Mr. Speaker, education is very much the gateway to achieving one's hopes and dreams and achieving a better life. In Canada, education has played a very important role in this.
It has been said that there is no greater drive in mankind, in all people, than the desire to improve our condition in life as it relates to our standard of living. There is no better route and no better way to do that than through higher education. When we look at our society and look at the difference that education makes, we see that it makes a profound difference. Indeed, it is what makes a civilized society.
Whether it comes down to the simple bread and butter issues for a family, the evidence demonstrates that the higher one's education, the higher one's income and the greater one's ability to live a better life and provide better for one's family. For most Canadians, that is their most important priority: day to day, what kind of living can I give to myself, to my family and to my children? What kind of future can we provide for them? Can we have a good standard of living? Can we be secure and safe?
Education plays a tremendous role in this. It has been demonstrated in studies again and again that higher income jobs and higher prosperity are strongly related to the education of individuals and society at large.
Education makes a tremendous difference in our society in terms of the richness of the lives we live and the culture we share. Whether it is the arts, the literature or all kinds of day to day and community entertainments, education plays a tremendous role in contributing to that richness in our lives. Indeed, it is an important part of living the good life, of contributing to one's community, of enjoying all that life has to offer here in Canada. Education plays an important role in all of this.
It was Plato who said, “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life”. That is one of the reasons why we support the Canada learning bond and why we think it is so important.
This bill contains what we think is the best combination of Conservative values. On the one hand, there is help for those genuinely in need. The Canada learning bond is not money that is given to everyone. It is a form of assistance that is targeted to those who are genuinely in need. That is what we believe the role of the government, the role of the state, is: to look out for those in our society who are less able, to give them that hand up to be able to aspire to do better, to achieve more, to protect them from whatever vicissitudes of life may have made things difficult for them in the past, and to help those who are genuinely in need. The bill does that by targeting the Canada learning bond to those individuals.
Yet at the same time it also reflects that other important Conservative value, that of responsibility and self-reliance, of rewarding people for their own work and their own efforts. The entire principle of RESPs and Canada learning bonds reflects the notion of matching grants, of rewarding people when they make their own efforts to save for their children's education and future. That expectation of self-reliance, that rewarding of people's own contribution and effort, is also indeed a tremendous Conservative value.
As well, it reflects another Conservative value, the reflection that we do believe people should be given the opportunity to aspire to better, to achieve higher education, and to make their lives and the lives of their families better.
The Canada learning bond will also help to stimulate among people that aspiration to a better life and to improve themselves. It will also, by virtue of encouraging more families to establish registered education savings plans, encourage in the children of those families the expectation that indeed they are expected by their parents, their families, their loved ones, to achieve a higher education, to go to university or to go to college, to advance themselves, in many cases beyond the state in life and the education level of their own parents and grandparents. We know that this expectation is an important factor in the decisions of children as they grow up as to whether or not they will pursue an education.
When I was about four years old my mother took me down to the University of Toronto and said that one day I would have to go there. It made an impression on me at age four. I looked at those august walls around me and said to myself that there was an expectation, that I had better do something and I had better get there. I think that expectation is an important part in every child's decision on where they will go with their education.
I am also pleased that at committee our side had an opportunity through me to propose a number of amendments that I think improved the bill significantly. The first one is what I call the “grandparent amendment”. It was an amendment to make it easier and cut the red tape and barriers for grandparents wanting to make contributions to children's RESPs, which would trigger matching grants. No longer will grandparents have to set up their own separate RESP plans. They can simply contribute to another person's plan. In my view that amendment is a significant improvement to the way this system will work and I am pleased that it was accepted by all parties.
Another amendment that I thought was even more profound was that of permitting the use of Canada learning bond RESPs for part time study. Part time study is an increasingly important part of how people pursue their education. I have said it before in the House. I know many who have done this themselves, in large part and particularly because some do not have the means to commit themselves full time to study. There can be financial reasons or family reasons. They have to focus on other things.
At the same time that we are putting forward a bill to encourage folks in those challenged conditions to aspire to university, the opportunity to make it available for part time study was only logical and consistent. I believe it will make a great difference in the lives of many. I am very pleased that once again it ultimately was supported by all parties. I think it is a significant improvement to this bill. I am very proud of having had a hand in it.
There is no doubt that there is a need for a bill like this. Some of our friends in the New Democratic Party suggest that the real issue is that money just should be transferred willy-nilly to education in an indiscriminate fashion through lower tuition, free tuition or otherwise. We do not agree with that perspective. We believe that people should be expected to make some effort to save for their own education. We believe in support for those who need it, but there should also be an effort to save.
The suggestion was made that it is not that people are not aware of RESPs, it is that they do not have the means. In fact, even those of modest means are willing and happy to save, but there is a real problem in that many are not aware of RESPs. Research shows that of those with incomes greater than $80,000 a year, over 60% of the population knows about RESPs and how they work, yet if incomes are under $30,000 that figure falls by half to just over 30%.
This tells us that perhaps one of the reasons many of those lower income families are not taking advantage of the potential to save and trigger matching grants is that they simply are not aware of the opportunity. The Canada learning bond, by providing that initial seed money and matching grants, which basically is free money from the outset, whether families choose to contribute or not, will help to trigger that awareness of RESPs. I am confident that it will result in greater savings over time. That indeed will be a very productive outcome.
Post-secondary education is crucial to the challenges this country faces and we have to encourage and stimulate it. Unfortunately, Canada has serious problems, which the government is not addressing and which need to be addressed. Post-secondary education is part of that. The greatest of all is the increasing productivity and prosperity gap we see between Canada and our most direct competitors, our neighbours the United States, and other countries in the G-7 and the OECD. The fact is that Canada is falling behind.
That is harming the standard of living of all Canadians. It is harming our entire economy. This is a matter of increasing concern. We have not seen, in the 11 years that this government has been in power, significant efforts to address in any way the productivity gap and improve our economy and our standard of living. This bill is perhaps one step, with a Canada learning bond and RESPs, to address in a small way part of that productivity gap, because post-secondary education makes up for a significant part of it.
We can see in this productivity gap that our educational standing is part of the reason for it. We have fewer M.A. and Ph.D. graduates than the United States. We simply are not producing the number of graduates per capita that we should at this important, superior, critical research level.
I have to disagree with my friend the parliamentary secretary who said we have the highest percentage of people involved in post-secondary education. In fact, right now former premier Bob Rae is undertaking a study. If we look at his work, we can see him demonstrating quite clearly that our participation is far from the highest. We are falling behind many of our OECD competitors in terms of participation of youth enrolled in higher education. We were at 39.3% of youths aged 20 to 24, yet France is at 53%, Denmark at 55%, Finland at 56%, and on it goes. The fact is that Canada is sliding. Our productivity is sliding and this government has not taken that seriously. We have to see that happen.
The other aspect and the other problem we have to address, which is addressed to some degree, is the poverty in Canada and the condition of those in need. In one way, that is best addressed by the opportunity for higher education. That is the way in which people are able to elevate themselves out of poverty to advance themselves. No one will rise out of poverty because the government gives them the money to do it. They will rise out of poverty by their own means and by their desire to advance. The role of the government is to help them, to provide that helping hand, the hand up for them to be able to advance themselves. That is very much what the Canada learning bond does. I am hopeful that to some extent it will help to address this problem in society.
For many years I have had the pleasure of teaching in addition to my other job of practising law. I was teaching. I was in the classroom at the University of Toronto. I can tell members that one of the reasons I do it or have done it for so many years is the great joy and satisfaction in seeing that light come on, in seeing the students learning and seeing their advancement.
However, there is something greater than that. That is the greater satisfaction of then seeing those same individuals five or six years later down the road making their way in life, making use of that education and advancing themselves. For me personally, that outcome, that result of the post-secondary education they have attained, that advancement in life, is something in which I take great pride. I know their families do and I know they do. I know that it makes a great difference to this country and to all their lives.
In conclusion, we are very pleased to support the bill. It was something that the Conservative Party advocated in the last election. It was in our policy platform. We are pleased that the government has moved on it. We are pleased that we had the opportunity to make amendments to significantly improve it. We are confident that with the Canada learning bond in place many more Canadians will have the opportunity to achieve higher education and build better lives and futures for their families.