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House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was servants.

Topics

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I always appreciate the comments of the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. He is right. It is unparliamentary to refer to a member of Parliament by his given name. Hon. members can only be referred to by the names of their ridings or the positions they hold, like minister, leader of their party, and so forth.

I am sure that the newly elected member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who has the floor, will find out about our Standing Orders during his time here. One of our rules was just pointed out to him. I am sure he will not be making the same mistake in the rest of his speech.

The hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister became Minister of Finance, Ottawa paid 17¢ for every dollar of revenue in the transfer for education and social services. When the Prime Minister left his position nine years ago, Ottawa paid no more than 1¢ for every dollar of revenue. This decrease currently represents a 40% drop. The federal contribution to total expenditures in education and social programs is now 12%.

Quebec would rather fund its own education system than be part of such programs.

In conclusion, I would like the government and this House to know that the situation in Quebec is unique, as is often the case. Our education system is different from that of the rest of Canada, particularly with respect to our Cégep system. Since college programs are practically free, Quebec students benefit little from the student aid and loan program.

Quebec students usually start their university studies when they are 20 and the bill, as worded, stipulates that once the student turns 21, the government keeps any unused portion of the financial assistance.

The Bloc is voting in favour of the principle of Bill C-5 on the education savings bond program with the changes I just mentioned.

The Bloc considers the objectives of Bill C-5 commendable. However, the conditions of application need to be clarified, and we will have to see how the Government of Quebec receives it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 14th, 2004 / 3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among representatives of all the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the third report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be deemed tabled and concurred in.

This involves changes to the members of certain committees, members of the Bloc Québécois.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on his speech and on his patience during the point of order.

I was very interested in the suggestion about changing 21 to 25. My colleague is quite correct. The province of Quebec, alone among the provinces, has maintained two years of free post-secondary education through the cégeps. It is something very admirable.

First, he said that typically these students would go to university at the age of 20. I would like to know just how general that is. Second, when we are talking about post-secondary education in the legislation, one must realize we are referring to trades, apprenticeships and to other types of colleges where students can obtain an education. What are his comments on that?

Is cégep the only route? Are there many students who in fact go to university before they are 20 years old? Also, could he explain to me how the cégeps are involved in apprenticeships, for example?

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. The reason why students start university at age 20 is very simple: the Cégep system. They finish secondary school at around 17 and Cégep at 19 or 20. The system is organized so that university follows thereafter.

What is more, after secondaire V there are also trade schools. Students there finish also at around 20. They are then qualified. The role of the Cégeps is to teach specialized techniques such as informatics, and graduates from these courses move out into the work force.

That is why people have finished trade school or cegep by the age of 20, and have a diploma with which they can enter the work force. Others go on to university, and so the age of starting university is generally around 20.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to address Bill C-5, the Canadian education savings account, I am mindful of the fact that this is the first time that I have actually stood in the House to participate in a debate since I was elected to serve exclusively as the member of Parliament for Halifax.

I no longer carry the responsibilities of federal leadership and now have the privilege of sitting behind my leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, who was successful in being elected to represent his constituency in the House.

It is indeed a pleasure to pledge in a very public way my commitment to work as conscientiously and diligently as I possible can to serve in that manner as a full time member of Parliament. It is an added privilege to find myself seatmate to a former leader of the New Democratic Party under whom I first ran for politics in the federal election of 1979, unsuccessfully I might say, never imaging that some day we would in fact be sitting in the House backing a subsequent leader. It is indeed a privilege to take up my new role in this august body.

I am also very pleased that in addition to my new responsibilities assigned to me by my leader as critic for foreign affairs, I now have the added responsibility of being the post-secondary education critic.

I am extremely pleased with that challenge for a couple of reasons. For a number of years before I entered politics, I had the opportunity to be both a professor at Dalhousie University and also for several years I served as a field instructor for graduate students in the school of social work in employment settings with the City of Halifax's social planner and with the Province of Nova Scotia in the social development division. For me, it is something very close to home.

However, perhaps more important than that is the fact that my riding, the constituency of Halifax, is host to more post-secondary education students per capita and more post-secondary education institutions per capita than any other riding in the country. That is perhaps an accident of history.

It is partly a geographic thing, that they happen to be concentrated in the riding of Halifax, but it is also true that for many years it has been said that because of the excellence of post-secondary education students in Nova Scotia, that one of our best contributions to Canada in fact is the educational experiences gained in our province by students from across the country.

Unfortunately, all too often translating into the deportation of those students to other parts of Canada because they do not have the opportunity to remain in their native province. We continue to need to address that very serious problem.

I am pleased, because of how exceedingly important post-secondary education issues are to my constituents, to have the opportunity to rise in this place as the post-secondary education critic.

Having said that, as I turn my attention to Bill C-5, it is regrettable in the extreme that the bill can probably be described as an attempt by the government to divert attention from the fact that it continues to fail students and their families in regard to the adequate level of post-secondary education funding desperately needed, both at the level of individual student aid and at the level of educational funding for post-secondary education institutions.

Our universities and colleges are forced into the situation of driving tuition fees up even higher than they are now creating an immense access barrier to far too many students in the country today. That is the real crisis that we face in the country. That is the real challenge that the government has sidestepped again and again.

It sidestepped addressing that issue in the spring 2004 budget. It absolutely sidestepped dealing with it in the throne speech. During the election campaign that intervened between the spring 2004 budget and our return to Parliament we saw how little the government had to offer. We heard all kinds of promises from the Prime Minister about finally addressing the crisis of student aid and skyrocketing tuition in this country; however, they were very fleeting commitments.

Nothing in Bill C-5 even begins to make a dent in this serious problem. Bill C-5 is grossly inadequate in our view for a couple of fundamental reasons.

The maximum contributions that will be forthcoming for the Canada education savings grant amount to a paltry $7,200. That needs to be put into perspective. The government needs to recognize the fact that in some Canadian universities, even at the undergraduate level, tuition is now $6,000. Tuition is a great deal higher than that in a good many graduate programs and professional schools.

It is not an unduly pessimistic prediction to make that it is possible that the entire contribution from the government toward the education of a student 19 years from now could amount to less than the tuition fee for half a year of post-secondary education, in other words, for one term. The reality is that there is nothing in this legislation that will begin to deal with the really serious crisis that exists.

There is a fundamental flaw in the government's thinking regarding the real problem. I want to acknowledge that the government has accurately identified that for low income families any possibility of gaining access to post-secondary education under the current circumstances is virtually nonexistent. That is an accurate diagnosis, but the remedy provided is both grotesquely inadequate and flawed. It seems to be based on the premise that there is a real problem about the motivation of low income families to save money and invest money in education.

It is not a motivational problem for families living in grinding poverty in Canada not to save dollars. The problem is they do not have the money to do it. It simply does not meet the minister's own stated objective of levelling the playing field for all students who want to gain access to post-secondary education to say that this program will now make a significant difference. It will do no such thing.

We will have an opportunity in committee to deal with the bill on a clause by clause basis and we will do so. Let me use one or two examples.

First, I do not know how anybody could refuse to acknowledge the fact that families in the lowest income categories, which is what the minister said the objective is, are not going to be able to find money for post-secondary education from their scarce incomes. They do not have sufficient money now to pay for their groceries and keep decent shelter over their head. It defies the reality of the grinding financial poverty in which a great many of those families are living.

Second, when we see what a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare is going to be involved in setting up this program, at least as I interpret it, then one must really wonder about the decision to spend the limited resources the government is prepared to make available to feed a bureaucratic monstrosity.

I want to express appreciation, and I do so genuinely, for a briefing that I obtained earlier today on the legislation. However, as the opportunity to ask some questions was made available and as the discussion unfolded, it seemed to me more evident that for such a very paltry sum of money being made available to low income families, if and only if they could actually access it by finding money out of their scarce incomes to participate in these programs, it is simply unwarranted to set up what is going to be such a bureaucratic nightmare.

It also denies eligibility to a number of categories of young people that surely is unwarranted. For example, if we go to page 7, clause 7, it makes it quite clear that the Canada learning bond may be paid in respect of a beneficiary under a registered education savings plan only if the beneficiary is resident in Canada.

What that means is that the aspiration expressed by the minister, when he spoke to this on first reading, that immigrant families should benefit from the program will not be fulfilled. Immigrant families who might arrive here with children ages 7, 9 and 11 would have failed to qualify year after year for the very small sums that are going to be made available to other families. They are going to be even more disadvantaged.

In such a mobile workforce within a globalized economy with more and more workers being required to go outside of the country by their employers, one must also recognize that they too will presumably not be resident in Canada and not be eligible for the years in which they did not live in Canada. That is just one of the flaws that we are concerned about.

At the end of the day the real concern is what an enormous shortfall there is in the response of the government to deal with the real crisis that is happening. Perhaps the minister needs to have the kind of reality check that would be available to him by sitting down with leaders of the student governments across the country--I did this in my own province with the leaders from across the province from every post-secondary education institution--and be reminded of what it is that they face today with the crippling debt load.

Nothing in the bill is going to change that situation for students for the next 18 years, let alone do anything for those who are already crippled by debt and are having to drop out of university because the resources simply are not there for them.

It is lamentable that the government has not responded at an appropriate level to deal with the serious access problems. We need a post-secondary education act in the country that sets out certain principles. We need stable, solid, adequate funding that is appropriate and will deliver on what the government says that it wants to see happen, and that is that every young person who is able to avail themselves of a post-secondary education institution has the opportunity to do so.

We absolutely need to recognize that we have to freeze tuition fees and it is going to take some funding to do that. We must improve the student aid programs as well as the student debt relief programs, instead of constricting what is available to students by changing the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to put them at an even greater disadvantage when they are in major financial difficulty through no fault of their own.

There are a number of remedies that are desperately needed. It seems to me that in this paltry and narrow response, which will not have any impact for any students for a minimum of 18 or 19 years, the government has simply not responded to this very serious crisis.

We absolutely need to replace the flawed millennium scholarship fund with a needs-based system of grants. It is clear that it is the view of students in the country, as expressed through all their national advocacy organizations. It is clear that it is the position of all the faculty who have stood behind them in this demand. It is clear that it is the view of the university administrators that the number one crisis that has to be addressed is that of crippling student debt and the access problems being created for students who do not have deep pockets or whose families do not have deep pockets. Yet we have absolutely nothing on any of this in the Speech from the Throne, and the legislation does not even begin to address that problem.

During the election I had the opportunity to participate in a student-sponsored debate in my province, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to do it. A student who was involved in the whole discussion made a very telling but simple point that what was a student crisis now has become a family crisis.

As a result of the failure of the government to provide increased funding and as a result of the government's the massive cuts to post-secondary education over the last number of years, a lot of young people are being driven out of their communities and provinces because of student debt. It becomes a deportation or out-migration program for students from northern and rural communities in less prosperous parts of the country. They go where they can get the fattest, fastest salary and income to pay off their crippling debt load. That becomes a crisis in many cases for families who are either left behind or have to relocate.

We have a lot of grandparents who are barely able to make ends meet. They now are having to dig deep into their pockets to help put their grandchildren through university or to help them with their debt load. We have a lot of working families who are sacrificing big time to make it possible for their young people to go to university.

This is what is so sad about the rhetoric around recognizing, and the minister said it, that the Canadian dream cannot be fulfilled in today's world without a post-secondary education. Yet we are not prepared to make it available to young people. What we have is an erosion of the quality of that education. Students have to work at poorly paid jobs simultaneously when they go to school. Universities have to rely more and more heavily on private funds or on corporate sources of funding, which skews curriculum choices. In some cases literally faculty contribution to the educational effort is being measured, not in terms of their excellence in teaching or the quality of the research, but in terms of how many corporate or research dollars they can draw down to help deal with the university's inadequate funding base. These are all distortions that are being created. The minister is quite right that the Canadian dream for future generations cannot be fulfilled without an adequate post-secondary education these days, both because we live in a globalized economy and because it is important in economic competition terms.

This is my final point. Surely the greatest, most compelling and urgent reason for our young people to have the opportunity to get advanced education is the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face in the world, such as dealing with environmental degradation that could destroy the planet, or with disease and hunger, which is unnecessary in today's world because we cannot find the solution, or with the horror of the possibility that we will destroy this planet with increasing weapons of mass destruction and nuclear threats.

These are the real reasons and the major challenges that our young people face in the future. We are failing them in equipping them with the post-secondary education they need to meet those challenges.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to the member's speech and to another one made by an hon. member earlier. It is interesting to note what we have just heard.

I heard the Bloc member make his first speech, for which I congratulate him. I think he seemed to be somewhat supportive of the bill, but always worried that it would go too far in terms of what he saw as provincial intrusion. I do not think the bill does that at all. Essentially it is the equivalent of a registered retirement savings plan with the purpose of assisting education and establishing a fund to help start that off.

The hon. member started her comments by telling us that we needed a national bill that would somehow put a cap on the price of university education. That is beyond the other extreme. It goes further than anything imaginable.

I want to comment on something else the member said. I know she said it with well-meaning, but I disagree with her profoundly nonetheless. She said that the minister's bill, and perhaps the minister's remarks too, reflected the fact that the government side of the House thought that somehow there were groups in society that did not put a premium on education. I believe she disagreed with that.

For my part that I disagree with her. There are groups in society, regrettably, who think that is the case. I come from such a family. No one before me ever had a university degree. I did my entire university education after I was elected to the House of Commons. I know that did not exist in my family. To pretend that does not exist elsewhere in society is fundamentally wrong.

To do something that encourages family to focus on something that could be a nest egg so the next generation puts a premium on something they did not have is quite laudable. I want to associate myself with that. I know how it is to have come from the other side of the track and to have crossed it. That is what I want for the next generation. My children are very well educated, much better than I was able to achieve, even after I received my university degree. My hope is that their children will have even better. That is why I particularly cannot agree with any comment like that.

The minister's bill establishes these kinds of encouragements and goals for future generations, even though the government will not provide all the funding. We know it will not, but it is a change of that mindset that I see as being visionary. That is why I hope we all vote for the bill with enthusiasm.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit disappointed by the member's distortion of what I said or perhaps what he thinks he heard me say.

First , I heard the Bloc member also express concern about the complete inadequacy of dealing with the other aspects of education funding. Yes, if this bill were amended to remove what are genuine barriers to a great many people, in other words, if the allocation were sufficient and were part of a comprehensive approach that dealt with tuition, debt and inadequate levels of funding, one could make a case for how this might fit into the total scheme of things.

I want to go to the second point the member made. I very much applaud and congratulate him for having gone after the post-secondary education that he was denied in his youth. However, for us to pretend that the bill would do what was needed when it depends upon families who simply do not have the money to set aside and if they did so, it would make an adequate dent in the kind of costs that would be faced in the future is just simply perverse.

The member surely knows that the Canadian Federation of Students has provided tremendous leadership around the issue of access. Upon the introduction of the savings program, it immediately pulled together representatives of a whole range of anti-poverty groups, immigrant groups and low income groups to ask them: how it would work for them; would it work for them and what would be the impact? The Canadian Association of University Teachers participated with those groups in that exercise, led by student leaders. They said unanimously that the bill was flawed, perverse, misguided and that it would not solve the real problems that existed.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Halifax for her speech and on her appointment as critic for post-secondary education for the NDP. I am glad she is doing it because, as she says, she has a lot of post-secondary institutions in her community.

I was the critic for the NDP for seven years. In all those seven years and in 13 successive budgets we have yet to see a significant commitment by the government to alleviate the distress and the plight facing students in Canada.

Today in question period we were questioning the $9.1 billion surplus that exists and $60 billion in surpluses that has existed. This is not a question of lack of finances or affordability to help students. It has been a lack of political commitment and will to make it a priority.

This is the only bill that has come forward on post-secondary education since I was the critic. This is what it came to: a tiny bill for a small savings program. As the member pointed out, it is a paltry program. If the government really had a commitment to the students of this country, it could have redressed and addressed these serious problems and shortcomings in the retreat of public funding to post-secondary education.

The member also spoke about the bill from the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Would she comment on the kind of legislation we need to ensure that there is secure public funding and delivery of post-secondary education so students can be secured of their future?

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity it provides me, and this certainly was not the intent of the member for Vancouver East. I have big shoes to fill in terms of following her period of significant work on post-secondary education issues.

Reference was made to the need for a post-secondary education bill. Again, I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly about this. The member from the government bench who stood up a few moments ago misrepresented, I am sure not intentionally, the position that I had set out. I have not said that the bill should specifically deal with the issue of capping tuitions. I have said that it needs to be a bill that sets out certain fundamental principles and then sets out the governance structure that will ensure that the policies and the resources necessary are forthcoming to fulfill those principles of accessibility and universality. The bill could model the Canada Health Act but improve upon it to ensure that there is some life in it.

It was regrettable that the minister did not address the question I raised with him. When we see the Conservatives rubbing their hands with enthusiasm and praise for the bill, it makes us concerned about what elements of the bill are so acceptable to them and yet falls so short of what is needed.

When we hear the advocacy that further tax cuts is the route to go, let us just recall two things. First, the tax cuts to the top 10% of Canadians, which were introduced by this Liberal government during its mandate, the resources involved in that are sufficient to provide 25 years of tuition-free education to a generation of Canadians.

Second, for anyone who asks how we possibly could afford tuition-free education, more than a dozen OECD countries provide tuition-free education. Why? Not because they are wealthier than us but because they place a genuine premium and priority on post-secondary education.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Canada education savings bill today. The piece of legislation before us follows through on a promise that was made in the Speech from the Throne to increase access to post-secondary education.

This particular bill embodies many principles which are dear to the hearts of Canadians and Canadian families. One of those is that our children deserve every opportunity for higher education, be it in the trades, college or university. It also includes the principle of putting aside a bit of money year after year which will eventually make the opportunity a reality. It also includes the principle that when families need a little help in accumulating those savings, the government is there to help.

Those principles are the foundation of the Canada education savings act. It is a simple and straightforward way for the Government of Canada to express support for families, especially those who need a hand in giving their children a chance for a better life. These new initiatives are aimed primarily at the children of low and middle income Canadians, affording them better access to post-secondary education.

As the Prime Minister has said:

In order to achieve our economic goals, and to ensure that the maximum number of Canadians share in the successes before us, we must commit to investment in human capital--education and training.

By investing in the measures contained in the legislation, I submit that we are enhancing the lives of Canadian families and through them we are strengthening the fabric of Canadian society. As a society we benefit from an educated population. It strengthens our global competitiveness and ensures that we as Canadians can sustain our internationally envied standard of living. Therefore, as a society we have a duty to promote and support higher education, to do what we can to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to participate in learning beyond high school, be that through an apprenticeship, college or university.

The government has accepted its share of that challenge. The Canada student loans program is one of the oldest programs designed to improve access to post-secondary education. Over the years we have added other initiatives, such as the millennium scholarships and the Canada study grants. We are also increasing our emphasis on measures to foster a culture of personal savings for post-secondary education.

Studies show that children who have savings for post-secondary education are actually 50% more likely to continue their studies after high school. Unfortunately, many Canadians feel they cannot afford to set aside enough to send their children to university or college, or to go on to apprenticeship training.

In 1998, to make the registered education savings plan more attractive to Canadians, our government introduced the Canada education savings grant, and I stress grant. For every $5 that a parent, grandparent or friend invests in a child's RESP, the Government of Canada will add another $1 in matching grants, up to $400 a year for deposits of $2,000. The government's contribution could reach $7,200 in the lifetime of the student concerned.

This program has proved to be an enormous success. So far, more than $2 billion in Canadian education savings grants have been invested in RESP accounts for nearly two million children. In a short period of time, education savings have increased fivefold to reach $13 billion in private savings. That is in five or six years.

Unfortunately, we soon noticed that low income families were not benefiting as much as we had hoped from the advantage afforded by the Canada education savings grant. Therefore, in the budget last March, the Minister of Finance announced some exciting new government initiatives that are specifically intended to support the educational aspirations of low and middle income Canadians. Those initiatives are before us now in the Canada education savings act.

A key proposal would be to enrich the Canada education savings grant by doubling the grant for low income Canadians and by increasing the top-up from 20% to 30% for middle income Canadians. In other words, depending on their income, they would get a larger government grant for every dollar that they put into the current program.

The other idea is the Canada learning bond. This is a grant. The learning bond of $500 will be available to all children born on or after June 1 of this year in families which are entitled to a national child benefit supplement. These are generally, as has been indicated by the minister, families with incomes under $35,000.

The $500 bond will be paid into the RESP that a family establishes for its child's post-secondary education. The government will provide an additional $25 to help cover the cost of opening the child's RESP account. The child will subsequently receive annual Canada learning bond instalments of $100 a year until he or she turns 15. That is for every year in which the child's family continues to be a low income family as defined here. This means that by the time the child turns 18, the child's Canada learning bond, the grant, alone could be up to $3,000 based on reasonable estimates of the rate of return.

The family would, if it was able to, make a contribution toward that. The family could put its own money into the RESP account. If the family put in $10 a month, it would receive an additional $4 in grants for every $10 put in, and the total would be $7,000 by the time the child was 15 or so years old.

Together this Canada learning bond, this grant, and the enhanced Canadian education savings grant contributions are another important way the Government of Canada will extend a helping hand to young Canadians who deserve an equitable chance at higher learning.

With regular deposits and tax sheltered growth, the assets contained in an RESP can grow substantially over 18 years.

I am pleased to say that Canadians welcome these initiatives. A recent Ekos survey found there is strong backing for financial assistance from the government for post-secondary education. In particular, respondents say that they favour instruments such as the Canada learning bond and the Canada education savings grant, which build assets and decrease the family's reliance on student loans and other debt to finance education. Other observers have also promoted an asset based approach to education financing.

Peter Nares, the head of Social and Enterprise Development Innovations, a national organization dedicated to helping low income Canadians toward self-sufficiency, has said:

One of the most important goals of any government is to equalize the opportunity of all citizens to obtain as much education/learning as they are willing and able to undertake....Financial assistance for education and learning is critical to equalizing educational opportunities.

Other people have said that this is a great step forward. By the way, I would echo that it is only a step forward. It is not an ultimate solution to the problems that face us in higher education.

I have also had the opportunity to discuss the bill with members on this side of the House and on the other side of the House and with members in the other place. I have to say I have received generally positive comments.

I am persuaded that the approach we propose in the Canada education savings act is the right one. A more generous Canada education savings grant, enriched to promote educational savings among low and middle income Canadian families, is a valuable mechanism to achieve a very worthwhile objective. The Canada learning bond part of the bill, the grant part of the bill, is another. It too is very important and innovative. It is a way for families to start to save early for a child's post-secondary education.

We estimate that up to 120,000 newborns would be eligible for the Canada learning bond, the grant, every year. That is a significant number of kids who will grow up knowing that their family and their country are behind them in their quest for education and learning.

The initiatives proposed in the legislation before us represent a concrete and tangible way to illustrate the partnerships between governments and the people of Canada. This is a partnership dedicated to achieving equitable access to post-secondary learning for each and every member of our society.

I urge colleagues on all sides of the House to support the speedy passage of the Canada education savings bill.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Boire Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is, what will the government do to ensure that the administrative costs set out in the bill are adhered to, so that we do not have a repeat of the firearms scandal?

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the administrative costs which have been mentioned are in the order of $40 million in the first three years.

I have to point out that because the legislation is built on the existing RESP legislation, we work with financial institutions and others which have already generated the $12 billion or $13 billion of savings which I have just mentioned. That system is already in place. We are sort of piggy-backing on it.

Because of that, a considerable part of the money which is mentioned as necessary to administer the program in its first few years will go into promotion. We feel it is extremely important. Many of these families do not normally save, as one of my colleagues has said. They may not even have bank accounts. A reasonable amount of the money will go toward reaching those families and explaining to them that in the first instance, at the very basic level of the legislation, if they open an RESP, if they open a bank account, they will get a grant. They need not put any of their own money into it.

I have to say to my colleague, because he used a very particular example, that I was very disturbed about the way one of our programs did cost more than was indicated, even though I supported that program. It is my sincere hope that because we are building on an existing mechanism, there will not be large bureaucratic costs involved with the bill. However, there will be considerable costs at the beginning in reaching the people to whom the bond itself is directed.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, while I applaud the hon. member for his passion and exuberance over the generosity of the government, I have a couple of questions in particular.

One is, what is happening for students now? This is something that will be kicking in for students some time over the next 15 to 20 years. As a relatively recent graduate myself, the debt load which students in this country are carrying right now fills me with concern.

The other part is about the government's supposed generosity on the program. Checking with the current tuition fees and the skyrocketing prices for schooling which my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, how is it that the maximum total of $7,000 or thereabouts will actually help any low income families in their ambition to achieve the Canadian dream when it only barely covers perhaps a student's first semester of education? This is an important facet to the bill with which we remain unsatisfied. As well, the $100 a year contribution does not even cover the cost of text books these days.

While the generosity is questionable and the intention might be there, would the government be willing to do anything to address the size of the contribution toward the future of Canadian students?

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague and every member in the House knows, we are dealing, for better or for worse--and in some ways it is better and some ways it is worse--with a split jurisdiction. Tuition fees are definitely within the area of the provinces. The province of Quebec has the lowest tuition fees and, as the NDP member from Nova Scotia who spoke previously said, that province has the highest in the country.

Dependence on tuition fees varies from province to province. I wrote an article recently expressing concern about the dependence of our institutions on tuition fees. I noted that it had risen to between 20% and 30% from being in the teens only a relatively few years ago. This is a matter of great concern to me. I have a letter from a university in Nova Scotia indicating that it is 43% dependent on tuition.

Let me go back to my colleague's point. I understand the province that he is from. We cannot control the tuition fees. In fact, one of the things we are interested in doing in this legislation is making sure--and we have agreements from some provinces as we do on the RESPs--that the provinces will not in fact in some way claw back or simply increase the tuition when the federal government does something.

Millennium scholarships have been mentioned, in some ways disparagingly, but they do exist. For low income students, the Government of Canada is now implementing a $3,000 first year grant, which will begin very soon. There is a $3,000 grant for disabled students for every year of undergraduate, which is starting very soon. There are graduate student grants, which I mentioned in my speech, and those are federal grants. It is our hope that whenever we develop one of these programs the provinces do not draw it back and therefore put the burden back on students and their families.

My colleague's province is one of those that has not yet agreed to not count RESPs as income. I hope he will encourage his province to do so. I am pleased to say that Nova Scotia has already agreed. We are going to try to get agreement with all the provinces so that the moneys accumulated under this program will not in some way be clawed back by each jurisdiction.

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4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to take part in this debate and put a question to the hon. member for Peterborough.

It is not that I am against such a tax measure, but I do have a number of concerns with this kind of measure being applied coast to coast when the education systems in Canada vary a lot. For instance, as my colleague just pointed out, tuition fees vary from province to province. In Quebec, financial assistance to students is quite different. It is based on a series of very specific criteria.

I am not necessarily against this bill, but would it not have been simpler for the manoeuvring room the government wants to provide to students to be transferred to Quebec, so that it could grant assistance according to its own criteria, which are different? The Government of Quebec now has to make changes to its financial assistance program by decreasing scholarships and increasing student loans. Just yesterday or the day before, in reaction to this, students walked out on the Forum des générations held by the Quebec government. Would it not have been better to show some respect for the Quebec system, which has unanimous support in Quebec, to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth?

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think in some ways the member has answered his own question, because I greatly admire the fact that we have these diverse education systems across the country. I think this is one of the strengths.

We tend to think of crises, but of any OECD country we have by far the largest percentage of students who have the experience of higher education. The United States, which is second, is some way behind us. I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that we have students in post-secondary education across the whole country at about twice the rates of the OECD, on average.

To go back a bit, there is flexibility. I am glad that the province of Quebec, and with the help of the federal government, I like to think, has been able to develop the very distinct education system. The House heard me earlier. I particularly admire the fact that the CEGEPs are free. I think that if we could keep that level as economical as possible, that would encourage people to come in.

For my colleague from the NDP who asked a question about the purpose of the bill, obviously there is the money. There is going to be some money in the hands of an 18 year old or a 21 year old or whatever age it is going to be. That is one thing. The other thing is to get a family, when a child is first born, actually thinking about education for that child's entire career.

For a government like this, which is a fairly blunt instrument, particularly in the area of education where we have the 13 jurisdictions, each of which is different and which responds differently to our various measures, how do we reach out to those families? I would suggest that this is one: that we say to the poorest families in the country, “Here is a grant”. That is the first thing we say. We try and we spend some money and get those families to where they know there is this money, and with a minimum of inconvenience they can start accumulating it.

Without any family money, I think having that money is a huge step forward psychologically for the children of that family. The decisions for higher education are not made when the child is thinking about what the tuition is now. That decision is made when the child is in grade 7, 8 or 9. By that time, under this program, a family will have sort of committed itself. We should think about that as well as the actual help which will be available when tuition time comes.

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.