House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industries.


Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member, but members cannot split their time for the first four speeches without the unanimous consent of the House. If the hon. member wants to ask for unanimous consent, she may do so. Otherwise, she can carry on for the full 20 minutes.

The hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

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3:30 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to continue my speech and also split my time with the hon. member for Don Valley East.

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3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the House give unanimous consent for the hon. member to split her time with the hon. member for Don Valley East?

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3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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3:30 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, this country has many resources, but everyone agrees that none is more precious and more important than our children. They represent the hopes and dreams of families, communities and the entire nation. The vitality of our country, Canada, depends on these, the adults of tomorrow.

This is what lies behind our government's desire to assume the huge responsibility of providing our children with the skills, values and beliefs they will need to keep our Canada strong and dynamic.

With these thoughts in mind, the Government of Canada has made children a priority. Even as it wrestled the deficit to the ground during the 1990s, the government continued to invest in children, both for their own sake and for the future of the country.

At the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that our children deserve the opportunity to develop at their own speed and in their own way. They have a great deal to learn from us, but we also can learn a great deal from them if we keep an open mind.

A financial commitment has continued on the part of the Government of Canada into the 21st century. In this fiscal year alone the government will invest more than $13 billion in programs that support children and families, all yet all this is not enough. The Government of Canada knows that it must do more to support our children.

To that end, I believe the creation of the Department of Social Development will become an important catalyst for action. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to support Bill C-22, the legislation before us today that would provide the legal foundation for the new department.

To know what direction to take to support our children, we need to know where we have been. As such, I would like to put the creation of the new department into the context of the government's recent work on behalf of Canada's children.

It is often said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Indeed, even though the parents hold the main responsibility for their child's well-being, the rest of the community, the workplace and public institutions can all have a direct or indirect impact on the way a child develops.

We must adopt an investment formula that will support parents and ensure that these other entities work to support families with children.

For more than a decade, the Government of Canada has made it a priority to invest wisely on behalf of children and to do so in partnership with other levels of government. In 1998, for example, the federal, provincial and territorial governments established the national child benefit, an initiative that helped many children.

While this was a huge step, we must go further. To that end, I am pleased to remind members that the Government of Canada announced that it would increase the national child benefit by $965 million per year until 2007-08.

The spirit of cooperation between the federal, provincial and territorial governments was again evident in 1999 with the creation of a national children's agenda. This agenda, with its four key objectives: good health, safety and security, success at learning and social engagement and responsibility, paves the way for a diversity of innovative programs.

Early childhood is the time when the foundations for acquiring skills and the ability to adapt are laid, and these have a life-long impact on learning, behaviour and health. The first few months and years shape an individual's entire life.

Hence the importance of the 2000 early child development agreement.

By virtue of that agreement, the Government of Canada started making annual payments of $500 million to the provinces and territories with a view to supporting a broad range of initiatives, from community services to prenatal programs. All of these are aimed at getting our children off to the best start possible.

In that regard, there is a pilot project called “understanding the early years initiative”. The idea is for 12 communities across the country to gain greater insight into what influences a child's development from the impact of family background to community factors such as the safety and security in a neighbourhood. With better information, communities can make better decisions about which programs will most benefit their children.

This pilot project has been so successful that the Government of Canada has decided to expand it over the next seven years. Ultimately, up to 100 communities will look at the numerous factors influencing early learning and adopt best practices.

Research has shown that all young children can benefit from quality early learning programs. In past generations, a child's mother provided much of this emotional and intellectual stimulation but today close to 7 out of 10 mothers with children under the age of 6 are in the workforce. It is not surprising then that 85% of Canadians believe the federal government should help provinces and territories provide affordable, accessible and high quality child care. The Government of Canada is taking action.

In 2003, the federal, provincial and territorial governments concluded a new multilateral agreement on early learning and child care. The Government of Canada has committed to allocating over $1 billion annually for five years to its provincial and territorial counterparts in order to encourage the creation of new early learning and child care programs.

But this is only the beginning. On the strength of this success, the Government of Canada has committed to partnering with the provincial and territorial governments to establish a national system of early learning and child care.

Last fall, governments agreed on core national principles to guide the development of early learning and child care that is university inclusive, accessible, developmental and of high quality. In the recent budget, the Government of Canada confirmed its commitment of $5 billion over five years to enhance and expand high quality developmental early learning and child care in collaboration with provinces and territories.

Just recently, the Minister of Social Development Canada signed agreements in principle with his counterparts in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to support the development of quality early learning and child care in these provinces.

These agreements clearly illustrate the commitment of both levels of government to creating an important initiative: a system of early learning and child care in each province that benefits children and parents. We will use these agreements as models. We are confident that we will be able to conclude agreements with all the provinces and territories in the coming days and weeks.

We should not underestimate what these announcements and the ones that will come soon will mean for Canadians. Our children are the future. They deserve positive early learning experiences that will plant the seeds.

That is why we must play a leadership role for children throughout the country. We need a department whose only mission is the social well-being of children, their families and all Canadians. We need a department that can harness existing expertise and generate the added value we need to improve our knowledge and experience and move on to the next level.

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3:40 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, last August, at the Olympic Games in Athens, Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal won the gold medal in the women's 800 metre wheelchair demonstration event.

It was a proud moment for all Canadians but it was a particularly sweet victory for Canadians living with disabilities, for not only did Ms. Petitclerc's stunning win demonstrate the potential of the sport for the Olympics, it also demonstrated to Canadians once again how people with disabilities can live rich, fulfilling and rewarding lives.

More than ever before, Canadians living with disabilities are taking their rightful place in our society, whether it is on the track, in the workplace or in their communities, but much work needs to be done to ensure that people with disabilities reach their full potential.

The Government of Canada plays an important role in making sure that happens. It is for that very reason that the government created Social Development Canada. This new department has a mandate to secure and strengthen Canada's social foundations in their many dimensions. These social foundations cannot be solid until people with disabilities fully participate in all the aspects of Canadian life to which they aspire.

That is why it is vital for Bill C-22 to pass into law. The proposed legislation would create the legal foundations for the new department. It would effectively become the building block for the government to strengthen the social foundations of our country. I urge all hon. members to support it so we can move forward on our agenda to promote the rights of Canadians with disabilities.

Before I speak further about the department's role in this challenge, let me say a few words about the nature of disability and how it affects our country. Disabilities are part of human experiences. Some of us are born with disabilities while others experience them later on in life through illness, accident or diseases. Disabilities can affect all of us any time without warning. Today, one in eight Canadians has a disability of some kind, a total of 3.6 million people.

Most commonly, Canadians live with disabilities related to mobility, agility and pain. While disability can affect anyone, it is true that women and aboriginal populations are more likely than others to live with a disability. Since women generally live longer than men, they are also more likely to develop a chronic condition that leads to disability.

In addition to affecting people directly, disabilities also touch an estimated 2.8 million Canadians who provide support to a family member or a friend with a long term health condition or disability.

We must never lose sight of the need for full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society, not just because it is right but because it is just and because people with disabilities have a vast amount of knowledge, talent and expertise that can enrich the quality of Canadian life.

Our country's future prosperity depends on the full and active participation of all Canadians to the best of their ability in our society and economy.

The Government of Canada is committed to achieving the goal of full inclusion. Every year the government provides almost $7 billion to help meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities. These investments are made in such areas as skills development, learning and employment to disability support, income benefits and tax measures.

Indeed, in Budget 2005 the government is acting on the recommendation of the technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities to make the tax system fairer.

Budget 2005 introduces tax measures for persons with disabilities. In 2005-06 these improvements to the tax system will result in $107 million in investment for Canadians with disabilities and their families, which will grow to $122 million by 2009-10.

Social Development Canada recently implemented changes to the Canada pension plan disability benefit. Under the new provision, people with disabilities can try going back to work without putting their benefits at risk. If their disability forces them to leave their job again within two years, their benefits will be automatically reinstated.

In addition, budget 2005 improves tax assistance to caregivers and updates the list of medical and disability related expenses that are eligible for the medical expense tax credit.

There has been action in the policy area as well. In 1982, when Canada included physical and mental disability in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we became a role model for the world. For the first time in a national Constitution, disabilities were framed as an issue of citizenship and human rights. Since then, the charter has become a key tool to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society.

As the Government of Canada advances the disability agenda, Social Development Canada plays a leadership role. On December 3, to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons, the department released several reports, including a comprehensive study called “Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities 2004”. Not only did this study report on the government's progress in advancing disability issues, it also helped Canadians better understand the challenges that still lie ahead.

Since many disability issues fall outside federal jurisdiction, it is vital for the Government of Canada to work in partnership with other levels of government. To that end, last April, federal, provincial and territorial ministries launched new labour market agreements for people with disabilities. I am pleased to note that in 2004 we increased funding for these new agreements, bringing the total federal contribution to $223 million annually. These funds will go a long way toward enabling Canadians with disabilities to participate more fully in the labour market.

No government, either on its own or working with other jurisdictions, can effect change single-handedly. That is why the Government of Canada is proud to work in partnership with the voluntary sector and in particular the disability community to build its capacity for policy, research and analysis. It is critical for national disability organizations to represent the voices of Canadians with disabilities and their family caregivers and to communicate their needs and priorities to government.

Social Development Canada is tailor made for these challenges. The legislation before us will provide the legal foundations for the department to carry out its vital work. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting Bill C-22 so that we can move forward on our agenda for a truly inclusive society.

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3:45 p.m.


Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today on Bill C-22. I wish to advise the House that the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar provided me with some of the information, as she sits on that committee.

Many Canadians may know, or they may not, that these programs fall under the old Human Resources and Development Canada department, or HRDC. Anyone who has followed the history of this department will certainly bear witness to the fact that institutional changes needed to be made. They were required to fix the many problems within the department as it existed. Canadians were tired of Liberal boondoggles and were demanding that business not continue as usual. The Liberals were wasting billions through the department and spending dirty money elsewhere at the time. Changes were clearly needed.

Changes were required, and while the case was never really made that a full division, split and overhaul of the department was needed, there was no question that Canadians could not afford a repeat of the boondoggles of the past. That said, I am still not sure if this legislation prevents either of those things from happening.

Normally departments are merged to save money, so one can only assume, and I think Canadians can only assume, that splitting this department will cost taxpayers unnecessarily. During a briefing on this legislation, the question was asked but never answered. Perhaps now the government has an answer. How much will these changes cost in addition to what we have had before?

Unfortunately, the Liberal government started the split long before it brought the bill to Parliament. In effect, the Liberals put the cart before the horse. As we have seen with other departments that the Liberals have split without consulting, I guess they believe it is probably better to ask for forgiveness than get permission.

I have to say that their attitude and way of doing business does not surprise me. The current government has made a habit of circumventing Parliament and has developed a reactionary approach to everything it does. Instead of being leaders and taking a proactive approach to the leadership of the nation, the Liberals continue to run around trying to put out fires by throwing money at them. While it has been proven to be an unsuccessful approach, they blindly continue.

If we were to oppose the legislation, the cost of reversing the changes already made would likely cost more than it would just to complete the split. In effect, the Liberal government has failed to consult with Parliament on the change to HRDC and the creation of social development. To that, we say shame.

Again the Prime Minister has failed to provide Parliament with an opportunity to become more involved and more relevant in the spending of government. Rather than consult us before the fact, we are simply treated as rubber stamps. So much for decreasing the democratic deficit, but then again, even if the committee had recommended alternative action, the Prime Minister has also shown he considers our work irrelevant.

I am thinking of the environment committee and its recommendation not to allow a patronage appointment of a former Winnipeg Liberal candidate to go ahead. The Prime Minister is going ahead anyway. So much for committee work.

This is unacceptable, not just because it silences the members of the House, but because it makes the people we represent irrelevant.

I have to tell Canadians that either the Prime Minister does not consult the House or, when he does, he ignores what members have to say. This was stated earlier: who said the former prime minister was the dictator?

As word spreads of the Liberal government's autocratic ways, more and more Canadians are demanding a return to the democracy for which our veterans fought. Canadians want a Parliament that can and will make binding decisions on important issues. They want their representatives to have more than just a say. They want their representatives to be involved in the decisions and have the power to influence those decisions. I could not agree more with Canadians.

If the Liberals want to improve both the way MPs work and the quality of our work, they need to come to us first, before making changes, not after.

As I said earlier, this department already exists. The minister is at the cabinet table and announcements were in the budget. Exactly what is it that we are being asked to approve in this legislation? From my side of the House, it looks like a done deal.

Before my time runs out, I want to pass along some important information that Canadians should know about. There is a website that can assist them in accessing any benefits they may be entitled to. This website lists almost every federal and provincial program there is.

To make it easier to determine what applies to an individual, there is a user friendly feature. All one has to do is answer a few questions. It will then short-list the programs that may apply. I am asking the people watching today to grab a pen because I plan to give them that website address shortly.

Before I do, I want to stress that this website address is the subject of one of the most common complaints that most MPs get from those in need. The complaint is that it is too difficult to find, apply for and access programs that already exist.

As I said, this website can be found at I would encourage all MPs to add it as a link to their websites to give people within their constituencies easier access. The government has a record of taxing the poor but not making it easy or accessible for the poor to get back their hard-earned money when in need. I hope, and I am sure members hope, that this website will help change that.

Social Development has a massive mandate that is guaranteed to touch every single Canadian at some point in their lives. Whether it is seniors, children, families, the disabled, volunteers or participants in the social economy, the new department will have an impact on us and on those close to us. Even if we do not need to turn to the government for assistance today, our pension plans will likely be administered by this department.

As always, we have some serious concerns that a department this large could quickly balloon out of control for this management challenged government, and we are concerned that such a large ministry will be sidetracked by new, large social initiatives. We have already seen social wings fighting over the proposed child care program.

It will take the efforts of MPs, Canadians and especially the people who work at the social development department to ensure that these radical structural changes do not fall off the rails and cost us billions again. Every dollar this government wastes on a new program is a dollar lost to a program that is already in place and quite often underfunded. As I have said before, I hope the government stays on top of the costs associated with this change to ensure they do not get out of hand.

As was pointed out earlier, this new department was born from the split of HRDC into Social Development and HRSDC, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The government has highlighted the strong coordination, cooperation and co-working arrangements between the two split departments, and it certainly appears to be duplication and overlap to me.

We look forward to the minister perhaps clarifying some of the reasons why the old department could not do what the new ones can or are asked to do and also how much it will save Canadians. This has been asked before, but it has yet to be answered.

I suspect the savings will not prevail. I cannot see how new letterhead, computer systems, websites and the like save anyone any money. In fact, the departments already carry a lot of overlap and duplication. Information is available on both the SD and the HRSDC websites. Yet again it begs the question of why a single department does not make sense over two. I will ask--and I will hope--the government to come up with that creative answer.

Some of my colleagues will speak to this bill also and I believe that they share the same concerns as I do for Canadians in need. The government needs to ensure timely, properly supported services to those under duress. Canadians do not want hassles, delays and excuses. They want access and they want help.

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4 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague. I am trying to understand, but I still do not understand and I am sure I am not the only one here to not understand. Why do they want to split this department? Would the hon. member have an idea? I see nothing whatsoever to indicate any urgency or distinction. I am trying to understand the logic behind this bill, but I do not.

I would invite my colleague, if he has seen something I and I am sure many of us have not, to convince us that splitting the department is an intelligent idea, something I have my doubts about, I would very much like to hear what he has to say.

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Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, as I stated in my opening remarks, there is no logic. In fact, when governments are looking at trying to create benefits and savings for departments, usually they merge them. Perhaps the government could answer to this better than I, but I suspect that a promise was made to somebody that another department would be created for a member of the government.

There is no logic that I can see. In fact, we have seen so far increased costs. We have not seen a government come forward with a plan that is going to show exactly how it is going to work and cooperate in the same functions that it used to. It is very frustrating for Canadians. It is very frustrating for people who need to access the programs that are available.

We will continue to chase the government, as I suspect the member will, to ensure that the money that is being allocated to these departments is actually reaching the people it is intended to serve.

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Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague mentioned that in recent months we have seen a government that is willing, on regular occasion, to ignore the wishes of Parliament. Given that it was only a few months ago that this House voted against bills that would split the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, basically two similar bills were brought forward to create two new ministries. Members of Parliament defeated both of those bills. The government summarily chose to ignore those decisions and to proceed anyway.

I have two questions. Does my colleague think that this process that we are going through is relevant at all, given our recent experience? Does he believe that the government will probably go ahead and do what it wants to do, regardless of how members of Parliament vote on these two related bills?

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Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, that is the issue for all of Canada. A government's time and days here have to be numbered if it does not listen to the members who are duly elected and sent here to represent the people, and if it is not prepared to move forward and listen to what elected MPs have to say. It is very frustrating.

As frustrating as it is for us, imagine how frustrating it is for Canadians to see this happen. They elect people. They give them the responsibility to act on their behalf, and when we do as MPs, it is ignored by the government. The government, whose Prime Minister has claimed is the leader of democratic reform in this country, then turns around and totally ignores the will and wishes of not only the MPs in this House but of the Canadian public.

It is a recipe for disaster and in a lot of cases the debate that we are having on this particular issue is irrelevant. It is something that the government has chosen to move forward and do, with or without permission of the members of Parliament or without the approval of Canadians, and that, as I said earlier, is shameful.

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4:05 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on a question earlier by a member opposite about the reason for dividing this very large department of Human Resources Canada.

It is the government's response to members whose constituents told them they could not deal with Human Resources Canada, it was so big. It was a huge department with responsibilities so varied they should not have been in a single department weighing heavily on the shoulders of one person, the minister.

It must be remembered that the Department of Social Development, once it is created, aims to focus solely on the social development of the people of Canada, especially and very specifically the social, emotional and physical development of very young children. That is what I said in my speech a little earlier this afternoon. It is a department with a very specific objective.

This is why it is important to split the department, to give the new department a very specific objective.

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Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, obviously, governments have motives for everything that they do. The real issue is that the government never consulted with members of the House. It moved forward on this issue. They are operating as two individual departments now without the authority or the approval of the House and that is the issue.

Governments that act that way are irresponsible and are not representing the people and not giving us, as elected officials, the opportunity to have some input into the decisions that are made. I stated very clearly that government members put the cart before the horse. All we are saying to the government is that when it continues to do that and it continues to neglect and not listen to what members of Parliament are saying and what Canadians are saying, it does so at its own peril.

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4:05 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak about the establishment of this new Department of Social Development. I sit on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The Bloc Québécois has found this to be a very serious issue. Later I might get into the Liberal government's hidden agenda regarding the creation of this new department.

This new department has an unstated mission: to invade provincial fields of jurisdiction. Earlier, we were told that the reason for establishing it was to be more responsive to the expectations of the various target groups of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

At the same time, this is just shuffling government employees around. The overall number of departmental employees will remain approximately the same. Out of the 23,947 who worked at Human Resources Development Canada, 10,037 were reassigned to the Department of Social Development and 13,910 remain at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. So, public servants were shuffled.

But the unstated mission also has to do with the Liberal government's visibility with organizations. A Liberal member spoke earlier about people with disabilities, saying that they wanted to negotiate with the voluntary and community sectors. We can see what direction the Liberal government has taken with respect to the social development sector. It is very clear.

The sponsorship program, which was providing the government with some visibility in cultural organizations or at events, has been abolished. With that option no longer available, the government is now going to encroach on fields of provincial jurisdiction to make itself visible to the organizations in the various provinces, and in Quebec in particular.

Allow me to doubt the government's great intentions. The objectives may be described as worthwhile. It is true that the provinces have been financially choked by the federal government ever since I was elected here, in 1993. We in opposition have all experienced the drastic cuts to provincial transfers for health, education and social services made through the Canada social transfer.

We know very well that the support for health under the Canada social transfer is now down to a mere 20%. For education and social development, contributions amount to about 11.5%.

The game, therefore, is extremely clear. The organizations, individuals and client groups they intend to serve will be held hostage to the good will of the federal Liberal government. This will be a great way for the latter to remain visible, hold the purse strings and thereby help the provinces overcome its difficulties in responding to the various client groups. We have not mentioned the fiscal imbalance. And there is the rub. I want to repeat what our finance critic said at a Quebec City board of trade session about the dysfunction of fiscal federalism, the cost of the fiscal imbalance and its consequences. Here is what he said:

“The fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and Quebec and the provinces is clearly a dysfunction of fiscal federalism that cannot be permanently resolved through individual agreements or mere increases in federal cash transfers. A new balance must be struck. Overall, the federal and provincial governments jointly collect sufficient taxes to fund public services and meet new needs.”

“Since 1998, there was no less than $140 billion in new federal initiatives, in addition to a cumulative end-of-year surplus of $70 billion. So, our financial leeway totals $210 billion in secret funds that are not subject to public debate.”

The numbers have been manipulated since 1997-98. We are told that there is no surplus, but in fact, this is not true. The federal government is keeping the surpluses for itself while the provinces are unable meet their objectives. They are the ones providing services to the different client groups. In fact, their actions are dictated by institutions, by a Parliament that determines orientations and public policies. So it is extremely difficult for the provincial governments to set long-term strategies, particularly with regard to social development.

They are trying to convince us that the federal government knows best in this sector, when in fact it does not even have the expertise. This is why they wanted to create a new Department of Social Development, and made sure to have a big enough surplus to be able to fund it.

I have some doubts about the funds allocated to this department. They say the total will be approximately $55 billion, to which another $2 billion have recently been added. Yet they had said that this new department would not cost any more. Let us see how it will be run. There is an initial $55 billion allocated to this department, but there is a list of desired clienteles, services they want to deliver, new programs they want to set up. I noted yesterday evening, when we were looking at supply for 2005-06, that there is not yet any figure for certain of the government's social development initiatives. I doubt very much that this budget will stop at $55 billion.

If they want to be serious and really do some social development, then they need to also acknowledge the difficulty the provinces are having keeping their heads above water and serving their various clienteles.

The cost of the fiscal imbalance is enormous. We are told that, between 2004-05 and 2009-10, that is a six-year period, it will have cost the Government of Quebec $24 billion. Imagine how that much money could have enabled the Government of Quebec to better serve its various clienteles and thus to ensure some degree of equity for everyone. Year after year, the shortfall will keep on growing if this problem is not addressed.

And that includes the health agreement. To those listening, and to the people in our ridings, $501 million for health may seem a huge amount. It is, in fact, but the amounts in this agreement correspond to the cost of nine days of operating the system. It seems a lot, but when we take a closer look, it is clear that even with an additional $279 million for equalization, this is but a drop in the bucket compared to the major social and economic needs in the provinces that must be met.

Enough of this great lesson in social solidarity the federal government is trying to give us. They did not hesitate to slash the Canada social transfer in 1997-98. We have never been treated to so much social solidarity by this government.

The consequences have been very serious in terms of the fiscal imbalance and Quebec's basic needs, such as funding for the health care network. It is very difficult to provide. No consensus can be reached without funding, because priorities have to be met.

Education is underfunded. Investment of $1 billion annually would be required. The agreed figure of $500 million annually fell far short and was, in fact, ridiculous in the context of the support needed to fund health care.

Public infrastructures are out of date, intermodal transport remains at the project stage, social housing is significantly lacking, there are gaps in job training and insufficient resources, immigrant integration, essential in view of the labour shortage, is inadequate, and so on.

I spoke of these issues rather than those relating to social development today, because they might be the solution. However, the government is looking for complex and difficult solutions with a department that has policies and objectives to suit each of its various clients.

Resolving the problem of the fiscal imbalance, for example, would be less complex and costly than a new department, which will probably be much greedier than it is at the moment.

As I noted in the studies of the votes yesterday, there were not enough figures available to say how much the government would be spending on the various initiatives. There are initiatives, for example, relating to the volunteer sector, such as new horizons. We did not even see the figures they referred to. The amount mentioned was $25 million. However, we noted that $7 million was mentioned when the votes were studied.

Are they going to ensure these millions are invested this year and not in 2007-08? Yesterday, we would have liked answers to these questions, but the minister did not have enough time to answer all the questions we asked him.

The case is the same for caregivers. My colleague on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will certainly mention this later. This plan to help the provinces with social development is rather dubious. If the government respected provincial jurisdictions and if Quebec had the programs, we could opt out with full compensation, without conditions or negotiations.

Just look at the entire saga going on right now with the child care system. It is ridiculous when you consider that Quebec set up a child care system to the tune of $1.7 billion so far, and the federal government is imposing accountability conditions. In addition, we know they are keeping money in their coffers for the next two years to see how the provinces will respond and deliver service to the public.

Given that we now have almost 200,000 child care places available, we obviously do not have any lessons to learn from the federal government, since it even asked for Quebec's expertise on the matter. They should be paying us for our expertise, which cost Quebec taxpayers a great deal, instead of making us wait seven months. The Bloc Québécois denounces both the federal government's attitude and that of the Government of Quebec, a Liberal government, which wants the money with no strings attached.

It is not just the conditions on child care, but also the attitude toward the negotiations and the conditions. If we accept this for child care, then we are setting a precedent for every other agreement in every other sector. The federal government would like Quebec to make concessions and accept these conditions. This will not work in other sectors; it will not mesh with the social and economic issues in Quebec.

It is a question of principle. That is why we must not sign with the federal government, which is trying to impose an accountability program and conditions, especially in sectors where the Government of Quebec has invested billions of dollars. I could even say that the federal government is making money on child care.

Families that have access to the $5 to $7 a day child care system cannot claim tax credits. Since the system was put in place in Quebec in 1998, the federal government has saved $1 billion because the deductions are not large enough to generate a tax refund. Each year for the past six years, Quebec has been providing this Liberal government with $1 billion to fund the child care network across Canada. This means that thousands of families in Quebec are not getting tax refunds. The federal government could have been grateful to Quebec for the $1 billion saving in income taxes and given us the money back. It could have thanked Quebec for having been proactive in that area.

Those who want to be respectful of their partners—whether between friends or in a couple—have to show appreciation for effort and initiative. It is time to stop using negotiations for blackmail purposes. The government has been negotiating with Quebec for seven months. It boasts about our being world leaders. The OECD has praised us for having implemented this kind of system in Quebec. After tapping into our expertise, the federal government expects us to send all our revenues its way, without any compensation. At the same time, we have to do as the federal government says and meet its terms and conditions in order to receive money. That is a very poor way of showing respect for one's partner, especially when the partner in question has made it to the major leagues and made extra efforts.

We will oppose the creation of the new Department of Social Development, first because of its unstated purpose, which is to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. If other provinces wish to set up a national child care system and accept the conditions imposed by the federal government, fine. We have absolutely no problem with that. That is not the issue. We are talking about the possibility for Quebec not to join in, if it is not in its best interests to do so. After all, this is one of its jurisdictions. Indeed, the Constitution of 1867 clearly states that social development, which includes health, education and social services, is a provincial jurisdiction.

All governments in Quebec, whether federalist or sovereignist, have been unanimous on this issue. The National Assembly passed many resolutions condemning this desire to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. The fiscal imbalance is still being unanimously condemned in Quebec. Now, 83% of Quebeckers understand what the fiscal imbalance is all about.

With its hand on its heart, the government is telling us that it wants to help all the various groups. That is a laudable objective, but the government is not taking the appropriate means to be effective and to meet the needs of these groups.

We saw the results of this approach after attempts were made to set up other programs. Three or four weeks ago, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities discussed extensively the program set up by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada regarding manpower training. There were problems with this program. The NDP had asked the committee to review this issue. Following that, the committee tabled a report on the ineffectiveness of the implementation of a new management process, which was not totally fair to the various groups affected.

The federal government would have us believe that having two departments, two types of programs serving the same groups, is the most effective and economic approach. I beg to differ.

The purpose of this new department is to blackmail some groups and money will be available when they so decide, while the provinces have to meet specific objectives.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member covered a lot of issues and I would like to make a few comments and ask her some questions.

My first comment may be in a generic sense. The member had the words right, and one of the words she used was accountability. Any government that receives taxation revenue or revenue from other sources from taxpayers needs to be responsible and accountable and ensure that those moneys are used wisely. If those moneys are not used wisely or are not necessary for the services that are to be provided, then taxes should be lowered.

Does the member agree that if the Government of Canada raises money, regardless of how that money is used or transferred, there is still an accountability and that accountability may reflect itself in terms of standards or conditions under which the moneys would be transferred to a province?

She also mentioned intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Roads, bridges and sewers are traditionally associated with provincial, regional and municipal governments. In fact, they have their own tax bases to raise the revenues to deal with those. Why then would the Government of Canada take an interest in transferring infrastructure moneys, gas tax reductions, GST reductions for the general purpose of provinces, regions and municipalities, if it did not somehow reflect in terms of supporting the economic performance of all regions to the benefit of all Canadians? It is a good outcome. There is no question the jurisdiction is there.

If the member feels that this intrusion into provincial jurisdiction has to be dealt with, is she suggesting that Quebec should not get infrastructure money, or day care money or money for tax rebates because they are related to provincial jurisdiction? She cannot have it both ways. I would be interested to hear the member's position on that.

With regard to Bill C-22 specifically, I sensed some concern that the department is still too large notwithstanding that it has been partitioned somewhat. There are now two new ministers in related areas. Is her concern that the dollar value is still very high which may reflect the volume of activity? In terms of the scope of responsibilities, I would have thought they would have been reduced because of the additional ministerial responsibilities.

Could the member clarify whether her concern is that the areas of responsibility are too large or is she concerned about the dollars?

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, it is very easy to come off as someone who is unconcerned with how the governments spend money.

I mentioned accountability earlier, and I think that, instead of creating new programs or invading areas of jurisdiction, we need to resolve once and for all the fiscal imbalance. Here again, the federal government has given itself significant leeway. The leeway for new federal initiatives is $140 billion, while the provinces lack the resources they need to meet the public's everyday needs.

I find it insulting that the federal government then demands that the provinces report back to it. It is not that we should not be accountable to the public. I am saying, rather, that the federal government is acting in an area outside its jurisdiction. It may well ask for the provincial governments to be accountable up to a certain point. However, the federal government collects $40 billion from Quebec taxpayers. If subjugation is required in order for this money to be redistributed in our areas of jurisdiction, then clearly we are at odds here.

People could easily conclude that I am not concerned about accountability. I am well aware that the provincial governments must also report on expenditures made with taxpayer money. However, do we ever see protesters here opposing various federal policies? It is extremely rare. We need to mobilize everyone in Canada.

The protests are happening in the provinces, which provide those public services. And the victims of this potential fiscal mismanagement are the people. If the public were concerned, perhaps because it thought the government had mismanaged or abused the public purse, it could go to the National Assembly.

The federal government is a big bubble. No one ever worries and there are never any protesters knocking at the door. When the universities make major demands, they do not come here. Sometimes, they do, but there is no real impact. I think that the best way to ensure how the money is spent is to give it to the provincial governments.

That is what we are arguing in Quebec. When the government goes too far or not far enough or not in the direction the public would like in connection with social development, for example, the individuals concerned will call the provincial government on it.

The federal government's centralizing tendency is not a winning strategy. That is for sure. What pleases some provinces may displease others. Timing, issues and priorities vary from province to province. The leaders in provincial legislatures are from different political parties with different issues. They are democratically elected.

Even the federalists said in committee that it was not federalism. The centralizing federalism they are trying to have us accept here is not in line with Quebec's realities, nor with other realities outside Quebec. Voices of discord are being heard increasingly in Canada.

So, we would have expected flexibility. Since Trudeau, we have been promised greater flexibility. There was the great Canadian love-in evening in the 1995 referendum, the loving day, as it was called. Mentalities and approaches were going to be changed, the various premiers promised.

We have never seen one ounce of flexibility in this government, but it is asking the provinces to be flexible. The question of the government's lack of desire to resolve the fiscal imbalance is not to be raised. It is because it has enough manoeuvring room to bring the provinces to their knees, when it wants, as it likes.

I have not mentioned the gasoline tax or the way it was negotiated. In this file, there was a little more heart. In the end, funding was cut. It in no way resolves the whole matter of Quebec's infrastructures. As I have said, the network is lacking. We do not have enough money to develop public transit and are obliged to beg.

Mayors are being seen as visiting the federal government cap in hand. I am not saying this is how they should be seen, but it is the image the federal government likes to give them. It likes to see the mayors coming for money. They usually approach the provincial government, the Government of Quebec, in our case. That way negotiations are more direct.

They have neglected to say they do not want to do business any more with the provincial governments, but rather with the social players. That is the unstated goal of this government.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, Foreign Affairs; the hon. member for Windsor West, the Canada-U.S. Border.

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4:35 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill this afternoon because I have some important things to say. I hope, ultimately, to engage the Liberals in some conversation on this and the Bloc.

What we have in front of us is an opportunity and if we are not careful we will miss it. We have an opportunity to establish a couple of new departments that could deliver some services and programs to the people of Canada if it is done properly and effectively.

Earlier today we debated Bill C-23 which we will be voting on soon. Now we are speaking to Bill C-22. The two bills came forward to divide a department that was in deep trouble a few years ago through its spending habits, lack of accountability and some significant irresponsibility on the part of government and the people within the organization who did not act in a way that reflected the values that this place should represent.

We are here debating the wisdom of dividing a huge department, Human Resources Development Canada, into two departments. On first blush, it may be a good thing to do because perhaps a big department should be broken down into smaller, more manageable bits.

However the way the government is going about this is troubling. The two departments are already there and I think one of the departments has had three different ministers so far. Nevertheless, we must work with this and at committee try to bring forward some suggestions as to amendments that could be made but it is the same old attitude coming from the government.

Where initially we were in support of dividing up Human Resources Development Canada into two new departments because we thought it was a good thing to do in terms of being more manageable and the possibility of a new approach, we then moved to a position where we could not.

I want to talk for a few minutes this afternoon about why we now find ourselves in a position of having to oppose the two bills and the establishment of these two departments.

I also want to say that we are always open to discussion, particularly in the new arrangement that has evolved over the last couple of weeks in terms of the Liberals and the New Democrats trying to find ways to work together on behalf of the people of Canada and on behalf of communities and to do some things that would actually be helpful in the delivery of programs and services.

We are not opposed to the bills from an ideological perspective nor are we opposed strictly on principle. We are opposed for some very practical reasons. For myself, personally, it flows out of some of my experiences in committee as we tried to bring froward some amendments to the bills that we thought would situate them better to actually do the job that we know, and the government knows and the people of Canada know, needs to be done out there under the heading of Human Resources and Skills Development and Social Development.

A lot of work needs to be done in the area of training. Changes to the EI system are needed, on which I know the Bloc members, as well as my colleague from New Brunswick, have worked very hard. However this will not get done simply by creating a new department if we do not include a framework, a commitment and some legal requirements to actually do something different on behalf of the people of the different provinces and of the country.

If the ministers and government members are listening, some of whom have been actively engaged in the debate, I want to say that we are willing to come to the table, sit down and work out ways to make these bills more palatable, more attractive to us in terms of support, but it will require some substantial give on the part of the government on some fronts, which I will talk about in a few minutes.

I do not think one cannot talk about Bill C-23 without talking about Bill C-22. For example, when Bill C-23 came forward we voted on it and it went to committee. In committee, I found, after initiating an investigation into how the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development was changing the way it called for and ultimately decided on requests for proposals to deliver some of the services, that the same old attitude of “Do as we say. Do not ask any questions. This is the way it will be done. Do not mess with us or we will take action that will not make it too comfortable for you”, still existed.

We heard from people who are in the trenches delivering programs on our behalf. When they told us about their experiences of intimidation and harassment when they actually asked questions about the new proposal that was put forward, we began to have some serious concerns.

The Conservatives, the Bloc and some of the Liberals worked very hard on a report that we tabled in the House. The New Democrats and the Bloc appended a minority report to add some of our own concerns that we felt were not captured in the report.

The report now sits with the minister and we want to know what she is going to do with the report. Is she going to respond to some of the issues raised in it? How quickly will she respond? What will be done, in particular from our perspective, to protect those organizations and agencies that were caught up in this flawed process? The department itself referred to it as a process that was flawed.

Several organizations in this country, particularly in Ontario, lost contracts because of this flawed process. So far there has been no indication that any action will be taken to fix the process to ensure organizations can continue to do the good work for which they have developed an expertise and a track record.

If the New Democrats are going to support Bill C-23, which goes along with Bill C-22, we want to hear specifically what the minister is going to do with the report. We want to know what changes she is going to make. We want to know what concrete things we can expect to flow out of the department to indicate it is really serious about taking some action. We do not want what happened in the old HRDC a few years with the billion dollar boondoggle to happen in the new department. We want to sit down and talk with somebody about that before we can support the bills and the government to get them through the House.

Bill C-22, which we are talking about tonight, like Bill C-23, is a bill that the New Democrats once supported and that my party cannot support any longer. At first we recognized it as a housekeeping bill. We saw merit in splitting social policy and social development from HRDC with its scandals. HRDC was too large a department with conflicting responsibilities. We welcomed the new approach and new opportunity for a new department. We saw opportunities to give some prominence to the profoundly important subject of social development.

A few moments ago I heard the member from Quebec express her concern that the government was talking about a type of federalism that does not work for Quebec. I think the government should be engaging the Bloc and the New Democrats in a conversation about what kind of federalism would work for Quebec, particularly where the delivery of social programs and social development in this country is concerned.

Anyone who has spent any time in Quebec or with the Bloc or who has looked at the wonderful programs rolling out in Quebec knows why Quebec and the Bloc are concerned about the government's approach to the delivery of social programs.

The Bloc does not want its programs watered down. It wants to grow them, improve them and make them better. After listening to some of the Bloc members, I have a feeling that what is coming forward from the federal government will water down some of the excellent work that is going on in that province. What the New Democratic Party wants to do is build on that history and make it the reality for all of Canada so that those very good programs that are enshrined in legislation that happen in Quebec, happen for all Canadians.

I hope that in order to get the bill through the House and to finally sanction his department, the Minister of Social Development, who I know is a man of good will, is willing to sit down with us and the Bloc to ask what needs to be done, what needs to be put in the bill and what amendments Bloc members want to bring forward to make this work for them so they can support it.

This will be an exceptional opportunity to finally address some really substantive issues around Canadian social policy, for example its disassembly over the past 10 to 20 years, the Canada assistance plan and the social transfer arrangements with the provinces and territories that is near devoid of understanding, of purpose or of accountability and that fails to protect social program funding against erosion into provincial health care priorities. Those kinds of concerns are of critical importance to us.

I want to take some time to explain why we are no longer supporting the bill and what needs to happen in the department for it to put some real substance into delivering social policy in a holistic community driven fashion.

We saw from the outset a weakness in the bill. It was not defining social development nor was it adequately laying out the mission of the Department of Social Development. There were only vague references to social development and social well-being for Canadians.

I proposed amendments to lay out a definition on social development but did not receive the support of the government. I acknowledge that the department has a decent and well-intentioned minister but, regrettably, there is also a bureaucracy and a Liberal Party that does not know the meaning of collaboration or working together on a progressive agenda for our country.

I guess this is where I stand today after a couple of weeks of some very important, challenging and difficult negotiations back and forth between ourselves and the Liberals on some programs that both of us are now committed to if we can get the budget through the House, a budget that will be good for the people of Canada and for communities, for investments in education, in the environment, in training, in housing and the list goes on, all under the rubric of social development, things for which we as New Democrats came here to fight.

We now see some openness from the Liberal Party to actually entertain and commit itself to doing some of those things, It is dropping the corporate tax break that would have robbed us of the resources we needed to actually do those kinds of things. I am hoping that in that same spirit the minister will be willing to speak with us and the Bloc to see if there is anything that we could do together to give the department the teeth it needs to actually do the job that we know needs to be done.

We have not seen in either Human Resources and Skills Development Canada or Social Development Canada the kind of partnership that is so important in a minority Parliament and we are asking for that to happen now. Even with the new deal on the budget there still, in my experience, and I have a couple of ministries that I am responsible for in terms of being a critic, any real substantial coming together and dialogue around what it is that we can do together to better some of the things that we are working on.

The budget deal for Bill C-48 demonstrates what a minority Parliament can accomplish for the good of Canadians, such as affordable housing, education and more gas tax for municipal infrastructure. Some are saying that it is the minority parliament that has failed when we know better.

It is not the minority Parliament that has failed. It is the Liberal government that too often fails a minority Parliament. Here is a chance for it to prove differently and to show us differently. Minority Parliaments work and can work. They have worked in the past.

We know what the New Democrats were able to achieve for medicare and pensions while working with other parties in other Parliaments. We think we can achieve some things that we will all be proud of here with these bills as well. Contained within these bills is the potential to do some really fabulous things, such as the new national child care program.

Speaking of child care, this is the ministry responsible for child care. This has been another source of great disappointment for our party. We wanted to work with the government on truly creating and enshrining in legislation a high quality, accessible child care and early learning system.

While the first two agreements with NDP governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan held out promise, last week the quality of the system began to be diluted with an openness to funding for profit subsidies.

We wanted a national child care act. None is forthcoming. If the minister wanted to come and talk to me about that, we could talk about that and it would be helpful in terms of our position on this bill. The government fails to see the potential of working together and finding those on all sides who would support such a bill.

We wanted funding only for not for profit. We are aware of the research. Last night during the debate I asked the minister what research he used to substantiate his decision to leave the funding open to both not for profit and for profit. I did not hear of any that was of any note.

We want studies that quality and accountability are best served in the not for profit sector. We know. We have the research. We have the studies. The practical experience is out there to say that we get better quality.

I know that the minister is sincerely and seriously committed to achieving quality in the new child care system. However, he will not do it, I suggest to him, unless he restricts the funding and frames that in a way that makes it happen for the not for profit sector.

We keep hearing about the big box corporations. I keep raising the subject of big box corporations. We wanted to ensure that big box corporations were prevented from doing their business in Canada with their lower wages and higher child-staff ratios, buying out non-profit and smaller mom and pop operations, and closing centres in rural, northern or isolated areas.

I know the minister shares some of my concerns about big box child care. I know that some of the provincial ministers do as well. We have a profound disagreement on how to deal with those concerns. The minister tells me that his bottom line is a quality standard that can be delivered in either the not for profit or the profit sector.

This is not the experience by and large in Australia or the United States. This is not what the research is telling us about quality care being delivered far more consistently in the not for profit sector, and even in Quebec, that is the case.

Big box child care is waiting to come to Canada. A U.S. corporation has already registered itself to do business in Canada. Three of the five provinces that now have child care agreements do not rule out funding for profit operation. They are Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Only the Manitoba and Saskatchewan NDP governments have made that commitment.

Our party cannot support this bill at this time on many fronts. One is the refusal to accept amendments to this bill for its policy on child care.

I wonder why there could not be a real definition of social development to move our social economy forward? I fear, in the absence of a clear and thoughtful mission, that the department's efforts will be as notable for the important work it is not doing as the responsibilities it is carrying out.

The concept of social development is an idea with critical content and with numerous descriptors. For instance, many of us have advocated for years that the term, as does the concept of social policy, has to contain things often in the past considered economic, as well as things regarded as social.

As no doubt members are aware, failure to develop social policy that recognized this more holistic reality weakened the usefulness of the policy, to say nothing of doing a disservice to principal stakeholders of social policy.

We must do something on this front with this opportunity that we have with this ministry to actually live up to some of the responsibilities that we have out there on the international stage. The United Nations has time and time again, with support from Canada, put in place regulations that call for very basic, fundamental supports for human beings, including housing, food, clothing and shelter.

We have no vehicle anymore in Canada, since the demise of the Canada assistance plan, that gives any legal framework or teeth to the government to demand that provinces, in delivering social services, ensure that all citizens gets what they need to live a quality of life that is up to the kind of standards that we have in this country.

We at this point are opposed to both Bill C-22 and Bill C-23, but we are open, in the spirit of the new cooperation between the government and our party, to discussions to find ways to bring us on board, to make us supportive, and to work with the Bloc on this.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, Bill C-22 is an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain other acts. The member has given a good speech, quite frankly, on the whole subject matter of early learning and child care which we spoke about and debated last night. He was here for some four hours and we spoke about some of the nuances.

There are obviously negotiations that must be held with every province. There is only so much that we can do and we cannot have one model that fits all because every province has a different base to work with. I am a little concerned and I am hopeful that the member would maybe want to reconsider hist position on the bill to create the department and not have his position affected by a measure which is included in the budget bill, Bill C-43, which his party supported.

I do not want to get into a debate about child care because that is not the bill we are debating, but I would say to the member that this is a first step. It is $5 billion over five years with $700 million in the first year. The premise is that putting the interests of children first is very important and that to deal with one aspect, being quality child care, is important regardless of how it might be delivered. We know that it really costs much more to set up a true, effective, quality national program, but we should work together to build on a starting point because there is only so much we can do with $5 billion over five years.

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5 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, it certainly is something that we do need to consider and discuss. My concern is that if we pass this bill without making substantial amendments to actually give it the capacity to do the job that we all imagine it might be able to do would be a bit like closing the gate after the horses are out. We would then have to recapture that potential and that possibility.

There are some very real concerns in this country about the way that we do social development and the way that we deliver social programs, particularly since the demise of the Canada assistance plan. There is no legal framework anymore to challenge provinces that deliver most of those programs to live up to some of the commitments that we made as a country through the United Nations and through some international pacts around basic, fundamental rights of citizens.

What concerns me is that we are putting the cart before the horse here and we would not do the good work early on that we need to do to maximize the potential for some really important stuff to happen down the road.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Madam Speaker, I was interested to hear the member for Sault Ste. Marie on the one hand say that he looks forward to cooperating with the Liberals. He sees the minister as a man of honour who can be worked with, yet specifically, one of the initiatives that was supposed to come out of this ministry, and that I know my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie was really looking forward to, was an actual national child care program.

What cause does he have for optimism that he can rely on the Liberals to actually act on the things that he discusses? Given his recent experience with national child care legislation, which I know he wants and is expecting, what cause for optimism does he have that any of the things that get promised are actually going to be delivered?

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5:05 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely right and that is my concern. That is why we are not standing here today saying we are supporting this legislation. Unless the minister is willing to sit down with us and perhaps with others and talk with us about how this child care program is actually going to be a national program because it is not at the moment. It is still as patchwork as what we had before. It is one-offs now and bilateral agreements.

We were happy with the initial first two agreements because of some of the framework that they actually had in place, but we need federal legislation to ensure that what flows out the door from here under the guise of a national child care program is rooted in the principles, is delivered by a not for profit system, and that the federal government will be there at the end of the day with the kind of money that is going to be required to support that.

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5:05 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie. First, I am glad the NDP has changed its mind on the first reading of the bill. They are currently against Bill C-23, if I have understood correctly.

The reasons they say they are against it are quite questionable. There is a tendency toward greater centralization of national programs. In that sense, my colleague from Québec made our position very clear.

My colleague from Sault Ste. Marie raises the fact that they have reservations about this bill because a legal commitment and framework is needed to improve the services. I tried to follow his reasoning, but I did not really hear anything to that effect.

I understand why he finds it hard to come up with ways to improve it because it is hard to improve something that is not relevant. This bill is not relevant. The only thing it sets out to do is to institutionalize a structure called Social Development Canada in order to justify interfering in programs that do not come under federal jurisdiction.

My question is this. Should the bill pass, does my colleague realize that this is a way of creating a single window, which makes access to services even more difficult and facilitates making cuts to one department or the other?

I refer my colleague to page 280 of the budget to help him see that by passing the budget he would be authorizing the government to cut $2.4 billion from EI programs alone. We know how much the NDP cares about this issue.

How will they be able to justify authorizing $2.4 billion in cuts to employment insurance, as outlined on page 280 of the budget?

It is the same thing in other provisions in the budget, where cuts are already planned for the new Department of Social Development.

I would like to know what my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie has to say about this.

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5:10 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I have no quarrel with the member for Chambly—Borduas. He is absolutely right. There are inconsistencies and that is what I am looking for. I am looking for a vehicle in the federal government to ensure that those inconsistencies do not continue to happen.

For example, on just one front we have some very real concerns, and I know that Quebec has some concerns and does a good job without a lot of support from the federal government. The availability of legal protection for the poor and disadvantaged in our country rank among the highest in the world. With the repeal of the Canada assistance plan in 1996, Canada no longer has a national framework for protecting basic social and economic rights such as the right to adequate social assistance for all people in need, comparable to the substantive health care guarantees that have been maintained under the Canada Health Act.

Therefore, we are looking for something like the Canada Health Act in this ministry to protect the rights of people to a standard of living and to protect them when they find themselves unemployed, so that they get from the fund what they paid into it in terms of the cost of living for them.

I agree with the member. There are inconsistencies. If we were to work effectively with the minister, we might be able to find a way to reduce the inconsistencies in this ministry and put in place some vehicles that would guarantee and ensure citizens that they would get the things that they are entitled to.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to once more speak to Bill C-22. I would like to remind the hon. members, especially the member for Sault Ste. Marie who was supportive of the bill. that this recommendation came from a committee of the House. That committee did an exhaustive study and recommended to the House that the department should be split. We tend to forget that, and it was a unanimous report of that committee at that time.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today about Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts. This is a department devoted essentially to social development, which demonstrates the Government of Canada's desire to renew its commitment to social development policies.

Social Development Canada centralizes social policy at the federal level, along with all social programs aimed at strengthening the social infrastructure of Canada.

At Social Development Canada, there is a mission. That mission, in short, is to support the well-being of individuals and families and their full participation in the life of our country.

I would like to also remind members who already have spoken that last night we had four hours to question the minister on the mission of the department and what it does.

I think it is rather disappointing that the NDP, through its critic, has now decided not to be supportive of a measure that came straight from the committee's recommendation and which the government accepted. The opposition always talks about how committees have no relevance in the House, but they do have a relevance when it suits its purposes.

Whether it is a senior, a person with a disability, a family, a child or whether it is the needs of the voluntary sector, Social Development Canada exists to help Canadians live full, complex and rewarding lives. I always say that the department takes us from zero up to the death, from the birth of a Canadian citizen up to the death of the Canadian citizen. We touch their lives through the whole sphere of their lives on this earth.

It does this through income security benefits, through programs that promote inclusion and participation, through funding support to organizations that contribute to Canada's social development and through investments in children and families.

However, we want to go further and move faster in enhancing the quality of life of Canadians by fostering even greater participation in society by alleviating poverty, by ensuring every child can get a good start in life, as is the early learning and child care initiative, and by widening the choices available to Canadians as they go through life's transitions.

Many social issues transcend jurisdictional responsibilities and it is the responsibility of the government to have a national vision. It is certainly not one that is shared by the hon. members from the Bloc. I can understand that. After having done politics in Quebec for 30 years, I do not expect them to be supportive of a national vision when they have a vision that only pertains to Quebec. That is obvious.

However, I am a little disappointed that my colleague from the NDP and my colleagues from the Conservative Party do not transcend jurisdictional situations in which the Bloc, because of its mandate, would not be supportive.

No one level of government or segment of the community on its own can address them in their entirety. An effective response means many different players must work together each using the levers and interventions appropriate to their resources, expertise and jurisdictional responsibilities.

I want to reiterate that we have a collaborative relationship with our colleagues from the provincial and territorial governments. That is what a national government does. It collaborates. It shares its resources. It sits at the table and tries to find solutions for Canadian citizens from the age of zero up to their death.

In this way, the departmental vision fits into the partnership framework, a framework that is itself based on consultation, cooperation and commitment and involves the provincial and territorial governments, community organizations and other stakeholders, as well as the people of Canada.

Now for the role of our department. The very core of the responsibilities of Social Development Canada must be a holistic vision of life on which we can base our reflection and strategic orientation, starting at the beginning: our children.

The department shows the way and administers the income support for early childhood education and child care, as well as for low-income families with children, in conjunction with the provinces and territories and other departments, along with experts from the various communities throughout the country. As well, it administers certain programs such as the national child benefit and the national child benefit supplement.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to hold discussions with our colleagues. One of the parties in this House said there was nothing in the budget for families. This is a pro-family initiative, with $10 billion in funding annually, and it comes from the members on this side of the House. The department also administers the federal-provincial-territorial early childhood development agreement and the multilateral framework on early learning and child care.

Studies have demonstrated all the advantages of quality early childhood learning. Child care, nowadays, is a daily reality for most Canadian families, which is why they must have access to top-notch child care services with the potential of getting our children off to the best possible start in life.

The Government of Canada and Social Development Canada is therefore committed to working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments to build early learning and child care.

The essence of our system is collaboration with the provinces and territories. It is respecting the provinces that are willing to sign bilateral agreements at the moment, agreements that will allow access to the funds that we have already committed in order to respond to the needs of their citizens, the families who live in the riding and the children who need early learning and child care.

I want to stress something that came up in yesterday's debate. We are talking about early learning. We are not talking about babysitting, a term used by members of the opposition. We are talking about a national early learning and child care system, not just babysitting. That is a very important point to underline.

Last fall, governments agreed on core principles for early learning and child care that is of high quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental. All provinces were at the table and every one of them agreed on these core principles. As everyone knows, we have signed five agreements and we will continue to negotiate with all the provinces to come to some agreement. It is not a “one model fits all” deal. They each have different needs. They each have other pressures in terms of the families who live within their territories and it is up to them. We are providing the resources and the national policy framework.

The Government of Canada's commitment of $5 billion over five years was confirmed in the recent budget. This includes $4.8 billion for provinces and territories, $100 million for first nations children on reserve and $100 million for activities such as research that will support accountability.

We understand with our provincial and territorial partners that federal support will need to be ongoing beyond these initial years. In February the hon. Minister of Social Development met with the provincial and territorial social services ministers on a new policy framework for early learning and child care. These negotiations are ongoing.

Since April 29, we have reached five federal-provincial agreements in principle on the establishment of a quality early learning and child care program, with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.

Given these recent federal-provincial agreements in principle, we are confident that we will soon be able to finalize a national initiative in which the provinces and territories will have the flexibility to address their own particular needs and circumstances and to be accountable to their own citizens for their investments, a national initiative which will support the development of quality early learning and child care for young children and their families across Canada.

We know that people with disabilities have contributions to make to society and are looking for greater opportunities to make independent choices and to become more self-reliant.

This is why Social Development Canada is working to eliminate the obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from actively contributing at work, at school and within the community. SDC also notes that, while there is a greater awareness of issues relating to people with disabilities, the number of these people is on the increase, because the population is ageing.

Twenty years ago, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allowed people with disabilities to make significant gains. We must now ensure that we have the appropriate tools and programs available, while also developing harmonious intergovernmental relations to continue to forge ahead.

The federal government recently earmarked additional money for the labour market development agreements, as they relate to people with disabilities. It will share the costs of these agreements with the provinces to support the employment programs designed for these people.

The Government of Canada also announced some major tax changes in its first budget, to make the tax system more fair and just in relation to people with disabilities and their families. These changes are in the order of $107 million for 2005-06. They will amount to $122 million by 2009-2010, and will take the form of credits to promote the integration and participation of people with disabilities.

Social Development Canada also looks at the lives of seniors. As the lead department responsible for seniors, Social Development Canada wants to ensure that Canada's seniors live in dignity and live with purpose.

Twenty years from now, one in five Canadians will be a senior wanting to play an active role in Canadian society, participating in the community and benefiting from a retirement income system that sustains a good quality of life.

Social Development Canada ensures that those in need, as well as their survivors and children, get a basic income through public pensions, benefits, and supports. The recent budget announced increases of 7% to the guaranteed income supplement, the allowance and the allowance for the survivor that will put more money into the hands of thousands of seniors. New funding over the next five years will total $2.7 billion.

I, as other members of Parliament, need to constantly assure ourselves that every senior who is eligible in terms of the supplement should have access to that supplement. I check this constantly whenever I meet with my seniors' clubs. This important point was raised by our colleague from the Bloc. This is our responsibility as well as the responsibility of Social Development Canada. We have to continue to make sure that no seniors go without access to this funding.

We also want to ensure that the skills of seniors are tapped, that their potential to give to their communities as they have always done is realized.

Last fall the department launched the new horizons for seniors program to support a range of community based projects to enable seniors to pursue active, useful lives. As it has proven in a short period of time to be very popular, we are gradually increasing its annual funding to $25 million. I had the privilege of having the Minister of Social Development make that announcement in my riding.

There are two projects in my riding of Ahuntsic. One project is a very innovative and interesting one in which an interactive website has been set up between seniors and children who need some help with their school work. It goes all the way to Argentina, Brazil. That is the beauty of Internet. That is the beauty of the new age. Technology is a tool that can be used to reach children not only in Canada, but across borders, even internationally. The demand for that website is growing. Hopefully that organization, which happens to have its roots in my riding of Ahuntsic, will expand and become something other seniors can use across Canada.

The budget announcements also included the creation of a new national seniors secretariat within Social Development Canada.

I would like to mention that the initiative came from this side of the House, from my caucus colleagues. Two task forces made recommendations along the lines of what I said earlier and also in terms of the secretariat. I want to say thanks. This is another example of ideas on how we can help Canadians come straight from either a committee of the House or a task force set up by this side of the House.

The problems that seniors have to face are a concern for many federal departments and for all levels of government. The time has come to develop a coordinated approach for seniors, to ensure that all the efforts being made will help meet seniors' current and future needs. The national seniors secretariat must, in cooperation with its partners from the public and private sectors, ensure that this coordination and harmonization exercise does indeed take place.

Social Development Canada is also looking at the role of caregivers in our society, more specifically those families with young children that also look after aging spouses and grandparents. As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, the government is determined to improve current tax assistance and to hold consultations across the country on other initiatives. For example, the Government of Canada is increasing its support to caregivers by doubling the amount that these people will now be allowed to deduct for medical and disability costs for a dependent parent, raising it to $10,000.

Social Development Canada also looks at Canada's volunteer sector, which is 19 million strong. We support the capacity needs of the non-profit and volunteer organizations across Canada that make such a difference in the lives of Canadians and their communities.

Recognizing this immense contribution, we plan to further increase the sector's capacity, enabling it to meet the challenges of the future. Social Development Canada will be working in partnership with other federal departments to foster the country's social economy.

Before I continue, I want to pay homage to all those volunteers, especially those in the riding of Ahuntsic. I am sure all members of this House will agree that these volunteers are the unsung heroes of this country: people who give of their time and their talent only so other citizens can benefit by those talents and that time. I want to express my thanks to them. I think we should all be thanking them, as I do every year during National Volunteer Week when I hold a breakfast and thank every single one of those members of the riding of Ahuntsic who contribute to making my riding better because of their contribution.

I am running out of time, Madam Speaker, but I have so much to say on the social economy, although I did say something yesterday. Allow me to point out the beauty of the social economy, because there are unsung heroes out there who are doing wonderful things to take people out of dependency on the state and into the economy. Yesterday I had occasion during our four-hour debate to speak about the social economy and to congratulate all the stakeholders who have been working with me on the national round table.

I will wrap up by saying that I hope all hon. members will support this legislation. I hope they will take into account the fact that this came from a committee report. It was a recommendation from the previous Parliament and the committee on human resources and skills development, made in order to divide social development from human resources. We are always talking in this House about the fact that whenever there are reports and recommendations there is no follow-up. Here is a perfect example: this initiative came from that committee and I believe we should all support it.