The House resumed from November 26, 2004, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, how can the Bloc Québécois support the creation of a department whose mandate would mean interference in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces? Such an attitude certainly comes as no surprise, since the government has shown us once again what has now become its trademark.
There is consensus in Quebec that social development is part of Quebec's jurisdiction, just like health, education, municipal affairs and so forth. It would not make sense for the Bloc Québécois to support such an abuse of power, especially since this area affects the public so directly.
In any case, need I remind hon. members that Quebec never supported the 1999 framework agreement on social union? Despite the fact that 97% of the funds from this department will be allocated for seniors, the fact remains that this jurisdiction, which the federal government unfortunately appropriated, should never have been given up by the provinces. By doing so, they opened the door to federal intrusions in social development.
Besides the worthy goal of protecting and possibly improving Canada's social foundation, how can we be sure we are not witnessing another violation of our jurisdictions? Judging from past experience, it is not hard to predict what will happen.
As we all know by now, the Department of Social Development is the result of the split of the former Department of Human Resources. Its role will be to put in place a system that will ensure the elderly, handicapped, families and children have an adequate income.
The new department, through its 12,000 civil servants, will manage a budget on the order of $53 billion to be injected into our social foundations, but only on the condition that it respects provincial and territorial jurisdictions, as the government promised in the throne speech.
The new Minister for Social Development will have to ensure the department operates within the parameters accorded the provinces. The mission of the Department of Social Development is to enhance the well-being of individuals, families and communities through a set of measures tailored to their needs.
As you know, Quebec has expertise in most of these areas. Once again, we will obviously see a duplication of costs. In view of the lack of will to consult, vital to success in the area and in the context, we can already assume that the results will be hit and miss and cobbled together.
In view of the money involved, $53 billion, 97% of which will go to the Canada pension plan and old age security, duplication must be avoided at all cost.
For years the Auditor General of Canada has pointed at the fact that some expenses such as the Canada child tax benefit can be found under tax spending but not under the department's expenditures. There is an obvious lack of transparency. This then justifies the Bloc's concern.
Such a cavalier attitude sends a very negative message to Bloc members.
In order to create this new department, it is certain that some legislation will have to be amended or simply repealed so that there can be new rules, such as those addressing protection of and access to personal information other than what is governed by the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act. There is therefore an additional problem with this new approach, one that is likely to complicate case assessment still further, and is therefore far from a simple problem.
The Bloc Québécois has had a position on reimbursement of the GIS for some years now. We have demanded considerable sums for a number of Quebeckers and Canadians who were deprived of the GIS because they were not properly informed of the eligibility criteria.
In Quebec alone, the amount that did not go to eligible recipients since 1993 is in excess of $800 million. Despite the fact that some $100 million have been recovered since, the procedure still has to be considered pretty dubious, particularly since the government in power is still denying entitled recipients full repayment of all that is owed to them.
As far as inclusion, and the government''s involvement in that inclusion, is concerned, it must be kept in mind that the Liberals announced numerous measures in the 2004 budget, including tax deductions for integration of the disabled. The Bloc Québécois cannot do but rejoice at such initiatives, but we feel that no one is better placed than the Government of Quebec to do this properly.
As far as dynamic communities are concerned, a number of programs, such as the social development partnerships program, which is especially accessible to not-for-profit organizations, the voluntary and community sector initiative to improve relations with volunteers, and the new horizons for seniors program, will be helpful, there is no denying that.
However, since the relationship between all of Quebec's community organizations and our health and social services network is running smoothly, it is hard to admit that a more distant level of government could administer it better, or come up with a better adapted policy, given Quebec's familiarity with the approach already in use.
Looking at the new federal initiative aimed at a better understanding of young children, here is the best example of program duplication in the area of education. This is strictly a provincial program, all the more so because the Quebec professionals involved in it, in both the health and public education sectors, are at the leading edge of modern techniques in this area.
More interference is looming through the national child benefit. This is a program which guarantees financial support to low-income families with children by promoting a national threshold whereby payments would be calculated on the basis of income and expenses through the Canadian child benefit program. The government's avowed aim is clearly to raise its profile, an approach that suits the minister.
This federal intervention falls under the agreement on the social union. Well, so far as I know, this agreement has never been approved by Quebec. If the federal government wants to continue acting unilaterally, it should at least have the decency to compensate Quebec, which already has well-adapted, successful programs in that area, as is generally recognized.
Beyond problems of program harmonization in this area, another problem is arising in regard to the calculation of federal child benefits. The example of day care centres for $5 a day is the most striking evidence of this.
Some families lose more federal deductions than what they gain from the establishment of child care services. Because the federal government refused to harmonize its criteria with those in Quebec, families in Quebec have been hit with a shortfall of about $70 million.
In order to circumvent that kind of problem, the Bloc Québécois is advocating a refundable tax credit for all families with dependent children, regardless of the family's income. This approach would be much fairer and would be more in keeping with the circumstances of Quebec families. We have a similar situation with a program established in 2000 called early childhood development, under HRDC, to help young children.
Between 2000 and 2005, $2.2 billion was supposed to be paid to the provinces and territories to help lessen human misery, especially in low income families. The Quebec government cannot condone such interference, since the federal approach runs against several provincial jurisdictions.
Another subject raises many questions. In the 2004 throne speech, the federal government told us that, true to its reputation for encroaching on privileges, it would keep playing its inquisitorial role by increasing the number of projects in the multilateral context of training and care for young children in a multilateral framework.
For the same reasons mentioned earlier about the penalty incurred by parents of Quebec children benefiting from the $7 day care program, we cannot agree with such an initiative, since punishes a number of families.
Finally, when we are talking about national day care services, which were already part of the election platform in 1993, Quebec's experience proves beyond all doubt we do not need any federal interference that might even be a nuisance given the level of performance of our own system.
The so-called agreement in principle of November 2, 2004 is still both ridiculous and unrealistic in the current context. No elected member from Quebec, particularly in this sector, can accept federal interference without any guarantee of the right to opt out with full compensation. We would remind the House that this is what the federal government had committed to in the 2004 Speech from the Throne, by agreeing to the amendment to the amendment by the Bloc Québécois providing that provincial jurisdictions would be entirely respected and that financial pressure called fiscal imbalance would be reduced. Thus, the federal government had committed to respect all Quebec's jurisdictions. Despite the fact that the Speech from the Throne contains numerous hidden possibilities of interference, we will not be fooled by such subterfuge.
It must be pointed out that, in the health sector, an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec, the federal government must respect the agreement on asymmetry and stop calling for accountability.
In the environment sector, the BAPE has proven itself in Quebec. The efforts made by Quebec to implement the Kyoto protocol are obvious. The federal project on national equity might also lead to another asymmetrical agreement, since our homework is done.
In the project on cities, Quebec is the architect of municipal infrastructure. It is responsible for establishing priorities and distributing funds. Will the money coming from the gas tax be transferred without condition? We doubt it, although it would make sense.
Over the years, Quebec has successfully developed social policies that are highly regarded both at the national and the international levels. Quebec needs no lessons from anyone, and you know it since you have not been shy about copying Quebec's social development initiatives. Quebec's expertise is recognized and is something on which all of Quebec agrees.
The system is working well because the structure and the institutions that link the people, the organizations and the government together help everyone understand the needs and take the appropriate measures, whether it is developing efficient tools, as we have proven, or providing the money needed to ensure stable long term funding.
As you know and as the government will hopefully acknowledge, the problem is that we do not have room to manoeuvre due to fiscal imbalance. You have the power to right that wrong. We demand that you act now.
The people of Quebec will no longer stand by while the federal government abuses its prerogatives in order to squeeze money out of them and keep what is rightly theirs. Only the right to opt out with full compensation can convince us of the federal government's goodwill and induce us to vote in favour of the department's restructuring.
Uphold the commitments you have made in the throne speech, which have allowed you to stay in office. It is a matter of respect and integrity. The health and safety of Quebeckers are at stake.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise and speak in favour of Bill C-22.
The basic purpose of the bill is to formally establish the new Social Development Department, the one that was created last December when the former Department of Human Resources Development was divided into two parts. This division was part of the government's move to strengthen Canada's social foundations.
Bill C-22 is more than a simple piece of housekeeping. By enabling the Social Development Department to obtain legal status, the bill complements the many other ways the government is moving to strengthen Canada's social foundations and to improve the way that government does business with Canadians.
In other words, supporting Bill C-22 means we would be doing more than just giving legal status to a government department. It means that we support the fact that the Government of Canada is committed to serving Canadians in a fair, inclusive and efficient way. It means that by giving this new department a mandate to focus on social development policies and programs, members of the House recognize the importance of social development as one of the key defining features of our country and of the government's concern for individual Canadians.
With this legislation, we are both providing Social Development Canada with an appropriate legal status and we are confirming that we are in accord with the department's mandate.
What is the mandate we are confirming for Social Development Canada? The mandate is straightforward. It is to strengthen Canada's social foundations by promoting social well-being and income security for all Canadians. While the mandate is straightforward, the department's activities in support of this mandate are both many and wide-ranging.
Social development has become the point of convergence for all social policies and programs for children, families and caregivers, persons with disabilities and seniors. The department is also responsible for the voluntary sector. In concrete terms, this new department represents $53 billion at work for Canadians. Most of this money goes out as income support to Canadians themselves, such as seniors, people with disabilities and children.
The new department was also created to provide a centre of expertise on social policy and programs for the benefit of all Canadians. As such, it provides a focal point for social policy development within the Government of Canada.
The objective is to ensure a holistic approach to social policy through this department's relationship with other government departments and agencies, such as, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Finance Canada, Heritage Canada, Justice Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Canada Revenue Agency.
Many of the programs and policies of these other federal government departments can have an impact on the social policy interests of Canadians. The role of Social Development Canada is to work cooperatively with each of them to ensure that common objectives are identified and met.
This new department is also working in areas of shared responsibility with the provinces and territories. In a federal system like ours, where jurisdiction for social development is often shared with our colleagues in the provinces and territories, this particular federal-provincial-territorial liaison function is extremely important. For example, the department will be working with its provincial and territorial counterparts on a plan to establish a new national early learning and child care system. That is just one of the many areas of federal-provincial-territorial cooperation in which the Minister of Social Development and his department are engaged.
They are also working closely with representatives of stakeholder communities. These include child care experts, representatives of persons with disabilities, representatives of seniors and seniors organizations, and many other groups who from time to time need our attention and support.
All this activity can be rolled up into one statement which defines the goal of Social Development Canada. That goal is to ensure the social expectations of Canadians are understood and can be translated into policies, programs, and agreements that meet individual needs while respecting national objectives.
To put it in concrete terms, the new department is working in a number of ways to ensure key social objectives are met. Among these objectives are: continuing income security for seniors; helping people with disabilities to participate fully in Canadian society; re-enforcing the need for children to have the best possible start in life; and supporting the roles and activities of the voluntary and not for profit sectors in our society.
The bill would ensure that we could accomplish these objectives under an organizational structure that would provide integrated policy development and program delivery in a cost effective way. Indeed the two departments, that is Social Development Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, have been designed in a way that minimize disruption and ensures that Canadians continue to receive a seamless, single window service.
There are some specific ways the new Department of Social Development is already hard at work to meet its mandate. By bringing together income security and other social programs for seniors, families and children and persons with disabilities under one roof, the department is providing a focal point for social policy at the federal level. By supporting the work of the Minister of Social Development and the Minister of State for Families and Caregivers and their work with stakeholders, the department is addressing major social issues affecting Canadians, including child care, early childhood development and approaches to ensure the active participation and dignity of seniors and Canadians with disabilities.
Social Development Canada is working to deliver the programs and services that Canadians have come to expect from their federal government. The bill would ensure that the department and its 12,000 employees across the country could continue to deliver all these needed programs and services.
I am proud to stand here in support of the bill, and I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting it.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. As previous government speakers have mentioned, Bill C-22 is pretty much housekeeping. We do not claim to try to characterize it as anything less than that, but it is certainly nothing more.
I spend time on the reality of the work that should be done at the national level to ensure we do not have the kinds of poverty we see in Canada. The bill is about the government's suggestion for a structure to deal with this issue.
I would be far more interested in having the House review the comments of my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, our social services critic. He gave an outstanding speech, from his heart and from his own experience with his riding. He talked about his experience with food banks. He talked about what he did in the Ontario legislature, when he and I were there together. He fought to ensure that the issue of poverty was on the agenda. He relentlessly made sure no one would forget that children were going hungry. He has carried that passion and commitment over to this place. I am not the least bit surprised that his first formal maiden speech was on that very issue. I urge members to take a moment to review his speech. Then I think members will understand why I make these comments.
I will begin my remarks by acknowledging that in the NDP, and in our predecessor, the CCF, we like to believe our raison d'être is to deal with the issue of inequalities in society. While I will say some things that are similar to colleagues in the Bloc, there may be some parts with which they may some difficulty. We will have questions and answers at which time we can deal with those.
I want to talk about the fact that Tommy Douglas was recently chosen as the Greatest Canadian. He was known as one of the leading voices beyond his lifetime. He spoke up for the average citizen. Unfortunately, for far too many average Canadians, barely existing is far too often the reality for them, particularly children.
I know some people like to stereotype folks who are on social assistance, and we can play all the games we want. They are games and they are untrue. However, we cannot begin to put any kind of an acceptable face on child poverty.
Before I became a member and after, I watched the passions that were aroused around the issue of child pornography, and rightly so. What I and the rest of us in the NDP would like to see is that same kind of passion aroused over the issue of child poverty. Make no mistake, they are both violence against children.
Our country is one of the richest in the world. Parliament has failed in the commitment it made to its own people 15 years ago, almost to the month. The current member for Ottawa Centre, then the member for Oshawa, introduced a motion, which was passed unanimously by the House, to set a national goal of eliminating child poverty. Where are we today? A report by the National Council of Welfare states that the poverty rates among children are going up.
The House, and any member who was there at the time that motion was passed, has a responsibility to eliminate child poverty. This has not happened. Who is accountable? Who is responsible? Who cares?
I hear the Prime Minister of the day talk about his big commitment to goals around the Holy Grail, debt reduction. Fair enough, debt reduction is important. Would someone tell me why debt reduction is a bigger priority than child poverty. The House spoke unanimously to this 15 years ago. It was not just one party or the governing party, the entire House unanimously said that child poverty was a priority. It seems that right after the motion was passed it was filed away.
It seems that right after the motion was passed it was filed away. Members forget about it. They did their nice little motherhood stuff for the day. They all said wonderful things about children. However, the children have been forgotten. What really matters is business. Do not get me wrong. Business is important. Business is the generator of wealth, obviously critical to the future of the country, but it is not the only thing that matters.
I am not proud to raise this, but child poverty is increasing in Hamilton, my home town. Again, in the context of the world, Hamilton is one of the wealthiest entities. Other countries would love to have the economic dynamics of Hamilton. As an example, in Ontario lone female parents between the age of 25 and 49, with young sons age 10 to 12, receive $1,106. The monthly cost of a food basket is $212. I cannot imagine a mother and a son surviving on $212. The average rent is $737. They are left with $157 after they pay for food, assuming that covers food and rent. We wonder why food banks are on the increase and why we have more and more people living on the streets.
How does that fit the national scene? This is where I may get into some problems with my Bloc colleagues. I accept that and I am prepared to deal with it. I have a real problem with the fact that the government provides money to provincial governments for a child benefit and then allows provinces like Ontario, although I do not know about others, to claw it back. That is disgraceful. It was Harris at the time. I do not care whether it is the Tories, Liberals or NDP. The national government has identified the need to support children in poverty through this benefit. It funnels it through the provincial government which has the ability to claw that money back, rendering the positive impact on that family moot.
That is not good enough. The House is the national voice of the country. When something as important as eradicating child poverty over 15 years is unanimously adopted by the House and the government of the day, regardless of political stripe, ponies up some money that is meant to go to those children, no provincial government should have the ability to negate that in any way, shape or form. That is an obligation of the House and of the national government. I am ashamed of the fact that I live in one of the provinces where the government--
An hon. member: Louder.
Mr. David Christopherson: I will make it louder for the member because when it comes to child poverty, I will be heard. Every New Democrat will be as loud as they can everywhere they can. The fact of the matter is--
Absolutely, Mr. Speaker, and I very much appreciate your say in it, because as I said from the beginning and all the way through, it is directed to Bill C-22, very much so.
The speeches from the government side of the House have talked about what a wonderful benefit this is going to be to Canadians. I am making the argument that one can restructure departments all one wants, but if programs and money are not actually being put in place that are going to help people on the ground, in their homes and communities where it matters, then Bill C-22 is not worth the paper it is printed on.
That is my point and that is why I make the point that it is germane to this argument, very germane. It is not surprising that it is a government member who wants to stop me, because the government is trying to make out that this is a big deal. It is not a big deal. Children going to sleep hungry in Canada, that is a big deal. That is a huge deal.
We will probably hear somebody from the government talk about the national child care program. That is wonderful. I am glad it is happening. The government promised it often enough. It looks like it is actually going to happen. I would make the submission that it is only happening because we are in a minority government situation. That is the only reason this is on the agenda in the way that it is.
This minority House can work for Canadians. This is just another example. I believe that if we had a majority government Bill C-22 would be framed as the be-all and end-all of what this government is going to do to deal with social service issues, which means dealing with people in Canada who live in poverty and need help. But because it is a minority government, that is not going to be good enough.
It is just like bringing in the pension plan was, which by the way happened because the CCF, the predecessor to the NDP, held a minority Liberal government to account. That is how we got the Canada pension plan. That is how we got universal health care. Tommy Douglas started in Saskatchewan. It was a minority government situation where the Liberals were forced to introduce it. If we look at the history, we can see that historically the Liberals for decades have made wondrous promises many times over. This is another one.
I do not remember the Prime Minister talking about creating a new Department of Social Development as the be-all and end-all, and it is not. In fact, I am not sure it is going to make much difference at all. We are going to support it. I will be clear about that. We are not against it. There is not a lot to be for or against. It is a restructuring of a department. I would be much happier if I did not have to use parliamentary gymnastics to tie in arguments about child poverty in the bill that is in front of us. I wish we were dealing strictly and substantively with the issue of child poverty rather than clouding it with this, but this is the only opportunity we have and we are going to grab every one we can.
I am hoping that somebody from the government will help me understand during the 10 minutes of questions and comments where exactly the government thinks it is in terms of honouring the pledge of eradicating child poverty when the current national statistics are showing us going in the opposite direction. For those colleagues on the government benches who are going to speak after me and no doubt praise Bill C-22 to high heaven, I hope they will move from their prepared texts and explain to Canadians why their government failed them.
It is not just the Liberals; they have to take the primary responsibility as they are the government, but they are not the only ones who have an obligation in this. It is all of us. That was a unanimous decision of the House. That should mean something. So when the government members stand and brag about Bill C-22, I want to hear them tell us where they think we are in terms of dealing with child poverty, because I do not see it.
I do not see it. I do not see a lot of real passion on this issue. I am not here every minute of every day. I have not heard it a lot. I can name a couple of colleagues who have addressed it, but not nearly as many as I have heard talk about debt reduction or interest rates or free trade. Those are all very important, but I would like to think that in the Canadian House of Commons we at least equate with that the eradication of child poverty, if not make it a higher priority.
That is not the only area where we have serious problems as a society. It all fits together, because Bill C-22 talks about the structure of one particular department. That structure of that department within the overall context of the obligations of this government, the national Parliament, to all Canadians extends beyond just the niceties of how the department is structured.
The cutbacks to provinces by the current Prime Minister when he was the finance minister have a lot to do with this. That even has a lot to do with the statistics I read out about what is going on in Hamilton and the challenges we face, because someone like former Premier Mike Harris used the cuts of the federal government as an excuse to cut transfer payments to municipalities, to cut money for programs to support the very people this department is supposed to help.
Does the House remember that in 1995, upon receiving a majority government, the then newly elected premier, Mike Harris, cut the income of the poorest of the poor by 21.6%? They were people who were already in poverty, the majority of whom were children. They were already in poverty, the poorest of the poor. He cut their incomes by 21.6%.
Can we imagine what would happen in the House if the government House leader stood up and said that government would introduce a bill that would roll back MPs' wages by 21.6%? It would take weeks to peel the members of Parliament off the ceiling, yet I do not recall the national government or the House having too much to say at all when that was going on in the most populous province of this country.
I understand the constitutional responsibilities here, but my point is that this national House has an obligation. Where were the voices? Where were the new departments? I see my Liberal friend getting a little edgy over there. Where were the Bill C-22s of the day to stop that sort of thing? Where were they?
For that matter, I have to say that a whole lot of people have to take responsibility, because the reality is that due to the dynamics at that time there was hardly any outcry at all. There was hardly a peep because the politics of the day and the dynamics were such that the poor were to blame for their own circumstances. It was their fault. Since it was their fault, it was perfectly okay for the government to cut back their income; that will teach them. That was the feeling at the time.
I point it out not just as a historical civics lesson, but to show the climate in this nation, this very wealthy nation of such privilege, to show that something like that could happen in the most populous province with hardly a peep from anyone. Where were the grandiose speeches then, the speeches condemning a government that would do that? Where were new laws, the Bill C-22s of the day, to step in and ensure that a government could not do that or it would offset it in some way but it would for goodness' sake do something? To just stand back and let the poorest of the poor have their incomes cut by 21.6% is unfathomable but true. It happened.
That is what I thought the resolution of the House 15 years ago was about, about making sure that did not happen and that where we discovered challenges we would do something about them.
I would be a lot happier if we had a bill in front of us that would actually do something concrete for individuals and children who are in poverty. We have not even begun to talk about those who have physical disabilities, psychiatric disabilities and all kinds of other problems where programs and supports that once existed are now gone due to cuts. Boy, that is a whole debate for the House too.
I apologize to members for being as loud as I am, but it is just so frustrating when we know that we can do better. I believe that every member here cares; I really do. It is just a matter of taking that caring and making sure that it translates at least as strongly as some people feel about debt reduction and free trade into thoughts about children in poverty and families in poverty, especially as we are heading into the Christmas season.
We should think about that and recognize that we have an obligation. We have not collectively met that obligation. We have a chance now in a minority government for all of us to pull together. A little bit more than Bill C-22 is what will be needed.
Mr. Speaker, our children are Canada's greatest resource. That is why, even as it fought the deficit, the Government of Canada continued to meet the needs of children a priority. In this fiscal year, for example, the Government of Canada will invest more than $13 billion in programs that support children and their families, but I agree that we must do more.
I would like to reflect on the government's commitment to our children, our achievements to date, what remains to be done, and how, with the passage of Bill C-22, the new Department of Social Development will become the catalyst for even greater action on behalf of our children.
No single government or jurisdiction can meet the needs of children on its own. We know that. That is why it is so important for the Government of Canada to collaborate effectively with provincial and territorial governments. I deplore these clawbacks. We have worked hard at this partnership and results are starting to bear fruit.
In 1998 federal, provincial and territorial governments reached a historic agreement to establish a national child benefit that has been called the most important social program introduced in this country since medicare.
Through this program, we work together to prevent and reduce child poverty, to ensure that it always makes economic sense for a parent to work rather than to receive social assistance where possible, and finally, to reduce overlap and duplication, and streamline all of our efforts collectively.
While the provinces, territories and first nations provide the services and the programs, the Government of Canada provides income support through monthly wages to families with children. In 2002-03, for example, the Canada child tax benefit provided $5.3 billion in benefits to more than 80% of Canadian families with children. An additional supplement for low income families added another $2.4 billion to this total and reached 40% of Canadian families with children.
Our most recent progress report showed that the program is working. In 2000 the national child benefit reduced the number of low income families by about 5%. In other words, 55,000 children living in about 23,000 families were no longer living in low income families. It is beginning to work.
To put this into even more practical terms, the national child benefit put, on average, approximately $1,800 worth of disposable income into the pockets of these low income families. This is a significant step to reduce the depth of child poverty in this country, but we must do more, and we will do more.
That is why the Government of Canada announced last year that it would increase the national child benefit supplement by $965 million per year by 2007-08. One child in poverty is one child too many.
The spirit of partnership that underlined the creation of the national child benefit was based on a collaborative approach in this country to meet the needs of children and their families. A year after the national child benefit was established, the Government of Canada and its provincial and territorial counterparts launched the national children's agenda. This agenda sets out a shared vision for children through four broad goals: health, safety and security, success at learning, and social engagement and responsibility. We know that if we do not help our children at the early stage, we often lose them and we lose the tremendous potential they have to offer. This is a great disservice to our children and to our country.
Let me touch on three separate initiatives that demonstrate how this partnership is allowing us to focus on our children. In 2000 the federal, provincial and territorial governments launched the early childhood development agreement to help children reach their full potential. Each year the Government of Canada transfers $500 million to support four key areas ranging from prenatal programs and family resource centres to child care and community based services.
This agreement has already brought positive results. In Manitoba, for example, 6,000 vulnerable women have received support to help them have healthy pregnancies. This is very important.
All these efforts are not enough to support the critical need for early childhood development supports and services. That is why last year the federal, provincial and territorial governments scaled up their commitment through a new multilateral agreement for early learning and child care. To that end, the Government of Canada committed to transfer more than $1 billion over five years to provincial and territorial governments to support new investment in early learning and child care programs and services across Canada.
Everyone, children, adults and communities, need to continue learning to make the most of their opportunities. That is why the Government of Canada established a pilot project known as the understanding the early years initiative. It is allowing 12 communities to understand the multitude of factors that influence a child's development. Armed with this information, they can make sound decisions about the right policies and investments that will work for them. Building on the early successes of this initiative, budget 2004 provided funds to expand the program to up to 100 communities across Canada over the next seven years.
All of these programs are laying a strong and needed foundation for our children's future, but there is still one gap. I am speaking of course about early learning and child care.
Canadians told us that child care needs to be a priority, and we agree. They told us that child care should foster children's emotional, intellectual, social and physical development. They told us that child care must be affordable and available to all families who want their children to participate. The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care. The Speech from the Throne committed the Government of Canada to move forward on this agenda and to do so expeditiously, which it has.
In November federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed on the shared principles that would guide this new national system of early learning and child care. These four principles of quality, universally inclusive, accessibility and development are the same ones that were recommended unilaterally by both parents and experts.
Much more work needs to be done and we are determined to lay the foundations for the system as quickly as possible. Ministers agreed to meet early in 2005 to finalize an agreement, and this is very hopeful and exciting for our whole country and for our children.
For its part, the Government of Canada will commit an additional $5 billion over five years to make this new national system a reality soon. This rapidly expanding agenda for children demands special attention from the Government of Canada. It demands a department devoted to the social well-being of children, their families and all Canadians. It demands a department with the expertise and experience to understand that early childhood education, quality early learning and child care go hand in hand with economic performance, health, social spending, urban planning and social equity. That is why it is so important to enshrine in law, which we will do, hopefully, from this day forward, the departmental structure for Social Development Canada announced last December.
By splitting Social Development and Human Resources Development into two separate portfolios, the government is giving more weight, legitimacy and value to each one. That means that the government will be better able to give the children's agenda all the attention it so richly deserves.
The Government of Canada has worked effectively with its provincial and territorial counterparts to address the needs of our children. It is time now to take the next step in this ongoing process by creating Social Development Canada.
I urge all members of the House to support the proposed legislation. Our children deserve no less than all the attention that we can afford to give them. I can tell members that as a new MP I will make it a high priority for myself, as well as our government, to put the needs of children first, and this is a first step.