House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-30.


World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Sana Hassainia Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to salute this initiative, which has been brought forward again by our distinguished colleague, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. He first introduced a bill on World Autism Awareness Day in 2005. Six long years later, it looks as though people with autism and the families of children with autism spectrum disorder will finally get the recognition they so greatly deserve.

For interest groups working in the field, an annual day would be a date around which activities could be organized and would provide the groups with the motivation to focus their efforts around a day to work with parents and people with autism spectrum disorder.

Autism is the most common brain disorder among children since one in every 110 children has some form of autism. There are an estimated 35 million people living with autism throughout the world. Although detailed epidemiological data are rare, in Canada, approximately 48,000 children and 144,000 adults suffer from some form of the disorder. Furthermore, the rate of autism has increased each year for no apparent reason. It is estimated that the rate of autism increased by 600% over the past 20 years.

It is important to understand the reasons behind this dramatic growth, but it is also important to help Canadians gain a better understanding of autism. There are a number of types of autism but, generally speaking, autistic disorders are marked by difficulty with social interaction. Some forms of autism do not completely limit the individual's ability to interact with others; however, other forms of the disorder cause individuals to show no interest whatsoever in other people.

People with autism generally have a great deal of difficulty engaging in and maintaining a conversation. The disorder makes communication extremely difficult. Forty per cent of autistic children will not learn to speak without intensive and early intervention. This type of intervention requires resources that must be made available to the families that need them. Unfortunately, the government is doing almost nothing to help people with autism. The recognition of World Autism Awareness Day is important, but it is really just the beginning.

Members on this side of the House have suggested numerous measures to support families that are already making countless sacrifices for a relative with autism. For example, the treatments that autistic individuals depend on to promote their social development should be covered by public health insurance. These treatments can have a significant impact on the lives of individuals with an autistic disorder. Countless experts have said that if autism is diagnosed early enough—before the age of two—and if the family has the necessary tools to support the child, the child may be able to attend school normally without requiring special assistance.

Such measures can have a significant impact, and that is why the government should develop a national strategy to coordinate services for people with autism. Canadian families affected by autism living in different parts of the country do not all have the same access to health and social services. Currently, there is no comprehensive national strategy to help Canadians with autism. As a result, help for people with autism is available primarily from provincial governments, health promotion organizations and families.

Some people with autism function relatively well and are independent, while others need substantial social and educational support. For years, the Conservatives have failed to show leadership on a number of important health issues, including funding for autism research and services in that area. Rather than have an awareness day, why not implement a national strategy to offer more help to people with autism and their families?

Government support for World Autism Awareness Day does not give provincial governments any funding to carry out effective, evidence-based preschool interventions, to provide autism training to teachers and teacher aides, or to provide appropriate residences and treatments for young people and adults with autism.

Frankly, I am disappointed that this is not the first time we have had to rise in the House to talk about an issue that we all seem to agree on. This bill has been introduced and reintroduced repeatedly since 2005. Maybe it is just because I am new here, but am I the only one who finds it odd that a bill everyone agrees on has to be debated for six years before seeing the light of day?

I understand that the procedure is what it is, that we have had consecutive minority governments in this House, and that a bill must pass through several steps before it becomes law. However, should it really take six years just to give the parents of autistic children and people with autism spectrum disorder the recognition they deserve, if only for one day a year?

This government has no problem rushing through a bill to spend billions of dollars to toss young offenders in prison, no matter how minor the crime. This government wastes no time destroying the data from the firearms registry, ignoring the interests of Quebec taxpayers who paid for the registry for years and want to keep it. But when it comes time to commend the courage and determination of parents of kids with autism spectrum disorder, for once will the government hurry up and help pass this bill once and for all?

Fortunately, civil society did not wait all this time to offer this recognition, albeit only symbolic, to the people in question. For instance, the Autism Society of Canada already celebrates World Autism Awareness Day in April. The NDP has also been recognizing World Autism Awareness Day for some time now; we did not wait for the government to get on board. We hope the bill will pass this time and we will finally be able to make this gesture, however symbolic, to support Canadian families and community organizations that help those with autism disorders.

Despite the importance of this gesture, it nevertheless remains merely symbolic. No government resources will be earmarked to support families and organizations. No resources will be made available to organizations that can help us understand why autism has become so much more common over the past 20 years. We are all well aware of this government's aversion to research, but considering such a strange phenomenon of such scope and with such a serious impact on the people affected, it is high time more action was taken.

It is unfortunate to note that this government has chosen to help its friends, to reward those close to power, to walk away from helping the families of autistic children and has failed to make appropriate investments in the health system by increasing provincial transfers or helping community organizations in their work. It has also backed away from funding research in general, as well as autism research.

We are hoping that the situation will change. We are hoping that this government will finally assume its responsibilities and help those in need. We hope that it will respect Canadians' values of solidarity and show respect for the devoted families looking after autistic children. We hope that, after six years, this bill will finally pass and that it will be just the first step towards greater recognition of the sacrifices and the passion of parents, community workers and volunteers who look after those with autism.

Although we deplore the fact that this bill lacks consistency and does not provide resources for families in need, we nevertheless salute the awareness that it will raise. It is a sign of things to come that gives hope to all these families and volunteers and the people affected by autism spectrum disorder.

Therefore, we salute this bill, and I am proud to say today that it was brought forward by a member of the NDP. I hope that it will finally be passed by the members of the House.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I give the floor to the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 6:59 p.m., when the time allowed for Private Members' Business expires.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

February 28th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.



Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to speak to the issue of autism in light of Bill S-206 by the hon. Senator Jim Munson, to institute a World Autism Awareness Day.

This bill draws attention to a major problem that affects all layers of society, from Canadians with autism, to their families, their friends or their caregivers.

The government has designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day to mark the importance of better understanding this disease and its repercussions on Canadian families.

It is essential that we become aware of the major challenges facing people with autism, that we understand the exceptional devotion of the caregivers and that we recognize the remarkable work of those who contribute to enhancing our scientific knowledge about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

I am going to pick up on what others have said and emphasize that, although autism is often considered a problem that affects children, we must not forget the Canadian adolescents and adults who have not benefited from early diagnosis and quick treatment.

Teenagers are all too aware of their limitations and differences, which can make them feel marginalized, vulnerable and isolated.

Easy access to reliable information can make all the difference in how families react to the situation.

If Canadians know which treatments have been deemed effective and can get results from the most recent studies on what works and what does not, they will be able to understand and choose the treatments that best suit their needs.

The federal government wants Canadians to have access to the same high-quality, evidence-based information on autism.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have seven and a half minutes when the House resumes debate on the motion.

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.

6:55 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the member who will be answering my question.

Child poverty in Canada should be a top priority for this government if we want to maintain a healthy, well-educated and prosperous society.

When I pointed out to this House that a motion had been adopted unanimously to put an end to child poverty in Canada, I also asked the government—which, let us not forget, is accountable for its commitments to Canadians—what it had done to improve the plight of all those children who still live in poverty.

The answer I received was that thanks to the Conservatives, the average Canadian family now spends $3,000 less per year in taxes. However, everybody knows that the poorest families in Canada already pay virtually no tax. One cannot but conclude therefore that these tax measures proposed by the government are not reaching their targets, because they are not serving the clientele that is in the greatest need.

Moreover, to obtain some tax credits, one must be able to cover costs in advance in order to receive a credit for the fiscal year. But who—especially the poor—can wait a year to receive a tax refund, when thousands of Canadian families barely have enough to feed their children at the end of the month?

The most recent figures on child poverty are damning. Approximately one Canadian child in 10 and their families live in poverty. 2010 was a record year for the number of users of food banks in Canada since 1997, and 38% of food bank clients were children although children only account for 22% of the population. According to a report by UNICEF, Canada is a poor performer among OECD countries when it comes to infant mortality rates and is ranked 22nd out of 31 countries. In total, approximately 640,000 children still live in poverty in Canada. The child poverty rate among aboriginals, immigrants and visible minorities is more than twice the general average.

In light of these data, one can be forgiven for wondering why the government does not take concrete and immediate steps to ensure the healthy development of the next generation of Canadians. In my opinion, what is still more worrisome is the incidence of poverty among children.

Despite the hard work of thousands of community groups that often work with limited financial resources, we are currently observing developmental delays, health problems, more stays with foster families, more unsanitary housing conditions, an increased dropout rate, mental health problems among parents, sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse, and other problems. Poor children are more likely to experience these unacceptable situations than other children.

Child poverty creates a series of societal problems that undermine the health and well-being of the population, and have an extremely harmful effect on the country's economy.

Many experts throughout the world agree—as does the NDP—that the solution to a chronic problem of this magnitude is found close to the source, and we strongly believe that properly introduced measures could end child poverty in Canada.

First, a national child poverty reduction strategy that includes specific objectives must be put in place. A thorough review of all allocations and tax measures for the development and well-being of children must also be conducted to ensure that these measures meet the needs of the population, including families with low and very low incomes.

Other assistance and programs must be provided to give additional support to households that need it most. Finally, concrete measures that stimulate the creation of decent jobs must be put in place. Parents who are in the workforce and who have decent, stable jobs will be able to help their children escape poverty.

In 1989, Canada promised to end child poverty before the year 2000, but failed miserably in its task.

Can the government provide a clear answer with regard to its strategy and the measures it intends to implement to end child poverty in a country as rich as Canada?

7 p.m.



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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles on the state of Canadian children and families.

Child poverty rates have been cut by almost half since 1996. That represents a solid incremental change for the better. It comes about not by accident but by focusing on the family as a building block of Canadian society. In 2011-12, the federal government is providing over $6 billion in support of early childhood development and child care through transfers to the provinces and territories.

This is the biggest investment of its kind in Canadian history.

The Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement, the universal child care benefit and the child tax credit all support families with children. About 3.3 million families with 5.8 million children receive the Canada child tax benefit. This includes over 1.5 million families with 2.7 million children who receive the national child benefit supplement.

The universal child care benefit provides Canadian families with $100 a month for every child under the age of six to assist in the cost of whatever form of child care they choose. This benefit provides over $2.6 billion annually to 1.5 million families for over 2 million children.

This direct financial support enables parents to choose the child care option that best meets their family's needs. It is available to all parents, whether they are part of the income-earning labour force or whether they stay home with their kids, whether they live in a small town, a rural community or an urban centre.

For the average family the universal child care benefit, together with the child care expense deduction, offset well over one third of the costs of non-parental child care. The combined impact of these measures is even greater for single parent families. The universal child care benefit has lifted an estimated 24,000 families with about 55,000 children out of low income.

Our government is committed to supporting Canadian families and individuals facing a variety of circumstances. Every action we have taken is to help Canadians and their families become independent and to help them contribute to the economy and their communities. Our investments reflect this commitment and we will continue to make investments that make positive differences in the lives of Canadians and their families.

7:05 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the member. These statistics are from the 2011 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada.

The rate of poverty has declined not by half, but from 9.9% to 9.5% in 2009. Over 10 years, it has declined by about 2%.

Families living in poverty include those who are in the workforce, earning minimum wage and working in atypical employment situations. They work for several different employers, they work split shifts, and they have to deal with labour market demands that can be very difficult for them. We really have to help families.

I would like to know how the government plans to go about doing more.

7:05 p.m.


Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, actions taken since 2006 to support families leave the average Canadian family of four with over $3,000 savings per year in taxes. Budget 2007 introduced the child tax credit, which provides tax relief for each individual under the age of 18. Budgets 2009 and 2010 included additional investments for Canadian families, including improvements to child benefits.

Budget 2010 improved taxation for the universal child care benefit to ensure that single parent families receive tax treatment comparable to two parent families. It also allows parents with joint custody to split the child benefit equally throughout the year when a child lives with both households. Budget 2010 enhanced the registered disability savings plan.

In 2011, about 1.5 million working families are expected to benefit from the working income tax benefit.

Our government is working on behalf of Canadian families. I would only hope that the NDP members, who voted against every single one of these initiatives, would think otherwise in the future.

7:05 p.m.


Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I stand tonight to again address a most serious issue, in fact, what could be called a crisis situation that we are facing in Newfoundland and Labrador with the closure of the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's. People who have ever worked or travelled on the ocean know only too well how important it is to have that safety net and to know that if they need help it is there for them.

The decision the government has taken to close the MRSC in St. John's means that not only will 12 employees be out of work, which is a serious enough issue as it is, but safety will be impacted here. It means that people who have come to rely on the expertise at the MRSC in St. John's will no longer be able to avail themselves of that expertise and that local knowledge of the Newfoundland coastline. It is a serious issue.

We have employees who have been making the case very well, explaining what they do. There are open invitations to the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and to Minister Penashue who is a regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador but their invitations have been ignored. Neither of those Conservative ministers have visited the maritime rescue sub-centre to see first-hand how important the work that it does is and how crucial it is that the work continue. Why they will not visit and find out for themselves is beyond me and beyond anyone else who really would like to show them how important the centre is and the work that is carried out there. Regrettably, both have chosen not to go.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has not been there. That invitation has been issued to anyone from the Conservative government to go and see this operation and find out how important it is . We need to believe that if they knew and saw first-hand the importance of the centre and the lives that it has saved over the years, that they would have a change of heart and realize that this centre should continue to operate.

We know what happened with Jason Hamilton in Nova Scotia when he spoke out and said that it was not the right thing to do. He was reprimanded for speaking his mind. That is not something that should happen when people are expressing a view that is contrary to the government, when trying to get a point across and trying to inform the government that a decision it is taking is not the right decision. It is not the right decision because it impacts on the lives of people.

What is important here is ensuring that when people travel on the ocean they know they have someone who is looking out for them. It is a difficult environment as it is. Those who fish and those who work on the oil rigs are working in the most volatile environment and they need to know that when they are out there someone is looking out for their safety if they need to be saved. They do not need to worry about whether someone will be there for them.

I will reiterate my question, which I have asked time and again. Will the government reconsider its decision to close the maritime rescue sub-centre recognizing how important it is and recognizing that it will not be saving $1 million by closing the centre? What is $1 million when we are talking about the cost of a life and about ensuring that when people are on the ocean, if they require the services of a maritime rescue sub-centre, people with local knowledge and expertise, that really should be the priority?

7:10 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission


Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the issue raised by my persistent colleague, the member of Parliament for Random—Burin—St. George's, regarding the consolidation of the rescue sub-centres in St. John's and Quebec City with the joint rescue coordination centres in Halifax and Trenton. As she said and knows very well, both the minister and I have responded to this many times.

We want to remind the member that Canada remains steadfast in its dedication to the safety of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We are a national and international leader in marine safety and the Canadian Coast Guard's search and rescue program is among the best in the world, and we are proud of it. We are delivering on the Canadian Coast Guard's mandate by ensuring that the safety and security of all Canadians is maintained unaltered throughout these challenging economic times.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is providing a system that coordinates timely search and rescue response. We frequently review this system to identify lessons learned for the future. This enables us to continually improve upon this valuable service that we provide to Canadians and to international mariners in Canadian waters. The co-location of both air and maritime personnel in the same centre will facilitate the coordination of responses to maritime search and rescue incidents.

The decision to consolidate the two maritime rescue sub-centres into joint rescue coordination centres located in Halifax and Trenton resulted from the Government of Canada's strategic review exercise. This exercise provided us with the opportunity to deliver our services to Canadians in a more efficient and effective way. The decision was closely reviewed, and it was determined that search and rescue coordination services could be delivered in a more efficient and effective manner with no impact, and that I stress, on service delivery or safety.

I can assure the House that we are taking the implementation of this decision very seriously. Since the government's announcement, a project team and governance committee, composed of members the Canadian Coast Guard and Department of National Defence, have been set up to address a whole array of operational, human resource, infrastructure and technology requirements. Each of these requirements has been addressed in our implementation plan, which lays the groundwork for a successful transition.

As I have previously said, the decision to consolidate the rescue sub-centres will have no effect on the placement of air and maritime response assets. The locations of Canadian Coast Guard vessels are strategically selected to optimize search and rescue responses, and we will continue to evaluate our response coverage and ensure that the necessary knowledge and expertise is preserved. Our maritime search and rescue coordinators are highly trained professionals and any new coordinators will go through extensive formal and on-the-job training, as is the current practice.

As we have always said, the completion of maritime rescue sub-centre consolidation will be determined based on the maintenance of public safety. By working with our primary search and rescue partner, the Department of National Defence, we will ensure that all calls for maritime search and rescue assistance will be answered, that all existing search and rescue service standards will be maintained, that maritime expertise and necessary knowledge will be preserved and that services will be available in both official languages. The excellent service standard of maritime search and rescue that Canadians have come to expect, and indeed depend on, from their government will continue.

7:15 p.m.


Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is no question at all about the people who work in search and rescue and at the Canadian Coast Guard. With the resources they have available to them, they do their very best. The problem is that the government is not recognizing that they do not have enough resources. We have already seen documentary after documentary showing that our response time in terms of search and rescue is not good, that we need more support. These people who work so hard need more support.

When my hon. colleague talks about ensuring that we have qualified personnel, I would respond that what is happening now is that because employees are not moving from St. John's to Halifax, the officials are having to find other employees to hire at the joint rescue centre in Halifax and have downgraded their qualifications. Therefore, the search and rescue coordinators who will actually be hired for Halifax will not be as qualified because officials cannot find people with the necessary qualifications.

I ask the member how can he say that he is living up to the standards that we need and expect in terms of search and rescue?

7:15 p.m.


Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's response raises some questions of my own.

I would like to know if she agrees that a responsible government should conduct a strategic review from time to time to see if every dollar is being spent in the most effective and efficient way. I think she would agree. When that review is conducted, officials are asked to look at whether the services are being delivered in the best way. If they say they think things could be changed by consolidating the centres to get better coordination, efficiency and effectiveness and to have all the assets in place just as before, would she not agree with me that it would be irresponsible of the Government of Canada to say no, it is not going to take that advice? We have taken the advice and we are confident that we are going to continue to deliver the services in an excellent way.

7:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Avalon is not present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice had been given. Accordingly, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:20 p.m.)