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.


Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, although I am somewhat concerned that I have spoken on it in the past all too many times. We have had similar legislation brought before the House on a number of occasions and it has never been passed by the House in spite of there being quite a bit of support from the government side as well as the opposition side.

I will talk a bit about how that has changed now. I do have some hope that this time we can bring about meaningful and effective whistleblower legislation. This is to be seen. We are working in a new territory with the type of minority government that we have.

I would like to start off talking about why our party will support this legislation if certain key changes are made. I think we are supported in these changes by certainly most of the opposition members and some government members, as we have heard in the debate that has taken place so far. That does lead to some hope, but there are some serious problems with this legislation as it stands right now.

The first, and it has been talked about before, is the need for an independent commissioner. The way the proposal is laid out in Bill C-11 the public service commissioner would handle complaints, but only after they have gone through a proper process. We are concerned about the process, but we are also concerned that the public service commissioner is not the right person to be reporting to.

I want to make it clear that I think the current president of the Public Service Commission is a very capable and competent person. Maria Barrados has proven that she is very capable and willing to do her job, and do it well, but that is not the issue. The issue is that the trust of the members of the public service simply is not there for the Public Service Commission.

I was a member of the government operations committee in the last Parliament when we dealt with this legislation. The point was made again and again that the public servants simply do not have the trust of the public service commissioner that is needed to make this legislation work effectively. We are calling for an independent commissioner to be put in place to handle these complaints, and to have an independent office similar to that of the Auditor General for handling these complaints.

There has been concern raised, and I share that concern to some extent myself as do other members, that we do not want to be establishing too many of these independent offices. They have been effective. The Auditor General has been extremely effective. We all know that. Having a similar office for this purpose is needed, but we do have to proceed with caution.

If we were to establish too many of these independent bodies, a couple of things could happen. First of all, the government could be handcuffed so that it simply could not do the job effectively. I do not see that as a concern in this particular case though.

The second thing that could happen is that we will get so many of these independent offices set up that pretty soon none of them will really be effective. The public will see so many of them and will be talking about what is happening before these independent bodies so often that pretty soon the effectiveness will wear off.

We do have to proceed with caution. However, I do believe in the importance of having a whistleblower process that works, the importance of protecting our public servants when they wish to report wrongdoing, and the importance of saving the money that has been lost through wrongdoing.

We all know about what is going on with ad scam, the sponsorship scandal, and that is just one example; $100 million wasted that could have been caught had a whistleblower been allowed, through a proper process, to report this wrongdoing. We all understand the importance of having this process work. Having an independent commissioner is a critical part of changing the process so it works well.

My party and I have concerns that under this legislation the cabinet would be allowed at any time to make changes to the legislation to exempt agencies, departments or crown corporations.

We should think about that a little bit. If a scandal is boiling, cabinet may say we have to put a lid on it because it does not want whistleblowers to report what is going on. If I sound a little cynical, forgive me, but we have seen so many cases of that happening over the past 10 years that we must head that off.

Now, under this legislation, all the cabinet would have to do is say that this agency, department or crown corporation is exempt from whistleblower protection and the scandal has a lid put on it. Clearly, that has to be changed. I believe that it will be before it comes back to the House.

The third thing is that the disclosure process that is in place now is more geared to control or to contain disclosures than to accommodate them and that must be changed.

Rather than talk about the content of the legislation I would like to talk about the fact that there is hope in this Parliament to actually make these changes that are necessary. Why? Because we have a minority government, 135 government MPs out of 308 members. That offers hope.

On the government operations and estimates committee, which is the committee that will be receiving the legislation very soon, we have a majority of committee members from the opposition side. We had a meeting about an hour ago where I, an opposition member, was elected chair of that committee. I have further hope because the government vice-chair, the member for Mississauga South, has just given a presentation in the House recognizing the need for that independent commissioner.

I know that many other members of the committee support the changes that we in the Conservative Party have been proposing here today. Because we have the majority, because we have the opposition chair in the committee, I think we really are into a new time in parliamentary history. I believe that we have an opportunity like we have probably never had before to make some real changes to the legislation before it comes back to the House.

I cannot prejudge what the committee will do, but knowing the members of the committee, knowing the fact that the committee has operated very well over the two years of its existence, and adding the effectiveness of having a majority from the opposite side so that government cannot block the way without some support from opposition, it really does lend a lot of hope for changing the legislation and bringing it back to the House in a format that can be supported by all members of the House.

It will be so fascinating over the next couple of months to see whether that happens and how it happens. One thing could happen that could prevent this process from leading to an effective bill. After the committee examines the bill, and I am confident the committee will make changes which will make it a good piece of legislation, the government could prevent the bill from coming back to the House for third and final reading. It can do that.

Unfortunately, that possibility is still left in the hands of government. I am hoping that will not happen because of support from government members, because of the nature of the House, and because of the cooperation that will be required to make the House operate well in the years to come. It will go through committee, come back to the House, and we will have a piece of whistleblower legislation that will protect the members of our public service. It will also protect taxpayers' dollars by having whistleblowers point out wrongdoing that currently costs millions and millions of dollars every year.

I am looking forward to working with all member to make the legislation work.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House in the 38th Parliament. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the good folks of Calgary East who put their confidence in me in sending me back to represent them in this great House. I am very happy to note that their vote of confidence amounted to almost 62% of the total votes cast.

Bill C-11, the whistleblower bill, has been an issue that has been simmering out there for a long time. The bill talks about protecting public civil servants when they come forward to say that there has been some wrongdoing in the operation of the bureaucracy of the Government of Canada.

Let us look at a bigger and different context. Our bureaucracy in Canada, the Public Service Commission, is a big institution that works for the benefit of the people. In our democracy we have a Parliament that passes laws; however, what we then have is an independent public service to implement the law. This independence gives it a tremendous amount of power in ensuring that what Parliament has passed or what the intent of Parliament was be implemented for the benefit of Canadians.

It then gives a tremendous amount of power to the management of this independent Public Service Commission. We need to have some kind of accountability there as well. Time after time Canadians look at the Parliament of Canada as being an institution that can oversee and become the impartial area where accountability is done to the Public Service Commission. That is the most important aspect to ensure that democracy works.

Unfortunately, in Canada, that has not happened. There is no protection for someone who wants to say that there has been an abuse. One does not say that the public service in Canada is rife with abuses, corruption and so on, but time after time things do happen when people overstep their bounds, as we have seen with the sponsorship scandal that began in 1996.

That is a prime example and the Auditor General pointed out that an independent bureaucracy overstepped its bounds. That is why we have this commission going on. Why do we need a commission? What would have happened? As we can see from this commission, the first time the flags were raised it was covered up by the upper management. If, at that time, there had been whistleblower legislation, Canadians would have saved millions and millions of dollars in the sponsorship scandal because it would have come to this Chamber and we would have put a stop to it.

A recent article in the Toronto Star said:

Why does Canada not provide protection for professionals who perform their moral duty?

That is a simple question. In recognition of this deficit, parliamentarians recognized there was a serious problem and public servants needed this protection. I have been here since 1997 and since 1999, 13 attempts have been made in Parliament to bring in whistleblower legislation because parliamentarians recognized that there was a deficit, that we needed this protection so that people would have accountability in the public service bureaucracy.

Then of course there is the political issue. When it became politically hot for the governing party after the sponsorship scandal it suddenly woke up to the fact that there was a demand for the legislation and it tried to bring in some kind of legislation. It attempted to do that in the last Parliament and now it is bringing the same to this Parliament, which, for all practical purposes, as my colleague pointed out, is a band-aid solution.

Let me give an example. We heard in the House about public servants who were penalized when they spoke about being pressured. We all remember the case of the three scientists from the health department, Dr. Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gérard Lambert, who lost their jobs because they said that they were pressured by the department to do something they thought was not in the public interest.

The case is still before the courts of Canada and all the courts are saying that the three individuals were not fairly treated despite the fact that a senior official of the health department said that it had nothing to do with those individuals going public. However everyone knows why they were penalized.

Cases, such as the one I just mentioned, identify why there is such a serious need for the whistleblower legislation. We have incidences that have taken place in the country that say that this is something that the Parliament of Canada should look at.

The legislation is back and my colleagues have highlighted why we are opposing it.

Let me say this so that people understand. The Conservative Party of Canada is very much in favour of whistleblowing legislation. My colleagues in the House and in the Senate have been attempting since 1999 to bring in legislation but we are opposing this bill, as my other colleague said, because there are some serious flaws in it that will not give protection. The intent is not there. It is a band-aid solution. Employees will not feel comfortable reporting abuses for fear of losing their jobs.

Let us look at some things. I do not need to go deeply into it because my other colleagues, especially our critic, have very elaborately stated what is wrong with the bill. The bill would not allow a person receiving disclosure to report directly to Parliament. The report would go to the Public Service Commission which, in our point of view, is not an independent body.

That is a little hurdle for a person who would make a report and he or she is not going to feel comfortable about doing it.

The bill would allow cabinet to add any agency, crown corporation or department to the list of public sectors that are excluded from the act. I would remind members that certain departments are excluded from the act, such as the RCMP and CSIS, but this leaves cabinet with the ability to add or take people out. Where is the independence? It is again controlled by the cabinet.

We can see that the legislation would be under the control of government and senior bureaucrats. This would not give public servants confidence to come forward and fulfil their moral obligation to protect the tax dollars by reporting any abuse going on. Who should they report to?

The most important thing is that there would be no punishment for anyone should the individual be penalized. I have explained the example of the three doctors from the Department of Health.

The Conservative Party is hoping that the whistleblower legislation, which will eventually come back to the House, will address all of our concerns.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak to Bill C-11, the first bill to which I have spoken in the House. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my constituents from Burnaby and New Westminster for having elected me to this august body on June 28, 2004.

I would like to take the opportunity to stress, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has, the importance of the legislation for good governance. This is legislation that has been repeatedly promised by successive Liberal governments, first in the red book of 1993, which, as we know, promised the protection of civil servants as a result of the scandals that plagued the Mulroney government.

It was again promised with Bill C-25, which was introduced in the spring of 2002, 11 years later, which was in fact a bill that, to quote my colleague from Winnipeg Centre who has done a tremendous amount of work on this issue, was more aimed at protecting ministers from whistleblowers than whistleblowers from ministers. One can understand the rationale, given that the current scandals that affect the Liberal government are handsomely competing with those of the Conservative government that preceded it.

Bill C-25 had major flaws. All critics agreed that it failed miserably in creating a sense of security to whistleblowers. It failed to cover political staff, the RCMP and national security bureaucrats. It discouraged civil servants from coming out to expose corruption. In fact, when the bill was reintroduced in 2004, some of my colleagues from the 37th Parliament received anonymous calls from public servants who wanted to come out with more information on corruption but who were discouraged by the bill.

Bill C-25 died a good death on the order paper with the 2004 federal election and, of course, whistleblowing legislation was promised again in the Liberal platform. Now we have another reincarnation with Bill C-11.

This new version is indeed improved but I have concerns. There are structural deficiencies which would prevent the desired effect of such a bill, which is to clean up the corruption in government while protecting civil servants. As long as civil servants believe that their organizational culture does not protect them from reprisals or may in fact support reprisal, they will be deterred from coming forward to report misconduct.

I do believe, along with my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, that major work needs to be done at committee stage. I compliment the government for referring this bill immediately to committee without having it go through second reading. That would have made major changes impossible since those changes would have gone against the principle of the bill.

The two most important concerns are the following: Bill C-11 replaces the toothless commissioner in Bill C-25 with a complex reporting mechanism involving the Public Service Commission of Canada and a whole array of codes of conduct which, as we now know, are last in, first out, in the case of conflict and deterrence.

The President of the Treasury Board said that the Public Service Commission of Canada was moving away from a managerial role to an auditor role. Why would the Public Service Commission want to get involved in auditing, in issuing subpoenas or setting deadlines for CEOs to respond to recommendations?

As we know, the Public Service Commission has other fish to fry.

When it comes to government and good governance, auditing means the Auditor General. We have seen the good work of this body in which we have full confidence. We absolutely need an independent review mechanism. The Auditor General or another independent officer of Parliament, call it the public sector integrity commissioner or whatever, would be able to do the job and do it efficiently and, most important, report to Parliament.

Bill C-11 has a broader range of coverage and includes employees of crown corporations and the executive, with the exception of CSIS, the uniform members of the RCMP and Canadian Forces. Again, I believe that unless there is an independent review outside the sphere of government, the legislation will not produce the intended effect. We must separate the oversight of the government of the day from the public service.

We need an independent commissioner. The government seems to be in a hurry to set up agencies that can be used as an extension of its policies and where it can hide money for programs beyond the scrutiny of the Auditor General. It is out of the question to give powers to an independent commissioner who would be nothing more than an officer of the House.

Again, why not use the Auditor General? Why not have someone reporting directly to Parliament?

In committee, we need to consider other issues that have something to do with the old saying “The devil is in the details”. Some of these issues have already been raised by the hon. member for Repentigny and my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre.

Let me mention, for instance, the threat of harsh disciplinary action against public servants making unfounded allegations.

In that case, whistleblowers should file a complaint with other bodies, such as the Industrial Relations Board, which could take up to 18 months. The reverse onus is on the victims to prove their innocence, and that is not real protection against undue risk.

What would the legislation do to protect the rights of those who have already paid the price of the government's inertia? My thoughts are with those three doctors who were fired for denouncing the health hazard of the use of BGH, bovine growth hormone. They should have been nominated for the Order of Canada. I am speaking of Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gérard Lambert. We must look at introducing some retroactivity to protect those individuals.

In conclusion I would like to read an excerpt from an article that was written in the Ottawa Citizen about the victims of our lack of legislation. It reads:

Despite the absence of legislation, employees of conscience have spoken out. At Health Canada, Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards sounded the alarm about the arbitrary drug approval process, including a rush to market of inadequately tested products. Likewise, Health Canada veterinarians Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert spoke out and testified at Senate hearings about the risks associated with bovine growth hormone.

Diplomat Brian McAdam and, subsequently, veteran RCMP officer Robert Read revealed corruption in Canada's consulate-general in Hong Kong and risks to our national security through fraudulent visa schemes and penetration of our immigration computer system by organized crime. And Col. Michel Drapeau denounced corruption among senior military brass and was an outspoken critic during the arbitrarily truncated Somalia inquiry.

As one of the most profiled whistleblowers in Canada, Dr. Nancy Olivieri sparked an international debate on the erosion of the sacred principle of university independence from corporate influence. Threatened when she sought to disclose adverse drug trial results to her entrusted patients, she remains, 10 years later, embroiled in costly and draining litigation.

All were fired except McAdam, whose destroyed health forced retirement, and Brill-Edwards, who conscientiously resigned. For Brill-Edwards, employment came at the price of a weekly train commute from Ottawa to Toronto.

These victims of the absence of legislation underscore the importance of the legislation. We have fought hard to bring the legislation forward. We will be fighting equally hard in committee and in Parliament to make the legislation better so that it truly protects whistleblowers in Canada.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to contribute to the bill on the public servants disclosure protection act. It is ironic that I rise today to speak to the bill. I just happened to pick up an article that was faxed to me from my riding in Saskatchewan, an article from the Saskatchewan News Network by reporter, Barb Pacholik, who reports on how Saskatchewan's whistleblower law is about to be tested, as it is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Linda Merk was a manager/bookkeeper for the Ironworkers Union, Local 771 in Regina. In November 2001 she was fired after raising concerns about salary and expense payments by two union officials. Linda Merk took the employer to court under the province's labour standards act. In a split decision last year the provincial appeals court reversed what had been the first successful conviction in Canada under a whistleblower law. It is the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to interpret a whistleblowing law.

We also have an environment that seems to punish people who speak out, and its not exclusive just to the federal level. In Saskatoon a hospital the head of emergency medicine was removed from his position after he wrote a letter to the province stating patient care was compromised because of lack of resources.

I am here today because I have met someone who has been a victim of whistleblowing, Joanne Gualtieri. She promotes the free expression rights for employees, including the right to reveal misconduct, corruption and unethical behaviour. She says that these laws are scattered in the whistleblowing laws across Canada in environmental labour legislation and believes Ottawa needs to set the standard. She notes that the new Criminal Code law enacted earlier this month imposes penalties on those who punish or retaliate against whistleblowing employees, but does little to help the whistleblower who may have lost a job, a reputation, or paid a huge emotional and financial toll and has to foot the bill yet for their case. These cases are the reason why I am interested in this legislation.

Ms. Gualtieri came to committee and talked about what legislation meant to her and some of the meaningful legislation that she felt had to come forward. She feels there has to be a whistleblowers human rights act and a whislteblower bill of rights. She has a 23-point checklist outlining the essential components of effective whistleblower protection.

Reprisals and retaliation against whistleblowers are well documented, including: marginalization, demotions, blacklisting, threats, humiliation, specious prosecutions, firings and the withdrawal of meaningful work. Statistics in the United States report that 85% of the whistleblowers experience some form of retaliation. The consequences can have a prolonged, in fact lifelong impact on whistleblower with tragic implications for the people of Canada.

Consider the lives that would have been saved and painful suffering avoided if someone had blown the whistle on Canada's tainted blood. Innocent deaths would have been spared in Walkerton. If public servants had been able to engage in free speech, the fiscally ballooning gun registry would have been exposed, as well as the sponsorship spending. Money saved would have been available for health care, child care, aboriginal communities and homes for the homeless. Valuable time politicians and parliamentary resources now spent on a torturous ex post facto inquiry would be available for engagement on important public matters. However, for many Canadians, the final insult was the image of Canada's former privacy commissioner, ever belligerent and bullying toward any of his staff who questioned his expenditures.

There is just a sampling of troubling betrayals of public trust in the absence of legitimate whistleblower protection. It is hard to know the true extent of both political and bureaucratic wrongdoing and ineptitude.

When Ms. Gualtieri came to the committee, she had real concerns. She had emphasized the lack of independence and the prevailing requirement to disclose to one's bosses. She talked about full free speech rights. She wanted all disclosure of illegality and misconduct to be permitted. She felt that the bill did not include the definition of wrongdoing and the violation of Treasury Board policies, rules and guidelines, even though it is a vast compendium of the Treasury Board manuals that govern the day to day operations of government agencies and departments.

She spoke about having realistic burdens of proof. It is most difficult at times and almost impossible for a whistleblower to prove that a government department has retaliated. Bosses do not generally confess to retaliation. To counterbalance this evidentiary problem, the law must provide for a reverse onus burden of proof.

She talked about taking corrective action. Studies have shown that employees remain silent for two key reasons: one, they have no faith that anything will change following their disclosure; and, two, there is the fear of reprisals. Clearly the public interest requires that corrective action be taken and legislation therefore requires the establishment of a strong, independent agency with full investigative powers and the authority to order a minister to take corrective actions.

To be effective, a minister would be held liable for statutory breach if he or she failed to take this corrective action ordered. Furthermore, whistleblowers must have a say during their process and not be disenfranchised.

I realize my time is up and I would like to extend my thanks for allowing me to speak this afternoon. I look forward to speaking to the bill again when it comes back from committee.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

October 14th, 2004 / 1 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today for the first time in the House to speak to Bill C-11. First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the great people of Elgin—Middlesex—London for electing me to the House. I will endeavour to provide the service that I know they deserve.

Let me now speak to the bill at hand. Bill C-11 is called whistleblower legislation. In an ideal world, we would not need protection for our workers because the workplace would be free of wrongdoing. Sadly, this is not the case today. With workplace wrongdoing, a more and more common occurrence, we must have in place a solid plan to ensure that workers who come forward to report wrongdoing are protected.

I will speak to the reprisal piece. We can reasonably expect that men and women of goodwill and conscience will take effort to stop wrongdoing as they see it happen, but only as long as the workplace climate is such that the person attempting to stop the wrongdoing is not endangering his or her employment comfort either now or in the future. It is not easy to report wrongdoing. Recent background shows examples of public servants, like Mr. Cutler, being subjected to a reign of terror.

The Liberal government came to power in 1993 promising whistleblower legislation. It then ignored that promise. Since 1999, many attempts have been made to correct that.

Confronted with the sponsorship scandal, the government introduced Bill C-25 in March. Bill C-25 was widely criticized as an ineffective legislation that would actually discourage whistleblowing. Bill C-25 is the basis for this legislation. Let us see what is in Bill C-11.

In reality, this bill contains all the same problems as the last version. Bill C-11 was to be a major revision of Bill C-25, which was universally panned in the last Parliament.

Public servants will not be encouraged to disclose wrongdoing to the president of the Public Service Commission as they see that position as part of senior management. This bill does not allow the person receiving disclosures to report directly to Parliament. The president of the Public Service Commission would report to a minister, who would then table the report within 15 days. This process creates the same kind of interference that has apparently taken place in the past.

This bill also allows cabinet to add any agency or crown corporation or department to a list that is excluded from this act. This allows government to exclude public servants from protection of retribution when they disclose wrongdoing.

Like Bill C-25, Bill C-11 sets no punishment for those who make reprisals against whistleblowers. Also as with Bill C-25, in Bill C-11 only those who make disclosures through the prescribed channels and whose disclosures meet specific criteria are protected. This sounds like controlling disclosures, not facilitating them.

In conclusion, I could support an act that creates a truly independent body to receive and investigate disclosures made by the public servants. This is an act that falls short and it must be fixed.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings at this time and put forthwith the question on the motion now before the House. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, October 5, the division stands deferred until Monday, October 18 at 3 p.m.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker,I am delighted to be on the agenda as the first speaker to this bill. I want to begin by giving due credit and thanks to my parliamentary secretary, the member for Peterborough, as well as the Minister of State for Human Resources and Skills Development, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, for their assistance the preparation of this proposed legislation.

In addition to being a legislator and a representative of the general public, I too am a parent, like most people in this chamber. Like all parents, I want the very best for my children. In fact some of the have already gone through school, so I am speaking more from a historical perspective than I am from an active perspective, although my children have graced my wife with grand kids. Therefore, I want to provide for them in the same way that I took the disposition for my own children.

I would like to instill in them, as I am sure every single member in the House would like to do, a confidence to tackle life's challenges and to ensure that they have every opportunity to experience the satisfaction that comes with success,.

Like everyone here, I want for my grandchildren and for everyone else's children to have them live a life that is healthy, productive, prosperous and satisfying leading up to adulthood. I obviously want that for their adult life as well. Perhaps this is idealistic but I hope everyone shares in this idealism. I would like to offer my children and their own children all the advantages that living in this great country of ours has to offer. This is true of all parents whether we are rich or poor, no matter where we live and whatever our backgrounds.

Canadian families from coast to coast are doing everything they can to ensure that their children can fulfill their Canadian dream, a dream which, increasingly, cannot be fulfilled if our children do not have access to post-secondary education.

Three out of every four new jobs require post-secondary education, whether it is trade training, a college diploma or a university degree. By comparison, people who have not completed their secondary education now have access to less than 6% of all new jobs.

To give members a sense of just how great this imbalance is, consider that between 1990 and 2003 some 1.4 million jobs were created for university graduates, while 1.2 million jobs were lost for those who had barely completed high school. Consider too that over their lifetime, university students on average earn $1 million more than those without a degree. The advantages can be seen almost immediately.

There is another imbalance that should concern all of us as parliamentarians in the House as it also has serious consequences for our country. Statistics Canada recently reported that 93% of Canadian parents hope that their children will go on to post-secondary education, yet only one-half are currently saving for their education. The majority of that one-half come from the most affluent of Canadian families.

Research indicates that 68% of parents with an income greater than $85,000 are putting money aside for their children's post-secondary education, whereas just 26% of parents with an income of under $25,000 are doing the same thing. Of course for lower income parents, we should not be surprised to find that only 8% are taking advantage of a registered education savings plan which tax shelters the compound interest on their investments. The poorest people in this country who do save are struggling to do so on their own, largely without the benefit of the Canada education savings grant.

This is an imbalance that we ought to rectify. I am pleased that the Speech from the Throne has underlined, underscored and emphasized our commitment to increase access to post-secondary education through Bill C-5, the Canada education savings act.

The bill introduces an innovative new initiative and improvements to existing programs to ensure that each and every youngster with the ability and the desire to pursue post-secondary education studies has the chance to do so, no matter what his or her family's financial circumstances are.

The innovative new initiative to which I am referring is the Canada learning bond, which will help underprivileged Canadian children by allowing them to set up an education savings plan.

The Canada learning bond begins with a one time payment of $500 for children born into families receiving the national child benefit supplement. Families with a net income of $35,000 or less qualify. The bond is available to all eligible babies born since January 1 of this year. The initial payment will be followed by successive instalments of $100 per year up to and including the year in which the child turns 15, provided the family remains entitled to the national child benefit supplement.

By the time such children turn 18, their Canada learning bond, combined with the interest earned on the bond, could be worth up to $3,000 not considering any additional supplements or savings that the family might have contributed. To receive these funds, parents need to open an RESP. If necessary we will provide an additional $25 to help cover the cost of the administration and setting up of such a fund.

The big advantage, as colleagues will soon recognize, of an RESP is that the Government of Canada also tops up the parents' contribution through the Canada education savings grant program. That is another innovation, by the way, that we introduced just a few short years ago to help families increase their savings for their children's post-secondary education.

The Canada education savings grant provides a 20% grant on parents' contributions to a current maximum of $400 per year. We want to go even further. With this legislation we propose to dramatically improve the odds for low and middle income children by giving them an even larger savings grant.

Once the bill is adopted, as I am sure colleagues on both sides of the House will be eager to do, the current Canada education savings grant rate of 20% will double to 40% on the first $500 of savings made by families earning up to $35,000. Let me give an idea of just what kind of difference that can make. If a low income family contributes just $10 per month to a child's RESP from birth, there would be some $7,000 available by the time the child is ready to go to university.

We also want to make sure that children in families with modest incomes have a greater chance to take advantage of a post-secondary education. The Canada education savings grant contribution for them will increase to 30% on the first $500 of savings set aside by families earning a qualifying net income greater than $35,000 but not exceeding $70,000.

These higher rates will affect the contributions made by all eligible families as of January 1, 2005. According to our projections, the Canada learning bond could benefit some 120,000 newborns and the enhanced Canada education savings grant could benefit up to 4.5 million children from low and middle income families each year.

For thousands of young Canadians, these figures mean increased opportunities for learning, improving and developing their potential. Over time, these investments will generate huge dividends for our economy and our society as a whole, when these young people become workers, taxpayers, parents and leaders in their communities and in our country.

Such initiatives have never been as critical as they are now, at a time when the whole world is giving priority to learning and to knowledge. An educated population is a cornerstone of Canada's competitiveness internationally, and it is also critical to maintaining our high standard of living.

I have presented many facts and figures thus far, but as impressive as colleagues will find them, we need to look beyond the numbers. Aside from the tremendous monetary value of these investments, there are other equally important benefits. Studies demonstrate that children with savings for post-secondary education have a more positive attitude toward their schooling. They have better marks and they go further in school. It seems that if the expectation is there that they will go on to college or university, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other research has shown that youth with savings are 50% more likely to go on to study at a post-secondary level than youth who do not. The flip side of that story is that not having money set aside for post-secondary studies presents both a practical and a psychological barrier to many. That is an assumption on the part of some that a person who is poor today will inevitably be poor tomorrow. Their assumption does not recognize that learning is the key to rising above poverty.

In our society education is the great equalizer. Knowledge is blind to race, gender, disability and income status. It creates a level playing field for all who are able to take advantage of learning opportunities.

I might say with some humility that I know this first-hand. I have worked in classrooms, in corridors in Canada's schools. I am not only a politician and a parent, but I am a former educator and I do not want to cast aspersions on members of that profession by trying to tie myself to them.

I have seen first-hand what financially disadvantaged kids can accomplish when given the chance. I have witnessed their successes time and time again. When they get that extra bit of encouragement and support, they succeed like no other. I can say that what might sound like pocket change to some can mean a world of difference to families and children doing without.

By supporting this legislation, the House of Commons will give a vote of confidence to Canadian children. We are sending them a very clear message. We have confidence in them and they believe that they can fulfill all of their dreams. We are doing our share to help them achieve that goal.

These initiatives are just the latest expression of that commitment. My colleagues are well aware of that. The Government of Canada provides a wide range of financial incentives and support measures to ensure that Canadian children get a good start in life, and to make post-secondary education accessible for all Canadians.

Since the first budget, in 1997-98, about one quarter of all new federal spending has been on education and innovation. This means more than $36 billion.

The Canada learning bond and enhanced Canada education savings grant programs contained in the Canada education savings act are critically important steps in this continuum of progress. These strategically targeted initiatives will help increase access to post-secondary education for children of every culture who might not otherwise have that opportunity. They will help to make sure that children currently living in disadvantaged situations have a reason to hope for a better future.

More to the point, they will help to ensure that they have a better future. Post-secondary education will get Canadian children on the right track, but we know it is a long term investment, so let us turn for a moment to the present. What is the Government of Canada doing today to help adult Canadians such as these children's parents in their own efforts to attain the Canadian dream? The answer is, “Many things”.

Complementing our investments in the Canada learning bond and the enhanced Canada education savings grant is a continuum of programs and services to help all Canadians acquire the skills to find meaningful and productive work: literacy and essential skills programs, a national apprenticeship strategy, and speedy and effective recognition of professional credentials earned in other countries. These are the essential contributions we need to make to support a labour market in which Canadians can find and keep meaningful jobs.

I will speak to these priorities in greater detail in the very near future. Suffice it to say that making post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable is just one element of the workplace skills strategy that will enable Canadians to seize more opportunities to obtain and keep meaningful work.

The 21st century will belong to the best and the brightest and to those countries that take early action to respond to this new reality. Just as parents want to do the right thing for their children, so must we as legislators do the right thing for our country. I urge all members in the House to adopt this very necessary and very worthy legislation so that we can make an important down payment on our collective future.

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1:25 p.m.


James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the end of the minister's speech he did mention something that is of great concern to me, to my constituents, and to the province of British Columbia, where the Speaker is from.

British Columbia for a long time has been incredibly dependent upon new immigrants coming to British Columbia, bringing capital, labour and expertise. Perhaps above all other provinces in Canada, British Columbia is a province that is heavily dependent upon new immigrants and what they bring to Canada, to our economy and to our communities.

For over a decade this government has been in power, and for over a decade, in throne speech after throne speech, the government has been talking about recognizing the credentials of landed immigrants so that they can be integrated into our economy and fully achieve everything that they came to Canada hoping to achieve. Yet year after year, in throne speech after throne speech, this government has failed, has absolutely failed, to help new immigrants integrate into our economy and into our society in a way that is in their best interests and in all of Canada's best interests.

The minister mentioned again at the end of his speech that he hopes this is something the government is going to look into in the next little while. We have heard that promise before.

On behalf of new immigrants, on behalf of a large number of my constituents who are credentialed in other jurisdictions but cannot perform their practices, or engineers who cannot perform in their fields of expertise because this government has failed to do anything at all for new immigrants, here is what I want to know from the minister. Why is this government considering talking about doing something in the next little while and why has it so absolutely failed new immigrants in this country over the last 10 years?

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1:25 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have preferred to receive a disposition that was a little more favourable, but I will take the compliment whichever way it comes. I am glad the hon. member recognizes the importance of the immigrant contribution to his province and to Canada as a whole. He will also recognize that part of the wealth creation he is witnessing in his home province is generated by those people whom he has identified as serving in or realizing work below their level.

I want to highlight for members in the House the difficulties that all jurisdictions have in terms of engaging many of these people whose talents we have invited to this country. We have certificate granting organizations. We have professional associations. The member referred to the associations of professional engineers. We have provincial jurisdictions. We have, not least of all, employee and employers' associations, all of which bear some of the responsibility.

I issue a challenge to them today. They have this responsibility to ensure that they take the talent resident in their communities and bring it to the fore so that it can be productive in the way it was intended to be, the way we wanted it to be when we collectively made a decision to bring them to this country.

Are we doing considerations? Of course we are always doing considerations. We are always considering a better way to do something. It would be imprudent for us to do anything else. However, and this is where the member is absolutely wrong, we have already put aside $40 million, topped up by an additional $12 million in the last budget, to coordinate, under my department's guidance, five other departments together with the provincial governments who are willing to be a part of this. They appear to be wholeheartedly in favour. We are to coordinate with the professional organizations, employers' groups, provinces, universities, and in fact even our newer Canadian citizens who have found themselves in this situation. We will implement a series of projects specifically in the health services provision area and, as the member suggests, in the engineering field.

I think he will look forward to announcements of active measures in the course of these next few weeks.

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1:30 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, the bill introduced in the House of Commons today by the minister deals with education savings and post-secondary education.

I would like to bring him back to reality, regional reality. Regions like the North Shore, and the riding of Manicouagan, are hard hit by the exodus of young people. They are leaving the regions to pursue a post-secondary education and do not necessarily come back, because there is no work for them. There is no work because, in many cases, their jobs are often seasonal jobs.

This is the same minister who told us today that the federal government, the Liberal Party, just came up with a bill to promote post-secondary education.

First, to contribute to an education savings plan, parents must have money to invest their share. Then, the federal government might put some money in. A seasonal worker who gets two or three months of work per year in a region, often at minimum wage—I am thinking of single parent families in particular—cannot afford to contribute to an education savings plan. They make barely enough to pay rent and put bread on the table every day.

This minister who just made this announcement is the same one who slashed access to EI for seasonal workers by tightening up the eligibility rules, cutting back the number of weeks of insurable employment and widening the black hole for individuals who are very often forced onto welfare.

How can we reconcile the minister's bill today, which is all about post-secondary education and tomorrow's youth who will be taking over, with the fact that parents are getting poorer and poorer because this government has created poverty, particularly in the regions?

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1:30 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc members have a talent, of course, for managing to find the one black cloud in an otherwise sunny sky.

We were discussing education and the possibility of a totally new system in which the community, parents and children will look to the future and further their education and acquire new expertise and experience so that they can bring about a change in their living conditions. By giving them hope for the future, we will give them the hope of being able to contribute in a far more effective way to keeping their communities alive.

If there is poverty today, it is not this government that is responsible.

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1:30 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Then who is? The government is completely responsible; it cut employment insurance.

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1:30 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

The fact the bill includes the conditions I have just listed is an indication that we are trying to help precisely those families experiencing the problems the hon. member has referred to. If there are problems, then obviously this bill is intended to find solutions for the children.

Perhaps the member over the way does not believe in the value of education. Perhaps he does not accept the fact that all adults in this day and age feel that the way to stem the exodus of young people from our small villages and communities is precisely to give their young people the possibility of further learning and to invest in society itself.

I know this is all about politics here, but it is important to recognize that the purpose of this bill is precisely to help out the very families the hon. member claims to be concerned about.

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1:35 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

I am still from Halifax, Mr. Speaker, and very proud to be so.

I want to take the minister at his word when he says that the objective of the bill is to help the very families that are most disadvantaged. I also want to take him at his word when he says that the real measure of success is whether it levels the playing field for all young people in this country who need and want to access post-secondary education opportunities.

However, I have to say that the way the debate is going already is very discouraging, because there are legitimate problems with the legislation that has been presented. It would take nothing short of a flight of fantasy to believe that the stated objectives could actually be achieved with the paltry, pathetic measures that are contained here in this bill.

I want to ask the minister a question in a very direct way. I hope he will not accuse me of playing politics, as he has the other two members who have raised legitimate concerns. If the objective is to level the playing field for every young person in this country wanting to access post-secondary education, would he not agree that there are discriminatory measures built into the legislation? For example, there is the requirement that unless a child is a resident of Canada throughout the whole 18 years that these provisions would kick in, then they are not eligible for the kind of finances that will--

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1:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. Minister of Human Resources with a short answer, please.

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1:35 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I can give a short answer to such a lengthy preamble, but the legislation really does aim to help everybody.

Does the member know what people need in order to access this learning bond? They need a birth certificate; they need an identifier that says who they are here. They need to be able to go to a bank or a lending institution in order to open up an account. That is all they need.

If they do that and if they fit under that $35,000 income level, they qualify. It is as simple as that. There is no other qualification.

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1:35 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to deliver my first address in this chamber. I am particularly fortunate to be able to do so on the subject of post-secondary education and the establishment of the Canada learning bond through Bill C-5.

I am pleased that this bill has the support of the Progressive Conservative Party. We feel that further education is a priority if we are to have a prosperous future for each and every Canadian, and for our society.

That is why the Conservative Party supports Bill C-5.

The Canada learning bond is an initiative that I expect will be welcomed by the residents of my constituency of York--Simcoe. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the confidence they have expressed in me by sending me to represent them in this great chamber.

York--Simcoe was the place my grandfather chose to make his home after a remarkable life journey, one that figures greatly in my reasons for getting involved in public life.

My grandparents lived in a small country, Estonia, which asserted its nationhood and became a free and independent country for the first time out of the chaos of World War I. In that new freedom people prospered.

My grandparents prospered too and enjoyed the opportunities that came with higher education. My grandfather worked his way from a farm boy to the respected position of county agronomist. My grandmother became a lawyer, a career that few women had the courage to choose in that time, the 1920s. They made a better life and gave back to their community.

However, with World War II came successive waves of Soviet and Nazi occupation and the ultimate annexation of Estonia into the U.S.S.R. My mother and grandparents had little choice but to flee. Paradoxically the education that they possessed made them a threat to the occupying Soviets and they faced an otherwise certain fate at their hands if they did not leave. In fact many family members did face that fate in Soviet Siberian camps or otherwise at the hands of the Red Army.

My family as refugees in search of freedom ultimately chose Canada. The agronomist went to work in a paper factory in Riverdale and the lawyer went to work on the order desk at Sears. They found what they were looking for: freedom, hope and opportunity.

One of the things that often comes with a higher education is a recognition of the possibilities that exist to improve one's life and that of one's family and to build a better community, regardless of the barriers that may be faced, the hurdles that may be encountered and the setbacks that come along the way in life.

The importance of education was impressed upon my mother, who would do her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Toronto, and upon her children, who both followed their grandmother's footsteps into the career of law.

My grandfather thought that an important part of education was to see what real life was and in his opinion that happened on a farm. So, after I was born, he marshalled his resources and bought the farm in Georgina which anchors me today.

Freedom, hope and opportunity are to me what my contribution in public life should be about, what all our contributions should be about. In Canada we are often complacent about the freedom that we enjoy and the opportunities which present themselves, but among many new Canadians these things are immediate and important. Education plays a crucial factor in all three.

It is not a coincidence that new authoritarian governments and occupying forces target the educated in society, for with that education often comes the ability to organize and to fight for freedom. Education is a companion of liberty. Higher education also gives us hope to understand our world better and to improve health, security and the quality of life that we enjoy.

As the economists and educators continually remind us, education brings with it opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and economic prosperity. When the citizens prosper, all the country prospers.

For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for all, not just those who have the resources and the means, but the opportunity for all to send their children to post-secondary education is an important objective. For too many it is a challenge that creates anxiety, that is daunting, that is a big mountain to climb.

The typical family profile in York--Simcoe is a young couple, both working hard, trying to pay their mortgage, get ahead and make a brighter future for their children. It is not easy for them. They are good citizens with solid Canadian values that we believe in as Canadians, values that we believe in as Conservatives.

Like those families, we believe that hard work should be rewarded. We believe in self-discipline and responsibility for individual actions and for our families. We believe in honesty, that a promise made should be a promise kept. We believe in property rights and the rule of law. We believe in compassion and support for those who are genuinely in need in society.

They are time tested values that have built civil society. They are the values that have underpinned the advance of humanity. They are values that are all too often ignored by this government through its policies. In that way, the government does not reflect the interests of my constituents in York—Simcoe.

For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for them is a frustration. It is something they are grasping at. At every turn those hardworking families are met with heavy taxes and a government that does more to intrude into their lives than to help. They do not understand a federal government that tells them they are not good Canadians if they do not want to pay higher taxes. They would dearly love to save for a child's post-secondary education, but how?

For them they face real choices. Will they give up sending the children to play hockey this year, or will they tell them they cannot have a new bike in the spring? Those are the kinds of choices and sacrifices some of them have to make in order to save for a post-secondary education.

The government could help them most by letting them keep more of their own money. That would give them greater freedom, more hope and genuine opportunity. I hope ultimately the government will do that.

We also believe that Bill C-5, by giving modest income families the means to establish registered education savings plans with an initial $500 contribution, not from the government, but from the taxpayers of Canada, we will help more Canadians achieve their dreams of a higher education. The increased matching grants from the taxpayers of Canada for contributions that those families themselves make to RESPs will also build for that brighter future.

The riding of York--Simcoe can become an even better place if more young people succeed in school and achieve post-secondary education. An educated workforce means more jobs and more prosperity.

An educated population in York--Simcoe can use those skills and ability to improve the quality of our treasured environment. We have a beautiful landscape and environment in York--Simcoe, especially Lake Simcoe. It is our playground. Many take their drinking water from that lake, but it is a lake whose health remains dangerously precarious.

An educated community will mean a richer cultural experience in a community that is already proud of its theatres, its art galleries, its historical sites ranging from the famous Red Barn Theatre to Sharon Temple, a national historic site.

A more educated York--Simcoe will be a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.

Just as York--Simcoe can benefit from encouraging families to save for post-secondary educations for their sons and daughters, so too will all of Canada. Canadians want change and the Canada learning bond represents a change for the better.

In this minority Parliament I am pleased to have been able to stand in a spirit of cooperation to welcome the government's finally taking this initiative. Our party made the Canada learning bond part of our platform in the last election. We are pleased that the government in this case is following our advice and moving forward. Let us hope that that constructive spirit can be an example of how we can work together. If we focus on areas of common ground, we can really see true and genuine benefits for all Canadians.