That is right.
This program is a co-op based apprenticeship program that integrates a college technician diploma program with a 16 month segment of trade school paid apprenticeship training.The Mohawk-Dofasco-Lake Erie-United Steelworkers pilot approach has been applied successfully to the electrical and mechanical disciplines.
One worker says, “In the plant where I was an apprentice there were 400 apprentices in the earlier eighties. Now there are only two. And the small number of apprentices, less than one per cent of Canada's workforce, are among the dwindling number of Canadians receiving any employer support for workplace training”.
Whether we are talking about the old economy or the so-called new economy of highly skilled workers, Canadian workers are well aware that access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. There is overwhelming evidence showing that everybody wins when every worker has access to skills training.
Investment in education makes sense for the employer, for the worker and for society. We cannot allow education, training and skills development to become simply another commodity in the marketplace, nor can we leave it to the whim of a benevolent employer. It is the very underpinning of a civilized, intelligent and caring society and should be treated as a right or an entitlement. Every citizen should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to contribute to their community to the best of their ability and have access, without fear of cost, to the best training and education possible to that end.
These are the social democratic principles we, as New Democrats, will be bringing to the policy debate in our country and in the House, which brings me to the debate we are having here this morning. We are looking at the new bill that the government has proposed to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and to say to the House that we have some very real concerns.
I have been here for some nine months and I have not seen anything that indicates that the government is at all interested in even coming close to the principles that I have just laid out in the few thoughts that I have shared so far this afternoon in the House.
When we first expressed support for it, we thought the bill was simply a housekeeping bill, giving legislative framework for a ministry already up and running for a year. We think it is good to streamline ministries from time to time, separating social development policy and program work from HRDC program delivery. However at the time we registered our concern that the government, in its ongoing slighting of Parliament, had the ministry in operation a full year without parliamentary approval. We found out later that this is a government that actually continues, time and time again, to ignore Parliament.
Parliament defeated the bill that would have split foreign affairs and international trade, but what is Parliament to the government? Government goes ahead and does it anyway.
A parliamentary committee rejected the appointment of the former mayor of Winnipeg to an environment board because it did not think he was qualified. The Prime Minister does not need Parliament. He went ahead and made the appointment anyway.
A government that has practically no legislative agenda to bring forward to the House, when we have this minority Parliament opportunity to do so much good for the country and our communities, has to give all of us some hesitation. When it finally does bring something forward to actually get our approval, we really need to look at it and to try to understand why it is coming forward in the first place, what the intention behind it is and what the track record is of the government for implementing legislation.
This past year we have watched the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development in action. Now, we certainly oppose the legislation because of the abysmal track record of the ministry and the government this past year with respect to the Department of HRSDC and its core issues, such as funding community agencies, on which we are wrapping up an investigation as we speak; employment insurance; housing; labour market, work skills strategies; and student loans.
I will speak about funding of community agencies in a moment but right across the board this ministry has been a spectacular failure in its first year of operation under its new name and new mandate. We should have known. The government has shown no indication of changing its billion dollar boondoggle ways at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
The Liberal budget did not reflect or incorporate the HR committee recommendations on EI. What a scandal that was. It would have reduced the hours to qualify. It would have addressed the problems with seasonal workers and would have given more incentives to work rather than the disincentive that now exists.
Our colleague, the member from New Brunswick, has been a tireless champion on the EI file and pushes it every chance he gets. He puts it in the face of government and asks when it will actually get down to spending the money, which the workers put into that fund themselves in the first place, on those things that they need when they find themselves challenged by unemployment and looking to take advantage of new opportunities.
The Liberal budget also had nothing for housing and the homeless which falls under this ministry. It was only in a last death bed recantation that the government finally sat down with the New Democrats and actually put something in the budget for housing that will help people in communities across the country.
With respect to student loans, recent studies confirm that the learning bond idea is a bad idea, helping the more affluent Canadians and not helping ordinary and poorer Canadians. The Liberal budget leaves students out in the cold.
Instead of tackling the funding crisis in post-secondary education, the Liberal government chose to spend $4.6 billion on corporate tax cuts and still more on the national debt. That was continuing until just a couple of weeks ago when we convinced them that the money would be better spent on people, on communities and on issues that people know are important and need to be addressed. Because of the New Democratic Party we now have some money ready to flow, if we can get the budget passed in this place, to actually help those folks and help those programs.
Less debt is good but a truly balanced budget must also invest in Canadians' priorities. Under the Liberals, tuition has doubled while student aid has dwindled. That leaves more students buckling under their own debt loads. Others are forced to scrap their post-secondary education plans entirely. The big benefit for students in the budget that the Liberal government brought forward and tabled a couple of months ago is something a person has to die to see. Regrettably, I mean that quite literally: students' debts will now be forgiven at death.
Ontario is a have not province in its treatment of students. This is not what Canadians voted for in the past election. The Prime Minister told Canadians to vote Liberal for a progressive government. He promised to make education more affordable. Where is the follow through? The follow through is now happening to some limited degree because the New Democrats held the Liberals' feet to the fire in an agreement to try to get the budget through because we know that there are things that need to be done for people if they are going to take advantage of the new economy and opportunities that are coming at them.
We now have some money in the budget to help with the question of tuition, particularly for the ordinary and lower income families and students across the province who need support and help in order to access the education that they know they need so that they can contribute with the skills that they will develop in the economy.
Incredibly, students must wait 10 years before applying for bankruptcy protection from student loans. That has been true since 1998 when the Liberals stretched the waiting period from two years to ten years. Only students face this discrimination. Our party will keep fighting until every capable student has a chance to pursue a post-secondary education. Canadians deserve that. Our changing economy demands it.
I want to talk for a couple of minutes about the human resources and skills development funding fiasco, the investigation that we have been dealing with in committee for quite some time now.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is signalling to the Speaker that maybe my time is up. It is the same behaviour he takes part in at committee when he tries to shut down almost everything I bring forward to try to get to the bottom of that scandal.