Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this bill to create a Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
This is particularly gratifying to me as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, since it allows me to speak about such topics as the importance of helping Canadians access the skills development and lifelong learning opportunities they need to make their own special contribution to our country, and also how this new department will make this goal a reality.
On December 12, 2003, the government announced the reorganization of the old Department of Human Resources Development into two new departments: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC; and Social Development Canada. The Department of HRSDC was created by a series of orders in council approved on that date. This was done within the statutory framework of the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, a statute which allows the governor in council to reorganize the institutions of government to address priorities and public needs.
Since then, HRSDC has been subject to the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Employment Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Parliament is now being asked to consider legislation that formally establishes the department and sets out the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of HRSDC and his mandate. The legislation also sets out the powers and duties of the Minister of Labour, as well as his mandate.
Let me inform the House that we are proposing as part of the legislation to include a uniform set of privacy provisions governing the disclosure of personal information. These provisions would apply to all programs and activities of the new department.
Since December 2003, HRSDC and Social Development Canada have been working together to ensure uninterrupted services to Canadians. That working relationship will continue as the departments jointly provide services to Canadians on behalf of each other, a fact which will be duly reflected in the draft legislation.
With this legislation we are confirming our improvements to date and building on them by giving the minister and the new department the legal means to fulfill their mandate. The mandate as we have set it out in the proposed Department of Human Resources and Skills Development act is to improve the standard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled and mobile workforce and an efficient and inclusive labour market.
In my opinion, having a department focused primarily on skills development and learning tells Canadians that we are ready to address the profound changes that face our economy and society in coming years, including skills shortages due to the aging of our workforce and an increasingly global and knowledge based competitive environment where having good skills and access to lifelong learning opportunities are key to finding a job and having enough skilled workers are the difference between business success and failure. They are also sound bases for a high quality, fulfilling life.
These profound changes make it vitally important that we have a department in place that can focus on enhancing Canadians' access to skills development and lifelong learning so they can fully benefit from the many opportunities being created by our economy every day and working closely with its partners to share ideas and resources and develop common approaches to preparing our citizens for this very challenging future.
That is where the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development comes in. With a mandate to foster a culture of lifelong learning, where people at every stage in life can pursue lifelong learning opportunities and acquire the skills they need for career success, as well as personal fulfillment, and organizations can find and access the highly skilled workers they need to take on the world.
Access to learning and skills development involves making sure students with the ability and desire to pursue some sort of post-secondary education can get the financial help they need to make their dreams come true. Statistics point clearly to the changes demanded by an increasingly knowledge based economy. Some 70% of all new jobs in Canada will require some form of post-secondary education and 25% will require a university degree.
With that in mind, the Government of Canada already provides considerable assistance. The Canada student loan program helps 360,000 students every year and last year provided $1.6 billion in loans. Some 90,000 students in financial need have been awarded $285 million per year in the Canada millennium scholarship program.
Canada study grants worth over $70 million annually have been awarded to approximately 50,000 students. The Canada education saving grant program has provided almost $2 billion in grants since its inception, leveraging over $13 billion in private savings. To date, some two million children between one year old and 17 years old have benefited from that particular program.
We all know that access to post-secondary education is a work in progress, so the new department will have to find innovative and better ways of improving service and responding to emerging needs. For example, we will need to work with our provincial and territorial government partners to find new ways of enhancing the access and affordability of post-secondary education so Canadians can pursue learning opportunities throughout their lives. This cooperation will be vital in implementing the enhancements to the Canada student loans program contained in the 2004 federal budget.
We will also need to work with our partners to improve assistance to high need students, such as those living with disabilities and those from low income families, to help them overcome the barriers they face.
The 2004 budget announced a new grant and improvements to an existing grant that will help these students as they pursue a post-secondary education. For disabled students that involves a grant of $3,000 each year in college or university.
Finally, the department will need to improve the uptake of RESPs and the Canada education savings grants by low income families to enable more families to start saving early for their children's post-secondary education. This will involve introducing the new Canada learning bond and enhancements to the Canada education savings grant to kick-start savings by low income and middle income parents. The legislation includes informing low and middle income families of the importance of saving early for their children's education and providing assistance to help them access these benefits.
For those reasons I would encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-5, the Canada education savings act, which is currently at committee stage, which would enact the provisions that I mentioned in the 2004 budget. Among other things, interestingly enough, Bill C-5 has built into it cooperation with one of our key sets of partners, the provinces and the territories, in the RESP program and the RESP grants program, which is proposed in the act.
Many or these initiatives will involve areas of provincial and territorial responsibility and will have an impact on key stakeholder groups. Therefore the department will continue to work closely with all its partners, including other levels of government, the private sector, educational and training institutions, financial institutions and other stakeholders, to ensure their needs are represented and addressed.
This is exactly what this new department has already been doing from the beginning, through its participation and support of a number of working groups. For example, the intergovernmental consultative committee on student financial assistance brings together federal, provincial and territorial officials at the director general and director level to develop common approaches to post-secondary education and student financial assistance.
Again, the national advisory group on student financial assistance allows colleges and universities, student groups and representatives of the full spectrum of post-secondary institutions to make their views known to the Government of Canada on federal assistance to post-secondary students.
Another example, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada helps provincial and territorial ministers of education to develop common approaches and cooperate with national educational organizations and the federal government on educational issues.
It is my personal view that the new department should become, as it were, the federal government's designated hitter to the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This does not mean that HRSDC should be the only federal department involved in lifelong learning, far from it. Departments like Justice, Corrections Canada, Defence and Indian and Northern Affairs will, for example, continue to deliver literacy programs which are part of lifelong learning. However the Minister of HRSDC, fully briefed, can become a consistent link between the federal government and the provincial and territorial ministers of education in the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This will strengthen the partnerships that must exist between us and the provinces and territories in the area of lifelong learning.
I chaired the standing committee that unanimously recommended that the former Department of Human Resources Development Canada be split. This bill is, in a very real sense, the enactment of the clearly expressed will of the House of Commons at the time that HRDC be split. The committee recommended the division of that department, not only because it was a very large department but also because it was too diverse to be manageable.
When HRDC was formed by an earlier government, several former federal departments were simply rolled into one. They never really reconciled their different cultures. The bill addresses this directly. It brings together different but related regimes under one set of rules and procedures. As chair of the standing committee that considered these matters, it gives me special pride to speak to the bill today.
Also, speaking personally, I believe strongly that in addition to its formal duties within the federal system, the new Department of HRSDC can become a valuable point of first contact for all federal departments in matters related to lifelong learning and training.
Those are some of the challenges facing the new department to be created by the bill. While addressing these issues may be challenging, the rewards Canada reaps will be enormous. By improving access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning for all Canadians, we will go a long way toward ensuring that no Canadian gets left behind and that businesses and organizations will be able to find the skilled workers they need to compete and thrive in the global economy. This represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.
For most of my time in this House, I have worked with the government caucus on post-secondary education and research. This is a group of MPs and senators who have followed, all the way through from the middle nineties, the various roles of the federal government in higher education and research. It is a group that has a very active interest in those matter, but which has made it clear from the very beginning that we have no interest in the federal government encroaching on the roles of the provinces and territories. Quite rightly, in our Confederation the operation of the elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities are provincial and territorial matters, which is the way it should be. It produces across our country a network of related but different educational systems that are extremely productive.
This is not to say that the federal government and other governments do not have responsibilities in those areas. I can give very direct examples where, very badly in many cases, the federal government organizes elementary schools on the first nations. Some of them should be changed very quickly. We have a used computer program where we give the high schools used computers, and it has worked very effectively. When they get to the end of high school, the millennium scholarship program is a federal program that helps high school students.
We work with the community colleges of Canada. They are, in many ways, a rapid response system that helps Canada keep its economy current.
For example, it was this government that first flowed research moneys to community colleges, recognizing their role in applied research and their role in the commercialization of research. We still work with the community colleges in all sorts of ways. Aboriginal education is a really good example. English and French as second languages are other examples. The federal government has important links with them, as it does with the universities, and has moved the public funding of research, largely in the universities, from being 14th or 15th in the world to perhaps 5th or 6th.
These are all examples of the ways in which the federal government, and not just one department of the federal government, is involved in higher education. Let me say that the Department of National Defence runs a university, the Royal Military College, where one can get degrees in engineering and so on.
The federal government has these roles. One of its roles is to capture the best practices. If in Quebec, Nova Scotia or Nunavut there is something going on which the whole country should know about, it is the federal government that can capture it in higher education.
My enthusiasm for the legislation is that the federal government is going to have a new department, a very large and powerful department, which will be focused on these matters of lifelong learning. It is my hope that, first, it will perform very important functions itself, but second, that it will become a point of contact for all federal departments that work in the area of lifelong learning and that it will also become a key point of contact with the provinces and territories.
I believe the new department represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.
For this reason, I intend to support this bill and urge all members to do likewise.