February 28, 2000

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The Deputy Speaker

I will put the motion to the House.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Criminal Code
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I move that the First Report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, presented on Wednesday, December 15, 1999, be concurred in.

Today it is important to debate this motion because it deals with children and with all the measures that should be taken by the government on their behalf. It also deals with child poverty in society.

The committee was mandated to deal with child poverty and youth at risk and reviewed the issue of children in Canada. During the last decade, the Liberal government neglected its responsibilities in this regard. The past 10 years can be summed up as a missed opportunity. The report of this committee is a perfect example, because it never mentions any of the various changes that should have been included in the government strategy.

This committee submitted three reports. Members of the opposition, including the members of the Bloc, tabled a minority report, because those three reports do not fully explore the issue and do not explain all the elements that cause poverty and the lack of nurturing of children.

On December 14, 1999, the Bloc Quebecois presented a minority report on the government's policies on children. Throughout the report proposed by the Liberal Party, it was clear that the federal government wanted to take the lead in a area not under its jurisdiction, according to the constitution. It should avoid a repetition of past mistakes and it should would with the provinces and provide fair financial support to them, as they really need it. This is the first conclusion that the Bloc reached.

Several personalities from Quebec and Canada want the social transfer reinstated at $18 billion and want to see an end to the cuts made since 1993. As of today, cuts to the social transfer stand at $21 billion. Last week, the Association des médecins requested that the social transfer be given back to provinces.

The provinces have less money. They must meet some urgent needs but do not have the money required to respond to people and to parents. When we speak about the problems of children, we must say that it is the parents' responsibility to guide their children on to adult life.

In the first report, it was obvious that the Liberals wanted to invade some provincial jurisdictions. We also see that there is a tendency towards program homogenisation. Homogenisation means no flexibility to adapt the programs to different realities in different provinces and to the willingness of different provinces to help the children.

I am now on a tour to look at poverty, and community groups, which are very close to the children and to families with urgent needs, often tell us that there is not one solution but several solutions and there should not be only one measure but several measures. The across the board programs of the Canadian government are seldom applicable to our communities. Every federal approach was harmful in terms of synergy and logical integration of government action.

Another thing we noted was that the report tabled in December 1999 put the emphasis on a national action plan or an integrated federal policy, with no room for flexibility for the provinces. An integrated social policy must come from the provinces, not from Ottawa, in my opinion.

Ottawa is there to financially support certain policies, not to implement programs that often interfere with provincial programs. The integration of a federal program with those of the provinces is a complex accounting operation.

The report on children and youth at risk said that existing financing channels were deficient. We wanted to use other financing channels. We could also see that, often, the federal government announces policies for children that will be applicable only in two or three years, or just before an election, or according to some part of the Liberal government's political strategy.

In order to fight effectively against poverty and help our children better, I believe we must have a long term strategy instead of a fragmented one that is dependant upon the good will of the government. We have seen this in the past and we are seeing it again with the scandal at HRDC, which shows how poor the government's performance is. It is a performance characterized by a lack of transparency, where the taxpayers' money is being used for completely partisan projects and not to help communities, parents and children have access to a better quality of life.

I want to come back to the Canada health and social transfer because I think it is of the utmost importance for provinces, to help them meet children's needs adequately. What does the Canada health and social transfer do? It helps provinces better meet the needs of families in education, health services and income security.

In Quebec in particular, we know that a march will be organized in October 2000, where the people will ask the Government of Quebec to take social and political measures that will be more humane, better focused on the problem of poverty. To help those families, those parents, the federal government must first fulfil its responsibilities under the Canada social transfer.

The present situation does not make sense. Since 1993, there has been $21 billion in cuts. This is a lot of money. I will give an idea of what could be done with $21 billion. It could be used to hire 3,000 physicians, 5,000 teachers, 5,800 nurses. It would also allow to increase each and every income security cheque by $500. This is how it would affect the everyday life of each citizen. They would get better support.

Last week, I read a newspaper article about the shortage of assistants, counsellors and psychologists in schools. The only way to access those resources is to provide better and more stable support from the Canada social transfer, which finances education, health and income security.

In the committee dealing with the issue of children and youth at risk, it did not seem to bother them in the least. There was no call for the government to restore the Canada social transfer, to provide better support and help to children and families.

Another aspect that was completely ignored as a means of better supporting children was the issue of the restrictions applying to unemployment insurance. The access issue was not raised in committee, despite the fact that a huge number of families are subject to such restrictions and that six out of every ten persons are currently ineligible for employment insurance benefits.

If I understand correctly, employment insurance should allow fathers and mothers to obtain money that is owed to them, money that could help them to feed their children and help them to have a better life.

All this was ignored by the committee. The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development rejected out of hand any study of this new reform on the quality of life in our society.

The committee never raised the issue of social housing either. We know that a child living in poverty is also a member of a family that has to spend between 30 and 50% of its meagre income on housing. It is clear then that the committee on children and youth at risk does not really deal with the various measures the government should put forward to really help children and youth at risk.

I am a concerned about the advice the Liberal government will receive from the committee. I know that the government often brags about the new national child benefit, which, by the way, is a good measure. However, I believe that the government will have to implement a whole series of measures to support children and not just one single measure.

Since 1993, we have been in a major social deficit. What is going on now is totally absurd; society as a whole has been crippled by the federal government cuts. Families, especially poor families, are the ones who are suffering.

What I can say, following the tour I did on the issue of poverty—I had brought with me a working paper on the federal investment, or disinvestment, in social policies in terms of financing in conjunction with the provinces—is how much that had a negative impact in the communities. They told me that now they understand the impact the federal government is having on the increase in child poverty. That impact can be seen every day. Therefore it is totally unacceptable that, in the committee, no figure has been put on measures so that we can have a real strategy.

In 1989, maybe the intentions were good. Every member of the House had signed a resolution saying that child poverty would have decreased within ten years. What happened? We had a sad anniversary on November 24, 1999. That is not very long ago, just before the Christmas season. It was a sad anniversary because it was announced that there were 1.5 million children living in poverty in Canada, an increase of 500,000. This is the result of ten years of social disinvestment. Ten years that, under the Liberal administration, have been catastrophic.

In the committee on children and youth at risk, there might be a concern, which is to have and create new programs and duplicate what is already being done in the provinces. There is no vision of what some provinces have already put in place. There is no figure put on that strategy, and that is dangerous. Ten years from now, will we find ourselves with a problem that we will deplore as members of parliament?

I find it unacceptable that a committee given the mandate to study children at risk did not show a willingness to remedy the cuts in social programs or put an end to this vicious centralization. In fact, we heard in committee how centralizing the government party was. According to some federalists, this is not what federalism is all about.

Instead of being of assistance to the provinces, helping them with their initiatives, what is being done with regard to $5-a-day day care? Not a word, but the government is pocketing $70 million.

I believe it is time the government understood that Ottawa's action hampers Quebec's initiatives. It hampers local communities' initiatives. Sometimes we hear in the corridors that it is unconscionable that one might even think about establishing new programs. Do you know what some ministers tell us? They say “Communities are asking us to get involved. We want to get involved”.

I tell them there is a difference between involvement and investment. To invest is to give back to the provinces the money they are entitled to. To invest is to respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction. To invest is to decentralize and allow the provinces to better help communities and understand what they are doing.

I know the federal government would like to go over the heads of the provinces, it is obvious. I understand why the Quebec government wants to lump several initiatives into one family policy, namely to better help children. It needs room to manoeuvre in its budget.

If the federal government really wants to, the Quebec government will be better able to help children and their families.

In conclusion, I move that the debate be now adjourned.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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The Deputy Speaker

Unfortunately, I must inform the hon. member that her second motion is out of order, because she cannot adjourn her own debate. Having moved the main motion, she cannot move that the debate be adjourned.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Jim Pankiw

Reform

Mr. Jim Pankiw

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

On Friday, I put in an application for an emergency debate regarding three Canadian children who are being held by the state of California. They are facing a possible hearing for adoption which is illegal and a violation of international protocol. They ought to be returned to Canadian authorities.

As I was not able to make my application on Friday because of procedural obstacles, I am seeking the unanimous consent of the House to have that application heard today.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to present his application for an emergency debate?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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Some hon. members

No.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Jim Pankiw

Reform

Mr. Jim Pankiw

Mr. Speaker, in that case, I would seek a ruling from you.

Standing Order 52 states that I must bring the matter up after Routine Proceedings but I was not allowed to do that on Friday. Since I was not allowed to do that, it stands to reason that my application would carry over to the next sitting day. This is common sense because all our rules in the House follow that logic. When votes are deferred they are held over to the next sitting day, even if it is months later, and so are motions. There is no reason why an application for an emergency debate should not be dealt with in the same way instead of being arbitrarily deleted. It cannot just disappear into thin air.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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The Deputy Speaker

With great respect to the hon. member, they can disappear into thin air. Applications for emergency debate are by their nature for emergencies. What may be an emergency on Friday may not be an emergency on Monday. Those applications traditionally have had to be resubmitted. If a member wishes to make the application a second time, another request for such an application must be made to the table and delivered on a timely basis in writing in order to comply with the rules.

I know the hon. member is frustrated by the fact that we have not completed Routine Proceedings either on Friday or today, but sometimes this place works in strange ways and this is one of those days.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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REF

Jim Pankiw

Reform

Mr. Jim Pankiw

Mr. Speaker, I respect your decision. However, I have one other matter.

I seem to be the victim of a procedural quagmire. This is unrelated, but when I introduced my private member's bill, Bill C-436, the Speaker said that it would be read a second time on Thursday, February 24. I have reviewed the order paper for that day numerous times and it is not listed in the order of precedence.

I simply seek unanimous consent that Bill C-436 be placed immediately on the order of precedence.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent that Bill C-436 be placed on the order of precedence?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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Some hon. members

No.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, during the members comments on the subcommittee report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, she raised the question of EI benefits and particularly made a point that six out of ten persons are restricted from qualifying for benefits or do not receive benefits.

It appears to me that this includes a large number of people who in fact do not technically qualify under the provisions of the EI Act. I wonder if the member would qualify for the House, of these six out of ten people who do not get benefits under the EI program, how many of those persons do not even qualify for benefits?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Christiane Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, the government tightened the eligibility criteria. The problem is that these criteria are very difficult to meet. To be eligible, more hours of work are required. This is the first thing we noticed. Given the $26 billion surplus it has accumulated in the EI fund and what it has done to tighten the eligibility criteria, the government has nothing to brag about.

Let us look at where the money came from. It was taken from the support that could previously be given to parents to help them raise their children. I cannot understand why the government member would ask me this question. He knows very well that six people out of ten are not entitled to employment insurance benefits because the criteria have been greatly tightened and it is now very difficult to qualify. Indeed, I wonder why it is called employment insurance, because it is no longer an insurance, according to workers who have lost their jobs, since no assistance is available after losing one's job until another one is found.

My colleague and several other members have proposed a series of changes to be made to the department. For example, the Employment Insurance Act could be improved by eliminating the two week waiting period before becoming eligible to EI benefits. The so-called black hole of spring could be remedied.

People are no longer able to accumulate the number of hours required to get EI benefits until they start a new job. This is particularly true for seasonal workers.

One of my colleagues represents the Gaspé region, where seasonal workers in the fishing industry have a hard time qualifying for employment insurance until they can start their seasonal jobs again. This is also the case with forest workers in the riding of Matapédia—Matane, who are confronted to the same kind of problem.

We have been very vigilant with respect to the relaxing of eligibility criteria. It is also very difficult to qualify for parental insurance, particularly for women who work part time. They are required to accumulate inordinate hours of work to be eligible.

We in the Bloc Quebecois were calling for a reduction in the number of hours worked to qualify for parental leave, asking that it be reduced to 300 hours. We wanted to reduce the eligibility requirement from the present 700 hours to 300 hours. Too many people are excluded under the present criteria.

There is also a problem with employment insurance, and with the POWA program as well. We all know that this program does not do anything for the workers over 55 years of age because of a lack of funding.

We all saw how, over the years, this government has reduced the workers' share. It is no wonder that people are getting poorer by the day. It comes from the restraints on social policies and the lack of support from this government.

I remember the remarks of a minister opposite, saying “When the provincial governments are forced to cut back and to turn down requests of citizens, we will show Canadians that, with our social safety net, we in the federal government are able to meet their urgent needs”.

They can brag about health care programs and programs for the homeless, but we all know that it amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to the money taken from the provinces.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am expecting questions from colleagues.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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BQ

Réal Ménard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I heard a little sigh of exasperation, as if I were using up too much time of the House. Please bear with me, because this was an excellent speech. I am sure all the members of the House will want to thank this noble-hearted woman and pay a glowing tribute to our colleague from Quebec.

We have seldom seen in Parliament a woman so totally dedicated to the cause of the poor. We know there is no stopping the hon. member for Québec once she has started off in a direction.

I would like to ask her a question in three parts. Since the hon. member for Québec is a practical woman, who has always sought concrete solutions to the problem of poverty, drawing her inspiration from the judicious advise of my friend, the hon. member for Chambly, I will ask her the following questions.

Can she tell us how a commissioner of poverty—since this is an issue that she is taking to heart—could make a difference?

Then, could she tell us how greater involvement from the banks, through community reinvestment legislation, could make a difference for the poor?

Given that I know she has worked on this issue, how could making social condition a prohibited ground of discrimination—not sexual orientation, but social condition—make a difference if it were included in the Canadian Human Rights Act?

I suggest that she take her time, answer the questions one by one and think hard. We will be happy to listen to her.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Christiane Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, I think I would need your permission to go on for another 20 minutes to answer these three questions.

I believe a poverty commissioner is a valid request and a desirable measure. We know that in 1989, all members in this House unanimously expressed the desire to see a reduction in child poverty. Unfortunately, the number of children in poverty went up instead of down. Right now, we hear about the scandal with the way grants are distributed and the programs approved at the Department of Human Resources Development and it raises questions about government management.

What I am asking for, for better effectiveness in the application of programs and in their impact on communities, is for a poverty commissioner. He could keep track of successive governments—right now we have a Liberal government but there could be another government—to know how the big bureaucratic machine implements the measures adopted by the government.

We know that some measures taken by the government do not have the desired impact on society. We need only look at the scandal at the Department of Human Resources Development. However, the same party was at the heart of another scandal in 1984. At that time, there was an R and D tax credit for companies. In the end, many billions went because of money given to numbered companies. Companies were disappearing, but some of them had never done any research and development.

A real poverty commissioner could track all the policies of the federal government on poverty. This afternoon, we will hear a budget speech. There will probably be applause. But we should track every measure the government will implement this afternoon to see if this speech will really contribute to reducing poverty.

Today, every member of the Bloc Quebecois is wearing a heart at the request of associations in our constituencies, which want the Canada health and social transfer to be restored to the provinces, the unemployedto get—

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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?

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry but I must interrupt the hon. member, since her time has expired. The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure on this budget day to comment on the report of the Sub-committee on Children and Youth at Risk of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I am particularly pleased to discuss this report because of its impact on families and children. The report has laid out some excellent observations for members of the committee and for all members of parliament to consider and I would like to note four of them.

Under the public policy framework the committee suggests that to address the situation facing children and youth at risk governments must make a firm five-year fiscal commitment to develop an integrated public policy framework for families and children. We have certainly commenced on that road and the recommendation that we continue with a comprehensive five-year fiscal program for families and children is very appropriate and is supported by all members of the House.

In the area of income and services there is strong agreement that there should be two simultaneous tracks to deal with families and children, one which focuses on income support for families and one which focuses on services for families and children.

The committee also pointed out the need to make some modifications to the income tax system. Members will know that this is an area in which I have had substantial activity. Some of my private member's bills and motions have dealt with things like the Canada child tax benefit, the child care expense deduction and the caregiver credit. Motion No. 30, which passed in this place in the last parliament, would provide a caregiver benefit to those who provide care in the home to preschool children, the chronically ill, the aged and the disabled. I think these are important areas for us to look at.

The fourth area that I would like to note is that the committee felt an immediate $1.5 billion improvement to the national child benefit was important and should be extended to low income families, including those on social assistance. As part of the work I have done with regard to families, particularly those who are on social assistance, it is very obvious to all that it is very difficult financially for Canadians who are on welfare to make the transition to the workforce.

The benefits which people on social assistance and welfare receive are often not available to those who leave welfare to go into the paid labour force. We can take medical or dental expenses as an example. There are certainly a number of social assistance features which are not available. That was one of the reasons the national child benefit, which is part of the overall program of the Canada child tax benefit system, was introduced. It was introduced in conjunction with the provinces, and the understanding clearly was that the provinces were in a position to decide whether they were going to reduce the transfers to people on the overall child tax benefit and the national child benefit for those who were on welfare.

The whole idea of the national child benefit program was to help people to make the transition from welfare and social assistance to the paid labour force. I raise that point for discussion with the House. It is important that we understand that where unemployment is very high and the prospect of new jobs in the near term for people on welfare and social assistance is much lower in some provinces, as a result, in two cases, the provinces decided they would not offset the transfer from the federal government against the welfare payments and in fact give the additional amounts.

Those are provincial decisions. Those were part of the negotiations of the federal government with the provinces to ensure that the right things happen.

The member from the Bloc Quebecois raised a couple of issues which bear some comment. First, she commented with regard to the CHST, the Canada health and social transfer. She basically claimed that the cuts in the CHST have to be restored. The member will well know that the Prime Minister outlined for the House several times last week that today the combination of cash and tax point transfers to the provinces is greater than it was in 1993. That is an important point.

Canadians have to understand that the federal government has given the authority to the provinces to collect taxes. As their economies grow, the amount of tax revenue which they collect on that growing economy also means that the provinces will get additional revenues. The combination of cash transfers and tax points is the important element.

The member also talked about social housing and homelessness. She will well know that this is not a simple problem. One aspect of this has to do with children. Of the homeless recognized in the Anne Golden report in Toronto, 28% of the homeless were youth. Of those, 70% had experienced physical or sexual abuse while they were in the family home.

It is important to understand that social housing and homelessness are separate issues.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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?

The Speaker

The hon. member will have the floor when we take up this debate again, whenever that is, and he will have 14 minutes.

It being 4 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Ways and Means Proceedings No. 5 concerning the budget presentation.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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February 28, 2000