Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was justice.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Liberal MP for Ahuntsic (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2008, with 39% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply June 14th, 2005

Madam Speaker, I would remind the hon. member that we are not talking about a babysitting service. The Conservatives keep talking about a babysitting service but we are actually talking about a national early learning and child care system. They keep denying that they always call it babysitting. They are talking about babysitting in very many ways but we are not going to go there.

As far as the cost goes, we have put on the table, with the provinces, $5 billion and we are putting it on the table by keeping our fiscal obligations to Canadians, something which the other side, after various questions today, did not answer. How will they keep a balanced budget? We have had eight consecutive balanced budgets and we still are able to put $5 billion down for an early learning and child care system.

As far as choice goes, I think in my remarks I said that there were families who receive certain tax benefits. I do not have the time now to repeat them because I think there are other questions members want to ask but let us not forget the national tax child benefit that is in fact income tested, something they will not do when they give out tax break to families. It helps low income families.

I have in fact listened to all the groups. I have listened to them locally in my own riding. The reality is, and we can debate the statistics, but the majority, now 72% if not higher, of two working parent families are looking forward to an early learning and child care system so they can take advantage of a system that in the province of Quebec costs $7.

Supply June 14th, 2005

They are good at criticizing, but not listening.

That is what has to be remembered—the concept of choice. That is the difference. Our national framework on early learning and child care gives the provinces and territories the opportunity to choose how to assume their responsibilities to parents and children. It gives parents greater flexibility and more options in the ways they provide emotional and intellectual stimulation for their children.

For all those reasons I cannot support the motion tabled by the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove. She is not providing a real choice, as I said in my remarks. There is no question that a truly effective system of early learning and child care for every province and territory will not happen overnight. We have accepted that. It will take time and a sustained commitment to develop but I believe that the national framework for early learning and child care provides a solid foundation for this to happen. That is what we are looking at and that is why the minister keeps referring to the way we set up both the health care system and the education system in Canada.

The Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories and Canadian families share a vision. It is a vision, not a tax cut that we are providing and a common desire to help meet the needs of our families and children. I invite opposition members to join us in making this vision a reality for all Canadians.

Supply June 14th, 2005

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.

Supply June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Perth—Wellington should be very careful in terms of putting words into the minister's mouth. He never said that parents are incapable. He never said that. It was quite the opposite.

As far as a hidden agenda goes, let us talk about the hidden agenda of the members opposite. I asked a very important question. I asked the hon. member who spoke before the member for Perth—Wellington, who is the critic, to tell us exactly what that party is offering. Is it tax cuts? Is it agreements in principle with the provinces? Is it other measures?

Let me tell the hon. member what the government has provided to support families with children. The Canadian child tax benefit is a tax-free monthly payment which helps over 80% of families. The child disability benefit and the Canada pension plan provide income support for low income families supporting children with disabilities. There is the eligible dependent amount for single, divorced, separated or widowed parents without children. There is the parental leave that we introduced. I could go on. Actually, I will be making those remarks in my speech to follow.

We have no hidden agenda, but I will ask the hon. member the same thing I have been asking since this morning. What is it that the Conservatives are actually providing as a choice? All we have heard is a tax break. That tax break breaks down to $400 for someone who chooses to work, or has to work in the case of a single mother who wants to get out of poverty, and who actually wants an early learning and child care program.

I have done all three, as I said earlier. I have stayed home with my children. I have had a grandparent take care of them. I have also placed them in an early learning and child care centre. No one on this side of the House objects to giving families the choice to actually stay home and take care of their children. We have actually given them some benefits.

I am asking the hon. member, what will his party do to balance the budget and at the same time offer tax cuts?

Supply June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I do not think we have heard anything new, but just what has always been the rhetoric coming from the other side in terms of tax breaks. I think it has been made very clear by other members in the House today that this is not a solution in setting up a system. It is not a solution in terms of having choices.

As many letters as the hon. member has read, I can read many others that have been sent to Social Development Canada asking for an early learning and child care system.

I did not hear anything in the hon. member's speech about how that party is going to continue to say it will be fiscally responsible and at the same time pay for the tax breaks it is going to give to all families, according to what it says, although it talks in terms of an elitist approach to tax cuts and at the higher level of two working parents at $50,000. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps she would like to enlighten Canadians who are listening on exactly what she means by tax breaks and also what she means by other initiatives. I have not heard anything in terms of the other initiatives.

Other members said earlier that they are going to respect the agreements in principle that the government has signed. Five of those agreements have been signed with the provinces. The Conservatives are going to give tax breaks. They are also going to allow for day care centres in churches and all sorts of other structures. That cost has not been tabulated by the hon. members.

I would like the member to let Canadians know what the cost is. At the same time, as long as they are spending this money, how are they going to keep a balanced budget, as we have done for eight consecutive years?

Supply June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I would commend the hon. member. I thank him because he has been out there campaigning for a national early leaning and child care system. He is very supportive of the initiative of the government and we appreciate that.

I want him to elaborate a little on the economic benefits. It is important for Canadians to understand the economic benefits. Her Majesty's official opposition is constantly referring to economic benefits. However, when we look at the proposals it has put forth, my question would be this, and I am hoping to have an opportunity to ask it of the next speaker on the other side. How do we keep a balanced budget? How do members opposite align that with their fiscally responsible rhetoric, while at the same time look at a system that will cost millions of dollars, according to the type of proposal they have made?

The hon. member made a few remarks, but I would ask him to repeat some of the remarks about the economic benefits. I think this is very important for low income families.

Supply June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member. I have had the pleasure and the honour of working with her on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I know we share the same opinions on creation of a system, but not where the national level is concerned. That is understandable, however. I come from the province of Quebec, where we already have a system in place, and I think she made it clear what that system was and what its benefits were for Quebec families and children.

I would like her to give a bit more detail on two points. First of all, since we are a national government, we have a national vision. She does not share that opinion, but it is nevertheless our responsibility to sit down and negotiate with the provinces. We are in the process of negotiating with Quebec and I feel that these negotiations must be respected and must continue.

Second, I would like to know whether she shares the opinion of our Conservative colleagues who presented this motion: that this is a terrible hodge-podge. Before there was just a subsidy for families, but now it is more than that. They want to respect the agreements we have already signed and perhaps also to introduce some funding for families. But I do not think that it is for families like the families in need that I know, for example the single women who need to work in order to lift their families out of poverty. They need an efficient child care system and that is precisely what is available in Quebec. Quebec makes available a system that is relatively inexpensive, one that can provide children with learning and give parents the means of lifting their families out of poverty.

Supply June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am having a difficult time understanding, even though we have debated this issue many times, what the hon. member means by choice.

We are giving Canadians a national system of early learning and child care, not babysitting as the opposition has stated, and not only day care but early learning. We are doing that in collaboration with our provincial colleagues. There are five provinces in fact which have already signed an agreement in principle.

The hon. member talked as if money was not a consideration. Unfortunately, money is a consideration for many low income and middle income families across this country. That is why we feel we must have a universal system in order to give children a good start in life.

My children were privileged. They had the benefit of their mother at home and they had the benefit of their grandmother, and also an early learning and day care centre. I have had that experience as a woman, one who chose to work. In general, the women that I speak to, and the groups which the minister and our department have consulted with, feel very strongly about giving the right choice.

The only choice that the opposition has given is a tax break of $400 which does not even buy half a space, as far as I know, either in Toronto or Montreal. But the hon. member and her party have also said that they will honour the agreements in principle. What is really the Conservative policy? Is it going to honour the agreements in principle that have already been signed or is it going to scrap the whole thing and only provide the band-aid solution it provides to every problem in this country, a tax break?

Supply June 9th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I did say that there was a philosophical difference in how we view globalization, and that is obvious. I do deplore the fact that jobs have been lost in certain sectors. However, globalization has been an opportunity for Canadian companies in telecommunications, in the financial sector and in other areas to go out and find new markets. I am not sure the hon. member is totally against Canadian companies going out and finding new markets in order to create here at the same time.

I also want to make another comment in terms of the type of protectionist attitude on the part of the Americans, for example, softwood lumber and other industries, and the difference with Canada respecting our international agreements after signing them. We respect them unlike, at times, our American friends who sign the agreements and then decide to put in protectionist policies.

As far as a made in Canada policy, I have to agree with the hon. member. It is something I have raised in terms of the textile and apparel industry. We should have a made in Canada policy that goods should be marked made in Canada.

I just wanted to make those comments because I know we are running out of time and there are other comments to be made.

Supply June 9th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member is well aware, and as I have said before, I have some experience in the textile and apparel industry. I would invite the member to read my speech in order to see what measures I have taken personally, and with the government, in connection with those industries.

Our two sides have definite philosophical differences, and that we accept.

The EI fund is not intended to keep people unemployed. It is there to help them temporarily when they lose their jobs. That was the philosophy of the federal government. Now there are, however, other programs created to help people who have lost their jobs and who, we realize, are not going to be able to work.

At the same time, I repeat, these workers must also have the opportunity to access employment and training if they wish. Training remains under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec, and we acknowledge that. We have transferred $600 million to Quebec for worker assistance programs.

This is a question I have asked before and I am asking again. It is all very well to demand things, but the government is the one responsible for the actions. The Bloc can try to work with the Government of Quebec, even if it has not had as much success in lobbying it as it would like to have with its Quebec separatist brethren. What is it going to do to encourage the Government of Quebec to create programs for older workers?

I have had the opportunity to encourage the Liberal government of Quebec to put in place a program for these textile and garment workers, who are in need of it. They are not the only ones to have compassion for these workers. A number of members here in this House also feel for them.