Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak in favour of Motion No. 261 as proposed by my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
The motion states:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: ( a ) develop, along with their provincial counterparts, a comprehensive National Head Start Program for children in their first 8 years of life; ( b ) ensure that this integrated program involves both hospitals and schools, and is modelled on the experiences of the Moncton Head Start Program, Hawaii Head Start Program, and PERRY Pre-School Program; and ( c ) ensure that the program is implemented by the year 2000.
We in the official opposition are pleased that the motion is receiving so much support in the House.
The motion clearly states that the federal government should develop a national head start program along with its provincial counterparts. This would be a comprehensive program for all Canadian children in their first eight years of their life.
As a member of parliament I have divided my mandate into four components of society which I would like to focus on. They are: youth, senior citizens, families and women. I find this helpful in my work because, for example, I find that I learn a great deal about youth when I meet with students at schools.
We should provide a good start in life for our children. Our federal government tries to help all children through our health and education programs. The motion simply asks the federal government to concentrate on our children in the first eight years of their life, which is a critical stage in a child's development.
We know that inadequate attention and nurturing for our youngsters can often lead to subsequent developmental difficulties. We know that with a poor start the life of a child is at risk of winding up on the wrong side of the law. Our federal government should be interested in any opportunities that result in successful crime prevention. We spend more money dealing with criminals than on early detection and prevention of crime. The dollars spent on providing a good head start for our children will result in the saving of many dollars in the future that would have been spent dealing with anti-social and criminal behaviour.
The government has already implemented head start programs for our aboriginal communities. They have been primarily limited to reserves, but most aboriginal people living off reserve and non-aboriginal people also need this kind of program. We should treat all Canadians equally.
We have head start programs for our aboriginal children. Why are head start programs not available to other children who are not living on reserve?
This motion proposes that the government explore models based on the Perry Preschool Program, among others.
This government's National Crime Prevention Council has been very of supportive a national head start program. On page 2 of the executive summary of its 1996 report it states:
There is ample evidence that well-designed social development programs can prevent crime and be cost-effective. Rigorous evaluations, mainly American, show that crime prevention through social development pays handsome dividends.
In almost 30 years of participant follow-up the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan has been shown to be responsible for very significantly reducing juvenile and adult crime.
The Secretary of State for Children and Youth has already spoken to this motion on behalf of the Liberals. She acknowledges the success of the aboriginal head start program and pointed out that funding had doubled due to its benefits.
We need to expand our efforts to include the protection of all children and to assist needy parents to properly nurture and care for our country's children.
The motion we are debating should be supported by all members of this House, but especially by Liberals. The motion is not in conflict with the comments made by the secretary of state.
It is known that healthy babies become healthy children. Hospitals could screen all new mothers to identify babies and families who may need extra support and services.
Supporting this motion would pave the way for providing high risk families with the parenting help needed to avoid child abuse and neglect.
The official opposition justice critic spoke on this motion during its second hour of debate. He recounted that during the justice committee's recent 10-year review of the Young Offenders Act the committee travelled across the country. It listened to witnesses. It heard experts, professionals and lay people who have an interest in the whole area of the development of youth and the prevention of youth crime. During the hearings experts told the committee that teachers could detect aberrant and over-aggressive behaviour in children as early as grades one, two and three.
The Bloc fears that the motion encroaches into the area of provincial jurisdiction. As such, it has tied this motion into the Canadian unity debate. That is unfortunate.
In Quebec the justice committee found programs that are far ahead of some of the other provinces. That province has done an excellent job. There are programs in Quebec that ought to be looked at and perhaps emulated by other provinces if they have a real concern about dealing with early detection and preventive programs.
This brings us to the heart of the role of our federal government. Far from being threatened, Quebec should be anxious to share its technology and some of its successful programs with the rest of the country. The Bloc members should also support this motion.
Our federal government should pursue this motion and pool our resources to reduce the cost of implementation. Ideas and successes could be shared. National standards would ensure that children from all parts of this country receive the necessary assistance and protection in a national head start program.
Back in August 1996 the former minister of justice commented about the justice system and how the harm has already been done by the time people come before the courts. He stated “We must do more than deal with the symptoms of the problem. We must go to the source”. Programs, as proposed by this motion, go to the source.
In 1996 the Child Welfare League of Canada argued the need to create a comprehensive and permanent universal program across Canada to address funding for early intervention measures to assist our children.
I would like to give an example. Sandor Nyerges was a constituent of mine and a veteran of the two great wars. He was deaf, mute, 80 years old and lived alone. He became the victim of a ferocious attack by an assailant who has a long record as a young offender. My constituent died in the hospital from that attack. The alleged assailant was apparently intoxicated, a youth, possibly on drugs.
The constituents of Surrey Central and I are furious. In Surrey and elsewhere we hear about such crimes day after day. We have had another murder in Surrey, a caretaker at the Sikh temple, another victim of youth.
If our federal government had been acting in a timely fashion in the direction of the motion we are debating today, maybe Sandor and many other Canadians might not have been assaulted or murdered.
At the Princess Margaret Senior Secondary School in Surrey in March 1998 I met with students shortly after Sandor died. During my meeting with these students they raised the issue of crime as a major concern.
This is just another example of how the government continues to put the rights of the accused first and the safety of Canadians second. The government does not have a national head start program.
In closing I would like to say that Canadians are suffering. We want safer streets and safer communities. We want the Liberal government to respond to society's justice needs. That is why we should all support Motion No. 261.