Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in the debate on the motion of the member for Shefford on the indexing of the child benefit.
I would first like to congratulate the member for Shefford on her fine initiative. Clearly we must reduce child poverty now in any way we can.
I will start by saying that the Bloc will obviously be supporting this motion. Better yet, however, to ensure greater effectiveness, my colleague for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques proposed an amendment.
We are talking here of a relatively recent benefit, which dates from 1993. Before then, the main federal tax measures for children were the family allowance, the child tax credit and the dependent child credit. Under the Conservatives, the child tax benefit replaced these other measures.
The benefit is intended primarily to increase the income of less fortunate families and is therefore tied to family income. At this point in time, the federal government no longer universally recognizes children. Family policy and the fight against poverty are intertwined.
It is rather surprising to see today that roles have changed. At the time, the Liberal Party was sharply opposed to selective measures. In 1992, the Liberal member for Davenport stated in the House that universality is the work of the Liberal party, and something we still cherish today, as it is the best method. Might the Liberal party have had a change of heart, perhaps?
The current deputy prime minister also criticized this measure, and I quote his words: “In fact, a family with a $40,000 annual income will only receive $44 more each year. Within three years, this benefit will be reduced by 10% and, in ten years, most families will no longer be receiving any assistance because this benefit is not indexed for inflation”.
Once again, might the Liberal party have had a change of heart, perhaps?
In addition to objecting to this benefit because it abandoned the principle of universality and merely gave the illusion of devoting more money to children, the Liberals were opposed to it because the benefits were not indexed. The Conservative party appears to recognize some of the shortcomings of the child benefit by proposing to re-examine its level of indexing.
After several years of low inflation rates, the harmful effects of this measure are making themselves felt. Benefits are not increasing, but consumer prices are. In case the Liberals are not aware of this, in 1977 everything costs more than it did in 1993, whether it be housing, clothing or food.
While an attempt is now being made to make the necessary corrections in order to improve the child tax benefit, as was called for in part by the Liberals when they were in opposition, now they are the ones opposing it. I would remind the House that they are the only party in the House opposed to this motion.
All the opposition parties are unanimous on at least one point: this benefit should be indexed, for the sake of the children.
I must admit that I do not quite follow the logic of the Liberal Party. Why does this party, which claims to be concerned about the well-being of children, object to this motion? In its action plan and its speech from the Throne as well, it maintains that it is important to invest in children and in the fight against poverty. Fine promises and rhetoric are not enough. We want to see concrete action.
As we have heard time and time again in this House, children are poor because their parents are poor. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. With its 1.5 million children living in poverty, Canada ranks second among industrialized countries for the number of children living in poverty. It that the Canada the Liberals want?
As far as we in the Bloc are concerned, this is clearly not the kind of system we want, let alone the kind of leaders we want for our children.
I am shocked to see that the Liberals are trying to make political hay at the expense of children when that serves their purposes and will not support a sensible motion to take positive steps. The well-being of children goes beyond partisanship.
The facts are there: since 1992, inflation has never been higher than 3%. What this means is that the value of the child tax benefit has been eroded by almost $850 million. But what does this $850 million really mean for the 1.5 million poor children in Canada. I am going to tell the House. It means that hundreds of thousands of children across Canada and Quebec go to school on an empty stomach, that they lack the concentration to really focus on what they are learning, and that they will fall ill more often than other children.
It is because inflation is under 3% that there is no price fluctuation? If you ask poor children to tell you what price fluctuation means, it is true they will not be able to tell you in so many words, not just because they have missed several days of school through illness, but because the concept is much too abstract for children.
Ask them, however, what rising prices mean. Now they will be able to tell you that that means their parents have trouble buying enough food for the whole family, that they have trouble buying the school supplies and clothing they need. In short, it means that Mom and Dad do not have enough money to provide for them. Ask these children to tell you about their daily reality. Then you will not say to me, as did the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance, that it is impossible to index the child tax benefit, because it would cost the Canadian government too much, particularly when that same government has a budget surplus.
The 1997 Liberal Plan, a fairly recent document, says on page 58: “Research has proven consistently that investing in early support for families and children at risk yields real results.—By helping young children get off to a good start and preventing problems before they occur, these programs significantly decrease the need for far greater spending in future”. This is not from me. It is taken from the Liberals' action plan.
In conclusion, I wish to remind you that the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques tabled an amendment, to make the motion even better. The amendment seeks to delete all of the words after the word “review” and substitute the following: “the possibility of fully indexing the child benefit”, which gives the following motion: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should review the possibility of fully indexing the child benefit”. The purpose of this amendment is merely to reinforce the motion, not to change its meaning. I therefore urge hon. members to support the amendment and, of course, the motion as well.