That, in light of the rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar, high global energy costs, the overhang from huge budgetary and trade deficits in the United States of America, the rise of new economies such as China, India and Brazil as major global players, and the unprecedented demographic change that is about to take place in Canada with the imminent retirement of the Baby Boom generation, in the opinion of the House, future Canadian economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand--in addition to a competitive tax regime (especially in relation to income tax rates and brackets) and the strategic positioning of Canada at the centre of global commerce and networks--focused and immediate investments by the government in:
(1) measures to reduce financial barriers that now stand in the way of students seeking greater access to post-secondary education, including most particularly grant programs aimed at offsetting the high costs of tuition;
(2) labour market partnership agreements with provincial/territorial governments to help promote a culture of lifelong learning and workplace skills development in conjunction with business and labour;
(3) targeted initiatives to strengthen skills, job-readiness and successful workplace participation among First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples--as envisioned as part of the Kelowna Accords--as well as among new immigrants, older workers and people with disabilities;
(4) a suite of measures, including more adequate support for the indirect costs of university-based research, for graduate studies, for Canada’s three major granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada, to strengthen Canada’s hard-won global lead in publicly-funded research and development;
(5) the accelerated commercialization of new technologies and the practical adoption of the best advanced technologies by Canadian business, industry and academia.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.
One of the most vital roles of government is to respond to the challenges of its time, to empower Canadians to meet those challenges, to prepare the country through strategic investments and sound policy, and to show true leadership and a clear vision.
Over a decade ago, the government in place brought forward a bold, new vision for the future of Canada, one that provided the economic conceptual framework which governed policy decision making during a decade of progress and growth.
Canadians remember the daunting challenges facing their government at the time. Unemployment was above 10%. The national debt was nearly 70% of national revenue. There had been one deficit budget after the other for over a quarter of century. A sad state of affairs was threatening to turn our country into an economic disaster.
However, what a difference a decade makes. Today Canada has emerged as a global leader: strong, proud and prosperous. We now enjoy the best job creation performance of the G-7.
Since the deficit was eliminated, Canada has ranked first among all G-7 countries for growth and living standards. The average standard of living has risen faster in the past eight years than in the previous 18 and the incidence of child poverty in this country has declined.
Canadians are proud of their achievements, but it is not enough to sit on our laurels. It is time to build on our successes, not implement a handful of priorities that look more like an election platform than a path forward.
It is time to set out a real vision for the future and offer Canadians a plan to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. Since the Conservative government came to office, we have seen no plan, no vision for the future, not in the throne speech, not in the budget.
Nowhere have we seen measures to deal with productivity. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with the rise of new economies like China, India and Brazil. Nowhere have we seen a plan to deal with high global energy costs or the rapid increase in the Canadian dollar.
These are the responsibilities of this government. Without a comprehensive strategy to meet each of these challenges our country will be like a rudderless boat, doomed to flounder on the rocks.
The focus of the motion before the House today is to ensure we remain on a steady course and to ensure we take the measures which our future economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand. Canadians expect their governments to stand firm as unmistakable champions of balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility and declining debt.
Only then will we be in a position to continue enjoying the benefits of a healthy economy and general prosperity, increased employment and better jobs, higher disposable incomes, a better standard of living and a continually improving quality of life.
As a nation, we must continue to invest in the talents, brains and creative powers of Canadians and bring higher education and innovation to their highest levels ever, not only for economic reasons, but also to ensure that every member of society—students, aboriginals, people with disabilities, new Canadians and older workers— maximizes his or her potential.
We must achieve the smartest possible marriage between Canada's economic success and environmental sustainability. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see our country from a new perspective. It is a new perspective from this side of the House as well, as my hon. colleagues have laughingly noted.
As the Liberal critic for human resources and skills, I have had the pleasure of discussing the future with a wide range of Canadians. I have met with student groups like the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students and with nurses, labour leaders, university presidents and others, and a clear theme ran through each of these discussions. The prerequisite for entry into the global economy of tomorrow is education, quality education that gives Canadians the skills not only to survive in a competitive world but to thrive in it, to seize their potential throughout their lifetimes.
I think we all agree on the importance of lifelong learning. It is important to individuals themselves to enhance their quality of life and their employment options. It is important to employers who want the well educated and skilled employees who will contribute to productivity and prosperity. A determined focus on the future, on preparing for the impact of demographic change and the rise of emerging economies, is absolutely necessary to allow Canadians to succeed.
Canada approaches today's world from a position of strength. We have the highest proportion of people with some form of post-secondary education, but here is the crucial thing that the government fails to understand: when we can identify a strength, when we can identify our competitive advantage, we build on it.
Rather than truly expanding access to higher education, the government has chosen to tinker around the edges of the tax system, with a minor tax cut here and a rebate there. That is a short-sighted approach. It does not come close to recognizing the potential of our greatest resource, our young minds. Too many Canadians, particularly those from low income or modest income families, are not pursuing post-secondary education because of high financial barriers.
Canadians need expanded access to higher education and real support for undergraduate students, more opportunities for Canadians to study abroad to learn about the world outside our borders, and more opportunities for foreign students to study in Canada and experience our country and our culture. We need to increase the support to graduate students in science, engineering and other disciplines.
Instead of a far-reaching vision that prepares us for the future, all the government has offered are tax credits for textbooks and tax breaks on scholarship income. These measures do not go nearly far enough. We see the same nearsightedness from the government when it comes to lifelong learning. It has walked away from labour market partnership agreements, agreements that would increase workplace-based and employer-led training and apprenticeships and that would improve literacy and essential skills, develop workplace skills and enhance workforce participation of aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and new Canadians.
It is time for this House to look beyond just the next election, and to look to the future, to admit to and embrace the challenges and opportunities before us, to build on Canada's progress over the last decade and to ensure this kind of progress for generations to come.
The diligent work of the previous government has given this nation the freedom to plan and the strength to succeed, to improve access to universities, to promote a culture of lifelong learning, to live up to the Kelowna and Kyoto agreements, to strengthen Canada's hard-won global lead in university research and development, and to make Canada a leader in transforming R and D into new technologies.
It is time for the government to step up to show Canadians a plan for the future. We need a government that recognizes these clear objectives, that mobilizes Canadians to reach them, that is truly committed to a country of economic and technological excellence, a country of fairness and equal opportunity, a country that is ready, willing and able to take its place in an ever-changing world. We have yet to see that from the current government, and this is worrisome, because what is at stake is Canada's continued leadership in a new world of giants.
Therefore, I ask my colleagues to support the motion before the House today and call upon the government to take action today.
Mr. Speaker, right now across our country there are Canadians at work in some of our most important industries: manufacturing, high tech, financial services, and resource management. There are Canadians who are recognized the world over as being at the top in their fields in mathematics, computers, and engineering. There are Canadian families enjoying the benefits of our strong economy, buying new homes in a time of low interest rates and finding good jobs that pay well.
For many this is a prosperous age, and Canada ranks among the world's leading economies, but let us look beyond our borders. In the city of Bangalore in India, new skyscrapers are jammed along the horizon, each filled with thousands of people at work in banking, high tech and research and development, jobs that used to be the privileged domain of the world's established industrialized nations and those of us who live in them. In China, new universities are being built by the dozens. Hundreds of thousands of new engineers and scientists are graduating. They are entering into a better paid, better educated workforce.
They and so many others have abruptly become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing and members of a burgeoning middle class. For China, for India and for other nations such as Brazil, this brings a tremendous potential for growth. It means the world is now their marketplace.
During the latter stages of the 20th century, even in the context of an evolving world, there were some things that stayed constant: the United States as the world's largest and most dominant economy and China and India as populous countries seemingly doomed to repeat the cycle of poverty.
Meanwhile, the baby boomers ensured for decades through demographic might that we had the resources to expand and support our social foundations, including medicare. The century has changed and so has the story. The baby boomers are retiring, which will put serious financial pressures on governments as they strive to protect social services.
Moreover, we are in the midst of a reordering of economic power. In a globalized world, that reordering will bring unprecedented challenges to all nations and certainly to Canada. We will need to move faster just to stay in the same place.
As for those Canadians at work today in our most crucial industries, will their jobs be protected? And those Canadians at the top of their fields, can they remain there? Will the next generation be able to reach those same heights? Will Canadian families be able to continue to rely on the tangible benefits that come from a strong and dynamic economy?
China and India are two great nations with 2 billion people and one undeniable message for the world: everything we know is about to change.
Let us think back to the mid-1990s. Then, the primary challenge facing the federal government was different but equally clear: deficit and rising debt, which threatened our national prosperity and held us back from achieving our potential. The government of the time made the right choice. It chose to attack the deficit, to fight it and eliminate it. We dug ourselves out of that hole and all Canadians today are enjoying the benefits of that shared sacrifice.
Even as we marvel at the difference a decade can make in our national life, we need to be aware that a changing world is calling on Canada to make a new choice. Government cannot single-handedly prepare Canada for what is to come, but it has an obligation to do what it can. It has a duty to the Canadians of today, and to the Canadians yet unborn, to understand that the events of this time are no less crucial to the future success of our country than the battle to overcome the deficit.
The challenge is different and the choices are different, but what we do now will go a long way to determining to what extent Canada thrives in the 21st century. Economists have some pretty dull words for it. They talk about maximizing productivity and human capital. The terms we use are not important, but the truth they reveal sure is.
We are a country with a small population. Canada has 32 million people and we cannot afford to waste the potential of even one of them. For Canada to succeed, Canadians need to succeed. And for Canadians to succeed in our new world, they are going to have to be among the best educated and best trained on earth.
That is why government needs to lower the financial barriers to post-secondary education, countering high tuition with more grants, to make certain that more Canadians get the education they will need to compete for work and thrive on a global playing field.
That is why government needs to ensure that the youngest Canadians get the best possible start in life, with quality early learning, because everything in research tells us that an early start makes for more successful kids.
The government needs to invest in research and in our universities to ensure post-secondary education is valuable and that Canada stays on the cutting edge of ingenuity, pioneering, new technologies and medicines.
The government has an obligation to work with the provinces and the territories to help foster and support a culture of training and lifelong learning so Canadians have the talent and the ability to adapt and to seize the opportunity in new trends and areas, whether at the beginning or the end of their careers.
This need for skills training and development is especially great among immigrants who we need to succeed as new Canadians, and among aboriginals who, for far too long, have been denied the opportunity to share in Canada's success.
A focus on education, innovation, training and lifelong learning has to be our driving focus at the national level, the touchstone for our performance as politicians over the next decade.
As a result of the choice the government made in the mid-1990s as a result of strong fiscal management, we have the means to make those kinds of investments. We have the freedom to think big and to make smart choices.
What is lacking is the political will of the government. In an era that demands that Canada takes two steps forward, we have a government that is taking a big step back.
The members across want to terminate the agreements on child care and early learning that we signed with all 10 provinces, agreements that would have provided funding to create a real choice in child care: affordable, high quality spaces with a focus on development and on ensuring our youngest Canadians, regardless of family income, get every chance to enter school, ready to learn and leave school ready to succeed.
The times are calling for a government with the foresight and the determination to invest in our collective future but what we are seeing is a government of tinkering and tax credits.
The Prime Minister will give us 80 bucks if we have a kid who plays organized sports. He will give us of a few more bucks to help us pay for our tools or work clothes. It is not that the money is not welcome, it is that Canadians want more, expect more and deserve so much more from their government and for their country.
Canadians have big aspirations for themselves and for their nation. We learned in school that our country has accomplished great things and we want our children to grow up to see Canada do more great things and to accomplish them together.
When the Liberal government talked about child care and early learning it often referred back to the creation of medicare, which came into being in very much the same way: a series of agreements with the provinces.
The story of medicare is an integral part of Canada's history and of Canadian lore. It speaks to the values of fairness and generosity that have defined our country and to a sense of determination, a tribute to those who, throughout our history, have fought to overcome the challenges of the times and to make our nation a better place to live.
We need that kind of leadership, leadership that understands the value of action, not complacency, and a government that understands that Canadians want to help build a country, not just live in one.
The government and the Prime Minister have taken office at a time when Canada stands confronted by two challenges of such magnitude that they could easily come to define our new century: the rise of China and India as economic powers and the threats inherent in climate change.
Each challenge demands a prime minister who recognizes that Canada is bigger in its aspirations and richer in its potential than is reflected in the practice of modest ambition and custodial governance.
Each challenge demands a government willing to turn its gaze away from the Holy Grail of a majority government and to focus, not on tinkering and tax credits, but on guiding Canada's economic destiny and putting in place a long term plan that will ensure Canada's continued success.
The Canada that I love, that we love, is a progressive force that should lead change in the world, not resist it. On global warming, that means rallying the nations of the world, not turning away from them. On the new economy, it means making a priority of acting today to ensure we are competitive tomorrow.
Prosperity is not a birthright of Canadians. Our accomplishments are the result of the hard work and ingenuity of Canadians and the foresight and resolve of past governments. Our success in the decades ahead depends on the same kind of hard work, foresight and determination on the part of Canadians, on the part of business and certainly on the part of government.
If we all do our part and if government does it duty, then the world in the 21st century will have its own constant: the ongoing success, through change and in spite of challenge, of the great nation of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time today with the hon. member for York--Simcoe.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the motion before us today. I thank the hon. member for Halifax West for focusing the attention of Parliament on a matter of great national interest.
As the hon. member notes in the preamble to his motion, the Canadian economy is being profoundly affected by powerful demographic, continental and even global influences. When the economy is affected so are the lives of the people of Canada. The individuals and families who are the focus of my Department of Human Resources and Social Development are directly impacted by the economy.
I am also pleased to note that many of the measures he calls for in his motion, such as targeted investments, higher education, skills training and other measures to address Canada's labour shortage are already being put in place by Canada's new government.
However, where I differ with the hon. member opposite is in outlook. While he suggests that the demographic change that we are witnessing at home and the evolution of the global economy abroad will threaten Canada's livelihood, I prefer to take an optimistic view.
From a global perspective, Canada is in an exceptionally strong position, both economically and socially. The measures that our government is putting in place, many of them outlined in the recent federal budget, will only cement our leadership. We may call that a bright outlook but it is a realistic one too. International agencies are consistently forecasting that over the next two years Canada will be at or near the top of all G-7 nations in terms of job creation. Job creation is the underpinning of healthy communities and dynamic and successful economies.
I now want to mention the most recent employment numbers. According to Statistics Canada, we are enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in 32 years this spring. Joblessness remains strikingly low and booming economies across much of Canada are luring more people into the workforce. The result is that the proportion of Canadians with jobs, about 63%, has never been higher. This should be music to the ears of all Canadians and yet a pessimist might choose to focus only on the next challenging consequence to flow from this unprecedented situation of job shortages in certain regions, sectors and occupations, and it is true. The booming oil and gas industries of Alberta and British Columbia, along with the overall health of Canada's economy, are generating more opportunities than there are skilled people there to take advantage of them.
My government has opted for a positive response to develop and implement meaningful and effective solutions well before the challenges get out of hand. I would like to outline a few of the initiatives already underway or soon to be launched.
Recognizing the importance of skilled tradespeople and the certainty of emerging shortages, we are consulting with the provinces, the territories, employers and unions on new measures to promote careers in the skilled trades. As a concrete and immediate contribution from the Government of Canada, budget 2006 announced a new apprenticeship incentive grant worth $1,000 per year. Up to 100,000 people apprenticing under the red seal trades will stand to benefit from this measure during the first two years of their apprenticeship.
The budget also encourages employers to hire new apprentices through a special job creation tax credit. This credit is worth 10% of an apprentice's wages to a maximum of $2,000 per year.
Also in the budget is our promised tools tax deduction worth up to $500 a year. This is to help apprentices and tradespeople offset the cost of essential equipment that exceeds $1,000.
Naturally, a thriving economy like ours also needs to plan and prepare for the future and that means investing in higher learning. To that end, budget 2006 showed our government's commitment to exempt all scholarships and bursaries from income tax. We believe that the kids earned the money and they should get to keep it.
It also introduces a textbook tax credit for full time and part time post-secondary students and improves access to student loans. Indeed, the expansion of eligibility for Canada student loans through a reduction in expected parental contribution will see the program receive $15 million for 2007-08 and $20 million per year thereafter just for this measure.
Moreover, we have undertaken to work with the provinces and territories to further strengthen post-secondary education infrastructure. Through the establishment of a post-secondary education infrastructure trust fund, $1 billion will be transferred to the provinces and territories to support urgent investments in colleges and universities. Funding could be used to support the development of better classrooms and libraries, laboratories and research facilities and the purchase of new technologies and training equipment.
What is more, as the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, I have been mandated to initiate discussions with the provinces and territories on the overall objectives for post-secondary education and training, appropriate roles, and on developing a framework for ensuring measurable results and accountability in respect of funding support.
Such measures are important and indeed overdue. Even so, we also acknowledge that the rapid growth of the economy means that we will be hard pressed to meet the full range of labour force demand unless we take steps to look beyond our own borders. Recent studies have shown that immigration will account for all net labour force growth in Canada within the next 10 to 15 years and all net population growth in Canada within the next 30 years.
Immigrants have always enriched our country with their dynamism, culture and entrepreneurial spirit. As our home-grown labour pool continues to shrink relative to our needs, it is becoming ever more urgent that we make the most of everybody's skills. Currently, however, the qualifications of some immigrants are not recognized in Canada. This prevents newcomers from contributing fully to our economic prosperity and to our social development.
Allowing this situation to persist would actually impede our ability to attract other skilled immigrants. That is why we have undertaken to consult with the provinces, territories and a wide range of other stakeholders on the creation of a new Canadian agency for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials. The agency will facilitate the assessment of international credentials and experience in conjunction with professional associations, regulatory bodies and others and will help ensure that foreign trained professionals meet Canadian standards. I can assure members that we will move quickly to enable new Canadians to put their skills to work for their benefit and ours.
In summary, budget 2006 gives Canadians a detailed look at this government's plans. Those plans are expressed through targeted investments worth nearly $9.2 billion over two years. There are supports for children, families, seniors, persons with disabilities, and communities. There are measures to promote economic growth and competitiveness through investments in post-secondary education, apprenticeships and skills development, and a broadened labour pool.
I am confident that the measures announced and planned by my government will put Canada on a firm track to prosperity and continued success in a competitive global economy. My confidence is bolstered by the broad based support that has greeted our budget announcements. In fact I am pleased that the members of the official opposition, indeed all members of the House, saw fit to unanimously support our government's budget earlier this week.
And so, I agree with the intent of the motion before us, immediate and targeted investments that will reinforce Canada's strong economy and safeguard our much envied standard of living. However, I would ask you to note, Mr. Speaker, that this government is already making these investments for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in today's debate, because of course the Conservative Party has historically been the party of economic competitiveness and productivity in this country.
One can go back to the days of Sir John A. Macdonald who understood the importance of building the strong economic infrastructure necessary and put in place the policies that allowed that to happen so that Canada could become a strong growing economy. Of course in his time there was unprecedented growth in our economy. It is a tribute to the Conservative Party that it was able to, since its very inception, be the party of that kind of economic growth and prosperity.
In Ontario we saw the policies of Bill Davis who understood that the world was changing and that our education system needed to change. He introduced a system of community colleges that equipped us to meet the full needs of an economy, not just the very high end of post-secondary education, but a fuller range of skills and trades that needed to be accommodated. Those reforms were very forward looking and helped to make Ontario, and continue to keep Ontario, the economic engine of this country.
When this party was last in government, from 1984 to 1993, we again saw unprecedented response to the economic challenges in the world through the introduction of free trade, through the elimination of the manufacturers sales tax, and the introduction of replacement lower value added taxes to allow our manufacturing sector to compete. The result was that millions of jobs were created in the wake of that and Canada had an economic boom. In fact, whenever the time has come for forward looking economic competitiveness and productivity policy changes, it has been the Conservative Party that has provided those policies and those changes.
When we were in government last, the party opposite, the Liberal Party, opposed every one of those changes vigorously, dramatically, and with great theatre. Then once in power, it kept in place each one of those reforms. Why? Because they worked, because they were good for Canada, because they produced jobs, because they allowed us to be more economically competitive, because in fact they did herald an era of unprecedented prosperity.
After 13 years in which the Liberals simply cruised and did not respond to the economic changes, we see today the need for new changes. Those new changes and policies are coming again from the Conservative Party. It is not surprising. We are a party that values individual initiative. We are a party that values economic growth. We are a party that values personal achievement. When we talk about things like higher education, which allows one to achieve those personal aspirations, we probably have never seen a party where so many people around the Prime Minister come from that kind of academic background to understand intimately the value of higher education and what it can do and the opportunities it can create.
Certainly that has been the experience of my own family who came here as immigrants. It was simply by virtue of that human capital they themselves had through higher education before and here that allowed them to achieve prosperity and take advantage of the opportunities that Canada presented. That is why these things are terribly important.
We see in our budget 2006 once again a commitment to those kinds of forward looking economic policies. Budget 2006 included several new measures designed to help students and their families take advantage of higher education. There is an expansion in the eligibility of the Canada student loans program through a reduction in the parental contributions starting in August 2007. There is also the textbook tax credit, something which I think is tremendously important. As well there is an exemption of all post-secondary education scholarship and bursary income from taxation. It used to be okay if we won the lottery we did not have to pay taxes, but if we won a scholarship, we did. That just did not seem fair to us.
Access to post-secondary education also means improving the capacity of learning institutions to support he growing numbers of students. Our budget commits up to $1 billion through a post-secondary education infrastructure trust fund to enable provinces and territories to support urgent investments in post-secondary education.
These new measures are in addition to financial support for Canadian students that is already in place. Our budget will further enhance the Canada student loans program. It will provide welcome additional financial support to students and their families in financing the cost of post-secondary education.
Of course, important stakeholders, like the Association of Atlantic Universities, the Council of Ontario Universities, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada all welcomed these post-budget measures.
However, there is more than just post-secondary education. There is the fuller range of skills. One of our most important initiatives is that which recognizes the huge needs. Very serious problems emerged because of 13 years of inaction on the part of the Liberal government. One of those serious problems was the lack of skilled trades. We see this in Ontario. In my constituency of York—Simcoe construction is booming, yet qualified construction workers cannot be found. We see the same thing in Alberta and British Columbia.
We see in communities like mine and the greater Toronto area all kinds of immigrants who have come to our shores with education and skills that are not recognized. People do not have the opportunity to utilize their skills. These problems arose during the 13 years of the Liberal government. It failed to do anything to respond to the changing economy. We will do something about that.
On training, we have introduced bold new policies that will stand up for the trades. An apprenticeship incentive grant will create apprentice opportunities. If we talk to people, the problem is employers do not want to create apprentice opportunities. We depend on employers to do that, but it cost them too much money. It was not economically worthwhile and, as a result, young people were denied educational opportunities. We have introduced an apprentice incentive grant of $1,000 per year. This is a job creation tax credit to employers to create jobs. It will make it easier for them to do that.
The apprentice incentive grant is for the people choosing to enter a field of training as an apprentice. At the point in time, when one chooses to work at a grocery store, a fast food outlet or acquire further education and a skill, that $1,000 can make a huge difference in making that decision. This will help us meet the need to for skilled workers.
In addition, a new tools tax deduction will provide $500 for each individual who is in a skilled trade already, which will put them on a level playing ground with those who are self-employed.
These changes have been greeted by even the union movement. The Universal Workers Union, Local 183, said:
--this is a budget that not only recognizes the critical importance of infrastructure but also demonstrates an appreciation for the skilled working men and women who build our cities and communities.
It recognizes the value of it.
What about new Canadians who have come here with skills which are not recognized? We have introduced the concept of a credentials recognition agency, a national agency to put some heft behind it. Up until now credentials recognition had been handled by the provinces in a diverse, unfocused system that nobody recognized. Employers would look at the papers people brought from some credentials recognition agency, of which they had never heard, and would say that they did not believe the individuals had the skills or they would ask why they should believe that outfit.
By having a national credentials agency, we will put real weight and authority behind the credentials recognition. This will help doctors, engineers, people from all kinds of skills, even skilled trades, bricklayers and the like. This will provide a clear recognition that they have the skills and that they can be put to work right away and be placed in the economy immediately.
What we see in common in all of these policies is a philosophy, a philosophy that we do not enhance economic competitiveness through big state, big government solutions. Guys named Lenin, Stalin and Mao tried that. It does not work. This happened in highly educated societies, creating economic disasters.
The way to do this is by allowing people individual choice and freedom. All our policies give people the freedom and choice to enhance their post-secondary educations, to continue their educations, to acquire the best skills and to get the opportunities that Canada has to offer. It gives individuals the chance to choose to enter a skilled trade. We should not compel, or force or tell them to try to shape society in a big state way. Give people the freedoms and choices.
When people are given choices and opportunity to improve their conditions and their society, they respond to those challenges. We are creating an environment where they can do that. We continue to have challenges. The challenges include the need to remain competitive in a changing global environment. We have changing demographics at home. We will continue to have to respond to that. We have to continue to make our tax policy competitive. Only then will we have a truly competitive and productive economy that will benefit all Canadians and support the generous social programs that help everybody.
The key to it all is to enhance individual freedom, to give people the chance to take advantage of all the opportunities Canada has to offer. By taking advantage of that opportunity, it will help to build Canada, as millions of immigrants through the years have done, to make our country the great place it is today.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion introduced by the Liberals.
This motion raises real questions. As the preamble says, current economic growth in Canada is quite fragile and this reverberates in most of the provinces. Alberta is a special case. It should not be included in the Canadian average, in order to get a real sense of the situation in Canada. Quebec is also affected by this fragility in growth, but also and especially by the fragility in the Canadian manufacturing sector. This is true for Quebec and Ontario.
On January 27, Statistics Canada issued a telling figure: from 2002 to 2005, some 149,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada. This is a 6.4% decrease. Two-thirds of these job losses occurred in 2005. Clearly there is a problem, but future difficulties are being downplayed. It is like the Titanic heading toward the iceberg: the tip of the iceberg is approaching in the distance, but no one is worried about it. If the Conservative government were not worried about this problem—I hope it is worried—it would come across as irresponsible. It would be shirking its responsibilities. It has the means to do something about this. That is the type of debate we should be having. Unfortunately, and that is where the problem lies, the Liberal motion proposes solutions that infringe on provincial jurisdictions and ignores any solution that has to do with federal matters.
The Bloc Québécois, as defender of Quebec's interests and Quebec's jurisdictions and the interests of Quebeckers, will have no choice but to vote against this Liberal motion. Again, the problem it addresses is real. I will list the proposed solutions. I will not read the motion; if I did, I would not have enough time left to explain the Bloc Québécois' positions.
The proposed solutions target education. Is there a more provincial jurisdiction than that? The motion refers to tuition, which is connected to education; labour market development—the labour market comes under provincial jurisdiction; training, another form of education; university research—the universities come under the provinces and form part of the education system; recognition of foreign degrees, which also relates to education; and professional associations, another provincial responsibility.
Aside from those pertaining to the Kelowna accord, the solutions proposed in the Liberal motion relate to areas of provincial or Quebec jurisdiction. At the same time, the motion contains no solutions that come under federal jurisdiction. That may seem troubling, but knowing the Liberals, it is not so troubling as all that, because we have seen them in action for the past 13 years.
This motion has a paternalistic ring that we drew attention to on numerous occasions under both Jean Chrétien and the current member for LaSalle—Émard. The message seems to be that the provinces, particularly Quebec, are unable to find solutions to the challenges of the future. They have to be taken by the hand and told what to do in their areas of jurisdiction. Quebec, whether under the Parti Québécois or the Quebec Liberal Party—I do not always agree with their solutions and will mention one later that I particularly disagree with—is well aware that it faces a growth and employment challenge.
In some areas, such as Gaspé, the unemployment rate is unacceptable. In others, such as Montérégie, Montreal and Lanaudière, shortages of skilled labour are restricting our economic development capacity. Quebec has an employment policy. We have local development centres and local employment centres. The structure is in place. What is missing is federal money.
The federal government, meaning the Conservative government, has only one responsibility to Quebec and the provinces with regard to their areas of jurisdiction—education, skills training, labour market development, labour policy and employment policy. The federal government's only responsibility is to correct the fiscal imbalance.
The Prime Minister has made a commitment to correct it by February 2007. Unfortunately, I have to say that we were particularly disappointed in the last budget.
Despite the government’s commitment to correct the fiscal imbalance by February 2007, we would have liked to see more investment than has been announced, particularly in universities.
I remind hon. members that professors, rectors, students and support staff in the university community, all across Canada, unanimously called for a reinvestment of $4.9 billion per year to offset the underfunding of post-secondary education. What was announced in the budget? A non-recurring amount of $1 billion. That is a long way from assuming responsibility for correcting the fiscal imbalance.
However, we shall let the government have its chance. We have been promised that, by February 2007, this problem will be addressed, this problem which is a federal responsibility and which was caused by the federal government, that is, the previous Liberal government. So we shall leave the federal government free to face this challenge I mentioned, namely to reduce unemployment rates in certain regions and tackle the skilled labour shortages in certain sectors.
I return quickly to this idea of the Liberals that the provinces are incapable of assuming their responsibilities. To refute it, I give the example of the accessibility of education in Quebec. When we look at the public funding of education, we see that there is more of it in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada. The Government of Quebec presently allocates 1.91% of GDP to university education, compared with 1.59% in the rest of Canada. Truly, what we have here is a societal choice. Public funding of education accounts for 7.5% of GDP in Quebec, versus a Canadian average of 6.6%. If we were to subtract the Quebec rate, the Canadian rate would be 6.4%. Quebec invests 17.4% more in education than the rest of Canada. That is the first element, the public funding of education.
As for tuition fees, there is no need for me to insist: they are the lowest in Canada. We care a great deal about this. This is an ongoing debate, but the consensus has always been in favour of keeping these tuition fees as low as possible. The reason for this is so that we can do precisely what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs was saying, that is, give students a real choice as to their education and their career. Equal opportunity is achieved through modest tuition fees.
The third element is more generous financial assistance. We know that Quebec has a scholarships and loans program which, compared with what exists in the rest of Canada, is not extremely generous—that would going a little too far—but relatively generous.
As I was saying, we will be voting against this motion. Although it highlights a real problem, it falls short of the true responsibilities of the federal government in terms of finding solutions for strengthening economic growth in Canada and Quebec and for ensuring that the manufacturing sector plays its role in that growth and is sufficiently strong.
The real challenge, as we well know, is to achieve growth in an increasingly globalized world, while respecting the environment.
We need a strong manufacturing sector. I often hear certain people say that nowadays this accounts for only 20% of our jobs; well, it still accounts for 80% of our exports. As a small market—I am thinking of Canada, but this is also true of Quebec—we need to export to other markets. The American market is extremely important. We know that when it comes to job creation and the impact of investment, the manufacturing sector has a much bigger effect than the services sector, even though that sector also includes extremely promising industries that have to be developed. We cannot have an economy based solely on services, however. We need a manufacturing sector that will promote growth, that will stimulate job creation, and that will obviously have an effect on the services sector as a whole, whether it be services to businesses or to individuals.
We therefore need a strong manufacturing sector and we need investment. That is what is cause for concern. For a long time, we have been told—Mr. Dodge, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, has repeated this—that with a strong dollar, businesses will be able to invest, to import technology and modernize their production and the way they do things. Now we see that even though the dollar is worth more than 90¢ US, investment growth is very weak in Canada and Quebec.
In Quebec, investment will grow by less than 1% this year, at a time when profits in most businesses and economic sectors in Canada have surpassed historical averages. We had not seen this for years, but for a number of quarters now the profit portion of Canada’s domestic product is above its historical average. So the profits are there. The dollar is strong, so we can import technology, machinery, ways of doing things, but it is not happening. We have to wonder what the reason is.
The question has been put to a number of employer representatives, and they too are wondering why Canadian and Quebec businesses are not investing up to the level that we might expect.
I will give a few figures so that we can see how serious the situation is. Canada is dragging its feet when it comes to research and development, and obviously Quebec is not receiving its share. Overall, Canada ranks 13th among OECD members when it comes to research and development. This is a fundamental component of investment, as we know, particularly in an economy that is increasingly globalized. In the G-7 we rank fifth—in other words, we’re really bringing up the rear.
Now, when it comes to research, Canada, without Quebec, spends 1.38% of GDP. As I said, we fall into the category of countries that invest very little in research and development. As I also said, when we add Quebec, we come in at about 2.26%. Quebec itself invests 2.7% of GDP in research and development. Canada is therefore lagging behind. Quebec has made a special effort, particularly under the Parti Québécois government. Mr. Landry, as minister and premier, did a lot to stimulate research and development. We have made a special effort in this regard, although the federal contribution to funding in this area has fallen over the last 30 years. That is true for both Canada as a whole and for Quebec.
In 1971, Ottawa’s research and development spending accounted for 45% of the total in Canada. By 2001, it was only 18%. As I was saying, Quebec does not get its fair share. Overall, Quebec accounts for 26.6% of all research and development spending in Canada, but it receives only 23.8% of the federal funding, in comparison with 48.3% for Ontario. Insofar as the research done directly by the federal government is concerned—the research that it decides for itself—Quebec gets only 19.6% of the spending while Ontario gets 57.7%. Yet Quebec represents more than 23% of the population of Canada.
It is obvious that not only does Canada lag behind, not only does the federal government fail to assume its responsibilities in regard to research and development, but its policies also ensure that Quebec is systematically disadvantaged, especially when it comes to structural spending like that on research and development.
I will conclude with a final statistic. Federal spending in Ontario on research and development accounts for 80%, while in Quebec it accounts for 39.9%.
It is very apparent, therefore, that there is a concern because these efforts should be made on innovation, research and development, improving Canada’s productivity and investment. That is not being done. Why? Because of the uncertainty.
Business people wonder whether they will have a market in five years, first of all because of the emerging economies. We already discussed that. It is not just a matter of clothing, textiles and furniture, although these sectors are obviously very hard hit by the competition from countries in south-east Asia in particular. It is true as well of communications equipment. China is becoming an extremely important manufacturer of computer technology. Brazil exports not only beer and samba but lumber as well. In aeronautics, it is a major competitor. We are all aware of the battle over regional jets between Embraer and Bombardier. India is very competitive in services. So there is this first factor, which is the ever increasing presence of emerging countries in world trade and on Canadian markets.
Second, there is the Canadian dollar. It is true in Quebec but everywhere in Canada too: people always want to know why the Bank of Canada is increasing interest rates at a time when inflation is within its target range and the Canadian dollar is worth more than 90¢ U.S. Maybe it is just because we like to shoot ourselves in the foot. I remember the recession of the early 1990s, which was entirely a product of the Bank of Canada and its monetary policy.
It seems that, unfortunately, Canada does not learn from past mistakes.
This has an effect on the American market. As I mentioned earlier, the job losses I referred to are largely due to the rise in the Canadian dollar by nearly 30 or 40% in 2005.
There is a third factor that concerns people, and that is the American economy. We can definitely sense that it is going to slow down. We cannot ignore this, since this building and growth boom cannot go on forever. The American population is not growing that fast. Residential, commercial and industrial construction will inevitably slow down. We must get ready for this, since 84% of Canadian exports go to the American market.
I have some figures to bring this home. In 1995, the net savings of American households were 7%; that fell to 1.7% in 2004; and it is currently negative, less than 1%. Not only are American households not currently saving, they are dissaving. Naturally, this has an impact on consumption. However, there is a limit. As individuals, we cannot continuously go further and further into debt. For the government, going into debt is altogether different. At some point, individuals will begin to save again. If they are saving, then unavoidably, they will consume less. What happens when they consume less? They import less. If they import less, this will affect the Canadian economy.
I hope the Conservatives are aware of this fact. I hope the finance minister, the industry minister and the international trade minister are starting to think of ways to counter this slowdown, which will have an impact on the Canadian economy.
We saw American protectionism first-hand in the softwood lumber dispute. We have also seen it in agriculture. It is increasing rapidly these days. Allow me to give an example. I do not disagree with the choice made by American senators and members of Congress. The Central American Free Trade Agreement was passed by just one vote in Congress. Recent surveys have shown that Americans are against this free trade agreement, and for good reason, because it is clearly a bad deal, but also for bad reasons linked to rising protectionism.
There is also the matter of emerging countries' share of the U.S. market. Here are a few little statistics, probably the same ones the Conservatives are looking at. In 1990, 19% of U.S. imports were from Canada, and in 2004, it was 17%. It has hardly changed, so why should we be worried? The trend is the same for Quebec. However, in 1990, 3% of U.S. imports came from China; in 2004, it was 13%. In 1990, 6% of U.S. imports came from Mexico; by 2002, that had dropped slightly to 12%.
We have lost some of the market share we should have had to other economies. I am talking about emerging countries, but I am sure the same thing has happened with industrialized countries.
Naturally, there are the issues of energy and the looming shortage of skilled and unskilled workers. There is also the sense of abandonment felt by Canadian and Quebec manufacturers. I will be speaking about this in the time remaining.
Mr. Charron, CEO of the Quebec division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, spoke to us about how manufacturers feel abandoned, which in my mind is the case. The federal government has abandoned its responsibilities towards the manufacturing sector. This is the case across sectors. We have seen it in clothing and textiles. The assistance plan was merely a public relations exercise that was completely ineffective in terms of helping revitalize this sector, an extremely important one for the Montreal region and for Quebec. This was also the case for softwood lumber. Then there was the decision to ignore the recommendation of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal regarding bicycles and barbecues.
The time has come for the federal government, for the Conservatives, to send out a strong message. We want a very strong manufacturing sector in Quebec and Canada in order to be able to face the challenges of the future. This will require some action in these sectors.
To conclude, there must be support for modernization of traditional economic sectors, support for industrial research and research and development, measures enabling industries to exploit their capabilities in a highly competitive context, measures that will offset increased oil costs with the development of clean and renewable energy.
We must make this collective effort. Programs in support of older workers are also needed, in order to restructure traditional sectors requiring modernization.
There will be job losses, but at least we will be able to keep these sectors alive.
A collective effort of solidarity must be made; otherwise, not only will the Conservative government have abandoned its responsibilities, but there will be an increase in protectionism in Canada, Quebec and Ontario, placing everyone at a disadvantage.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.
I agree completely that Canada should have a very strong industrial policy and a very strong international trade policy, and that the government should play a major supporting role in the industrial sectors and all businesses, but not by infringing on the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction.
Certainly it can help the provinces assume their responsibilities regarding training and education by correcting the fiscal imbalance, as I have said. The federal government, in its own areas of jurisdiction, can do things for infrastructures such as ports, including the Port of Montreal.
We had a discussion at the end of the last session about the Pacific gateway. I find that very exciting, but I want to have an Atlantic gateway in Montreal.
The railways are in a pitiful state. They are the responsibility of the federal government. The government can invest there. Investments are also needed to comply with the Kyoto protocol.
It is the federal government’s responsibility to support businesses internationally by providing them with information about emerging markets, and the risks and opportunities they may represent; it is responsible for being on-site, keeping an eye on things and helping foreign investment in Canada.
I am in favour of tax reforms, but not the generalized tax reductions being made by the Conservatives, who have announced that they will lower the tax rate from 21% to 19% by January 2010. I am in favour of targeted reductions and targeted tax credits to get businesses to do research and development, to invest, to modernize and become more productive, etc. So these reductions should be targeted rather than generalized ones, which, as we have seen, do not necessarily attract investments.
It is wrong to think that today’s profits are tomorrow’s investments and the day-after-tomorrow’s jobs. This does not happen automatically.
As for public support for innovation, research and development, in the U.S. the government directly funds 80% of research and development. In Canada, the government does not even fund 20%. It funds 18%.
A program like Technology Partnerships Canada, which was dropped, should be put back in place in some form or another.
As I have said, under this industrial policy, reconversion programs for traditional, weakened sectors and for the workers in these areas are needed. I have talked about the Program for Older Worker Adjustment and there are other possible measures.
I agree with an industrial policy in Canada, but not by infringing on the provinces’ jurisdictions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Victoria.
I am pleased to speak to the motion today. I will focus on one line in the motion under (3), which reads:
targeted initiatives to strengthen skills, job-readiness and successful workplace participation among First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples - as envisioned as part of the Kelowna Accords....
One might wonder why it is that we are here today debating the motion when there had been an opportunity over the past 13 years to address some of the very serious issues that are facing aboriginal communities around education.
In a 2004 report from the Auditor General, she clearly outlined some very serious concerns around funding and the exact deliverables that were happening through INAC programs, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada programs. Some of it does come down to funding. I would argue that we have seen decades of either indifference or outright neglect when it comes to ensuring aboriginal communities, first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, have access to adequate funding and resources that ensure they have availability of education that will allow them to move out of some dire circumstances.
In a letter dated May 4, addressed to the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development from the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, it reads:
The funds announced in your budget will do very little to remedy chronic under-funding or the crushing poverty and appalling socio-economic conditions of First Nations communities. True recognition, reconciliation and social justice with respect to lands, territories and resources, as well as social and economic programs, are becoming even more distant goals.
We have the situation where the previous Liberal government did not fulfill its responsibilities as outlined under any number of reports and initiatives, including the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People back in 1996. I have 12 different Auditor General reports that talk about a variety of aspects in first nations communities and now we have a Conservative government that has disregarded 18 months of work that resulted in the Kelowna accord and gone ahead with an agenda that is its agenda and not the first nations' agenda.
There are many reasons. I mentioned the 2% funding cap that has been in place since 1996 which has limited the ability of first nations communities to move ahead with initiatives they have developed and designed and which are important to their communities. However, there are also a number of other issues that the House needs to consider when we are talking about education in the context of the motion.
One of the issues before us is that the first nations population is one of the most rapidly growing populations in Canada, both on and off reserve. The first nations population will be the backbone of the workforce in many of our provinces. Half of the first nations people are under the age of 25 and the numbers are even higher in Inuit communities.
I referenced earlier the Kelowna accord and education was a prominent part of that accord. I want to talk specifically about the aboriginal affairs committee, which is currently dealing with education as one of its priorities. Chief Fontaine appeared before the committee this week and highlighted a number of points that he thought would be important for the committee to consider and for the government to consider when it is making decisions, not only about education, but about other issues.
When Chief Fontaine came before the committee yesterday he said:
I want you to apply a test of five criteria that the Assembly of First Nations has developed for successful policy development. Is there first nations leadership, national dialogue, independent first nations expertise, government mandate for change, and a joint national policy process?
In the context of this motion, perhaps we could adopt the five recommendations from Chief Fontaine and the Assembly of First Nations as a way of moving forward when we are examining, not only educational policies but policies in housing, in water, and many other aspects that are facing first nations communities.
Chief Fontaine went on to say:
--the process laid out in the political accord on the recognition and implementation of first nation governments, the proposal in our Accountability for Results Initiative, and the five tests in our backgrounder on joint policy development. If these items to not stand up to these tests, then I would ask you, respectfully ask you, to reject what you are hearing. On the other hand, if these tests are met, then I'm asking for your vigorous support so that we can establish sustainable solutions to these urgent problems.
In addition, the Auditor General outlined a number of factors that have been critical when she looked at what had been successful. I will not to go into great detail about these factors but the Auditor General says that there are seven factors, the first one being the sustained management attention.
The second factor is the coordination of government programs. The third one is meaningful consultation with first nations. The fourth is developing capacity within first nations. The fifth is establishing first nations institutions. The sixth is an appropriate legislative base for programs. The seventh is the sorting out of the conflicting roles of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
The Auditor General has outlined some critical success factors. Chief Fontaine and the Assembly of First Nations have outlined five key tests when policy development is happening. In the context of this motion around education, I would argue that these are credible and important things that the government should move forward on.
I have talked nationally and now I will bring it back home for just one moment. In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group is in the process of protracted treaty negotiations. On March 27, Mr. Robert Morales, chair of the chief negotiators of the First Nations Summit based in British Columbia, and chief negotiator for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group, wrote an article in the Cultural Survival Quarterly, issue 30.1.
The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group is the individual Coast Salish nations, which is composed of the Cowichan Tribes, Chemainus First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, Halalt First Nation, Lyackson First Nation and Lake Cowichan First Nation.
In the article, Mr. Morales outlined a number of factors that the House should consider.
First, under Canada's community well-being index, which is used to examine the well-being of Canadian communities, the six Hul'qumi'num communities scored between 448 and 482 out of 486 communities surveyed in B.C. Those kinds of numbers in this day and age in this country are shocking. It does speak to those years of inaction and inattention by the previous government. The current government has not developed an action plan in consultation with first nations that will address this very serious deficit.
Later on in the article, Mr. Morales talks about the many factors that impact on first nations, both on and off reserve, and on the Inuit and Métis' ability to move forward in this country. Some treaties have been negotiated but when it comes to Hul'qumi'num peoples they need the economic self-sufficiency. They need access to resources, to education and to adequate housing to ensure they can rightfully take their place in this country and not be living in the kinds of conditions for which we would be embarrassed and which have been embarrassing internationally.
We will be supporting the motion but it is unfortunate that we need to be discussing this when we had 13 years under the Liberal government to address these circumstances.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this motion put forward by the Liberals. I thank my hon. colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan for sharing her allotted time with me.
This motion touches on many of the goals we, in the NDP, have been proposing for a long time. In fact, that is the problem: it only touches on the issues. There is something disturbing in that because, with its eight-year run of record surpluses, the Liberal government could have afforded to put money where its mouth was, especially in the area of post-secondary education.
The tone of the motion, as it stands, seems to be one of resignation in the face of the astronomical tuition fees charged in some provinces. The reason for this might be that the cuts to post-secondary education imposed by the Liberals themselves are responsible for tuition fees skyrocketing. The average increase across Canada is 35%, and 141% in British Columbia, where I live.
Under the Liberals, the portion of the universities' operating budget represented by tuition fees increased from 20% to 30%. In the mid-1980s, the government covered 80% of the costs of post-secondary education, as compared to a mere 57% today. It is no coincidence that the chance of children from low income families getting into a post-secondary establishment is less than half that of children from high income families.
It comes as no surprise then that the number of students forced to work full time while studying full time increased by 130% since 1994. Tuition fees are simply too high. It is no coincidence either there is such a shortage of physicians. Under the Liberals, the average tuition fees for medical school have more than tripled, reaching $13,000 per year.
This motion seems more than a little disingenuous. Having the Liberals call for investments to reduce tuition fees is a bit like the Grinch calling for investments in Christmas gifts in Whoville.
Nevertheless, this motion does speak to actions that the NDP values. I deeply believe in the importance of Canada's human capital. The G-8 ministers meeting on post-secondary education and skills training in Moscow highlighted its importance in building an innovative, prosperous society.
All G-8 education ministers agreed to four key objectives: advancing the education for all agendas, supporting the role education plays in empowering migrants and immigrants, developing skills for life and work through quality education, and building innovative societies.
One important aspect I took away from these meetings relates to the role of learning in promoting social cohesion and justice. I thought of the report by the Canada Council on Learning which gave Canada a grade of B- on its first ever composite learning index. This index goes beyond learning in terms of basic knowledge skills like reading and writing, and beyond tangible skills like trades. It speaks of learning to live together and learning to be, and I think the events in Toronto, the arrests of the 17 young people, really highlight the importance of these skills and of social cohesion.
This report also spoke of volunteering and community involvement, culture and physical well-being. All of these learning sets contribute to a socially cohesive and just society. What this means in a practical context to the individual Canadian and to Canadian communities is that for us to prosper in economic as well as social terms, we need to expand our concept of prosperity more broadly.
We need to include the families struggling to find decent housing and the aboriginal student who cannot afford tuition. When this motion mentions broad-base prosperity, it means including and empowering everyone, especially new Canadians.
It also means funding research in the social sciences and humanities at the same level that we fund health sciences and the sciences and technology in general.
Currently, social sciences receive 11% of overall research funding for well over 50% of total students. Whether it is understanding the intellectual development of children to improve our child care system, determining the sources of the terrorist mentality or improving our political system, our society clearly benefits from studying the humanities. I would have liked this motion to ask for equitable funding for all councils to account for the gap of funding to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
I would also like to speak to another deficiency. It is the need for an overhaul of our convoluted, inflexible student aid system. It desperately needs it. The Association of Canadian Community Colleges recommends, for example, transforming the Canada student loans program into a new learner support system guided by the principles of universality, simplicity and flexibility, and including a comprehensive low income grant program.
In addition to accessibility, quality of education is important. The student to faculty ratio rose by 26% under the Liberals and faculty salaries, as a percentage of university operating expenditures, fell by 29%. Class sizes are exploding and the quality of instruction is compromised. We are graduating more people with degrees, but we are not necessarily helping our broad-base prosperity.
Finally, I would like to touch on literacy which is inexplicably absent from the motion. Like the composite learning index, the modern concept of literacy extends beyond reading and writing which is required in order for individuals to be productive and well-adjusted members of our society. We all know the statistic that 42% of working aged Canadians do not have the literacy skills to function effectively in a modern society and economy. The number of Canadians with low literacy levels has risen from eight million to nine million in the past 10 years. That was confirmed this morning by the staff from Human Resources and Social Development Canada at the committee meeting.
I would have expected the motion, on the part of the Liberals, to finally recognize the role of literacy in a comprehensive learning strategy by including, for example, a pan-Canadian strategy on literacy, including multi-year stable funding.
To conclude, I will support the motion because it does recognize the role of social investment in our country's prosperity. However, the flaws in the motion are the very flaws of the Liberal record. I hope that the new Conservative government recognizes this in moving forward in setting policy in these areas.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the distinguished member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the gentleman who last night brought forward a great private member's bill that I hope the House adopts.
I welcome this opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague and good friend from Halifax West. For me there is no more important issue in Canada today than this one, the education of all Canadians at all stages of their life, but in particular, educating and preparing young Canadians for the globally competitive world in which we now exist.
The motion speaks to this in a way that has not been addressed by the government in its own narrow five priorities. In fact, it is staggering to me and I think staggering to a lot of Canadian families that education is not considered a priority by the government.
I have spoken on many occasions in the House about the value of investing in education and research and, in particular, investing in young Canadians. It is unfortunate that the recent budget put politics above policy. It seems that it is more important these days on the government side to be seen to be doing something rather than actually making decisions that would impact Canadians in a real and positive way.
The heart of the challenge that faces Canada, which is to increase productivity and to continue a standard of life for Canadians that frankly we have become accustomed to, is going to be, more and more, a challenge in a world that no longer offers a free pass to success.
As Jeffrey Simpson said recently:
The world out there isn't standing still. Only by improving the human skills of the population and making the investment climate more attractive can Canada compete better. By that standard, this [federal] budget is strangely irrelevant.
Other members will speak to the great success that we have achieved as a nation in the areas of research and innovation in the past seven or eight years. In fact, members of the government will no doubt agree with their own budget documents, which state the following on page 36:
--the federal government has increased its support for post-secondary education research, with nearly $11 billion in incremental funding. These investments have assisted Canadian universities in strengthening their research capacity and building a global reputation for excellence, which has helped reverse the “brain drain” and attract leading researchers to Canada. Canada now ranks first in the G7...in terms of research and development....
Of course those are not my words. Those are the words of the current government, which quite rightly applauds the work of the previous government on this issue.
In my capacity as chair of the government caucus on post-secondary education and research, I had the opportunity last year to travel Canada. I heard similar stories from coast to coast, stories of universities that were facing difficult times but were saved by these direct federal investments and that in fact have thrived under these investments.
These investments have had a huge impact in a positive way on our universities, a huge impact in a positive way on our nation and a huge impact in a positive way in our regions. For example, ACOA and the Atlantic investment fund have done a great job of building capacity in Atlantic Canada. These investments also have had a great and positive impact in our communities. In my own community last year, Research In Motion, RIM, announced that it would be setting up a plant in Halifax and it credited the ongoing commitment of the federal government to research and innovation as the key reason for its success.
The day after the Conservative budget was released, the Globe and Mail outlined how successful Canada's economy has been in the last number of years and also offered some free advice to the government. It listed the areas that were most important for investment in Canada if our success is to continue. The top two areas it cited were education and the environment.
We all know what the Conservatives have done to the environment agenda by eliminating the Kyoto protocol and going with its made in Canada solution, which is really no solution whatever, but like the government, I am not focusing on the environment. Unlike the government, I will focus on post-secondary education and research.
I want to talk about student access. Providing access is essential.
In a recent op-ed piece, Ian Boyko of the Canadian Federation of Students stated:
--the Government of Canada estimates that 74% of new jobs created this year will require post-secondary education. Sadly, the government today lacks its predecessor's vision for access to education.
I agree with the CFS on a wide range of issues, perhaps not all but most, and I have worked closely over the past couple of years with its leadership. It rightly points out that despite our efforts in the past, and some successes, we remain a nation where it is the case that access to education is still a national problem.
It is certainly a problem in my own province of Nova Scotia, which has the highest tuitions in the country. In the maritime provinces, student debt skyrocketed by 33% in five years. I am not advocating that the federal government has a direct role in setting tuition. To me, that is not the case at all.
However, the federal government does have a role, along with the provinces, in the area of student assistance. We can do this by implementing across the board grants that would bridge the opportunity gap between those who have and those who have not. These direct investments, along with other measures, would assist Canadians most in need.
When it comes to post-secondary education, we are talking about low income Canadians, persons with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians. Last fall I was very proud when the finance minister introduced his economic update, which included massive investments into direct student assistance. It included a number of elements: $1 billion to the provinces and territories for post-secondary innovation; $2.2 billion for student financial assistance, targeted to low income Canadians; and over a half a billion dollars to expand the Canada access grants for low income Canadians to cover all years of an undergraduate education. It included, and to me this is very important, $265 million to assist Canadians with disabilities, as well as $2.5 billion in new funding to sustain Canada's leadership in research.
There were a number of investments. Overall it was a $9 billion package to invest in upgrading Canadian skills and capabilities. I think it was the single biggest plan for post-secondary education and research that has ever been introduced in Parliament.
That federal economic update was a sweeping plan for post-secondary education that built on Bill C-48 of last year, the arrangement between the government and the New Democratic Part that was included in the budget. Bill C-48, as many will recall, included an element of post-secondary education, and said that it was “for supporting training programs and enhancing access to post-secondary education, to benefit, among others, aboriginal Canadians, an amount not exceeding $1.5 billion”.
The fall economic update went way beyond Bill C-48. It would have made a huge difference in the lives of Canadian students. Unfortunately, of course, it is gone, replaced by an election and a new budget that provides little if anything for most students, certainly nothing for students most in need. On the issue of accessibility, there is nothing.
In the finance committee last week when the Minister of Finance appeared, I asked him regarding Bill C-48 what happened to the money, what happened to the $1.5 billion? His first response was that it was not $1.5 billion, but a billion. I said, “No, I have it here, Mr. Minister”. I asked him if the investment in infrastructure, which is really all there is in the budget, was from Bill C-48 and if that equated to student access. His response was that it did. In my view and in the view of most Canadians, infrastructure does not equate to access.
We do need investments in post-secondary infrastructure and research. We have made them and we will continue to make them as a nation, I hope, although the budget of the Conservative government has one-tenth of the money dedicated to research that the economic update had.
We need investments in research and we need investments in infrastructure, but one cannot suggest, based on any evidence that I have seen, that investments in infrastructure equate directly to investment in student access. A tax credit on books and scholarships simply makes no difference to those most in need, many of whom do not make enough to pay income tax anyway.
The evidence shows that federal education tax measures disproportionately favour high income earners and do not do enough to improve access to post-secondary education. The tax credit on books is $80. As for $80 for a student in my home province of Nova Scotia who is paying anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, I would suggest that not only is it not particularly helpful, it is actually insulting.
We have come a huge way in Canada through direct federal investment in our post-secondary institutions. We have reversed the brain drain, built capacity and spurred economic growth. Our challenge now is to ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that Canadians have every opportunity to develop their skills. It will not happen through tinkering with taxes.
We have taken some steps, but now there is a confluence of events with the emerging economies, the productivity crunch, the investments made to date, and the massive surplus. It is time to take action. Direct support to students in need is good for students, but it is very good for Canada as well. I would say that it is absolutely vital. The government is asleep at the switch on this critical issue. It is time to wake up, follow the lead of the Liberal government and invest in our students now.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in the debate on the motion. It is an important motion and reflects a lot of thinking on the part of my colleague from Dartmouth. It reflects in some great measure his concern and abilities with respect to the post-education file.
I would like to make my observation with respect to the fiscal fairy dust that passes for economics in this particular government. The critic from the NDP will appreciate that this is fiscal fairy dust. The government simply spreads a little fairy dust around and says that up is up, up is down, down is up, 15% is actually bigger than 16%, 16% is actually less than 15%, and a base personal exemption of something like $400, an increase in the base personal exemption is actually tax relief.
I am sure my colleague will join me in trying to root ourselves in reality. She will know, as do the rest of us, that in November 2005 the Liberal government actually reduced the base personal rate, the lowest rate at which Canadians pay taxes, from 16% to 15%.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you are an educated man and that you will appreciate that 16% is actually higher than 15% and 15% is actually lower than 16%. I see you nodding in the affirmative. That makes me question how you can continue to belong to that government.
The reduction was by way of a ways and means motion and was effective for the 2005 taxation year. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I know you have been a good Canadian citizen and have paid your taxes this year. You will recollect that on your income tax return there was a section with respect to the basic personal exemption and with respect to the 16% being reduced to 15%. In fact, it was highlighted in red. In the normal course of events that would have been enshrined in legislation. However, as we well know, the Liberal government was defeated and a new budget was introduced. In this wonderful little world of neoconville, where up is down and down is up, and lower is higher and higher is lower, Bill C-13 actually raised the rates that were set out in the ways and means motion.
I appreciate that 15.5% is actually somewhat more than 15% and somewhat less than 16%, but we are splitting hairs here. This is in fact a budget which raised the basic personal exemption and raised the base rate from 15% to 15.5%. It is a kind of nasty little surprise for Canadians. The surprises will just continue, but only in Conservative fiscal economics, this fairy dust I was referring to. Only grade 3 dropouts actually believe that 16% is less than 15%.
Canadians are in for another little nasty surprise and that is with respect to the basic personal exemption or base personal allowance, as it is known, the BPA. Scheduled into the ways and means motion was a further reduction or in fact a rise of $200 in the base personal allowance which was scheduled for 2006.
However, Canadians will find that on July 1 their pay packets will actually shrink. The base personal allowance will actually be wound back by about $400 in order to fund the 1% in the GST cut. Will that not be a bit of a surprise? I cannot recollect in the election if the Conservatives actually campaigned on that point, that they would actually raise personal income taxes in order to be able to fund the GST cut, but maybe, Mr. Speaker, you have access to fiscal reality which maybe none of the rest of us have.
I want to set this out in a very clear and cogent statement by Dale Orr from Global Economics. You will know, Mr. Speaker, as does the NDP critic, that Dale Orr is no friend of the Liberal Party. I will quote him:
Budget 2006 claimed “about 665,000 low-income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls altogether”. About 350,000 of those 665,000 were estimated to be removed because of the “tax relief” on the Basic Personal Amount provided by Budget 2006.
Budget 2006 didn't really provide tax relief on the BPA. Budget 2006 actually caused the BPA to be only $8,839 for 2006 when it otherwise would have been $9,039.
That is a difference of a couple of hundred dollars.
Rather than the change in the BPA of Budget 2006 and removing about 350,000 Canadians from the tax rolls altogether, the change in BPA of Budget 2006 will actually cause about 200,000 Canadians, who thought they wouldn't be on the tax rolls in 2006...to be pushed back onto the tax rolls. What the Finance Minister did not say in presenting Budget 2006 was, “Mr. Speaker, with this reduction in the tax free amount from current levels, I have today pushed about 200,000 of the lowest income Canadians back onto the tax rolls”.
That would not have been very nice. I agree with Mr. Orr in his analysis. It does not really have a nice ring to it and I did not see it in the budget speech. It was not one of those items in the speech or in the campaigning that led up to the speech, or indeed in the election campaign, that actually said that the government was going to shove 200,000 people back onto the tax rolls, people who had every reason to expect they would be removed from the tax rolls based upon the November update.
I always try to be fair, so the counter argument is the work related credit. Employees are going to get a credit come July 1. People who are employed will get the credit, but if people are not employed, if they are seniors, are self-employed, are about to be employed or about to be unemployed, the credit will be absolutely useless. We will see that rates go up and the base personal allowance will come down.
Welcome to the fiscal la-la land of the Conservative Party. The choice is whether people want to have $150 in their pockets in absolute terms from the November update, or whether they want to spend another $150 or better on acquiring more goods and services in order to get back the 1% that has been promised. It is a strange set of economics. Personally, if it were up to me and I guess it is not, I would prefer to have $150 in my pocket and forget the GST.
Why is this fiscal fraud important? I want go back to the motion, which states in part:
--in the opinion of the House, future Canadian economic growth and broad-based prosperity demand--in addition to a competitive tax regime (especially in relation to income tax rates and brackets) and the strategic positioning of Canada at the centre of global commerce and networks--focused and immediate investments by the government--
Without a competitive economy, wealth and jobs, all the rest is simply academic; it is entirely hot air. If we do not have a prosperous economy based upon knowledge and the hard work of Canadians, none of this stuff will be possible.
When one wastes scarce resources, one cannot do the necessary things one wants to do for planning. If the government is not prudent with the tax dollars which it is given by hard-working Canadians, then it will not be able to do anything, such as fund research institutions. The government argues that the private sector will magically pick up the slack. If that is true, then why was Canada dead last under the previous Conservative government and through the hard work of the Liberal government we became number one in the G-7 in research and development?
Researchers have options. Their research can be done anywhere in the world. One does not need a degree in economics to know that if wealth is not generated on the basis of brain power, there will be no wealth at all, because the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil will pick up the slack. One can ship a piece of lumber to China and have it come back as a piece of furniture cheaper, just because of the differential in labour cost.
The government has resisted the opportunity to have a universal day care system. Having a universal medical system in this country is worth, in the manufacture of a car, about the equivalent of the steel that is in the car. It is a huge competitive advantage. Having universal day care is also a huge competitive advantage and we have given up the opportunity to have that huge competitive advantage.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in the debate on this motion today. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain.
I would like to tell the member for Halifax West that I share his desire to ensure that our children, our students, our families and our country have the best possible prospects for the future. That is why I am pleased to be part of a government whose goal is to build a stronger and more united Canada.
It is often said that a government’s first 100 days are crucial. I think we can say, in all humility, that we have successfully completed that important stage, and this augurs very well for the future. The people in my riding and elsewhere in Quebec tell us that it is very pleasant to see a government that keeps its promises at work. As a Quebecker, I also find it very interesting to hear the Prime Minister of Canada talking about open federalism as he does. Last month, for example, he said, and I quote:
That’s what open federalism is all about—a stronger Quebec in a better Canada—and that is what this new national government intends to deliver. Open federalism does not seek to play favourites or stir up jealousies. Open federalism represents an opportunity to free Quebec from the trap of polarization.
That says a lot about the Prime Minister’s intentions. It is not just his words that strike a chord in Quebec, the actions of the government he leads do as well.
In a short time, we have made an agreement with the Government of Quebec that will enable Quebec to play an historic role in UNESCO. Next, we also put an end to the softwood lumber dispute that had for too long paralyzed our producers and damaged our economy. That agreement will allow us to bring $4 billion back into Canada, and will have positive effects in regions like the Gaspé, Abitibi-Témiscamingue or Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where the forestry industry plays a major economic role. In fact, everyone who sits in this House and who believes in the future of Canada cannot help but applaud results like these.
Speaking of the future, I would like to come back to the motion tabled by my hon. colleague. Today, he is asking what the government is doing so that the Canadian economy will thrive in the 21st century. If I understand his lengthy motion correctly, he is also asking what we are doing to promote greater access to post-secondary education and to help the work readiness of people like immigrants and older workers, who must overcome very specific barriers. The simplest answer I can give him is that we are acting, and we are acting responsibly and effectively and targeting our actions.
The budget tabled recently by the Minister of Finance is eloquent evidence of this. First, the budget proposes targeted measures so that the largest possible number of Canadians will be able to get a post-secondary education. Starting in August 2007, eligibility for the Canada Student Loan Program will be expanded by reducing the deemed parental contribution. This measure will enable about 30,000 more young people to get a post-secondary education at a college or university in Canada. As well, a new $500 tax credit for buying textbooks will apply to all post-secondary students. And we will be eliminating the current $3,000 cap on the amount of bursaries and scholarships a post-secondary student may receive without having to pay federal income tax. These tax measures will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of students in Canada.
However, we realize that education is a provincial jurisdiction. That is why, instead of establishing a new program that would create overlap, we prefer providing up to $1 billion directly to the provinces and territories, to allow them to meet pressing needs in terms of post-secondary education infrastructure.
This way, students across the country can benefit from more modern classrooms, libraries, laboratories and research equipment.
This billion is in addition to the $9 billion the government invests annually in post-secondary education and the $1.7 billion it provides to support research carried out in post-secondary institutions.
Despite huge investments, the government is well aware that the provinces and territories are trying to find out how much money is available to them. That is why we plan to provide long term assistance for post-secondary education and training.
This year, we are already giving Quebec an extra $850 million in equalization payments. Part of that amount is specifically earmarked for post-secondary education.
By helping our young people get an education, we are preparing the future of our country. But to really ensure the prosperity of Canada, every effort has to be made to curb the shortage of skilled workers.
In Quebec for example, the manufacturing sector has already started experiencing such a shortage.
More than ever, our economic growth depends on our ability to face this challenge. One way to do so is by making sure that our young people turn toward skilled trades.
In this regard, a number of tax measures announced in the 2006 budget will help us move forward. I could mention in particular a new $1,000 grant for first- and second-year apprentices; a new $500 tax deduction for tradespeople to help them purchase tools; an increase in the $200 limit on the cost of tools eligible for the 100% capital cost allowance, which will rise to $500; and a new tax credit of up to $2,000 for employers who hire apprentices.
These measures were welcomed by manufacturers. Richard Fahey, the Quebec vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said after the budget was tabled that these measures would make it easier to hire staff in the current situation of labour shortages.
We know very well, though, that this is not enough.
Over the next five years, 640,000 workers will have to be replaced in Quebec. Over the next decade, more people will leave their jobs than will enter the workforce. The resulting demographic pressures will magnify the problems that manufacturers are having with the recruitment of skilled labour.
We will therefore have to roll up our sleeves to ensure that the workforce continues to grow. One of the ways of doing this is through immigration.
Here too, though, things are not easy. It is unbelievable that in 2006, skilled immigrants still have to wait many a long year before being able to work in Canada at occupations for which they are more than well qualified and trained.
In order to fix this, we are going to create a Canadian agency for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials.
Since most regulated occupations come under provincial and territorial jurisdictions, we are going to have a major consultation process on the mandate, structure and management of this new agency.
In its budget, the government also announced an additional $307 million to help immigrants get established and find work in their communities.
In conclusion, those are the measures, in short, that we have put forward since the new government was elected, barely four months ago. They will do a lot to change the lives of Canadians and ensure a vibrant Canadian economy.
This government was elected on a promise of real change and that is what we are working toward with vim and vigour.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to debate the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West. It recognizes that Canada's growth and prosperity are advanced by a number of key factors. Among these are measures to help newcomers and others integrate successfully into the workplace.
In citing various global and demographic challenges we face today, the motion reminds us that immigration must be a vital part of any plan devised to respond to them. It reminds us that when immigrants succeed in our society, we all succeed.
It is notable that the member for Halifax West's own party presided over a period when immigrants saw a marked decline in outcomes for their earnings and livelihood. At the beginning of the 1980s, two-thirds of skilled immigrants earned more than the Canadian average income within a year of coming here. Under the Liberal government, that 66% success rate fell to just 4%.
I would like to highlight a number of investments the government has made to assist newcomers in the workplace. They are precisely the kind of focused initiatives for which the hon. member calls.
First, Canada's immigration policy and immigration system is far more than a means of bringing newcomers to Canada. Getting them here is only one side of the coin, only one-half of the job. The other half is ensuring their successful integration once they arrive here.
The government has a fundamental role in helping newcomers adjust to their new homeland and ensuring they become productive and responsible citizens when they get here. It is not just to be in Canada, but it is also about succeeding and making Canada a part of their home and also feeling part of Canada.
Our immigration system exists to serve the interests of all Canadians in all regions and communities, in all sectors for all Canadians. It is for this reason that we continue to work on a fair and sensible immigration plan that works for Canada. The government moved quickly, after taking office, to implement a number of specific immigration measures. These measures were needed immediately to advance an immigration program that would work for our country.
In addition, the new Conservative government has acted to bring forward measures that “strengthen skills, job-readiness and successful workplace participation...among new immigrants”, to use the exact wording of the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.
Canada's economy is strong and thousands of jobs are being created. However, there is also a growing concern that vacant jobs in key sectors in regions are not being filled as quickly as employers need or sometimes are not filled at all. The solution is not technological or organizational. It is more than that. It is people, our greatest human resource. People have to be the centre of this agenda. To be successful, we have to make full use of the diverse talents and skills of all members of our society. They need to be what they can be. They need to become what they can become and contribute in a positive fashion to our society.
It is obvious that Canadian employers must be able to draw on the full range of their employees' skills, including assisting with their employees' skills upgrading. They must also be able to hire the additional workers they need and to do so quickly in order to meet the demands of our ever growing economy.
As we all know, immigration has been a major part of our country's labour mix from the beginning of our history. It must continue to be part of our strategy in facing the future. Our governmental plan is committed to making this so.
Through our permanent immigration program, we select skilled workers who have the training, education, language skills and work experience that will help them to make a contribution to Canada's longer term competitiveness.
The provinces and territories play an important role in this. Quebec selects its own skilled workers while the provincial nominee program helps other provinces and territories support the immigration of individuals who have the skills and other attributes needed by most provinces. Manitoba and my home province of Saskatchewan have shown leadership in the furtherance of the program and in the use of the program.
Still, there are urgent labour market needs that need to be addressed and they need to be addressed now. The temporary foreign workers program has been used to bring workers from other countries to Canada to fill jobs on a temporary basis when there is no one available to do the job in Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada is working closely with colleagues from Human Resources and Social Development to make this program work better for all Canadians.
Furthermore, the provincial nominee program could be used more extensively by the provinces and territories. We are prepared to work with any province that wishes to explore the greater use of this program.
In the recent 2006 budget, we delivered our commitment to cut in half the right of permanent residence fee from $975 to $490. This fee is a considerable burden for many immigrants at a time in their lives when every dollar counts. This fee reduction that we adopted would mean a $1,000 saving for a husband and wife coming to Canada; $1,000 they could use before finding that first job and money they could use to help start a new life in Canada. We said we would cut the right of permanent residence fee in half, and we did it. Budget 2006 delivers on that promise.
Budget 2006 puts an extra $307 million in settlement funding for new immigrants. This is over and above other recent increases. This money would go to the heart of improving outcomes for immigrants and to giving them opportunities to add to the success of our country.
Our budget earned praise from the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance as the first major increase in funding since 1995. This funding would go toward language training, help with job searches, skills upgrades, suitable housing and other programs, things that would make newcomers successful and integrate successfully in our society and country.
Canada has a variety of existing programs to assist newcomers in settling into their communities.
The immigration settlement and adaptation program focuses on various needs, particularly during the first year, including orientation abroad and in Canada. Our host program connects immigrants with people in their communities who provide a personal touch in assisting them. Through the language instruction for newcomers to Canada considerable resources are allocated for the provision of basic language training to help newcomers integrate more rapidly into their new society.
As well, the minister recently announced that foreign students in our universities and colleges would be allowed to compete for off-campus jobs on a level playing field with their Canadian peers. We estimate approximately 100,000 students would be eligible to participate in this initiative in all parts of Canada.
This program would increase Canada's attractiveness as a destination for students. International students bring more than $4 billion to our economy each year. We want to attract and retain these highly-educated people to Canada. The program would give international university and college students the ability to work off-campus and help them participate in Canadian society. This would also allow foreign students to gain valuable Canadian experience that would benefit both them and us.
These are initiatives the government has introduced quickly in taking office. They have been introduced to make Canada's immigration program one that works better for Canada, one that would advance the objectives that are at the heart of the motion here before us.
These measures help to strengthen the job readiness and workplace participation of newcomers that is the very intent of the hon. member's motion. There are already programs in existence that realize these objectives, such as enhanced language training.
Through Citizenship and Immigration Canada's enhanced language training initiative, $20 million goes toward an integrated service for immigrants that provides labour market levels of language training coupled with employment supports such as internships, skills and educational assessment, mentoring, workplace cultural orientation, preparing for licensing exams, and information on how to access professions. This is in addition to approximately $130 million a year the government spends on basic language training.
In conclusion, I have provided an overview of the targeted initiatives taken to advance workplace participation among immigrants. Most of them are the result of the action our government has taken to improve our immigration program. These improvements are serving the interests of Canada by better serving the needs of newcomers and the requirements of employers in the workplace.
I am sure members would agree that these targeted initiatives fulfill the objectives of the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will share my time with my colleague and friend, the member for North Vancouver.
I would like to congratulate the member for Halifax West and thank him for introducing this motion. It is obviously a large motion, and it is also extremely inclusive. It has vision. I am especially proud to participate in this debate today because the day before yesterday, I reached a milestone in my personal life: I completed my studies for an executive MBA. That is exactly the kind of debate we are having today. We have to see and understand that our planet is a global village. There are some challenges related to globalization: productivity and competitiveness do not just affect the economy, they also affect society. We must have a vision that enables us to maintain our social conscience. I do not agree with Thomas L. Friedman, who wrote that The World is Flat. We have to protect our way of life. As the saying goes, we must “think globally, act locally”.
Today, we must look at the facts and at what will happen between now and 2026. I was very proud to serve as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration under the Liberal government for two and a half years. The department is very important because it is very much the department of Canada. We had the opportunity to make a series of decisions that enabled us to chart a course for the future. My NDP colleague asked a question earlier.
It is a living thing, so we have to be very careful. It is an ongoing issue. We need to be vigilant and ensure that we do not create other burdens.
However, by 2026 our demography will depend only on immigration. It is very important that any kind of decision taken for the future sends a clear message. If we need those people to help our own demography, we must ensure that we are choosing the right way to do so and the right process, and also to ensure that those people know that this is a great nation and that we will be there to help them at the same time.
It is urgently important to realize that, in the next five years, we will be lacking a million skilled workers. That does not mean, as some unfortunately suggested at the time, that we are not looking in our own backyard for the people we need. Despite all of the work we are doing, we unfortunately lack a million skilled workers.
So what do we do? I think we need to have short-, medium- and long-term vision. We must in fact ensure that we have a strategy, a policy that will enable us to respond to this particular situation, but we also have a duty to ensure that all policies are inclusive. Those policies must enable us not only to examine, in the medium and long terms, the ways that we assist our children and those who have to change jobs, but also to offer these transitional and educational tools, whether in the technical field or in post-secondary education, to prepare for the future.
We also have to realize that Canada is not just Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. We must have an urban strategy, and also a rural strategy. We must send a clear message that, when skilled workers are needed, the regions will be considered. We need regionalization and retention tools. It is not enough to send someone to work in a certain place; we must also find a decent way of doing so—this is a necessity—so that person can put down roots in an environment where it is good to live. We must be able to give that person the necessary tools to bring his or her family there, so they can put down roots in the community.
I have had some extraordinary experiences. I remember, as a minister, personally signing an agreement with the government of the Northwest Territories. We can have a selective immigration strategy that allows us to meet certain glaring needs. They have full employment in the Northwest Territories. The diamond industry is an exceptional industry. The diamonds of the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta will be legion, and will far surpass in quality those of South Africa.
However, there is one major problem. It is not just a matter of prospecting and mining, but we also need specialized tradespeople, the diamond cutters. We were unable to get them; there were none available locally. With certain immigration measures, in collaboration with the Government of the Northwest Territories, we targeted certain needs and went and found 13 diamond cutters. If I recall correctly, they came from Armenia.
At the same time—and this is why the motion also refers to aboriginal peoples—we wanted an inclusive procedure so that people could not only find an ad hoc response to a problem or situation, but also develop an inclusive vision for the future. That way, the local people could also eventually benefit from these newcomers, develop work procedures with them, and so develop the industry and technology of diamond cutting.
We created a training centre. If memory serves, even members of the aboriginal community were able to participate in it. We have this tool for renewal which allows us to develop a technology from which the local people can benefit.
I was speaking earlier about rural communities as compared to urban communities. It must be noted that 88% of new immigrants arrive in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. More than 60% of newcomers settle in Toronto. There are problems and needs in Moose Jaw, Calgary, Kelowna, the Atlantic provinces. That is why we need tools for development and immigration policies that will enable every region to find not only a way of meeting demographic needs for the future, but also of responding to this competition and productivity.
Today, knowledge is wealth. Wealth is having people who are able to produce and to meet the challenges presented by South Asia, for example. If we do not have the tools we need, we will still be able to draw on old victories, but we will never have the capacity to grow and to flourish. That is why we need tools.
In committee, we met with the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. She has a crucial job to do, the job of identifying and recognizing needs.
However, there is an exceptional program for temporary workers. People who are familiar with agriculture will know that in Quebec and Ontario, particularly, there are temporary six-month contracts. We have signed agreements with Guatemala and Mexico, for example, that allow those people to come here for six months to work, to harvest crops and do the packaging work. They then go back home, but they can come back.
We could do exactly the same thing for other occupations We could admit doctors and health care professionals, obviously by agreement with the professional associations. For example, if we needed a doctor in Flin Flon, we could give a foreign resident a temporary contract. That person would bring his or her entire family, the person’s qualifications would be recognized, and he or she would be accepted via a single window. The person would come to work for five years as a doctor in Flin Flon. At the end of the five years, he or she would be given permanent residence and the citizenship process would be expedited.
What would such a program do? It would mean that roots would be put down, that the community would be able to work and the residents would be able to stay in their own part of the country. The exodus does not consist of young people alone. Some people need specialized health care that is not available in some areas. They must therefore move to large centres to receive that care.
By adopting this kind of policy, I think we can get results.
Obviously, we will still have to work in cooperation with our partners. I was the first one to sign a unanimous agreement with all of the provinces and territories. We have always provided a warm welcome to immigrants. We need only think back to what was done by Clifford Sifton. We had never really had a federal-provincial conference with all of the partners. What we did was to sign a unanimous agreement.
Regardless of what government is in power, regardless of what the Conservative government may try to do to pat itself on the back for coming up with the best inventions since sliced bread, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. All that needs to be done is to ensure that things are running smoothly. The ingredients are there; what needs to be done is to make the decisions and allocate the resources needed.
The motion by my colleague from Halifax West must be given broad support. This is not a matter of partisanship, it is a matter of making choices, as a society, for our country.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.
I will focus my remarks on the section of the motion that calls on the government to make focused and immediate investments to reduce financial barriers that now stand in the way of students seeking greater access to post-secondary education, including, most particularly, grant programs aimed at offsetting the high cost of tuition.
The critical importance of higher education is clear, not only for the economy but for individual achievement, advances in research and Canada's competitiveness in the knowledge based global economy.
Let us compare the current government's support for post-secondary education to that of the previous Liberal government. The differences are huge and highlight the divide between the two parties on this issue.
Liberals are committed to creating an opportunity for every Canadian to succeed by ensuring that Canadians of all incomes have access to first class education and opportunities. We were doing this by working with the provinces and territories to reduce financial barriers to post-secondary education through a range of grants, loans, tax and savings support programs.
The previous government contributed almost $9 billion annually to support post-secondary education through programs and transfers to students, institutions, provinces and researchers. However, we were prepared to go further. A re-elected Liberal government was set to increase this very substantial commitment by more than $4 billion in new resources over the next five years. I was proud of the measures in our election platform to increase access to post-secondary education. I would be happy to run on these policies again.
I will now outline the areas in which our party would have moved forward by increasing federal funding in the following areas.
First, the is fifty-fifty. A Liberal government would have paid one-half of an undergraduate's first year and graduating year tuition to a maximum grant of $3,000 in any year or a total of $6,000. This new fifty-fifty plan would have been available to any student pursuing a first degree or diploma from an accredited university, community college or other post-secondary program in Canada.
Qualifying students would have been those commencing undergraduate education beginning in 2007-08. The plan would have been delivered through the Canada student loan program. Currently, the governments of Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not participate in this program, so we would have had to work with them on alternate payment programs.
However, by providing the first payment at the beginning of a student's post-secondary education, the fifty-fifty plan would have provided families and students with the incentive to begin undergraduate studies. The second payment would have provided an additional incentive for students to complete their programs.
Since the fifty-fifty plan would have been available only for study in Canada, it would have given young Canadians a further incentive to support schools in our country.
The fifty-fifty plan was expected to have a net cost of roughly $1.9 billion to 2010-11 and $600 million per year when fully phased in, by which time it would have supported an estimated 750,000 students each year.
An example of the potential benefits of the fifty-fifty plan in North Vancouver would have been to students wishing to pursue a career in the growing film industry in British Columbia, an industry that contributes over $1 billion a year to the B.C. economy and over $100 million per year to the North Vancouver economy.
The Capilano College Film Centre, for example, offers a wide range of full time programs that prepares students for a variety of career paths in the film production industry. The largest of these, the motion picture production program, now offers second and third year programs designed specifically for emerging entrepreneurial filmmakers. The program has existed for only eight years and is already producing festival worthy films.
The costuming for the theatre and film program and the cinematography program also both have second year programs in development . For those who seek entry level craft training in the film business, the film centre also offers courses in lighting, grip and set dressing. The film centre is also the home of the apprenticeship programs, run in conjunction with the B.C. branch of the Directors Guild of Canada.
Another area in which our party would have moved forward was expanding of Canada access grants. In the 2004 budget the Liberal government created Canada access grants to make post-secondary education more accessible for children from low income families, generally those with incomes below $35,000 a year. The grant paid the first half of the first year tuition, capped at $3,000. This benefited more than 20,000 students.
A Liberal government would have extended the Canada access grant to be available for up to the full four years of undergraduate study. This extension would have cost approximately $550 million over the next five years and would have benefited a further 55,000 students. A student qualifying for a Canada access grant could not also receive the new fifty-fifty grant.
A Liberal government would have launched a comprehensive review of student financial assistance programs. In collaboration with the provinces and territories and other partners, the purpose of this review was to ensure student assistance programs continued to make post-secondary education accessible, and to identify areas where more support was needed.
One key area that would have been studied was access for students from middle income families and students with dependents to ensure they did not face insurmountable financial barriers. The review would have examined a range of potential measures such as grants, loans and ways to improve debt management, including reduced interest rates.
A Liberal government would have increased by 50% the support currently being given to the most promising masters and doctoral students in science, engineering and other disciplines through Canada graduate scholarships. The Liberal government established these prestigious scholarships in the 2003 budget, to be awarded through national competitions by the granting agencies to ensure a reliable supply of highly qualified personnel to meet the needs of Canada's knowledge economy. Canada graduate scholars also help renew faculty at Canadian universities who will be the research leaders of tomorrow.
Just this week I received a letter from a constituent of mine who was recently awarded a Canada graduate scholarship. His story not only puts a human face on this excellent program, but highlights the important research that is undertaken through the assistance that Canada graduate scholarships provide. He says:
I am writing you this letter to show my appreciation of the federal government's commitment to health care and health care related research. I am a graduate student at the University of British Columbia working towards a PhD degree in the department of Experimental Medicine. I was recently awarded a Canada Graduate Scholarships (GGS) Doctoral Award. I am very excited at the opportunities this award has and will continue to give me as I complete my degree.
I am working on a project where we are trying to better understand the differences present in the airways of patients who suffer from Asthma relative to those that do not. The overall goal is to develop a better understanding of the disease such that new treatments and therapies can be developed to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from asthma. The travel portion of the award will also allow me to present my research at international conferences which will permit the sharing of ideas and not only improve my work but will showcase some of the exciting work taking place in Canada with the help of the CIHR.
Thank you again, sincerely,
UBC/James Hogg iCAPTURE Centre
Another area in which our party would have moved forward was through the creation of the post-secondary educational innovation fund. Through this program, a Liberal government would have provided $1 billion to help modernize and improve post-secondary infrastructure, including teaching hospitals. The fund would have supported the acquisition of equipment, improved access for students with disabilities and enhance learning environments in northern and aboriginal institutions.
In the area of international study, and in order to create new opportunities for Canadians to study abroad and for more students to come to Canada, a Liberal government would have provided $150 million over five years to assist with the extra financial cost that international study entails. This initiative would have contributed to our objective of positioning Canada at the heart of global networks.
The Liberal Party's approach to post-secondary education was comprehensive and would have increased substantially the federal government's role in supporting students in all stages of post-secondary education.
The Conservative budget cancelled all of the above commitments made by the previous government, except the $1 billion in 2005-06 for provinces for investments in post-secondary infrastructure. In total, the Conservative budget cancelled funding worth $3.1 billion over five years, or over $600 million a year, and replaced it with $125 million a year for a tax credit for the cost of textbooks, providing only about $80 a year for a typical full time post-secondary student, $50 million a year for the elimination of taxation on scholarships and bursaries and $20 million a year for expanded eligibility for Canada student loans.
The Conservatives have clearly abandoned a wide range of programs that would have considerably increased access to post-secondary education. I am happy to therefore support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion today.
When I started reading the preamble of the Liberal motion, I found it interesting because it states:
That, in light of the rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar, high global energy costs, the overhang from huge budgetary and trade deficits in the United States of America, the rise of new economies such as China, India and Brazil—
These are all important aspects of the new economic reality. I was hoping there would be proposals at the end that would allow us to push this government that chooses not to intervene in anything and allows the market to function.
We even heard the Minister of Industry say that with the tax cuts, small businesses will be able to pull through. In reality, in today's competitive market, even if we reduce the taxes of a company that does not pay any because it does not make enough profit, then we are not really helping.
In the Liberal motion, the analysis at the start of their depiction of the situation is very interesting, but their recommendations show that they still have the same old bad habits. They make recommendations affecting provincial responsibilities in the areas of labour force training and post-secondary education. It is too bad that they include this kind of recommendation. That will force us to vote against the motion. The Liberal Party still wants to interfere in matters that are none of its business. It is too bad because the greatest danger we face today is the Conservatives’ laissez-faire approach to the economy.
I want to share my time with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé, who will have the last 10 minutes.
Mr. Pierre Paquette: So we have two good speakers.
Mr. Paul Crête: Thank you.
So I had reached the greatest danger currently facing the Quebec and Canadian economies: the laissez-faire approach of the Conservatives. There has never been such a fine demonstration of this as the minister’s appearance before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. He came to tell us that many issues in different sectors will be decided by the market. The government has policies to lower taxes, but it does not want to do anything else.
I was at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology just a few minutes ago, where we were being told once again that the aeronautics industry needs assistance programs, like the old Technology Partnerships Canada, to help industry do basic research or commercialize its advanced research. But all we heard today was silence.
The Conservative government has quietly decided to allow the old program to end, without anything to propose in its place. We have no right just to let people wait. We need some news today because the investments made by multinationals and companies in these large industrial sectors are decided years in advance. In addition, the branch plants of the parent company in each country compete with one another and need the kind of clear messages that are nowhere to be found in the positions of the current government.
This is all the more the case in view of the fact that a two-tier economy is beginning to develop in Canada. There is the economy of the world of energy—the world of oil—where profits are very high and rising prices generate economic activity and even impact the value of the dollar.
Mr. Dodge, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, admitted in his presentation before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that the factor that is making the dollar rise most at present is the pressure on energy prices. When we have as we do today a dollar that is up to 90 cents, people like Laurent Beaudoin, of Bombardier, and Perrin Beatty, of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, tell us that we must stop the rise of our interest rates because they are crippling the manufacturing industry in Quebec and Ontario, where these industrial sectors are the most concentrated.
The current non-interventionist attitude of the Conservative government will have its consequences. When the increase in energy prices slows down—this may happen in months or in years—it will be disastrous. The manufacturing sector will have disappeared. There will be a series of warehouses where people can go and get products made in the emerging countries and then distribute them. I can assure you, however, that a salary in a distribution company and a salary in a manufacturing company are not comparable. In the medium term, this will reduce buying power and will above all create unemployment among people who have dedicated 20 or 30 years of their lives to the economic activity of healthy businesses, and who earned their living from them.
And from one day to the next, they no longer have a job. We do not necessarily have proper training to offer them so that they can be reintegrated in the labour market. Often they can no longer be placed in other jobs. This is the situation facing us today. The Conservative laissez-faire industrial policy is the worst thing we could have in the present situation.
This sort of behaviour has been seen within the Quebec government, and the federal government should draw some conclusions from this. In fact, the Liberal Party of Quebec has adopted the same sort of attitude. It came to power three years ago, and decided to take the ideological approach of non-intervention. We saw private investment drop and we will see the same thing occur throughout Canada, if the Conservative Party continues to take the same tack.
In the coming days and weeks therefore, the government will have to listen to the demands of the manufacturers and the unions representing employees in the manufacturing sector. According to all the opinions we have, we must make sure that the Bank of Canada realizes that continuing to raise interest rates does not make any sense. It cannot be ordered to do so; it is not up to the government to order it.
The federal government also has to assume its responsibilities in other sectors and offer businesses an assistance plan, such as accelerated depreciation. For example, when they buy equipment, they could obtain a depreciation tax credit. That way they would have a chance to be competitive, develop their competitiveness, and continue their operations in the markets.
We also need measures that would allow small and medium-sized businesses to organize so they can deal with the export markets and win clients there. We could also see if there are markets that are worse off under the new global competition and make use of the tools available—and why not?
We note that the government has decided to take no action in the bicycle sector, where the Minister of Industry himself is accepting the loss of jobs in his own riding, in Beauce.
He also accepts that jobs at Raleigh will be lost in the same way. That is totally unacceptable. We were not asking the government to impose these measures permanently; we were asking it to put them in place. The Bloc Québécois, the unions, the employers and the managers of these firms want action from the government in this direction. The government must use all of its economic development tools, instead of hiding behind a laisser-faire policy that is doing profound damage to the economy of Quebec and Canada.
This is the more tragic in that there will be a major impact on employment and available wages. People who want to support their families now no longer have the means to do so. The federal government must recognize the importance of taking action. It cannot hide behind Canadian growth, in the broad sense. Basically, that growth is being generated by the energy sector; it leaves behind, in the background, a whole range of industrial sectors that are needed in Quebec, in Ontario and in Canada.
For all of these reasons, we are asking the federal government to intervene, to act and to change its attitude so it can create the framework that our businesses need for their development. This is not a matter of engaging in extreme interventionism. It is just a matter of seeing that there are certain basic conditions that need to be established. And right now, we are not seeing this.
The Liberals’ motion cannot achieve this objective. However, you may rest assured that the Bloc will move forward and continue exerting pressure to ensure that jobs in Quebec’s manufacturing sector can be maintained.