the big social problem.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain will have approximately 15 minutes remaining when next this bill comes before the House.

Just before we leave this today, I rarely do this but I want to commend members on both sides of the House for the really good and worthwhile debate we had today.

I commend the member for Churchill River who spoke in Cree and then translated it for the House. I assure the hon. member that he need not ever apologize to the House for speaking in his first language, which has been a long tradition. The House deserves a pat on the back for the quality of the debate today.

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from September 25 consideration of the motion.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 1998 / 5:30 p.m.

Oakville Ontario

Liberal

Bonnie Brown LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased for the opportunity to speak to the motion which calls upon the government to address the challenges facing many young Canadians as they seek to finance their post-secondary education.

To begin with, I commend the hon. member for her concern for the educational needs of young Canadians. I assure her and other members of the House that the government is concerned about the issue of accessibility to post-secondary education and is working hard to address it. We have made it a key priority from our first day in office since we know that having a good education and getting the right skills are key to the future of our youth and the economic well-being of the country.

However, I disagree with a number of points in the hon. member's motion such as some of her premises which suggest that we have privatized the Canada students loans program and that we want to turn students over to bill collectors. This is not true. Another premise is that we need to implement a whole new federal government student grant program presumably because nothing of any value is currently in place. A third premise is that we need to establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education because once again the member seems to feel we are not doing enough in this area.

Nevertheless I agree with the underlying motive in the motion, namely the desire to ensure full access to post-secondary education for all students who qualify, no matter where they live or what their family circumstances. I state unequivocally that this is also a priority of our government.

To make sure we got things right we consulted with students, their families, our provincial partners and officials in post-secondary educational and training institutions to find out what challenges students face and how we can work with them to address the issues they face.

One of the things students told us was that they needed better access to financial assistance. Families told us that they needed some help in saving for their children's education. As a direct result of these consultations the last budget contained 13 new measures aimed at improving access to post-secondary education for those students who might find it difficult to pursue this goal without financial assistance.

These measures included, first, the millennium scholarship fund that will provide grants to 100,000 students annually based on their financial need and academic merit and, second, changes to the Canada student loans program that help students repay their loans. For example, we included a 17% tax credit on the interest they are paying on their loans each year. The borrower can also ask the lending institution to extend the loan repayment period for 15 years, which can lower monthly payments by nearly 25% at current rate. Third, there are Canada study grants to help those in need. Fourth, we are also encouraging families to save for their children's education by providing a Canada education saving grant of 20% on the first $2,000 of annual contributions made to a registered education savings plan for children up to age 18.

On the last point, even if they set aside $30 per month each year, they will get a grant of 20% of the total contribution each year from the Government of Canada. If they contribute the full $2,000 they can receive the maximum grant of $400. This has already proven to be a very popular savings vehicle.

As members are aware, some special students face special challenges in pursuing their education. For example, students with disabilities face multiple issues relating to access.

To address these special needs the government is trying to make sure they get the assistance they need to enjoy equal access. Some of these involve financial considerations while others relate to long outmoded ways of thinking which emphasize disability rather than recognition of special ability. For instance, students with permanent disabilities such as deafness, blindness or other physical or learning disabilities are eligible for a Canada study grant of up to $5,000 a year to cover exceptional education related costs that might result from the disability. That amounts to an increase of $2,000 or a 67% increase in our support for these students.

These funds may also be used to cover such exceptional expenses as the cost of a tutor, an interpreter, attendant care or any other special assistance required by students with disabilities to allow them to undertake or continue their studies.

I might add that this is not just a one-shot effort but is part of an ongoing commitment by the government to assess the needs of students with disabilities in order to help them take their rightful place in post-secondary education and training. There are also grants for high need part time students, students with dependants and women wishing to pursue certain doctoral studies.

This shows the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring the widest possible access to post-secondary education. Contrary to what the motion claims, the Government of Canada has not privatized our system of student financial assistance. Rather we are working in partnership with students, families, educational and financial institutions to make sure that every student with the qualifications, ability and desire can get the help they need to continue. It shows that our loan and grant programs are opening up learning opportunities to the full spectrum of Canadian students.

We have put a clearly defined action plan in place which is helping to improve the accessibility of post-secondary education for all students, no matter what their family circumstances or special needs.

Because of this the motion before us today, while well intentioned, is unnecessary and could actually harm the progress being made in helping students. For this reason I intend to vote against it and I would urge other members to do likewise.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, today in Private Members' Business we are debating a motion brought forward by my colleague from Vancouver East having to do with post-secondary education. I would like to read the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should reverse the privatization 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.

I understand the motion. My colleague believes and urges support for a move to replace the necessity for student loans with outright grants to students which would not be repayable and to ensure that any student who wishes to pursue post-secondary education would be given the means to do so. I believe that is a correct understanding and I see my colleague agreeing with that summary of her proposal.

The issue is an extremely valuable one to discuss. Clearly there is an increasing feeling on the part of young people in the country that the cost of education is becoming greater, more and more of a burden. There are some who believe that the cost is becoming prohibitive in people pursuing an education who otherwise would wish to do so.

If that premise is true it certainly would need to be addressed very clearly. In a country such as Canada with a small population base our niche in the world economy clearly is one of technological and innovative expertise. We do not have the sheer horsepower that other countries have, but we certainly can have the brain power and the technological power that an above average education system can provide.

Solid education is a key to a dynamic Canada in the context of the global economy and to good jobs and secure jobs for the workforce. That is very important because working people are the ones who contribute to the social security measures that we have in place, as well as to their own well-being and the well-being of their families, and to future prosperity and quality of life in our country.

I think all parties acknowledge the key role that post-secondary education plays in Canadian society. We need to have high quality in this area with highly qualified instruction, with good facilities and top notch research equipment and programs, and with the money needed to pay the expenses of education, tuition, room and board, and books. We need to ensure that capable people, those with ability and academic interests, are not barred from pursuing that line of endeavour. There is very little to argue with in the proposal that students should have the means to pursue these opportunities.

The debate has centred around what is a reasonable means of contribution to the funding of the education of students. Education is expensive in terms not only of the time and talent of the people involved but also in terms of dollars. There is a legitimate debate about who should bear the costs of that educational activity.

Should the student pay any of the costs at all? I think my colleague is suggesting the costs should be borne entirely by others in society and then in due course the student would gain the expertise to contribute toward the education of others later on.

The question I would pose to her—and perhaps she can address it as she wraps up the debate—is one of fairness. Students receiving an education clearly have an enhanced tool in their hand to earn and to provide a life for themselves and their family. Would it be fair to expect other people to bear all that cost although a great deal of the benefit will accrue to the student? It is not simply a matter of society benefiting although clearly society will, but also there is a personal benefit on the part of the student.

Another question comes to mind. Is there a human dimension that makes people value and put more individual effort into something in which they or their families have a personal investment as opposed to having no personal stake in the educational endeavour in question?

There is also a question of working people, many of whom have not had either the skill or the inclination to pursue academic studies, working at fairly low paying jobs at $7 or $8 an hour but having to pay substantial taxes to fund the cost of education of other people.

There are some fairness issues I would like to see addressed by the member which suggest to me that outright grants to any and all people who want to pursue post-secondary education may not be appropriate.

I understand that students at the present time are required to pay about a quarter of the actual cost of their education. This is up from about 14% in the early 1980s. It is a little lower than 18% which was the cost in the 1970s. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether it is fair to ask students and their families to fund a quarter of the cost of their post-secondary education themselves rather than those costs being totally borne by other working Canadians.

It is interesting to note that family incomes have risen substantially since 1970. Therefore, the burden of post-secondary education is not as great as it was 20 or 30 years ago. There is the serious issue of student debt and the availability of loans to pay the educational costs, but then the burden is on the student afterward. My Reform colleague who spoke before on this issue talked about some of the proposals we have put out into public debate to address that.

The other thing to notice is that students are hampered by this government in other ways. They have to pay EI premiums if they earn over $2,000 a year, even though they do not qualify for benefits. Students earning over $3,500 a year have to pay CPP premiums. Students earning just under $7,000 a year, which is certainly not enough to live on nor to go to school on, are subject to personal income tax. There is an anomaly here. Students are barely able to pay the freight even though they only pay 25% of the true costs of education, but their disposable income is being taken by government in payroll and other taxes. That is something to address as well.

The millennium scholarship fund, often talked about as the big assister of students, in reality will help less than 10% of students and they will be chosen by a board appointed by the government. That is not going to be of great excitement to most students.

Those are the issues we need to talk about in this debate. I commend the member for bringing forward this serious issue. I hope that she will respond to some of the concerns and balancing considerations which I have raised.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

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.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to speak to the motion by my colleague from Vancouver East which reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should reverse the privatization 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.

I would like to dedicate what I have to say today to three young women. One of them, who worked for me last term, is one of the many students in this country who are bowled over by crushing student debt. Another young woman had to declare bankruptcy because of the size of her student debt. The main crime of both of these women was that they chose to get a post-secondary education. The third young woman is 20 years old and is absolutely terrified about even entering the game because of the situation she now sees facing so many other people. These are the people I am thinking about when I talk about this motion.

The Liberal government has called itself the government of youth. At the same time it is engaging in a deplorable strategy of gutting funding for post-secondary education and privatizing Canada's student loans and forcing more and more students into severe debt.

This motion attempts to rectify this injustice. It also attempts to highlight the Liberal hypocrisy and make the link explicit between the drive to privatize post-secondary education and the increased hopelessness of students graduating into unemployment and even poverty.

It also should be made clear that, as the government retreats from its commitment to post-secondary education, the banks are moving in. More and more students are forced to borrow more money directly from banks in order to fund their education. Banks are not publicly accountable and have an interest in profit maximization, not in education and student well-being.

It is a strategy on the part of the Liberals to erode public funding for post-secondary education to the point where it is completely within the private sector domain.

With this motion the New Democrats are pressuring the Liberals to recognize the extent of the student debt crisis. We want the government to listen to what the students are saying.

I am interested in the comments from my colleague opposite about disabled students, and I would like to speak a bit about what is facing disabled students in this equation right now. Disabled students are still not at all facing a level playing field when it comes to post-secondary education.

We have enormously handicapped students or just mobility handicapped students who have to work around attendant care schedules. They really are handicapped by the schedules of others. What we need here and now is really a user friendly home care program that will meet the needs of students as they try to make it to classes at different hours of the day.

In my city we need more than two accessible taxis for students who have to find their way to universities. We have students who are dependent on wheelchairs and find themselves not able to get to school because their wheelchairs are in disrepair. They are in fact having to spearhead their own fundraising for new wheelchairs. It would be really unfair at this point to say that there is a level playing field for these students.

There are also a lot of hidden costs for disabled students, things like audio tapes and batteries and hundreds of ways that students have to pick up hidden costs.

Deaf students in Ontario have recently found their grants turned into loans. The cost of interpretation for a deaf and hard of hearing student is quite frankly astounding. It can reach up to $60,000 per student.

Let us not leave the impression that students with disabilities are feeling confident as they enter the slings and arrows of outrageous higher education.

I want to put forward some facts about post-secondary education. According to Human Resources Development Canada, 45% of new jobs by 2000 will require post-secondary education. That means for many young people attending university or college there is simply no option if they want to find work.

Despite this and despite saying they are committed to youth, Liberals continue to throw barriers in the way of young people struggling to develop the skills and talents necessary to get ahead in a cut throat global economy.

Since 1995 the federal Liberals have cut $1.5 billion from federal funding for post-secondary education. Since 1980 Liberal and Conservative governments have cut federal funding from $6.40 for each dollar of students to less than $3.

Tuition fees in Canada have reached a national average of $3,100 which surpasses the average tuition rate at publicly funded universities in the U.S. Bankruptcy rates for students trying to pay off loans are at a record level, having increased by 700% since 1989.

Currently we have 130,000 students in default. The number of bankrupt graduates is estimated at 37,000. There is a legacy. I really cannot get that out of my mind. I guess the first thing this motion urges, which I think is central, is that the government should reverse the privatization of Canada student loans.

In 1995 the Liberals gave financial institutions broader responsibility in the area of student financial assistance. Before that time, even though student loans were accessed through banks, they were fully guaranteed by government. Since then the federal government has ceased to guarantee student loans.

Instead it pays a 5% risk premium on all loans to participant lenders. It was the government's subtle way of saying that students are not to be trusted.

In the last budget the government announced another giant step toward privatization. Buried deep within the budget legislation currently in committee is a clause which gives banks more power to refuse student loans.

The clause allows cabinet, outside the scrutiny of the House, to determine which students do not deserve access to loans. The implications to that are staggering. Who is to say which guidelines cabinet will set? Will single mothers hoping to access loans be turned away because they missed their credit card payments?

Is this the first step toward giving banks total control over eligibility guidelines? How far are we from banks being able to determine which areas of study have a better return than others? For example, how profitable is it to get an education in the arts?

We are also concerned that privatizing student loans gives banks even more power on campus. CEOs and chairs of Canada's biggest banks already sit on boards of governors of many of Canada's universities and colleges. Privatizing student loans furthers their influence in shaping the direction of post-secondary education.

Why does business want in? It is simple. It wants control. Consider this statement by one time CEO of the Royal Bank Allan Taylor: “It is in business' best interest to get involved with funding for universities, but also with a direct involvement in setting courses, setting the curricula, so that it will get the kind of student it wants”. Big business has taken note. Across the country campuses are becoming a favourite stomping ground for big business elite.

This motion urges that the government should reject proposals for income contingent repayments. It urges the government instead to implement a federal student grant program and establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education.

New Democrats are not about to let the federal government forget about the student debt crisis. Instead of creating a scholarship program which duplicates existing programs and does nothing to help students in need, we have called on the federal government to take steps that will reduce student debt.

These include the end of privatization of Canada student loans and restoring this year's cut to education of $550 million. Following the suggestion of the British Columbia provincial government, work with the provinces to introduce a nationwide tuition freeze as the first step toward the elimination of tuition fees. Implement a national grant program to assist first and second year students and assist them to ensure students are provided with accurate information and are informed of their rights.

In the coming months the New Democrats will continue to work with others concerned about post-secondary education to make sure young people from low and middle income families do not have to mortgage their futures and their families to attend university or college.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak for seven minutes on the motion before the House moved by the hon. member for Vancouver East regarding the Canada student loans program.

I am confused by the wording of the privatizing of Canada student loans. In my riding I receive calls from students on numerous occasions with questions or comments about the Canada student loans program. I am not quite sure what the member means about privatizing the Canada student loans program.

The wording of this motion really seems to be calling for action by the Government of Canada to assist in the financing of post-secondary education for Canadian young people.

What the motion ignores is that the Government of Canada has undertaken extensive consultations with all stakeholders with an interest in this subject, including the provinces and the territories.

The government has implemented many of the recommendations of the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. We have already taken measures to ensure Canadians have access to post-secondary education.

In his February 1998 budget speech the finance minister said: “Canadians do not need to be told that student debt has become a major problem. Students know it. Their families worry about it. Graduates must deal with it”.

In 1990 the average student debtload of a graduate completing four years of post-secondary education was $13,000. It is now almost double that, $25,000. In 1990 less than 8% of borrowers had debts larger than $15,000. Now nearly 40% do.

For the purposes of the Canadian opportunities strategy, the February budget proposed various improvements that reflect our approach regarding financial assistance to students, the new situation of today's students and current economic and demographic changes. The new measures are designed to help those most in need in the current economic context.

The budgetary measures include tax relief for interest on all student loans, interest relief for more graduates, extended repayment periods for those who need them, extended interest relief periods for those who remain in financial difficulty and reductions in loan principal for those who still face financial difficulty.

For the first time all students get tax relief for interest payments on their student loans. Each claimant will be allowed a 17% federal tax credit on the interest portion of payments of federal and provincial student loans. The income threshold for interest relief has been raised by 9%. This means a person can now earn more and still be eligible for interest relief.

The interest relief plan is designed so that the Government of Canada pays the interest on the loan for students facing financial difficulty in repaying their loans. Beginning next year partial interest relief will be available further up the income scale for graduates facing financial difficulties.

For borrowers who have exhausted 30 months of interest relief they can now ask their lending institutions to extend the loan repayment to 15 years. At current rates of interest this could lower monthly payments by close to 25%.

Now debt reduction can be provided for some graduates who still remain in financial difficulty after exhausting free interest relief measures. In these cases the loan principal may be reduced if annual payments exceed 15% of the borrower's income.

Other initiatives taken under the Canadian opportunities strategy also seek to improve Canadians' knowledge and skills to prepare them for a knowledge-based society.

First, the millennium scholarships will facilitate access to post-secondary education for over 100,000 students every year. These scholarships will be offered to both full time and part time students.

Second, Canada student grants of up to $3,000 a year will help more than 25,000 students with children or other dependants. These are grants, not loans, and they do not have to be repaid. Students with a permanent disability such as deafness, blindness or other physical or learning disability may be eligible for a Canada student grant of up $5,000 a year to cover exceptional education related costs. This is a $2,000 increase from what was provided in the previous special opportunity grant for students with disabilities. Part time students with demonstrated financial need may qualify for a grant of up to $1,200.

Finally, certain female doctoral students pursuing full time studies may qualify for a Canada study grant of up to $3,000 a year. This will help to increase the participation of women in certain fields of study. Engineering and applied sciences, agriculture and biological sciences, mathematics and physics, arts and social sciences are examples.

Taken together the measures I have described account for some $230 million of new expenditures by the Government of Canada on post-secondary financial assistance to Canada's students.

This is a remarkable commitment to promote the well-being of our students and to help them complete their education, at a time when higher levels of knowledge and skills are becoming necessary to allow us to remain competitive in the global economy.

In fact, overall, the federal government's initiatives will meet a large number of the requests made in the motion before us today.

In consultation with other players in the field of post-secondary education and the students themselves, the Government of Canada has devised a system that promotes accessibility for all Canadians. It is a system that works for today's economy.

In conclusion, while we can all appreciate the concern of the hon. member for Vancouver East for Canada's students, the actions already taken by the Government of Canada render the motion redundant.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the mover of the motion I would like to seek the consent of the House to briefly sum up for just two minutes.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Vancouver East has requested the unanimous consent of the House to extend the time available for two minutes to sum up. Is there unanimous consent?

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would first of all like to thank members of the House who contributed to the debate on this motion. I would like to just briefly summarize why this motion was brought forward.

We heard from government members today that there are opportunities for students in Canada and that things are getting better. But I would just like to say that the purpose of this motion is to draw attention unfortunately to the stark reality that things in Canada for students are getting worse, not better.

Student debt has risen dramatically from $13,000 to $25,000. Unfortunately an increasing trend of privatization and control by the banks of the Canada student loans program means that more and more students are falling into debt and are unable to cope with increasing tuition fees primarily because of what we have seen as the retreat of public funding by the federal government.

We know that something like $1.5 billion has been lost from post-secondary education. The reality is that across Canada there are so many different standards in terms of different provinces. I would agree with my colleague from the Bloc that the situation in Quebec has been much better. The situation in B.C. is that we have had a tuition freeze for three years in a row. But elsewhere in Canada the situation is very, very grave for students because of the retreat of public funding.

I would encourage members of the House to defend public education and to say to the government that we do need a national grants program. We do need accessibility as a national standard. It is something that we need to work out with the provinces so we do not have this patchwork across the country and where more and more students are graduating into poverty and more and more students cannot afford to go to post-secondary education.

I urge the members of the House to support this motion in the spirit of standing behind our educational system and defending the rights of students in Canada.

Canada Student LoansPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Pursuant to the order made earlier today, the motion is deemed to have been put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, November 17, 1998, at the end of the time provided for government orders.

It being 6.18 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.18 p.m.)