Madam Speaker, I want to say for the record that I am disappointed in the position that the Bloc has taken on Bill C-5. I always felt that the Bloc was a kindred spirit in many ways on issues of social policy and in understanding what is really needed for those of modest means to fully participate in our society. Quebec has done some very progressive things that members of the Bloc have had a significant hand in. They were very progressive, but this is not a progressive piece of legislation. This is not progressive public policy in any way, shape or form.
I am really disappointed, though, in the disrespectful intervention by the member from the Liberals, the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell. To suggest for a second that he as a member of Parliament going to university on the side, I guess, in his off hours, was in any way similar to a family living on low income and the struggles it has to face to send either the parents or the children to university, sends us the message that he does not understand. He does not understand what is going on out there. He does not understand the challenges that are faced by poor and modest income families. He does not understand the passion and the understanding of the member for Halifax, who has put forward the amendments we are considering this afternoon.
As a matter of fact, it is not just the members of the New Democratic Party who do not believe that this bill is going to do what the government is suggesting it may do. Every person connected at all with the post-secondary education system who came before the human resources and skills development committee to speak about the bill opposed it. They encouraged us to oppose it as well. If that does not tell us something, I do not know what will.
The second NDP amendment that we are looking at today sought in committee to ensure that the bill would require the minister to clearly define what constitutes undue hardship. Again, when we listened to the intervention a few seconds ago by the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell, I guess we began to understand why the minister was not willing to accept that very simple amendment and why the minister would not put something more concrete on the table that would help those folks out there who are trying to get their heads around how this piece of public policy would help them.
Bill C-5 would give the minister broad authority to subjectively assess, in an unaccountable and non-transparent manner, whether a student is experiencing undue hardship. What could be defined by one MP as undue hardship being experienced by a constituent could be rejected by the minister, with no means of appeal.
As a matter of fact, I served for 13 years as a member of the provincial parliament in Ontario and over the last 6 to 10 years I have seen in that province a deterioration in the ability of families and students to appeal when they have applied for assistance to get relief from the pressure of a loan or debt they incurred because they tried to better themselves to go to post-secondary education.
That appeal system has become almost impossible to access and to get some positive response from. We can imagine a family of modest means or poor means trying to appeal a decision made by government regarding their participation in this program and how difficult and frustrating it would be in the end for them to actually achieve that.
I am standing in my place today as the member for Sault Ste. Marie to support the member for Halifax in her very sincere attempt to bring at least a modicum of sanity to the bill in terms of the two amendments that she put forward so eloquently and effectively at committee only to be defeated by every party in the House with the exception of the New Democratic Party.
They obviously did not understand that this is a bill which from its very inception is nothing more than an exercise in smoke and mirrors by a government looking to curry some favour as it prepares itself to go to the electorate yet again. It in fact would do nothing to better the lot of many Canadian citizens who want to better themselves by going to post-secondary education.
The bill is smoke and mirrors, but it is more than that for me. It is also a very dangerous piece of legislation because what it is doing is encouraging people who are already making some basic decisions on a day to day basis about where they will spend the little bit of money they have.
Many members may have heard of the project out of Ottawa. Low income individuals got together and started a project called “Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids”. That is the kind of decision that families of low and modest incomes are making in our society today. It is not about whether they can afford to go to post-secondary education or not.
These people are at a more basic level than that. They are trying to decide from one day to the next whether they will pay the rent or feed the kids, never mind paying the hydro or providing transportation for themselves or their children to get to places they need to go. It gets boiled right down to whether they can actually feed themselves or feed their children or pay the rent.
This group of people is acting on that level in terms of their income. These are people who are trying to make do and in fact in many instances are making do with the little bit of money they have. They are doing way more than those of us who are in this position of privilege as members of Parliament would be able to do.
To suggest for a second that they should somehow, if they could find some money, perhaps by cashing in the bottles at the end of the month, put that money into some kind of savings plan that will see them into the marketplace, is hocus-pocus. Because that is what this is all about. It is about the managers of funds, those who play the stock market, identifying another source of money that they can actually use to better their own fortune.
It is dangerous to veil that in the cloak of how this is a good program for low income people to set money aside for themselves so they can send their children to school. It is a dangerous road to be going down; it is the same road that we are trying to push workers down when we determine that their pension plan should be an RRSP program instead of a fixed pension plan such as that which is championed by organized labour in this country.
It is the same kind of hocus-pocus that is being perpetrated on working men and working women in this province. Now, by means of this bill, it would be perpetrated on some of our lowest income families. It suggests that they might set aside some money, throw it into the market and see it grow. Yes, it will grow, all right; it will go is what will happen to it. It will not grow. In fact, that money, if in the first place they have been able to find it to put in, will be gone at the end of the day. It will not be there to help them and their children.
I suggest that this government, if it really wants to put its money where its mouth is, if it really wants to do something, not only for poor families and families of modest income in this country but where post-secondary education is concerned, it should cast its sights across the water to Europe.
Many countries there have decided that post-secondary education is now so important to their economy, their community and their people that there will be no tuition fee for post-secondary education. They have decided to invest in post-secondary education in such a way that those who qualify, those who want to go and take advantage of that opportunity, will in fact not have that obstacle put in front of them. These students can go, maximize the potential they have to be educated, and then come back and participate in their community and the economy of their country.