Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to debate the hon. member's motion.
I know the hon. member appreciates the value of a good education and wants to ensure all Canadian students are given every opportunity to fulfil their education potential. On that point I am sure all members of the House are in agreement.
Education is a provincial responsibility. It always has been and always will be. Even though that is a given, the federal government recognizes its role in helping to make the post-secondary education system accessible to all Canadians wishing to participate in it.
The government would be acting irresponsibly if it did not consider support for post-secondary education in the context of our fiscal framework.
I remind the leader of the Reform Party that when the government began reviewing our social security system, we made it clear federal support to post-secondary education would have to be put to the best possible use because of limited resources.
That is still the case. Nothing has changed in that regard. The budget proposes to bring together transfers for health, post-secondary education and social services into a single bloc transfer.
This is a simple recognition of reality, not only the reality of fulfilling the mandate Canadians have given us to bring down our deficit but the reality that in the 1990s this will be a much more effective way for the provinces to administer federal funds that support social programs.
The government also supports post-secondary education through the Canada student loans program. When the government passed the Canada Students Financial Assistance Act last June, it introduced significant reforms to the Canada student loans program.
Intended to help students complete their post-secondary studies without undue hardship, the act provides for the repayment of student loans on an income contingent basis.
My colleagues from the Reform Party actively supported this provision. As a result, I am confused why my hon. colleagues are proposing such an amendment at this time.
Since the act was passed the government has consulted many parties on the concept of linking repayment of loans to income levels and that such a measure is still very much a possibility.
In its report to the House, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development said that during its nationwide hearings it received energetic and concerned input from many educators in colleges and universities.
We can get a good handle on the desires of Canadians regarding federal support to post-secondary education by examining the committee's findings. The committee's report stated the fiscal situation of all governments precludes additional public spending on higher education in Canada.
The committee pointed out that because the government is reviewing its support for post-secondary education at a time when educational institutions are under increasing pressures, fiscal and otherwise, it must ensure scarce resources are used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The committee noted that in debating federal contributions to PSE, it is essential to stress provincial jurisdictions over policies governing colleges and universities. It is important to help enhance the viability of colleges and universities while not interfering with provincial jurisdiction.
The committee's report reflects the broad views of Canadians on our post-secondary education system. I believe it is reasonable to ascertain from its input that the direction in which the government is moving has widespread support.
There is another aspect that I do not believe the hon. member's motion takes into consideration. Because of what I mentioned regarding the provincial jurisdiction over post-secondary education, the federal government, even if it had unlimited funds, has no authority to tell the provinces how they should spend current PSE dollars.
There is no equivalent to the Canada Health Act in this area. I would therefore urge the hon. member to make his views on improving the post-secondary education system known to provincial education authorities.
I assure him we would certainly welcome the support of the Reform Party and of all members in strengthening post-secondary education.
Here is the new reality. Beginning in the 1996-97 fiscal year we will consolidate the current transfers under the established programs financing and the Canada assistance plan into a single block fund to be known as the Canada social transfer.
In the first year the CST will be $26.9 billion. That is a drop of $2.5 billion. If we also consider the equalization payment, total major transfers will be only 4.4 per cent less than the current total. However cuts in all other areas of federal spending will be 7.3 per cent compared to the current system. In other words the government is doing what Canadians have asked us to do. We are getting our own house in order.
Equalization payments are not affected by the budget. Hence total cuts to those provinces with greater need will be less than the average cuts to all provinces. While councils that distribute research grants will be doing their share to help meet our deficit reduction targets, universities will still benefit from research grants totalling $900 million for research on medical issues, science and technology and the social sciences and humanities.
The government appreciates that the hon. leader of the Reform Party has brought forward the issue for debate. I assure the hon. member that the Minister of Human Resources Development will work in collaboration with the provinces to establish the shared principles and objectives for CST.
Post-secondary education will not be shortchanged by us or the provinces. We all recognize, as does the hon. member, that colleges and universities play a vital role in training a highly skilled workforce.
Therefore I would like to move an amendment to the motion:
That Motion M-291 be amended by deleting all the words after the word "system".
I urge the House to support the proposed amendment that would endorse the continued investigation of the feasibility of the ICR concept in the broader context of helping students cope with the debts they incur by investing in their own future.