Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on Bill C-236. The member for Halifax should be commended for once again championing a cause that I think often gets lost in the wilderness, as it has with this government in particular.
This is related to fairness, equity and justice. That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about students being treated differently from other segments of society. The member for Halifax has eloquently pointed that out in her bill.
I want to read the preamble to the bill so that people understand both what we are talking about here and also the modest changes we are looking at, which are so important. The summary of the bill states:
This enactment amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to reduce, from ten to two years after a bankrupt leaves school, the period of time during which an order of discharge does not release the bankrupt from the reimbursement of his or her student loan.
The member for Halifax essentially summarizes it with the following statement, which is very good. This is what the member said in the chamber:
It is a tragic irony and it is heartbreaking. It is so important for the discrimination that now exists in our insolvency legislation to end as it relates to students. That is what we are talking about today. Others who become bankrupt, whose circumstances beyond their control have driven them into the situation of financial disaster where bankruptcy is an option, are eligible to apply for bankruptcy protection after two years. However, the government has removed that protection from the student population who have indebted themselves because of the inadequacy of the student aid programs in the country and particularly because of the withdrawal of any meaningful support from the federal government. They are in the position where they are not eligible for such bankruptcy protection for 10 years.
What we are talking about here is allowing a fairness to re-emerge that was taken away and stripped from students. It was stripped from them by this government. The government has chosen other options on where to put the money of this country, money that could have gone to education and thus avoided a bill of this nature coming forward.
I would point out that there are 18 other OECD countries that have free post-secondary education and tuition. I do not know whether Canada will eventually get there, but certainly right now we do not have to continue to throw the entire debt for education onto young people, especially in a free market system that makes it difficult for them to actually get sustainable employment to pay off that investment and also start a family, live in dignity and save for their future retirement.
Let me tell members that when I first came here in 2002, after being elected in a byelection, a reporter came to my house and interviewed me about a number of different things. The reporter asked me what I was going to do with all the money I was going to be making. I said that the first thing I would do is pay off my student loan. That is what we did over the next couple of years.
My wife and I are a typical family. We have two children and we were late in our thirties when we paid off our student debt. We delayed having a family because we wanted to feel some type of economic security. We slowly fixed up our house, but at the same time we paid incredibly high interest rates.
It is also important to note that the interest rates this government takes off the backs of students are terribly high and unacceptable. It is predatory behaviour and the government should be ashamed of it. Let us think about the fact that people can get a car loan for zero per cent and furniture loans for zero per cent while this government charges prime plus 5%. It is scandalous.
Here is what happens to those who have invested in their education, those who are trying to pay back their loans responsibly and do not want to go into bankruptcy. The previous speaker touched on a very important point, that is, as educated people they do not want to leave the victory of post-secondary education and obtaining a degree and then have to capitulate to a very humbling and troubling chapter in one's life, that of declaring bankruptcy.
Nobody wants that. Nobody wants that on their credit rating. Nobody wants to go to their family and say that they cannot pay back their loan, that they borrowed money to be successful. They do not want that. People want to be able to reasonably pay back the investment, not only for themselves but for their country and the investment it made in them, so that we can all be successful. This predatory interest rate leads to the bankruptcy issues and puts people into desperate situations. It is unacceptable.
It also hurts our economy. It is great for the banks and great for the government. They make out all right. There is no problem there. But in my hometown, for example, an auto industry town, this debt load delays purchases of new vehicles. The auto workers pay a lot of money in taxes. They put a lot of money into the United Way. They put it into sending their kids back to school. They contribute to the community.
Also, ironically, it is this government that wants to do a voluntary emission standard for the auto industry. One of the most important things we can do right now is get some of the oldest vehicles off the road and the newer ones on the road. That will lower Kyoto emissions. It will do both: create jobs and lower Kyoto emissions.
What does the government do? It hacks away at students because it can. The government continues to treat them as serfs instead of valuing what they have done and helping them contribute into a formula that means success for all of us.
It is unbelievable that a person can get a house loan at a rate that is lower than that for paying back a student loan. Where is the responsibility of the government to take action where it can, with the stroke of a pen? This is unacceptable.
I recently had a meeting at our local college. College students are funded at a level that is different from the level for university students. It was interesting, because the message from the minister of community and social services, a Liberal in Ontario, was that the colleges had better talk to the federal government because it has the surpluses and Ontario has less money. Ontario has a $23 billion deficit in terms of transfer payments. That was Ontario's solution at the time: to send it back here.
What did the federal government do in the last budget? It had almost $5 billion in corporate tax cuts. It was no problem at all to do that. The government found the money. The Prime Minister said during the last election that he would address post-secondary education and that gap. What has he done instead? A vote? No, they are Liberals, they say they are closer to the New Democrats and scared of the Conservatives, but what did he do when he got here? There was another corporate tax cut.
Another corporate tax cut, but what do students get? If a student is deceased, the government will no longer let the collection agencies go after the deceased. It will forgive the debt at that point. If a student is deceased and owes money, he or she will not have to pay back the student loan. Congratulations, I say, what a significant achievement for post-secondary education. I am sure it matches election rhetoric. Promise made and promise broken.
What we are doing to our young population is unacceptable, especially when they need more education than ever before and there is a changing market in front of them. They often have to return to school before they can even pay off the investment on their original education. They are expected to pay for that, not their companies or anybody else, when they have to go back to get those re-qualification credentials for changing standards because of downloading or other governments adding different layers of responsibility for employment through legislation. They have to pay for that.
What ends up happening is that people come out of school later. They have a higher debt load. They marry later. They have kids later. They defer buying a home until later. What will be really critical later on for the young people of today is that they will have less pensionable earnings and savings because they cannot get by as it is.
They are stopped from buying a house earlier. They are stopped from putting money into their retirement savings plans. They are less likely than ever before to find a company to be with for a good portion of their lives and thus have pensions that will be sustainable. It is a real problem. We are deferring all of that until tomorrow. We are putting it on the backs of today's youth because this government cannot make modest changes.
Moving the bill forward in the House of Commons today would deal with the more desperate cases. We could say to young people that they could start their lives over again. Nobody wants to go through the personal humiliation of admitting that they have to start over in what they want to do with their lives and they cannot pay back what has been given to them. They do not want to do that.
That is why I encourage all members of the House to support the bill, because it is the one thing we can do to give young people something to get them back on track. They can be great contributors to Canada, put their education to better use and be more productive citizens for the long haul.