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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

By request, the vote will be deferred until the end of government orders today.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2004 / 3:35 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberalfor the Minister of Social Development

moved that Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

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.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, what we are really discussing here is people. That is why I want to address a number of important questions that affect real people in my riding as they relate to this sort of legislation

For example, I would like to hear what the hon. member thinks about the way in which people with dystonia are treated in this country. It is a debilitating disease and it is one about which there is not a lot of public knowledge. We learned this week that people will not be covered through public health insurance when seeking treatment for their children who are suffering with autism, an equally debilitating condition.

We have heard from the immigrant communities in our country that they are suffering with the reality that their foreign credentials are not being recognized by the government.

While the government has put its members forward today to defend its record and promote its legislation, Bill C-22, I wonder if the government could expound upon its commitment to these sorts of issues that affect real people, people who are suffering from diseases like dystonia, children who are not covered for their autism treatment, or in another area not related to health so much, immigrants whose very hard-earned foreign credentials are not recognized here in Canada. Perhaps the hon. member would like to comment.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask what relevance the hon. member's question has to what we were discussing today, Bill C-22.

On the question of autism, it is health in fact that is responsible for that program and not social development, just to give the minister a heads up. Also in terms of the credentials, it is citizenship and immigration that is responsible and human resources and skills development.

To go back to Bill C-22, I think if the hon. member took the time to read about the quality of the programs that are available, as I said, in terms of age zero until death, that is what social development is all about. It is about helping Canadians from birth to death in terms of meeting some of their income support and also ensuring there is some system in place for them to be able to work in the workplace and at the same time raise their children and have facilities available for them.

Those are the types of issues that Social Development Canada in fact is responsible for.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to listen to the parliamentary secretary. I thought I heard her say that Canadians are rather dissatisfied about “uncoordinated and incoherent programs”. By that she is as much admitting what the government record is because it is responsible for the present situation.

Then she went on to talk about the Liberals wanting to do social policy differently. Different from what? They have been minding the store and now they are trying to divorce themselves from their own record. When are they going to get on with it?

Her speech had a lot of nice sounding phrases and a lot of optimistic things for the future, but where have they been since 1993? Are they going to start now? Is this it?

When Bill C-23 is passed, what is going to be different for constituents in her riding, constituents in my riding? What difference are they really going to see in the benefits they get? The Liberals have been in charge since 1993, since I have been here, and now they are trying to divorce themselves. I think it is going to be more of the same.

I would like an example, a specific case, of how constituents are going to see anything different from what they have been getting.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member I understand is also the critic for social development. The body of my remarks was to say that yes, we have been doing things and I could run down the list for him: the national child benefit, the child disability benefit, the early childhood development agreement, the multilateral framework for early learning and child care. There are a number of programs that we have introduced in the last 11 years with significant amounts of money.

What was indicated in my speech in terms of the splitting up of the two departments was to give vision in terms of social policy issues and the responsibility to one department. That is what we are trying to do with this piece of legislation.

I do not think, as I said in my speech, that once the ministry is split that is the end of the types of policy issues that we will be working on and dealing with. We have a record. The record is the programs that have been put into place since 1993 when we became the government. We have provided income support and other programs to Canadian citizens.

We want to have a more coherent way of delivering those services. That is part of what the bill proposes, one stop shopping, if one wants to call it that. Canadians can go to one place and have access to all the programs and services that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development provides because we did not want to duplicate administrative costs. The responsibilities in terms of the social agenda will be on Social Development Canada.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a question of the member who made the presentation for the government.

We have the same concern as the colleague of the Conservative Party when it comes to understanding why a second department is needed and justified.

We are trying to understand the real objective that has been announced in connection with the potential effectiveness of the mandate the government wants to give the department.

The government takes one department and divides in into two. When it talks about the objective in connection with the Department of Human Resources, it says that the main concern is contributing to Canada's success. This is in one of the first parts outlined in the beginning.

As for the new Department of Social Development, it is difficult to understand the real objective, but the chair of the Sub-Committee on Children and Youth at Risk said that the objective is to have the public and history remember the Liberal government. This is a quote. I am trying to reconcile this with the member's announced intention to improve services provided to the public.

I will conclude by reminding the House that, as it creates two departments, the government is announcing that it will maintain a single window. Services will be provided through a single door. It does not change anything in this regard. However, it is adding a second head.

I would like to know how she thinks that it will be able to ensure that this body functions with two heads.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for his question. This is also an issue that is often raised in committee.

As we have said already, since December 12, 2003, the departments continue to share existing services and programs delivery network. We cannot establish another administrative structure, because we already have a mechanism that can provide all these services to Canadians. This is the network that we will continue to use.

However, as regards the decisions that will have to be taken regarding social policies in Canada, the Department of Social Development will be responsible. Somebody will have to coordinate all the policies in all the federal departments for the Canadian government.

With respect to services to Canadians, I believe that my fellow citizens in the riding of Ahuntsic want somebody to address their needs. When there is already a mechanism in place and a single window for everybody, which meets their needs, a new administrative structure should not be created. In fact, this legislation does not establish a new administrative entity, except as concerns social policies and the coordination of those social policies throughout the federal government.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will try to speak to the bill later to make some other points, but I first want to ask the member for her comments with regard to the coordination with the provinces since social services are often delivered directly by the provinces and require some coordination and collaboration.

I am also interested in the accountability. How can the federal government be accountable for the funding that it collects from taxpayers and gives to another jurisdiction without some reporting or accountability system being in place?

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, when we signed the multilateral framework for early learning and child care, we came to an agreement with the provinces that they were accountable first to their citizens and not to the Canadian government. They also are accountable in terms of reporting what results they have had in terms of the amount of money, for instance, the $500 million that was given in the multilateral framework to the provinces. Some provinces have reported back and shown what progress they have made in terms of those programs.

As far as the new child care agreement and the early learning agreement, there have been discussions and will continue to be ongoing discussions with the provincial governments and territorial governments to see what mechanisms can be used in terms of those provinces reporting to their citizens in terms of the results.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the consent of the House to split my time with my hon. colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed?

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-22, otherwise known as an act to establish the Department of Social Development.

Many of my constituents know the programs that fell under the old Human Resources Development Canada, or the HRDC department.

While it is tempting to speak to the mismanagement and boondoggles of the old department, I will spend my time today looking to the future.

At the time I was heavily involved with the human resources parliamentary committee and was witness to the fact that institutional changes would be required to fix many problems within the department. While the case was never really made to me that a full division, split and overhaul of the department was needed, there was no question that we could not afford a repeat of the boondoggles of the past. However, that being said, I am not sure this legislation prevents that either.

Normally departments are merged to save money, so one can only assume that splitting this department will cost taxpayers unnecessarily. During our briefing on this legislation this question was asked but not answered. Perhaps the government has an answer now. How much will these changes cost in addition to what we had before?

Unfortunately the Liberal government started the split long before it brought the bill to Parliament. In effect, it put the cart before the horse.

If I were to oppose the legislation, the cost of reversing the changes already made would likely cost more than the costs just to finish what it started. In effect, the Liberal government has failed to consult with Parliament on the change to HRDC and the creation of the Department of Social Development due to the fact that it is already too late to change course.

The Prime Minister has failed again to provide Parliament with an opportunity to become more involved and more relevant to the democratic process. Rather than consult us before, we are simply treated as a rubber stamp. This is unacceptable, not just because it silences members of the House, but it makes the people we represent irrelevant.

Luckily, not everything about the legislation is flawed or unnecessary. I am pleased to see that there is a significant amount of attention being paid to the protection and security of personal information. Identity theft is a growing problem in Canada and the developed world. Those least able to serve themselves or fund the legal hassles of identity theft are often the clients of this new department. They are counting on us to protect their information for them.

As an MP from Saskatchewan, I remember quite well the fear and uncertainty surrounding the accidental release of personal banking and financial information on an old computer. People watched their accounts like hawks, fearful of seeing their life savings disappear. As far as I know, there were no major problems as a result of the oversight, but it could have been disastrous for many families.

I do support the increased privacy protections in the bill. I only ask that the government monitor the situation to ensure that tougher standards are implemented as soon as the need arises. Our disabled, our challenged and low income Canadians are counting on us to protect them.

This brings me to my next point. I am also in support of the one stop shop concept for service delivery. The average Canadian is too busy to follow the jurisdictional complexities of the federal government. All they want is a single point of service to which they can go for programs that they need.

I would like to take a moment to let Canadians know of an important website that will assist them in assessing any benefits to which they may be entitled. The website lists almost every federal and provincial program there is. To make it easier to determine what applies to someone, there is a user-friendly feature. All someone has to do is answer about a dozen questions and then the computer will short list the programs. Everyone should get a pen because I will give the address in a second.

Before I do that, I want to stress that the website overcomes one of the most common complaints I get from those in need. They complain that it is too difficult to find, apply for, and access programs that already exist. The website can be found through a link on my website at carolskelton.ca or it can be accessed directly at canadabenefits.ca.

The government has a record of taxing the poor but not making it easy for them to get back that hard-earned money. Hopefully this website and the single service point delivery system will change this.

This new department has a massive mandate that is guaranteed to touch every single Canadian at some point in their lives.

Whether it is seniors, children, families, the disabled, volunteers or participants in the social economy, the new Department of Social Development will have an impact on them and most likely us. Even if we do not need to turn to the government for assistance, our pension plans will be administered by that department.

As always, I do have some serious concerns that a department this large could quickly balloon out of control for the government. I am concerned that such a large ministry will be sidetracked by a new, large social initiative. It will take the efforts of MPs, Canadians and especially Social Development employees to ensure that these radical structural changes do not fall off the rails and cost us billions.

Every dollar the government wastes on a new program is a dollar lost to a program that is already in place and often underfunded. As I said before, I hope the government stays on top of the costs associated with this change to ensure that they do not get out of hand.

The bill also contains many legal and housekeeping amendments to ensure that it complies with existing legislation. This is good but it also highlights and brings me back to one of my earlier concerns. The new department was born from the split of HRDC into Social Development and HRSDC. The minister and his staff have taken great steps to point out to me the cooperation and interconnecting relationship between the two new departments. Where I come from, that sounds like duplication and overlap.

As I said before, single points of service delivery are good but I am still not sure these changes are the most appropriate.

I look forward to the minister perhaps clarifying some of the reasons that the old department could not do what the new ones can and also how much it will save Canadians. I suspect the savings do not exist. I cannot see how a new letterhead, computer systems, websites and the like save money. In fact, the departments already carry lots of overlap and duplication of information on both the SD and the HRSDC websites. Yet again, it begs a simple question of why a single department does not make sense.

I will let the government come up with a creative answer for that.

My colleagues will speak about these issues too. They share the same concerns as I for Canadians in need. The government needs to ensure timely and properly supported services to those under duress. When someone walks into our MP offices asking for help, they often do so as the last resort. They do not want hassles, delays and excuses. They want help.

I just hope all this bureaucratic reorganization actually changes the problems experienced at this level at reasonable cost. The Liberal government's experience has indicated otherwise.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member's remarks and I want to go back to what I said in my own remarks about the June 2000 report of the human resources standing committee. I would like to quote something and ask her opinion. I was not a member of the committee at the time but, apart from one minority report, if I am not mistaken there was agreement in terms of what was said by the committee at that time. The report states:

Given the Committee's conclusion that HRDC's structural makeup has proven unsatisfactory, we believe that the federal government should reposition itself so that it can better address issues that concern Canadians but that cut across existing departmental boundaries.

It goes on to say:

The Committee believes that it is time to rethink the whole concept of a department of human resources development in light of changing conditions and current needs.

We recommend that:

  1. The government should divide HRDC into several more homogeneous and focused structures.

I admit that I do not know whether the member was a member of that committee but that was the June 2000 report of the standing committee.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I was not elected until November 2000, so I was not aware of that report.

I take very well into account the report from HRDC at that time but it bothers me how this was done. The bill should have been brought to the House and debated before the government went ahead with reorganizing the departments. As I said in my speech, I believe we have put the cart before the horse on this. I think there should have been discussion on the floor of the House of Commons before we did this.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government is proposing Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts.

The bill establishes the Department of Social Development, over which presides the Minister of Social Development. This new law also sets out the minister's powers, duties and functions. It deals with rules for the protection and for the providing of personal information obtained under departmental programs, other than those governed by similar codes found in the Canada pension plan and in the Old Age Security Act.

We have a new department, Social Development Canada, with hopefully a clear focus. The government went ahead and split the old HRDC ministry into two parts through orders in council. Now it expects Parliament to approve such a reorganization. The bureaucrats and their weak follower Liberal ministers seem to forget that government may propose, but it is Parliament as a separate entity that must finally vote the appropriations and approve the legislation.

We are now doing this bill after the fact. In a way, it is like institutional blackmail. Much effort, money and human capital has already been expended in advance of implementation and that puts unreasonable pressure on parliamentarians just to go along. It is a fait accompli. It is a done deal.

The point is, we must never forget that Parliament is not the government, but it is where the government must come to obtain permission to tax and spend the people's money and to get its legislation approved and passed. The government should be more careful about spending money for which it has no parliamentary approval. It should also be more respectful of Parliament as it attempts to administer in ways that Parliament has not yet approved. Although it is not an absolute model in every case, the record of the Liberals is, in general, they have shown this kind of disregard for the House in the past. They have done it in the past. The present situation with this bill is just one more example.

The ministry has taken on the role, under its name Social Development Canada, to attempt to reflect the understandings of Canadians about a caring society. Some of the responsibility of the new ministry is for people with disabilities. It also has children, seniors and the voluntary sector, all of which have direct links to the disability community. Canadians want people to have a chance to live a full and challenging life. It is up to us as Canadians to see how we are doing against our own ideals and to work with both formal and informal entities to bring us closer to meeting our own idealism.

Historically, the federal government has done better in the area of employment. These joint labour market agreements, which it has signed with the provinces and territories, have acted as a springboard to success in other areas. However, I still think we need to achieve consensus on the best mix of programs and supports and the right balance among employment, income, disability supports, areas that we will need to continue to work on together in the years ahead.

In this regard, I do not think the Liberals have any great new ideas. They just seem to be floundering. They know they have to be doing something. Canadians want it, but they are not quite sure what it should be, so they pick on departmental reorganization. At least there will be some impression of progress and movement.

There is work, however, internationally which Canada has done, such as in New York at the United Nations where officials from Canadian social development negotiated a new UN convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. These are efforts to set standards, generate expectations and encourage action. Let us hope that the national pride will cause other nations to try and better the other about their social safety net, so there is a gentle competition internationally, which sets the bar higher for everyone, and then we can all be better off.

Back within Canada, we need to work on provincial and territorial governments to determine the next steps in advancing the disability agenda. Some good things have happened in the past, but there has been much missed opportunity. Many resources have been wasted that could have done so much good if it had not been misspent by the Liberals.

We have to look to the future. Where can we be? How can we get there? What are our real priorities? We need to think about that and then envision it, see it in our minds. If we cannot imagine and ask why not, we will never move ahead. We need to work to develop a comprehensive disabilities agenda for Canadians.

I do not think anything can ever go far enough or fast enough for someone who has a serious need. Disability issues are a public priority. They also must become a government priority. The challenge is then for governments at all levels, for the charitable and non-profit groups, to create the chances and openings for those who need help and develop and learn so all can be players in life, where no one is left behind.

Now the Department of Social Development, this new entity, is now mandated with helping to secure and strengthen Canada's social foundation. It is to do this by helping families with children, supporting people with disabilities and ensuring that seniors can fully participate in their communities.

The federal level provides the policies, services and programs for Canadians who need assistance in overcoming the challenges they encounter in their lives and their communities. This includes income security programs, such as the basic Canada pension plan. I also hope social development will always be client-centred in its organization, and that is the point I tried to make earlier to the parliamentary secretary, committed to continually improving service delivery to Canadians.

Its vision statement says, “A Canada for all, where everyone participates and plays an active role”. The mission is said to be to strengthen Canada's social foundations by supporting the well-being of individuals, families and communities, and their participation through citizen-focused policies, programs and service. I believe that can be achieved by reducing barriers and facilitating access to opportunities, investing in people and strengthening communities, delivering seamless, innovative and responsive service, both internally and externally, working with federal partners and other governments and communities, supporting our employees and serving Canadians with integrity and commitment. Those are lofty goals for a government not known for either great efficiency or practical compassion.

The Minister of Social Development, the member for York Centre, and the Minister of State for Families and Caregivers, the member for Trinity--Spadina, both have a great task, but also an opportunity to do good things for the country. The deputy minister, Nicole Jauvin, seems capable and we wish her well. She was formerly the deputy solicitor general of Canada. Also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development, the member for Ahuntsik, should be a great help to keep things on track.

Their program responsibilities are really valued by the average Canadian. They count on it. They include income security programs, such as the Canada pension plan, old age security, guaranteed income supplement, international benefits, help for person with disabilities, the Canada pension plan disability program and the social development partnerships program, as well as voluntary initiatives. The list goes on. They are really valuable. They are very important.

It has been said that while the regulatory system we currently have in Canada has served us well at times, it was largely developed for an industrial economy, a different age. Canada now needs a 21st century regulatory approach that reflects the values of Canadians, the realities of the knowledge economy and changing market imperatives. At the beginning of the 21st century, countries are examining the effectiveness of their social architectures. They need to respond to the new social risks related to changes in family structure, aging population and the changing labour market.

Canada's social architecture was designed to respond to social risks facing the population as a whole. Unfortunately, we will always have people in need, although the context may change. Today, new social risks intersect an increasingly diverse Canadian population and a political environment in which the roles of different levels of government are shifting. They raise challenges for designing a new social architecture for Canada, challenges that arise in a country defined by diversity.

Some of the questions we need to look at include these. What varied risks do Canadians face in today's labour market and how do they shape the choices that Canadians make? Are new family structures creating challenges for Canadian families? What are the current risks of social exclusion in Canada? Are we by accident developing new elites in unforeseen and undesirable social stratification because of the limits upon education training? The world is changing and so are Canadians. Will our political and social institutions be adequate for the emerging social architecture?

We do get some help from various organizations, such as the Canadian Policy Research Networks and the Canadian Council on Social Development. We need to engage Canadians from all sectors of society to have an exchange of views where everyone is respected and not discounted in advance by the traditional insiders and the power holders. Of course we need the opinions of social science researchers and policy-maker, social policy stakeholders, members of the voluntary sector and every concerned citizen. Change begins with the recognition that a problem exists.

The government claims that it recognizes the challenges and the responsibility to serve Canadians. I wish it well, as it ensures and delivers measurable improvements for those at the extremities of services. May it never forget whom it does all this for and why we strive to do what we do.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's comments. He has it right in terms of the thematics, the integrated programs, things that make sense and things that work.

There probably is no speech that someone could not give to lay it out thematically, but what is missing are some suggestions. I would ask the hon. member about suggestions. He talked about the disabled and seniors. Seniors is an issue in which I am very interested. For instance, I have discussed with government officials a number of times issues like dealing with something as bold as a guaranteed annual income for seniors. It is a very important issue.

How about mandatory retirement issues at age 65? How about caregivers and the tax credit that we give? It is a nominal amount, but caregivers play an important role in the lives of seniors. How about the medical expense supplement that we have in the Income Tax Act, which is nominal. Seniors often are the victims of high medical expenses which are not covered by insurance or medicare. How about home care? It is not a federal jurisdiction, but everybody knows that the health and well-being of Canadians is also a responsibility of the federal government and we have to work with and collaborate with other levels of government to ensure it is there. However, with home care, there is a big black hole. What happens if two hours is not enough, when one is discharged from hospital and a family member has to fill in the time needed. All of a sudden families are locked in to an enormous burden. Those are some examples.

If the member is true to the theme, what are some of the other things that he would think, whether it be for seniors or the disabled, could advance the cause of those most in need?

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate what the member had to say. It sounds like he has some good ideas. I have said in my speech that there are a lot of good things happening now, but often they seem to be half measures and very uncoordinated. I recently had a town hall meeting. Constituents asked fundamental questions of some very capable departmental officials. They were somewhat surprised at how constituents seemed to fall through the cracks.

The case example of course is that there is a constituency of several thousand Canadians who rightfully should receive benefits. They finally find out about the programs and begin to get benefits. However, they have been missing things, like the widow's benefit, for many years. Then the government says that it will only go back 11 months, that it is too bad, so sad. The government did not tell people what was available. We could end that kind of discrimination.

Also, we need to build into our systems client accountability. Taxpayers need to have some kind of bill of service rights, or whatever, so they can hold their local offices to account when they try to dial a number and are placed on hold forever or when they go to a local office to see somebody, but there is no privacy for them to talk about their personal situation or no coordinated system for them to take a number. They may mistakenly enter an office and wait an hour only to be told they are at the wrong office.

There are all kinds of local issues that do not allow large bureaucracies to really interact at the community level. That accountability feedback loop is still missing. We need to be client and service centred. Then we could also at the academic level come up with those large ideas. I think there are a lot on both sides of the House. We can do so much better for Canadians.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a start. I know the member is quite interested in criminal justice issues. He is aware, within the provincial jurisdiction, that certain things happen. For instance, in nursing homes, we have those who are abused. We have seniors who are defrauded by those who prey on the most vulnerable. The criminal justice system could look at stiffer sentences for the aggravating circumstances of taking advantage of those who are vulnerable, such as our seniors. There is the issue of affordable housing as well.

Is the member prepared to commit? It is good to have established the department, but it will be our starting point, our instrument to put on the table some important initiatives on behalf of Canadians in need.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that when I return to my community, my constituents will say “You made a speech on departmental organization. How is that going to change what we've been getting for the last few years? Is our money going to be any more wisely spent?”

Then they give me an example of someone who is not being served. For example, supplemental training funds often have an age parameter. We had the case where two fellows were sharing an apartment. They both wanted to get some training. One qualified and one did not because one happened to be two years older than the other and was just arbitrarily cut off. He was really turned off about that.

There are all kinds of ideas in the House and in the voluntary groups out there that I think we need to pursue. Of course, it is a matter of priorities. I hope that the member opposite will be able to argue effectively within his caucus to redirect finances where they are really appreciated and where they can be really productive rather than in some of the historical wasteful programs that we have seen in the House.

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4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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 Windsor West, Automobile Industry; the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, Senate.