House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was artists.


Multiple SclerosisPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I must interrupt the hon. member and mention that when this motion returns for debate, he will have eight minutes left for his comments.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has 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.

6:30 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to be here tonight. We are here tonight to discuss the topic of the Canada student loans program and student debt.

On October 7 the Canadian student loans actuarial report was tabled in the House. The report showed that the Canadian government will breach the legal limit for student loans of $15 billion by January 2013. This report stated that there were many reasons for this, with the main reason being that Canadians simply are not repaying their loans at the estimated rate. Considering the current economic climate and the recent recession, this is not surprising. We also know that quality job opportunities for our graduates are few and far between.

A recent report showed that a whopping one in five Canadian graduates are employed in positions that pay at the lower end of the income scale. This means that 20% of our university graduates are earning an income of less than the national median of $37,000. This income is not very much and too many of our Canadian new graduates are living below the poverty line.

Given this and the fact that Canada has the highest proportion of poor university graduates of any OECD country, it is not surprising that people are having trouble paying back their student loans. The breach of our student loan limit is extremely worrisome.

I asked a question on this topic on October 17. Unfortunately, when I asked the question, the members opposite did not rise and talk about what they were doing to ensure that this limit was not breached. Instead, they stood and spoke about tax credits. I am not sure how tax credits are going to help in this situation. How are tax credits going to help the Canadian government from breaching its Canada student loans ceiling? How are tax credits going to help Canadians repay their student loans?

My riding has one of the lowest average household incomes in the GTA, yet many of the families that live there are spending their life savings or incurring extreme amounts of debt to send their children to school. On average, Canadian students are graduating with a debt load of over $25,000 and tuition fees are still rising at four times the rate of inflation. Getting a degree is not getting any cheaper and now these graduates do not have good jobs to look forward to, to help them pay back their student loans.

The facts are clear. Costs of post-secondary education are rising and there are low job prospects for students upon graduation. This current system is simply unsustainable. If the government is as serious as it says it is about securing Canada's economic future, it would make a real commitment to investing in education. If it were really concerned about Canada's economic recovery, it would realize that investing in education of all Canadians has a huge return on its investment. Yet, in the height of the recession, the government did nothing to ease the burden of student debt.

According to public accounts and supplementary estimates, during the fiscal years of 2008-09 and 2009-10, not a single penny was spent on wiping out Canada's student loans debt. This is unique to those years. I find it very interesting that during the years when people were having the most difficult time paying back their student debt, the government decided that it would not spend a single penny to wipe out some of that debt.

We need real action to tackle student debt. We need to make post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable to all Canadians. We need accountability in terms of post-secondary education spending.

I will ask my question again. When will the government take real action to address the looming Canada student loans crisis? When will it reduce the cost of post-secondary education, thereby making it more accessible and affordable for all Canadians?

6:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to address the concerns of the member for Scarborough—Rouge River on Canada student loans.

Rest assured our government is closely monitoring the student loan portfolio. Students will receive the financial assistance to which they are entitled.

Our government is fully aware of the vital role of post-secondary graduates in our economic recovery and prosperity.

We are taking steps to address concerns that the student loan portfolio limit could be surpassed in future years.

The government has recently introduced in Parliament the keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act that proposes to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. We want to transfer the authority to establish a limit on the amount of outstanding student loans from legislation to regulations. This will provide the government with the flexibility to respond quickly to growth in the loan portfolio.

It should be underlined that the policies of post-secondary education institutions, including the establishment of tuition levels, fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. We support the provincial and territorial governments through block funding for post-secondary education under the Canada social transfer. This ensures that provinces and territories have the flexibility to invest funding according to their needs and priorities. This reflects a long history of Canadian governments working together on shared national priorities. It recognizes that in the areas of provincial jurisdiction, the provincial and territorial governments are best placed to deliver these services and to be accountable for their outcomes.

Already we are seeing shortages in qualified workers in our labour market. We have to give today's students the tools to succeed in the world of tomorrow. By tools I mean access to education, but also the financial supports they need to pursue higher education. Numerous supports are available to help Canadians financially for their post-secondary.

In the 2009-10 school year, the Canada student loans program provided nearly $2.7 billion in loans and grants to more than 400,000 Canadian students. This included $593 million in Canada student grants received by 295,000 Canadian students. Grants made post-secondary education more affordable, particularly for under-represented groups, including students from low and middle-class income families, part-time students, students with permanent disabilities and students with dependents.

More Canadians than ever before are applying for loans to pursue their post-secondary education. This proves that Canadians continue to believe that education is a worthwhile investment.

The Government of Canada is mindful of concerns about rising student debt and remains committed to helping students access affordable and complete their post-secondary education with a loan that they can reasonably afford to repay.

For borrowers who face repayment difficulties, the government introduced in budget 2008, under the Canada student loans program, the repayment assistance plan. Borrowers are now required to pay back what they can reasonably afford based on their family income and family size.

In 2009-10 approximately 160,000 student loan borrowers who had difficulty repaying their loans benefited from the repayment assistance plan. The plan, along with other methods undertaken by HRSDC to prevent default, has led to an historic low in loan default rates, which currently sits at just under 15%.

Post-secondary education has never been more important than it is today and our government recognizes this importance.

6:35 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, with the cost of post-secondary education being what it is, we are seeing an increasing gap in accessibility and enrolment in post-secondary education programs between the haves and the have-nots in the country.

The Campaign 2000 Report Card released yesterday stated that only 58.5% of 18 to 24 year olds with a before tax family income of $25,000 or less enrolled in post-secondary education compared to 81% of those with a family income of more than $100,000. What is the government doing to address this glaring gap? We need to take action on this right now. We need real concrete action to stop us from ever getting close to that limit.

On this side of the House, we are fighting for accountable post-secondary education funding through the creation of a separate post-secondary education transfer payment. We are calling upon the government to make substantial investments into the Canada student grants program. We are calling for fair and equitable post-secondary education that is truly accessible to all Canadians.

When will the government wake up and realize that having an educated population is truly the way to ensure economic success?

6:40 p.m.


Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, our government is concerned about ensuring students have access to post-secondary education, whether it be college or university. That is why we introduced initiatives such as the apprentice incentive grant and the completion grant.

Our government has also introduced the Canada student grants program that is helping over 190,000 students more than the previous Liberal plan. That is why we have made scholarships and bursaries tax free and made improvements to the registered education savings plan.

Sadly, the NDP has a shameful record of voting against every one of these efforts to help students.

Our government remains committed to helping students complete their post-secondary education and realize their dreams and potential.

6:40 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, this arises from a question on October 21. To be candid, it is a bit stale-dated because events have overtaken the question, which was whether the Minister of Foreign Affairs was concerned with the manner of the death of Colonel Gadhafi, particularly the extrajudicial killing and egregious breach of the rule of law.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs answered in his usual offhand fashion and said that he identified with the people of Libya and was not overly fussed about the manner of the death. Frankly, I did not think too much about it at the time. I have very low expectations of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He never fails to disappoint me.

I left the chamber at the end of question period and, to my great surprise, was involved in a scrum with a number of reporters, all of whom were very concerned. The thrust of their questions related to their concern for the rule of law. They presumed that I also was concerned and wanted to know what the answer was that I had received.

I told them that I did not have high expectations of the minister, so I could not say that I was overly surprised but was disappointed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the situation such as he was in, chose not to emphasize the importance of the rule of law and that the manner of Colonel Gadhafi's death was critical to the success of the mission.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs then spent the balance of the weekend going on various talk shows saying that he too believed in the rule of law, which of course was comforting.

It is somewhat ironic that we are dealing with this on the day when General Bouchard is being honoured. Certainly, he did us all proud. He certainly put the precision in “precision bombing”. Having met him, I find him to be an admirable man in every way. Ironically, the care with which he set out the bombing runs speaks to his understanding and knowledge of the rule of law.

One of the reasons that we got so little push back on the bombing issue had to do with the way in which General Bouchard appreciated the issues around the rule of law. The irony is the minister having less appreciation for the rule of law than General Bouchard.

We are now at the point where the hard work begins. We have absolutely superb representation in the embassy. I have nothing but admiration for our ambassador and her staff. One of the things that informed us, as we were critiquing the government's execution of the Libyan mission, was the Libyan diaspora. The Libyan diaspora has seen how the rule of law operates in this country and it is a wonderful asset to exploit as we move forward and try to help the Libyan people develop institutions where there may well be an opportunity for the rule of law to flourish.

In conclusion, I was somewhat disappointed but not surprised by the minister's answer. I think he, on reflection, might regret it.

6:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I am sure the member opposite, as well as everybody else in the House, will join with me in paying tribute to the Canadian Forces personnel. Under the leadership of General Charles Bouchard, they played a massive role in protecting Libyan civilians from the brutal Gadhafi regime.

Today in Parliament the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence and every member of Parliament were very proud to congratulate the excellent work done by the Canadian Forces in Libya.

The end of the Gadhafi era turns the page on over 40 years of tyranny and oppression in Libya and opens a new chapter in Libya's history. Libyans themselves have shown great courage and sacrifice in their fight for freedom.

The member's question was on the rule of law and the concerns over not following it. Let me just say that Canada is willing to help the NTC. The Libyan authorities have developed a draft constitutional charter for the establishment of a functional democratic government that guarantees and respects human rights and the rule of law. It contains an ambitious road map for a permanent constitution and subsequent election of a new government. In this regard, our government welcomes the announcement of a new interim cabinet, one that is highly representative of the various regions of Libya.

We wish the new Libya every success in addressing the numerous challenges facing the country in the transition period, building national reconciliation and public security and ensuring the protection of human rights for all Libyans.

Among these challenges, there is the need for the interim government to promote national identity and reconciliation among the Libyan people. It is therefore important for Libya to take the right approach to a fair and transparent judicial process in dealing with the recently captured son of Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law, Abdullah al-Senussi.

The Libyan authorities were quick to react after Gadhafi's death in creating a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. Bringing lasting peace to the people of Libya requires that those responsible for serious crimes be held to account by facing a fair trial.

Canada will continue to support Libya in the post-Gadhafi era as it takes steps towards freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law for all Libyans.

6:45 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, as I said in my initial remarks, I was greatly privileged to sit in the chamber this morning and join in the recognition honouring of General Bouchard. It was absolutely an appropriate honorific. However, I did have some concern that it was inappropriately used by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence for Conservative propaganda purposes and arguments about procurement. However, that is a sidebar issue.

Indeed the Canadian Forces do have an appreciation of the rule of law. I am absolutely impressed by the senior people in the Canadian Forces and I know that General Bouchard has this appreciation for the rule of law. I know that our embassy and the ambassador have an appreciation for the rule of law. What concerns me is that the minister and possibly the government he represents have no such similar appreciation and therefore were not overly concerned about the manner of Colonel Gadhafi's death.

Going forward, I hope that the minister does in fact encourage the Libyan government to execute a fair trial with respect to the son of Colonel Gadhafi.

6:45 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, in my earlier response I did mention quite clearly that it is important for Libya to take the right approach through a fair and transparent judicial process in dealing with the recently captured son of Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law, Abdullah al-Senussi.

Again, the Libyan authorities were quick to react after Gadhafi's death and have created a commission of inquiry. It is extremely important, and the member would agree, that those responsible for serious crimes be held to account by facing a fair trial.

In closing, Canada was very pleased to serve in Libya and to help the Libyan people. We now look forward to the transition in the post-Gadhafi era in Libya.

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)