This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.

Topics

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Excuse me, Mr. Chair, I am the only one asking questions, but two ministers responded. Is that correct? I was told we were to use a one to one ratio. Is that right?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

The Chair

I tried to see if the member was in agreement. On the government side there are two different ministers who would like to respond, if that is suitable. Otherwise we will alternate back and forth and the member can ask another separate question. Would you like to hear from the minister of state?

The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, who may ask another question.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Chair, I have a number of questions. I will ask the questions, and one or the other can answer. The question is in fact unchanged, and the minister will answer it shortly.

I would like to point out that the people denied the guaranteed income supplement were denied it—it has been admitted—because the government did not provide the information they were entitled to. I find that abnormal.

I can provide specific cases of people who did not get the money, either because they were not informed or because they were misinformed. The former minister had resolved the problem. The proof they were misinformed is that things have since been changed. Why not agree to full and complete back payments, or at least five years?

When a 70 year old couple—both of them—were denied $20,000 for five years, the government was found to be responsible. The couple gains $4,000 and loses $20,000. Why not apply the same rules to those who are owed money as to those to whom the government owes money? When money is owed to the government, retroactive payment is not limited to 11 months. Could the period of retroactive payment for seniors not be at least five years?

There has even been a class action about this. It is incredible to see the arguments the government comes up with to not give in. Yet these people are owed money.

As for the assistance you are giving, would there be a possibility—I am troubled to hear the minister saying that I am insulting him with my tone of voice,when I think my tone is as friendly as can be—to tell seniors that the $2.7 billion that will be going out over the next five years is coming out of the $3.2 billion saved? Seniors were poorly informed. They are not being given money, they are just being reimbursed. Over the past 11 or 12 years $3.2 billion has been saved and now $2.7 billion will be given back over the next 5 years, starting in 2006.

I would like to know the minster's reaction to this. I see this as a fairly honest way to settle this. We want to see seniors get full retroactivity.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Ianno Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Chair, I just want to clear up one thing. The member indicated that I said something about him being insulting. I did not say that. Perhaps the translation did not get it right.

The hon. member was a member of the government in Quebec. It too has 11 months retroactivity on its programs. I wish he had fought as hard when he was a member of the Quebec provincial government to change all the programs to five years as he so desires.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will correct that. There was reference made to 11 months retroactivity in Quebec. I do not want to say that is false, but there has been an error. The retroactivity for the Régie des rentes du Québec is—

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

The Chair

Order. I think that is a point of debate. It is not a point of order. We have to give the minister a fair amount of time to give his answer. He has a minute and a half or so.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Ianno Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Chair, I know that the member is passionate about the issue. First of all I do not think anyone would like to see anyone who should have been eligible for the GIS not get it.

Out of the 1.5 million Canadians who receive the GIS, 1.3 million automatically receive it through their tax returns. Unfortunately, 200,000 or thereabouts do not apply when they do their income taxes. Therefore applications are sent out to them every year. Unfortunately some do not respond. That is why we continue trying in every way possible to work with other levels of government, to work with our outreach people to go out, knock on the doors, do advertising, to find ways to reach as many seniors who are eligible so that they get what they deserve.

As members know with the $2.7 billion in this budget, it is the first time in Canadian budget history that seniors have been a line item in a main budget. I am very proud that $700 million a year will go to low income seniors, $433 when fully implemented. I am very proud of what the government has done.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Chair, I am extremely pleased to be here tonight. I will be posing a question to the minister in a moment, but first I would like to talk about a passion. I have spent at least 10 years working very hard on some issues. In particular I along with my colleagues have worked hard on issues involving children and seniors, and for very good reasons.

There are nearly one million single seniors in the country. Most of them are women who are living in poverty. That is why the government, with the aggressive work of the women's caucus, a social policy caucus which I chair, and my colleagues have worked very hard to make sure that we have proper programs for seniors. The budget includes, as the minister just mentioned, increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $2.7 billion, doubling the caregiver program, the new horizons program, which is absolutely fantastic, as well as establishing the secretariat to make sure that programming and dialoguing with seniors is not a one time thing but is a long term commitment on the part of our government. This is extremely important for seniors in my riding and in the rest of the country.

My colleagues and I have also worked very hard on the children's agenda. I have always believed that investing in children and families remains one of the best ways to enhance the social economic fabric of the country. For me it is an economic policy, not just a social policy. Eight MPs, of which I was one, pushed and fought for close to a year to get the Canada child tax benefit and national child benefit supplement for low income families started. In 1996 we did that work. The government started investing in children and today it helps more than 3.5 million families defray the cost of raising their children. By 2007 investments through these initiatives is projected to reach $10 billion. This is where I think we make a great difference in the lives of families.

In 2000 maternity and parental benefits through the employment insurance program were extended to provide replacement income for up to a year while a new parent stays at home with their newborn or newly adopted child. These benefits go a long way to help parents balance the demands of work and family life. In 2003, 86.4% of women with insurable earnings and with children under 12 months of age received maternity and/or parental benefits. The number of parental claims established by men also continued to increase although at a slower rate than when the enhancements were first introduced. About 11% of men claimed or intended to claim parental benefits. This is an inclusive program and it is very important.

The Canada pension plan also has a provision to ensure parents who take time out from full time work to raise their young children do not experience reduced pensions later in life. This is very important for mothers and fathers who wish to stay at home with their children and are able to continue and do not have to give up their own financial security for when they retire.

In addition, the government has introduced targeted measures for children with disabilities and their families, including the new child disability benefit and other tax based initiatives. These are helping families with the additional costs associated with raising a child with disabilities.

Through joint initiatives with the provinces and territories, the government is also helping to improve and expand our range of early childhood development programs. The understanding the early years initiative will expand to at least 100 more communities across Canada. Through it the government is helping provide communities with the information they need to ensure that children are ready to learn when they start school. There is nothing more valuable than investing in our children. There is nothing more valuable than ensuring that not just those children who have money, who have parents at home, but all parents have a choice and their children are able to start learning early. We are talking about early education, not about child minding, which people sometimes confuse.

Early learning and child care is extremely important, yet for all of this valuable support from the Government of Canada, gaps remain. We know that. In particular most families still do not have access to the kind of quality early learning and child care programs that can help set their young children on the path to success. This we know is a fact, as we know that nearly 70% to 80% of parents in our society work.

It is crucial that Canada do more. Research clearly indicates that access to quality early learning programs contributes significantly to the healthy development of young children. It also affects the ability of many parents to participate in the labour force. This is important because the great majority of families with low income, lone parents, persons with disabilities, et cetera, are families with only one income. Living in poverty of course has a huge effect on a child's development.

Further, even children who are cared for primarily by a parent at home can benefit from taking part in nursery school or preschool programs for a few hours each week. We have seen this with the early years programs. A lot of parents who are at home in fact do bring their children to these programs. However, there are not enough spaces for these children. Even those who can afford to pay full fees cannot find suitable child care arrangements.

Seven out of ten children under the age of six live in a household where both parents or their lone parent are in the workforce or in school. Yet only one in five child care spaces in our country is regulated. One out of five is not good enough. It is absolutely not good enough. Moreover, programs are too expensive for many parents and the quality varies dramatically across and within provinces and territories.

The government has moved to address these concerns through the multilateral framework of early learning and child care established in 2003. The Government of Canada is transferring more than $1 billion over five years to provinces and territories. Budget 2005 confirmed ongoing funding for this initiative at $350 million per year.

These investments are already making an impact. They are improving early learning and support for children across the country.

Budget 2005 also confirmed the Government of Canada's commitment to invest an additional $5 billion over five years for a new national initiative to accelerate the development of an early learning and child care system in every province and territory in the country. This is an early learning and child care system based on the QUAD principles: quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental.

The Government of Canada is now working with each province and territory to help with bilateral agreements in principle. These agreements will set out the overarching national vision, principles and goals for early learning and child care; clear and measurable objectives; funding levels and eligible areas for investment; strong accountability through public reporting; a commitment to collaborate with each other on knowledge, information and best practices; and a provincial and territorial commitment to develop an action plan for the period of federal funding in consultation with citizens and stakeholders.

This is extremely important. This is what Canadians have been asking for for decades. This is what the activists and the women and mothers and fathers out there have been asking for: accountability, quality, regulated, accessible, affordable. These are the things that matter to families. It is extremely important. I am proud that this is what is in our budget and that this is our plan.

At this point I want to ask the minister one question. I think the importance of this program to me is extremely clear. There are some members in the House who still seem to have doubts as to how important this program is.

I would like to ask the minister, how will the Government of Canada ensure flexibility and choice within a national framework for early learning and child care so that Canadian families can give their children the best possible start in life?

Choice is important. We have heard that tonight. I believe that our proposal and our program will in fact offer that. I would appreciate it very much if the minister would address that.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the comments and the question from the member for Beaches--East York. She has worked very long and very hard on this issue. We talked earlier about not a lot happening before the commitment that was made last year. It is voices like hers and others in the House that kept it very much alive and allowed this sort of thing to happen.

The question mentioned the range of programs and supports that the Government of Canada provides for children and parents. There is the Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement, maternity and parental benefits through employment insurance, the child disability benefit and the rapidly expanding understanding the early years initiative. This is the context into which to put the government's commitment of $5 billion over five years to support provincial and territorial efforts in early learning and child care.

At the centre of a child's life is their relationship with their parents. That has always been the case, it is the case and it always will be the case. The lives of parents and the lives of families can and do change over time. The challenge for a child to develop and learn to his or her fullest potential remains the same. Early learning and child care is not, was never intended to be and never will be the only answer to a child's development, just as elementary school and high school are not understood as the only answers to learning and education.

Simply put, early learning and child care is a tool, one of many, for a child's development and for parents to use as they see fit. We must never forget that for the great majority of Canadian parents early learning and child care is an important tool. Seventy per cent of parents with children under the age of six are both in the workforce.

The great majority of those kids are in child care of some form, but not in a form that is good enough. Only 20% are in regulated care and not in a form that reflects the importance of learning and development in a child's early years, not in a form that utilizes best the opportunities of all those hours of a day, days of a week, weeks of a year, years of a life, all the possibilities. With this time, is it an opportunity to be realized or an opportunity that will be missed?

We want parents to have real choice. We want them to have the chance to choose quality, to choose affordability and to choose availability. We did not build schools by putting money into parents' pockets and then asking them to get together if they wished to put some of that money into a pot to build a school or to hire teachers. We did not build hospitals or roads that way either. We decided that schools, hospitals and roads were important enough to enough people and were important enough to our present and future society that we put that public money directly toward them. That is what we are doing with early learning and child care.

At the same time, there is remarkable flexibility in an early learning and child care system; the scale is so small, the system so much still evolving. The Government of Canada comes to agreement with the provinces and territories on the principles, expectations, understandings and accountabilities. The provinces and territories decide on how best to meet those obligations, with the flexibility to find different answers for rural areas and big cities and with the flexibility to meet the circumstances of linguistic minorities, off hours or specific needs.

This is not an elementary school. This does not require a core of 150 students and millions of dollars for a building to make everything work. Nor is early learning and child care an all or nothing: something for eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year or nothing. No, it is not all or nothing. Even most stay at home parents want some time in the week for their children to have other experiences with other kids in other places. Early learning and child care can be two mornings a week or a day a week for parents and kids as they see fit.

Nothing ever offers an answer for everything. The health care system does not. The education system does not. Even if we would like them to do more, doing what they do matters, and matters a lot. We are a lot better off because of them, and we will be a lot better off for an early learning and child care system in every province and every territory in this country.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to go to another aspect of the program. This is more a matter of information for my constituents and of course for Canadians.

As members know, I am a member of the finance committee. The finance committee is seized with the budget right now. We had some discussion about that this afternoon. There is an attempt by the official opposition to sever the bill into several pieces. This afternoon there were motions presented. One talked about severing off the Atlantic accord and the other talked about severing off the environmental part of the budget. I do not know what else might be coming.

I have a question for the minister because I am very concerned. If the budget does not pass before the House rises for the summer, what will happen to the $700 million which has been allocated for early education and child care? I think it is important for Canadians to know that.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, everything is put at risk. That is what happens. It is a very simple thing. It is at risk or it is not.

As the great majority of Canadians have expressed, this is something that matters to them. It matters a lot to them. The question that I have been asking for the last month or longer is, “What is the rush?” What is the rush in all of this for something that the public is looking for, expects and hopes for? It is an amount of money, $700 million this year, that represents a 30% increase on all money that is spent by all governments in this country at this particular time for the kind of benefit we are talking about.

In whose interests is a budget bill put at risk? Finally, after all this time, we are moving toward a real system of early learning and child care, which people have worked so long for. We are finally getting this kind of push with the kind of public reaction that has happened with those announcements and here we have some members of the House deciding to put it all at risk.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with my distinguished colleague, the hon. member for Durham. I will also be posing a series of brief questions and my sincere hope is that the Chair will enforce that the answers be brief in kind.

First, in the spirit of being brief, this minister has indicated on many occasions that he does not feel parents are up to the job of raising their own children. My wife and I recently had our fourth child, a lovely little boy. Could the minister tell me at what age and why he thinks his $10 billion per year program will do a better job of raising my children than my wife and I can?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, in the interests of being brief, first of all, I never said what he said I said. Second, I do not believe what he alleges. I believe what I have said every time I talk about the issue, every time I have talked about it tonight and as anyone who has been a parent. I am a parent of two children. I take very seriously being a parent of two children. They are 30 years old and 27 years old. We were a central part in raising them, as all of their other activities were a part of their being raised, and as early learning and child care can be a part of the development of a child as well.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, the minister and his department have funded plenty of research projects and activists to bolster his big government knows best approach, projects advocating limited or no choice for parents. Can the minister inform us of what groups opposed to the Liberal anti-choice child care and early learning agenda have received funding and how much funding they have received?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I am not aware of the answer to that question. I will take it under advisement. We will try to find the answer for the member.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, the minister likes to compare the beginnings of the child care program with the beginnings of the universal education system. However, he forgets one important point: the education system recognizes the importance of choice. Within our education system we have private schools, charter schools, religious based education, public education and home schools.

This is my question for the minister. Why can we not have the same freedom of choice, the same broad numbers of choices, with early learning and child care? Why a monolithic system?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, once again the hon. member completely misstates what in fact is the plan and is being done.

If the hon. member wants to compare apples with apples in terms of an education system, of elementary and high school, up to a certain age all children are required to attend school during that period of time.

Home-schooling is absolutely a choice under early learning and child care. Anyone who does not want to have their child as part of early learning and child care can home-school their children. At the same time, different from an elementary school or a high school, which is a five day a week and a 40 week a year understanding, that is not what early learning and child care is. There is a much broader choice as to what a parent may want.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, home education is seven days a week.

Here is my fourth question. Clearly this Liberal babysitting program is not about meeting the diverse needs of parents. Institutional day care is consistently a parent's least preferred option for child care. This Liberal program offers no choice to parents in the type of care they can choose from. All Canadian families must pay into this two tier program, but only a selected few will be able to count on actual assistance. This is not a universal program except that it is universally unpopular.

Why will the minister not adjust his $10 billion a year program to allow fair choices for all families no matter where or to whom the parents choose to take their children?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, the hon. member is just plain ritualistically and jargonistically wrong in everything he says. All one has to do is look at the experience of what is being offered by child care centres now and what would be offered under this kind of program. Clearly the hon. member has not taken the time or the trouble to take in that experience for himself.

I would wish for him that at some point he would, that he would move beyond a piece of paper, that he would move beyond arm's length learning and in fact go to the source. I would wish for him that he would go into a child care centre, see what it looks like, see what it feels like, see the engagement of those children, see the look in their eyes, and see how they move around, adventure, explore and are engaged.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, let me quote the minister, who said tonight that a child's central developmental relationship is with parents. Further, he said that it is the case and it will always be the case. Why then does the minister promote a program that separates parents and children, thereby harming this central developmental relationship?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I really do not even know where to begin to answer any of these questions because they are so remote from the experience that anyone lives. The 70% of families with both parents in the workplace have voted with their feet. They have decided that this matters to them a lot, that this experience for their children matters to them a lot.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, the minister said tonight that the system can be “accessed by all”, or in other words, just make the choice. Currently many parents choose grandparents or other relatives to watch and teach their kids. Through taxes, these parents pay the cost of these programs. They have no choice in that. To access them, they must break other family relationships. Why does the minister force a real cost but give no real choice to these parents?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, as I mentioned before, every program that is offered by anybody represents choices made and choices not made.

What I very much look forward to is the time at which the member's party decides to come forward with its program. I look forward to seeing what choices are made there, what those choices represent, who has benefited and who has not benefited. We all know what choice they came forward with last May and June: a $2,000 tax credit, which would offer the princely sum of an advantage for the lowest income child of $320 when the average cost of child care is over $8,000.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Conservative Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Chair, if I may, I will be asking a series of questions.

Canada is made up of many cultures. I have seen and participated in many of the diverse communities in my home province of Ontario. I know that each of our communities has its own traditions and values as to its sense of family and its children.

I have seen the children at Villa Columbo in Toronto's Italian community, where preschool children interact with their grandparents and other seniors because that child care centre is part of a community based seniors centre within that community.

At the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, the day care centre is housed in the midst of a culturally rich milieu, where children can learn Japanese and the traditional arts, songs and activities of their families' heritage.

The parents of these children choose to place their children in these centres because their heritage and their traditions are important to them. They choose to respect their heritage and they know that in the wider educational system their heritage is only introduced as one of a foreign land and is seen as an activity or traditions that are only exotic curiosities. These parents protest. They want this type of choice for their preschool children.

How will the minister meet the needs of these families and permit a choice for cultural diversity within his child care program?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Dryden Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, as I said earlier in the evening, one of the great advantages of early learning and child care is its scale. It is a lot smaller than a school system. Given that it is a lot smaller in scale, it is something that can work with fewer kids. It is something that can work with less of an infrastructure which will result in less cost to that kind of infrastructure. It allows for all kinds of possibilities in the way in which the hon. member suggests; for various different linguistic communities and cultural communities. There are many early learning and child care centres now that are specifically for what the hon. member talks about and surely there will be many more in the future.