Mr. Speaker, today we have an opportunity to respond to the Conservative Party motion, which reads as follows:
That the government recognize that its current child care proposals create a two-tier child care system because: (a) the government ignores the fact that each province is unique and faces different challenges with regard to assisting families in finding and providing child care; and (b) the federal government is discriminating against families who choose to stay at home or find care outside of a publicly funded system or work shift-work, or who are on a low income.
What the Conservative Party is proposing today is to not establish a public child care system. This is a very dangerous direction to take. The Conservative Party is also criticizing the national child care program that the new Minister of Social Development wants to implement.
We are opposed to the political line of the Conservative Party because it overlooks a number of realities. A Conservative member did attempt this morning to set out her party's vision of the support that should be provided to child care centres. The Conservative Party wants us to recognize the needs of low income families and to give them some elbow room.
Does the Conservative Party think that it is being realistic? Without a structured child care system, many parents will have no alternative. That is why Quebec has put in place a structured day care system, with professional educators. This system was established back in 1997 in Quebec and very rapidly generated enthusiasm for a system capable of meeting diverse needs.
Granted, this system does not meet every need, but we have to recognize that Quebec has nearly 179,000 day care spaces. There are therefore many spaces available for the children of working parents. There is much talk of to responding to this century's new reality. More often than not, this reality includes two working parents. Many parents who cannot afford to spend $25 a day on day care cannot enter the labour force. This was the reality in Quebec. Parents did not waste any time registering their children to ensure they would have a space. The 200,000-space target has not yet been achieved, but hopefully it will be achieved by 2006.
As for the families with children aged 0 to 5, Quebec proceeded by making choices. The youngest, those under 1 year of age, will be the last ones accepted by the early child care centres. Our approach was by age group, so as to allow the greatest number of children to have access, since we could not offer all these spaces.
The Liberal government has set itself too big a task. The Bloc Québécois might make this criticism: this money does not take into consideration the needs presented by all provinces nor the related conditions. We know that the federal government has a tendency to be extremely centralist and to impose blanket conditions on all provinces. Our fear is that the realities of the different provinces will not be taken into consideration.
Quebec has therefore asked that there be no strings attached. I would also like to raise another possible criticism. Since 1997, when families take advantage of $5 child care, they no longer have access to tax credits. As a result, there has been $1 billion in the federal government coffers since 1997.
So it is obvious that the great gift we are being offered by the federal government is its desire to impose conditions on Quebec. That does not hold water. Quebec has in fact bought most of its gift with its own money, by not getting tax credits back from the federal government. At the same time, the federal government wants to impose its criteria and conditions on the Government of Quebec. Besides, we ought to have been paid for having provided the federal government with this application of a child care system.
Beginning in 1997, it was a very ambitious project. The minister responsible for this file for the Government of Quebec was Ms. Marois under the leadership of Mr. Bouchard, who was the premier at the time. An economic summit had been held in Quebec and all the social and economic stakeholders contributed to the thought process resulting in this policy to introduce a day care system. Families were also asked to contribute—actually they sit on many boards—so that they could be asked for advice and recommendations on what a day care system should be in the CPEs, or early years centres.
We do not agree at all with the path that the Conservative Party is indicating to us today. It would be a mess insofar as support for families is concerned, for mothers and fathers who want to return to the work force or keep their job after having children.
The Government of Quebec's objective was to help women return to the work force. The provinces will be able to decide what they want to do in order to receive the money from the federal government. Insofar as Quebec is concerned, there is no doubt that the day care system, the CPEs and family day care are meeting a real need.
If we were to opt for what the Conservative Party is offering today, it would be tremendously expensive for all taxpayers. Economists have made criticisms to this effect in the Toronto Star. For the guidance of the Conservative party, I would like to remind them of this.
They mentioned some surveys to the effect that all families would prefer to have contributions so that they could stay at home and take care of their children rather than joining the work force. The families were supposedly not really given a choice. Instituting a policy like this to help families that want to stay home and take care of their children would be less expensive.
I have contrary opinions from two critics who argued against the Conservative Party's vision. Gordon Cleveland and Michael Krashinsky, who are economists at the University of Toronto, sounded their warnings about this view of things.
They say that the Conservative Party's new policy plank on child care is likely to be confused, facing all directions at once. The authors show why the Conservative Party's proposal would not work and would even be more costly than a public day care system. They have reservations, therefore, about this day care policy of the Conservative Party of Canada.
They say the Conservative Party has never found it easy to come up with a policy on child care. They say as well that the Conservative party's new policy would go off in all directions.
So, subsidizing stay at home parents is not the solution, according to the two authors. The cost would be far too high. They even talk of costly losses for the economy. Some $83 billion a year would be given to parents staying home full time during their children's preschool years. It would cost billions of dollars.
If this option were chosen, what would happen to the other parents, who want to return to the labour market and keep their jobs? There would be no solution for them.
Should one parent want to stay home for a while, but return to the job market later, and there are no spots in the day care system, then what happens? The system is very costly. In Quebec it has already cost $1.7 billion to set it up. What will happen to the other provinces that do not seem to be in a hurry to implement this child care system?
It has to be said: setting up a child care system is the responsibility of the provinces. That will be the issue for all the provinces. Will they decide to put a day care system in place with minimal support from the federal government? There will be a lot of pressure for the provinces to contribute more than the federal government is offering.
It is offering $5 billion over five years, at best. In the case of Quebec, then, it means some $100 million. Very little—over five years—compared with Quebec's investment of some $1.7 billion for the current fiscal year.
It would mean significant losses for the economy. If the Conservative Party proposal of parents remaining at home full time during their children's preschool years, the cost would be far greater than a system comparable to what exists in Quebec. This one is high quality.
There was also the issue of the objectives regarding the set up of child care system supervised by trained personnel. It would enable children from disadvantaged situations to mix with children from elsewhere in different surroundings in order to prepare them for school and improve their performance. Thus, these children could be stimulated through the environment created in a child care facility.
That is what the Conservative Party rejected. It is unrealistic to think that a supervised child care system can be maintained in a family setting or in early childhood centres at the same time that parents are enabled to stay home to care for their children.
Quebec has adopted an integrated policy. Not only does it have $7 child care, it has other policies to help families, such as the parental leave program, too. The Quebec government designed and implemented this initiative. Maternity leave is among the many other initiatives that the Quebec government wants to implement in order to help families.
As a result, we can offer other, realistic solutions to parents who want to work. This does not mean that the system cannot be improved or that other benefits should not be included. For example, some parents have atypical jobs and work in the evening. The previous Quebec government wanted to provide services to more people. We started by providing services for older children, and then we opened them to children aged 0 to 1 year. That way, more children could be served.
The Quebec government wanted to structure its low-cost child care services in such a way as to help the people eligible for these services, instead of leaving them no choice but to pay $25 per child per day.
The Conservative Party has criticized the adoption of this system. It would prefer to help women who want to stay at home get paid for taking care of their children. However, adopting such an initiative would deprive the public of all other programs. The provincial governments would no longer have any funds to contribute to other programs that could help families facing different realities.
Another criticism is that this system is designed for urban centres and not rural regions, and that the Quebec model leaves a number of families hanging. In Quebec, we are trying to consider all these realities. That is why we are also offering home-based child care, which is more flexible. This kind of child care can be organized anywhere, since it is more flexible, and puts more importance on proximity to the child care centre.
Is the program the Conservative party is offering today inclusive? In my view and in the view of a number of observers, it is false to claim that this would be a more inclusive system. It would be better, of course, to recognize the needs of all families, but on the other hand, there would not be a day care system for the other families. It is said that the money would go into the parents' pockets. But the objective of the $7 day care program—which actually cost $5 at the time of the Parti Québécois government but was increased by $2 under the Liberal Party of Quebec—was also to provide a stimulating environment for children, a more proactive arrangement based on preschool learning. That cannot be forgotten. That is one of the objectives of the early childhood centres and family centres. The teachers are trained to provide this environment for children. We must therefore keep this objective in mind and not lose sight of it. The Quebec model can certainly be improved, although it has tried to respond to all the various realities.
If we meet the Conservative Party's objective of some level of universality, how could we offer a universal program when all the money for the program would just go into the parents' pockets? In addition, how could the system be quantified or described? I am not saying that it would be impossible to do so for the families that want it. But it is much easier to follow the measurable changes in the children in an early childhood centre.
Five billion dollars is not enough. The Liberal Party may have a laudable objective, but they will not be able to achieve it. Pressure will also be put on the provinces. In the meantime, they will not be dealing with the fiscal imbalance.
The new Minister of Social Development is practising infringement on provincial jurisdictions by imposing rigid conditions that fail to take the differing realities of the provinces into account. Instead of talking about provincial jurisdictions, the government talks about the uniqiueness of each province. Maybe it is less appealing.
Just today I asked the Minister of Social Development to answer the same question that was asked of three ministers in his government during the election campaign. In response to a question asked by a journalist or in an interview, they said that there would not be any conditions attached to this new program. The minister, for his part, answered that there would not be any penalties and the particularities of the provinces would be respected. Well, the Bloc Québécois demands more than that from the Liberal government. It wants an answer to the following question: Will there be conditions attached to this new program from the Liberal Party of Canada?