Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Building a higher quality of life for all Canadians is an ideal theme, as we are about to celebrate the new millennium. It is the greatest legacy that we can leave to Canadians.
It is about vision. It is about what kind of country we want to live in. It demonstrates a real understanding of the broadest determinants of quality of life. It recognizes that although we have been designated the best country in the world in which to live we cannot rest on our laurels.
Vision is statesman-like foresight, sagacity in planning. It means using our experience and our knowledge together with the power to apply them critically and practically. More than that, it is incorporating the core values of Canadians. Vision and values are the key ingredients to making a difference.
The Speech from the Throne was an extraordinary example of the positive role the government can play in people's lives. The tug of war is over. No longer is it possible for Canadians to think that good social policy is bad economic policy. We are now embarking on a new age where with good social science research we can demonstrate that good social policy is excellent economic policy and those who think that tax cuts alone will cure all are horribly misguided.
The tax cuts in Ontario resulted in the doubling of child poverty. We are embarrassed internationally because of this. The cuts to social services in Ontario have not saved money. Gina Browne, the fabulous researcher at McMaster and author of When the Bough Breaks , has now demonstrated that conclusively, with the help of Health Canada. The Ministry of Health of Ontario has turned down the study twice and now seems to be hiding from its results.
I would like to outline some of the highlights of the study to show that the failure to provide appropriate social programs does not save a cent because the people go elsewhere, generally to the medical system, and cost at least as much money there.
Gina took over 700 single moms. Some were left to self-direct their support generally by using walk-in clinics, emergency departments and GPs' offices. Some were directed to a variety of support: recreation, day care, social services and employment advice.
At the end of two years the control group had 10% less on welfare generally because the Harris program had cut them off. The group that had only received a recreation program for their kids over six, which included transportation, running shoes and snacks, had twice as many moms off welfare and huge savings to the system in parole, children's aid and the use of food banks. The kids now had friends from other neighbourhoods and were well on their way.
In the group that received all the support, over 25% had exited the welfare system and demonstrated huge savings in their use of the medical system. The interventions helped to identify the mothers with depression and got them appropriate and effective help.
As Gina has said to rotary club after rotary club, the Government of Ontario is kidding itself if it thinks it is saving money by its cuts.
What is exciting now is that we can fund research to show what instinctively we have known, that good social policy is good economic policy. With the social union framework we have an exciting tool with which we as a country can begin to share best practices and demonstrate that accountability and transparency are what Canadians need in order to feel that their taxes are well spent.
The commitment in the social union for all levels of government to report publicly on the effectiveness of their social programs in effect will continue to demonstrate this reality of good social programs being good economic policy.
The Speech from the Throne articulated the commitment of the Government of Canada to work toward removing all barriers for the mobility of Canadians with respect to their qualifications, student loans and essential services for persons with disabilities. It is clear that achieving full citizenship for all Canadians is good social policy as well as good economic policy.
The people of St. Paul's are big picture people. They understand the need for balance and accountability. They understand that we need evidence based practice. They understand that strict ideology is usually bad public policy because of the need for practical solutions based on proper evaluation and changing conditions. The pure tax cutting rhetoric is just that.
I believe the Speech from the Throne has touched the core values of Canadians. As my constituent Fiona Nelson pointed out, the big cold countries at the top of the globe decided a long time ago that we would have to look after one another. The countries in the middle with the warm climate, fishing and coconuts falling out of the trees have not had to be quite so progressive. Canadians decided a long time ago that they do not want people to have to mortgage their homes, and maybe even lose them, for their cobalt treatment for cancer.
The final report of the National Forum on Health eloquently articulated that the core Canadian values will remain even when opinions can waver or be seduced by the rhetoric of more money in people's pockets solving everything.
Canadians want fairness. They want the tax system to be made fairer. They know that increasing disposable income for the lower and middle classes is a good thing. They understand that the child tax benefit has been an extremely important measure for the working poor, and that extending it to the middle class will be extremely important to their children.
Last year at the prebudget consultations in St. Paul's some of the business people expressed their concern about the use of the word “investment” as the new code for government spending. Whether we call it smart spending, results based management or investment, it is becoming clearer and clearer that we can spend a little now or a lot more later.
The Minister of Labour, who is responsible for homelessness, has declared many times that investing in kids now will help us to close prisons later and that this is now becoming better understood. There are certain expenditures that, with a proper long range view, we cannot afford not to do. Governments can no longer present a little checklist of things that can be accomplished within their mandate.
As we look to the millennium it is imperative that we look forward to our future. It is our kids. It is our planet. We need to do the right thing now. It will be our legacy.
If 25% of absenteeism in children is because of a tragic increase in asthma, we must do something about air quality now. We must help the world deal with all aspects of the sustainability of our planet.
The vision articulated in the Speech from the Throne was a broad vision for Canada. Its focus on children as we move to a knowledge based economy is one of the best things we can be doing. Dr. Fraser Mustard said that there is substantial evidence that the quality of early childhood experience has long term effects on an individual's performance in the education system, their behaviour in adult life and their risk for chronic disease in adult life.
We know that this need is universal and that in many neighbourhoods the wealthy children are not doing any better because love is not the same thing as knowing how to parent.
I had the privilege of practising next to the fabulous Children's Storefront in Toronto where I watched parents, nannies and new immigrants come. With the advice of the early childhood educators they learned about conflict resolution, positive reinforcement, attitudes toward learning, cuddling and reading. I know that it works. I know that those children are better off.
As we embark on the exciting new research chairs and the Canadian institutes of health research we have an opportunity to gain better evidence as we do research in evaluating the policies and programs to find the optimal solutions.
If we look at the commitment to aboriginal health alone, we know that we have to do something about the doubled rate of low birth rate babies, five times the suicide rate and six times the death rate from injuries, violence and poisoning. We need to look at the root causes of homelessness, the role of de-institutionalization, child abuse, substance abuse, learning disabilities and FAE/FAS.
This is an extraordinary time for Canada. The prospect of a surplus will ensure our ability to be able to deliver a truly balanced approach. This is a truly Canadian thing to do. As to the promises we made to Canadians who elected us—tax relief, debt retirement and prudent investments—we can all be proud that the vision and values articulated in the Speech from the Throne will indeed build a higher quality of life for all Canadians. Good social policy is good economic policy.
We want to build a stronger Canada and provide a better quality of life to our children and grandchildren. This is the best legacy that we can leave to them.