Mr. Speaker, Canadians are blessed to be citizens of this extraordinary country, a nation that is considered the envy of the world. Few countries compare in offering their citizens such a high standard of living and quality of life.
Canadians are justifiably proud of our social programs, which are an enduring source of our pride and identity.
You may look at almost all the indicators, whether they are economic or social, and it will be obvious that we are world leaders. Most surprisingly, Canada is achieving such powerful social results with relatively modest, although effective, spending in our social programs.
Despite this pleasing picture, everyone in the House knows that not all of our constituents see themselves reflected in it. Not everyone shares equally in our country's bounty and that is unacceptable, both to people whose lives fall short of their potential and for Canadians as a whole.
A new partnership for Canada is what we are proposing in Bill C-22. Canada must be grounded in what Canada and Canadians stand for: shared community, equality and justice, respect for diversity, and mutual responsibility.
Canadians want governments to accommodate their needs and priorities, not the other way around. Canadians want to be part of decisions that affect them. We need to shed the straightjacket of traditional policy responses and stop pigeon-holing people into categories: families, seniors, aboriginal peoples, Canadians with disabilities, students and so on.
We all belong to different groups. The challenge for policy-makers is to look behind the labels to the real lives of real people and at how our policies help individuals and how they can provide even more support in the future.
We face significant challenges to our quality of life. Many of these are not new. Poverty persists in Canada. Over 11% of Canadian children and 25% of Canadians with disabilities are poor. No one on either side of this House is proud of that record.
Exclusion from the economic and social mainstream is a daily reality for too many Canadians, especially people with disabilities, lone parents, recent immigrants, aboriginal Canadians, and middle-aged, unattached individuals. Our aging society presents another set of challenges.
Communities are increasingly called upon to resolve complex social problems but often lack the tools that they need.
We need to work hard to restore Canadians' faith in our government. They are frustrated by uncoordinated, incoherent programs. Canadians want to know that the programs they value will be secure and will adapt to their evolving personal circumstances.
Our government recognizes that we need to start doing social policy differently in Canada.
Young parents wanted to have more choice in deciding what their needs were concerning the education and care of young children. Baby boomers caught in the sandwich generation, as we say, want more options when it comes to their responsibilities as caregivers. All working parents need flexibility and better support to achieve the balance between work and personal life that is essential to the health and welfare of children. This is a challenge that I had to face when I was elected and I had two young children.
This is why we have introduced, among other things, a parental leave program to give this chance to parents who were choosing to stay longer with their young children.
Canadians expect that seniors have more opportunities to continue to contribute to the economy and the community. For many of them, this means benefiting from income security, so that even the most vulnerable are able to lead their life in comfort and dignity.
A growing number of people believe that this may also mean that we give people the option of working longer. My father has decided to work for a long time; he is 75 years old and he continues to work part time.
Some people like to take time away from the workforce in the middle of life to attend to family issues, such as caregivers, for instance, or pursue lifelong learning or whatever life choices they make. Still other Canadians are seeking access to inclusive work places that make room for the skills and talents of all kinds of Canadians who are frequently excluded. As I said earlier, they are aboriginal people, recent immigrants and people with disabilities. They need more than income support to make that happen.
The many Canadians doing their part to address society's challenges, the millions of volunteers, for example, and community organizations providing services at the grassroots level, want more recognition for their contributions and the chance to do even more.
One of the most promising new vehicles is the social economy, for which I have been given responsibility by the Prime Minister. I am very pleased about having this responsibility although many people ask me what the social economy is. I have told people that it is one way of taking disadvantaged groups in society out of dependency on the state into the economy. That is the best definition I have heard.
Social entrepreneurs, who are all over Canada and are doing very creative and innovative things in terms of citizen engagement, take an alternative approach to achieving the same social goals as others in the sector. They provide goods and services that make a profit, but then they plow those profits back into addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the community. They are our biggest partners, in my opinion. Their efforts are a complement to and not a replacement of the work of volunteer and non-profit groups.
A new social partnership will position us to implement bold new approaches, including establishing a national framework for the social economy, to address some of these concerns. Any new vision for addressing social development challenges cannot be defined by us alone. We must establish and maintain four essential partnerships based on consultation, collaboration and engagement: with Parliament and all parliamentarians, with the stakeholders, with other governments and with Canadians at large.
Why do we have Social Development Canada? Canadians want social policy that reflects the full complexity of this new reality that I just enunciated in my previous remarks. That is what Social Development Canada is all about. This new portfolio was created to be a more nimble organization that can respond more effectively to the needs and aspirations of Canadians. Its purpose is to help ensure that the benefits of Canadian citizenship are shared by all. Let us not forget that it was a committee of this House that first proposed the splitting up of the two departments into human resources and skills and social development.
What I have just described is the way we now define social development. Social well-being, citizenship and equality of opportunity exist only when citizens can take advantage of our education, health and judicial systems, community organizations, the job market and government programs they may require. We talk a lot about inclusion, but it only really happens when everyone enjoys that sense of belonging, when every Canadian has access to the necessary skills, goods and services, money and social supports that assure them a decent standard of living and good quality of life.
Our sense of social well-being reflects not only how we feel about ourselves but also how we feel about our families, our communities and our country. The creation of our new department is an acknowledgement of that. For all of our successes as a society, and they are many, we need to do more to reduce poverty, as I said earlier, tackle exclusion and enable Canadians to take greater control over their individual life choices and to build the stronger communities and the national systems in areas such as early learning and child care that are among the best in the world.
A strong and enabling society is not about a single sector. It is about all the factors that contribute to social growth coming together: a sound fiscal situation, good health and education systems, a strong economy, a labour market that works, quality social programs that meet the needs of Canadians, and the individual efforts of people across all sectors working together for the common good. It is about the individual decisions we make and the collective actions we take to prevent problems from arising.
It is about everything we do in every federal department, from investing in our children to the health care system, skills development and the tax system that redistributes income to meet the basic needs of individuals. Every other level of government is involved, not just ours. Federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments all do their best to improve the quality of life of Canadians. More than ever we must work together.
Creating a strong, enabling society also requires the input and support of academics and the research community, think tanks, industry, labour, the non-profit sector and everything that falls in between in the social economy.
Doing things differently in social policy means understanding our limitations. We simply cannot be all things to all people anymore than we can develop a one size fits all policy that meets Canadians' expectations in the 21st century.
That is the basis of Social Development Canada's approach to strengthening Canada's social foundations. At Social Development Canada, we are focusing on the areas where we can make the greatest contribution. We are also bringing together all the other parties with a role in social development. Working jointly on our shared social agenda, we can take a more cohesive, integrated approach to social development that is linked to the real lives and expectations of Canadians.
One of the most important things we do at Social Development Canada is provide the knowledge required to inform sound policy development to allow Canadians to judge whether Canadian society is meeting its social objectives.
Once we know what it takes to effectively support the well-being of individuals, families and communities, we develop more citizen focused policies, programs and services within our areas of responsibility that better respond to the requirements of Canadians in our fast changing world.
This takes us to our second area of activity, the most significant from a budgetary standpoint, that of reducing the risks of exclusion and isolation by providing income security for the populations we serve. We look at the levers at our disposal, such as the national child benefit, the Canada pension plan and all the other pension plans for those who are disabled and others, and then determine how we can leverage the policies and programs of other departments, both social and economic, as well as the work underway at the provincial, territorial and community levels, to enable people at risk to achieve their full potential.
We try to connect the dots by showing, for instance, that by addressing child poverty and providing families with quality daycare we give parents the opportunity to go back to school and acquire new skills to become employable. In many cases these families are headed by a single parent, a native parent, a member of a visible minority or a handicapped person, in short, people who are at a higher risk of exclusion.
By helping parents achieve their potential through various programs, we will also help to ensure their children get off to a good start. We are making linkages between ensuring people with disabilities get adequate financial and other assistive supports they need and their ability to move into the mainstream so they can help to address some of the skills and labour supply shortages being experienced by some employers.
By giving working age Canadians the option of taking time mid-career to care for elderly relatives may mean that they will choose to work longer than the current retirement age.
By resolving the work and life balance question, we can reduce income issues for seniors. We are trying to ensure that Canadians will not be penalized for whatever life choices they make.
In conclusion, I will say that we are at our most efficient when we play the role of facilitator, bringing together all the pieces and various players to see how what we do, or do not do, has an influence on the situation as a whole, how the social policy choices we make today will influence our collective quality of life and standard of living in the future.
Together we can look at empirical research, discuss it and debate new concepts and new ideas put forward by Canadians from all walks of life and from across the country.
Social Development Canada provides a new vehicle to mobilize governments and all the individuals and organizations doing their part to advance social development in the country. We know we all want to go in the same direction. We also know we have to avoid duplication and maximize our investments and activities to produce the best results for Canadians.
All of this progress will be made possible with the passage of Bill C-22. The bill provides the Minister of Social Development with the mandate to provide a focal point for social policy within the Government of Canada.
I would like to emphasize that it was the June 2000 report of the House Standing Committee on Human Resources that recommended this division of responsibilities.
Even though the department is expressly responsible for promoting social well-being and income security among Canadians, its new structure will enable it to collaborate with federal partners.
The bill's progressive nature will enable us to approach social policy on a number of fronts, establishing relationships with the other federal departments and agencies that are working to improve the lives of children and families, older persons and those with disabilities.
This collaborative approach recognizes the shared jurisdiction in most social fields. The bill gives the Minister of Social Development the express authority to cooperate with our provincial and territorial partners to set goals, focus resources as well as enter into agreements with provinces or other bodies to facilitate the implementation of policies or programs which support the mandate of Social Development Canada.
As my colleagues know well, we are already making major headway in this regard. I can proudly report that we have made enormous progress in moving the early learning and child care initiative forward. We agreed with our provincial and territorial colleagues to establish a long term vision for early learning and child care that would include measurable goals, shared principles, strong accountability, and provincial and territorial flexibility. Of course it will take some time and discussion to arrive at a detailed understanding of the shared principles but there is no question of the commitment of both levels of government to advance this agenda.
With the passage of this bill we will be able to carry on our work with international organizations that provide for us to learn from the experiences of others, and to share our knowledge and experiences to help contribute to better social policies and programs in other countries.
We collaborate, as the House knows, with the OECD. We can also provide a better return on taxpayers' investments by sharing resources with our colleagues at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Simplifying, automating and offering integrated services will help ensure that we provide citizen centred quality services to Canadians where and when they need them.
Equally important, by consolidating our corporate service delivery functions, we can reduce operational costs and put more money into programming that meets Canadians' expectations.
The bill includes a code to protect personal information intended to govern the communication of personal information in a clear and coherent manner. This code is based on existing codes found in the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. Together, these codes will form a detailed framework for all the department's current and future programs.
All three codes are consistent with and will operate in conjunction with the Privacy Act to strike a balance between disclosure and protection of personal information. Although the majority of the consequential and related amendments are housekeeping in nature, the bill also includes the repeal of the Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons Act, the VRDP.
The VRDP became obsolete in 1998 when supplemented by more modern federal-provincial agreements to support programs and services for persons with disabilities that were in fact developed in collaboration with provinces and territories.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that all Canadians share a feeling of collective responsibility toward the well-being of their fellow other citizens. The complex nature of the challenges confronting us today confirms the wisdom of creating a new and distinct entity to work exclusively on social policy.
I call on my hon. colleagues to give their support to Bill C-22 so that we can carry on the progress that already has been achieved in the brief 11 months since our organization's creation.
Canadians expect parliamentarians to work together, to advance this vitally important agenda that touches Canadians' lives from birth to death.