Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this morning to speak on the private member's bill before us. This is a bill of some social significance. Aimed at students, it ensures that they have access to financial assistance to pursue their studies. This is a long awaited bill. It is essentially updating the legislation by taking the regulations made under the previous bill to incorporate them into the act. This makes for something much stronger.
I mentioned that the bill had some social significance because, unfortunately, not everyone in our society can afford post-secondary education. I will cite the example of the aboriginal issue, which I have had the privilege of defending during my first seven years here in Parliament. I would sometimes visit reserves where children who completed high school were being told, “Sorry, but the band council has no money to pay for your post-secondary education”.
Each time, I felt a pinch in my heart. To think that, in a country of abundant means and resources like Canada, young people were being told that they cannot continue school the following year. That was just unacceptable to me.
The same thing is happening in society today. We know that the number of single-parent families, for example, is growing. As a result, single parents often not only have a hard time paying for what their children need, but also have to tell their children that they do not have enough money to pay for post-secondary education. This, too, is unacceptable. All young people who want to continue their education should be able to do so without worrying too much about debt, which is another problem.
When I was in school, I had to take out student loans, which I subsequently repaid. Students today have a substantial debt load, and it is time we agreed that in Canada, no one should be penalized for pursuing post-secondary education. As well, it is always tempting for young people, early in life, to take a low-paying first job, which can delay post-secondary studies.
That said, even though we have some reservations about this bill, on the whole we are satisfied with it. As for our reservations, you will not be surprised to learn that we feel that this bill encroaches on an area of provincial jurisdiction. However, clause 14 of the bill states that a province can opt out of the program with full compensation, and that suits us.
In essence, the bill says that regular students can receive up to half of their tuition, to a maximum of $3,000. Students can also receive assistance for more than one year under the bill. Previously, assistance was available only for the first year of study. Now, it is understood that if students want to complete their post-secondary education, it might be important to help them until the end of their studies if their families cannot afford tuition. Up to $3,000 is granted for this.
There is another important aspect to this bill: it helps students with disabilities. These may be young people who are blind or who have a mobility impairment. They will receive assistance, which is commendable. As I just said, assistance will be available not only for their first year of study, but for all years of their post-secondary education from now on.
With respect to the reserves I mentioned earlier, not only would this interfere with Quebec's jurisdiction, it would also fail to solve the fundamental problem from our point of view. We think that once the federal government corrects the fiscal imbalance, this kind of problem can be resolved in its entirety, rather than piecemeal. You are well aware of the fiscal imbalance. Members of Quebec's National Assembly, including the Liberal government, have also acknowledged it. It adds up to $3.9 billion. That is a lot of money.
Student associations are now asking the government to inject a billion dollars into education. If we correct the basic fiscal imbalance, we will not be forced to take a piecemeal approach every time, encroaching little by little on Quebec's jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister said that he did not want to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. He also wants to fix this problem using transfers—by either correcting the fiscal imbalance or offering tax points or some other way. We have to fix this problem, but that is not what we are doing right now.
I have to say that Quebec's system is exemplary. I think we proved this in the case of the infamous millennium scholarships. Unlike the millennium scholarships, Quebec's system takes more than merit into consideration.
I do not know the exact correlation, but often, students who do very well in school had an easy childhood and wealthier parents—factors that helped them reach their academic potential. Now they are the ones getting the millennium scholarships.
Quebec's program is more universal and based on need. If a single parent family is unable to cover the post-secondary tuition fees for a child, Quebec recognizes this and wants to help.
As I already said, I am grateful to the member who introduced this bill for realizing that this is a provincial jurisdiction and that there can be a transfer with compensation. I think this will be quite interesting.
Furthermore, we must take into account that there is a growing number of single parent families. There is significant poverty among single parent families. The idea of helping young people who want to pursue their education has a lot of merit.
Earlier I was talking about students with disabilities. A description of that clientele exists. Significant functional deficiencies include severe visual disability, severe hearing loss, a motor disability or an organic disability, which prevent the student from accomplishing daily activities easily and limit his or her ability to study or work.
These students must not be left behind on the pretext that they do not have the necessary faculties or aptitude. I met some young people who are blind and who have great intellectual faculties. Just because a person is blind or deaf does not mean they should be cast aside. I think this is important.
If we do not give these young people access to the system, we will come to realize in a few years time that they will always have difficulty. However, if we take care of them, we might find them contributing a great deal to society. Those are my thoughts on the matter.
I will close by saying that a society's wealth is not in its forestry, mines, streams or natural resources. A society's greatest resource is its youth, the young pupils in our schools. We have to take care of them.
Quebec has always kept tuition fees low. We are proud that our tuition fees are the lowest in Canada. Why are we proud? Because this allows more young people to register for and complete their studies. We help out these young people. A society's resource is its youth. The more our young people are educated, the further they will go and the better they will ensure that our society lives on.
Subtopic: Canada Student Financial Assistance Act