House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.


The House resumed from October 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-284, An Act to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act (Canada access grants), be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this morning to speak on the private member's bill before us. This is a bill of some social significance. Aimed at students, it ensures that they have access to financial assistance to pursue their studies. This is a long awaited bill. It is essentially updating the legislation by taking the regulations made under the previous bill to incorporate them into the act. This makes for something much stronger.

I mentioned that the bill had some social significance because, unfortunately, not everyone in our society can afford post-secondary education. I will cite the example of the aboriginal issue, which I have had the privilege of defending during my first seven years here in Parliament. I would sometimes visit reserves where children who completed high school were being told, “Sorry, but the band council has no money to pay for your post-secondary education”.

Each time, I felt a pinch in my heart. To think that, in a country of abundant means and resources like Canada, young people were being told that they cannot continue school the following year. That was just unacceptable to me.

The same thing is happening in society today. We know that the number of single-parent families, for example, is growing. As a result, single parents often not only have a hard time paying for what their children need, but also have to tell their children that they do not have enough money to pay for post-secondary education. This, too, is unacceptable. All young people who want to continue their education should be able to do so without worrying too much about debt, which is another problem.

When I was in school, I had to take out student loans, which I subsequently repaid. Students today have a substantial debt load, and it is time we agreed that in Canada, no one should be penalized for pursuing post-secondary education. As well, it is always tempting for young people, early in life, to take a low-paying first job, which can delay post-secondary studies.

That said, even though we have some reservations about this bill, on the whole we are satisfied with it. As for our reservations, you will not be surprised to learn that we feel that this bill encroaches on an area of provincial jurisdiction. However, clause 14 of the bill states that a province can opt out of the program with full compensation, and that suits us.

In essence, the bill says that regular students can receive up to half of their tuition, to a maximum of $3,000. Students can also receive assistance for more than one year under the bill. Previously, assistance was available only for the first year of study. Now, it is understood that if students want to complete their post-secondary education, it might be important to help them until the end of their studies if their families cannot afford tuition. Up to $3,000 is granted for this.

There is another important aspect to this bill: it helps students with disabilities. These may be young people who are blind or who have a mobility impairment. They will receive assistance, which is commendable. As I just said, assistance will be available not only for their first year of study, but for all years of their post-secondary education from now on.

With respect to the reserves I mentioned earlier, not only would this interfere with Quebec's jurisdiction, it would also fail to solve the fundamental problem from our point of view. We think that once the federal government corrects the fiscal imbalance, this kind of problem can be resolved in its entirety, rather than piecemeal. You are well aware of the fiscal imbalance. Members of Quebec's National Assembly, including the Liberal government, have also acknowledged it. It adds up to $3.9 billion. That is a lot of money.

Student associations are now asking the government to inject a billion dollars into education. If we correct the basic fiscal imbalance, we will not be forced to take a piecemeal approach every time, encroaching little by little on Quebec's jurisdiction.

The Prime Minister said that he did not want to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. He also wants to fix this problem using transfers—by either correcting the fiscal imbalance or offering tax points or some other way. We have to fix this problem, but that is not what we are doing right now.

I have to say that Quebec's system is exemplary. I think we proved this in the case of the infamous millennium scholarships. Unlike the millennium scholarships, Quebec's system takes more than merit into consideration.

I do not know the exact correlation, but often, students who do very well in school had an easy childhood and wealthier parents—factors that helped them reach their academic potential. Now they are the ones getting the millennium scholarships.

Quebec's program is more universal and based on need. If a single parent family is unable to cover the post-secondary tuition fees for a child, Quebec recognizes this and wants to help.

As I already said, I am grateful to the member who introduced this bill for realizing that this is a provincial jurisdiction and that there can be a transfer with compensation. I think this will be quite interesting.

Furthermore, we must take into account that there is a growing number of single parent families. There is significant poverty among single parent families. The idea of helping young people who want to pursue their education has a lot of merit.

Earlier I was talking about students with disabilities. A description of that clientele exists. Significant functional deficiencies include severe visual disability, severe hearing loss, a motor disability or an organic disability, which prevent the student from accomplishing daily activities easily and limit his or her ability to study or work.

These students must not be left behind on the pretext that they do not have the necessary faculties or aptitude. I met some young people who are blind and who have great intellectual faculties. Just because a person is blind or deaf does not mean they should be cast aside. I think this is important.

If we do not give these young people access to the system, we will come to realize in a few years time that they will always have difficulty. However, if we take care of them, we might find them contributing a great deal to society. Those are my thoughts on the matter.

I will close by saying that a society's wealth is not in its forestry, mines, streams or natural resources. A society's greatest resource is its youth, the young pupils in our schools. We have to take care of them.

Quebec has always kept tuition fees low. We are proud that our tuition fees are the lowest in Canada. Why are we proud? Because this allows more young people to register for and complete their studies. We help out these young people. A society's resource is its youth. The more our young people are educated, the further they will go and the better they will ensure that our society lives on.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-284, which would extend Canada access grants for students from low income families from the first year of study to each year of a student's first program of study.

While this bill does not address all of the problems in post-secondary education and is itself imperfect, I do support this bill. I believe it represents a more progressive and efficient approach to increasing access to post-secondary education by providing direct funds to students in need at the time when tuition is due.

In my community in Toronto I have spoken with young people who have completely written off the possibility of attending post-secondary education. They believe it is only for the wealthy. Increasingly, I think, these young people are losing hope that they can better themselves and make a constructive contribution to society. That is a terrible tragedy.

I also speak to many other young people who have gone through post-secondary education but who are now living under an incredible, crushing debt. Some of them live with a debt of tens of thousands of dollars, which is the size of a mortgage for some people in some parts of this country.

For young people trying to get a foothold in the workforce, starting out with that kind of debt is ridiculous, especially if they are living in a city like Toronto, with our housing prices. They simply cannot do it. I have young people coming to my office in tears because they are not able to meet the requirements for paying back their student debt.

This is a pressing need not only for these young people, but for our society. Post-secondary education is a public good. It is a social good. If Canada is to remain a wealthy developed country in a 21st century economy, we need to attract the best and the brightest, not only the wealthiest, to proceed with their education.

We have seen huge cuts to education over the last several years. The Liberals, when they were in power, cut over $2 billion to post-secondary education in the 1990s and slowly added a convoluted patchwork of so-called student assistance programs, tax credits and savings schemes that disproportionately benefited high income families. The Conservatives have perpetuated this system with the textbook tax credit and by raising the student debt ceiling in the budget of 2006.

I believe that all Canadians have a lifelong right to learn. While post-secondary education is important for young people, it is also a public good, and it should be accessible and of high quality for all Canadians. As we see our economy changing and evolving, people no longer expect to be in the same job over a lifetime. As a society, our best adjustment programs recognize this. They help people to keep learning throughout their lives and therefore better equip themselves for different jobs down the road.

Yet we have seen our education system, which had been relatively affordable, become one that is relatively unaffordable. It is interesting to speak to this right after my colleague from the Bloc, who described the system in Quebec. Not only does Quebec have the lowest tuition rates, it offers a universal assistance program for students. Over 70% of students identify financial barriers as the greatest reason not to pursue post-secondary education. Education has become less affordable and less accessible, more so than at any time in our history during this century, which I find astounding.

While I support the bill, I do have concerns. While assistance for the lowest income students is important, assistance for middle class students is also important. The amount being offered to low income students is insufficient when we take into account the true costs of post-secondary education. They still incur enormous debt.

Eligibility for the program is based on income instead of need. Regardless of what kind of program a student is taking, the amount is not increased. As I mentioned earlier, it is important for Canadians to have access to lifelong learning and mature students are excluded.

The program also excludes financially independent students. Even though they live on their own and are financially independent, their eligibility is linked to parental income. As the previous speaker indicated, they do not target students from rural and aboriginal backgrounds where there are particular challenges.

Nevertheless, the bill is a step in the right direction and deserves support.

However, this one bill cannot solve the problem. Canada's post-secondary education system needs an overhaul. An NDP government's first priority for post-secondary education would be to dramatically reduce student debt. We would ensure that tuition is no longer out of reach of even middle income Canadians and that debt levels are reduced. We would shift the focus of student aid to more non-repayable grants and ensure the grants are available when tuition is due.

The NDP would ultimately enact a Canada post-secondary education act that would legislate stable, core funding from the federal government for post-secondary education and enshrine the principles of accessibility, quality, academic freedom and accountability of a public, not for profit post-secondary education system.

In conclusion, while I support the bill as a long overdue first step toward helping students and their families cope with high debt and rising tuition fees, the overall national need for a comprehensive approach to post-secondary education is greater now than ever. This is fundamentally what our country needs to address in the coming months.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in support of the bill introduced by the hon. member for Halifax West and it is a pleasure for two reasons.

The first reason is that the hon. member has family roots in Meadow Lake, a town in my riding celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and a town that is well-known for its community spirit and hospitality. The second reason is that the bill would create real opportunity and respond to challenges in Saskatchewan.

Expanding the Canada access grants gives students from low income families and students with disabilities tremendous aid to meet Saskatchewan's emerging labour force gap.

Saskatchewan is at an unique place right now. Many of our baby boomers are starting to retire. As a result, many jobs, ranging from teachers to nurses, to welders, need new people to come in and fill these positions. To respond to this gap, there is an emerging youthful population in northern Saskatchewan where much of the wealth-generating natural resources are. Thus, northern Saskatchewan represents, in many ways, an emerging new Saskatchewan.

Meeting Saskatchewan's labour gap and building this new Saskatchewan will require many strategies but, most important, we need to enable all young people, regardless of background, to have access to the best skills training and education Canada provides.

Currently, Canada access grants provide financial assistance to students from low income families and students with disabilities for their first year of study. Bill C-284 would extend the availability of this grant to all four years of study. The bill would also give Canada access grants a statutory base that would make it difficult to end or change without parliamentary scrutiny, giving the grants program long term stability. The bill meets a need I saw time and again when I was a student, a teacher and now as a parent.

My wife and I have watched, with immense pride, our oldest children go on to post-secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan. Their accomplishments were as a result of many years of dedication and hard work. Added to that pride is knowing that they are attending a school with the best college football team in Canada, the U of S Huskies.

The biggest challenge for all students is trying to meet numerous costs, like housing and food, while paying for tuition. I know people who simply could not make ends meet and had to drop out regardless of merit and ability.

When I graduated from the U of S, I became a teacher back home in Pelican Narrows. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the greatest emerging minds of Canada, my students, and to help them explore their potentials. However, I was far too often faced with the terrible sight of youth, regardless of obvious merit and tremendous ability, being denied the opportunity to go on to post-secondary only because of a lack of funds.

Over this last week I saw many of the new future leaders of Saskatchewan as I spoke and met with students across my riding. At Meadow Lakes Carpenter High School and Creighton Community School, I spoke with grade 12 students who asked tough questions and had insightful opinions that showed sharp, inquisitive minds and remarkable potential.

I also met and spoke with NORTEP and SIIT students in La Ronge, students who are further along in their journey of learning. They will soon be assuming the leadership role they have worked so hard to achieve. I am very proud of all of them.

All of these students are on the cutting edge of Saskatchewan. They represent the new Saskatchewan. However, many challenges still must be addressed. Many communities face poverty, need improved roads or basic infrastructure. There also needs to be more investment into education at all levels.

The bill would help so many to contribute by taking away much of the burden of tuition and unmanageable debt. Students would l get the opportunity they need and I know many will take this opportunity and run with it for the rest of their lives.

I also had the opportunity to meet with students from the northern adult education class in Green Lake. These students are making education a priority for their lives and their children's lives. This commitment and dedication is an inspiration. However, there is also a deep disappointment with the impact of the Conservative government cuts to literacy. There are feelings of deep betrayal and of being targeted for no good reason.

I have heard of the disappointment from other groups as well. Community access programs and youth employment opportunities are threatened without the commitment of the Conservative government. Industry Canada officials also admit that there are no plans to continue first nations SchoolNet, a huge blow to learning at schools on many first nations reserves. The cuts and lack of commitment to educational tools have hurt northern Saskatchewan. We need to take advantage of all learning opportunities and build more of them.

The bill would help students gain financial stability and encourage them to fulfill their potential. I ask the Conservatives to take a lesson from the bill and fully commit to building opportunities for our future leaders and the new Saskatchewan.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-284 proposed by the hon. member for Halifax West.

Bill C-284 proposes to extend the Canada access grant for students from low income families to all years of a student's first program of study, such as an undergraduate degree. Additionally, Bill C-284 would repeal the Canada access grant provisions in the Canada student financial assistance regulations and incorporate them in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

Before discussing the substance of this proposed legislation, I would like to reassure the member opposite that Canada's new government is committed to supporting access to post-secondary education. Moreover, I believe our government shares with the parties opposite a common recognition that education is the key to prosperity and advancement. As the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, so eloquently pronounced:

We are born weak, we need strength; we are born lacking everything, we need aid; we are born stupid, we need judgment. All that we lack at birth and that we need when we are grown is given by education.

The natural resources of Canada will be shaped by cultivation but our human capital, the future generations of leaders and visionaries, will be shaped by education. Through education, we will create the vibrant and dynamic workforce Canada requires to compete and, more important, succeed in a global economy.

Lamentably, during the course of its 13 year tenure, the previous Liberal government's commitment to post-secondary education was questionable at best, negligent at worst. In the words of the member from Kings—Hants, currently a Liberal leadership aspirant, the former Liberal government systematically “slashed transfers to the provinces to such an extent that it created a tremendous vacuum in funding for universities throughout the country.The provinces were simply not able to maintain adequate funding to our post-secondary universities and community colleges across the country. As a result of the deficit that existed in the funding of post-secondary education, we saw, for instance, the doubling of the average amount of student debt after a four year program in Canada. We saw tuition doubling, not just in one province but all across the country”.

Canada's new government, on the other hand, has recognized the need to support the future well-being of Canadians through investments in post-secondary education along with increased individual support for apprenticeships and students. With respect to supporting apprenticeships, our new government has introduced new measures that provide both strong incentives for employers to hire new apprentices and to encourage many young Canadians to pursue apprenticeship training.

These incentives include: first, a new apprenticeship incentive grant which will provide grants to apprentices in the first two years; second, an apprenticeship job creation tax credit to encourage employers to hire new apprentices; and third, a new tools tax deduction to help tradespeople with cost of tools. These new measures will encourage new registrations in apprenticeship programs and support the successful completion of this training.

Furthermore, in budget 2006 we have demonstrated our commitment to assist students acquire an education. We have done so by offering substantial measures, such as the new textbook tax credit, expanded eligibility criteria for students seeking Canada student loans and exempting scholarship and bursary income from taxation.

Budget 2006 also allocated $1 billion to the provinces and territories to support pressing investments in post-secondary education and infrastructure, such as libraries and laboratories. These measures were well received. As Claire Morris, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada stated, they underline Canada's new government's “commitment to promote a more competitive, more productive Canadian economy”.

In addition to the measures announced in budget 2006, the Government of Canada provides nearly $15.5 billion to the Canada social transfer fund which provinces can allocate toward post-secondary education and social services. These include $1.7 billion to support post-secondary education research and $1.8 billion in grants and loans to enable students to access post-secondary education.

Moreover, our government also provides a wide range of tax measures and savings incentives to assist Canadians with their post-secondary education. These measures include the tuition tax credit and the education tax credit to help cover non-tuition costs of post-secondary education and the student loan interest credit. Also, the Canada learning bond and the Canada education savings program help hard-working families save for their children's post-secondary education.

However, I would like to stress that in cooperation with the provinces and territories we continually examine ways to improve supports for post-secondary students. In this context the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has been given a specific mandate to undertake discussions with the provincial and territorial governments to discuss the overall objectives for post-secondary education and training, appropriate roles, and ensuring appropriate accountability measures.

Having provided the appropriate context for the balance of my remarks, I will now address the substance of Bill C-284. Each year the Government of Canada makes significant investments in non-repayable assistance for students in need. This assistance includes, for example, grants specifically designed to help students with permanent disabilities, high need students with dependants, and students from low income families.

Currently, the Canada access grants for students from low income families are available to students enrolled in the first year of their first post-secondary program of study, provided this occurs within four years of their graduation from high school.

Bill C-284 proposes to enable students to receive the grants in any year of their first program of study, again providing they started that program within four years of completing high school.

It is important to note that these grants were just recently introduced in August 2005. Accordingly, the Canada access grants for students from low income families have been in effect for only one single year. As a result some observers have noted that there is insufficient data available to confidently conclude what degree of impact this grant has had. Prior to extending this grant it would be beneficial to wait for more data to become available. This additional data would enable us to better analyze and predict the potential impacts of extending the grant to additional years.

Another important consideration in the Bill C-284 debate is the reality that such a proposed change would necessitate extensive intergovernmental consultation with participating provinces and territories. Moreover, further analysis would also be required to determine the extent to which non-participating provinces might be eligible for increased alternative payments.

I would like to further point out that the second component of Bill C-284, which proposes the repeal of the Canada access grants provisions in the Canada student financial assistance regulations and their incorporation in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, would have significant consequences.

It should be noted that incorporating the Canada access grants directly into legislation would make it burdensome to adjust both the criteria and the amount of the grants should changes become necessary. The inclusion of the Canada access grants in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act would mean that Parliament's approval would be required for any future enhancement of the Canada access grants for students from low income families and the Canada access grants for students with permanent disabilities.

Adjusting these grants through the regulations in which they are now included is a far more efficient and effective way to make required changes. Moreover, placing the Canada access grants in legislation would also create a discord of governing authorities over the various grants available through the Canada student loans program. While the Canada access grants would be governed by legislation, the grants available under the Canada student loans program would remain subject to change through regulatory amendments.

For the aforementioned reasons the House should objectively consider the manner in which Bill C-284 proposes to modify the Canada access grants.

Finally, before I conclude, I would like to again assure the member for Halifax West that we share a common commitment to support access to post-secondary education.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have an opportunity to participate in the debate on the private member's bill pertaining to Canada access grants for post-secondary education.

As you can tell, Mr. Speaker, for our caucus this is a very important issue, probably one of the most critical issues facing our country today as we look to the future and as we plan for a full employment economy in an era of new technologies and new ventures.

It is our obligation as members of Parliament to ensure that all of our young people have access to post-secondary education if they so choose. We know, from the lineups at community colleges and from the demands we are hearing at universities, that the young people of this nation are prepared to make a commitment to the future of this country, to do their best to further our values as Canadians, and to pursue the very best in all of us. However, they are facing huge difficulties.

The obstacles to post-secondary education are incredible. The cost for students in this day and age are enormous and many families are finding huge difficulties in creating those opportunities for their young people. As we know, many families will do anything to help their children pursue their life's dreams. We know that some families make this their top priority. They will mortgage their homes. They will go into debt. They will ensure that they scrimp and save on many things in order to be able to afford the ever increasing education costs and rising tuition that young people are faced with today. Anything we can do as a Parliament to ease the way to make it possible to access post-secondary education is absolutely imperative.

I believe that this should be the number one issue for the federal Conservative government as it approaches both its economic update this Thursday and its budget in the spring or late winter. For years we have devoted time in the House to the urgent priority of health care. We set that aside as a number one issue. Canadians believe it is a number one issue and we have done a great deal. We may not have conquered that frontier yet, and there is still much more work to be done. However, we also know that it is imperative for us to invest now in education. It is imperative that we ensure that the government provides increased cash payments to provinces for education.

The proposal we have before us today is one small piece of a big puzzle, one small part of a solution, and one answer to a big problem facing students today, when we think about the fact that the cost of tuition for entering first year university is probably getting close to $5,000. In my day and age, when I went to university some 35 years ago, tuition was less than $1,000. It was probably about $500 a year and we were able to access very reasonable student loans and grants. Today, that is gone. Students have not got that same access to low tuition and they have not got the same access to decent loans and grants. We do not have a comprehensive universal program to ensure that all students, no matter what their income, are able to access post-secondary education.

We have a band-aid of programs. We have the millennium scholarship. We have the RESPs. We have the tax credit for text books. We have a little bit here and a little bit there, but not the universal program that we need. The bill before us is another piece that helps improve the overall situation and that is why we support it, but it is not sufficient.

What is truly required here is for the government to say that this is the number one challenge we face as a country. Let us ensure that our share of money going to the provinces gets back up to at least 25% on an annual basis. We know that we are now looking at single digit numbers. In fact, the federal share of education is below 10%. In other words, the vast majority of the cost for the system is coming out of provincial coffers and individuals, and that has to change.

If we truly believe in creating a bright future for this country, if we truly believe in developing a civil society, in being a leader around the world and being a star on the global horizon, then surely we have to make this our number one priority do everything we can to reverse the present trend.

We saw with the Liberals serious ongoing cuts to education over the last 13 years. We still have not recovered from 1995 when the Liberal government took a huge bite out of transfer payments, $6 billion altogether in terms of health, education and social assistance, the biggest bite out of social programs in the history of this country. We have not recovered from that point. We were not able to convince the Liberals in the past to restore cash payments and to put in place a formula that would ensure money growth according to population and according to GNP.

We are now at the crossroads, where the Liberals neglected to address this issue for over a decade and now the Conservatives have come with some more tinkering. The last year's budget change, a credit for textbooks, is a little bit of a help, but hardly a replacement for the serious erosion that occurred under the Liberals. We have two governments that have basically put education at the low end of the list of priorities for this country. We must raise that here and now in this Parliament.

This bill helps us to focus our attention on this issue, helps us to move a little closer toward a more complete system of assistance for students.

However, let us be clear. Until the government makes this a priority, and until it actually decides to return to a system of serious partnership with the provinces, we are in deep trouble as a country. We will not be able to train and educate our young people to meet the challenges of the future. We will be lost on the global front because we failed to actually equip our students with both the specific tools of the new trades of the future and because we did not create a lifelong learning process where we understand and encourage the notion that education is about learning how to be good citizens, how to participate in a full, meaningful way and create the fundamental building blocks of civil society.

I urge members to support this bill, but I urge them to do more than that, to go beyond this band-aid approach and to start putting pressure on the government. The government itself must start looking inward and make this our new frontier. Education is about who we are as a nation, how we treat our young people, and how prepared we are for the future.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-284, sponsored by the member for Halifax West. He has been a real champion on behalf of those in most need in our society. Who could be in more need than low income and disabled Canadians looking for an opportunity to improve themselves by getting post-secondary education so they can fully realize their aspirations and their abilities.

I am surprised that the government simply does not seem to get it. In fact, one of the Conservative speakers has said that having the lowest debt to GDP level in 24 years is bound to help all aspects of our economy, including children looking to obtain post-secondary education.

I know the government is paying down debt, et cetera, but the rubber does not hit the road. The federal government needs to have programs that target them. We cannot only say that the economy is improving and, therefore, low income Canadians will have more income to pay for important activities of their children, such as post-secondary education.

I am also very disappointed with the government's attitude toward what it has done and how that supposedly will take care of the situation raised by the hon. member. I have looked at some of the issues members have raised. They talk about a text book tax credit, which is about an $80 value. The rest of the things, whether it has to do with an infrastructure trust or some of the other aspects, are global issues that will not target those who need the help the most. In fact, Bill C-284 raises the fact that the Canada access grant is only available for the first year of study.

What happens after the first year? How do low income Canadian families and families with disabled children carry on? How do they finish what they have started? Nothing will change dramatically in the one year. This is the beauty of the bill. This good idea has been started, but we need to finish the job to make absolutely sure that those who embark on the challenge of post-secondary education have every opportunity to fully complete the program and to take their place as a contributing member of our workforce.

The last Conservative speaker tended to suggest that it would somehow be a real burden for the government to change legislation. All of a sudden, instead of being a regulation, it now has to make changes to legislation. I do not think Canadians will accept the fact that somehow it is a burden to government to make some modest changes in order to implement important programs, where the changes will translate into assisting people who need our help.

In the newspaper today I read a piece about Preston Manning and Mike Harris. They have put out their next missile targeting Canadians yet again. They have said that government has to get out of funding provincial responsibilities. In other words, this is the Conservative brain trust saying to Canadians that the government should get out of this. This is the ideological difference here. The Conservatives want to get out of anything that has to do with provincial jurisdiction. It means not supporting the bill and getting rid of things.

Wait until there are more attacks on the whole aspect of how we support Canadians in areas which have principally been provincial jurisdiction. It is like saying that health care delivery is the responsibility of the provinces so the federal government should not support it when it involves the delivery. However, federal governments have supported it because it is important. Many times prior governments have looked to providing capital funding for MRIs, CT scanners and special programs for wait times.

We have the $42 billion deal with the provinces to provide the necessary funding so our health care system can establish wait times for critical areas. This was done because the federal government was playing a role in an area particularly to do with provincial jurisdiction.

However, when it comes down to it, the measure of success of a country is not an economic measure. It is a measure of the health and well-being of its people. That means the federal government has a role to play, regardless of jurisdiction. There are ways to collaborate and to work with the provinces to ensure the objectives of all Canadians are met.

I was very disappointed to see that the Conservative brain trust decided that we had to get out of funding provincial responsibilities. The government itself has said that one of the big things it has done is transfer $15.5 billion to the provinces for post-secondary education. It did that because it was part of its ongoing responsibility. It was not a decision of the current government. In fact, this is under the transfer arrangements that the federal government has with the provinces with regard to health care, post-secondary education and established program financing. Those are ongoing responsibilities of the government.

Members will know that the provinces continue to put pressure on the federal government to continue to provide additional funding up to certain levels so they can deal with the growing demands on our health care system, post-secondary education and established program funding.

I also thought it was interesting that Mr. Harris and Mr. Manning said that the government should get out of funding welfare, that it had nothing to do with welfare. They want to get out of child care. Does this not paint a picture by two prominent Conservative persons, one a former premier and one a former leader of the official opposition for the then Reform Party or the Canadian Alliance Party?

It says that the federal government is getting out of supporting people. It is basically saying that they should fend for themselves, that it will not provide those programs. The line I heard was something to the effect that Canadians should no longer be dependent upon their government for things, that they should not be reliant on the government for anything, that they should take care of themselves, that they have to do their own thing. I cannot believe this is the case.

We are a knowledge based economy. We are an economy where the degree of education of a Canadian will be extremely important in terms of the success rate. I remember doing work some years ago on the economics and implications of a post-secondary education. In fact, in terms of unemployment rates, people with no post-secondary education had a 15% unemployment rate. Those who had some education had an unemployment rate of something like 10%. However, those who had a post-secondary education, whether it be university, community college, apprenticeship or skills training, had an unemployment rate of only 3%, much below the national average. In fact, a post-secondary education was the key determinant of whether someone would have a job.

Bill C-284 says to Canadians that a bit more needs to be done on behalf of low income families and families with disabled children who want to obtain a post-secondary education. They are important to Canada. They are important for our future economic strength and well-being.

Some have said that they cannot afford post-secondary education. We want to eliminate that as an excuse. People should never say they cannot afford it. As a matter of fact, we have to say to people that they cannot afford not to get a post-secondary education. It is because of the unemployment rate, which I mentioned. It is also because of the spread in the income that persons can earn.

I thank the member for Halifax West for bringing forward a very thoughtful bill. The previous speaker said that we should wait for a little while to see what the reaction was to the first year of the proposal and then we could think about it and make a decision. It is a no-brainer. We should expand the bill to cover all four years of a post-secondary education.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-284, introduced by the hon. member for Halifax West.

As we have heard during the debate, Bill C-284 asks us to endorse the extension of the Canada access grant for students from low income families from one year, as it is currently, to all years of a student's first program of study. In addition, it proposes we vote to repeal the Canadian student financial assistance regulations that apply to this grant and incorporate them into the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

I want to reassure Canadians that the government is determined to find ways to support students from low income families in realizing their dreams of a post-secondary education. We want to enable these young people to obtain the skills and knowledge that post-secondary education can provide. We want all young Canadians, regardless of the incomes of their families, to have the opportunity to compete for the challenging and fulfilling careers of tomorrow. Access to post-secondary education will help them contribute their skills and knowledge and will make our national workforce stronger, more flexible and better positioned to compete in the global economy.

However, as other members have pointed out in the debate, to extend the Canada access grant for students from low income families to cover all years of a student's first program of post-secondary study, while perhaps noble in intent, may be premature at this time. It should be noted that this has been only operating for little more than a year.

The government is doing many things to help post-secondary education and to help access to it across our country. However, before extending this grant to all years of a student's post-secondary education, I believe it is essential that we consider Bill C-284's proposals in the larger context of the support of Canada's new government for post-secondary education, which does include various forms of assistance.

In total, we are providing $1.8 billion in grants and loans to help students access college or university. This is in addition to $15.5 billion that the government will provide this year through the Canada social transfer for provinces and territories to allocate for post-secondary education. We also have a wide range of tax measures, including the tuition tax credit and a tax credit for textbooks.

The government is doing many things to help access to post-secondary education, but at this time we believe the proposal is a bit premature. Fundamentally, not only are Bill C-284's proposals not informed by hard evidence, but they would impose an unnecessary obstacle to the provision of effective and efficient support for Canada's students.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank all colleagues in the House who have spoken on the bill. I know that this is a matter of interest to many, and it should be a matter of interest to many, because if we are going to build a stronger, more prosperous society and a stronger economy in the future, we have to invest in education. We have to invest in young people who are trying to get an education, especially those from low income families.

My hon. Conservative colleague who just spoke said that the government is determined to find ways to help low income students access education. This is a perfect opportunity for the government to demonstrate that. We have seen very little evidence of it so far.

In fact, in the budget there was the $80 tax credit for textbooks, which is not a heck of a lot when we consider what textbooks cost students every year. Moreover, it was a measure that students have to wait to benefit from until April or later, after they have filed their taxes. The fact is that students need assistance when they are starting in the fall and paying their tuition, not six or eight months later. That is a fundamental problem with the modest measure the government offered in the last budget.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has been travelling and doing a study on employability. We have heard a lot across the country about the looming skills shortage. A shortage has already begun in many sectors in many parts of the country. We are seeing a looming need because of the fact that people who are in the baby boom age are heading toward retirement. More and more boomers are going to be retiring over the next 5 to 10 years or so, creating a lot of spaces for people in various sectors that will need highly skilled people.

Therefore, not only do we need literacy training to build up the foundation for people, but we also need skills training and higher education. All of these are essential. We cannot leave anyone behind.

The idea of this bill is not to be the be-all and end-all, of course, or to solve all problems. It is to help one particular problem, that of helping low income students get access to and be able to afford post-secondary education, whether it is university or community college. That is absolutely vital. I think we have seen very little interest or action on this from the government side. I hope this will cause the government to reflect and will put pressure on the government to do more.

As we know, the Speaker has ruled that this bill requires a royal recommendation, which is to say that it cannot become law unless the minister of the Crown actually gives it her endorsement. That is disappointing. So far we have not seen this endorsement from the government and I do not think that we are going to now, which suggests that the government is not interested in helping low income students in this very effective way.

This is a program that already exists for first year students who have low incomes or disabilities. We have a vital need to make sure that both of these groups are included in the prosperity of our economy so that we utilize the skills and talents of these people. If we do not provide assistance to them and more assistance to education generally, particularly to universities and community colleges, then we are not going to be able to have all the people who have the talents to be in university and community colleges to be there. They will not be able to afford it.

We have to do more to make it more affordable. I agree with the idea of the dedicated education transfer to the provinces, but I also think it is important that we have direct assistance for students, the kind of assistance that this program provides. It is, in fact, one part of the puzzle.

My hon. colleague from Parkdale—High Park was concerned that the bill did not provide for middle income students. I agree with her wholeheartedly that there is a need to have measures to provide for middle income students. That is why in the election campaign we had in our platform the fifty-fifty plan, which would have paid for half the tuition for a student in the first and last years of an undergraduate program. I think that was a very good measure. It was not the be-all and end-all, but it was a very important start and it would have helped.

Programs like that are important, but I think that this program, the Canada access grant program, is one important program that helps low income students and students with disabilities get into university and it makes it more affordable for them. I think the bill deserves the support of all members of the House.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 12:04, the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members



Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 22, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario


John Baird ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board


That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that this House:

Agrees with amendments numbered 1, 3, 13, 16, 17, 21, 26, 27, 32, 33, 55(e)(i), 63, 64, 66, 70, 72 to 79, 81, 82, 84, 86, 87, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 103 to 106, 111, 112, 114, 117, 122, 124 to 127, 135, 144, 146, 152, 156 and 158 made by the Senate to Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability; but

Disagrees with all other amendments except amendments 29, 67, 98 and 153, because this House believes that amendments 2, 4 to 12, 14, 15, 18 to 20, 22 to 25, 28, 30, 31, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65, 68, 69, 71, 80, 83, 85, 88 to 90, 92, 94, 96, 100 to 102, 107 to 110, 113, 115, 116, 118 to 121, 123, 128 to 134, 136 to 143, 145, 147 to 151, 154, 155 and 157 are in contradiction with the principles of the bill of effectively strengthening accountability, increasing transparency, improving oversight and building confidence in government and parliamentary institutions, and that these amendments contradict the stated policy goal of rebuilding the public’s trust in the institutions of government; and

That this House considers this matter to be of significant importance and urges their Honours to respond expeditiously to this message.

More specifically:

Amendment 2 would weaken the Conflict of Interest Act by removing the prohibition on public office holders who have duties in respect of the House or Senate, or their families, on contracting with the House or Senate;

Amendments 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 15 would undermine the ability of public office holders to discharge their duties and substitute the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for Parliament or the public as the final arbiter of an appearance of conflict by expanding the definition of “conflict of interest” under the Conflict of Interest Act to include “potential” and “apparent” conflicts of interest;

Amendments 6, 28, 30 and 31 would weaken the Conflict of Interest Act by preventing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from issuing an order to a minister or parliamentary secretary to recuse himself or herself from voting on or debating matters in Parliament when doing so would place them in a conflict of interest as well as limiting the timeframe within which an investigation may be carried out

Amendments 7, 10 and 14 are an inappropriate intrusion into the private lives of public office holders and their families as they would narrow the exemption for gifts to public office holders from “friends” to “close personal friends” and require that any gift over $200 to a reporting public office holder or his or her family from any person other than a relative be disclosed to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and publicly reported

Amendments 18, 23 and 24 would undermine the capacity of the Prime Minister to discipline ministers and maintain the integrity of the Ministry by eliminating the ability of the Prime Minister to seek “confidential advice” from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to specific public office holders;

Amendment 19 would deter the public from bringing matters to the attention of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner through a member of either House, create unfairness to individuals who are subject to complaints whose merits have not been substantiated and undermine the Commissioner’s investigatory capacity by deleting the provisions that would protect the anonymity of a member of the public and allow the Commissioner to complete an investigation before the matter were made public by requiring members of either House to keep confidential information received from the public about a possible conflict of interest until the Commissioner issued a report;

Amendments 20 and 22 would prohibit the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from issuing a public report where the request for an examination was frivolous, vexatious or otherwise without basis thereby reducing transparency and requiring a public office holder who has been exonerated to publicize on his or her own a ruling to clear his or her name;

Amendments 25, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65 and 94 are unacceptable because they would continue the separate existence of the Senate Ethics Officer contrary to the goal of a unified Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner who could bring a broad perspective to bear on conflict of interest and ethical matters;

Amendments 68 and 69 are unacceptable because they contravene the objective of reducing undue influence in the electoral process by raising the annual political contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000 and providing for a “multiplier” so that the contribution limit is increased by an amount equivalent to the limit for each general election held within a single year;

Amendment 71 would undermine the capacity of the Commissioner of Elections to investigate alleged offences under the Canada Elections Act. The amendment would shorten the overall limitation period from ten years to seven years after the offence was committed (reverting to the status quo) and change the knowledge portion of the limitation period from five years to two years from the time the Commissioner of Canada Elections had knowledge of the facts giving rise to the offence. This would not address the current problems with the limitation period that were identified by the Chief Electoral Officer and only provide an additional six months during which the Commissioner must complete several hundred concurrent investigations after an election;

Amendments 80 and 89 would undermine the authority of the Commissioner of Lobbying by removing the Commissioner’s discretion to determine whether to report on the failures of designated public office holders to verify information filed by lobbyists and shortening the period of investigation and limitation period in which the Commissioner may conduct an investigation;

Amendment 83 would seriously weaken the scope of the five-year prohibition on lobbying by designated public office holders by allowing them to accept employment with an organization that engages in lobbying activities provided that they themselves do not spend a significant part of their time engaged in lobbying activities;

Amendment 85 would create significant uncertainty in the private sector and create an inappropriate incentive for corporations to prefer consultant lobbyists over in-house lobbyists as all employees of any corporation that contracts with the Government of Canada would be prohibited for five years from engaging in any lobbying activities with the department involved in the contract. The amendment does not provide for any exemptions from this prohibition and potentially subjects these individuals to criminal liability;

Amendments 88 and 90 would add a prohibition for obstructing the Commissioner of Lobbying and create a specific offence for the failure to comply with a prohibition on communication ordered by the Commissioner. The Bill already contemplates these matters in section 80;

Amendments 92 and 113(a) would not substantively amend the Access to Information Act provisions that apply to the Commissioner of Lobbying as proposed in the Bill. However, these amendments, which only go to form, would technically mean that the government institutions listed in section 144 of the Bill, such as the Office of the Auditor General of Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, could not be brought under the Access to Information Act until the Commissioner of Lobbying is brought into existence;

Amendment 96 would undermine the merit-based system of employment in the public service by continuing to unfairly protect the priority status of exempt staff who leave their positions after the coming into force of the provision rather than requiring them to compete with public servants for positions in the public service

Amendments 100 and 102 would unacceptably interfere with the exercise of authority by the Government by requiring the Governor in Council to only appoint the Parliamentary Budget Officer from a list of candidates submitted by the selection committee. In addition, these amendments would fix the membership of the selection committee rather than leaving it to the discretion of the Parliamentary Librarian;

Amendment 101 would unnecessarily complicate the procedure by which the selection committee informs the Governor in Council of their list of candidates for the Parliamentary Budget Officer by requiring, in addition to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, that the Leader of the Government in the Senate present the list;

Amendments 107, 109 and 110 would involve members of the Senate in the appointment and removal process for the Director of Public Prosecutions. As this is a body housed within the Executive branch of the government, the involvement of the Senate in the appointment process is inappropriate;

Amendment 108 would undermine the authority of the Attorney General to determine which candidates the selection committee should assess for the position of Director of Public Prosecutions. As this position is exercising authority under and on behalf of the Attorney General, the amendment is an unacceptable interference in the Government’s exercise of its executive authority;

Amendment 113(b) would seriously weaken the audit and investigatory capacity of the Auditor General and Official Languages Commissioner. The amendment would limit the exemption in subsection 16.1(1) of the Access to Information Act so that it does not apply to records that contain information created in the course of an investigation once the investigation and related proceedings are completed and would undermine an investigator’s ability to guarantee anonymity to a potential witness;

Amendments 115 and 116 would undermine the objective of greater transparency for the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology by providing the Foundation with specific exemptions that are unnecessary given the nature of its business which is similar to that of other government institutions under the Access to Information Act such as the Department of Industry and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency;

Amendment 118, which is related to Senate amendment 113(b), would seriously weaken the internal audit capacity of the Government by permitting the disclosure of “related audit working papers” in addition to “draft reports” under the Access to Information Act where a final report has not been delivered within two years;

Amendment 119 would reverse the policy on which the Access to Information Act was based, which policy was not changed in the Bill as passed by this House. The amendment would undermine the balance between discretionary and mandatory exemptions in the Access to Information Act by giving the heads of government institutions the discretion to override existing and proposed mandatory exemptions. In addition, the amendment would give de facto order powers to the Information Commissioner, who, as a head of a proposed government institution to be brought under the Access to Information Act by this Bill, would be able to disclose records obtained from other government institutions;

Amendments 120, 121 and 123 would undermine the objective of greater transparency by forever excepting from the application of the Access to Information Act information under the control of certain government institutions prior to when those institutions become subject to the Act and by removing the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this Act;

Amendments 128 and 131 would undermine the objective of stronger protection for public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the public sector by creating confusion as to the types of disclosure that are protected or not under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The amendments would confuse the clear parameters set in the Act to guide public servants who are considering making a disclosure by incorporating vague common law principles, which could lead to public servants making public disclosures that they think are protected, but turn out not to be;

Amendments 129 and 132 would unbalance the reprisal protection regime proposed in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act by expanding the definition of “reprisal” to include “any other measure that may adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the public servant” and providing for a reverse onus, such that any administrative or disciplinary measure taken within a year of a disclosure is deemed to be a reprisal, unless the employer shows otherwise. These amendments would expand the definition of reprisal to include behaviours unlikely to be under the control of the employer and managers will be reluctant to take legitimate disciplinary action for fear of being the subject of a reprisal complaint, which would expose them personally to a disciplinary order by the Tribunal;

Amendment 130 would increase the risk of disclosure of sensitive national security information by subjecting the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act without additional specific disclosure protection measures;

Amendment 133 would extend the time limit to file a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. The amendment undermines the discretion of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner who already has the authority to extend the time limit beyond 60 days if he or she feels it is appropriate;

Amendment 134 would undermine the objective of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to balance appropriate and responsible protection from reprisal for public servants that make a disclosure without creating unintended incentives for vexatious or frivolous complaints. The amendment would remove the $10,000 limit on awards for pain and suffering, leaving the amount to the discretion of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal;

Amendment 136 would undermine the principles of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act by increasing the maximum amount for legal advice from $1,500 to $25,000, or to an unlimited amount at the discretion of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The legal assistance is intended to provide any person who could become involved in a process under the Act with legal advice as to their choices, rights and responsibilities. In relation to reprisal complaints, the Commissioner investigates and determines whether a reprisal complaint should be brought before the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal and is a party before the Tribunal so that he or she can present the findings of the investigation. The amendment would make all processes under the Act far more legalistic and litigious;

Amendments 137 and 138 would give the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner the power to compel evidence and pursue information held outside the public sector. This amendment is unacceptable as it would increase the risk of challenges to the Commissioner’s authority and jurisdiction without providing significant assistance to the discharge of his or her mandate under the Act, which is to investigate wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal related to the public sector;

Amendments 139 to 143 would increase the risk of harm to the reputations of those that are falsely accused of wrongdoing as the narrowing of exemptions provided to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and other heads of institutions under the Access to Information Act, Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act would increase the risk of their names being released to the public;

Amendments 145, 151 and 154 would limit the capacity of the Governor in Council to organize the machinery of government, specifically with respect to the establishment of the Public Appointments Commission and the position of the Procurement Auditor, and as such are unacceptable;

Amendment 147 would explicitly require reappointments to the Public Appointments Commission go through the same statutory requirements as an appointment. The amendment is unnecessary and redundant because a reappointment is a new appointment and, as such, must conform to all relevant statutory requirements;

Amendment 148 would involve members of the Senate in the appointment of members to the Public Appointments Commission. As this is a body housed within the executive branch of the government, the involvement of the Senate in the appointment process is inappropriate;

Amendment 149 would create confusion as to the proper role of “appointees” in the Governor in Council appointment process under the Salaries Act by expanding the mandate of the Public Appointments Commission to include educating and training appointees, who are not involved in the appointment process;

Amendment 150 would expand the term of appointees to the Public Appointments Commission from five to seven years and is unacceptable as that length of term is not necessary for the efficient and effective working of the Commission;

Amendment 155 would undermine the confidence of private sector suppliers in the government as a business partner and could increase the number of legal actions brought against the government by giving the Procurement Auditor the discretion to recommend the cancellation of a contract to which a complaint relates. The Procurement Auditor was not provided the powers, duties and functions to discharge a mandate that would include reviewing the legal validity of a contract award, but rather the mandate was focussed on whether government procurement practices reflect the government’s commitment to fairness, openness and transparency in the procurement process;

Amendment 157 would increase the risk of disclosure of sensitive national security information by removing the ability of the Governor in Council to prescribe, through regulation, those departments would fall within the jurisdiction of the Procurement Auditor; and

That this House agrees with the principles set out in parts of amendments 29, 67, 98 and 153 but would propose the following amendments:

Senate amendment 29 be amended to read as follows:

Clause 2, page 32: Replace lines 23 to 25 with the following:

“64. (1) Subject to subsection 6(2) and sections 21 and 30, nothing in this Act prohibits a member of the Senate or the House of Commons who is a public office holder or former public office holder from engaging in those”

Senate amendment 67 be amended to read as follows:

Clause 44, page 58: Add after line 5 the following:

“(4) Section 404.2 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (6):

(7) The payment by an individual of a fee to participate in a registered party’s convention is not a contribution if the cost of holding the convention is greater than or equal to the sum of the fees paid by all of the individuals for that purpose. However, if the cost of holding the convention is less than the sum of the fees paid, the amount of the difference after it is divided by the number of individuals who paid the fee is considered to be a contribution by each of those individuals.”

Senate amendment 98 be amended to read as follows:

Clause 108, page 94: Replace lines 1 to 2 with the following:

“(4) Sections 41 to 43, subsections 44(3) and (4) and sections 45 to 55, 57 and 60 to 64 come into force or are deemed to have come into force on January 1, 2007.

(4.1) Sections 63 and 64 come into force or are deemed to have come into force on January 1, 2007, but”

Senate amendment 153 be amended to read as follows:

Clause 259, page 187: Add after line 12 the following:

“16.21(1) A person who does not occupy a position in the federal public administration but who meets the qualifications established by directive of the Treasury Board may be appointed to an audit committee by the Treasury Board on the recommendation of the President of the Treasury Board.

(2) A member of an audit committee so appointed holds office during pleasure for a term not exceeding four years, which may be renewed for a second term.

(3) A member of an audit committee so appointed shall be paid the remuneration and expenses fixed by the Treasury Board.”

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is no great pleasure for me to make this speech here today.

Today I am rising to speak once again to Bill C-2, the federal accountability act. I would like to say that it is a pleasure for me to rise again to speak to this bill, but I am very disappointed by the attempts of certain senators to dilute this piece of landmark legislation.

This government was elected on a plan for change. This government was elected because Canadian voters and Canadian taxpayers wanted change. Voters said they wanted an honest and accountable government, a government they could trust. They want to know that elected officials and public service employees act in the best interests of Canadians. I believe that this trust must be earned each and every day and it starts with making government more accountable.

That is why our first legislative priority focused on making government more open, more honest and, most important, more accountable. The public was so suspicious of government as an institution that the then leader of the opposition made a commitment that this would be the first piece of legislation his new government would bring forward, so that there would be no excuses as to why it was not introduced and successfully passed.

On April 11, only nine weeks after this government officially took office, I was very pleased on behalf of Canadians and on behalf of the entire government caucus to introduce the federal accountability act in this House. The act and the accompanying federal accountability action plan, almost as important as the act, focus on making everyone in government more accountable, from the Prime Minister down.

We understand that our success as a nation depends on instituting a more effective capability to get things done better for ordinary working Canadians and their families. By instituting an unprecedented level of rigour and scrutiny across the federal public sector, the federal accountability act provides a firm foundation for rebuilding Canadians' trust in government.

I will tell the House that in drafting this legislation we paid careful attention to a couple of very important factors.

First, we did not want to establish more red tape, more bureaucracy or a significant increase in the number of rules. Most of the new entities created in our bill replace or strengthen the independence of existing ones. Where there are new rules, we have endeavoured to make them simpler, more straightforward and more effective.

Second, we did not want to build a government that stifled innovation and created within the public service a culture that is overly risk averse. We wanted to balance more effective oversight with flexibility. This is incredibly important if we want a dynamic public service for the next generation and the next century. We want to have the best and the brightest in the public service, recognizing that whenever people of good faith act, there will be mistakes from time to time.

In drafting Bill C-2, this government listened to many stakeholders. We received contributions from all parties in the House. I believe that made this piece of legislation stronger. Members of the House of Commons worked to pass the federal accountability act in 72 days. They thoroughly reviewed and analyzed hundreds of separate clauses and amendments. They put in well over 90 hours of work in six weeks, above and beyond their regular duties, to make sure they got it right.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for Nepean—Carleton in that committee. He worked tremendously hard with all the government members on the committee.

I would also like to recognize a number of others.

I would like to recognize the member for Winnipeg Centre, who worked tremendously hard on this issue. We often disagreed with the member, but we never disagreed on the fact that he was well motivated and wanted to strengthen the bill. I congratulate him for his work. I was particularly pleased with some of the amendments he brought forward, particularly the one in regard to putting the Canadian Wheat Board under the access to information regime. That was one of the best amendments to the bill and we were very happy to support my friend from Winnipeg. I will say to the member from Winnipeg that I read the paper on Saturday and simply want to remind him of the great amendment that he brought forward.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Vancouver Quadra. We often disagreed, but he brought a high level of commitment to the task and I should recognize that.

I would also like to thank the former hon. member for Repentigny, Benoît Sauvageau, who worked very hard. As a new member and new minister, it was definitely a great pleasure for me to work with Mr. Sauvageau. His efforts, hard work and friendship were well known to all members. Above all, I would like to underscore here in this House just how important his work was, enabling us to introduce this bill within the first 72 days of this 39th Parliament.

Benoît Sauvageau will be greatly missed, not just within the Bloc Québécois caucus and his own constituency of Repentigny, but by those of us on all sides of the House. Many Canadians watch Parliament, not least of which my performance, and they see a very adversarial system from time to time. What they do not see is quite often members from different parties are able to work together. The late member for Repentigny's work is the best example of that.

I firmly believe that we did a good job in the House of Commons. The committee did a good job. The government did not get everything it wanted, but the bill came out of the special committee stronger than it went in. I firmly believe that this House did its work. I do note that not a single member of Parliament in the House of Commons wanted to go on record as opposing this bill. I do recall that the member for Vancouver Quadra said in his first two minutes of speaking that he supported the bill, as did the member from the Bloc Québécois, and of course the New Democratic Party.

Aside from a few typos and ambiguities in wording, the bill as sent to the Senate was effective, comprehensive and carefully focused. Unfortunately, the majority of the more than 100 amendments proposed by the Senate have drastically diluted the objectives of Bill C-2's wide portfolio of initiatives. I have grave concerns that most of the amendments passed by the Senate, if left in place, would do irreparable damage to the overall intent and effectiveness of the federal accountability act. These include the most egregious examples of amendments, including increasing the political donation limit from $1,000 to $2,000.

We want to end the role of big money in politics. One thing we can say about Mr. Chrétien and the Liberal government he led is that they did a lot in this regard. We are finishing the Chrétien work and making it even more modest to ensure that it is middle class Canadians, and not the interests of a few high powered financial contributors, who have a bigger voice in politics. This was a welcome change of which I think all members took great note.

The Senate also proposed amendments to delay the implementation of the new political financing laws until as late as 2008. That is too late. These measures should be put in place in very short order so that Canadians can have the benefit of this new regime.

We had discussions with members of the official opposition and we made what I think is a reasonable and honourable compromise to have these new limitations come into effect on January 1 so it would not affect the current Liberal leadership convention. This was also an issue which was spoken to by the Bloc Québécois and others. In the spirit of working together, in the spirit of cooperation, something, Mr. Speaker, which you know I bring to this House each and every day, we agreed to consider a change.

With respect to political staffers jumping the queue and getting priority placement over other applicants for public service jobs, the Senate wants to allow partisan political aides to get into our non-partisan public service. This is something that has deeply troubled public servants in the nation's capital for many years, where they want to compete for a job but the competition is cancelled and a political appointee gets the job.

If we believe in the merit principle, there should be competition, and that is what we are seeking to do. This is an issue which was brought to my attention even before the election by the Public Service Alliance of Canada representatives, and it is certainly one which I support. Political aides, whether they be Liberal, Conservative or what have you, have a great deal of experience, but they should have to compete like everybody else for a job in the public service.

The other concern I had was the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board from inclusion under the Access to Information Act. We want to bring light where there is darkness. We believe that wheat and barley producers in western Canada should have the right to know what is going on at their Wheat Board. That is important. I was terribly distressed to see the unelected Liberal Senate try for the very first time to remove an agency from coverage under the Access to Information Act. Some people said we were not going far enough but then wanted to retreat. I say to the Canadian Wheat Board and its supporters, what have they got to hide? Let us bring more openness to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Adding exemptions for foundations under the Access to Information Act caused all of us a great deal of concern. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the Senate's amendments would place an unfair burden on the private sector, would shackle managers in the public service and would stifle innovation. This is especially true with the Senate's amendments to the sections dealing with whistleblowing.

Whistleblowing is important to me. It is important to the member for Nepean—Carleton, and I know it is important for all members. For my constituents in Ottawa West--Nepean this was an issue in the recent election. We want our public servants to be confident that they can step forward and follow a simple process to report wrongdoing without concern that they could lose their jobs and not be able to provide for their families. This is a change in culture that we want to take within the public service.

I suspect the measures contained in the federal accountability act go further than measures in any other western democracy with respect to protecting whistleblowers. I am very proud of that.

This House presented a balanced piece of legislation to the Senate and we are now faced with the task of having to restore that balance. This is especially dismaying given that the government demonstrated its willingness to work with the Senate to achieve a strong consensus. We agreed to a number of amendments to the bill, some before it ever reached the Senate, and others subsequently during the clause by clause deliberations in the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I should underline the great work done by the chair of that committee, Senator Don Oliver. He is an exceptional Canadian and he did an excellent job.

Unfortunately, this spirit of cooperation was either misunderstood or simply ignored by some hon. senators. That leaves the members of the elected House of Commons facing a major challenge. We must rebuild this legislation. We must strengthen it. We must restore the measures for increasing the accountability that Canadians want and deserve.

We will look at each of the Senate's proposed amendments on a case by case basis. We will judge each one on its merits. Some are acceptable, but the government cannot support them all.

I am very eager, as are my constituents in Ottawa West--Nepean, as I believe are Canadians in general, that the bill be implemented quickly, but we will not compromise our commitment to deliver more accountable government simply for the sake of expedience. In fact, let us be clear. The Senate, in proposing a host of counterproductive amendments, has unnecessarily delayed passage of the bill. Canadians will see this for what it is and I believe they will ultimately hold those responsible to account.

The federal accountability act and our federal accountability action plan as passed by the House focused on fixing problems. They focused on rewarding merit. They focused on achieving value for money and on being more honest and building a more effective government.

On June 16 I noted in the House that if this Parliament could do one single thing, it would be to end the culture of entitlement and replace it with a culture of accountability. This government remains absolutely committed to achieving that crucial objective.

I urge members of the House to help us meet this challenge by demonstrating the same spirit of cooperation they so wisely adopted four short months ago. Together we can ensure that the federal accountability act serves the purpose it was designed for: to provide a government based on openness and honesty which reflects the very best that Canada has to offer.

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12:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important bill. The minister is aware that the parties agreed not to have a vote. In fact, it was deemed to have been voted on and supported by all parties, but there still were concerns. The concerns were with regard to the haste at which the bill was put together. My issue is not so much there other than to make the point that about a third of the amendments that were proposed to the bill by the Senate were by Conservative senators. That is proof positive that there were some flaws in the bill.

My question has to do with the whistleblower act which was given royal assent last November in the last Parliament. It was a Liberal bill. It had the support of all parties; it passed unanimously in this place. It was going to create a new officer of Parliament. It was going to provide protection for whistleblowers, public servants who came forward to identify, as the minister quite rightly pointed out, wrongdoings by departmental officials and the government.

The issue is that the government still has not proclaimed that act. It has been a year now and it is not an act of law in Canada today because the government has not taken the opportunity to put it into place so that public servants could go to a new officer of Parliament and outline their concerns about the waste and mismanagement of the government.

Why has the minister not proclaimed the whistleblower act from the last Parliament? Will he do it now?

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12:20 p.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have real problems with Bill C-11. Conservative members in the last Parliament did vote for it. It was better than nothing. There was a huge change from the beginning of Bill C-11. The Liberal government of the day made massive changes at the end due to pressure.

I do not think one person who came before the committee hearings on Bill C-11 supported the bill, not a single one. Maybe when the Liberal members get up they will mention one group who supported Bill C-11. I look forward to hearing it, but certainly from the Hansard that I reviewed--

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12:20 p.m.

An hon. member

That is nonsense. Only one union was opposed.

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12:20 p.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We wanted to make it stronger. The Public Service Alliance of Canada had real concerns, as did its members. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada argued strongly that we should not repeal Bill C-11 through the federal accountability act; rather we should improve upon it, and we certainly accepted that advice.

We think that it was not strong. The Conservatives voted for it. It was better than nothing. I am happy to concede that. We think we can improve it. That is why when Parliament reconvened, the very first bill we presented was to do just that. It shows the priority that we placed on it.

I do not think there is a single public servant out there who would say that the improved Bill C-11 from the previous Parliament is not stronger and better as a result of the work by the member for Nepean—Carleton which the federal accountability act puts in place. As a member representing a riding here in the capital, I am certainly very proud of it.

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12:25 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share a few remarks and ask the minister a question. He is criticizing the Senate for having thoroughly studied the bill and wanting to make amendments. Yet in the same breath, he says that he wants the bill to be balanced.

Did the Senate not merely do the work that should have been done by the legislative committee responsible for Bill C-2, that is, take the time to carefully analyze each clause, hear witnesses, provide opinions, and make changes and amendments?

In fact, I myself sat on the legislative committee responsible for Bill C-2. Its schedule was very intensive, as the minister proudly pointed out. In six weeks' time, there were 72 days of meetings, totaling 890 hours. It was much too fast. The witnesses were paraded through at a dizzying pace and we did not even have the time to get to the bottom of our questions or explore all their comments. People were rushed through in groups. For example, there were people from the executive offices of all political parties, all sitting at the same table at one time. They were given only a few minutes each to speak and we had only a few minutes to ask them questions.

I feel that the Senate's work was reasonable and brought balance to this bill.

Here is my question. The minister said that he would accept certain amendments suggested by the Senate. Could he please tell us which ones he would accept?

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12:25 p.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. We have accepted many of the Senate amendments, as indicated in the motion we are debating and also in the notice paper. I am prepared to provide the list of these amendments in order to facilitate the debate.

I have no objections to the Senate doing its work after this House has adopted the bill. I have no objections to the Senate studying the bill for two or three months. The Senate studied the bill for 120 hours and I do not have a problem with that. What is a problem is that it took the Senate 140 days to study this bill.

The Senate worked for one week in late June and then adjourned for seven weeks. It returned to work for another week and then adjourned for one more week. In my opinion, therein lies the problem. The vast majority of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert or Ottawa West—Nepean residents do not have seven weeks' vacation.

In my opinion, the Senate dragged its feet and that is why we are here today. We are ready to discuss the amendments and to get on with the vote. It is very important for democracy and for accountability.

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12:30 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, another hon. Liberal member spoke about the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

It is whistleblower protection, as we say in English. The member asked why we must pass the accountability act with respect to whistleblower protection. I would remind him that the whistleblower protection that our government introduced as part of the accountability act is dramatically different from that which found itself in Bill C-11, the previous Liberal bill.

To begin with, every stakeholder group opposed the previous Liberal bill on whistleblower protection. There was no support among whistleblowers and virtually no support among public sector unions. There was strong opposition from PSAC. Every whistleblower who came before the committee opposed Bill C-11.

Quite to the contrary, the Conservative accountability act provides for two years of jail time for anyone who punishes or bullies a whistleblower. The bill would create a tribunal of judges who would be capable of ordering the restoration of a whistleblower's career and even provide back pay and consequences to those who abuse whistleblowers. All of that would be managed by an independent tribunal of judges, not by bureaucratic or political leaders.

Finally, it would remove the two cover-up clauses that the Liberals had put into the last whistleblower protection bill, the clauses that would have allowed information related to a whistleblower disclosure to be hidden for up to five years. We have eliminated that and the other cover-up clause.

Would the hon. President of the Treasury Board comment on the very profound improvements to whistleblower protection which are found in the accountability act?

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12:30 p.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, we wanted to make the act stronger. Whistleblower protection was a big issue in Ottawa West—Nepean and in Nepean—Carleton. I should also point out that this was also a big issue in the constituency of the New Democratic Party member for Ottawa Centre.

We felt the measures contained in Bill C-11 were not strong. We have worked together to fix it instead of mix it.