Mr. Speaker, every Canadian needs and deserves an equal chance to live up to his or her full potential. I am in favour of the legislation establishing the millennium scholarship foundation because it will help Canadians reach their goals. In so doing it will also play a part in helping our country live up to its full potential.
No nation can rely solely on its resources in the ground for economic growth. In today's global economy and in the growing knowledge economy of the future the key to economic success is the development of our human resources.
Quite simply we need to have a highly skilled, highly adaptable and highly motivated workforce if we are to continue to prosper into the next century and beyond. The new reality for every Canadian is that getting and keeping a job in the growing knowledge economy demands ever higher levels of learning.
As we all know the result is that not everyone has the financial means to take advantage of the learning opportunities that are out there. It is certainly true that the Canada student loans program and provincial student programs have helped millions of young people over the years including myself. Indeed without these essential supports many thousands of low and middle income young people would not have been able to participate at all.
Even so, today far too many people are facing enormous student debt burden upon graduation. Too many others are simply not going on to post-secondary institutions because the costs are just too high. We all recognize that the problem has become progressively worse and that there is a need to act.
Last November a national all stakeholders working session on Canada student loans brought students, teachers, administrators, federal and provincial governments, lenders, colleges and universities together to reach consensus on student assistance reform.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities undertook an extensive study of the issue. It consulted Canadians across the country and the report it tabled last December made 16 specific recommendations for change. At its meeting last December the Prime Minister and the premiers made a commitment to work together to reduce student debt.
As hon. members know, in response to these recommendations and discussions the Minister of Finance outlined the Canadian opportunities strategy in the budget of last February, a strategy that directly reflects the sentiments and the directions offered by many Canadians.
It is a seven-part strategy that puts the following measures into place: to help graduates manage growing debt; to give Canadians access to the financing required to upgrade their skills throughout their careers; to help families pay for their children's education; to help graduate and post-graduate students continue to develop their skills and carry out research that benefits the whole country; to help young people make the transition from school to work; to help connect Canadians to the information age technology; and to greatly improve access to learning by helping students in financial need cope with the increasing cost of education.
In the time remaining I would like to concentrate my remarks on the last point, in particular the Canada millennium scholarship foundation. The endowment that the Canada millennium scholarship foundation will manage is the largest single investment ever made by the federal government in support of access to post-secondary education for all Canadians.
I agree with what the Prime Minister said in the House when he announced this initiative last fall. There can be no greater millennium project for Canada and no better role for government than to help young Canadians prepare for the knowledge based society of the next century.
The 10 year endowment of $2.5 billion will provide over 100,000 scholarships to low and middle income students every year for the next decade. The scholarships will be available to young and old, to full time and part time students. Students in universities as well as students in community colleges, technology institutes and other post-secondary education systems will all be eligible. That is over one million new scholarships.
We believe that a million new scholarships devoted to equalizing access to learning is a fitting way to commemorate the next millennium, a millennium in which all societies will look more and more to the knowledge, skills and creative intelligence of their people for growth and prosperity. Contrary to the assertions of some people, the Canada millennium scholarship foundation does not intrude into a provincial area of jurisdiction. Quite the opposite. It will help more people benefit from the educational opportunities provided by provincial governments.
Hon. members can understand our deep disappointment when the Government of Quebec chose to break off the discussions on the Canada millennium scholarships. Our government demonstrated much flexibility during negotiations with the Government of Quebec to ensure the alignment of a new foundation with the Quebec system.
There is nothing new in our desire to help people help themselves. Since Confederation the federal government has helped people improve their education. Following the second world war for example, thousands of returning soldiers benefited from grants to help them upgrade their skills and rejoin the peacetime economy.
Today, in addition to the Canada student loans, several billion dollars each year are transferred to the provincial governments in Canada health and social transfers to help fund post-secondary education, social assistance and health care.
We believe as do most Canadians that all governments have a role to play in providing everyone with an opportunity to improve themselves, an opportunity for a better life for themselves and for their families.
If the Government of Quebec would accept the principle of the millennium scholarships for what it really is, namely an ad hoc and unique contribution to help young people access opportunities in the new economy, it would be proud to be associated with this initiative.
The Quebec government can rest assured that the foundation will be able to build on the existing needs assessment processes and complement provincial efforts to provide accessible, affordable post-secondary education to all its citizens.
The foundation will have nothing at all to do with determining curricula, setting tuition levels or managing educational institutions. Those are questions for the provincial governments and the institutions themselves. That has been clear from the very beginning.
As the Prime Minister has said in the House, we are satisfied that this bill gives us the needed flexibility to resolve the situation in a reasonable manner.
An independent foundation will manage the fund. It will not be run by government but by private citizens. Among other things, this fund will also facilitate a greater degree of student mobility, allowing students the opportunity to complete all or part of their studies in different parts of Canada.
With it we are marking a unique event in the history of our country, a passage into the new millennium. At the same time we are also improving the prospects of all Canadian students by giving them a better chance at starting the next millennium with the skills and knowledge they will need to become full and contributing members of this economy.
Again, I believe that every Canadian deserves the chance to live up to his or her full potential. I believe that this legislation will help them do just that. I sincerely hope that all hon. members of the House will give it their enthusiastic support.