April 19, 1972 (28th Parliament, 4th Session)


Paul Yewchuk

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Paul Yewchuk (Athabasca):

Mr. Speaker, in dealing with changes in the family allowances structure, as pro-
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April 19, 1972
Family Income Security Plan
posed under Bill C-170, it might be reasonable to consider the whole question of poverty in Canada and our method of dealing with it. I think we are all aware of the fact that over the past six years the budget of the federal government for welfare has doubled from somewhere around $2.4 billion to $5 billion. We are aware also there have been many programs of one type or another which were originally designed to deal with one phase or another of the poverty situation in Canada. In general, what we have seen has been a piecemeal approach which has failed to come to grips with the real issues and fundamental problems that people below the poverty line face. As a result of this piecemeal approach, we have not reached any kind of a reasonable solution to this whole question of poverty.
I am a little amazed at this particular government which came in with a slogan of which we are all aware, but which they would rather forget. They have been resistant to taking a new and bold initiative in this area of combating poverty, a new approach to the welfare problem and a general re-assessment of whether the old programs have been of any real value in dealing with this whole question of poverty. What we have seen in the past four years have been marginal modifications of this or that old program, little adjustments here and there and tinkering with things that have been ineffective in the past. Under the present circumstances, such actions will continue to be ineffective in the general area of overcoming poverty in this country. As examples of this kind of tinkering, adjustments were made in the old age security program, the unemployment insurance program and adjustments are now being proposed in the family allowance and youth allowance program. In fact, this bill is just further tinkering. It does not really come to grips with the problems that face the country. It is a continuation of a traditional approach which has proven itself to be inadequate in dealing with the problem with which we are faced, namely the eradication of poverty on a permanent basis.
I do not deny that some of these modifications of old programs have, in small ways, had some beneficial effects for some people, but I do not deny that they have had any real significant effect from the point of view of eradicating poverty from that one fifth of our population that is unable to do it on their own. We must consider some bold new approaches. We must take a more progressive look at what really needs to be done to solve this problem or at least give the impression of seriously wanting to solve the problem. I am not saying it will ever be possible to completely eradicate poverty, but it has been shown that piecemeal approaches in the past have failed. Continuation of piecemeal approaches in the future will not likely be any more successful. We need to look at the development of a co-ordinated approach to the whole problem. There should be a co-ordination and consolidation of the various types of programs which we now have. The whole structure should be a more efficient and less costly proposition, certainly from the administrative point of view.
One of my major criticisms of this bill is that it does not come to grips with the problem of an incentive to become self-sufficient, more productive and more capable of looking after one's self and one's own dependents. It is simply a little larger hand-qut to a certain group. It is nothing

more than that. It would be reasonable to suggest amendments accordingly. I also want to say that, realizing we have to deal with the bill which is before the House rather than the general question of overcoming poverty in this country, I have ambivalent feelings about the bill. I support about half of it and disagree with the other half. This is a problem I have faced in this House on many occasions in the past. You come to the situation of what to do. You cannot vote for each half separately. You have to decide whether or not to vote for the whole package.
We have heard a lot of talk today about the question of universality and selectivity. In general terms, my tendency is to support selectivity. However, I think this bill covers more than the question of whether you support selectivity or universality in the family allowance program. This bill also touches a part of life which I would place in the category of established rights of Canadians, something Canadians have enjoyed for more than 20 years. For this reason, Canadians have come to feel there are established rights. When we talked about the language bill, we talked about certain Canadians who had certain language rights in certain areas. It was felt they should not be deprived of these because they fell into the category of established rights. I think that the family allowance program, as it has existed, quite easily fits into this category of established rights.
I agree that people with a high personal income do not expect a continuation of the allowance because they need it for economic reasons, but they probably consider it to be an established right which they have enjoyed for many years. What have these people done with the allowance they have been receiving? I think in the lower income group it is fair to say they have spent it in the direction that it was intended, for the purchase of clothing, possibly school books and contributing to shelter as well as the other basic needs that Canadian children in their growing years require.
We know that in the middle or higher income groups, this allowance was not particularly used for these purposes. In many cases, investment plans were established for the children involved. When the time came for a secondary education, a fund existed to assist these children to continue their education. For that reason, it will probably upset the parents in this category substantially. What has been a savings plan contributed to through the receipt of a cheque from the government will now have to be continued by a contribution from their own income.
I want to deal briefly with the fact there was a substantial increase in income tax last September for most Canadians. I recall the then Minister of Finance saying that the income tax bill would remove from the income tax rolls somewhere in the vicinity of 3/4 of a million Canadians. That, of course, was a great fallacy. I have in my possession a letter from an official of the Department of Finance. The true figure is more like 30,000 or 40,000 who will be removed from the income tax rolls. Those in the middle or higher income group will experience a very marked increase in their taxation. For this reason, I object to removing the family allowance payments from the middle income group. These people have already been imposed upon very strenuously by the income tax legislation which was rammed through the House last December
April 19, 1972

by the use of that very democratic principle known as closure. Removal of the established right which these people have come to enjoy has the same effect as increasing their income tax that much more.
While I do not support the idea of universality in all areas of social welfare, I do not think it is contradictory to say that I cannot approve the removal of family allowances from the middle income group. Bearing in mind the measures recently taken to increase taxation, I believe that if these allowances are removed from the middle income group a corresponding reduction should be made in the income tax to compensate for the change. We have heard some members ask: Where will the money come from? I shall comment on this aspect in a few moments. To elaborate further on my point, we might draw a comparison at this point between family allowance and the old age security pension. Here, provision is made for a basic pension which everyone receives as an established right, if you like-a contribution by the state to senior citizens who have contributed throughout their lives to the productivity, growth and development of this country. They receive this benefit even though they may not need a pension. They are still entitled to it as a reward for their efforts on behalf of the country in the past. I would be inclined to say that the family allowance which is now distributed to Canadians across the board should continue for the same reasons. I recognize, though, that the allowance as it presently stands is nowhere near sufficient to meet the needs of those who live below the poverty line. For these people, I would suggest a plan somewhat similar to the guaranteed income supplement granted in certain cases to old age pensioners, a supplement which would be based on need and which would be more realistic in terms of meeting the basic needs of the children of poverty-stricken families.
Where will the money come from? Hon. members will gather that I am suggesting not necessarily a redistribution at this time but an additional expenditure which will prove of assistance to a particular segment of our population. In the first place, it could come from the revenue produced by the massive increase in income tax which was imposed last December. There is no question that this increased taxation will produce a very substantial return to the federal treasury by way of general revenue. Then again, large amounts of money might be saved by abolishing useless structures such as Information Canada which in my view is an unforgiveable waste of the taxpayers' money, established basically for the propaganda purposes of the Liberal party. No one, I think, doubts that this particular institution is of little value and cannot justify its existence in terms of its present cost. There are other areas in which money could be saved for the purposes I have indicated, areas of expenditure which the Auditor General has characterized as wasteful and inefficient. Large sums could be saved by more efficient planning, by more realistic projection of the cost of new structures. I have in mind, for example, the National Arts Centre, the final cost of which was more than double the original estimate; I think of the money wasted on the Bonaventure and on the hydrofoil project, of huge sums spent on the purchase of aircraft which, in fact, the defence depart-
Family Income Security Plan
ment did not need. One need only glance at the report of the Auditor General to find examples of millions of dollars wasted in this way.
I will summarize briefly, Mr. Speaker. In my view, we should not deprive the middle income group of an established right, although I realize that people in the lower income group need a greater measure of assistance. We should do something about this. The bill is, really, a useless tool in the general endeavour we ought to be making to combat poverty among one-fifth of our population. We should be looking toward something much more progressive and much broader in scope, including incentives to individuals to increase their productivity through seeking methods of improving their skills and earning capacity. A massive co-ordinated effort should be made to combine all the existing piecemeal programs into one, thereby making the administration less expensive, and putting together all the forces which are presently working separately into one combined operation which would offer a much greater possibility of success in dealing with the poverty which now exists in our country.

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