Mr. Speaker, I am dividing my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.
I appreciate this opportunity to participate in today's debate to discuss a matter that is of vital importance both to Canada's parents and to all Canadians.
I am sure most Canadians can agree on one thing: our children must come first. Few issues matter more than ensuring our children get off to a good start in life.
I would like us all to take a minute this afternoon to reflect on what is happening in Canada. More than half of young Canadians under six years of age are cared for by someone other than their parents, often in arrangements that differ from one family to the next. Institutional day care does not necessarily suit all these families.
In fact, a recent Statistics Canada report found that only about 15% of preschool children are in formal day care centres. The biggest proportion, well over half of all children under the age of six, are actually cared for at home by mom, dad, a close relative or a neighbour. The report clearly shows the wide diversity of child care choices Canadian families make.
As the father of five children, I am well aware that there is no one size fits all solution to child care, and so too is this government. There was a time when four of my children were under the age of six. I can tell members that the Liberal government did nothing to help me or other families like mine.
What it did do was increase taxes and then insult parents by stating that the Liberals knew better than parents how best to raise their children. What arrogance. Earlier this week, we had a Liberal member implying that without the Liberal day care program crime would go up. It is unbelievable.
Canadian parents are the real experts on child care. They do not need to be told how to raise their children, least of all by government. Parents know best when it comes to raising their children and preparing them for future successes.
That being said, this Conservative government recognizes that parents could use a little financial help. That is why we want to provide parents with real choice in child care: so they can choose the best form of child care to meet their unique needs.
During the election campaign, we defended the right of families to choose for themselves the kind of care that suits their children. We want to give parents the right to decide what best meets their needs.
For this reason, one of the first actions that the government takes will be to give all parents of pre-school children a universal child care benefit. Beginning in July, Canadian families will receive $1,200 a year for every child under age six.
All parents will receive the universal child care benefit, regardless of the type of care that they choose. Whether they care for their children at home or have them cared for by a neighbour or family member, whether they send them to a day care or opt for something else, they will get the benefit.
We know that there are as many ways to raise a child as there are children. We understand that no two Canadian families are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for the other. Parents must be able to choose the child care that best suits their family. That is why parents could use this benefit as they see fit to pay for child care. It might be public or private child care, provided by a neighbour or a relative, or whatever works best.
Today many parents work evenings, weekends or night shifts to make ends meet. Other parents have seasonal work or run a small business from home. These parents need child care options to fit their families' unique schedules and needs.
The day care systems that work well in Canadian cities do not necessarily work well in rural areas, and vice versa. For example, in my riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, the Liberals’ institutionalized day care system would not work. There would not be any day care spaces in such small towns as Embrun, L'Orignal or Vankleek Hill.
Canadians want a system that suits all children and their parents, whether they live in a large urban centre or in a small town or on a family farm.
Quite simply, Canada's universal child care plan is about putting the choice for child care back into the hands of parents. We want to give Canada's parents the freedom to choose the best care for their own children. The universal child care benefit will help Canadian families in a very real and tangible way.
After 13 years of being told about grand designs for day care by the former government, Canadian parents were left with nothing more than empty promises. That is why Canadians voted for a new government that is making child care one of its top five priorities. This government honours its commitments and will follow through with child care.
We know that the right investments work wonders today and for decades to come. Strong families ensure a bright future for Canada. One of the most important investments we can make as a country is in our children. We are offering something real to all Canadian parents, something that will make life easier and help parents with their child care choices.
If we work together and get this budget passed, parents will receive their first cheques in July. Why would anyone want to deny parents this money? This allowance is in addition to the $13 billion that the Government of Canada already invests each year in Canadian families and children, including the Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement, the child care expense deduction and the Canada learning bond.
Some families will choose to send their child to a day care centre. However, as most Canadians know only too well, there are simply not enough spaces in day cares for the families that need them. This lack of spaces only aggravates the stress that the families of today already feel. That is where the second part of the government’s new child care system comes into play.
We are going to introduce new measures to help businesses and non-profit organizations create child care spaces where they are needed most. To that end, our plan will invest $250 million per year to create 25,000 more child care spaces per year across Canada beginning in 2007. These are spaces that will be designed, created and delivered in the communities where parents live, work and raise their children. They will be flexible and responsive to the needs of working families.
Our solution is to help employers and community organizations to create new child care spaces that make sense for the way Canadian families live and work in their communities today. We will be working with provinces and territories, businesses, communities and non-profit organizations to make sure we get this initiative right.
Unlike the previous government's record, which is one of neglect and inaction, this government has a real plan to support Canadian families. Simply put, Canada's new government is going to the wall on the issues that matter most to Canadian families and children.
The lives of our children are very dear to us.
During the last election campaign, we made a firm promise to protect Canadian families.
Protecting Canadian families means protecting all kinds of families—whether they are urban or rural, whether they consist of two parents or one, whether the parents are in the labour force or stay at home.
For too long, the people in power have been dismissing the difficulties that hard-working parents face.
Let us give hard-working Canadian families the choices they need to raise their children as they see fit. Let us give Canadian parents a break. Let us give Canadian families a real choice in child care with Canada's universal child care plan.