House of Commons Hansard #187 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was students.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development. I cannot imagine that she believes everything she is saying.

The government has done nothing for eight years. It is beyond belief that the entire government machinery, and you, the people in power, have been unaware that for eight years you have been depriving seniors of their just due.

These people are constituents of mine living under the poverty level. These people came to see me in my office and said, “Madame Bujold, what can we do? We are unable to make ends meet. We receive our Canada pension cheque and we cannot make ends meet”. I could not believe it. I told myself it made no sense.

The Canada pension cheque and the guaranteed income supplement are supposed to help people stay above the poverty line. I did not understand what these people meant. I told myself, “They used to pay taxes to the government. People who helped to build the country, build the regions, are not supposed to be left in poverty”.

The parliamentary secretary has the nerve to tell them now that it was a committee which uncovered this flaw in the system, when this has been going on for eight years. On top of that, the government is refusing to make the payments retroactive.

In my riding, if I had not been there to visit some women individually at home in order to help them fill out their forms, they would never have received anything. The government was doing nothing. I was the one who told them, “We will help you fill them out”. The parliamentary secretary can tell us that it was uncovered because of the committee, but the government would have done nothing if the Bloc Quebecois had not intervened.

I have nothing against her. What I am angry at is the system, which has allowed this unfair treatment of seniors to drag on and on. It is unbelievable. In my riding, people have been deprived of $90,000 for eight years. What is $90,000? It may not be much for the member opposite, but for people who have lived in poverty for eight years, it is a lot of money.

Poverty leads to physical and psychological decline and has a negative impact on the family. Seniors use the most medication. Why? Because there was a flaw in the system which the member was unaware of.

She must stop blaming the public servants. The government is there to ensure that all Canadians who have paid taxes get their fair share from the system. She must stop saying that it is the public servants' fault. I am not blaming public servants, I am blaming the government. It knew. It is impossible that the parliamentary secretary has not had, as I have, people coming to see her in her riding to tell her that they did not understand the form. She is in her second term, so she must have had people like that in her office. And she did not see that something was wrong.

How many times did we tell them that this did not make any sense? Public servants replied, “What can I say, madam, it is the government that allows that”. I am not accusing them, but I am accusing the government of doing nothing about it.

Today, the parliamentary secretary had the gall to say that these people will not receive any retroactive payments. It is their money. Does that mean that this money that the government has saved was used elsewhere, and used to pay down the debt or to reward the government's friends? I will never accept that.

We will have to look closely at the situation of seniors one of these days. Living conditions have changed. Housing is very expensive. Seniors are increasingly in need of services.

I am asking the parliamentary secretary to rise and tell the House today, May 10, that the government will grant retroactivity to seniors for what they were denied for eight years.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find that the comments that my colleague made about me are very personal. This is most unfortunate.

I would like to add that, given the comments made by the last two or three opposite members who spoke, it would appear that members of that party need to be thanked. They need to get the credit for having found this flaw in the system. I repeat that, whoever found the flaw, what matters here is that we have been able to respond quickly to help the elderly receive the guaranteed income supplement, to which they are entitled.

I repeat that, whoever it is, the Bloc or the committee, we did our job. The minister also did hers.

I would also like to add that we have a parliamentary system that has helped us reach these people. The member said that many people came to see her. I would simply like to point out to her that she is not the only person on this planet and that there are many other members who have seen the elderly.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

I am happy to hear that.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

They have talked to them and they have helped them.

With regard to income tax, I think that the member does not realize how difficult it has been, because of the Privacy Act, to match the data from Human Resources Development Canada with the date from the Customs and Revenue Agency. This is something we are doing now, but it was extremely difficult to do so. This is an important point.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, we still have a lot to say on this issue. I do not want my colleague across the way, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development, to construe this as a personal attack. It is not, on the contrary. As a matter of fact, in committee we are very often on the same wavelength. She knows it, and I am not embarking on a personal attack, far from it.

However, we have a situation here, a very real situation. The Bloc raised the issue. The Bloc went on a tour. Indeed, my colleague from Champlain toured every single riding in Quebec to raise awareness among seniors associations, various groups, everyone in fact, by telling them “Listen, there is something there; you are entitled to it and you are not getting it”.

Even though we discovered it in committee, the government cannot take credit for it. It was my colleague from Champlain who went crusading from riding to riding to explain the situation and tell people “You are entitled to that. It is yours. Get the information. Inquire. Look at the documentation. Call HRDC. Apply for it, and you will see whether or not you are entitled to it”.

This woke everybody up, and not only senior citizens who are destitute, as I said earlier. For quite some time, calls poured in at my riding office. People would call and inquire “I don't know if I am entitled to this supplement. Could you help me, Ms. Guay? I do not understand the form. It is not clear”.

We helped these people. We did not try to play politics. We just tried to give back to people what was theirs.

Let us talk about retroactivity. If I am entitled to a certain amount of money out of the taxes I paid and if the government forgot to give it to me, it seems to me that I should get some interest back and have the right to ask for it eventually.

If I owe taxes to the government, it will invoke retroactivity and ask for the money owed to it, plus interest. I cannot understand why retroactivity would not apply to money which should have been paid to seniors. It should.

We are not talking about huge amounts. The government is proud of the fact that the surplus in the employment insurance fund is in the billions of dollars. There are billions of dollars in the surplus, but the government cannot give the seniors what they are entitled to.

There are not that many seniors who would be entitled to more than five years of retroactive payments. This money belongs to them, and we have to find a way to give it back to them.

The Bloc members are very sensitive to social policies. Our vision encompasses the defence of all, men, children, women and seniors. Every time we have talked about something positive for the Canadian population, the government has pulled the rug out from under our feet. Why? We are told, “It is too expensive. No. We will do it later”.

Let us talk about preventive withdrawal for pregnant women. We have been beating about the bush for ten years on that issue. This is the Department of Human Resources Development's responsibility. We hear all sorts of stories about somebody being hired specifically to study that matter, while this has been in effect for ten years in Quebec.

We do not need extensive studies to allow a woman to have a healthy child, without her having to experience physical or psychological problems. It is very simple. We need to adopt the preventive withdrawal. However, the government still lacks the courage to do so.

The Deaprtment of Human Resources Development deals with all sorts of issues. I was talking about this yesterday. I was in New York for the conference on children. We keep boasting abroad about all the aid we are giving on the international scene. It is something that we have to do. It is part of our responsibilities. However, in our own country, 20% of the children still live under the poverty line. Is that acceptable in Canada?

When it is time to do our homework here in Canada, if we did not have a solid opposition with sound social policies, there would not be too much activity on the other side of the House. This is why we find it quite insulting to hear the government say “It is not because of you” or “You are looking for recognition”.

It is not recognition that we are looking for. It is time to act. How is it that publicity suddenly appeared in the newspapers right after we undertook to increase public awareness in this regard?

How is it that there was no answer on this subject in employment centres? Since we have raised the issue, they finally decided to put people in charge of this issue.

It is unacceptable that the people across the way have no social sensitivity. Yet, when the Liberals were in the opposition, they had a social conscience; they defended people.

Today, they are in office, there is a surplus in the employment insurance fund, they make cuts in employment insurance benefits, they reduce the number of benefit weeks, they reduce the percentages of benefits and they do not give senior citizens what they are entitled to. It is unacceptable. The government has the means to act on this issue, but it is not doing it.

My colleague from Champlain has introduced a bill so that senior citizens can benefit from this guaranteed minimum income. If we can examine it in the House, it would be a big step forward. If the government really takes to heart social policy and the well-being of senior citizens, it ought to vote in favour of this legislation.

It is a Bloc Quebecois initiative, but we are not seeking recognition by it, we are only trying to push things ahead. It seems that we are the only ones to do so on this issue. We are taking initiatives.

You should see the array of bills coming from this party: they are innovative and reasonable and should be debated in the House. The government should seriously examine those bills instead of tossing them aside.

I would like the whole issue to be brought to light and I would like all the eligible seniors to be informed of their entitlement. The problem is that some of these people are very hard to reach. Some of them do not read the newspaper and some are disadvantaged people who do not necessarily watch television. There are sick people who do not have access to these things. Some are simply afraid of any kind of document. This does happen.

It happen even more among the elderly. They are afraid because they do not know what they are getting into. They fear that the government might come and take something away. We must find a way to reach these people. We must look for all sorts of approaches. There are ther senior citizens' associations where these people often meet; there are the hospitals, the long term care centres and the homes for elderly people. There are all sorts of networks, but we must reach them and I am not sure we can do it through the media and the television. We must go to them.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

I hear people sighing, but this is true. There are indeed people who do not watch TV and do not read a paper.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

An hon. member

There are people who do not own a TV.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

This is normal. It happens. Not everyone is part of the wired world.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

An hon. member

When the government wants their vote, it goes around knocking on doors.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Exactly. They even send buses out to get the people when they want their vote.

These people must be found, must be sought out, must be informed. If we are not able to do that, and I can see there is not much desire on the other side to go out after people and inform them, we are not doing our job.

These people have paid taxes all their lives to this government, and perhaps it is time they got some recognition. It is perhaps time something was done for them. It is perhaps time for these people, if they are entitled to a certain amount of money, to enjoy a slightly more comfortable retirement. We are not talking about millions of dollars each.

If the government does not have that sensitivity, we have missed the boat somewhere along the way. You know what will happen. We cannot create two societies, two levels of society, and this is what the government is in the process of doing. It has created two classes of worker, and now it is in the process of creating two societies, the haves and the have nots. There is no longer any intermediary between the very rich and the very poor. If a situation like this is created, it will blow up in our faces. Eventually there will be trouble. In the next election, they will reap what they have sown.

I am not the one who will be able to change things. People will know quite well what to do. We will be there to remind them that we did our job and that we suggested amendments and changes. We made suggestions to the government, but it does not take them into consideration.

The elderly are not important to the government. Women and children are not important to the government. Seasonal workers are not important. We will remind the government about all these issues.

For the time being, what is important is to further the issue of the elderly and to raise awareness in everyone. All those who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement must be reached. This is what counts, this is what is important. In future, people must be able to complete their documents easily, they must be able to know they are entitled to this income supplement and, finally, they must be able to easily get access to these documents, without a lot of hassles.

The elderly do not need a hard time. They already have enough problems managing their affairs. They have coped with difficulties all their lives. I think that, when they retire, we can allow them to live better, to live quietly and with serenity, in a reasonably decent manner.

The people entitled to this supplement are not rich. They are in the lower income bracket. They are almost below the poverty line. They are not asking for hand-outs, just what they are entitled to. Who could be against that? I do not see any reason why someone would be against that.

In a situation like this, retroactive application is very important. It can make a huge difference in the life of a couple, an older woman or man, or a single senior who really needs the money.

By improving the life quality of our seniors, we improve our society as a whole. These people have invested their whole lives in our society. They will continue to spend their money to live a better life and to enjoy better housing. They will contribute to our economy. As retired people, they usually contribute more fully to the economy. They have the time to take a more active role in their community, they are willing to do it, they only need the means to do it. We must give them what they are entitled to. I think we have made our point pretty clear.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Champlain, who has done a truly remarkable job. He travelled throughout the province of Quebec, in a very appropriate and professional way. I want to commend him for his work. He will always be able to rely on my support from now on to ensure that every senior at least gets the information needed and that those who are eligible can be reached and sent the money they are entitled to.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Laval West Québec


Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's answer shows that party's bad faith.

I used my whole speech, which lasted 20 minutes, explain to how this government really wanted to meet potential guaranteed income supplement beneficiaries, meet them in their homes, and meet groups dealing with these persons, among them senior groups and groups working with the illiterate. I gave a very detailed description.

Now, I hear the member saying that we used televised ads. Maybe the member gave a prepared speech and did not hear what I said.

Unfortunately for the party on the other side and fortunately for the Canadian public, not only did we use radio and television advertising but we also made a great effort to meet people in their homes.

I may not quote figures, but I will ask a question to the hon. member directly.

Yesterday, the Minister of Human Resources Development appeared before the Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. She spent two hours answering questions from members of the opposition as well as Liberal members. At no time did any member from the opposition or the Liberal Party ask the minister what measures she was taking or what she should be doing, nor did they make any suggestion or comment about what still had to be done to reach these persons.

I think that this party across the way, which is using the time of the House in front of the television cameras to tell Canadians that they should thank them, is acting in bad faith. We did the work but when the time came to ask the real questions in private to the minister, that party was absent. I really would like to get an answer from the member.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I began my speech earlier, I said that I would not engage in any kind of personal attack. If the member opposite is so upset, I think it may be because we are right. One does not get upset for no reason.

That is not the issue. I have been in the House for nine years, and we have been making suggestions, proposing amendments and questioning the minister for nine years. We have been trying to improve legislation for years.

When the Employment Insurance Act was reviewed, how many hours does the member think we put in to try to improve the legislation? We need no lessons from her.

It is totally inappropriate to comment on who is present or who is absent, because I can assure you that there are a lot more people from the other side than people from our side who do not show up at committee meetings. When I have to be called at my office so that there will be a quorum, it means that someone somewhere is not doing his or her job.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Some people are not doing their job. Let us say that certain people are not there fort certain committee meetings.

If we had not gone out, if we had not met the people, I doubt that the government would have done it. In fact, they did not do it, we did. We need no lessons from them in this regard. Definitely not.

As I said, I sincerely hope that we can go out and explain this to people. Some have still not been reached. We could not reach everyone, but we must do it to give them what they are entitled to. We refuse to play petty politics. We do not expect acknowledgements. That is not at issue. We want to see this through. We want to reach everyone. We want all those who are entitled to benefit.

It is that simple. We do not expect acknowledgements; we are just doing our job. I would like members opposite to do theirs. Going out on the street is too hard for them. They keep reacting to something that made us react before them, because they have no choice. In this case, they did not have a choice, they had to act. It was too much, it was horrible. So, we are taking measures.

When such things happen, one must act, one goes out. If we had not gone out, if the hon. member for Champlain had not visited the senior citizens' associations, nothing would have happened. We have no lessons to learn from nobody. We do our job here, in Ottawa, it is up to them to do theirs.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her kind words. I would like to confirm that across Quebec we met with people with no political affiliations. Indeed, I met with more people who sympathize with the party opposite.

Everyone was scandalized that this had not been done in eight years. Now is the time to do it, and 27 assemblies were held in Quebec. I congratulate you for doing this now, but you were not the ones that raised the issue, we pointed it out.

As my colleague said, what it is important now is that justice be done. We must give back to the poorest members of society the money that is in the coffers and that belongs to them.

My colleague said earlier that one child in five is poor. I do not know if she is aware that one senior in five does not receive the guaranteed income supplement he or she is entitled to. That is exactly the same percentage as for children living in poverty.

Are we cultivating poverty, or eliminating it? I put the question to my colleague.

We saw the reactions opposite. They said, “Are we doing enough to reach seniors”? I can tell the House that recently, in my riding, at the Caisse populaire, a person told me, “Thanks to your work, I sent someone to apply for their guaranteed income supplement. We were never told about it before”.

Everyone from the bishop to the chamber of commerce in my riding, including all of the associations in between, asked me the same question, “How is it that now we know about this issue?” These people are not all lying. Has my colleague run into this type of reaction?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have certainly seen this kind of reaction, which is perfectly normal.

Moreover, we have to realize that it is not with one ad campaign that the issue will be settled and that everyone will have been reached. Reaching people is not easy. We have to reach them where they are. Any means to reach them, including seniors' associations, chambers of commerce, newspapers, radio and television, are to be used. We need to be everywhere.

There are still people who telephone—we have been discussing this issue for a while—or visit me at my constituency office to talk about the leaflet they have received. They tell me, “We didn't know that, Mrs. Guay”. This is in spite of the fact it has been discussed for some time. But these people were informed only very recently, because we were able to reach them in another way.

So we have to be able to reach people everywhere. But this takes time. This was the government's responsibility, but it is my colleague who did the job. Had we not informed senior people and have-nots, no one would have done so.

We must continue to put this approach forward. This is not petty politics. This is a very important issue. We must put an end to poverty.

One person out of five, this is already one person too many. We cannot have a two-tier society, with extreme wealth and extreme poverty. We need a balance. One way to achieve balance is to pay people what we owe them. They must be given back what they are owed.

Let us stop filling the pockets of the government with billion dollar surpluses. These are billions, not millions. Let us give society what it is owed. Let us pay what we owe. Let us solve the problem. Let us have solid framework legislation. Let us make sure that forms are clear, accurate and easy to fill, so that people have no problem filling them.

This would make us happy on this side of the House. I hope that, next time, the government will listen to and follow up on our suggestions.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the guaranteed income supplement issue.

I want to stress the comments made by the hon. member for Champlain, who expended a great deal of time and effort in trying to help his fellow citizens, Quebec's elderly, so that they get their due.

Put simply, the issue can be summed up in one sentence: to get their due. Seniors in Quebec and Canada have worked all their lives to now get what they are owed. The fight led by the Bloc Quebecois on the GIS issue was simply to ensure that all men and women, all seniors who were entitled to it, would indeed get it.

We are once again here in this House to discuss a program that government members are trying to defend by saying “Yes, we are advertising, we are promoting this program”.

As for us, we have now moved on to the second stage, which is to obtain retroactivity. It is fine to say “Yes, we will give the guaranteed income supplement to seniors in Quebec and in Canada”, but the government must also repay these people the money to which they have been entitled for eight years and of which they have been deprived. So, the Bloc Quebecois has moved on to the second stage.

It is the seniors who are listening to us now who are entitled to this money, and they alone can judge. The Liberal members have just said that they have done everything.

How long has it been since seniors in Quebec and in Canada saw their old age pension increased? The cost of housing has shot up in recent months and in the past year, but the old age pension has stayed the same.

Seniors in Quebec and in Canada must therefore understand that it is up to them to pass judgment on the government, and they should not let it off lightly. In the end, all the government wants is to be able to point to nice budgets and wonderful surpluses so that it can get re-elected.

We on this side of the House are being accused of grandstanding, when in fact we have devoted much time and energy to trying to meet with Quebec's seniors and obviously attempting to do something to improve the lot of seniors in Canada..

We have invested all this time and energy—as the hon. member for Champlain so aptly said—not to grandstand but simply to ensure that Quebec's seniors receive their due.

Once again, I would point out that, unlike the Liberal Party of Canada, we have moved on to the second stage, which is to obtain full retroactivity for these people, in other words, everything owing them for the past eight years.

In the months to come, we will no doubt move on to the next stage, which is getting the old age pension indexed so that seniors can keep up with increases in the cost of housing.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 1 consideration of the motion.

Tax CreditPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak on this motion, especially one that addresses student loan issues which are very important for the country. I would like to commend my colleague for bringing forward a private member's motion that is votable, and I am glad it is votable, which addresses the issue of education in the country.

Education is critically important for our nation. It is no longer a privilege for the rich as it used to be. I come from a country which is poverty driven. The state cannot provide education so education is the responsibility of the individual. We have seen the disparity between the rich who can afford to send their children to good schools and the poor who cannot. Unfortunately there are many deserving candidates but parents cannot afford the education. Therefore the cycle of poverty carries on and on.

The current United Nations conference in New York talked about education. It was pointed out that education was becoming absolutely critical for a nation's prosperity. When we move that to Canada, it has become more obvious that our long term prosperity depends upon a highly educated workforce which will allow us to compete globally in the world market.

With globalization taking place, it is obvious that competition is increasing and other nations are competing with Canada. It is incumbent upon us for future generations that we seize these opportunities. We can only seize these opportunities if we have an excellent educational system that allows parents to send their children to school irrespective of the social structure or whether they can afford it or not.

I came from a nation where the government could not afford an educational program. It was a pleasant surprise for me to see that Canada had a student loan system which allowed children to obtain an education. As a matter of fact, one of my daughters has completed two degrees and the other is on her way to completing a second degree, all of which was possible because of the availability of student loans.

Student loans play a most critical and important part in the post-secondary education system. As such, it is necessary for us to look at the whole structure to ensure that we have viable institutions and a viable educational system accessible to everybody.

Unfortunately, over the last 10 years obtaining an education has become more and more expensive and the debt load on students has risen rapidly, to a level where many feel constrained by it. Attempts have been made to look at this. The Prime Minister came up with the millennium fund, a legacy of faith, addressing this issue to some degree. The Canadian Alliance has put forward a similar proposal to that of Australia and New Zealand, which is a contingency income issue where people pay their debts based upon what their incomes enable them to pay.

I represent Calgary East which has large numbers of people not only going to university but also acquiring a higher education in other aspects. I receive numerous phone calls from people who are unable to pay because of their inability to get a job immediately after they have finished their schooling.

With the ever rising cost of education, what is the ability of student to pay? My friend from the Conservative Party has come up with a proposal where a tax credit would be granted so that the burden on students would be less. As education becomes more costly, they would be able to access institutions and carry on with higher education.

I noticed that about 20 years ago it was all right to get high school level education and then go on to other careers. With globalization, high school in itself has not been sufficient and people need a university degree which costs a lot of money.

What is now happening is students need not just one degree but two degrees to get a good job. As I said, both my daughters have two degrees and this has been costly. Therefore it is commendable that my colleague from the Conservative Party brought this issue to the floor for us to address.

There are a lot of proposals. The important issue is for us to debate this and come forward with a proposal that will address this. There is the contingency plan that the Canadian Alliance has put forward. There is the tax credit plan that my colleague from the Conservative Party has put forward, and I am sure more will come forward. However somewhere along the line we will have to address the issue.

Although my party's critic has put more emphasis on the Canadian Alliance plan and feels that the plan of my colleague now before us would have some difficulty, many of us on this side feel that this proposal also has merit. Since this is a private member's motion, which means a free vote, I am sure many of us will support the motion, including myself.

Tax CreditPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and speak about and in favour of the motion, which states that in the opinion of the House we should consider introducing a tax credit based on the repayment of Canadian student loans to a maximum of 10% of the principal, per year, for the first 10 years after graduation, with the important proviso that the individual remain in Canada.

I want to begin by thanking the member for Fundy--Royal. As my colleague from Vancouver East said when she spoke on the bill, it is important that we do talk about post-secondary education, and we do not often have an opportunity in the House to do so. I think we all agree, regardless of which side of the House we are on, that in this information world in which we now exist, post-secondary education is important and indeed will become much more important in the years ahead. We have all heard it said that every future job in this knowledge based economy will require post-secondary education and, indeed, life-long learning.

The second reality is that we do have a growing crisis in our post-secondary institutions. Tuition fees, for instance, have gone up by more than 120% over the past 10 years. The average student debt load has tripled in that time from about $8,000 on average to more than $25,000. Indeed, we hear horror stories of student debt loads in the range of $40,000, $50,000 and even higher.

How did this crisis come about? How did it develop so rapidly? I think members can look at a couple of reasons, including the end of the Canada assistance plan, the beginning of the health and social transfer program and, indeed, the social union that was instituted a few years ago. As a result of the end of CAP and the beginning of CHST some $7 billion has been removed from federal transfers in the area of post-secondary education. That amounts to a drop of more than 17%. This has to be met by provinces and territories that have post-secondary institutions and also has to be absorbed by the students themselves in the form of higher tuition fees. That is why there is a crisis at the moment.

One part of the consequences of this crisis is that we are eroding accessibility for low and moderate income students, as the member from Calgary noted in his remarks. Documentation provided by Statistics Canada shows that high income families are now more than two and a half times more likely to send sons and daughters to post-secondary institutions than low income Canadian families. The reason given most frequently is that households with perhaps $30,000 or less of total income lack financial resources with which to send their sons and daughters. It amounts to discrimination, pure and simple.

Education must be a national priority and the federal government must be an equal partner. This means that long term, stable funding is essential. We need a national grant program, something that the Canadian Federation of Students has advocated. In fact, at the moment Canada is the only industrialized country without a national grant program.

We also need the bankruptcy law repealed. Changes were introduced by the government against students simply on the basis that they were students. It is regrettable in the extreme that this has happened.

As I indicated, this is a good motion as far as it goes. It is not a panacea, as the mover has acknowledged both publicly and privately. We believe, he and I and others, that we have to go further. We believe that education is a right and that the federal government has a responsibility to provide leadership on funding and establish national standards.

The motion before us would allow students to deduct up to 10% of the principal of their student loans for up to 10 years if they stayed in Canada. This would permit loans to be repaid more quickly because the economic stimulus would be there. It may also reverse the brain drain if one exists.

The real catch 22 in the current dilemma is that with tuition fees 126% higher than they were 10 years ago many students are unable to choose post-secondary education. This in turn threatens our competitiveness in the international arena. Tuition fees have gone up to $3,400 a year, double what they were 10 years ago.

The manager of the Canada student loans program, Claude Proulx, says federal efforts have missed the target. He says people are not qualifying in the magnitude that had been anticipated. It would therefore be debt forgiveness in name only. In the meantime some 350,000 students rely on federal loans worth a grand total of $1.6 billion.

Fifteen years ago there was virtually no difference between low and middle income earners who planned to send their children to post secondary institutions. By the mid 1990s, eight years ago, pollsters could discern a 7% gap between low and middle income earners in terms of their ability to send their children to post-secondary education.

The gap has continued to grow. Some 80% per cent of parents with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year hope their children will go on to post-secondary education. However the sad reality is that less than 20% of them are able to save to assist their children in this worthwhile endeavour. In contrast, virtually all parents with a household income of $80,000 or more not only hope to send their children on to post-secondary education. More than 60% of them are able to put money aside for the opportunity.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, introduced after the 1997 election by the current Prime Minister, has not been a great success. It has often gone directly to provinces. It has been applied to existing debt. It has not assisted cash strapped students in the way that was envisaged when it was announced.

We need to make post secondary education a national priority. Lifelong access to training and education must be a right for all. Public investment in this is crucial. However Canadian industry is lagging behind in investment. Colleges, universities, professors and especially students are suffering as a result.

We need to work toward eliminating college and university tuition fees altogether. We need to establish a national grants program and national standards for accessibility. We need lower tuition fees; interest free student loans; and a ban on private, for profit universities. We need to insist on affordable education and research in the public interest. They are an important part of developing a better Canada.

Tax CreditPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Motion No. 178 moved by the hon. member for Fundy--Royal. He has been an outstanding advocate for students and worked hard to see the motion come before the House of Commons.

The Progressive Conservative Party has spoken clearly in favour of doing more for students, particularly with respect to post-secondary education and the enormous debt load and strain placed on students throughout Canada. It is clear that the government has not made this a priority. It has not appeared on its political radar screen for some time. However it is such a priority for the Conservative Party that part of our 2000 election campaign platform addressed the issue of helping young Canadians access post-secondary education.

We need the attention and the direction of the government to address the problem. We hear a great deal about the need for Canada to compete in the world today and be more productive. The ingredient we need to make that happen is active, educated students who can fulfill Canada's potential.

The government does not appear to be taking the concerns of students seriously. Post-secondary education costs have skyrocketed to the point where many students graduate from universities and community colleges with the equivalent of a home mortgage without the home. Almost immediately after graduating they are required to start paying the money back. Graduates who in many instances have no discernible means of income and are scraping to get by are put under immediate pressure to start repaying their enormous loans.

Much of the money from the Canada health and social transfer helped fund education. Much of it found its way into universities and colleges. As a result of the unilateral cuts to the program in the last decade we are seeing the debt load downloaded onto the backs of students.

Between 1990 and 1998 university operating revenues from government sources declined by more than 25%. In real terms that is about $2,700 per full time equivalent student. Some $2,700 has been taken directly from the pockets of struggling students living on kraft dinner and trying to get by in a competitive university atmosphere. It has been taken from people like our pages, as an hon. member mentioned.

Since 1993 the Liberal government has cut $5.3 billion from post-secondary education funding. Total university operating revenues per full time student were 7.1% less than in 1990, falling from $13,793 to $12,809. University operating expenditures fell 8% during the same time frame.

The infrastructure is being eroded. In a perverse way students are being forced to pick up the costs of their education while at the same time being told forcefully, through media and government spin, that they are the engines of productivity and the future of the country. They are being told to pick up more of the costs, do more of the work and shoulder more of the load. They are being given a contradictory message.

The government's share of university operating revenues per full time student was $10,894 in 1990. It fell to $8,174 in 1999. That is a decrease of almost 50%. At the same time tuition has increased 125%. These statistics speak volumes to the challenges and burdens students face. As we all know, their education is what is preparing them to enter the competitive economy, put something back and, dare I say it, become taxpayers. They are facing this huge challenge as a result of the government withdrawing from its commitment and obligation to help them along that road.

Tuition fees in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador have increased by over 200% and 145%, while British Columbia and New Brunswick had the second lowest. At the current rate, by the year 2008 tuition fees will be almost 200% higher than they were in 1990. Students who paid about $1,400 in 1990 could be expected to pay as much as $4,800 in tuition in the year 2008.

According to the Statistics Canada report released in August 2000, it now costs an average of $3,300 per year for tuition in Canada. This, it is very important to note, excludes living expenses, books, food and other miscellaneous expenses that of course can as much as double the cost of attending a university or college. Speaking of double, this tuition increase is more than double the average, which was roughly $1,500 per year just 10 years ago. Therefore we can see that tuition fees are accelerating at an incredible rate, plus we know that the cost of living generally would add to that accelerated cost.

Michael Conlon, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students stated recently that “the 1990s was the worst decade in Canadian history for tuition fee hikes”.

Higher tuition fees have resulted in swelling debt loads. The average student loan load of a graduating student completing a four year degree in post-secondary education sits at approximately $25,000. This is up from the average four year debt of $13,000 just 10 years ago.

According to Claude Proulx, manager of policy for the Canada student loans program, federal efforts to keep university grads struggling with unprecedented debt loads are missing their target. As an example of that, a program to forgive qualified applicants for up to $10,000 or half their debt, whichever is less, is aimed specifically at helping 12,000 people when it is fully phased in by the next year; that is just 467 borrowers qualified for $2 million in debt relief over the past year.

The program proposed by this motion is a debt forgiveness plan. It is an opportunity, though, to phase it in over time, to give students an opportunity to pay back their loans and actually receive tax credits for doing so. There is a built in incentive for them to pay back their loans, to stay in the country to do so and to receive credit while working, while contributing, while doing something positive right here and putting their education to work.

This year about 350,000 students will rely upon federal loans, which will amount to about $1.6 billion. However, according to Statistics Canada, 79.8% of those parents with household incomes of less than $30,000 hoped that their children would attend post-secondary education, and yet only 18.7% of them were saving for that post-secondary education. There is an obvious impact when one factors in the ability of parents who are just on that fine line of being able to help fund their children. They are in the perverse situation of almost being punished for being just above that line and yet being unable to contribute significantly to their children's education. I would suggest that this has a very detrimental impact on a parent-child relationship. It causes great guilt and angst for many parents who are unable to make that significant contribution. Of parents with household incomes over $80,000, 95% wanted their children to attend post-secondary education and 62.6% of them were saving for that purpose.

Canada's youth deserve more than a one shot, problem riddled millennium fund. It will take them over a millennium to pay it back. The government has to delve into this issue with greater vigour. It has to look at ways in which students can be encouraged to pay down that debt, but at the same time it must not punish them for getting an education, for seeking the ability to better themselves and to make themselves more competitive.

It is clear that market demands, along with competitive pressures and technologies, are causing a shift in the occupational requirements. The proportion of new jobs requiring 16 or more years of schooling has risen above 40%. The current government policy does not meet those demands. The problem is severe and it threatens competitiveness in this country and in the international arena.

Schools, like St. Francis Xavier University and the Nova Scotia Community College, are doing a phenomenal job with their available resources. They go out into the community more to recruit but, at the same time, to fundraise, which is something that takes away from their primary responsibility which is to provide the best education possible.

The motion would give the government an opportunity to step forward, to set an example, to improve provincial relations in this regard and to ensure that students will be given the best opportunity to compete and stay in the country so Canada can be the most competitive and most productive country that it can be.

Tax CreditPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion proposes that the government introduce a tax credit for Canada student loan principal repayments made by graduates who remain in Canada. The credit amount would be limited to 10% of the principal per year for the first 10 years after graduation.

I believe we can all relate to the challenges that students face today with higher tuition fees and student debt burdens. Is it different today from what it was in the past? I for one and probably all of us in the House worked our way through university to pay for our fees and our debts. Many university students today do the same. Some of them have jobs while they study.

The difference today is the steep increases in tuition fees. The member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough threw out a litany of numbers. I read something recently which said that for universities like Carleton and Ottawa University, the per student grant from the province has shrunk by about $1,500 a year, and at the University of Toronto by some $2,000 per student per year. The member opposite talked about a bigger number, $2,700. He talked about fees going up 125% and provincial grants going down 50%. I am not sure where the difference is made up. Obviously there are some cost pressures at the university level.

However, notwithstanding all the statistics, we do know that students are facing higher tuition fees and a greater debt burden.

While I can appreciate the intent of the motion from the member for Fundy--Royal, I believe the motion is wrong-footed for the following reasons. First, I cannot agree with an initiative that rewards individuals for discharging their responsibilities. It tells the students that if they pay their debts the government will reward them. In my view that is not what the tax system should be used for. I do not believe Canadian taxpayers would support this approach. Surely students must accept the responsibility to repay their student loans. Did they not have a choice when they took out the loan? Did they not commit to repay the loans?

However, rather than ignore the problem, we should be coming at the problem in two different directions.

First, the provinces and territories must discharge their responsibilities and adequately fund post-secondary education. That is their job. As I indicated earlier, provincial government grants, especially in provinces like Ontario where I live, have been significantly eroded over the years.

The Canada health and social transfer is the main program through which the federal government supports post-secondary education. In 2001-02 CHST cash will increase by some $2.8 billion. In 2002-03 it will grow to $19.1 billion, a $3.6 billion increase. By 2005-06, CHST cash will reach $21 billion, a $5.5 billion dollar or a 35% increase over 2000-01 levels.

At the same time, the tax transfer component of the CHST, which grows in line with the growth in the economy, provides increasing support to the provinces and territories, growing from $16.5 billion in 2000-01 to $18.8 billion in 2005-06. Anyone who says that the tax points do not count should ask why it is that the Quebec government wants more tax points. Clearly there is great value to them.

Together with the increases in CHST cash, total CHST will reach close to $40 billion in 2005-06 compared to approximately $32 billion last year.

Some individuals blame reductions in federal transfers as the reason for the declining investment in post-secondary education by the provinces. Allow me to debunk that theory yet again.

While federal transfers were reduced as we grappled with a $42 billion deficit left to us by the Tories, when we took office in 1993 federal transfer were cut much less than federal government departments, agencies and direct delivery programs.

Some provinces, like Ontario, have chosen tax cuts as a priority over investments in post-secondary education. I have a good example of this. If the Mike Harris Tories had reduced taxes by 25% instead of 30% in the first tax cut go around in the province of Ontario, they could have completely topped up the cuts in the transfers to the province. Is that such a difficult thing to ask?

It is time for the provinces and territories to take their responsibilities more seriously and increase funding to colleges and universities. This is the first and most important line of attack in keeping tuition fees in line with student economics.

Second, the federal government is able to make additional contributions to post-secondary education through directly delivered programs and through tax policy. The government has been doing exactly that and I will give some examples.

The Canada education savings grant is a grant of 20% on the first $2,000 of contributions made each year to registered education savings plans. This encourages and assists families in saving for their children's higher education.

The Canada millennium scholarships provide more than 90,000 students each year with scholarships averaging $3,000 a year to reduce the debt that they would otherwise have to incur.

Canada study grants of up to $3,000 provide assistance each year to approximately 25,000 students, including students with disabilities, high need part time students and students with dependants.

Tax measures that support post-secondary education have been enhanced, including the education tax credit, the tuition credit and the scholarship exemption. These measures make education more affordable.

The Canada student loans program has been enhanced to help graduates manage their student debt by increasing the number of people eligible for interest relief and providing debt reduction for those in extended financial difficulty. As well, students can now claim a tax credit for interest paid on federal and provincial student loans.

Finally, tax free registered retirement savings plan withdrawals and an extension of the education tax credit and child care expense deduction to part time students help Canadians upgrade their skills through their working life.

Another important area that enhances the quality of a student's experience at post-secondary educational institutions is in research and investments in research.

Key investments have been made by our government in every budget since fiscal balance was restored to increase Canada's research performance. These investments have greatly improved Canada's research climate. Moreover, they have built in financial momentum that will see greater support for research over the next several years.

To add further momentum, the last budget provided close to $1 billion of targeted investments over three years to promote leading edge research and to sustain Canada's leadership in innovative uses of the Internet.

In recent years the government has made significant investments in research conducted in universities and research hospitals. The benefits of such research include new products, services, therapies and industry practices that contribute to economic growth, a higher quality of life for Canadians and a better educational experience for students.

Universities and research hospitals have been highly supportive of these investments. However they have expressed concerns about their rising indirect costs; that is expenses associated with administration, maintenance and commercialization activities that are not covered by direct federal funding for research.

In budget 2000 and in the most recent budget the federal government has again stepped up to the plate to provide support for indirect administration costs, support which the provinces and territories should be providing. We are providing the research dollars and research chairs. In budget 2000 the government provided a one time $200 million grant to help with those costs. We increased the budgets for the National Research Council, the granting councils, the NSERC and the SSHRC. These are all things which enhance a student's life on campus.

Let us get on with the job of investing in post-secondary education to achieve tuition fees that are affordable and to enhance the educational experience for students in colleges and universities.

While the motion is well intended, it does not really do that job. It is for that reason that I will not be supporting it.

Tax CreditPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a delicate issue and I believe the motion put forward has some valid points. It may not be perfect, as the last member just mentioned, but it is a step forward in my opinion to address what is going on with young people and their ability to pay back student loans.

The best way to do this would be to speak from personal experience. I have two students in my family. They have been very fortunate. Their father and mother is in a position to help them out. In order for them to complete their education student loans have been essential.

In the case of my daughter the student loan would be $3,500 U.S. every three months. That is unaffordable for most children these days. There needs to be a support system in place and I applaud the fact that we do have student loans in Canada. As a parent I understand my daughter's perspective when I ask her when she is coming back home. We want her to come back home as soon as possible. Obviously she will be of benefit to Canada and we want her back here. Her response to me is pretty simple. For every $1.00 Canadian that she owes, she can earn $1.50 U.S. She can pay taxes that are considerably lower and afford to pay the loan back more quickly.

If the proposal that is in front of us today were to be enacted, she might change her mind on that and so might a lot of other Canadian students who are in the United States getting their education. Personally I would like to see that happen. As a member of parliament I believe it is important that we bring back all of the students who are in foreign countries studying to benefit this country. That is what the student loan program is about. It is about helping children to be educated. If we were to find a way to take away that burden of paying back what they owe by doing it through tax incentives, I think it would be something worth exploring.

When I was in New York City in early December some comments were made at the Canada loves New York weekend that had a serious impact on me. Mayor Giuliani at the time said there were 600,000 Canadians living and working in New York City. We can bet our bottom dollar that those 600,000 Canadians working in New York City were not there doing part time jobs. They were there because they had an education that Canadians paid for, one way or another, through their taxes.

It is imperative that we be able to reap the benefit of putting out that kind of money for education in conjunction with the provinces. For that to happen we must have some sort of system in place that would encourage those people to come back and give back to Canada. The motion is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It is worth looking at and possibly worth amending. We could make this a starting position.

When I go back to my riding, the people I like to talk to most are those kids who are in university. They are probably the toughest audience to stand before, but they give us the most honest answers that we could possibly ask for. Sometimes their questions are a lot harder than the questions we are asked here in the House and they are a lot harder to answer, but they come from the heart. The students are honest in their approach.

The question that keeps coming up is how the government will help the students? They want to get an education but they cannot afford to do it on their own. Tuition fees are high, which of course are the responsibility of the provincial government and not our responsibility. It is hard for students to do this. I listen carefully to what they have to say.

I must say that the proposal in front of us today is the closest thing to a resolution that I have seen so far. It was well thought out. It has the intent to help students in mind. When we help students to receive an education we help Canada. That is what must be kept in the forefront. We must do something that will benefit students and benefit this country. We will be paid back for it. This is all very well and good, and worth looking at even further.

I hear frustration in the classrooms. I hear that same frustration coming from my own children in their studies. They are trying their best to be independent. My daughter has three part time jobs to try to pay her own way. As I said earlier, $3,500 U.S. every three months is a huge burden. That is the tuition. That does not account for the books as my hon. colleague pointed out earlier. One has to eat and have some place to live. All those expenses add up.

The young pages sitting in front of you, Mr. Speaker, can relate to exactly what it is that I am saying. It is not cheap to get an education. It is valuable and worth the struggle. If we were to find some way to help these kids over this hump it would be worth looking at.

I have not quite made up my mind on whether I will support the motion or not. I see some pitfalls and some holes that I would like to see remedied. I believe it is the provincial government's responsibility. It is incumbent upon us at the federal level to speak to provincial governments and work something out so that we have equal opportunity for students who come from homes where it is not affordable and for students who come from homes where it may well be affordable but where the parents have said that if they want a post-secondary education, they should pay for it.

I will listen carefully to the remainder of the debate. I have listened carefully to the beginning of the debate. I will make my decision when the time comes. I appreciate what has been put forward and I applaud my colleague for putting it forward.