Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill tonight and congratulate my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East for this initiative. I think it is very important. As a former educator I can say how important this is to students across the country.
I heard earlier about the gutting of transfers to the provinces with regard to post-secondary education. I might point out to members in the House that in 1993 the Liberals inherited a $42.5 billion deficit, of which 33% of the money was borrowed. When we were transferring money, we were transferring borrowed money. It was not real money.
So, to suggest that we gutted the system, we in fact got our fiscal house in order, so that we could now do the kind of program that the hon. member who just spoke would like to see. What is the proposal this evening? It is basically to help young people and their families better save for an education.
We know that two out of every three jobs require more than a high school education. Tuition fees have continued to double. Tuition is the responsibility of the provinces not the Government of Canada. We know that it has gone from around $2,000 six years ago and by 2012 we are looking at about $12,000, and never mind the books and residence costs, et cetera. Then we are talking tens of thousands of dollars.
The hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East has proposed to build on a Liberal initiative, which of course is the issue of the registered education savings plan. At the moment it is not deductible. I am assuming that all members in the House have constituents who pay taxes. When we pay taxes, we would like to see some benefits.
Unlike an RRSP, a registered retirement savings plan, currently under the registered education savings plan, we cannot deduct, there is no tax benefit. Imagine a family that saves $100 to put into a program that the hon. member has put before the House. If one does that 12 times in a year, there would be $1,200 which would be tax deductible. Individuals would get a break and that would be an incentive for the family, whether it is the parents, grandparents or whatever, or the student.
Having worked with students over the years, they do not earn a lot of money at summer jobs. They do their best, but it is not going to cover all of the bills. How do we fix that problem? The hon. member is proposing that we have a tax deduction.
We are not going to solve all the ills or all the problems of a post-secondary education, but we want to be on the leading edge of technology. If we want to be a knowledge based economy, we must have the people in universities and colleges to learn. They cannot learn unless they obviously have the money to go. This is really important.
We hear educators talk about the proposal as an important step in advancing educational opportunity. We hear unions talking about the importance of advancing this for educational opportunities for young people. We are investing in young people and if I have an opportunity to put $100 a month or a $1,000 or whatever it is, and I am going to get a tax break, that is an incentive.
However, it also builds and it does not mean that it is going to be the be-all and end-all. There are going to be other ways that people are obviously going to deal with it, whether they have a summer job or whatever it happens to be, but the important part is that this is going to stimulate people in that regard.
The prosperity of the country is based on knowledge and on higher education. We are very fortunate that we have an excellent post-secondary system across the country. In fact, our college system in the province of Ontario was modelled in Vietnam. The Vietnamese modelled the college system in the province of Ontario because they saw that it was an important level that they did not have. We have a great system here. We need to motivate people.
If we are going to deal with skill shortages, which we do have in this country, one of the things we must do is invest in young people. Again, this program will do that and I think it is very important when we are talking about our competitiveness with other countries around the world. We need a highly skilled, motivated workforce. We want to ensure that we have continued economic prosperity and this bill will assist in efforts to obtain those funds.
I do not think the member for Pickering—Scarborough East said that this would cure all the ills around post-secondary education, but I believe his bill should be before a committee for review in order to have a good discussion about the points that all members have raised. There have been good points from all sides but the bill needs to be studied and to move forward.
At the moment only 27% of Canadians actually have RESPs, only 27%, so 73% of Canadians do not have them. This again is an incentive for people, which is extremely important. Twenty-seven per cent is a very low figure. Making contributions tax deductible, as this bill proposes, would give that initiative to families. It would be another opportunity to move this agenda forward. I know we in the House all believe that the betterment of young people is important and we want to make sure they have the kinds of opportunities and education that the generations before them did not necessarily have.
It is a way of addressing some of the educational costs. Yes, there are other issues in terms of transfer payments to the provinces which I am sure the government looked at, as the Liberal government did. Again we have to make sure when we transfer money to the provinces that the funds are earmarked for the purpose for which they are being sent. If they are sent simply in bulk form to deal with health, post-secondary education, social programs, et cetera, and it is administered by the provinces, there is no guarantee the money will get to where it should have gone.
When this bill comes to a vote, I think all members in the House will look at the situation in their own ridings. I know that other members have been visited in their offices by young people who have talked about the massive debt that often occurs after they leave university. There are some students who cannot even go to university because their families cannot afford it and they wish they had some kind of vehicle to help them. This is what this bill addresses.
Employers are demanding post-secondary graduates. It is not enough to have a bachelor of arts degree these days. Employers are demanding masters of arts degrees and MBAs. If students cannot afford to get a bachelor of arts degree, where are we going to be against the emerging economies in the world? Where are we going to be against Japan? Where are we going to be against the European Union and the Chinas of the world in devoting that kind of energy? We need to make sure.
For me it is a motherhood and apple pie issue. How could people not want to support something which may advance education in this country? At least send the bill to a committee to look at. The hon. member has put a lot of thought and effort into this bill. He sees the same problem that I see, that even though people have the ability, they cannot go to university.
It was the previous Liberal government that brought in the millennium scholarships, which made a huge difference to students in my riding. Unfortunately, certain provinces clawed back. The hon. member knows about the clawback that occurred, including in the province of Ontario, under the previous Conservative government.