House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was on the point of discussing the issue of housing and homelessness among people with disabilities in the community. This issue has come up in the House today and in communities across the country. I wanted to cite a number of important statistics.

Almost half of the homeless population, which is growing, has a disability and one in seven persons with a disability has affordability problems with respect to housing. According to the 1986 census, more than half of the owned households where a person with a disability lived earned less than $30,000 per year. Over 80% of rented households where a person with a disability lived earned less than this. In Toronto 37.5% of persons with disabilities live in poverty. Most shelters cannot accommodate individuals who need support with daily living, and the structural accessibility of shelters continues to be a barrier for persons with disabilities.

One in five persons with disabilities need housing adaptations of some kind. Cost is the most commonly cited barrier for adults with disabilities not acquiring needed adaptations. Persons with disabilities in rental accommodations and rooming and boarding houses are least likely to be satisfied with their accommodations. Cost has been cited by persons with disabilities across the country, who wish to move yet cannot, as the major barrier preventing relocation.

I raise these issues in the framework of Bill C-23 because we are not doing nearly enough to address the important needs of persons with disabilities. Much more can be done. We can ease the financial burden upon those with disabilities by making the disability and medical expense tax credits fully refundable. We can provide child care and respite care for families who look after children with disabilities. That should be instituted.

Many people with disabilities today have trouble accessing adequate long term home care, and often only receive this immediately after being in hospital. This is simply insufficient. Living standards should be improved for persons with disabilities.

We have looked at the issue of transport. There was a time in the past when Canada was seen as a world leader in improving accessibility to rail and air transportation for persons with disabilities. We now find that the government's decision to rely on voluntary codes of practice rather than federal regulations has halted further advancement in this area. Many people with disabilities across the country believe the situation has regressed.

Navigating the waters, which I have brought up in the House, is a national employment initiative of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres. It has supported over 5,000 persons with disabilities by helping them upgrade their skills and find jobs, at a cost of only $950,000 per year. As I mentioned, that program has been threatened with closure because of inadequate federal funding. This is shameful.

We have a situation where the lives of persons with disabilities could be dramatically improved, yet they have not been addressed. We hope, by studying the bill in committee, that it will help to start to address these important issues for people with disabilities.

It is tragic to see that disabled people account for 41% of those who must rely on food banks. It is also tragic that close to half of the homeless are disabled people. So, these last 10 years have been terrible and full of challenges for the disabled.

We are looking forward to discussing these issues in committee, in the weeks or months to come. We will ask disabled people to come and testify and to talk about their lives, in the hope that we can improve this legislation, and that we can also begin to improve their lot in Canadian society.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2004 / 3:25 p.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Davenport.

I am very pleased to take part in this debate today on Bill C-23, which legally establishes the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

The new legislation will provide the necessary power and tools for the minister and the department to achieve their mandate and to contribute to the government's ultimate goal of strengthening our social foundations.

By splitting the former Human Resources Development Canada, the government has given itself a structure that will help it focus its efforts on further helping Canadians acquire the tools they need to develop and prosper in their workplace and community and on providing Canada with a highly skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the job market in the 21st century.

It is a tall order, we agree. Canada has many assets for competing on the global market, but it has to address the important issue of the disparity between emerging jobs and the skills of its workforce. Today fewer jobs do not require a high school diploma and in five years an estimated 70% of jobs will not be accessible to people without a high school diploma. Gone are the days when a young person could get a job in a factory for the rest of his life without a diploma.

Furthermore, technologies are advancing quickly and workers have to update their skills constantly. Just think about your computer: you buy the latest model and before it is even delivered a more powerful one comes out on the market.

Workers can expect to change jobs at least three times during their working life, and will often end up in fields that are very different from where they started. They have to adapt and be very flexible.

Canadians have proven time and again that they are able to adapt to change and we are sure they will stay above the fray in this new century. However, to do so it is important for citizens to be in a continuous learning environment in a country that is advanced in skills development.

Together with the other levels of government, including the provinces and territories, the business community and trade unions, the Government of Canada seeks to do just that, namely build a lifelong learning culture. It goes without saying that to build such a culture, the government is taking action and putting in place structures such as the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

Thanks to its many partnerships with the provinces, territories, private sector, trade unions, non-government and native organizations, the department delivers a wide range of programs to help students wishing to pursue post-secondary education, young people seeking work experience, people looking for work, businesses needing to hire and train workers, employers and unions striving to improve the work environment here in Canada.

I will now quickly list a few of the many programs delivered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in cooperation with its many partners. The Canada students loans program helps students with recognized needs access post-secondary education while the Canada education savings grants encourage parents to invest in their children's education. The Youth Employment Strategy is another component that helps young people get relevant information on careers and the job market to guide them in their choices regarding their future. It provides young people with practical work experience and learning opportunities that help them find and keep a job, and delivers programs and services to young people who have trouble finding work.

Another element is the EI benefits and support measures helping unemployed Canadians go back to work. The various sectors analyze the situation in their own areas and develop strategies accordingly.

The department is also taking a leadership role with other federal departments and agencies on numerous projects, including the recognition of foreign credentials.

As you can see, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development has a impact on all Canadians at one point or another in their life. In 2003-04 for example, employment benefits and support measures alone have helped close to 700,000 Canadians. During the same period, and thanks to the department's programs, close to 56,000 Quebeckers have re-entered the labour force.

Moreover, during the summer of 2003, more than 480,000 young Canadians benefited from the help of the 330 human resources centres for students in Canada. In short, many Canadians rely on Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

The minister obviously has an important role to play in the management of this important department. He can fortunately count on two colleagues, the Minister of State (Human Resources Development) and his colleague the Minister of Labour and Housing. Together, they manage one of the departments that has the greatest impact on the daily life of Canadians and on their common future. Together, they are working to build a lifelong learning culture to help meet the challenges of the 21st century and ensure Canada's prosperity.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be a part of ushering in the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Last December when the Prime Minister reorganized the former Human Resources Development Canada, steps were taken, pursuant to the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, to permit the creation of two new departments.

Today, with the legislation before the House, we are providing the department with the legal power and tools needed for the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to fulfill his mandate, and what an important mandate it is. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, or HRSDC, plays a key role in meeting the Government of Canada's commitment to improve the social and economic well-being of all Canadians.

Through the department's efforts to support human capital development, enhance access to post-secondary education, promote workplace and skills development and foster a culture of lifelong learning, the quality of life for all Canadians, including the most disadvantaged, will be greatly improved.

If we, as a nation, are to participate fully in the 21st century economy and society, then we must have the means to ensure that all Canadians can pursue lifelong learning and skills development opportunities.

Starting with schooling, we are working with our provincial and territorial partners to enhance the accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education. We want Canadians to have access to post-secondary education, but we also recognize the need for working-age Canadians to improve their skills and learn new ones. To help Canadians achieve this goal, HRSDC supports a variety of programs from basic literacy to apprenticeship to on-the-job training.

We all know that the best security is a job but the reality is that many Canadians need help getting started in their careers or returning to the workplace. That is why HRSDC directs substantial funds to employment insurance programs through active measures that are designed to assist unemployed workers participate in the workforce. Through such components as employment assistance services, job creation partnerships and labour market partnerships, the department has helped almost 700,000 Canadians in 2003-04.

As hon. members can tell from the names of these programs, partnership is key to ensuring the best outcomes for Canadians. It is for this reason that HRSDC is working with other levels of government, employers, unions and sector councils to develop a workplace skills strategy.

The workplace is increasingly important in a business environment characterized by rapid technological innovation. Under the workplace skills strategy, we have set three objectives: to help build a highly skilled, adaptable and resilient workforce; to see a labour market that is flexible, efficient and productive; and to work with employers to ensure that Canada's workplaces are productive and innovative.

The department is committed to looking at issues such as literacy training and essential skills upgrading for workers as well as encouraging apprenticeships in the skills trades. The workplace skills strategy will focus on the workplace for action because that is where workers' skills come into play.

In our last budget we kick-started the strategy by providing new resources for union-employer training centres. Over the next three years we will invest $25 million in a pilot project to help replace outdated equipment for trades training. The Government of Canada will match employer and union investments in new machinery in selected training centres.

Right now we are working to increase Canadians' levels of education, but Canada is undergoing a shortage of skilled workers in some areas. If we couple this with the aging demographics of the population and the moving of the baby boom generation out of the labour force, it is clear that Canada needs workers.

A key element of the workplace skills strategy will therefore be the focus on foreign credential recognition. The fact that immigration is expected to account for all net labour force growth between 2011 and 2016 and the fact that many immigrants' skills are underutilized means that we must act promptly, and we have.

To address this challenge, the Government of Canada has created the foreign credentials recognition program. To implement this program the 2003 budget provided $40 million over five years to improve the foreign credentials recognition process in Canada and followed up with an additional $5 million per year over four years in the 2004 budget.

We know that health care is a number one priority with Canadians. With this in mind, we have reached an agreement with the provinces, territories and key medical stakeholders on improved procedures for licensing foreign trained doctors. Similar initiatives are underway for foreign trained nurses and other occupations related to the health field.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is helping newcomers to have their skills recognized; supporting families so that children get the best start in life; facilitating access to post-secondary education; and encouraging learning and skills development in the workplace.

We know how important it is to help Canadians prepare for, find and keep work, but we also recognize that there are times when all a person needs is temporary assistance to help bridge the gap between jobs. HRSDC administers employment insurance to provide relief for those temporarily unemployed.

The department is also responsible for the employment insurance compensation care benefit. This benefit helps ease the stress faced by Canadians who must choose between their jobs and caring for their gravely ill family members by providing six weeks of employment insurance benefits.

In my riding of Davenport and across the greater Toronto area, HRSDC provides funding and support to many programs that assist people to improve their lives.

The services and leadership offered by HRSDC directly impacts communities like mine all across the country. Whether it is work on foreign trained doctors or employment insurance benefits, these are the kinds of things that are important to people in Toronto and across Canada.

From the broad range of programs and services that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada offers, we can see just how crucial the department is to promoting Canada's social and economic well-being.

HRSDC has an ambitious and important agenda. This legislation gives the formal authority for the new department to pursue it.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak about the importance of Bill C-23 to articulate in legislation the new mandate and responsibilities for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC.

This legislation would ensure that the Minister and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development will have the legal powers and tools needed to fulfill the minister's mandate. I can assure the House that HRSDC is working closely with officials from Social Development Canada to strengthen this country's social foundation.

This government believes in a strong Canada where every citizen has the opportunities and the tools to achieve his or her full potential to participate in the labour market and the community at large.

We believe that all Canadians should benefit from Canada's prosperity. We have a vision of a Canada where everyone has the right to learn and to keep learning throughout their lifetime. We are committed to fostering lifelong learning so that all Canadians can acquire the skills and experience required to participate fully in the workforce and in society.

As we move forward in the 21st century, Canada will require a more highly skilled workforce. The new economy calls for Canadians to become highly skilled and adaptable workers who not only embrace change but are prepared to drive it ahead.

I think most Canadians are aware that these days access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, Canada's workers must have the opportunity to upgrade their skills, to improve their literacy, to learn on the job and to move onto the path of lifelong learning.

With this in mind, the Government of Canada is supporting learning and skills development at every stage of Canadians' lives. For instance, we are helping our youngest citizens through the Canadian education savings grants so that their parents can save for their children's education. The moment a child is born in Canada, its family and the government can begin to make contributions to finance their learning down the road. About 1.8 million Canadian children currently benefit from this innovative program.

Improvements have been made to support savings efforts made by low income and middle income families. All parents want the best for their children. That includes children achieving their full learning potential. The problem is that many families, particularly low income families, have trouble setting aside money for their children's education.

That is why the Government of Canada has introduced several new measures designed to encourage parents to start saving for their children's education right away. We recognize that our youth need education and training for challenging careers that will unleash their talents and bring them a bright future, but we must do more for families and students who feel challenged by the costs of post-secondary education today.

That is why we are working with our partners and key stakeholders to provide students with the financial assistance they require to pursue a post-secondary education. Through the Canada student loans program and a number of Canada study grants, we are doing much to help students cope with the rising costs of post-secondary education.

Over the last 40 years, the Canada student loans program has earned respect across the country by helping students meet the costs of a post-secondary education. About 350,000 Canadian students a year benefit from this program, which last year loaned $1.6 billion to students in need. We also introduced a new grant worth up to $3,000, which will help up to 20,000 students from low income families cover a portion of their first year tuition.

The Government of Canada supports post-secondary education in a variety of ways. A few examples are the Canada graduate scholarships, Canada study grants for students with dependents and for high needs students with permanent disabilities, as well as funding of higher education for aboriginal students and Industry Canada's support of distance education.

Members should be aware that Canada is the second biggest investor in the world in post-secondary education as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Our employment insurance program has continued to adapt to meet economic realities and will keep changing to meet the needs of Canadians. Canadians know they can count on employment insurance as a social safety net that is there when they need it, in times of job loss and economic downturns.

We are also giving unemployed Canadians new hope with special measures designed to help them get work experience, improve their job skills or start a new business. So far, more than 667,000 Canadians have been given these opportunities under the employment benefits and support measures of EI.

One of the pressure points of the new economy is finding enough workers with the right education and the right training. All new jobs require more education and skills than ever before. Roughly 70% of jobs now demand some form of post-secondary education. And on this front, as Canadians we certainly distinguish ourselves in the world, with the highest proportion of 24- to 65-year-olds with post-secondary education.

Despite this, we know that as many as 42% of working age Canadians already in the workforce lack the necessary literacy and other essential skills to meet these requirements. Too many good jobs are going begging in our country right now because we do not have people who match the right skill set.

There is a real disconnect in Canada between the need for a trained, skilled workforce and the opportunities available for workers to meet that need. We must close the skills gap if we are going to thrive and prosper as a nation in the 21st century. That is why we are committed to developing a new workplace skills strategy to ensure that Canada has the skilled, adaptable workforce it needs for the future.

We recognize that the workplace is where economic activity occurs. It is where Canadian workers' skills are put to the test as firms strive to become more innovative and more productive. As such, is an appropriate place for adult skills development. We intend to work with unions at their training sites and with businesses in the workplace through sector councils to develop this new workplace skills strategy, boosting literacy and other essential job skills for apprentices and workers.

I particularly wish to stress the important role I see unions playing in this process. Unions have resources and they have influence that will help in promoting more skills development. The workplace skills strategy will build on current federal programs and activities such as sector council initiatives, as well as apprenticeship programs, essential skills and workplace literacy initiatives, foreign credential recognition and labour mobility.

In all these activities we will collaborate with industry partners, employers and unions, as well as learning organizations and provincial and territorial governments, to promote the cost effective development of skills driven by the needs of the workplace. All these initiatives are part of the mandate of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

We understand that Canada is a stronger country when all people are able to contribute their skills and talents to our labour market and to society. I am genuinely excited about the momentum that is beginning to build as people start to understand the enormous potential for Canada in the new global economy.

With this ambitious agenda, our government is working to build the workforce for the 21st century in Canada, robust and strong and able to compete with the best in the world.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I took note of the member's comments about skills development and the EI program. The government likes to brag about its performance in so many areas, and economic indicators, but one area that I think is sadly lacking compared to our chief competitors is our unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate in this country is something like 7.3%. The unemployment rate in the United States is 5.3%. Also, the government should be taking a good hard look at the success story of Ireland. With the economic policies the Irish have there, the unemployment rate is something in the order of 4%.

If I understand it correctly, if we went from 7.3% unemployment to only 4% unemployment, we are talking about 500,000 to 600,000 people, the population of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a gigantic number of people.

I would like this member to try to explain to me how this government has had a real problem getting its unemployment rates down to the levels that we see in the United States and Ireland. Maybe he can explain what structural problems we have in this country such that we cannot get it lower.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government is committed to lowering the unemployment rate in this country. It is regrettable that a single person is unemployed. That is a reality, but the government is committed to reducing the level of unemployment in this country.

I would remind my hon. colleague across the floor, and I appreciate his question, that the government is handling the country's economy very effectively. The member likely does not need to be reminded that we have a surplus budget, that seven consecutive surplus budgets have been returned by the Liberal government, that the most significant national debt with which we were left in 1993 has been gradually reduced, and the crippling $42 billion deficit of 1993 has been eradicated. On balance, this government is most effectively managing the finances of this nation.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member talking about how wonderful the student loan program is. I would like to inform him that as a fourth term member of Parliament I have run into a lot of problems that young constituents have had with that program, two that I would like to share with him and ask him for comments on.

One problem is students who find themselves coming out of our education system, expensive as it is, with tremendous debt and then finding it very difficult to get a job. Consequently they have great difficulty in making the payments. As soon as they miss a payment, they go into default and they start getting hounded for payments. It actually was so bad in the case of a mentally disturbed person in my riding who received funding that it ended up being a contributing factor in her suicide.

What we have suggested is that loans should be income contingent. In other words, they should be repaid according to the salary the students are making. If they get a high salary, they pay it a little faster. If they have a very low salary, they pay a lower amount that is affordable. If they find themselves out of work for a period of time, payments and the clock under the loan basically should be stopped.

The second problem is that we have many students who have difficulty getting the loans. One of the impediments in their way is the means test for the parents. If the parents make over a certain income, students cannot get a loan from this program even though the parents may have no ability or no intention to provide funding for their children. Why should the children be penalized because of that? We would like to see the program change so that it is not contingent on the parental income, that is, so that it is based on the student needs. I would be interested in hearing the comments of the hon. member on those two items.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not standing on my feet suggesting that the program is perfect but obviously the government is doing something very well.

I will repeat what I said earlier. Canada has the highest proportion of 24 to 65 year olds in the world with post-secondary education. Clearly we are doing something very well and very effectively in graduating so many young adults out of university.

I would also point out for the member that it was this government that established the millennium scholarship fund.

With respect to student loans and the innuendo that they are crippling, it is my understanding that relief can be sought. It is my understanding that student loans can be repaid on a gradual or incremental basis when financial circumstances dictate that form of repayment.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise the issue of the employment insurance fund.

Over the course of the past 11 years, $46 billion have been taken from workers. Eight hundred thousand Canadians who have paid into that fund are not able to qualify for basic employment insurance. We also know we have a growing number of poor children in this country, 1.4 million poor children. We know women are particularly vulnerable to the fact that they are paying into an insurance fund that is being syphoned off by the federal government in order to do, goodness knows what. It brought in a corporate tax cut at the beginning of this year but it certainly is not doing a heck of a lot for those in communities across the country.

Why has it taken so long for the government to act in any of these areas? We have mentioned housing, which is deplorable. We have mentioned the situation for persons with disabilities, which is catastrophic across the country. We have mentioned employment insurance, where in many communities people do not have access to basic employment insurance. We have seen the impact on communities. Why has the government not acted?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government is acting. The employment insurance program does change to meet economic realities and will keep changing to meet the needs of Canadians.

I will certainly bring to the minister's attention the concerns raised by the member and a fuller answer will be forthcoming.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Brant, further to the comments by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Once again, concerning the employment insurance fund, the member says that it is adjusted according to the employment situation. Would it not be more accurate to say that the rules concerning the fund were adjusted based on the needs of the fund rather than on the needs of the unemployed?

I want to ask the member if he realizes that the rules have been changed and that now only 38% of the people who were entitled to employment insurance in 1995 are now eligible. There is a reduction. Presently, according to the rules that existed in 1995, less than 40% of the unemployed are now entitled to employment insurance benefits.

Does the member realize that? How can he explain that the bill disregards that and establishes a separate fund which will be managed by both parties?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the employment insurance program in Canada is, I dare say, the envy of many other countries. I am not suggesting that it is a perfect program but it has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals over many years. Are refinements required? No doubt. The government is committed to continuing to ensure fairness and equity in the program.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.

This bill gives a definition of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Early in the bill, we read the following:

The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters...over which Parliament has jurisdiction and which are not by law assigned to another Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada.

Unfortunately, it is not specified that all these jurisdictions are provincial. In other words, this bill further entrenches the federal invasion of the areas of manpower development and education.

In the next few minutes, I will not come back to the employment insurance aspect, even though it is an important part of the new department. I believe that my colleague for Chambly—Borduas has very clearly explained the position of the Bloc Québecois in this respect.

Let me just recall a few facts. The employment insurance program became a federal jurisdiction when it was handed over by the provinces in the hard times of the second world war. Since then, the federal government, here as in a number of jurisdictions, has done as it pleased, completely ignoring Quebec and the provinces.

The current government can now demonstrate its good will by supporting Bills C-278 and C-280 as tabled by the Bloc Québécois. These two bills would implement necessary and efficient amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, the first in terms of procedure and benefits, the second concerning the EI Commission and its related fund.

Unfortunately, in my riding, EI is taking on growing importance, while the government does nothing to keep businesses in business. EI is and will continue to be very important for a great number of citizens in my riding. However, the current criteria are inadequate on both counts. Workers need a decent income to meet their needs. With all the federal programs that have been slashed for all age groups and for all workers, my riding is looking at a annual shortfall of $23 million, which is an unbelievably large amount.

That being said, let me return to the current bill which, as I was saying, highlights the federal government's interference in provincial jurisdictions.

The mandate of the future Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will be, among other duties, to strengthen the social foundations of Canada. However—I repeat—these social foundations, as it is clearly said, come under provincial jurisdiction.

The skills development portion of the new department is nothing less than an education department in disguise. The learning bonds are a case in point. The federal government must transfer the money to Quebec and the provinces, rather than establish programs in jurisdictions that do not belong to it. With the transfer to the provinces, the Government of Quebec could help students by limiting debts incurred due to their studies and by providing achievable dreams to our young people.

Bill C-23 stipulates that the new “Minister may enter into agreements with a province or a provincial public body...or bodies that the Minister considers appropriate”. I should hope so; this is obvious. The sectors of labour development and education come under provincial jurisdiction. Provinces and provincial bodies should be consulted, unless, again, the Liberal government acts in bad faith.

In the area of labour development, I will again refer to the bill. It says that the Minister contributes to the achievement of these objectives by supporting the development of human capital, by improving access to post-secondary education, by supporting skills improvement in the workplace and by encouraging Canadians to embark on a path of lifelong learning.

I will provide examples from my riding to demonstrate that the Liberal government has difficulty in managing programs and that it would be well-advised to leave them, with their funds, to Quebec and the provinces.

In the Compton—Stanstead riding, after the closure of the CookshireTex and Cordelli plants, which fell victim to Asian competition, several employees took steps to retrain themselves. They sought to find their way back onto the labour market by becoming specialists.

Instead of encouraging them, the staff at the local employment insurance office thoroughly demoralized them. The federal employees there were saying that the newly unemployed people had more than enough qualifications to get retrained. Those who did not have all the qualifications were told that employment insurance would not pay for seasonal or long-term training.

Is that a show of goodwill? Is that what we call support for the development of human capital, for professional training and for continuous learning? I think the liberal government is laughing in the face of our fellow citizens. Instead of giving such absurd answers, the federal government should address the fiscal imbalance so that Quebec would have the necessary resources to take care of workforce development by itself, without having to go to Ottawa cap in hand.

I am asking my colleagues in this House to stand against Bill C-23, but to be in favour of Bill C-278 and Bill C-280, which, as I said, modify the Employment Insurance Act in an efficient manner. The Bloc Québécois also thinks that the Minister of Labour's mandate, as described in Part II of Bill C-23, is consistent with Bill C-263 on replacement workers. The federal government should support the initiative put forward by the Bloc Québécois by voting in favour of said bill, and thus modify the Labour Code without shaking up the entire Human Resources Department.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are wondering how the bill before us will really improve the fate of our fellow citizens and how it will translate into improvements in the field. In this case, some duties are divided. In other areas such as regional development, a new department is created when we already had the Economic Development Agency.

In preparation for my speech, I looked at some notes. I can tell you that the organization charts for the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development we were given show some rather peculiar lines of authority between the Minister of Labour and Housing and the Minister of State (Human Resources Development). We think all that will not translate into operational efficiency.

We are wondering how this type of legislation will improve the fate of the unemployed, the homeless and workers.

This is why we, in the Bloc Québécois, do not support this bill which might create further encroachments and may not bring any new investment. As we know, the government has a $9.1 billion surplus. It might end up being even larger. Members do realize that one of the functions of the Minister of Labour and Housing, as defined by the bill, is housing.

As a matter of fact, as you know, today the popular front for urban redevelopment, FRAPRU, organized a demonstration asking for immediate investments. The Minister of Labour and Housing is also responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which does not appear in the new department organization chart. It does not augur well, I think.

I will agree that organizing a state such as this very centralizing federal state, is not that easy. But we know that any system can be improved and that it creates its own encroachments and management problems. But we do not see how this improves clarity.

Boileau said, “An idea well conceived presents itself clearly, and words to express it come readily”.

That cannot be said of the background information on the new department. I will quote some of it and you will agree with me that Boileau would probably roll over in his grave if he read or was made aware of the new department mission.

HRSDC's vision is to build a country where everyone has the opportunity to learn and to contribute to Canada's success by participating fully in a well-functioning and efficient labour market. HRSDC's mission is to improve the standard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled and mobile labour force and an efficient and inclusive labour market. This means the department has a central role in helping build a 21st century economy for Canada and in strengthening Canada's social foundations.

The department contributes to meeting its vision and mission by supporting human capital development, enhancing access to post-secondary education, supporting workplace skills development, and encouraging lifelong learning for Canadians.

This is terribly wordy, without necessarily having any connection with the needs of Canadians: a job, and also a social safety net if they lose that job, one that guarantees enough to live on. I do not see where this new creation improves the situation.

Taking the homeless as an example, we know that there was a measure to help them, SCPI, but it is getting to the end of its days. The throne speech included a promise of new housing, which does not meet the needs of the homeless. This national homelessness initiative, and its related programs, including SCPI, the supporting communities partnership initiative, are programs that require investments.

So, before structures, or superstructures, of agencies and departments are built, it is necessary to have sufficient resources for them. During the election campaign, the Liberals announced $1 billion to $1.5 billion—though it was unclear—over five or six years. This promise is mixed up with the measures relating to housing, including new housing creation and measures to help the homeless.

When we look at $1.5 billion, or one billion over six years, when the creation of new housing for families—affordable housing or social housing—and the SCPI is mixed in with resources for individuals and the creation of temporary shelters that the SCPI also supports, then we see that this will be a huge department, even after it has been split or reorganized, and that its actual resources will be limited. These resources are in great demand.

The government appears to be saying, “Why should we make it simple when we can make it complicated?” We say, “Why make it complicated when it could be simple?”

Thus, the need to have an independent employment insurance fund that is not just part of an enormous department where surpluses can get lost or misplaced has become painfully obvious in recent years. Now, accountability may be diminished and difficult to achieve.

In addition, we have been through this experiment with human resources in the past and I do not think it has fixed anything at all. It is like putting a poultice on a wooden leg.

In my humble opinion, I think that problems of efficiency and effectiveness cannot be corrected by this organization, whose ministerial accountability does not seem clear from its organization chart.

What the homeless need are human resources. What the housing sector needs, what the poorly housed families of Canada need, is resources. These resources should be transferred to the provinces and Quebec, which are better at delivering programs and providing solutions than are across the board federal departments or programs.

Therefore, this bill is a source of confusion and not a source of practical solutions for people. It may also be an intrusion into Quebec's jurisdiction. I do not believe it is the source of a better quality of life for Quebeckers or for Canadians in the rest of Canada.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague from Compton—Stanstead, who gave us a scholarly presentation on Bill C-23 and focused mainly on skills. This is an important point. Before making my comment and asking my question, I also want to congratulate the member for Beauport—Limoilou and the member for Chambly, who are heading this file with great expertise.

First, here is my comment. I had the opportunity to intervene, last week, on Bill C-9 to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. There is an extremely important parallel and common point with Bill C-23, namely federal interference in Quebec's jurisdictions.

Sometimes, it is economic development that the government does not recognize. It says that it does not exist in the Constitution, despite sections 91 and 92, which provide for a division of powers, and despite tradition and precedents. It has increasingly the habit of saying that we do not have powers. Here it is on education. This is where we find the common point.

Last week, I had the opportunity to intervene with the minister responsible for economic development. He said the same thing. He is required to say that there is still an integrated federal strategy, whether on employment insurance or on the economy, despite the needs that Quebec might have.

I also think that we do not need this, because it will not work. There will always be something that does not work. There will always be problems.

I would like to put my question to my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou. The Bloc is proposing Bill C-280, which brings solutions, I think. I would like to ask him what the fundamental difference is between Bill C-23 and Bill C-280. Does Bill C-280 not correspond much more to Quebec's needs than Bill C-23?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, in fact, what the Bloc's bill is proposing are simple things: equal and efficient structures.

I think that my colleague alluded to the contribution of unions and employers to the EI commission and fund. What we are proposing in this respect is something simple, efficient and transparent, as opposed to what we have now.

Take homelessness for example. With the Government of Canada, all we hear about are three-year temporary measures and the promise of arrangements with the provinces. Does the government have an integrated approach to fighting poverty? Does it take action to help the unemployed not give in to depression and stress because they are unable to put a roof over their heads or food on the table? That is pretty basic; it is called Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It is a basic need to have a roof over one's head and food on the table in order to live in dignity and be able to find a new job.

In the case of the homeless, the most disadvantaged in our society, three-year measures are promised but in fact, compared to what was proposed in the Speech from the Throne or what could be expected, assistance will be reduced. In Quebec, it is estimated—and I believe I am accurate in saying this—that this will represent a budget cut of $15 million, when some $100 million would be necessary to respond to the needs. This is in fact a reduction, compared to what was promised.

What we are proposing are clear and transparent political and administrative structures designed truly ...or those in need, long-term structures, and not acute structuritisor enormous structures that interfere with working in the best interests of people.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised by my colleague's remarks and his condemnation of the bill. I truly appreciate his interest in housing and in homelessness. However, we are discussing a bill which is designed to reform and I hope to improve the federal system.

In the standing committee, which studied the matter of the old department of HRDC, the Bloc voted in favour of the division of that department. That division is what the government has proceeded to do and that is what the House is seized with the present time. This was unanimously supported by the House of Commons, including the Bloc.

On the matter of homelessness, if that is where my colleague wants to focus his attention, first, does he not think this smaller and more focused entity would be more effective in the area of housing and homelessness than the cumbersome predecessor that the Bloc voted against the last time? Second, if that is not so, as Bloc members voted in favour of dividing the old HRDC, have they any suggestions as to the way it should have been divided?

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4:25 p.m.


Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not stoop to the government's specialty, which is to always look for ways to create new org charts. In private member's Bill C-280, we suggested straightforward structures to make government management more efficient. The Bloc Québécois is contributing through its own bills and motions.

Should we keep the old department the way it was or divide it in two as suggested here? The division is not a solution in itself. Having more departments or fewer, or dividing departments will not settle any problem.

I have some experience. I will soon turn 50. In my younger years, I used to be very much interested in politics. I was proud to know by heart the make-up of cabinets in Quebec City and Ottawa. I thought that once I knew them, I would know them forever, and that it would never change.

Later on, when I was 15 or 16, I realized that it was not worth trying to remember the names of ministers and their departments, because they keep changing all the time when circumstances change and when mandarins feel like changing them.

I also know that this bill has been introduced because of problems in the management of this department. Would government management of the firearms registry have been better if there had been two registries instead of one? I doubt it. Splitting a department in two is neither good nor bad. What counts is the way it is done.

In Bill C-280, we suggest measures that are clearer, more simple, and more transparent for the public.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, Health; the hon. member for Quebec, Parental leave; the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton, The sponsorship program.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-23, an act that will establish in legislation the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development which was created by a series of orders in council last December.

Today we have the opportunity to examine this legislation that establishes the department of HRSDC and sets out the powers, duties and functions of the minister and the minister's mandate. I would like to talk about that mandate and why it is important for our standard of living to promote a highly skilled and mobile workforce.

As the member of Parliament for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, I am keenly aware of the role this department will play in the lives of my constituents and my community. I am pleased that the minister visited my constituency during the summer to learn about our region and to announce some important new programs in the community. I welcome him back any time.

The name of the department is appropriate, Human Resources and Skills Development, because of the role it will play in working with partners to help Canadians create better opportunities for themselves. Increasingly, in the knowledge economy, that means Canadians are recognizing the importance of learning and skills development.

One way of influencing a better outcome for individuals is to ensure that they get a good start right from the beginning when they are children. Maternity and parental benefits under the employment insurance program make it easier now for parents to concentrate on the health and well-being of their babies.

At the same time, parents and grandparents can make a commitment to invest in a registered education savings plan for their child or grandchild knowing that they will receive additional support for that child from the Government of Canada through the Canada education savings grant.

In the last budget the government recently enhanced the Canada education savings grant for low income and middle income families. For those parents entitled to the national child benefit, the government will provide a Canada learning bond giving them a further incentive to put aside some money for their children's further education.

Members will recall that 26% of children from families with incomes under $25,000 do have savings for post-secondary education. However, only 8% of these have savings in RESPs where they could get matching funds from the government.

I hope fellow members recognize the policy drivers behind these programs. We are working with Canadian parents to give their children a good start so they are ready and able to learn in school, and looking ahead to training and educational possibilities after high school.

Studies tell us that children take post-secondary education more seriously if they feel their parents are committed to a long term learning plan. Our goal is to get young people thinking of the value of education and learning from an early age so they will be motivated when it most counts.

HRSDC will also support families in another way through its national literacy secretariat which funds projects across the country to support family literacy. Literacy and essential skills are the foundation of lifelong learning, and enable us to fully participate in the workplace and society. Higher literacy results in a better quality of life through reduced poverty, lower unemployment, decreased assistance, and in fact better health for Canadians. The best security of course is a job, and the most effective route to employment is through learning, and acquiring the literacy and foundational skills so necessary in all occupations.

HRSDC will come into play later on in the lives of young people. Canada's youth employment strategy is active on many fronts in communities across the country. From hire a student activities in the summer to skills link projects for young people who have left school or are unemployed, YES projects count on local partners to help young people gain work experience and either continue their education or enter the workforce. The backdrop to our success as a country is our work with partners in our communities to spark the abilities and the talents of young people.

Some people have heard and seen the ad campaign that is encouraging young people to consider the trades as a serious career option. Through HRSDC, $12 million was provided to the Canadian apprenticeship forum and Skills/Compétences Canada to develop and launch this promotional campaign to attract more young people into trades. We are accomplishing two important objectives: expanding career opportunities for young people and renewing skilled trades. Like so much of the work at HRSDC the success of this campaign will depend on the apprenticeship stakeholders, business and labour groups, employers and educators.

The campaign also underlines the skills challenge facing Canada. First, we have a slowing of the labour force growth. Our labour force grew by over 2% a year 25 years ago. By the end of this decade it will be down to 1% per year. That is one reason why this campaign is happening. Regional labour shortages are already evident in construction, aircraft mechanics, machinists and carpenters.

The second challenge facing us is the relentless rise in skill requirements across all industries. Three out of four jobs now need some post-secondary education, whether a trade certificate, a college diploma or a university degree. Recognizing the urgency of this situation, the Government of Canada has made skills development and lifelong learning a priority.

Since first balancing the books in 1997-98, about one-quarter of all new federal spending has been devoted to education and innovation. That adds up to more than $36 billion. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development is leading that charge. In the years ahead we will need to ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to gain the skills and the learning to succeed in an ever-changing labour market.

Very simply, our goal is to lay the foundation for promoting learning at every age and every stage of life. Part of this involves enhancing the accessibility and the affordability of post-secondary education so students can get a good education and skills.

Many students I have visited in my local schools are afraid that post-secondary education is beyond their reach. This is one of the reasons that I was interested in joining our party's post-secondary caucus and taking over the very distinguished leadership of the member for Peterborough. That is why our last budget improved the Canada student loans program and the Canada study grants to enhance access to high needs students, such as those with dependents, with disabilities or from low income families or those studying part time.

Helping students pursue post-secondary education is only part of the answer. Learning also occurs in and around the workplace. That is where workers' skills intersect with the current needs of the labour market, which also impacts on innovation and productivity.

We are working with other levels of government, business, unions, workers and sector councils to develop a workplace skills strategy. We are looking at issues such as literacy training and essential skills for upgrading of workers as well as encouraging apprenticeships in the skilled trades. Our goal is to allow workers greater opportunity to enhance and improve their skills for the workplace.

Under the workplace skills strategy we would like to first, help build a highly skilled, adaptable and resilient workforce; and second, see a flexible, efficient and productive labour market, and also respond to employers' needs for productive, innovative workplaces.

In our last budget we kick-started the strategy by providing new resources for union-employer training centres. Over the next three years we will invest $25 million in a pilot project to help replace outdated equipment for trades training.

The last budget also committed a further $5 million per year over four years to sector councils to help raise awareness of the need to better integrate skilled immigrants into the Canadian economy. In a time of skill and worker shortages, we need to work together to find solutions in assessing and recognizing the credentials of skilled immigrants. My own area of Atlantic Canada needs immigrants to grow our economy. We cannot afford to have skilled trained professionals who are unable to practise their profession.

The $5 million builds on a total of $40 million over five years announced in the 2003 budget to help create a foreign credential recognition program. HRSDC is spearheading the program by working with a number of partners, provincial and territorial governments, licensing and regulatory bodies, professional associations, employers and a variety of other stakeholders.

We have already reached an agreement on improved procedures for licensing foreign-trained doctors. Consultations will soon begin with allied health professionals such as pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and medical laboratory technicians.

As hon. members can see, the Human Resources Skills Development Department is busy on many fronts and in many communities across the country. The work accomplished by HRSDC staff, through its partners and stakeholders, is truly in the long term best interests of this country and will reflect the priorities of Canadians. Our human resources are our future and HRSDC is showing leadership to meet the critical needs of Canadians.

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4:35 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague. Things are somewhat disconnected from reality. When you look at the real situation, you see that government cuts have done a lot of damage in communities across the country, including cuts in employment programs like Surf the Wave, a program which helped more than 5,000 handicapped people across the country to find a job for a paltry $950,000 a year. Nevertheless, the government announced, early this year, that it will cut this program. It will eliminate it at the end of the year.

Let us talk about education. Student debt across the country is rising; it is, in average, between $20,000 and $30,000 per person. In my community, in my riding, I meet dozens upon dozens of young Canadians who would like to make a contribution to our country but who are unable to do so, either because they cannot afford to have a debt, or because they already have one. They find this situation incredibly difficult.

There has been a lot of talk about the housing issues and the employment insurance fund which denies some 800,000 unemployed Canadians the minimum they need to put food on the table and forge a decent life for themselves and for their families.

With all those cuts, even if my colleague made a very good presentation, I think his speech was disconnected from the reality that we see across this country and in our communities. I wanted to ask the hon. member if he understands how disconnected it is from the situation we have in Canada.

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4:40 p.m.


Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that my hon. colleague feels very passionately about the needs of Canadians but the simple fact is that not all Canadians have kept up with the overall success of the Canadian economy in the past 10 years.

We heard earlier that there are unemployed people in Canada. I think my colleague from Brant had mentioned that one person unemployed is too many. The fact is that we had an unemployment rate of I believe almost 12% just 10 years ago. A number of people had to make sacrifices as this country went from being virtually bankrupt to the point now where we are able to make investments in the most important resource we have, which is our people, particularly our children.

I would say that even in a time of significant economic distress, things like the Canada child tax credit was an innovation at a time when we were trying to, overall, get the economy under control. We have not slacked off in that need, even when the country did not have money.

Government is about making choices. We made it clear in the election and in the Speech from Throne that our priorities were health, homelessness, child care, reinvesting in our communities and reinvesting in our military. Homelessness is one that is very close to me and I am delighted that we have set aside $1.8 billion for that over the next few years.

I think we are doing pretty well, all things considered. We can always do better and we will strive to do so.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, the point my NDP colleague made about the disconnect from reality concerns me.

I am as critical as anybody of the system of higher education that we have in Canada but we must never forget that we have the highest percentage of post-secondary graduates in the world. With all our problems, some things are being done right and, by the way, increasingly right.

He talked about cutbacks. I have been here longer than he has and it certainly was a very stressful time when we took out of the system, not any money that was there, but $42 billion per year of borrowing. The government of day and governments of the previous 30 years had been spending roughly a quarter more than the money they had for years and years. It is easy to say that we made all these cuts but they were being paid for by borrowing $42 billion. One can imagine if we had to borrow $42 billion this year.

Earlier today I heard one of his colleagues talking about spending the so-called surpluses. We have a national debt accumulated in those years of about $500 billion and we have a surplus of 5%. If we were to put all that so-called surplus on to the debt it would take us 50 years to pay it off if we had that much every single year to pay it off. I think the member should be careful about what he is saying and who is disconnected from reality.

I truly do share the concerns of my colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and, I suspect, in most areas, but I what I liked about my colleague's speech was his focus on what we now call lifelong learning. He mentioned lifelong learning and skills development but they are the same thing.

In lifelong learning we are talking about quality early childhood development, quality elementary and high school, quality college or the trades, quality university and, by the way, we are talking about childhood literacy and senior literacy and all of the things that are involved. Our purpose in debating today is to make the federal government more effective in dealing with those things.

I know my colleague is from the Halifax-Dartmouth area, which is an extraordinary centre of college and university life. The area has a range of colleges and universities which one would rarely see in such a small area. I know he has a particular interest in colleges. I wonder if he could comment on some of the developments he has seen and is watching in the Halifax-Dartmouth area with respect to the colleges and universities.

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4:45 p.m.


Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to talk about that. In spite of my great passion for the colleges and universities in my area, I do not think I can speak for as long as the question was but I will do my very best. It was a learned question with a significant preamble.

One of the most exciting things that is happening in my constituency of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is that we are about to become the home of our first post-secondary institution, the home office of the Nova Scotia Community College, which has been so ably led by Ray Ivany, one of the true scholars in Canada. What that means to a community is a vibrancy, an innovation and the creativity that automatically comes with students. On behalf of the people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, I want to thank Ray Ivany and the people at the community college, people like Robbie Shaw, for recognizing the possibility of coming across the harbour and setting that up.

Halifax is the home as well of Dalhousie University, St. Mary's University, Mount St. Vincent University, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design which is close to establishing a beachhead on the Dartmouth side of the water that comes complete with all the benefits of having artistically creative students in a downtown area. Nothing adds so much to the life of a community, from a cultural point of view, a learned point of view and a vibrancy point of view, than universities, which is why I am very pleased to be on the caucus committee for post-secondary education.

My colleague who asked the question has established a reputation across the country as somebody who really sees the benefit of post-secondary education, the realities and challenges of post-secondary education and has been working to do something about it.

As the chair of our caucus committee on post-secondary education I look forward to following in his footsteps. I am delighted that my own community of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is a great example of what universities and colleges can bring to a community.

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4:45 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon to speak on a subject for which I feel strongly. I remember in the early seventies finishing university at Laurentian in Sudbury and getting a job at Sault College. I joined the staff at that institution who travelled the highways and the byways of the Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma area selling education out there like missionaries talking about lifelong learning, talking about bringing people together to look at what they might do to upgrade their skills, to shift from one job to another, to create something new in their community and to participate in the voluntary sector even. Education at that time seemed to be at a premium and everyone was excited and was participating in that.

I have to say though that in this place and over the last few years working as a member of a provincial parliament in Ontario I have found a distinct change in that atmosphere, a move from a priority on education to other things like deficit cutting and government reduction, I believe, to the detriment of communities and our young people particularly and our country.

It is an honour to rise in the House today on the bill to create the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. On the surface it may be a housekeeping bill to give legislative framework for the new department that has been operating since last December. However the mandate of this department touches on very important issues for Canadians, including workplace strategy, apprenticeship programs, employment insurance and student assistance initiatives.

I appreciate the contributions in this debate by my colleagues from Ottawa Centre and Burnaby—New Westminster, noting the shameful record of the government on social housing, homeless people and persons with disabilities.

When we look at policy related to what makes our economy healthy and strong, we have some fundamental questions to answer. We have to get it right, whether we operate out of a mindset that says that the economy exists to serve human beings or whether we think human beings were created to serve the economy.

All social and fiscal policy flows from that primary understanding of the right relationship between people and the economy. Until we build an economy that honours human beings, that permits each and every Canadian to contribute fully and enjoy all the justice and wealth that flows now only to some, I believe we have failed in our work here.

First, as the elected member in the Ontario legislature for Sault Ste. Marie and now as the federal member, I have fought to protect the northern economy. Indeed, in coming here I have discovered, in talking to some of my colleagues, that it is not just the northern economy but it is the rural economy as well. Large communities have done relatively well over the last few years, but those of us out in the far reaches, the heart of this country, who contribute in such a substantial way to the economy that has served us all so well have struggled in the last few years and continue to struggle.

I have been working to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect what we have and to attract new investment. The best and most sustainable economic development comes when natural assets within a community, primarily people, are identified and nurtured.

However, across my riding during the campaign I heard, and I still hear this today, that there are too few jobs or the jobs that are available are only poorly paid part-time positions. I hear about out-migration. My friend from Timmins—James Bay speaks here regularly and asks questions, and is in the media almost every other day talking about the phenomenon of out-migration in the northern parts of the country, in my riding in particular, in northern Ontario and I believe in rural Ontario. Out-migration, unfortunately, is too much a reality.

Our young people leave for the south to complete their schooling and too often find no full time positions when they attempt to return. They find contract work which leads only to contract after contract. They are effectively driven from the district in search of work. When the government does come up with a creative solution, a response in partnership usually with institutions and people who live and know their particular area, we find that one, two, three or four years down the road, the criteria has changed and they no longer qualify for the funding, so a good program disappears.

We heard from Northern College in Timmins. It runs a highly successful job creation program called GAP, the graduate assistance program, which addresses the huge out-migration problem of the north's young. This successful program is now told that it no longer meets HRSD criteria, despite successfully placing 75 graduates.

Subsidies increased dramatically due to the high level of jobs that our graduates obtained. A high percentage of clients averaged $13 an hour. That may not be much to those who live in the city and make much better money, but in many places in the north that is not bad money. Sixteen clients earned over $17 per hour. The program provided up to 52 weeks of funding for many employers who required more training time due to the complexity of the jobs they were offering.

Many grads returned home from college and university and expressed a real desire to stay in their small communities, so obviously GAP did fill the gap. The project received Human Resources Development Canada funding for the first four years of the program as part of youth strategies and then two years as a youth internship program. GAP is obviously expandable as a program. It could be expanded to North Bay, Sudbury or to my own community of Sault Ste. Marie where it could be introduced at Sault College in partnership with the colleges.

In Sault Ste. Marie, in my own home community, we have concerns about the lack of internship support for workers aged 30 and older. There is lack of support for older workers generally and particularly women not qualifying for EI because of part time work. I believe that was due to a change in the criteria brought forward by the government.

Another issue is the difficulty in accommodating workers caught in the quit/ fired argument. It is very difficult to prove unjust firing, and a lot of people find themselves falling through the net without any help.

Another group that seems to be affected rather dramatically in our area is seniors in the fifties group. I had a group of people come to my office to say, for example, that they took early retirement to leave room for younger people to come in, get trained and have jobs. However, after a year or two of retirement at 50, they are finding, and rightfully so, that they still have something worthwhile to contribute. With the skills, experience and knowledge that they have, they could return to the workplace in some other capacity perhaps and contribute. It would make themselves feel better and they could do more for their community and country.

However, there is a significant and serious disconnect. There does not seem to be any support, assistance or training for them to get over that gap. They are a resource we need desperately as we try to compete in the world and improve our GDP, but we are unable to make the connection. There is a need for some focus and work with that group so we can get them back into productive and constructive contributions.

Regrettably there has been the dismantling of a cooperative approach to training. We need to have a serious examination of how to improve apprenticeship programs. There is a shortage of trades people in Canada and it will worsen in the next few years.

The Conference Board of Canada believes that Canada is not prepared to deal with the issue under the current apprenticeship program. It says that there is a real disconnect in Canada between the need for a trained, skilled workforce and the opportunities available for workers to meet that need. We have systematically dismantled a cooperative approach to training, with government, industry and labour organizations working together.

Funding has been reduced, shifting the burden and cost of training to the individual in the context of the market. Anywhere we look in the world today, particularly where economies are doing well, education and training is seen as a social investment that benefits everyone, including business and industry. One of the first and most important decisions by the Irish government, for example, when it moved to kick start the Celtic tiger, was to invest heavily in education for everyone.

Finland sees the availability of skilled trained workers as essential to any future growth in its economy. One of the major competitive advantages in the new world economy is a country's workforce. This is why European jurisdictions are changing their laws to allow for dual citizenship, to attract immigrants back with their education, training and experience.

In my own community of Sault Ste. Marie we have young people trying to enter the workforce, displaced older workers looking for training and middle age retirees looking to make a further contribution. There is no central facility or resources available to take these very willing and valuable workers from where they are to where they want to be and, in fact, to where we want them to be. There is a patchwork of short term, mostly dead end programs that simply move people from one situation of frustration or poverty to another.

We used to have a network of properly funded community colleges, offering programs easily accessed, affordable and connected to real work through partnerships with community and industry. Apprenticeship programs were very often a shared cost agreement between a workplace and a college. Canada, like most western countries, is beginning to experience major demographic changes that will result in fewer workers. Meanwhile, the demand for high level skills will continue to increase in all sectors.

Given these trends, competition for high skilled workers will intensify within Canada and between Canada and other countries. Recent surveys suggest that Canadian industry is set to lose approximately one-third of its skilled workforce in the next five to ten years in many of Canada's economic growth sectors.

To address these forecasted shortfalls, a great deal of effort on developing efficient and effective training strategies in the trade skills and on replacing its current workforce will be required. One very successful approach has been developed and tested by CSTEC, the Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress, in partnership with Mohawk College, Dofasco, Lake Erie Steel and the United Steelworkers of America.

This program is a co-op based apprenticeship program which integrates a college technician diploma program with a 16 month segment of trade school paid apprenticeship training. The Mohawk, Dofasco, Lake Erie, Steelworker pilot approach has been applied successfully to the electrical and mechanical disciplines. One worker says, “In the plant where I was an apprentice there were 400 apprentices in the early eighties. Now there are two. And the small numbers of apprentices, less than one per cent of Canada's workforce, are among the dwindling number of Canadians receiving any employer support for workplace training”.

Whether we are talking about the old economy or the so-called new economy of highly skilled workers, Canadian workers are well aware that access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. There is overwhelming evidence showing that everybody wins when every worker has access to skills training.

Investment in education makes sense for the employer, the worker and for society. We cannot allow education training and skill development to become simply another commodity in the marketplace. Nor can we leave it to the whim of a benevolent employer. It is the very underpinning of a civilized, intelligent and caring society and should be treated as a right or entitlement. Citizens should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to contribute to their communities to the best of their ability and have access without fear of cost to the best training and education possible to that end.

These are the social democratic principles we New Democrats in this House will be bringing to the policy debate in our country here in this legislature.

I visit Ireland quite regularly because that is the country of my birth. I came to Canada in 1960, the oldest of 12 kids, with my father who came to work in the mines of northern Ontario. When I go back to that country the thing that impresses me most is not what we hear or read in the editorial pages, such as the National Post where it is suggested that Ireland's good economy is because it has a more competitive corporate tax structure or it is giving away things to businesses to come to that country. It is doing some of that, but we all are.

The member from Dartmouth who spoke a short while ago will understand this because he has family in Ireland. As a matter of fact, we may be related. My mother's name is Savage. She is watching me tonight. We come from the same part of that wonderful country.

If we look at the experience of people in Ireland, back in the seventies when they decided they wanted to make a change and improve their economy, the first thing they did was invest big time in the education infrastructure.

In that country if students want to get a post-secondary education, if they have the capacity to succeed that education and if they sit the tests, which are quite stringent, and get through them, their education is free. Ireland understands that a post-secondary education, whether it is skills training or at the university level, is an investment in people and in their communities. When those people come back, they will participate and contribute not only as paid employees in the workplace, but they will contribute to the overall well-being of their communities in a million different ways, such as a volunteers. They become very positive community assets. They will contribute to society and to industry in a major way, with these new skills and training.

Ireland, as opposed to what happens in Canada, decided that post-secondary education was something it should collectively put money into to ensure that no young person who had the ability, the will and the capacity to go to school, learn and then come back and contribute would be stopped from doing that. Not only is post-secondary education free, but if students have to leave home to participate in that and if they are financially challenged in some way, such as housing, or the ability to feed oneself or to provide those supports to be successful in college or university, they will be provided with grants, not loans like we have here.

Why can we not get our heads around that in Canada? As I mentioned earlier, Finlanders say that the only limit to their growth will be the availability of a skill trained workforce in the future. Why can we not see that? We belong to the same world? We compete in the same global economic context as the Fins and the Irish, yet we cannot find it within ourselves, politically, to invest the kind of money necessary to ensure that all individuals, whether young or old, have access to skills training or to universities and colleges to improve themselves so they can participate in the new economy and in their communities in the way that we know they have the potential to do. Why can we not find a was to make it affordable to them?

The challenge to all of us, as we move forward with this new ministry, is to ensure that it becomes a vehicle to make that connect, if those folks, those communities and our country are to prosper.