Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion by the member for Vancouver East.
In my opinion, we are hearing a real heartfelt cry. This is what people have come to recognize in Canada, in every anglophone province, everywhere except Quebec, where the system of loans was established in the 1960s and has remained unchanged. In Quebec, we have established a recognized scheme for providing students with financial assistance, which includes loans and bursaries.
I think today's motion is well placed because for the past week the Standing Committee on Finance has been hearing from people, including representatives from Quebec, who report that the best financial assistance system in Canada is the one set up by the Government of Quebec.
It has been honed into the tool it is today, following action to encourage the participation of students, administrators, officials from educational institutions and representatives of the unions, so that it is based on the student's financial need and excludes the notion of merit, making it the envy of all of Canada.
The member's cry may be summarized as follows: Is there no way to change the way the system works in the rest of Canada to permit it to become more effective? This is quite understandable, since a student graduating in any of the other nine provinces owes an average of $25,000, while the figure for a Quebec graduate is $11,000.
Why is this so? Because we have a system of loans and of bursaries, and if a student who already has loans receives a bursary, this does not increase his debt load. As well, the Government of Quebec has made a choice to keep university tuition as low as possible. It has taken steps to invest in the educational system so that people, regardless of their financial situation, are able to gain access to it and to receive an education.
It is my impression that this was more or less the objective of the hon. member's motion. Unfortunately, we cannot really support a motion like hers, because there are some very concrete examples, in the Canadian system, that show if we agreed to national standards across Canada, there would be horror stories like the millennium scholarships.
The decision was made to create a system of scholarships. There are no grants or bursaries in the other provinces of Canada, so we can see why this would make sense for them. But the decision was made that these scholarships would be awarded on merit and administered by a private foundation at arm's length from the government.
These scholarships will probably be awarded partially according to financial need, but also on merit or other criteria which the foundation will set and over which the government will have no say.
This continues the trend of disengagement which has been going on in the federal government for some years, setting up agencies that are less and less under parliamentary control.
In the motion, where there is reference to accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education, I believe that where the problem lies with relation to student funding for academic fees and living expenses has nothing to do with a national standard. The proof is that, since 1964, we have simultaneously developed two different models corresponding to a certain extent, I believe, to the kind of society that people wanted. Quebec's model leaves students less indebted on completing their studies than students in the rest of Canada.
A choice was made. As as people of my generation know, there were several successive battles by students' federations, which led strikes and protest movements to come up with the present system.
The consensus in Quebec today is that the millennium scholarships are unacceptable for Quebeckers. I am not just talking about Quebeckers in the sovereignist movement, but about the Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, the Fédération des cégeps, the Fédération des commissions scolaires, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération québécoise des professeurs d'université and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec.
All the economic stakeholders who appeared before the committee when we were looking at Bill C-36, which dealt with the millennium scholarships, came to tell us that the model proposed in Bill C-36 is not acceptable to Quebec.
We built a system, made sure it was effective, that the framework and delivery systems were good, and suddenly someone has installed a parallel system. They tell us “If it was costing you 3% or 4% in administration expenses, we don't care; we are going to introduce another system that will cost the same”.
In a Canada that talks about eliminating overlap, building a duplicate system is unacceptable. Things have been running fine for several years and now there are two parallel models.
What the Government of Canada could have done was to amend the legislation on loans and introduce financial assistance legislation that would incorporate the concepts of loans and scholarships and that would contain particular concepts acceptable to Canada's nine provinces. If it were to include the notion of merit, we could have put it within this model. The other provinces of Canada so desiring could make this choice.
However, Quebec came up with a different model. Student associations told us that to include the notion of merit would be to fly in the face of the studies done and various consensus reached. We are not talking about consensus among student associations, but one that included essentially all the members of the current coalition.
So, although the motion is made in good faith and its objective honourable, Quebeckers oppose the inclusion of a national standard in this sector. The federal government is trying every trick to get round the existing system. To officially and formally include the concept of a national standard would amount to delivering oneself bound and gagged to the federal government.
It did not want to allow Quebec to exercise its right to opt out and to be able to say, under current legislation, that the money for the millennium scholarship would be paid to Quebec, which would incorporate it in the system. To avoid that, rather than amending the legislation on loans, the government decided to create a whole structure, a separate foundation.
According to the arguments raised, the foundation has nothing to do with the jurisdiction over education. It will be administered, not by government, but by a private foundation. All manner of aberrations are therefore being created, which will end up with a very negative outcome.
I can hardly wait to hear what the auditor general will have to say about the federal government's decision to invest billions in a foundation with which it will be at arm's length, and which the auditor general cannot scrutinize in order to report to the House that it is or is not being properly administered. No, a foundation is being set up that will be fully autonomous and independent, and yet will be funded with public money.
Quebec today finds itself faced with a lack of understanding by a federal government that is unable to understand that Quebec has developed a different system which must be respected, and unable to understand that financial assistance to students is part of our jurisdiction over education. Those who try to make this a dichotomy, splitting financial aid away from education, are out of touch with reality. When curricula and the workings of an educational system are being determined, aspects such as accessibility must also be addressed. Thus the funding of institutions and of students—both living costs and tuition fees—cannot be separated.
The hon. member does, I must admit, show good intentions. I hope that the government will see reason and change the Canada Loan system accordingly. There is, however, no way Quebec will ever accept having the changes made at its expense. There is no question of Quebec accepting any national educational standards. This is one of the areas of jurisdiction that is the most dear to us, and we will brook no interference by the federal government in this area.