Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for York West for her extremely important and enlightening comments in her capacity as former minister of immigration and a very diligent member of Parliament on this file. She continues to remind us that it is extremely important for us to declare to Canadians why these changes are being made on the fly through a legislative piece that was brought back as a ways and means motion, a motion that I would suggest really is about covering the Conservative agenda with respect to important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is critical that you be in the chair today because I am on my feet not only because of this bill but because of what the bill is attempting to do.
The will of the House of Commons was expressed very clearly on March 5 of this year. This was after a ruling that you, Mr. Speaker, made some two years ago, but which was obviously lost on Conservative members, including the Minister of Finance. He assumed that once a bill was votable that it might have an impact with respect to lessening of tax that he should not consider this, not just once but in two separate budgets. He completely and utterly ignored and threw away prudent fiscal understanding of the implications of various bills which should have been routine and instead worked with several other people to try to suggest that my bill, Bill C-253, which would give a chance for families to save in a very real way, to save for post-secondary education, by making RESPs income tax deductible and completely forgot the principle of the importance of a decision made by the House.
The bill is nowhere near dead. As we know, the bill is before the other House and is now at second reading there. I hope it is given the equal consideration and time it takes to have an important piece of legislation passed.
It seems to me that when we are talking about the future of this country we may have differences of opinions as to how this country ought to be led and how it ought to be managed but the one thing we cannot disagree with are some of the imperatives.
Students face an incredible amount of debt. Over 50% of students right now face incredible crippling debts as they leave post-secondary education, long before they are able to pay any type of debt down. It is difficult enough for them to try to find a job.
In 10 years from now we know that the average cost of education, with four years in residence, will be $100,000. Given the average income of families, I do not see how it will be possible under the current regime to have a situation where so many people will not have access to the skills that come with higher education and the training that the global economy demands in order for Canada to remain competitive. It is a reality that we all as members of Parliament agree with.
I have spoken to several members of the Conservative Party who over the years supported this bill. Dare I say that they probably voted against the bill at the final reading, although the will of the House was expressed in much greater numbers, because they were jealous? They knew this was a policy that was good for the future of this country.
I have letter after letter and members of the House on all sides received letters from their constituents asking them time and time again to not kill the bill.
I am pleased to report that those rumours of the death of my bill, which were pronounced in some of the media and greatly exaggerated in some editorials, were only rumours. The same editorials also suggested, and I am hoping some of those editorialists are listening to this, that the bill was passed by stealth, that it required a royal recommendation. I will not benefit the author of several stories in one particular paper, but it was someone who actually thought that what had been done here by parliamentarians was tantamount to what happened in 1840, which is why Lord Durham had to be brought in.
There was no revolution here. There was instead a recognition and understanding that in a minority Parliament, in a setting where Canadians expect more from their parliamentarians, members of Parliament, backbench members of Parliament of all parties worked deliberatively, not for a day, not for a week, not for a month and not through gamesmanship, but over two years to ensure that a piece of legislation on RESP deductibility would in fact be put forward.
I am speaking today to the fact that the bill, far from being killed, is the subject of Bill C-50, which I will refer to as the killer-hunter bill proposed by the Minister of Finance.
The Minister of Finance's own riding of Whitby—Oshawa is one that I represented and I know that the Minister of Finance will know that this is so popular an issue if this is in fact going to be an election issue, which it could very well be. I know full well that it is something that I am prepared to take to the door of his riding, a riding I once represented. I can tell the House that anyone who has families, anyone who has children, anyone who wants to live the dream of this country will know that this legislation is not only timely it is supportable.
A decision made by this House of Commons, by these members of Parliament in the majority, is simply thrown away because someone has suggested that somehow it will put the country into fiscal danger.
Who put us there?
The Minister of Finance has an obligation, quite apart from his pathetic critique of the bill on RESP deductibility, which many of his members support, to explain to Canadians how it is that he took a $13.2 billion surplus and blew it away overnight.
The member from British Columbia is looking this way.
What happens if we have another forest fire in that region of the country or floods in Quebec? What if we have a national disaster of some proportion that will cost us several hundred million dollars?
When we see that amount of money that could potentially put the country at risk, we have put ourselves in a very precarious financial situation and we have not planned for the future.
We know that south of the border the federal reserve chair, Mr. Bernanke, is suggesting that we are teetering on a recession. There is no doubt that there are implications for my province and for provinces across the country. This government did not plan. It had no plan. It is extinguishing the hopes and aspirations of young people to get access to a better job, to pay the kind of taxes, to grow the kind of country and to recognize that with an aging population we need to get this right and we need to get it right now.
This bill is not the be all end all. The bill that I proposed on the RESP, which this bill, Bill C-50, proposes to kill at some point down the road, is in fact decidedly a bill that is designed to use the issue of confidence before anything that the government disagrees with.
Yes, the hon. members will probably ask us whether we will be supporting this or not. That is still a few months off, perhaps even a few weeks off, but the one thing that is clear is the idea with respect to the RESP bill is something that we cannot ignore.
I am glad to hear the NDP members cat howling in the corner but they supported this bill. They have stood, and I applaud them for doing that, to support this bill because of its importance. The Bloc also supported this bill.
They know full well that it is very important for the future of our country that students have the opportunity to get an education regardless of cost. We also have an opportunity to help the provinces, which will give students more money to invest in their futures and to go on to universities, colleges or apprenticeships.
We must not fail the next generation. Universities that want to increase their capacity for investing in infrastructure, human and physical, will not need to go cap in hand to the provinces and say that they want to raise tuition fees. There is a greater certainty now that this vehicle addresses what ordinary average families have been looking for.
In one fell swoop, with this particular legislation, the Minister of Finance and the House leader crafted a bill to try to kill this. We can talk about the gamesmanship today, but what we have is an attempt at vandalizing and compromising the future of this nation.
We have a higher obligation to serve the interests of our constituents and to help somehow, in some way, to build a stronger nation, a stronger nation where people can get access to the kind of opportunities that this generation, many of us, have been blessed with.
Previous members who have come here have always tried to build a better House and to find ways in which we can come together to find more creative means to ensuring Canada can meet the challenges of tomorrow.
I am saying this because if we were to sit down and talk to grandparents, parents and people in our communities who are struggling day in and day out to make ends meet, we would hear that there is a real and effective understanding of what they are trying to do, which is to achieve a better future for their children.
I would implore the Conservative Party, which has quietly said that it loves this bill, to actually take the time to consider what it has done. It has actually tried to reverse a position taken only a month ago by this Parliament which is widely popular with Canadians.
There will be critics either way but I would ask the Conservative Party to reconsider what it has done because I think it is in everyone's interest, partisanship aside, to ensure that good legislation, whether it is passed by backbenchers or passed by the government, does in fact have the ability to proceed.
I call on all members to work together cooperatively. This is for our future, for our children and for our Canada.