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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was resp.

Topics

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has always spoken very positively about the need for education, the need for students in Canada to have access to good education and, in our discussions in the foreign affairs and international development committee, the need to incent young students coming from other parts of the world to get their education in Canada.

However, we have some very grave concerns with Bill C-253, which initially contemplated that the deduction would be limited to an RESP annual contribution limit of $5,000, indexed after 2006. However, budget 2007 eliminated the RESP annual contribution limit and raised the lifetime contribution limit to $50,000 from $42,000.

Amendments to the Income Tax Act to implement these changes were made in Bill C-52, which was assented to in June 2007, to which the hon. member has alluded.

These changes were extremely well received. Indeed , Peter Lewis, chair of the Registered Education Savings Plan Dealers Association of Canada, called the changes “a very positive leap forward for Canadian families”. He went on to say:

These improvements will benefit all Canadian families, and provide even greater incentive to invest in their children's college or university education. And that's good for everyone.

We sincerely commend [the] Finance Minister...for recognizing the value and importance of encouraging families to save for post-secondary education.

The proposed amendments adjust the bill to reflect the elimination of the RESP annual contribution limit. The effect of the proposed amendments would be to allow a taxpayer to claim a deduction for RESP contributions of up to $50,000. The amount of the deduction would be reduced by the total RESP contributions made by the taxpayer in previous years.

As we have stated in analysis provided previously, the behavioural impact is uncertain. If the RESP contributions were to increase by 20%, the total fiscal cost of Bill C-253 would be $765 million per year, including a CESG cost increase of $85 million per year.

The proposed amendments, if adopted, would not allow RESP contributors any more leeway in allowing up to an annual $50,000 deduction for their contributions.

While it is uncertain how much this would exactly increase total RESP contributions and the specific long term costs of Bill C-253, it is likely the proposed changes could again increase the cost of the deduction in the early years following implementation.

Therefore, we will not be supporting Bill C-253.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill before us here today. This bill was examined in committee and my colleague from the Liberal Party who introduced the bill did a good job summarizing our discussions and the current situation.

I would like to give a bit of background on the evolution of this bill, which basically aims to establish deductions from taxable income for any contributions made to a registered education savings plan, in order to help our young people and our children meet their needs when they are studying. For what it is worth, it is not only a matter of paying tuition fees, but also of paying our students' living expenses. These young people often have to leave the family home, especially if they live in areas that do not have a university. Students must then rent an apartment and have a car, or some means of getting around. We must have measures in place to support them.

To encourage this type of investment in our youth, we want to create a system where contributions would be tax deductible. Currently, the money that is invested in a registered education savings plan grows tax free. In other words, income generated from this investment is not taxable, but the investment is not tax deductible. Of course, the interest is taxed later, when the student withdraws money from the fund.

As far as the progress of the bill is concerned, it was first introduced in this form and in a slightly different form where there was a general credit, equivalent to the same ceiling as the registered retirement savings plan, or 18% of income up to a maximum of $18,000. The Bloc Québécois had a problem with that because we felt this was really a disproportionate tax incentive that essentially benefited the wealthy. When a beneficiary withdraws money from their RRSP, that person pays the tax. An RRSP, is used to defer income tax until a later time. The taxes saved when a person invests in the RRSP are paid at the end, when they withdraw the money for retirement.

This is not the case for a registered education savings plan, or RESP, since we can save taxes and it is the beneficiary, a student, who receives the money and will have to pay taxes. Obviously, since students are in school, for the most part, they will not pay taxes.

I will give a concrete example based on the current state of things with the amendments proposed by the Liberals. For example, in a given year, a taxpayer could earn $150,000 and contribute $50,000 to an RESP. Therefore, he would have a tax refund of $14,500. Then, in the next five years, his child could withdraw $10,000 from that RESP without paying taxes on the money withdrawn. Ultimately, we would have given $14,500 to the rich.

To avoid that, it was proposed in committee to set the yearly maximum at $4,000 or $5,000, adjusted for inflation. Proposals were made, but they no longer work, since they referred to a section in the legislation that, in the meantime—as my colleague explained—has been amended by the ways and means motion on the budget.

At that point, the law became ineffective.

As such, we cannot support this bill in its current form. That is why, at the end of my presentation, I will propose an amendment to the bill to make it acceptable to all.

I am sure that the sponsor of the bill will support this amendment, which limits the amount that a person can contribute in a given year so that the person is obliged to contribute over time. This will benefit the middle class, not just the rich.

The Conservatives will also be able to support this amendment to the amendment because it will limit the cost of the measure by preventing taxpayers from claiming a $50,000 tax credit all at once, for example.

The NDP is also concerned about education. Like the Bloc Québécois, the NDP does not want to bring in tax breaks that will benefit only the rich, not the middle class, so it will surely support my amendment to the amendment.

The committee did a lot of work on this. The vagaries of procedure often yield unexpected results. Nevertheless, I am sure that we can come up with a good version of this bill. The amendment I wish to propose would limit the maximum yearly contribution, or at least the maximum yearly tax deduction, to $5,000, which is better than letting the credit reach the lifetime deduction limit, as set out in the present bill. The Bloc Québécois will not support the bill without this amendment. I am sure that this condition will enable all parties to support this bill.

Consequently, seconded by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, I move:

That Motion No. 2 be amended by adding after the word “years” the following:

“, to a maximum of $5,000.”

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I declare the amendment to the amendment to be in order.

The debate is on the amendment to the amendment.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to support Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions). I would like to commend my hon. colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East for his efforts in promoting this bill and for his dedication to expanding access to post-secondary education in Canada.

This issue is of particular importance to the many young families in my riding of Bramalea—Gore—Malton. In these families I see much joy, laughter and hope, but at the same time I see parents who are concerned for the future. They worry that the rising cost of post-secondary education will hurt their children's ability to get the training they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy.

Every parent wants what is best for their children. However, the day to day costs of running a household and raising a family all too often push to the back burner the task of planning for the future. The purpose of this legislation is to make payments into registered education savings plans tax deductible in order to give Canadians an increased incentive to invest their hard-earned money in their children's post-secondary education. By doing so, the process of education planning will be made easier for Canadian families.

The current trend of sharply rising tuition fees has made planning for education after high school more important than ever before. According to the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada, the average cost of tuition at Canadian universities rose by almost 400% between 1988 and 2007. Residence, textbooks and other fees are also going up, adding to the undue financial stress felt by post-secondary students and their families. The increase in fees over the past 20 years has been far beyond the rate of inflation and is part of a trend that seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations estimates that a four year degree and associated fees will cost approximately $77,000 for students commencing their studies in 2010. By 2020, the same degree will cost over $130,000. Incredibly, these are only the estimated costs for undergraduate programs, not for professional and graduate degrees. Students who decide to pursue a career in medicine, dentistry or law can count on paying even more in order to obtain their qualifications.

Current government grant and scholarship programs only go part of the way toward helping students cover the extraordinary cost of education after high school. Although there are a number of federal and provincial programs intended to counteract the increasing cost of post-secondary education, not all students who need help qualify for government financial assistance. Many young people are unable to attend a post-secondary institution, not because they are unwilling or academically unable, but because they are essentially forgotten under the current student assistance regime.

Under the present student aid system, there exists a middle income gap. In this gap are families with incomes high enough that their children do not qualify for need based grants and loans but not high enough to pay for their children to attend university. The middle income gap is a considerable barrier to post-secondary education for many students and could be offset by encouraging increased investment in RESPs.

Even for those who qualify for financial assistance, loans can only be considered a stop-gap measure. While federal and provincial student loans help some families cope in the short term with the rising cost of education, this increased reliance on loans as a funding mechanism is leading to an alarming level of student debt.

Statistics Canada reports that between 1999 and 2005 the amount of student debt held by Canadians rose by 15.8%. In the same period, the overall amount of debt held by individuals and families in Canada increased by an astonishing 47.5%.

Shouldering such a large amount of debt is stressful not only for individual families but also for the economy as a whole. In a society with more debt than any that came before it, parents must be given the chance to plan for the future in order to avoid saddling students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even enter the workforce. Enabling young people beginning their careers and starting families to embark on their adult lives with a lower amount of debt is a worthwhile goal, one this bill can help to achieve.

Of course, care must be taken so that RESPs do not become attractive to dishonest individuals looking for an easy tax shelter. Fortunately, even with the changes proposed in the bill, adequate regulations are in place to discourage individuals from abusing the RESP system.

Education assistance payments can only be paid out in the event that the beneficiary is enrolled in a qualified program at a post-secondary institution, is unable to enrol in a post-secondary program due to medical incapacitation, or is deceased. Furthermore, in the event that the beneficiary does not attend a post-secondary institution and the subscriber withdraws accumulated income payments, a 20% penalty is levied in addition to the usual tax payable on the income. Finally, although the monthly limit on contributions has been removed, the lifetime contribution limit of $50,000 ensures that RESPs are not attractive to individuals simply looking for a tax deferral vehicle.

This bill is not intended to completely solve the problem of access to post-secondary education. Continual efforts must also be made to expand need and merit based initiatives such as the millennium scholarship program, and to increase access to government student loans. But for families who would otherwise find it difficult to commit to minimum monthly RESP contributions, this bill would make it easier to invest in their children's future.

By raising the rate of participation in RESPs, more Canadians will be able to afford the education they need for the jobs of today and the future. Registered retirement savings plans use similar tax incentives to encourage Canadians to plan for life after work. It is time to give the same advantage to families planning their children's education.

Although the government seems determined to provide the wrong kind of tax incentives for Canada's future, I hope my colleagues across the floor will join me in supporting this legislation. We have before us an opportunity to empower ordinary families. By supporting this bill, Parliament can help Canadians secure a bright and prosperous future for their sons and daughters and for the country as a whole.

In my riding of Bramalea--Gore--Malton, there are many new immigrants who cannot afford to send their children to university. If we pass this bill, all people will be pleased and at least they will have an opportunity for their children to attend university in the future.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue and support my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East with whom I have served on the industry committee for a number of years. I applaud him for this bill. I personally support the bill.

It does not completely address the current post-secondary education affordability situation for our youth, but it is one tool that could be effective in allowing more contributions and better planning for families. That is important.

In the riding of Windsor West we have the St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology which has been very successful, not only in terms of training young people, but also in making sure they have the right tools to succeed in employment. We also have the University of Windsor which is well known for its law programs, as well as other different types of institutions which have been successful in the past years. However, successive governments have attacked young people far too much by downloading the cost of education onto the backs of young people. The recent budget was another example of that.

Until there is a real fix, Bill C-253 would at least provide an opportunity for people to plan to save in order to gain access to education. The New Democratic Party has been calling for an overhaul of the education system. That is important. This country has lagged behind the developed world and other G-8 nations in providing affordable education. In fact it is one of the biggest scandals that has happened.

Our youth are being fettered by the tax cuts and benefits that have been given to other people. Training has been put entirely on the backs of our youth. There are record tax cuts for the oil and gas industry and the banks. At the same time students are expected to pick up the full cost to get their training and degrees, which do not pay a wage at the end of the day and they have to pay off their loans. That is unacceptable.

Government members should be embarrassed and ashamed for their obstruction attempts on this bill. It has gone through several machinations at committee. I was a participant at one of those committee meetings and I saw that the government members were trying to do anything they could to unplug any type of benefit.

It is important to note that we are passing on a legacy of debt and a problem that relates to our overall productivity in our society. Students come out of university and college having worked hard, having done everything they could to get the grades necessary to be competitive. They made a choice about which institution they wanted to go to. They made a financial commitment and they come out of the post-secondary institution literally with mortgages that they have to pay off. It is unacceptable. On top of that, the current government and the past one let the creditors become predators. Students are paying high interest rates. It is unacceptable.

We can look toward other nations that have increased their productivity by lowering the cost of post-secondary education. That is one of the most effective things we could do to make sure we have a trained society.

We hear all the rhetoric from the current government and the previous government about a new emerging economy but they will not do anything to improve the accessibility to the necessary training. We need to help put the skills into the hands of our young citizens. They are the future providers of our country which continues to need the development to sustain our quality of life.

This bill is an opportunity to do something. It is important to note that besides the government's trying to stop this bill from going forward, the Conservatives were the ones who stole half a billion dollars from students in the student debt program which we negotiated with the Liberals in a former deal, because the Liberals never passed the legislation and procedures to get the half a billion dollars to the students. The Conservatives took that debt money, and they still owe $500 million to students across this country to lower their debt. The Conservatives took that from them.

Not only have the Conservatives not provided the proper programs or structure related to having affordable education and the payment of it after that, they actually took money away from students. They took it away from them and put it toward other priorities such as corporate tax cuts, or whatever those priorities might be, and at the same time we are witnessing our young people treading water in our education system.

What does it mean? From experience, I remember the first interview I had when I was first elected in 2002. I was asked what I would do with all the money I would be making as an MP. I said that the first thing my wife and I would do is pay off our student loans, and that is what happened. My wife and I had worked every single year. I had actually worked since age 9. We worked all the way through university. My wife has a couple of post-secondary degrees. However, we still had to borrow some money to get by and to afford our education.

That is the normal experience and that is what is happening right now. Students are misunderstood and the government does not even get it. Those people who actually have to pay for their education are working. They are working one and two jobs. They work not just during the summer, but during the year. They are learning and providing for themselves, and trying to reduce their debt burden for the future.

The Conservatives have instituted and helped provide the lightest coverage of the last 10 years of a system that has downloaded onto the backs of young people an awful burden with significant social consequences. As a result people come out of school with a larger debt load. It is okay for students to have to borrow, but not the government. They actually have to pay the interest on their debt.

People in my riding and across the country with this debt burden are paying the interest on their loans, which is being compounded. At the same time, they cannot buy a home. They cannot buy a new car. They cannot start the lifestyle they want at this point in time because they are paying off that debt. It is unnecessary.

We have a challenge in this day and age. There has been a lot of debate in the House of Commons over the last couple of years about pensions. I know right now that the people I serve in my community have a lot harder time getting a job with a pension.

When individuals begin their education, they have to go to school longer to get higher qualifications, which not only takes a longer period of time, but costs more money. These people are finishing later in life. They are delaying starting a family. They are delaying purchasing their first home and so forth, and they do not have the money to invest in their own retirement because they are paying off all that debt. The government is passing on that burden to them and it is doing it with no sense of accountability. That bothers me.

Here in this bill there is a modest attempt to deal with the situation, to provide some tools to those who can actually afford it and who will be successful for themselves and their families. That is why it should be supported.

I cannot understand for the life of me why the government does not understand that right now. It does not understand the value of education. It does not understand the value of having people come through an educational stream and not having a huge debt burden after that.

In the current economic situation, there is a good chance people will require more training. More people now go back to school for training, whether it be college or university, after they have a degree than ever before. They are picking up new skills. They are picking up new types of knowledge. That is important for our productivity and how we will be measured against our competitors across the globe.

We should be encouraging that. An educated civil society that is able to respond to the new economic challenges is an important feature, but it has to be coupled with being affordable to those individuals.

Instead, we have other priorities. Earlier this evening, the Conservatives talked about wanting to create a new bureaucracy for public-private partnerships. They will shovel $25 million into a new bureaucracy so they can sell off Canada as it currently exists, and future projects. It is done straight from ideology. They could reverse those resources and put them toward education. They could put them toward a whole series of other things. They are more concerned with those things. and that is troubling.

When we look at the OECD nations and what they are doing, they are being very successful at making sure that students and people in their society are receiving good training and good skills. They are well educated and they are productive. It is not just when they are young, but they can return to those institutions like mine, St. Clair College and the University of Windsor, and pick up additional competitive skills and get back out into the labour force and make Canada successful.

Why the government does not understand that it is a value-added commodity for our productivity that will allow us to compete is beyond me. The Conservatives would rather put the burden on the shoulders of a few people and expect them to get by. That is unacceptable.

I would encourage members to support the bill because once again, it is at least something to fight back with on this issue. Once again, we cannot allow the government to continually download this burden of debt on to individuals and their communities.

It is a cycle of failure to allow post-secondary education costs to continually escalate through the ceiling and, at the same time, not provide students with the resources to be successful.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments to this very important debate on education and the tools that are required by families to make sure that their children have the financial requirements needed to receive a post-secondary education.

This bill, Bill C-253, that has been put forward by my hon. colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East is a very important piece of legislation. It is, I think, worthy of this House's attention. Also, we hope that we will have it go forward, both to committee and then to the Senate.

Bill C-253 is an act to amend the Income Tax Act respecting the deductibility of registered education savings plans, RESPs, contributions.

There is nothing more important than the future prosperity of Canada's youth and having a highly educated workforce. All of us in this House, on a number of occasions, have spoken of the importance of higher education and the importance of education for our young people. It is unfortunate that so many of our young people are getting themselves into debt.

I was looking at some statistics that I would like to share with this House. The average undergraduate tuition fee has almost doubled, from $2,023 in 1993-94, to $4,025 in 2003-04. An increase in tuition fees is partly responsible for an increase in student debt.

It is a terrible shame that in a country like Canada where we have incredible wealth and resources that so many young people are in debt.

I have always compared Canada as sort of in the middle between Europe and the U.S. Many of the western European countries have almost free education. It is not the case of course for all of them because some of them do have high fees for their education. However, overall Canada is the middle ground between the European system and the American system, which is very costly.

I was speaking to a colleague of mine at Oxford, where I am taking a masters degree in international law. She told me that tuition fees for her children would be about $200,000 at the end of four years. It is an incredible amount of money to pay for one child to go to school and if a person has four children, which she does, it is an enormous burden. She said she will be working until she dies in order to help her kids pay for the outrageous tuition fees.

We are not in that situation in Canada, and I thank God for that, but we are not quite like the European model, which has a very generous education system which allows their young people to attend higher levels of education.

We have to do more as a government, as a society, as legislators, to make sure that our young people are getting the tools, the resources they need, for higher education and to make sure that it is affordable higher education as well.

Because of the soaring costs of education, more Canadians are unable to attend institutions of higher learning and that is deeply concerning, especially in a society like ours which requires highly trained individuals to meet the demands of the labour force.

It is projected that by 2010 a four-year degree program could cost in excess of $100,000. That is certainly getting more closer to the American model and that is very worrisome because that American model is one that we do not want to emulate. It is extremely costly and it is a huge burden to families for their children's education. They have many burdens and obstacles in the U.S., from health care to education and many other issues.

We cherish our friendship with our American neighbours, but there are many things they can learn from us, and on this aspect they can certainly learn a great deal.

I commend my hon. colleague from Pickering--Scarborough East for putting forward this important and valuable private member's bill to hopefully address some of these concerns. We realize that it is impossible to have all these concerns and issues addressed. We also need our provincial partners assisting us.

All of us know that Canada is one of the few members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that does not have a federal minister of education. Most countries around the world, certainly most western democracies, have a federal minister of education.

We do not have a federal minister of education because that responsibility rests in provincial hands and that is, of course, a relic of our historical past, a relic of our Constitution, which put the issue of education strictly in provincial hands. We can have arguments about whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, but at that time it was needed to probably deal with issues both linguistic and religious.

In today's society one would wonder if there should not be some type of minister at the federal level, if not a minister of education than at least somebody who would have authority and responsibility for post-secondary education. We need some coordinated efforts. We need a minister who could, in fact, deal with provincial members and his or her counterparts to address the ever rising costs of tuition in this country.

All of us in the House are deeply concerned, but we need a coordinated effort. This legislation would be one piece of the pie, a tool we could say, that would go a long way toward addressing the concerns that we have. Clearly, it is not enough. A lot more has to be done.

Rising student debt is deeply troubling. I am the official opposition's critic for the Treasury Board and I do not know if it was a pleasure, or a burden, to look through the estimates. It was quite tedious work. Going through the estimates, I noticed that the government is spending huge sums of money, in fact millions of dollars, to go after students for not paying their loans. We realize that students have to pay their loans, but it seems a bit ludicrous to spend millions of dollars when the government has not ceded to students across this country.

The millennium scholarship fund was brought in by the previous Liberal government under the leadership of the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien. The prime minister at that time envisioned this as a great opportunity for many young people, especially those who are disadvantaged in our society, to receive this type of funding in order to assist them to attend post-secondary education.

Millions of dollars have gone into my riding of Davenport for students' post-secondary education through the millennium scholarship. I am very pleased that scholarship was put into place. I am hoping that the government will see the benefits of this scholarship program and renew it because it does need to be renewed.

Students across this country are calling for the government to renew this important fund that has helped thousands of students across this country to deal with some of the financial burden facing them in post-secondary education.

Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions) is an important piece of legislation that the House should support. I congratulate my hon. colleague from Pickering--Scarborough East for his efforts on behalf of students across this country. I hope this will pass so that future generations can benefit from this important piece of legislation.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating my hon. colleague for Pickering—Scarborough East for bringing forward this bill.

The whole area of post-secondary education is one that should concern all Canadians when we look at the situation we are faced with in this country, with a looming skills shortage in many areas. We have to look at the issue of productivity and the need for our country to remain competitive in the future as large numbers of Canadians get older. It is what we call the “grey wave” as the baby boomers age.

This creates a huge problem for our society. The fact is that people are going to be retiring at a much faster rate than they are coming into the workforce. It is partly a result, of course, of our low birthrate in Canada. We are not reproducing ourselves, so to speak.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

If we could go home, we would.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, some of my hon. colleagues across the way seem to be anxious. They seem to be interested in this concept, but I will not go any farther in that direction. I think I will stick to the topic at hand, that of youth and the economy and the clear importance of investing in education.

In my riding, I find that many families have a tough time affording a university or community college education, yet it is so important for individuals and young people to have the opportunity to go to university or a community college and gain from that experience. They end up with a much better opportunity and a much better chance not only of being employed full time for the rest of their lives, but also of having a higher level of income. In both respects, it is very important to have that background.

One of the problems we face is that lower income families in particular, but young people generally, when they look at the options before them, may say that if they go to university it is going to cost an awful lot, they will have to borrow money, and they will have a huge debt. They ask themselves if they will get a good job after university that will allow them to pay off that debt, or if they should go somewhere right away where they can get some other kind of job that may not be as good in the long run but gets them a decent salary right away and gets them into the workforce.

The problem is that too many young people will say that they do not want to take the risk of incurring that enormous debt. For so many students today, it is an enormous debt. It can be as much as $100,000 or more after four or more years of university. If a person takes more than one degree, for example, if he or she wants to become a professional such as a doctor, or for other reasons a second degree to become a lawyer, et cetera, that can be incredibly costly for young people.

Students look at that and some turn away. They say no, they cannot afford it, it is too much, they are not going that route and they are going into the workforce. The fact of the matter is that in the future we face shortages in a whole range of skill areas and a whole range of careers. We already have seen it starting in our country. There is no shortage of people running to be members of Parliament, but that is another issue.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

We need more.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

We do need more on this side. That is for sure.

Last year the human resources committee was looking at the issue of employability, which broadly includes the issue of the skills shortage and also the issue of people who are left behind, people who are unable to fully take part in our society and unable to benefit from our prosperity in the way they should because they do not have the skills they need or they might have disabilities or other kinds of social problems that affect them.

The challenge we face as a society is to find ways to ensure that everyone in our society has a chance to take part, that no one is left behind.

In the case of people with disabilities, for example, we heard at our committee that there are often times when an employer, with a few small adjustments in the workplace, can make it possible for a person with a disability to come in and work and make an enormous contribution. At committee, we had examples of employers who talked about the fantastic benefits they had from getting terrific people. They would not have had those people if they had not made a few adjustments to their workspace to make it possible for them to work there.

More and more, as employers have difficulty getting the people they need with the skills they need, they are going to have to look at various options, but also we as a society have to make sure that people are ready to take the jobs that are available now and in the future.

This is an enormously important challenge for us, because if we do not do that, we face a number of potential problems. One of those problems is inflation as there are fewer people available to do jobs. For instance, if we want renovations done to our house and we are looking to get--

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I know the hon. member for Halifax West will be devastated that his time has expired and that the time provided for the consideration of private member's business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an old proverb that most of us were taught as children. It states, “actions speak louder than words”.

The government's actions in regard to the issue of the death penalty speak much louder than its words. It says one thing on the issue of the death penalty but acts completely differently.

With respect to a Canadian citizen, Mr. Ronald Smith, who is on death row in Montana, the government breaks with long-standing traditions and policies and declares that it will not seek clemency for this man.

I have with me a letter that was sent to the governor, Brian Schweitzer, from the leader of the official opposition expressing the conviction of millions of Canadians who want to see Mr. Smith's sentence commuted.

The government also abandoned a long-standing policy by having Canada withdraw sponsorship of a United Nations Human Rights Commission resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide.

From 1998 to 2005, Canada co-sponsored the resolution each year, along with countries like Britain, France, Australia and the European Union nations, among others. One of those nations, Portugal, actually abolished the death penalty on July 1, 1867, the date on which our country was founded.

Those who opposed the resolution, and in fact intensely criticized the co-sponsors, were countries like China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States which, coincidentally, account for 90% of the world's executions. In Iran, for example, we know that Iranians are regularly executed for clearly political reasons and even due to their sexual orientation. Human rights in many countries like Iran are either unheard of or intolerably curtailed.

The death penalty is inhumane and incompatible with basic human rights and errors cannot be corrected. The United Nations resolution itself states, “...any miscarriage or failure of justice in [its] implementation is irreversible and irreparable”.

The Canadian government's decision spurred Canada's former Supreme Court justice and the current United Nations Human Rights commissioner, Louise Arbour, to state:

The High Commissioner believes that not seeking clemency is very troubling, and so is the fact that Canada is not among the co-sponsors of the draft resolution of the UN General Assembly on a global moratorium on capital punishment.

The government is, by its actions, indirectly accepting the death penalty as a means of punishment. I remind hon. members of the words of former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, who stated:

Are we, as a society, so lacking in respect for ourselves, so lacking in hope for human betterment, so socially bankrupt that we are ready to accept state vengeance as our penal philosophy?

To borrow words from our former prime minister, I would maintain that we should not “accept” capital punishment anywhere in the world.

When the history of our age is written, let us be remembered as people who built a world, not upon cruel relics of the past but rather hopeful pillars of the future.

The words of Nelson Mandela are succinct in summarizing this issue when he stated, “The death sentence is a barbaric act”.

Why is the government taking Canada backwards with regard to this barbaric act?

7:25 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is good to have the opportunity to address this issue. The Minister of Justice has repeatedly stated in the House that the government is not changing the law in our country with respect to the death penalty.

In 1976 Canada abolished the death penalty from the Criminal Code, and continues to encourage countries around the world to do the same. However, the government acknowledges that the legal systems of foreign jurisdictions may have differing views on this issue.

Although the government recognizes the sovereign decision of each state to determine its own laws, the government also continues to advocate for the full respect for international safeguards where the death penalty is still in use. On November 15, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution that called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Canada supported that resolution and voted with the co-sponsors against efforts to undermine the purpose of the resolution.

As the House can see, Canada is taking a stand internationally on this issue.

With respect to clemency, as the Minister of Justice has said, our government will deal with the issue on a case by case basis. Potentially, if another country will only grant clemency on the basis of the offender being repatriated to Canada, we may have difficulty inasmuch as an offender who has committed murder abroad could potentially be eligible for parole in Canada and subsequently be free to live in our communities.

As is evident from our ambitious justice agenda, our government's first priority is to protect Canadians. We would be abdicating that responsibility by the potential release of a murderer, particularly one who has committed not one but multiple murders.

I am confident that Canadians do not want murderers free to roam our streets, especially if they have not served a sentence proportionate to the seriousness of their crime.

As the Minister of Justice has said in the House, “This country, and this government in particular, has an outstanding record with respect to human rights at home and abroad. It is a record for which all Canadians can be very proud”.

We will continue to fight for Canadians and ensure that our families are safe.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and the government clearly do not understand the issue. This is not about safety. It is about our moral responsibility as a society, as a country and as a nation to say no to the death penalty.

It is absurd to hear the member say that the minister will deal with this on case by case basis. That is totally wrong and against every tradition our country has ever fought for and believes in. This is totally irresponsible.

The government tries to play semantics and uses all sorts of measures to avoid accountability for what it is doing. The reality is by failing to seek clemency for Canadians and by failing to back the UN moratorium resolution, the government is taking Canada backwards with regard to the death penalty.

Recently the journal of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the Jurist, stated unequivocally that the Canadian government action on the death penalty marked a sharp departure in Canadian foreign policy. The reality is more than clear to observers in Canada and across the world. The government is moving away from Canada's traditional opposition to the death penalty and our deep commitment to human rights.

I ask the government to acknowledge its misguided policy as a first step toward correcting itself on this most fundamental issue. Restore our country's noble and honourable position on the death penalty, and let us once again embrace the beliefs of Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau and leave in the past views that should only find their home there.

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite incorrect. The government has done more to advance human rights in the last two years than the previous Liberal government did in thirteen years.

I will give one particular example of that. What is really ironic is we never hear members from the opposite side, members from the Liberal benches, mention victims of crime. We never hear them mention protection of society. We are doing that. It is what Canadians told us to do. They told us to act to protect Canadians. That is why we brought in justice legislation and that is why we will continue to stand up for the rights of Canadians, both here and abroad.

The Minister of Justice has been very clear on this issue. It will be considered on a case by case basis, but we will not repatriate, in this case, someone who has been convicted of multiple murders.

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

A motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1)

(The House adjourned at 7:33 p.m.)