Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak on the government's action plan for social security reform.
The minister has invited the members on all sides of this House to join together in this critically important mission, nothing less than the entire rebuilding of the social security, labour market and learning framework of our nation.
In the recent election the people of Canada asked us for a sweeping change. Clearly Canadians want the government to act, to provide leadership in getting people back to work. No more inattention, indifference or inaction. They want action on job creation.
As the minister has said, reform of our social programs is the most important, most compelling, most sweeping task we face today as a nation. The decisions we make in the coming year will affect every single person who lives in this country, in this century and the next.
The government's approach to reforming our social security programs is to preserve and foster Canada's well-earned reputation as a society in which we help those who need our help. This has indeed been our long tradition, going back hundreds of years, even before the birth of the nation.
Each of us in this House has an opportunity to continue that tradition by weighing the proposals put before us from citizens of every quarter, considering the merits of all recommendations
and, with due deliberation, deciding what the best solutions for our country are.
Each of us, I am sure, know constituents in our own ridings who are suffering: children who are poor and going to school hungry; young men and women with no jobs and no prospects; families trying to support both young children and aging parents; single parents seemingly trapped on social assistance; workers who have spent half of a lifetime in an industry that is now dying; other workers with skills nobody wants any more; people in our inner cities oppressed by poverty and despair. These are people in our own neighbourhoods, on every avenue, crescent, road in our political ridings, whether it is mine in York North, or Montreal or Vancouver. These are people who are suffering, who are asking the federal government for action. We have a responsibility, as we do to all Canadians, to bring back hope, to bring back a sense of dignity to the lives of those people and their children.
Altogether there are millions of citizens who are not benefiting from our present so-called safety net.
It is evident to me that the safety net is full of holes. Restoring employment as the key concern of the government requires a complete overhaul of our existing programs. We must examine, analyse and reform unemployment insurance, training and employment programs, social assistance and income security, aid to education and learning, labour practices and rules affecting the workplace, taxes and premiums that affect job creation, management of programs in government and between governments, and delivery of services.
Our purpose is to renew, revitalize, re-invigorate the government's role in advancing the prosperity and security of all Canadians.
It must foster creative new linkages, eliminate disincentives, seek efficiencies, organize by mission, organize by vision rather than by bureaucratic mandate. We must, at the end of the day, improve spending efficiencies by monitoring the results of those programs. That is fundamental to accountability in our system.
To those who insist that the objective is simply to cut costs, I simply must say to them that they are wrong. The present system is not working. People understand that. People understand that young people are having problems in the transition period between school to work. People on social assistance understand that there are disincentives to once again getting back into the workplace.
Everywhere I go throughout this country people are telling me that what they really want is an opportunity for a job. The high school dropout wants a vehicle of opportunity so that he can return to the workplace, and the older worker whose job has been eliminated because of globalization or downsizing, call it what you want, wants a vehicle of opportunity too. He does not like to sit at home. What he is saying to us is, please, give us something; give us something we can hope for. That person who is sitting there waiting for this opportunity to knock also has a son and a daughter whose prospects are not any better.
I think that in this House we must do some soul searching. We must look within ourselves and find the inner strength to face change, to provide this country with the type of change that Canadians called for on October 25.
We can perhaps fight for the status quo, as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition stated earlier this morning. But let me tell you, that is not the mandate we on this side received. People told us they wanted change, they wanted reform. We have a responsibility not only to react to what the public wants, but also to take a leadership role that has been missing for far too many years in the House of Commons.
Why change? The evidence is there, for all of us to see: chronic long-term unemployment; too high levels of illiteracy; one million children living in poverty; an entire generation of young men and women without employment. We are still asking ourselves, why change?
The time to move is now. We have no time to waste. The high school dropout who needs a vehicle of opportunity needs it today. Tomorrow is too far away.
Our nation is fast becoming two Canadas: one comprising the secure and well-paid, the other containing those with part-time, low-paid, intermittent work. It is the type of polarization that I spoke about when I was employment critic of my party and I was occupying your seat. I said then and I will repeat today that no one has benefited from nine years of Conservative trickle-down economics. Nobody has. We have divided a nation on economic terms. We have denied people opportunity. The days when working hard and playing by the rules meant reward are long gone. Well, this government will restore those days, and this government will bring back hope to so many Canadians who are today hopeless.
We are living in very stressful, discouraging, dispirited times. This type of feeling is evident with our young people as it is with our older people. It is evident in every sector of our society. Discussions around kitchen tables are not about getting up in the morning and looking forward to tomorrow with confidence. They are about whether or not there will be a job waiting for them tomorrow. It is about reading about downsizing, about trickle-down economics, about young people who have lost hope. That has to change. This is the type of dialogue that I hope Canadians will engage in.
Whether you sit on this side of the House or that side, we were given a mandate to represent people's views. Whether you are a member of the Bloc Quebecois, the Reform Party or the governing Liberals, there is a constant reminder. As we take our seats in this House, we must always remember that when we knocked on doors during the election campaign people were asking us to restore their faith in the role of government. They wanted us to give their children hope for the future and to build safer and better communities for everyone.
The day we forget the reason why we are here will indeed be a very sad day for this country.
If I may, I would like to return to the minister's comments this morning. He set out two goals for our action plan. The first goal is to confront the issues that face us. They include long-term structural unemployment, even when the economy is growing, faulty adjustments for people who have to change jobs, and constant changes in technology affecting the labour market and training programs. There are people in this House who are not aware of the technological revolution that has occurred, even though it has redefined time and space.
The unacceptably high levels of school drop-outs, illiteracy and shortage of skills are things we should all be extremely concerned about. We should also be concerned about the growing poverty, especially among children, the stress caused by competing demands of the family and the workplace. Among some corporations there is a persistent determination to cut jobs, even though there is growing evidence that this does not achieve the expected efficiencies.
While it might perhaps look great in the corporate culture to say "I want a lean and mean organization", I feel that is not the function of a cultured business person. To me, a cultured business person is one who can absorb technological advances while at the same time widening the opportunities for his or her workers. It is not simply saying to your workers, "I have a better and more efficient machine, so I don't need you any more". We are talking about people. We are talking about people's lives. We are talking about families. We are essentially talking about the future of our country.
We will be engaging in a number of discussions with other governments and we will be looking at ways to end duplication and waste that exists. We will also look at the limited capacity of governments to provide assistance and security.
The second goal of our action plan is to propose options for change to meet basic employment insurance and adjustment needs, restructure parts of the unemployment insurance program and the Canada assistance plan, and to create a new form of employment insurance. We want to broaden educational and training assistance to recognize the need for life-long learning. We want to enhance support and care provisions for children, and introduce measures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can achieve equality, independence and full participation in employment. We want to seek a better balance between incentives for job creation and funding social security programs.
We want to ensure basic security for those in need; redefine the roles and responsibilities between governments; improve efficiency; strengthen the co-operative nature of all levels of government; and we want to design new and improved ways of delivering our services. The challenge is great, but let us make it very clear from the start that it is not merely a challenge for members on this side. Essentially today we have begun a process of positive change for all Canadians.
We hope and trust that members of the opposition will take the opportunity to participate, whether through parliamentary committees or in their own ridings, seeking input from their own constituents to participate in redesigning the social security system of this country. Perhaps this will be the most important initiative this government will undertake.
In a modest way I must say to you that we simply cannot do it on our own. We need your input, whether you agree with our vision of the country or not. We need to hear what the people are saying. Some of you will participate as members of the parliamentary committee, but that does not mean that the rest of us will not have a role to play.
These types of issues should be discussed in every riding, in town hall meetings, and in everything one does as a member of Parliament. At the end of the day, the legislation that we collectively will propose to the Parliament of Canada will design the type of Canada that will lead us confidently to the 21st century.