Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (York North) moved:
That this House regrets the continued inability of the government to address the tragedy of unemployment, especially among the young and particularly with regard to education and job training and retraining, and call for the immediate initiation of a national apprenticeship program and a national youth service program as major steps toward resolving this situation.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a very sad fact that hundreds of thousands of young Canadians have seen their futures put on hold by the current recession.
Many people in their twenties still have not had their first real jobs. Others have been forced to suspend their post-secondary education because they can no longer afford the tuition. At the high school level 100,000 young Canadians are losing hope and dropping out every year.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that 45 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 29 expect their standard of living to decline over the next 20 years. This discouraging view of the future may be based on an awareness of a grim reality.
Between 1980 and 1990 the incomes of workers younger than 25 shrank by 20 per cent. The recession has hit them the hardest. The youth unemployment rate has increased faster than any other group. It is obvious that many young Canadians are in a very difficult situation. They are in grave need of assistance.
The government seeks to deny this but Liberals realize that something must be done for young people. We have presented this opposition day motion because unlike the government we believe that Canada's youth needs help.
The federal government could be and should be doing more to help them.
I entered politics at a very young age. One of the reasons I became involved so early was that I felt young Canadians lacked a strong voice in government. I felt the concerns of young people were being ignored. As a member of Parliament I have devoted a great deal of my time to defending the interest of Canada's youth. I have done so in large measure because I do not believe we must accept the conventional wisdom which states this generation of young Canadians is doomed to a life of diminished opportunities.
I sincerely believe we are standing on the threshold of what could be a new golden age. Advances in computers, medicine, science, communications, environmental technologies and many other fields are occurring at a breath-taking pace.
There are potentially limitless and unimaginable opportunities in India and the nations of southeast Asia as their economies continue to expand. In eastern Europe and Latin America there is a demand for Canadian expertise in communications, primary resource technology and infrastructure construction. No, the future need not be as bleak as some would paint it. However the potential opportunities I have just described will only materialize after a great deal of hard work on the part of Canada's young people and support from their governments.
Young people today face many daunting challenges, not the least of which are the many questions young Canadians have about their own futures. Wherever I meet with young people, whether in my riding of York North or in some distant corner of Canada, I meet people who are worried about getting good jobs after they graduate from school. Who can blame them when
421,000 young Canadians are unemployed? Many of their friends cannot find work after they graduate from university and the government has cut the budget of its summer employment program from $149.3 million in 1985 to $88 million in 1993.
I know the government thinks we are exaggerating the seriousness of this problem. The Minister of State for Youth said in the House on March 18 when speaking
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about the situation of young Canadians: "I do not think it is an ideal situation but it is certainly not desperate". We disagree and so do the hundreds of thousands of young Canadians who are unemployed, who have dropped out of high school or who cannot afford a post-secondary education.
The government turns a deaf ear to these concerns. Confronted with the needs of young people, the standard Conservative responses are either "we are doing enough" or "we cannot do anything else".
We Liberals reject both statements. The government is not doing enough. The government could do a lot more if it really cared about youth issues. We Liberals reject the status quo that is keeping young people down. We want to effect positive change.
In the speech I mentioned earlier, the minister for youth concluded that his government is "doing what has to be done to help young people of this country prepare for the challenges of a constantly changing world". I find that hard to believe. Despite the government's constant claim that we Liberals are exaggerating the severity of the problem, I have never heard young people or youth serving organizations contradict us. I have sat down with small groups of young people from every region of this country. I have visited grade schools and high schools in my riding and throughout Canada. Last week I addressed over 2,000 high school students at Roy Thomson Hall. The feelings we Liberals have are always confirmed.
In all my meetings in York North and elsewhere, in all the public meetings the Liberal youth committee carried out across Canada, no one has ever come to me and said that things are going well for young Canadians or that the government is doing a fine job.
The minister congratulated himself because employment and immigration spent $211 million in 1992-93 on programs specifically aimed at young people. It seems strange that he is satisfied with that, given the fact that there are still 100,000 high school students who drop out every year. Students are dropping out at a time when 28 per cent of those between 16 and 24 are functionally illiterate and 44 per cent fail to meet the requirements for functional numeracy. It is strange that the minister feels he is doing enough when we consider that Canada has a youth unemployment rate of 17.8 per cent when the rate for the over-all population is 11.4 per cent. Look at the youth unemployment across Canada: 38.4 per cent in Newfoundland, 23.7 per cent in Nova Scotia,
21.2 per cent in Quebec, 17.5 per cent in Ontario, 16.6 per cent in Manitoba and 17.9 per cent in Alberta. Among returning students 17.9 per cent were unemployed last summer compared to 14.5 per cent in 1991 and 10.6 per cent in 1990.
During the first 12 months of the recession, youth bore 60 per cent of the decline in employment. This unemployment comes at a time when post-secondaiy education is being placed out of reach for an increasing number of students. Since 1986 the Conservative government has cut $9 billion in transfer payments to provinces which should have gone toward education. Because of this and other budget cuts, tuition fees have increased by 58 per cent over the past five years. This year's increase was 8.5 per cent, more than four times the rate of inflation.
Young Canadians are further disadvantaged by the government's narrow-minded approach to training which pits different groups of Canadians against each other. By slowly transferring its responsibility for training to the UI system, the government is setting up a system where only those who have worked qualify for training.
Many young people leaving school have trouble finding first jobs and therefore cannot get into training programs in order to upgrade their skills. Training programs geared toward non-UI eligible clients such as youth, the disabled or women trying to re-enter the labour force are constantly being cut back. Young Canadians find themselves in a depressing catch-22. They cannot get jobs unless they have the skills and they cannot get the skills unless they have jobs.
The Liberals are proposing a better way. Through public hearings the Liberal Senate and House of Commons committee learned that the common thread that runs through many of the problems associated with young people is a loss of hope brought on by a lack of opportunities. In response to the concerns of the people we met, the committee came up with several recommendations to help equip young people with the tools they need to succeed.
Our recommendations include: a commitment to eradicating illiteracy and innumeracy; reviewing the financing of post-secondary education to protect its accessibility; increasing the public awareness of co-operative educa-
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tion; the creation of a national apprenticeship training program; the establishment of a Canadian environmental youth force; the introduction of tax-based incentives to encourage on the job training and the development of a national system for matching jobs to the available work force.
We are committed to an education system that recognizes the importance of preparing our children for school and provides them with a school system of the highest calibre. Upon their graduation we are committed to ensuring that they have access to post-secondary education and apprenticeship training. Canada needs a work force that is second to none in skills and flexibility. We need a highly skilled work force that can adapt easily to changes and technological applications in organizational structures.
We need to bring Canada's apprenticeship training system up to the level of our competitors in the industrialized world. For example, Germany has established a very successful training system that produces more skilled workers than Canada does at a lower cost because young people in Germany have the option of going into training programs at an early age. The drop-out rate in that country is less than 10 per cent while in Canada it is 30 per cent.
The number of apprentices in Germany represents 7.1 per cent of the work force. In Canada, the number is 1.1 per cent. In Germany, the average age of an apprentice is 17, whereas in Canada it is 26. The German system is more efficient. The average length of an apprenticeship in Germany is two to three years, while in Canada it is four to five years. In Germany, the cost is only $51,000 over 3.5 years for an apprenticeship and the apprentice earns $25,000 over that time. In Canada an apprenticeship costs $170,000 over five years and wages are $120,000 over the same period.
If we are going to be able to compete against Germany and the rest of the developed world, we need to reform our apprenticeship training system. That is why a Liberal government would be committed to working together with the provinces, business, labour and other partners to establish a national apprenticeship program. This would help keep young people in school and help ease the transition from school to work. A Liberal government would also put in place tax-based incentives to
encourage on the job training in order to equip Canadian workers and industry to secure their future to training and retraining.
Another way that a Liberal government would help young people is through the establishment of a Canadian youth service designed to allow young Canadians to gain skills and develop useful work habits. Through this program young people would work on environmental protection or clean-up projects, or they would help respond to the social needs of their particular communities. We would pursue this initiative because Liberals realize that governments must be active participants in society. Liberals realize that people economics must come before balance sheet economics.
Of course the Conservatives scoff at this idea in their obsession with fighting inflation at the expense of everything else. An economist once wrote that the ultimate aim of economic activity is to increase people's happiness, not satisfy arbitrary accounting equations and I agree. Liberals believe in putting human consideration before all others. Besides being more humane that approach is the best guarantee of ongoing prosperity.
As our leader has said: "The comprehensive investment strategy in the Canadian people is the key that will unlock the door to a prosperous future for Canada". A prosperous Canada will not be possible without a highly skilled work force. That highly skilled work force necessitates the investment in education and training that we are advocating today. The government wonders how it will pay for these programs when it can barely afford the $211 million it now spends on special youth programs.
A government is judged by the priorities it sets for itself. Two hundred and eleven million dollars seems like a large amount of money in isolation but it is small compared to the $5.8 billion the government is spending on a fleet of helicopters designed to hunt Soviet nuclear submarines. A mere 1 per cent of the total projected costs of the cold war helicopter program would provide an additional $15 million for youth programs. The government refuses to even consider that option. It has made its choice. At a time when 1.6 million Canadians are unemployed, record numbers of businesses are going bankrupt and the federal debt is mushrooming and the Conservatives are spending our money on helicopters instead of people in need.
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That is not surprising. Canadians have lost hope in this government which has bitterly forsaken them in its last dying days. Mercifully in a few months Canada will have a new government that respects Canadians, understands the link between social, environmental and economic policy and is willing to do what must be done to ensure that young Canadians once again look toward the future with hope and self-confidence.
Subtopic: ALLOTTED DAY, S. O. 81-YOUTH EMPLOYMENT