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House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled: Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program.

This report calls for the creation of a new EI fund that will be dedicated exclusively to EI, will have the capacity to maintain premium rate stability and will be managed by an independent EI commission that is broadly representative of EI contributors.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-33, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, which agreed on Thursday, February 10, 2005, to report it without amendment.

Divorce ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-334, an act to amend the Divorce Act (child of the marriage).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill, an act to amend the Divorce Act, child of the marriage.

The bill is about the legal obligation imposed by the Divorce Act on divorced parents to pay child support for their children who are older than the age of majority and who are in fact adults at law. The bill would address that category of persons now inappropriately styled as adult children. The term “adult children” is an impossible legal concept that is only possible in family law and creates adults with rights greater than other adults.

I am certain many members of the House would want to adjust those rights.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by a number of Canadians, including from my own riding of Mississauga South, concerning the definition of marriage.

As we all know, the majority of Canadians believe that the fundamental matters of social policy should be decided by elected members of Parliament and not by the unelected judiciary.

It also is the duty of Parliament to ensure that marriage is defined as Canadians wish it to be defined. Therefore the petitioners call upon Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including the invocation of section 33 of the charter, the notwithstanding clause if necessary, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure on behalf of the citizens of Prince George—Peace River, and particularly residents of Fort St. John, my home town, to present a petition on their behalf concerning marriage.

The petitioners note that the House passed a motion in June 1999 that called for marriage to continue to be recognized as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. They further note that currently the institution and definition of marriage is under attack and therefore they call upon Parliament to recognize in federal legislation the institution of marriage as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

February 15th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

moved:

That the House call upon the government to address the issue of child care by fulfilling its commitment to reduce taxes for low and modest income families in the upcoming budget, and, so as to respect provincial jurisdiction, ensure additional funds for child care are provided directly to parents.

Mr. Speaker, our members will be splitting their times and I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

I am pleased today to introduce a motion calling for the government to honour its throne speech commitment to reduce taxes for lower and modest income Canadian families.

We also urge the government to take advantage of the coming budget to keep its promise on child care, while respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction and meeting the needs of Canadian families.

We call upon the government to give any new funds for child care directly to parents themselves. This debate comes just after the government's apparent failure last week to reach a federal-provincial agreement on child care and it gives the government one more chance to get things right and act on 12 years of broken promises.

As we all know, the Liberal Party has been promising Canadians a national child care program since 1993, so the recycling of this promise in the 2004 election was no surprise. However there is one major reason that the Liberal vision of child care will inevitably fail. In listening only to the government funded experts, who dominate the child care debate, the government has completely lost touch with the needs and aspirations of Canadian parents.

Parents have made it clear that they want choice and empowerment when it comes to deciding how they can best take care of their children.

A recent survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family asked parents to rank a series of possible child care options. Parents' first choice for raising their children was their spouse or partner. Second was a grandparent. Third was another relative. Fourth was home-based day care. Fifth was institutional day care. Finally there was the option of babysitting by friends or a hired sitter.

But the message is clear: parents want choices and they want to make those choices themselves. Yet the government's preferred option is to make the choice for them, to take parents' tax dollars and plough all available money into one option, that of supporting institutional day care centres, an option that parents themselves rank fifth out of six.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am a parent myself, with two young children. They are now in the early years of school and have just passed through the more intensive years of preschool care. Laureen and I chose a healthy mix of various day care options for our children. Some of this care was provided directly by their mother, especially in the first year and a half. We also have used close relatives. We have employed caregivers and, for a number of years, Benjamin and Rachel attended a regulated, institutional day care centre on a part time basis. For us, fortunately, all of these experiences have been good experiences, but for us the key has been choice, and in this party we want to ensure that a similar range of choices is available to and affordable for all parents.

It is certainly a mistake to assume that parents with choices would overwhelmingly select regulated, institutional, not for profit child care. This is not the experience elsewhere. Finland, for example, provides high quality, municipally run day care centres, but it also offers a monthly home care allowance for parents who choose to take an extended leave of absence from work in order to care for their children. The evidence shows that almost 70% of parents with children under three choose home care, while only 11% choose formal day care centres.

This brings me back to the other issue we raised in our motion today. Parents with children often indicate that they would prefer to stay at home or work part time in order to care for their children, yet at the same time a high percentage of parents with young children both work outside the home, often full time. I have no doubt that some of those parents would prefer and do prefer access to quality institutional day care, but what these facts tell us is that a large number of those parents would prefer to stay at home, work only part time and spend more time with their children were they able to do so.

Is it not possible that part of the reason so many parents with young children work outside the home is that our tax system makes it all but impossible for them to do otherwise?

Canada is almost unique in the industrialized world in providing no tax benefits to married couples and almost no tax benefits to families with children, beyond a very low income threshold. Other countries provide tax benefits like income splitting between parents, an additional basic personal exemption for children, or universal per child tax credits or deductions. Canada provides nothing except for the universal national child benefit and tax deductions for institutional care.

The Conservative Party certainly supports the existing deductions and the national child benefit program and would like to see this enhanced, but the benefit program does not provide enough assistance for many lower income parents to be able to consider staying at home to raise their children, and it provides next to nothing for parents once they are in the middle income range.

Rather than devoting billions of dollars to a child care program that will help only a small group of parents, that will pay for structures rather than services, that will lead to even higher government spending and higher taxes for families, and that runs the risk of conflict with provincial governments, we urge the federal government to devote much of the money to cutting taxes for lower income and middle income Canadians, enhancing the existing tax credits for families with children, extending them to more families, and using tax relief and credits to help support those choices that Canadian parents want to make for their own children.

The tax system is completely within the jurisdiction of the federal government, so there is no need for complex negotiations or confrontation with provinces that may have different priorities.

The best division of the work, one respectful of Canada's federal nature, is what was agreed on when the National Child Benefit was created. In other words, let the provinces define the child care program they want, which may or may not include in regulated daycare spots, while the federal government provides financial support to parents and children through the tax system.

These changes could begin as early as next week's budget.

If the other parties in the House support this motion, it would be a strong signal to the government that it is time to end the pipe dream of a universal program of institutional child care and instead replace it with a universal program of supporting Canadian parents as they make their own choices for their own children.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I understand the motion presented to the House today, it is calling for choice so that families can choose the type of care they want to provide for their children. On that basis, I am going to support the motion.

One of the first petitions I presented in the House had to do with income splitting in families so that one of the family could stay at home and care for preschool children. The petition stated that “managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its contribution to our society” and that unpaid work is still work and should be recognized.

In addition to the comments made, let me say that there is a child care expense deduction under the Income Tax Act which is available only to those who pay others to provide care for their children. I wonder if the Leader of the Opposition would also agree that this child care expense deduction should be changed to a credit which would be available to all families regardless of the form of care.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comment and his question. As the member and I know well, there is an existing child care deduction for expenses, something that my family has availed itself of in the past.

The difficulty with that program is twofold. It is not simply that it supports only particular types of choices for child care, institutional choices, but as the member and others have pointed out in the past, it also discriminates toward high income earners. Not only is it mostly available to those who can afford heavy child care costs, but obviously the value of a deduction is greatest when one's income is highest.

This party has proposed in the past to enhance those deductions along the lines of what the member said, by providing deductions or credits which would be given regardless of the type of child care chosen. Obviously, I think, we should be looking at systems that would move to credits and enhance these benefits across income ranges.

I would not want to do away with the existing tax deductions that people have come to rely on, and I am not sure the member is implying that, but I obviously would suggest giving a wider range of benefits and choices.

We all know the government has the surpluses necessary to provide this kind of tax relief. We know also that all parties agreed to an amendment to the throne speech to recognize the necessity of reducing family taxation, so I urge the government to bring in a wider range of tax relief for parents with children in order to recognize the deficiencies of the system that we have today.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Simcoe North.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, we in this party will certainly not be supporting the Conservative motion today because we think it will just put another nail in the coffin of--

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I stated the wrong riding name for the hon. member because members have to be in their own seats in order to ask a question. I would encourage the hon. member to be in his own chair, and then we will start his question at that time.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am relatively new to this place and have seen on other occasions, perhaps under other rules, members sitting in different places and participating.

However, I want to repeat that we will not be supporting the resolution put forward by the Conservatives today because we think it will simply contribute to the growing gap between the rich and the poor and will fail to take advantage of the economic value that exists in good quality, not for profit, licensed child care.

I want to ask the opposition leader how he squares the circle in terms of this question of choice: between the women who do choose, 70% of them right now, to be out in the workplace, and the fact that we have huge lineups for licensed, registered, not for profit child care today in our country.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer is simple: because the tax system encourages people, whether they want to or not, in that it penalizes them for staying at home and it encourages them to enter the workplace and then provides only one option. It is fairly obvious why one option has a lineup and other options, even if people express a preference for using them, are not as available.

As I said in my comments, I am not in any way quarrelling with the choice of institutional day care. It is a choice I have used myself quite frequently, but we want to make sure that the range of options is available to people at a range of income levels.

I would just say this to the member from the NDP. I do think that the stand of the NDP on this reflects why over time the NDP has lost so much support from ordinary people. Once again we have the NDP backing the vested interest of a system, in this case the institutional day care system, rather than actually being concerned with focusing on the fundamental needs of ordinary people, and that is child care. It is the child care needs we should be concerned about, and the children, not the system and those who provide it.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening since this debate began and I wonder where we are. My interest in politics began when Maurice Duplessis was in power. I do not know if this rings any bells for you, but it was during Quebec's dark ages. I have been listening to the Conservative Party and I feel as if we are taking a huge step backwards.

When child care is being discussed—

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Excuse me, but this is not a point of order; this is debate, I believe. Unless there is a point of order in there that I have not heard, I ask the member to get directly to his point of order. Otherwise I believe he is engaging in debate.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

I did not rise on a point of order. I wanted to ask the Leader of the Opposition a question.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time for questions and comments has expired, unless there is unanimous consent to have another question. Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We will allow another question.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for letting me ask my question. I really thought that I still had some time. I am listening to the Conservative Party, and I listened to it throughout the election period, which is not so far behind us. I consider this to be a step backward.

They are talking about a universal child care system that encourages—and on this I agree with the NDP—discrimination between the rich and the poor. Quebec has established a day care system which, according to just about everyone in Quebec, is quite extraordinary: one that allows families, be they rich or poor, to enjoy the same benefits. So why go backward—why promote again a system that is 50 years behind the times?

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, clearly the hon. member misunderstood what I said. I said that there is a system in the Province of Quebec. This motion does not oppose the power to set up such a system. That is a provincial choice. One of the reasons why we are in favour of direct benefits to parents is to ensure that we do not impose an Ottawa policy on Quebec.

At the same time, the hon. member mentioned a former premier of Quebec—I do not know why—but I have to point out that I am a parent, whereas Mr. Duplessis never was.

Questions on the Order PaperGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to an issue that affects Canadians in every area of this country. Raising children can be a challenge but changing demographics have only served to highlight these situations.

With new challenges come new problems and new opportunities.

Today, families can be blended, both parents usually work, families are separated from support systems by distances unseen just 25 years ago and many only have one parent.

No party in the House has a monopoly on care and love for children. No person in the House, no matter what party they come from, can be accused of not wanting the best for our children.

These matters are not up for debate. What is up for debate is the path we, as a government, can and should take to achieve what we believe is best for Canadian children.

Let me state what the biggest difference is between the Conservatives and other parties in the House on this matter.

The Conservative Party of Canada recognizes that parents are in the best position to determine the care needs of their children, not the federal government. Parents should be able to do so in an environment that encourages as many options as possible. The government should not be limiting options, but encouraging options. Any child care strategy must be achieved in a manner that does not discriminate against those who opt to raise their children in family, social, linguistic and religious environments. Parents must be given the freedom to choose what is best for their children, their families and their priorities.

Very importantly, we also recognize that the delivery of education and social services are provincial responsibilities under the Constitution. We intend to not only support the provinces, but to encourage the provinces to implement services that best serve their own citizens.

We believe that support should go to parents and families raising children, especially to lower and middle income parents. It is completely unfair for those needing assistance to hear that resources are limited, especially if they need help and see it going to those who do not need it.

All existing levels of support will be maintained and improved, if necessary. We would not reduce spending in this regard. This is very important. This is an important enough issue for all Canadians that we should all have a say, not just the Liberals.

Much of what we hear from the NDP and the Liberals today is very different from what we heard in the past in the Liberal minority report on child care. The current members of Elmwood—Transcona and Niagara Falls sat on the committee. Back then, the Liberals called their report, “Choices for Childcare: Now and the Future”.

At that time, the Conservatives and the Liberals both believed in parental choice. The Liberals said:

...there is high support for a number of locations for child care, including school facilities, child care places, licensed private homes, the child's home and the workplace.

The Liberals said:

A choice as to the location and setting of child care is extremely important in meeting the individual family's needs. The key factors are quality, parental involvement and convenience of location.

On flexibility, the Liberals said:

...services must be sensitive to this need, as it varies from community to community.

At that time, the Liberals saw the need to prioritize low and moderate income families and to offer employer incentives to stimulate workplace day care.

In fact, the Conservatives at that time recommended a 100% tax write-off for such facilities. The Liberals said that was good but that the write-off should exceed 100 percent.

At the same time, the Liberals said:

Good parenting requires time to spend with children. We must also provide for better recognition and services for the full-time parent.

The Liberals went on to say:

Quality child care must be designed as a support to good parenting, not a substitute for it. As such, it should provide for strong, positive parental involvement....

The Liberals at that time also commented on the delivery of day care by saying, “such a system undoubtedly would be a mix of profit and non-profit centres”.

Why? The Liberals said that it was because:

...the federal government must be mindful of varying provincial fiscal capacities; varying letters of existing service and programs to expand child care; geographic or culturally based differences....

Then the Liberals demanded that:

...any new federal spending arrangement must be properly accountable to Parliament; that is, should receive authorization through an act.

Those were their words, but not the actions we see today.

The Liberals said:

The system must be accountable, on an ongoing basis, to parents and taxpayers. As the...system expands, adequate measures will be required for ensuring that parents, taxpayers and employers receive value for money. As well, parents must have mechanisms to ensure quality and to call the system to account in cases where the child's best interests have not been served.

The Liberals call for regular reporting, a system of indicators for regular long term measurement and continual parental involvement.

The Liberals insisted services be available to all families.

The Liberals recognized choice and said “...there must be first a system of quality choices from which families can choose” and that provides , “quality, accessible and affordable child care that does not vary unreasonably across Canada”.

Why have I so heavily quoted the Liberal minority report? I have done so to point out that the Liberals have lost their focus on this issue.

Often my own kids would make the right decisions, head down the right path and have a focused goal. Then, all of a sudden for no reason, when it came time to do the task, they would head in the opposite direction. As a parent I would turn to them and ask them what they were thinking and I would think a lot of other things. Seeing the Liberals' new direction I cannot help but ask the same thing.

The Liberals used to value parental choice, governmental accountability, quality care, parental involvement and the flexibility of delivery. Why not now?

The Conservative Party is very supportive of measures that will actually assist parents to provide a quality upbringing for their children. This is an important issue that must be handled properly. We cannot afford to throw good money into a bad plan.

A child care solution that only helps some children, some parents or some provinces is not much of a solution. Conservatives want a program that takes care of all children because nobody should be left behind.

The Conservative Party of Canada recognizes that parents are in the best position to determine how to care for and educate their children, not the federal Liberal government.

There is no one size fits all system of child care that could possibly be created by the Liberals to meet the needs of all Canadian families and children. This is a matter of provincial jurisdiction and they need the proper tools and resources to meet their unique needs.

Access to quality learning programs and child care are critical to the future of Canada's economy and social well-being.

The Conservative Party recognizes that these programs can be delivered through a number of ways, including through direct tax payments to parents through tax deductions and other policy matters. The current plan is a failure. Alberta is opting out. Quebec is expected to opt out and New Brunswick has requested autonomy for their system.

With the advancing systems in Ontario and Manitoba, it is obvious that the Liberal program does not meet the needs of Canadian parents or the provinces.

The Liberals have been promising Canadians a national child care program for over 10 years. However it is clear that once again they have put forward a plan that is not workable.

The Minister of Social Development has been attempting, without much success, to create a large government program at taxpayer expense. For the sake of our children and the Canadian taxpayer let us get a good plan before we rush ahead. He has failed so far, not because we, or the provinces, or average Canadians do not care about children, but because the plan is not sound.

Will the Liberal government now work with the rest of the House and the provinces to properly build a sound, sustainable child care strategy?