Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Motion No. 261 put forward by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. The member continues to demonstrate his commitment to progressive social policy. I have spoken about this issue previously in the House and it is with great pride that I do so today.
Good government means providing the vehicle for a prosperous Canadian economy and also ensuring equality of opportunity in that prosperous economy.
The best economic system to provide prosperity is the free market, but the free market is only sustainable if all citizens have access to the economic levers. I believe that if we were to implement a national head start program and focus on early intervention, we would be going a long way in addressing the equality of opportunity and the access to those levers.
Recently several issues have been debated in the House and focused on by the Canadian people. One is the Liberal government's $2.5 billion millennium scholarship fund introduced in Bill C-36 which will be debated later on and which has been debated quite extensively in the House lately. Another is the government's new posturing on the Young Offenders Act. Not surprisingly the Liberals have missed the point on both programs.
Motion No. 261 speaks to a process that is far more admirable, effective and economical than these government sponsored programs. Motion No. 261 is an early intervention program that promotes prevention instead of punishment.
Study after study suggests that one dollar invested in a child in the formative years, particularly between birth and three years of age, and some studies say birth and six years of age, can deliver a six dollar and some say a seven dollar return on a child during those formative years. Some studies indicate that a one dollar investment in a child between birth and the age of three will provide a return of seven dollars to society.
Programs like the head start program in Moncton, New Brunswick offer this alternative, an economic return already in Canada. Not all areas are so fortunate.
From personal experience, I grew up on the Hants shore in rural Nova Scotia. In grade 6 there were 23 students who left grade 6 at the same time I did to go to another school. Only 8 of those students ever graduated from high school, 8 out of 23. I have some degree of experience and indeed a very personal empathy for this issue.
More recently in that community there has been significant progress by that school. The Dr. Arthur Hines School has become a leader in Nova Scotia in terms of providing equality of opportunity in rural Nova Scotia. I commend the principal, Hazel Dill, for her hard work. I also commend grassroots organizations such as the Hants Shore Health Clinic that work on these head start and early intervention programs.
There are other programs in my community, including an adult literacy program which is being promoted by Patricia Helliwell. It is achieving significant progress with people who have fallen through the cracks in the system early on. I commend that adult literacy program for its commendable work and its effectiveness in helping provide these people with an opportunity.
I cannot help but think what if we really started to deal with the roots of the problem. What if we got to these people earlier, when they were children and a significant impact could be made. Then someday perhaps we would not need adult literacy programs in Canada because all Canadians would have achieved a basic competence in communication and literacy.
The government has chosen a different more politically palatable route. It has decided to use the memorial fund for the Prime Minister. This Canadian millennium scholarship fund will only benefit 7% of Canadian students who attend university when it is implemented two years from now. If the government had put this $2.5 billion toward a national head start program, it would have provided a better economic return on that money for Canadians.
However the Liberal Party's focus group and polling data have told it to spend the money on university students, that post-secondary education is a more politically palatable initiative than is early intervention. The facts are contrary to this. Experts on post-secondary education will agree that the best bang for the buck for the Canadian taxpayer is to invest in the youngest of Canadians, those Canadians who are most vulnerable to negative influences and who can benefit most from positive influences, those between birth and the age of three.
I assume based on focus groups and polling data that the government has recently decided to get tough with young offenders. Arguably it is extremely important that the Young Offenders Act be tightened and that young people be made more responsible for their actions. Again the Liberals have really missed the point.
Harsher penalties will not prevent young people from committing crimes. We must address the flaws in the Young Offenders Act but what can we do to prevent these young people from turning toward crime? Why are we not dealing with these issues in a more holistic manner instead of by knee-jerk reaction and crisis management? The real answer is early intervention. A national head start program would go a long way toward addressing that.
A stable and caring environment during a child's formative years offers the best opportunity to provide a productive and stable adolescence and ultimately a productive and prosperous adulthood. Studies have demonstrated that this early intervention is one of the best social policy approaches.
In the finance committee hearings earlier this month I questioned Professor David Stager from the University of Toronto. I asked him how he felt about early intervention. Professor Stager is an expert on post-secondary education. When I asked him how he felt about the investment we could potentially make in early intervention he said that the best bang for the buck would be before school. There was a splendid synthesis done this past fall of the research in the area of human capital. It concluded that early intervention has the greatest pay-off for a number of reasons.
This man is an expert on post-secondary education and an advocate for post-secondary education who has spent his life advocating investment in areas of post-secondary education. He told the finance committee that the best investment for society to make is in early intervention before children even get to elementary school where much damage could have already occurred if positive environments were not provided earlier.
I commend the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his forward thinking and his commitment to progressive social policy. His motion would be very effective in addressing the real needs of Canadians at a very critical time. We are entering the 21st century. We have a global knowledge based economy that will generate the economic growth of the 21st century.
We in this House can make a difference so it is absolutely imperative that we focus on ensuring that young Canadians have every opportunity. If we as public policy makers and parliamentarians can ensure that young Canadians do not just have as good a chance but that they have a better opportunity than people in other countries, we will be doing a great deal to ensure that Canada is on a firm footing and that young Canadians are poised to participate actively and prosper in the new economy.
This type of commitment will prevent the necessity of a TAGS program in the 21st century. It will prevent the necessity of a lot of the social investment that has been more reactive than proactive.
As an Atlantic Canadian, I have watched over the years as successive governments have tried to effectively deal with the situation in Atlantic Canada frankly by using money on social spending as opposed to social investment. Unfortunately these governments in trying to protect Atlantic Canadians from the risks of the future have prevented them from participating in the rewards of the future.
That is where aggressive and forward thinking social policy, such as an early intervention program, would make a difference. Then we would not have to be engaged in regional economic development debates in 20 years in this House because we would have provided the equality of opportunity which is necessary to allow all Canadians to participate in growth. As an Atlantic Canadian it is very important to me that we continue to work to this end.
I would urge every member of this House to consider very carefully and to support this motion. I think it is very important for us, when provided with the opportunity, to make the right decisions, to make decisions that will last much longer than many of us will be in this House and to provide those types of benefits. It would be an affront to the people who put us here not to do so.