Mr. Speaker, investing in children and families is one of the best ways to improve Canada's social and economic fabric.
The Government of Canada knows that, and this is why it has developed a national early learning and child care strategy that will meet the needs of our families and their children.
Because each family is unique, our strategy provides a real choice that respects the various priorities and circumstances of Canadian families.
The motion before us suggests that the government's plan to support early learning and child care in Canada somehow creates a two tier system, which is a myth created by the other side.
The member for Edmonton--Spruce Grove believes that the federal government's approach to child care and early learning ignores the unique characteristics and challenges of each province with respect to families. The member contends that the federal government is somehow discriminating against certain types of families. Before I address these misconceptions, I would like to put the early learning and child care framework into context.
Over the past few years, the Government of Canada has taken action on several fronts to support families and children. I am still waiting for an answer from the other side as to what exactly the Conservatives are going to do to support families and children and keep their fiscally responsible attitude.
Low income families need more support. In fact the Government of Canada has already introduced the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement. This is helping more than 3.5 million low income families with the cost of raising their children. This will rise to $10 billion. The Government of Canada has also added a child rearing dropout provision to the Canada pension plan. This ensures parents who take time out from full time work to raise their young children do not experience reduced pensions later in life.
Furthermore, families who are raising a child with disabilities face extra costs. For that reason the Government of Canada has introduced measures such as the new child disability benefit and other tax based initiatives.
Working with the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada is also helping to improve and expand a range of early childhood development programs. In addition, it is expanding the Understanding the Early Years initiative to at least 100 more communities across the country. This will help provide communities with the information they need to ensure their children are ready to learn when they start their education.
All these programs are important, because they validate the critical role that parents play with their children. Contrary to what members opposite are claiming, we do value the role that parents play with their young children.
Despite all the benefits provided by these initiatives and incentives, we must do more for families and children. We must also recognize that the needs of families and their children continue to evolve.
Canadian mothers have traditionally played an essential role in terms of meeting the emotional and intellectual needs of their young children, and they continue to do so. However, the fact is that, today, in Canada, seven women out of ten who have preschool age children are members of the workforce. In other words, there are 1.4 million children under the age of six whose mothers work outside the home. Yet, we have regulated child care spaces for less than 20% of them.
I think it is very important to take these numbers into consideration, but the other side is not doing that.
Canada must do more. Studies clearly indicate that early learning programs are essential for children to achieve success. Not only do they facilitate children's emotional and intellectual development, but they also enable many parents to work if they choose to do so.
I want to emphasize this point. Many low income families struggle to make ends meet because they only have one income. Providing families with better and more affordable child care options will give parents, who choose greater flexibility and opportunities, to find and keep work which will in turn help raise their standard of living.
There are other economic arguments that are worth mentioning. I think certain members in the House have mentioned them during today's debate. When a family does not have adequate child care, parents must often leave work early or arrive late to care for their child. In addition to creating stress in the parents' lives, lack of adequate child care also undermines the productivity of their employers.
Small wonder the research shows investing in services for young children and their families, including children in middle income families, generates impressive dividends. For every dollar invested our income gains between at least $2 through increased tax revenues and decreased social, education and health costs. This point has been debated today.
For all these social and economic reasons, we must invest in early learning and child care. In doing so, we will be meeting the needs of Canadians who have clearly expressed their views on this issue. Ninety percent of Canadians believe that the primary role of child care is to promote development. Ninety percent agree that the federal government must help the provinces and territories provide affordable, quality child care.
The Government of Canada is responding to the concerns of Canadians. In 2003, the federal, provincial and territorial governments signed an agreement on early learning and child care. Over five years, the Government of Canada will transfer more than $1 billion to the provinces and territories to help them improve and expand their programs and services in this crucial area. Down the road, this will represent over $350 million a year.
However, even this significant investment is not enough. Our children's future requires a more comprehensive approach. This is why, in the October 2004 throne speech, the Government of Canada made a commitment to work with the provinces and territories to put in place a national early learning and child care program. The federal government confirmed, in its 2005 budget, that it will invest $5 billion more over five years in this initiative.
Over the past several months the Minister of Social Development has been working with his provincial and territorial counterparts to develop a national vision for this national system based on four key principles: quality, universal inclusiveness, accessibility and developmental.
These agreements in principle will set out the overarching national vision, principles and goals for early learning and child care. Clear and measurable objectives, eligible areas for investment and funding levels, strong accountability measures, a commitment to work together and to share knowledge and best practices, and a provincial and territorial commitment to develop an action plan for the new funding in consultation with citizens and stakeholders by December of this year.
In recent weeks the minister has signed such agreements in principle with his counterparts in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to help these provinces develop quality early learning and child care. The minister believes we will finalize similar agreements with other provinces and territories soon.
I want to repeat what the minister said in the House. He said that for British Columbia it will be a 105% increase, for Alberta it will be a 121% increase , for Saskatchewan it will be a 95% increase, for New Brunswick it ill be a 132% increase and for Nova Scotia it will be a 90% increase. I could go on and talk about how many more spaces will increase because of the initiative of the federal government.
The enthusiasm shown by the five participating provinces for this national initiative speaks volumes. But for no obvious reason, the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove and her party believe that, with this system, the Government of Canada is imposing its will on the provinces and territories.
The motion before us accuses the government of ignoring the unique needs of the various provinces and territories in terms of child care. It is suggesting that the government is discriminating against low income families and shift workers.
Allow me to correct these misrepresentations made by the party opposite.
The Government of Canada recognizes that early learning and child care within each province and territory is at a different stage of development. Each jurisdiction has varying needs and circumstances. That is why these agreements in principle give provincial and territorial governments the flexibility to enhance early learning and child care as they see fit.
Our national framework recognizes that the provinces and territories rely on a mix of profit and non-profit regulated services. It allows them to continue to define their own priorities so long as their choices meet the so-called QUAD principles: quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental.
The government is not trying to impose a single mentality on its partners. On the contrary, the national framework, which puts emphasis on choice, recognizes that each province and territory has unique needs and priorities. Contrary to what the motion before us states, the government does take into account that each province is unique and faces different challenges.
Furthermore, the government does not discriminate against any families. With this national framework, there will be programs and services to respond to the various needs and choices of families with young children, whether they live in rural or urban settings, and whether they need child care services from 9 to 5 or from 5 to 9. This flexibility exists; it is up to the provinces to decide.
The new initiative will include a variety of support measures for regulated care centres, nursery schools, child welfare services and preschools. This initiative is already very advanced in my province, in Quebec.
These programs will be suited to the unique needs of rural and urban communities. This will mean more part-time spaces, flexible hours for parents who work shifts, assistance for low income families and programs that meet various cultural or linguistic needs.
In fact, I had the opportunity of attending the opening of a day care centre in my riding of Ahuntsic, with the Minister of Social Development. The children will come from all the cultural communities, and the educators speak a number of languages. I had this experience myself with my youngest, who attended a Greek community day care in Montreal, where the children learn three languages: French, Greek and English.
Again, the federal government is not pitting one type of family against another and it is not that one vision of a family is better than another. We on this side believe there are various types of families and they each have the right to choose, as the hon. members on the other side have said, and we are giving them the real choice.
On the contrary, the government has developed a framework for child care and early learning that respects the unique characteristics of the Canadian family in all its many forms.
Let me give two examples that illustrate how the agreement allows provinces to meet the particular needs of their own communities.
I must repeat that hon. members on the other side have said that they will respect the agreements in principle. Now that an agreement in principle is in place, Ontario is moving forward with its best start plan, which emphasizes children's readiness to learn. It will expand programs for children in junior and senior kindergarten throughout the province. This will ultimately provide a full day of early learning and care experiences at an affordable cost.
For its part, Manitoba will make investments to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of early learning and child care. This will take the form of increasing the number of child care spaces, enhancing subsidies and improving wages and training opportunities for child care workers.
The Government of Canada did not impose these priorities on Ontario or on Manitoba. The provinces developed their own priorities within the agreement in principle that will meet the needs of families and their respective communities. This is exactly how other agreements in principle will operate: on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation, and with the best interests of our families and children in mind.
I would like to end on a personal note. As I said earlier, as the mother of two children, I understand the challenges of parenting and the competing demands of a professional life and home life. My children were one and a half and three and a half when I arrived here. I also appreciate the desire of every parent to want the best for their children. I did and I am sure every single member in the House does also.
I am convinced that the Government of Canada's strategy in early learning and child care is a good thing for our country. I believe that it taps into the desire of all levels of government to do their best for Canadian families without losing sight of the fact that it is the parents in the end who decide how they want to raise their children. I repeat—or maybe I should say it in English—the parents decide how they want to raise their children. We have always respected that, despite what the opposition says.