Madam Speaker, this bill is a worthy symbol of the Liberal government. The Department of Human Resources and the Department of Skills Development were separated a year and a half ago and Parliament is being asked to approve it only now. So much for treating Parliament with more respect and solving the democratic deficit.
We support the bill simply because there is little point in opposing it, but let us consider what is missing. At a time when students are struggling with rising debt and Canada's economic competitiveness is lagging, the bill ignores the real issues while focusing instead on changing names on letterhead and reorganizing bureaucratic organization charts.
The bill ignores the priorities that should be the focus of the government's attention in HRDC or, as it is to become, HRSDC. Perhaps it already has become that because the government, it seems, even if we were to oppose it, would declare, as it did with the foreign affairs and international trade departments, that it does not matter what this House says, it will divide it anyhow.
While the government is focusing on that kind of bureaucratic shuffling as the matter for us to attend to, there are other issues that should be attended to that are not. Our economic competitiveness is suffering while Canada's training strategy is woefully lacking. Students are increasingly in debt. Employment insurance is still not resolved as an issue. Skills training, critical to economic growth and prosperity, is lagging and is ignored.
Canadians have dreams for a better Canada, to have brighter futures through education, to enjoy the fruits of their labour through lower taxes, to live in a country that is free from corruption, to have a competitive economy and to have the opportunity to improve their quality of life through advancement and improvement.
However where are we under the government? Canada now ranks 15th in the world economic forum's global competitiveness rankings. Canada used to be ranked 4th, back when the Prime Minister was finance minister. From the 4th spot to the 15th spot in competitiveness is the track record of the government while it is focusing on bureaucratic shuffles.
In that same report from the world economic forum, Canada dropped on the technology index from 2nd place to 13th place and dropped to 15th place in the business competitive index in 2004.
A few years ago Canada was fifth on Transparency International's clean government index. That is an index that measures perceptions of how corrupt a government is in a country.
Today Canada has plummeted from 5th spot to 12th spot on that clean government index, and that was even before the Gomery commission started doing its work and hearing evidence. I do not think that this year's ratings are something to look forward to for Canadians. Perhaps in training the government might think of having a little more training in ethics.
Declining support for education and productivity is affecting our quality of life. In 1993, when Brian Mulroney retired as Prime Minister, the United Nations human development index ranked Canada the number one country in the world to live. By 2003, Canada had fallen to eighth place on that index. Simply put, taxes are too high in Canada. They are killing the incentive to be productive and they are making it difficult for hard-working families to invest in their futures.
As well, Canada has the fifth highest income tax as a percentage of GDP of all the OECD countries. Since taking office, the amount of income tax revenue that the government takes in has almost doubled, increasing by 80%.
Since 1993, Canada has been tied for the lowest productivity growth in the G-7 and Canada's productivity has fallen to 84% of that of our American neighbours.
What is Bill C-23 doing to handle this competitiveness gap, this productivity gap that's emerging, the declining standard of living? What is it doing to really help Canadians acquire better skills so we have a more educated and better equipped workforce to compete in the world? Nothing. Nothing in the bill addresses any of those priorities, which are the real priorities of Canadians and should be the real priorities of this government and the human resources department.
In skills training, what has the government done? Direct funding to colleges has been cut to the tune of 80% since the Liberals took office. Colleges are the best proven providers of workforce training. In fact, of those who graduate from the community college system, over 90% end up in jobs where they are contributing right after graduation. This is a 90% success rate.
However, when we look at the training programs in the human resources department, the evidence given by the minister at committee on estimates showed that less than 50% of those who graduated from the human resources EI training programs found work.
The community colleges have a 90% success rate and the government cuts their funding by 80%. The EI training program has a 50% or less success rate and the government begins to funnel money into it.
It is clear to me that the way of approaching training in this country is very poorly equipped for the challenges of our current economy. It is one that does not recognize success and one that in fact recognizes and reinforces failure.
There is no focus in the bill on what is needed to stimulate economic growth and productivity through skills training, which leads me to post-secondary education. What has been the case for post-secondary education in Canada? Under the present government we have not seen a serious effort to recognize that post-secondary education is critical to the success of our economy and to our workforce to helping young people achieve their dreams for a brighter future.
Interest rates on student loans, loans that are given to people who are trying to advance themselves and improve themselves, things we should be encouraging people to do, are at prime plus 2.5% to prime plus 5%. That is what the government is charging people who have taken out student loans.
Even bad risk lenders get around prime plus 1% from a bank or prime plus 2%. Why is the government running the student loan program as a profit making centre? Clearly there is no interest in being serious about support for post-secondary education.
In addition, we still do not have a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education even after the Liberal government cut program funding to colleges and universities in half since taking office.
What have we seen on employment insurance? Only thanks to the fact that this is a minority Parliament have we seen any action at all. It was only by attaching an amendment to the throne speech to deal with the flaws in employment insurance that the opposition parties finally forced a reluctant Liberal government to act on the matter.
What action have we seen? Sadly, very little. Currently, EI has a $46 billion surplus that has been effectively stolen from workers and diverted into other priorities, other than what they had contributed to. This is $46 billion of workers' and employers' premiums that have been taken away from them. It is another regressive tax by the government applied to things that do not do anything for economic growth and prosperity, that do not help workers and employers and that do not create jobs. It is a tax that is slowing the economy and creating a drag.
What do we get? We get a government that says it is doing something but it is still dithering. Virtually no changes have been made to the employment insurance system. In everything the government does it simply goes through the motions and dithers.
The government is not taking action and through the bill what is it doing? It is simply reorganizing organization charts, printing new letterhead and sending out for new business cards because we are changing the name of the department.
Meanwhile the real priorities are ignored by the Liberal government. It is unable to stop overtaxing through its unreasonable employment insurance premiums. It is unwilling to make training relevant, to create a competitive economy and to increase productivity. It is unaware of the need to lower ridiculously high student loan interest rates. It is unremitting in its refusal to establish a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education.
Unfortunately, the bill does nothing for Canadians other than create a bureaucratic shuffle to support a cabinet shuffle in an effort to shuffle the scandal ridden HRDC name into the past.
Why is the bill even on the table? It is very simple. It is because the government wants to get rid of the odour of the HRDC scandal. That is what prompted the name change in the first place. That was an example of how the government could not manage the people's tax dollars and, in fact, took those tax dollars and diverted them to other improper, inappropriate partisan purposes. Does that sound familiar?
The bill does nothing to benefit Canadians from the actual changes in the operation of government. It is only a public relations exercise to get rid of that HRDC name that is now so scandal tainted.
However it will not work because the one thing we can count on in the Liberal government is that as one scandal gets left behind, do not worry, there is another one coming along pretty soon to take its place.