Mr. Speaker, it will be my absolute pleasure to share my time with the brilliant member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
Over the past few hours, we have seen that the clarity of the wording of a motion can be a crucial issue. A motion can turn into a word salad that will be interpreted five different ways by five different people. For that reason, we must all strive to make the meaning of each word clear, because that is the only way to achieve equal clarity with respect to the intent. What was the intent of the lawmaker who introduced a bill, as well as a motion to get the ball rolling? All of us, or nearly all of us, can agree that the intent was to provide students with financial assistance that will essentially serve two aims.
The first is to give students the necessary financial resources to get through the summer and the current period. Under normal circumstances, they would be living on wages from part-time jobs, often in the restaurant, entertainment or tourism industries. Those jobs simply do not exist in the current context.
The second is to enable students to save a little money to live on next year. That is how I paid for most of my education, and I am sure many of my colleagues did the same. That is the point of the exercise. A few voices have been raised regarding this exercise. Because nuances are not always possible or understood, people have divided into two camps. One camp staunchly believes that students need help. That is the camp I fall in. Hundreds of thousands of students, perhaps as many as a million, will miss out on the jobs they would normally get, and that is a conservative estimate. These people need help to protect their purchasing power and continue their studies.
The other camp holds what I would humbly call the less refined belief that, as my esteemed colleague said, students will suddenly turn into lazy deadbeats who just hang out in the basement smoking pot. That is not true. Students are the same this year as they were last year, the year before and even back in my school days. I do not believe that people back then smoked less pot, myself excluded.
Of course, a balance had to be struck so that businesses, municipalities and farmers who need workers do not have to deal with a measure that serves as a disincentive to work. A measure was needed that does not make it preferable for students not to work. Obviously, a way forward needed to be found and that was not so simple. However, this is a red herring. Forgive me for my candour, and my friendship with or affection for students, but I think they want to work. The ones in my riding, and there are many, all want to work. They are happy to work. I worked, their parents worked and no one regrets it.
The $1,250 per month could help during the summer and fall. Of course, this will not last until the fall, but this money would help students continue to go to school. I would like to come back to that quickly, because it is critically important. We must not put ourselves in a position where students are in debt up to their eyeballs at the approach of the next school year, which we hope will be as normal as possible. They must not be worse off financially than before, especially since there is reason to believe that the economy in general will not be doing so well. It will be a time of economic recovery, an upturn where things are improving, but we will be starting out from such a low point that we will all still be experiencing economic woes.
We found—or rather, since I do not want to get into who gets credit for what—helped to find three elements that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons read in the motion that seem fundamental to us. I imagine that every opposition party discussed every comma.
The first was to ensure that this measure did not breed uncertainty among agricultural entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs in general, municipalities and anyone else hoping to hire students. I believe the fourth point does that quite nicely by clarifying the support to agricultural producers because that is where the debate began. The government did not dare go quite that far in the wording, but if this support took the form of financial aid to improve student wages, that would not be such a bad idea.
The wording of the motion does not do justice to the intention of the motion. Indeed, the second element is that the wording of the motion seems to only reference the creation of an incentive to work. There is a sort of imbalance and I spoke to my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville about that. It is as though the presumption was that the average student does not really feel like working as there is no reference to the fact that this is above all a measure to support the economic needs of students. Paragraph (e) is worded in such a way as to imply that, above all, students need to be compelled to work. That does not sit well with me.
That is why I asked the Deputy Prime Minister a very specific question. I asked her whether the government did in fact plan to ensure that the process did not penalize students who receive the benefit and who want to work.
The basic amount is $1,250, and students should be able to earn $1,000 without being penalized, but a student earning $1,010 should not lose that $1,250. Students should not be put in a position where they will choose to work just 20 hours instead of 21 hours so they do not lose that $1,250. Students are quite capable of figuring that out. We have to make sure that does not happen. That was the point of my question to the Deputy Prime Minister, and her answer was, “obviously yes”.
Will the government introduce measures to ensure that students who work more hours will earn more money? The Deputy Prime Minister's answer was yes, and she gave other details. I believe that that amounts to a clear commitment on the government's part.
In the last part of the motion, the government committed to examining measures to increase seniors' buying power, perhaps by boosting old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Note that it is both one and the other, not either or. We would not want to see the government focus on the guaranteed income supplement, which benefits only 40% of seniors, considering that the cost of groceries has gone up for everyone. That is an issue for us.
I have lost count of how many times the Bloc Québécois has spoken out on behalf of seniors over the past few weeks, and we are not done. We will not stop until we get what we want. In Quebec, 19% of the population is over 65. We need to see an increase in their spending power, an essential tool in increasing or improving the economic conditions in Quebec's regions.
Despite the dithering, I am pretty happy with today's results. Of course, we must remain vigilant. We will remain vigilant, and we will always work in the exclusive interest of Quebeckers, while being constructive and positive. If this helps others, that is even better.