Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak on Bill C-207 put forward by the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. This bill amends the Income Tax Act for the purpose of giving tax credits to new graduates working in designated regions. It is designed to encourage new graduates from universities, colleges and other institutions to settle in economically depressed areas by offering them a non-refundable tax credit for the first year.
I happen to represent a region where employment is very high and the economy very strong, but it was not always so. Could this kind of measure have helped, I wondered? It was also helpful, in considering this bill, to have the opportunity, last week, to meet 30 or so young people from rural British Columbia. Among them were new graduates as well as soon to be graduates. This fuelled my thought process and led me to the following conclusions.
In my opinion, the NDP could, with some reservation, support this bill in principle because it would level the playing field for rural communities, given that urban centres have a clear advantage over them when it comes to recruiting qualified workers. The bill would benefit low and middle income families in rural communities across Canada and help consolidate the social and economic situation of these communities by addressing depopulation and youth out-migration.
That said, it should be pointed out that this bill is but a tiny step in the right direction. For example, it encourages graduates to find work in economically depressed areas, but does so only for one year, as our colleague said a moment ago. The Quebec program from which this bill draws, if I heard correctly, takes a more gradual approach, providing a maximum credit of $3,000 per year, up to a lifetime maximum of $8,000. It also includes a financial incentive for three years or more. Personally, I am not sure that a one-year financial incentive would be sufficient to achieve the objectives sought by the hon. member.
Our second reservation about the program has to do with the fact that it could prove to be extremely ineffective if it is not rounded out by a comprehensive regional development plan. The proposed tax credit would be granted to recent graduates working in a region that is, pursuant to the terms of the Regional Development Incentives Act:
...determined to require special measures to facilitate economic expansion and social adjustment.
And, more precisely, a region where:
...existing opportunities for productive employment in the region are exceptionally inadequate.
Is it wise to send recent graduates to regions where employment opportunities are exceptionally inadequate, according to the terms in the act? For the people who already live in such areas, we should be finding ways to create more jobs before trying to draw more workers.
Instead or perhaps in addition to this tax credit incentive, it would be wiser to enhance the summer career placement program as opposed to cutting it in half, as the Conservatives are proposing to do. This would have the benefit of increasing employment opportunities in economically depressed regions.
The Conservatives saw some flaws in this program that are real but should have and could have been remedied. Rural and low employment communities as well as non-profit sector employers in urban areas should continue to benefit from this program, especially in light of the enormous student debt that new graduates are facing at the moment.
In the last Parliament an all-party committee in a unanimous report by the human resources committee recommended substantial changes to the funding allocation formula for the summer career placement program which is presently based on the number of students in the riding.
When the 2001 census numbers were factored into the formula, there were significant cuts in several ridings, especially the rural, northern, inner city or smaller ones. The committee recommended that disadvantaged and rural populations be factored into riding allocation formulas. The committee also recommended that students over 30, often single mothers, be eligible. Right now only students 15 to 30 may apply.
The summer career placement program is a very valuable one for numerous non-profit groups who could not otherwise offer competitive wages or afford to hire students at all to do valuable work in the community; as well, for small town rural business people to help students avoid having to go to bigger cities to find work.
The government is saying it will better target the program to at risk youth and to ensure that profitable businesses who can afford to pay higher wages do not get subsidized.
I agree that the program could be better targeted but targeting does not mean cutting. The government could target better at current funding levels and have a far greater impact.
The NDP would propose instead to restore full funding for the summer career placement program and implement the committee's recommendations that I have already mentioned. The NDP would also get to work in tackling the root of the problem and that is unaffordable post-secondary education especially for rural and low income families. If we want to attract graduates to economically depressed areas, ideally they should be from these regions and be coming home to work.
Right now tuition and other education costs have grown out of reach for even middle income families in Canada. That is the problem that we must tackle. Debt burdens are overwhelming for Canadian graduates and just as they begin their careers they are foreclosing their options and their career choices.
The traditional Liberal-Conservative answer has been to make student loans more accessible and therefore dramatically increase student debt in Canada. It has allowed students from rural areas to benefit and to get post-secondary education, but they simply complete their program burdened with unacceptable debt.
As I said, what we would propose is to tackle the root of the problem by making post-secondary education more affordable, by creating a national program of non-repayable grants that would prevent these huge debt levels. We would also propose to overhaul the student loan system which has become very inflexible.
Retargeting to those in greater need is really a piece of the solution that I hope my colleague from the Bloc, who has proposed this bill, would consider as a partial solution to the problem that is faced in certain areas.
The intention behind the bill is commendable. The bill represents the beginnings of a solution to a serious problem in certain regions of Canada. However, I urge the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord to convince his colleagues from the Bloc and all members of the House to support the NDP's vision for post-secondary education, which proposes a global, comprehensive view, in order to inspire hope in our students and in Canada's rural areas and small communities.