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

House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fishery.

Topics

The House resumed from March 23, 2005, consideration of the motion.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, we are going to debate Motion M-195 put forward by the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale. This motion concerns skills development, which is Quebec's responsibility.

The Bloc Québécois is denouncing the federal government's interference in an issue that is clearly within the purview of Quebec. There are currently loads of unprocessed immigration files. Out of the blue, the government found some money to include in this year's budget. I will quote the exact figures. On April 25, 2005, the government looked under the mattress and found $75 million over five years to accelerate and expand the integration of internationally trained health care professionals.

Speaking of health, many people in my riding received degrees or diplomas abroad. Canada made them all sorts of promises. They were lured to Canada with the promise of a job. Once settled in this welcoming land, the reality hit them, hard.

The government, which is loaded with money, should give some to the provinces. Matters pertaining to diplomas and degrees and to immigration are the responsibility of the provinces and Quebec. The federal government is creating an extra level of administration to manage those who manage the managers. Clearly, that is more interference on the part of the federal government.

In addition, $68 million over six years is earmarked to facilitate foreign credential assessment and recognition. Here again, the federal government is trying to interfere in and meddle with areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provinces have the necessary expertise to assess diplomas and degrees themselves.

We also have many immigrants in my riding of Compton—Stanstead. My office is located in a multicultural district with Serbs and Croats among its residents. In their home countries, these individuals obtained diplomas and degrees which have never been recognized here. I know that professional associations in Quebec have the standards and expertise necessary to recognize foreign diplomas and degrees.

The hon. member for Brampton—Springdale has said she wants to have a national program. This is not easy, since the conditions are not the same in all the provinces. My daughter is a doctor of chiropractic. The hon. member should know as well as I do that when a chiropractor moves from one province to another, he or she has to get a new licence. Health professionals are not licensed nationally but provincially. I know what I am talking about. If my daughter wants to practise her profession outside Quebec, she has to get special permission from the other province. If this were a national program, it would be chaos once again, but the federal government seems to like that.

Besides, under the Constitution, professional corporations are under Quebec's jurisdiction. It is in the Constitution Act, 1867. This is nothing new. It is right in the Constitution. I have not been a member of Parliament for a very long time, but I have realized this government does not seem to abide by the Constitution, even if the Liberals themselves wrote it in 1867, at a time when there were only two political parties.

In case anyone does not know what I am talking about, section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, grants exclusive jurisdiction over education to the legislatures of Quebec and other provinces. Education and degrees are under provincial jurisdiction. One day, the federal government will understand that.

We also have section 25 of the Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration. It was not signed in 1867, but in 1991, only 14 years ago. What it provides concerning the reception of immigrants is clear. For those who forget, I repeat that this is section 25 of the Canada-Quebec Accord, which says, and I quote, “Canada undertakes to withdraw from specialized economic integration services to be provided by Québec--”

I hope the translation was well done so that people are able to clearly understand what this means.

Our dear colleague from Brampton—Springdale should talk to the member for Vancouver Centre. I will quote what she said:

The recognition of foreign credentials is a provincial responsibility regulated by provincial legislation, and many of the regulatory bodies subject to this legislation are also under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government cannot interfere and say what it wants done in this regard.

I would add that this is a federalist talking.

I think that there should be a consensus. In fact, one MP says one thing and another MP says something else. Ideally, everyone should agree. That would be best.

Also, by simply having discussions on professional associations signifies that Ottawa does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to legislate this area. All this could compromise the discussions underway between Quebec and professional associations in Quebec.

I do not know if it works the same way in the other provinces but, in our case, we have professionals handling these diplomas. As a result, interference—yet again—by our good old federal government could slow down a process already begun.

In order to make it easier for newcomers to participate, this money should be transferred so they could learn French faster. These people are here, they want to work, share their professional skills, explore and be full-fledged citizens in their new land. However, they face a language barrier.

Last year, some people came to tell me about funding cuts to language training. The fiscal imbalance is to blame. If it were resolved, many other things could be too.

The federal government is interfering in a number of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. We are debating Motion M-195 on the recognition of foreign credentials, but manpower training is another area in which there is interference. The government also wants to keep the new Canada learning bond set out in Bill C-5.

Then, there is the child care system. The feds are in the midst of signing a pan-Canadian agreement on child care. Quebec has had such a system for over 10 years and has yet to sign anything. What a surprise.

Then there is regional development. Looking at the Summer Career Placement program, it is obvious that there is a movement of young people into the urban centres. One wonders why we still have regional development. As far as I am concerned, it is for urban regions. I also mentioned earlier the small amount of money that we were given for health, which falls strictly under the purview of the provinces. Infrastructure is another national farce. It is a responsibility of the municipalities and municipalities are managed by the Quebec government.

Moreover, they are busy enough without getting involved in the immigration sector. Immigration is very important in Quebec because it gives us a new vision and new knowledge. Quebec is already doing the work and doing it well. However, this takes time and negotiations. The federal government has just created another level of negotiation. In other words, it has just slowed the negotiations under way.

In closing, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against Motion M-195 because it basically deals with staff managing staff managing staff.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Conservative Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Motion No. 195 put forward by the member for Brampton—Springdale. The motion is with regard to the recognition of foreign credentials. I want the House and the Speaker to know that the opposition party has been holding round tables on immigration matters.

As we all know, the immigration system in Canada requires a great deal of help and renewal. We have many challenges and many problems. It seems that we laud ourselves as a country that welcomes immigrants and yet we have so many hurdles for them to overcome once they come to this country and even to get into Canada.

However regarding the recognition of foreign credentials I would like to say that during these round tables, and as the chair for the Ontario group, we heard many stories of those who have come to this country expecting to be fully welcomed, to contribute to Canada, to ensure that Canada continues to be the country to which they choose to come, to contribute to its welfare and its well-being and add to the quality of life that they so much want for their families and for the next generation.

As far as the credentialling challenges are concerned, the first challenge is to have a program that welcomes immigrants to the country because of their professional background, their credentials and their experience. They are encouraged and worked with in their own countries to come to Canada. However once they come here, even with all these expectations, all the difficulties and the hard decisions they have had to make to leave their home countries, they find that those very criteria, the experience, their background and their credentials, are not in any way a stepping stone to being a full and contributing member to Canadian society.

Every member in the House can tell us about people in their home riding who have to come to Canada to be part of this country, who have full credentials, who have education levels to be lauded, who have years of experience and who were leaders in their homelands, and yet they come to Canada and find that they are not able to contribute in the same professions and nowhere close to the same levels as they were participating in their homelands.

I also want to explain that because we have no expectations and no obligations of our foreign representatives to ensure that people do not have unreasonable expectations, we should ensure that those who are servicing those in the other lands are equipped, knowledgeable and can ensure that they do not mislead those who are applying to come here.

Second, once they come to Canada, in order to exploit their credentials, further their professions and contribute in that way, they find that most employers require Canadian experience. The question here is how does one get that experience without having some support or some program in which to work with these people so that the Canadian experience can be had and they can demonstrate that they are fully qualified and have the experience, the background and the education to ensure they can contribute.

We also find that many of the stories we are told that people with not only one degree but with multiple degrees, post-bachelor degrees from foreign countries, in order to gain that experience and have their credentials recognized, are leaving this country. I heard a story of a very qualified health practitioner who left this country in order to get the experience from the United States which has more readily recognized her credentials of her homeland which was Romania.

She then had to make a difficult decision as to whether she would stay in the United States where it seemed she was more welcomed than in Canada which encouraged her and said that she would be welcomed. When she first arrived in Canada she found that things were made impossible for her. When she decided to come back to Canada after being in the United States and get work in her field, her previous experience in Canada was a challenge.

Even though these people make hard decisions, leave family at home and get fully qualified, we do not seem to have a system that makes sure that they can stay here, participate and contribute here.

We need to put into place a faster system for recognizing people's credentials, their educational backgrounds and their work experience in their homelands. There is no reason why we cannot set up a system that does not move these people to the back of the line. They should be recognized where they deserve to be recognized and to have a system in Canada that is consistent with our overall theme and pledge of being multicultural, that we do welcome immigrants and that Canada needs immigration and immigrants to contribute to and ensure we have a brighter future.

The motion actually was amended to call for to work with, to coordinate, collaborate and assist with this challenge but the outcome of it was only to report within six months. The opposition believes that we can move forward with this. We believe that because of the complexities of the system and the collaborations that will have to be made there should be a centralized effort. We would undertake to ensure that the challenges in this area were hastily and speedily corrected.

We do not believe that six months of further study to tell us we have challenges and problems would move us forward with any speed. As I said earlier, people are reconsidering coming to Canada and staying here. Consequently, we believe a centralized force is needed, not only to coordinate the 14 federal departments involved but also foreign credentialing, and to collaborate in partnership with the provinces as well as the trade and professional associations which play a large part in determining whether immigrants are going to be welcomed within their professions and consequently become a colleague in the workforce.

We believe that working with the provinces is important. However, because of the jurisdictional challenges, we do not believe the federal government should add another layer. However we should be able to work in partnership with the provinces to ensure that all parties that are involved and participate in this process are at one table.

The coordination between 14 federal departments will be a force that needs to have a centralized focus. We cannot have each department establishing its own criteria or standards. The criteria standard should vary according to professions, not according to departments if there is to be some good thinking and coordination behind it. However we believe that a centralized approach will be more effective.

We believe that Canada is a multicultural country. We have for generations built this country on immigration. We have seen where those immigrants have built the country and contributed to the quality of life that we all enjoy. In the area of foreign credentialing, we are missing such great opportunities. We are missing the ability of these immigrants to contribute. We believe the motion is flawed and we would oppose it.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise in the debate today on Motion No. 195 which was introduced by the member for Brampton—Springdale. The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should create a secretariat responsible for overseeing the foreign credential recognition program, which would work with all stakeholders and provincial representatives to coordinate and collaborate on activities, implement processes and assist in the research and development of national standards that recognize foreign training credentials in Canada.

We had one round of debate on this on March 10 and I am happy to be part of this second hour of discussion. I believe the motion does contribute toward resolving the whole question of the recognition of international credentials. We know it is a serious issue in Canada. Many newcomers to Canada face incredible difficulties getting work in the fields in which they were trained and with their educational backgrounds. We know the frustration and anxiety that causes them and what a terrible brain waste that is.

The motion would clarify where responsibility for international credentials lies within the government. With 10, 12 or 14 federal departments having an interest in the whole issue of international credentials there is an important coordination task to be done within the federal government.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has some responsibility in this issue. In the Prime Minister's first cabinet the parliamentary secretary was given explicit responsibility for foreign credentials. When we looked down the list of parliamentary secretaries we could see there was one who had explicit responsibility for that issue.

The second time around that explicit designation disappeared and was replaced by a letter of mandate that I understand the parliamentary secretary requested from the Prime Minister. It is not as obvious now where the responsibility lies. I know the parliamentary secretary is working on that file but it was a bit concerning to see that explicit responsibility disappear even in the listing of parliamentary secretaries.

We need to have clear lines of accountability and establishing a secretariat would assist in making it clear who in government is working on this issue and that it is not coming off the corner of various people's desks or is not the responsibility of some ad hoc interdepartmental committee. We need to be very explicit about this responsibility given the importance of this to so many people in Canada, given the importance of resolving the whole question of international credentials and given the importance of it to our immigration system.

I am not supporting the motion because I believe in bigger government. I am supporting it because I believe our structure of government needs to show the clear lines of accountability. It needs to show exactly where the work is getting done and who is responsible for it, which is why I like Motion No. 195 as it was introduced.

I am a little concerned about the member's intent with Motion No. 195. It seems to me that in the first hour of debate the commitment came into question when the member allowed an amendment that would gut her motion. She agreed to an amendment that, instead of establishing a secretariat with very clear lines of responsibility, would direct ministers responsible for overseeing the foreign credential recognition program to work expeditiously with all stakeholders and provincial and territorial governments. That is a huge change in the intent of the motion. I must say that I was glad when the House voted it down overwhelmingly on March 23.

I believe the amendment, which was proposed by members of the Liberal Party, gutted the intent of the member's original motion. It removed the secretariat and merely called on ministers to work together to solve this problem. We went from tangible, concrete action to something that was very fuzzy indeed.

A serious question was raised by the actual amendment. I think the amendment belied a lack of confidence in the government ministers working on this issue. Why would a government member propose an amendment calling on government ministers to work together on an important issue? Why not do something more tangible? I was concerned about the intent of the amendment and was glad when it went down to defeat. I think the unamended motion goes some way to doing something concrete in this important area.

We know that the whole area of international credentials is a huge problem here in Canada. We have a 60-40 split. Every year 60% of our new immigrants to Canada are skilled workers in the economic class. They are generally the ones who have the difficulties having their international credentials recognized. The other 40% of our immigrants are in the family class or refugee class and that is of the 225,000 to 240,000 immigrants who arrive in Canada each year. To have a significant number of skilled workers coming to Canada and not being able to work in their field calls into question our whole immigration program and the whole skilled worker category.

As has been said before, we do seem to be losing out to Australia and the United States in this regard. Australia has a centralized system run by its federal government to help people work toward the recognition of their credentials and find positions where they can work in their chosen fields even before they arrive in Australia. It is certainly a system that inspires much more confidence in potential immigrants to Australia.

We need to ensure that Canada's system invokes that kind of confidence. Right now, I am afraid that it is not doing that. We could easily lose out on potential immigrants to Australia and the United States in this regard.

Our system awards people points toward being able to immigrate to Canada for their education, professional skills, and work experience, but then does not allow that to pan out into actual work when they arrive here in Canada. That is a huge problem with our immigration system. We need to ensure that the point system corresponds with the ability to work once a person arrives in Canada.

This situation causes unhappiness, frustration, anxiety, and now we are hearing from immigrant and refugee serving agencies about the anger among newcomers to Canada. It is totally uncalled for. It is a terrible waste, a brain waste. Not only is this a frustration to our newcomers to Canada, it is a huge cost to the Canadian economy. Some studies show that this situation causes a loss to the Canadian economy of $3 billion to $5 billion. We cannot stand by while both that human and economic waste happens here in Canada.

The government so far is talking about some minimal things to help work toward this. It is talking about a web portal to give people better information. That is a good idea, but it is a very limited one. Unfortunately, it is often touted like one of the few things that the federal government is tangibly doing on this issue. Not everybody who is immigrating to Canada has Internet in order to access the web portals. Without a direct person-to-person encounter about the possibilities in Canada for someone, one cannot always get the best information off an Internet page.

The parliamentary secretary keeps talking about building relationships on this file, building relationships with professional organizations and with the provinces. That is all well and good. I have told the parliamentary secretary that building relationships is a good thing, but there comes a time when we actually have to consummate some of those relationships and ensure that the system is working. It is not clear to me that we have reached that stage yet.

We have had this promise to deal with this issue in three throne speeches, but there are still doctors driving cabs, university professors working at convenience stores, and nurses working as hotel housekeepers. That is just not good enough. We need to see some action where these people are actually working in the fields where they were trained. We know that they would be happier here in Canada and that the frustration level would go down.

This is not the only problem with our immigration system. Yesterday a cross-Canada group called Sponsor Your Parents had demonstrations. They were calling on the government to address the whole delay of parental and grandparental applications.

We know that often people who immigrate to Canada under a family class sponsorship do better. They are happier, they settle into Canada more quickly because they have the support of family members. However, the fact that they are not able to sponsor their parents and grandparents later is a huge factor of frustration for them. One that calls into question the whole commitment about the reunification of families that is supposed to be a key cornerstone of our immigration policy. So, that is sort of the flip side of this foreign credential issue.

When I was speaking at the demonstration in Vancouver yesterday, we could not get through that whole demonstration without the issue of foreign credentials also coming up because it is such a major frustration for immigrants to Canada.

We need to deal with both these problems. We need to restore confidence in our immigration system. If people get points for their professional education, they should be able to work in Canada. We need to ensure that the commitments of family reunification are borne out by the ability of new immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparents.

We need to ensure that those promises we make to newcomers when they are choosing to come to Canada are kept once they get to Canada. Our immigration system, on which we depend for our economy and for building this nation, must remain in good repute around the world as well as here in Canada. Those are the reasons why I will be supporting Motion No.195.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No.195. I would like to make it clear that the motion we are dealing with and presumably the vote we will be facing is a vote about the secretariat. It is not about the amendments or these other things that are around.

I have the highest regard for the member who introduced the motion, the member for Brampton—Springdale. She cares about effective integration of internationally trained new Canadians into our labour market. I want to give this issue more visibility by calling for the creation of a foreign credential recognition secretariat, as she does.

Before continuing, we should ask ourselves what foreign credential recognition is all about and why it has become so important. Early in the 20th century, people wanting to settle on the plains of western Canada would only have to show their hands to the immigration officer in Warsaw or Glasgow. If those hands were rough and gnarled, those people were deemed fit to settle in one of North America's last frontiers. Indeed, they were very welcome.

Today, in the 21st century, knowledge, not rough hands, has become the currency of the new economy. Where once evidence of hard physical labour earned a person a pass to a steady job or a farm operation, nowadays knowledge is a little bit more difficult to measure.

A certificate or degree earned in a school in India, Hungary or Argentina may not be readily understood as equivalent to a Canadian certificate or degree. That is why fully educated and qualified immigrants to Canada are taking longer and longer to fully enter the labour market and to earn an appropriate salary commensurate with their knowledge and skills. That is why internationally trained Canadians may find it hard to find employment here in Canada.

In a global economy, Canada can ill afford to shut out valuable human resources. Research tells us that within 10 years, virtually all our net labour force growth will come from immigration. Increasingly, Canada has to compete globally in order to attract qualified and educated immigrants.

Right now, our standard of living does attract immigrants, but if they are not allowed to fully contribute, talented workers will be discouraged from coming, and how will this help our standard of living?

Canada has no time to lose. How then can we expedite the recognition of foreign credentials? I would suggest we need to marshall our best resources in meeting this challenge. That is why on April 25, the Government of Canada rose to the challenge and announced the launch of the internationally trained workers initiative. It delivers on a Speech from the Throne commitment to improve the integration of immigrants and internationally trained Canadians into the workforce.

There are two aspects that I would like the House to consider. First, the internationally trained workers initiative will include from human resources and skills development $68 million in the foreign credential recognition program as well as other aspects, such as enhanced language training and better labour market information for prospective immigrants through a “Going to Canada” immigration portal, which has already been mentioned this morning.

Second, the internationally trained workers initiative is a government-wide initiative, including citizenship and immigration, health, and a total of 15 federal departments and agencies. In fact, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has taken a central role in this initiative.

It is not surprising that one of the principal departments in the federal government dealing with foreign credential recognition and skills recognition is HRSD, which is mandated to deal with labour market challenges as they arise.

Today the challenge is one that looms just around the corner. Employers may soon face shortages in some skilled occupations and trades in some areas of Canada as a result of baby boomers retiring. Compound this with the ever rising skills requirements. How can we then build a quality workforce to take on the whole world?

Clearly, it means attracting skilled workers to Canada, which we already do very well. Our problem is not attracting skilled immigrants, rather it is fully using their attributes once they arrive, as the member for Brampton—Springdale well knows. Research tells us that those countries that practise an inclusive labour market enjoy higher productivity and a higher standard of living.

What is foreign credential recognition? In short, it is the process whereby education and job experience gained elsewhere can be verified to determine if they are equal to Canadian standards. The foreign credential recognition program is all about working with the provinces and territories, regulators, sector councils, employers and others to establish credential assessment processes that are fair, accessible, consistent, transparent and rigorous to the internationally trained while still meeting the Canadian standards that the public expects.

Partnerships are essential with the provinces and the territories, and key authorities representing regulated and non-regulated occupations. We live and work in a complex labour market. No one department or agency can possibly do it all. For such a process to work it depends on buy-in from the private sector and other levels of government.

Progress is well underway through the foreign credential recognition program and on a variety of fronts under the internationally trained workers initiative. Through this initiative the Government of Canada is providing $75 million over the next five years to improve the integration of internationally educated doctors, nurses and other health care professionals into the Canadian system.

We know we have a web portal, but I am very pleased to see there is a development of a self-assessment instrument in the health care field which will be of great value to perspective immigrants.

Through the foreign credential recognition program other health care professions are also benefiting such as pharmacists, medical laboratory technologists, medical radiation technologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers will receive funding from HRSD to conduct research and develop a database of foreign institutions offering degrees in engineering. The foreign credential program is also taking steps to help the non-regulated occupations which make up almost 85% of the occupations in Canada.

The Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council, for example, is developing new procedures to help integrate experienced foreign workers facing Canadian industry credentials. The Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council is also conducting research for its sector on this subject.

Last but not least, HRSD is also spearheading the development of the workplace skills strategy in tandem with workers, employers, sector councils, labour, and the provinces and territories. In the last budget the government invested $125 million under the strategy over the next three years that will enable us to create the best and most skilled workforce in the world.

We will do this in partnership with the stakeholders to help strengthen our learning system including apprenticeship, boosting literacy and other essential skills, and facilitate the recognition of the credentials and work experience of internationally trained workers. In particular, with some immigrants, it is important to help raise their literacy and essential skills so they can fully join in creating a more prosperous Canada.

I am pleased that the sector councils are joining with us in advancing the yardsticks, which I prefer to call metre sticks, in this area. A recent Statistics Canada study tells us that even a small increase in the country's literacy score can translate into a relative rise in labour productivity and in GDP per capita.

In conclusion, I call on the House to vote for Motion No. 195 as it supports the work that has already been done in HRSD with the provinces and territories, key partners and stakeholders, and it will help focus more effectively that work. We have shown that skills are important and that collaboration across governments and with the private sector is key to continuing progress. I congratulate the member for bringing the motion forward.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, this issue is of tremendous importance to many Canadians across the country, not only new immigrants but also to Canadians born and raised here.

It is important to young Canadians who have taken the opportunity to go away and educate themselves, perhaps to become medical doctors. They have faced substantial difficulties when they have returned to Canada in having their qualifications recognized and being integrated into the labour market workforce.

My motion to create a secretariat would ensure that we work in collaboration with the provinces and the multitude of different stakeholders along with the multitude of different departments and regulatory bodies within government to ensure that the credentials of Canadians are recognized, that they are accredited and that they can be integrated into the labour market workforce.

I request the support of all members for my motion. As a government, we have taken significant steps to address this issue by providing a substantial amount of money such as $75 million for health care workers to be recognized, accredited and integrated into the workforce. We also have provided $68 million for our internationally trained workers initiative. Aside from myself, other members have also done substantial work in this area.

It would be historic to create this secretariat. It would benefit not only Canadians but our nation as a whole in its economic growth and prosperity. I urge all members to support this very historic initiative.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 8 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place with all parties and I believe that you would find unanimous consent to hold the division tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7, after government orders, instead of Wednesday, as you just announced.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is it agreed?

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Foreign Credential Recognition ProgramPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The House will now suspend until 12:05 p.m.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:50 a.m)

(The House resumed at 12:03 p.m.)

The House resumed from June 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, an act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, be read the third time and passed.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, our country has many resources but none is more precious than our children. They represent the hopes and the dreams of families, communities and the entire nation. They are the future that will only be realized when Canadians elect a government that cares about supporting our most vulnerable members of society.

If anything represents the callous disregard for children and families of the government, it has to be its record when it comes to child poverty. I have listened very intently to the speeches from the government's side regarding the legislation we have before us today, Bill C-22.

While Canadians might hear all the usual statements from a party that is campaigning for re-election, let us look at the actual record of the Prime Minister when it comes to children.

Poverty among children in Canada is rising. The government says that billions are being spent. When questioned directly about the plight of children, the same inability to provide a public accounting for how dollars are actually being spent, which created the sponsorship fraud, applies to the funds that the government says are earmarked for children. The money really ends up being siphoned off for other Liberal priorities.

As finance minister, the Prime Minister oversaw a deal in 1997 that resulted in a clawback of the national child benefit supplement from the pockets of some of our neediest children. This new program in 1997 to assist Canadian families with children replaced what many Canadians called the baby bonus. It was introduced as the Canada child tax benefit, the CCTB. It included a basic benefit and a supplement, the national child benefit supplement, the NCBS.

The NCBS program was supposed to be designed to reduce poverty among low income families with children. Negotiations between federal and provincial governments around the implementation of the NCBS resulted in most provinces, Ontario included, deducting the NCBS amount from the benefits received by families on social assistance. This is what is commonly known as the NCBS clawback. This offset was a design feature of the NCBS, although provinces were not compelled to do it. Most provinces do offset but in different ways. Only Manitoba and New Brunswick do not offset in any way.

Considering the fact that the money was being doled out by Ottawa, and we know that money is power, why would Ottawa agree to allow money, which it publicly bragged was meant for our poorest children, to go somewhere else? The Prime Minister agreed to this because it created the fiscal imbalance. Of the approximately $250 million a year that the Ontario government claws back, 80% is directed to the fiscal imbalance in that province with the remaining 20% going to municipalities for programs that the gas tax, which has been spent and re-spent, promised and re-promised, should be funding instead.

The Liberal Party was prepared to see the money intended for our children be misdirected because in Ottawa the Prime Minister could stand in front of cameras and say, “Look what Ottawa is spending on our children”. In fact the Prime Minister knew that once the dollars went to the provinces, they had to cope with the federal cutbacks in the shared delivery program.

In Ontario the average monthly number of children affected by the clawback in 2003-04 was about 164,000. One of the ironies of this has to be the clawback from needy children in the greater Toronto area, the GTA. That municipality then directs some of the clawed back funds into food banks. It has been suggested by the Income Security Advocacy Centre that 13,500 children in the GTA would no longer need to use a food bank if the national child benefit supplement was restored to families on social assistance.

By the end of 2003, municipalities were sitting on a pool of $20 million in unspent national child benefit funds. Municipalities reported spending over $800,000 on reinvestment program administration costs in 2003. The money has been going to administration costs instead of to the children, money that has been clawed back from the pockets of some of our neediest children, those on social assistance.

I mention these figures in the program because I hear spending figures tossed around by the government. The minister of the new department, which Bill C-22 would legitimize, seems perplexed that the government is spending all this money, yet child poverty continues to rise in Canada. This government cannot understand why. Perhaps if the government were not so consumed with scandal, it would take the time to look at some of these programs to see if they work.

The municipalities are getting wise to the fiscal imbalance practised by the federal government when it comes to our children. In my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, the council of the township of South Algonquin passed a resolution requesting restoration of the national child benefit to Ontario Works recipients.

Similar motions have been passed by councils in Mattawa, Papineau, Cameron, Hamilton, Kapuskasing, Kingston, Windsor, Ottawa and Sudbury, to name only a few municipalities.

This past weekend we heard a lot of rhetoric from the Prime Minister about a new deal for cities. Obviously he did not take the time to consult the mayors of those municipalities I just mentioned when he set up the clawback of the benefit to children.

Canadians have learned to be skeptical of a minority PM who promises anything to cling to power. I challenge the NDP finance minister to rewrite the $4.6 billion deal. Unlike other spending promises, eliminating the clawback will not cost taxpayers any more than what was promised in 1997 when the program was announced.

Ontario families who receive social assistance have an average of $115 taken away each month per child as a result of the clawback.

Most do not benefit in the reinvestment programs where some of this clawback money is supposed to be directed, which are generally not designed with them in mind. In Ontario, 80% of the money clawed back goes toward child care supplements for working families for which social assistance recipients generally do not qualify.

I know that $115 is not a lot of money to a government that is used to paying a million dollar commission for non-existent work. However, $115 is a lot of money for someone living below the poverty line. The sum of $115 per month represents a lot of money when a person is trying to adequately provide food, clothing and shelter for your children. Canadians have to ask, why is Parliament even debating the creation of this new department and the legislation we have before us today?

In another example of the democratic deficit that created the corruption associated with the sponsorship scandal, Parliament is being asked to retroactively approve a department that already exists. Now some Canadians have recognized that in order to entice particular types of people to be a member of the Liberal Party, certain inducements have to be offered.

With the former member for York Centre safely seated with his rich patronage reward in the other place, the current member for York Centre could run in a safe Liberal seat for, as they say in the hockey business, “future considerations”.

Future considerations, so it turned out, was creating a new job for the Minister of Social Development. Parliament is now being asked to retroactively approve the deal. That sure sounds familiar to me. I look forward to hearing from my colleague from Vancouver South, the health minister, and his recollections of the negotiation process.

As an old hockey player, the Minister of Social Development has some experience with trades and backroom deals. As the new goalie for children, a role I encourage the minister to assume, the time has come to make children a priority and block the shots from the PM.

The Prime Minister, as the previous finance minister, scored one goal, with an assists from Liberal MPs, that needs to be disallowed and this involves children. The Minister of Social Development should stand up to the Prime Minister and undo the deal that was made in 1997 and make national child benefit funding conditional on provinces and territories not clawing back the benefit from families receiving social assistance.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Beaches—East York.

There are many convincing arguments for the creation of Social Development Canada, which is what the legislation before us today makes possible. Surely none is more compelling than the new department's increased capacity to address the needs of caregivers, society's unsung heroes, who give so generously of themselves and their time to care for aged relatives or relatives with disabilities. Here I would like to mention Caregivers Nova Scotia from my own province, one of the most impressive caregiving organizations in Canada and a leading proponent of volunteer caregiving.

A key reason for creating SDC, Social Development Canada, is to provide a centre of expertise on social policy and programs so that Canada can maintain and surpass its international reputation as a caring society.

Nothing better reflects that commitment than the decision to appoint a Minister of State for Families and Caregivers, dedicated to identifying and implementing measures to better support these Canadians. The minister of state's new role signals the importance the Government of Canada attaches to family issues and recognizes the valuable role caregivers play in our society. The minister's sensitivity and his understanding of caregivers makes him well suited to this role.

Most unpaid caregivers are middle-aged and employed full time while caring for elderly relatives and persons with disabilities. Despite the challenges of juggling work and family life, on average these Canadians provide 23 hours of unpaid caregiving per month.

Like millions of Canadians, I have been a caregiver myself, in my case to my parents, who were dying of cancer but who were able to die at home where they lived, where they raised their family, where they were comfortable and where they were loved.

Our country would be very different and much poorer if it were not for the selfless efforts of so many Canadians who care for their loved ones, and as impressive as the numbers are, they are merely a harbinger of things to come. Today's baby boomers are fast becoming seniors. Because seniors now tend to live longer and because families are becoming smaller and more dispersed, the growing demand for caregiving has grown stronger, yet the capacity for caregiving is diminishing.

The role of the caregiver is already proving to be very difficult for many families. We understand the challenges these Canadians may face in balancing their professional life, their personal health needs, and family and caregiving responsibilities. We also know that many Canadians are faced with the dual role of raising their children while providing care to an aging parent, hence the so-called sandwich generation. In 2002, 27% of people aged 45 to 64 with children at home also cared for seniors.

I have met a large number of caregivers of varying circumstances. Each has a very compelling story. At this year's Caregivers Nova Scotia annual dinner, which the minister attended, we heard of a family, for example, whose father was diagnosed with cancer and shortly after that whose child was diagnosed as autistic. These stories are becoming far too common.

Not surprisingly, Canadians have told us that providing support to family caregivers must be a priority of the Government of Canada. There is no question that it is.

Our government currently provides a range of initiatives to assist family caregivers, including: tax credits for caregivers, infirm dependants and medical expenses, the last of which was recently enriched; transfers to support provincial and territorial programs, which include child care, respite care, and home care; the employment insurance compassionate care benefit, which offers up to six weeks of income replacement to family members who must leave work temporarily to care for a dying family member; the Canada pension plan general dropout provision, which exempts up to 15% of years of little or no earnings from a person's pension calculation and could be used to cover years spent in caregiving; labour legislation supporting flexibility in federally regulated workplaces; first nations health programming such as home, community care and adult care programs; and the veterans' independence program and respite care.

As proud as we are of these programs and services, there is a lot more to be done. That is exactly what Social Development Canada has been designed to do and intends to do.

The 2004 Speech from the Throne committed the department to consult with Canadians to find ways to improve support for unpaid caregivers. Key to this process will be working with provinces and territories and engaging parliamentarians, stakeholder groups and Canadian individuals in developing a comprehensive strategy to better meet the needs of caregivers.

Considerable progress has been made. At the November 2004 meeting, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social development discussed working together on a comprehensive strategy.

Both the Minister of Social Development and the Minister of State for Families and Caregivers have made it a personal priority to advance this agenda. For instance, the minister of state is currently in extensive discussions with the real experts on these challenges: Canadian caregivers themselves. He is crossing the country to consult with unpaid caregivers with first-hand experience, as well as experts and stakeholders involved in this field.

Since launching a series of round tables in January, the minister of state has heard how caregiving responsibilities often affect the caregivers' employment opportunities and income, their out of pocket expenses and their social, emotional and physical well-being. I was pleased to join the minister on the Atlantic leg of his round tables in my riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

In response to what he has heard, the minister of state has pledged to make sure that SDC develops citizen-focused policies and programs that better meet the needs of unpaid caregivers and those they care for: seniors, people with disabilities, and children, among the most vulnerable in our society.

That is the real strength of Social Development Canada. SDC was created to find more effective ways to meet the changing circumstances and expectations of families, children, Canadians with disabilities, seniors and caregivers.

By narrowing the department's focus to these key areas of social development, we can concentrate on issues that fall outside the labour market, issues that sometimes tend to be overlooked when the focus is primarily on the economy. Because of the division of responsibilities between Social Development Canada and HRSD Canada, we can better identify solutions to existing and emerging social problems, such as the pressures and stress that are faced by family caregivers, and engage a broad range of partners to support community development.

In creating Social Development Canada, Bill C-22 provides a focal point for social policy within the Government of Canada, enabling the department to become the real voice of social development. SDC's new structure helps us take a holistic approach to policy and program development. It creates new avenues for working with other federal departments, other levels of government, the private sector, the key voluntary sector and individual Canadians, and for improving the lives of children and families, seniors, and people with disabilities, as well as their caregivers.

The powers and authorities contained in this act will allow us to coordinate and develop better integrated strategies such as the one we are developing for Canada's caregivers, which will strengthen our country's social foundations and produce better results for Canadians. The example of caregiving underscores just how critical this work is to our nation. I call on my colleagues' support to carry on this vital activity by assuring this legislation passes quickly.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the interesting and well thought out presentation. I do have a question for him. As we move ahead, this is a very important and challenging issue for people in public policy, at both the federal and the provincial level, and it is very much related to the whole aspect of home care. It is very much a money issue.

In one instance, I dealt with a constituent and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The constituent wanted to access the VIP program, which is very much related to the caregiver, and was told by the government that the person was not eligible for that particular program but was eligible for nursing home care, so that instead of costing $2,500 it would cost $48,000, which was against the wishes of the family.

What is the member's opinion on the best method of delivering a good caregiver program as we go forward? Would it be the tax credit system, which is on the table now, or is it more likely to be a program that pays the direct out of pocket expenses to the caregiver, or is it a program that pays the caregiver a certain amount in addition to the out of pocket expenses? This is an item that really has not been fleshed out. I would like to hear the member's views on that point.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague's question both illustrates and emphasizes just how different the varying needs of our country's caregivers are.

He mentioned home care. One of our problems is that we have very different levels of home care depending on where we live in Canada. In my own province of Nova Scotia, for example, our home care program is not very robust. There is virtually no pediatric home care.

I recall a former colleague of mine, who had two autistic sons. I believe that at the time they were 12 and 14 years of age. Because she and her husband were working every hour they could, keeping in mind that one of them always had to be with the boys, every other hour was spent putting money into their care, not only in the present but more particularly for when the parents might not be there to take care of the boys. They got a letter from the Home Care Nova Scotia program indicating that their respite of two hours a week was being cut off because their income had gone up and was too high.

We need to recognize that these people who face these burdens--and also what was for them the joy of having these two boys at home--have a real financial burden. We have to tailor this to their needs.

In my own case when I had parents dying at home, I was one of seven children. My two sisters from Toronto moved into the family home in Nova Scotia and provided full time care to my parents. They were heroes to the rest of us. We all played a part. There were seven of us. We were not rich, but we were able to provide the care and we wanted to provide the care. My parents were sick for a short period of time and were less than six months in palliative care before they died.

Our circumstances, while sad, were not desperate at all. In fact, in many ways it was a learning experience for us, and our parents died reasonably comfortably at home. Our circumstances cannot be compared to those of somebody who has virtually no income or an employer who provides no support, or to those of somebody who cannot provide the nursing care at night.

That is why I think it is very important to have these discussions, as the minister of state is doing in going across the country and talking to caregivers in their communities and asking them what they need. In some cases, it might be a tax credit. In other cases, it might be more robust home care. In another case, it could be directly paying for benefits for veterans, children or people with special needs.

I think the key is that caregivers are individualized. There is no broad need across the country. There are just a lot of very individual needs. I am glad that the minister is going across Canada talking to these people individually so that we can provide some kind of suite of services for these people who take such a burden off the system, put it onto themselves and provide better care for their loved ones.

Department of Social Development ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister created the new Department of Social Development, he affirmed the Government of Canada's commitment to support Canadians at every stage of their lives.

A growing number of Canadians are entering, or are already in, the so-called golden age, reaping the rewards of a life of hard work to build a country we so proudly share today.

We only need to look around this chamber to realize how great the impact of our aging population is in our nation. Many of us, like many Canadians, are baby boomers, soon to join the swelling ranks of seniors who are transforming our country in myriad ways. The repercussions of this trend will require innovative responses from all levels of government to meet seniors' needs and take advantage of their skills and experience to better our society.

Our government's decision to create Social Development Canada signalled our understanding that we have to take a fresh approach to social policy development in the 21st century to reflect the changing face of our people and society.

Canada today is a dramatically different country than the one many of us grew up in. Just a generation or two ago, seniors represented a small proportion of the population, but many were among the poorest people in the country. Years ago we set out to rectify that situation by introducing public pensions and old age security for our most vulnerable citizens.

Here are the most significant statistics: In 2003 there were 4.6 million Canadians 65 years or older. Those numbers are expected to climb to 6.7 million by 2021. That is double what the seniors population was as recently as 2000. Even more striking, there will be 9.2 million seniors in 2041, nearly one in four Canadians.

The reverberations of these trends are being felt in all quarters, from the health system to public and private pension plans, to the voluntary sector. We need a better understanding of how we can best meet the needs and expectations of this growing segment of our population.

Canadians want the assurance they can live their later years in comfort and dignity. We firmly believe that Canada's seniors have earned that right and deserve to be treated with the utmost compassion and respect.

I personally was very involved in the work of the government's women's caucus. I was chair of the subcommittee that pushed for a task force on seniors, that worked very hard and got a commitment to increase the guaranteed income supplement. I organized a full day consultation in the greater Toronto area for all of the organizations and individuals who wanted to make presentations on what programs and assistance for seniors would look like in the future. I was very proud to be involved because the government in this last budget has put forward a plan, and we need to now look forward to a much longer plan.

The 17 recommendations that were made by the task force were driven by two imperatives: first, moving forward now to address the needs of today's vulnerable seniors; and second, taking the steps needed to prepare for the growing number of seniors as our population ages.

Following a key recommendation in the task force report, the budget announced that the guaranteed income supplement will be increased, as I mentioned before. These benefits will rise by 7%, representing the biggest income hike in a generation for seniors who need it most. This is the first increase to the GIS since 1984, other than inflation indexing, and totals $2.7 billion over the next five years. Perhaps most important, this much needed increase will be there for this and future generations of low income seniors, to help those most in need to make ends meet.

These additional funds will be phased in over two years, starting in January 2006. By 2007 the increase will add up to $432 a year for a single senior and $700 a year for couples. These are amounts that will make a real difference in their lives and will also make up to 50,000 more seniors eligible for partial guaranteed income supplement benefits.

We must recognize that this is only the beginning. Our ability to move forward depends on how well we work together. Many federal departments and all levels of government have important pieces of the seniors puzzle. What we need to do is focus on aligning these efforts to achieve our collective goal of ensuring that seniors enjoy the quality of life they deserve.

That is why budget 2005 announced the creation of a national seniors secretariat within the Department of Social Development. The secretariat will work with partners in and out of government to find ways to meet the needs of current and future generations of seniors. It will also look for opportunities to mobilize the energies and efforts of seniors who have already spent a lifetime contributing to Canadian society.

Budget 2005 also announced an increase in funding for the successful new horizons for seniors program. New horizons for seniors was launched in October 2004 with an investment of $8 million with ongoing funding of $10 million annually.

The program encourages seniors active living and social participation, enabling older Canadians to continue contributing to their communities. It has proven to be very popular, generating over 1,400 applications since its inception.

In response to an overwhelming interest in the program, the Government of Canada announced an increase in funding to the new horizons for seniors program in the 2005 budget. The overall budget will be increased to $15 million in 2005-06 and will reach $25 million by 2007-08. That is fantastic news.

As a result of these increased investments, at least twice as many projects will receive funding in the first year to expand support for community based projects led by seniors. This means tens of thousands more Canadians will be able to take part in projects that build vibrant communities by including and empowering seniors.

These projects may range from harnessing seniors' experience through mentorship to expanding volunteer activities for seniors and other vulnerable groups, to strengthening relationships across generations. Any society that fails to recognize its most accomplished citizens and that misses the opportunity to put their skills to good use does a disservice to those individuals. It does an even greater disservice to itself.

For all these reasons we need this legislation, Bill C-22, to create Social Development Canada, a powerful new vehicle to advance the interests of Canada's seniors. Budget 2005 has now provided a foundation for the department to further its mandate and role to help enable seniors live their elderly years in dignity. In so doing we will create a stronger society that benefits us all.

I urge my hon. colleagues to give their stamp of approval to this legislation so Social Development Canada can carry on this vitally important work and become the voice of social development in Canada.