May 31, 1993 (34th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Howard Douglas McCurdy

New Democratic Party

Mr. Howard McCurdy (Windsor-St. Clair):

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to have an opportunity to address this issue as a result of the motion the Liberals have introduced to the House today which reads:
That this House regrets the continued inability of the government
to address the tragedy of unemployment -
-and so on.
Quite frankly regrets is a very mild word to use in the context of so much tragedy in this country resulting from unemployment and poverty, as noted by the UN report over the weekend. This country finds itself in not a regrettable situation but a tragic situation. It is a situation that visits itself upon youth more tragically than others.
Not too long ago, in 1985, the United Nations sponsored International Youth Year. It did so on the premise, as I have said before in this Chamber, that if something was not done about the then mounting rate of unemployment among youth, there was a serious danger of widespread civil disobedience and civil strife occasioned by masses of alienated and increasingly powerless youth. It was the design of the United Nations during that year that the various governments around the world would take appropriate initiatives and examine the problem of youth unemployment and what could be done about it.
As one of the members on the government side indicated, in Canada at about that time the youth unemployment rate was a little over 18 per cent. I find it interesting that the government is criticizing the Liberals over the fact that their unemployment rates were so much higher than the unemployment rates among youth occasioned by this government when in fact the unemployment rate among youth is again mounting toward 18 per cent, being presently at 17.6 per cent.
What we are talking about today as it concerns youth is really the failure of the efforts that year to gain from this government and perhaps other governments appropriate initiatives focused on the particular problems of youth. After all, those youth who do not get jobs now while they are still under 25, indeed under 30, may be those who in the future will never get jobs. That is the critical issue.
May 31, 1993

Mr. Speaker, you have probably read about the discussion about generation x, which may be an overblown concept. However it is perfectly clear that a great many of those young people who in 1984, 1985 and 1986 were seen to be the future and are alienated, powerless and rebellious people because they did not have jobs are the people that even now are a problem in terms of their ability to be profitably employed in decently paying jobs because they were robbed of their opportunity back in those days. Again we face the prospect that the 17.6 per cent of young people who are unemployed today may in the future still remain unemployable, and that would be a tragedy for us all.
We cannot afford the present situation in which 60 per cent of the increase in unemployment over the last couple of years has been based on youth while at the same time we are aware that there will be a diminishing complement of youth in the future to support an aging population. Therefore it is not something that just concerns youth alone. It concerns the way in which we will be able to maintain our standard of living and ensure that those who are retired and aged will be able to enjoy a proper retirement.
I talk about International Youth Year because it was the year in which the New Democratic Party had a youth task force that went across this country looking at the problems that existed among young people in Canada. We came up with a number of recommendations. I notice that a great deal of reference has been made to a task force report from the Liberal Party.
One of the things that has come out in the exchange that took place just a little while ago in the parliamentary committee on employment and immigration was that we heard a great deal from this government about what it has done for young people. The minister spoke about the slay-in-school initiative, which is a good program, that essentially consists of public relations, to encourage young people to stay in school.
We talked about the summer employment program for youth and its related programs. That is good. We are talking about a total of about $205 million. As this government will hasten to say, most of the money that is being provided to young people comes out of programs that are not specifically targeted for youth such as the Canadian Jobs Strategy.
One of the things that must be said in connection with evaluating what the government has done and in criticiz-
ing, if that is appropriate, what the government has not done is one sentence among a number of sentences prepared, curiously enough, by the Library researchers supporting that committee. They went about trying to find out what this government was doing for young people. This sentence is: "Details regarding the effectiveness of youth-related initiatives delivered in the previous fiscal year are absent".
Back in 1985 the Prime Minister, the then minister of youth, and the Minister of Employment and Immigration all promised that they would develop a coherent and specific program to address the problems of young people. We are left with something in the order of a $200 million budget in the hands of the minister of youth. The minister of youth is supposed to be an advocate for young people. At the very least the minister of youth should have a handle on that number of young people who are served by programs that deliver to the needs of young people.
Year after year we have asked for the data, the specific figures on how many young people are being served under programs of employment and immigration or anywhere else so that we would have some handle on what this government is doing. That way we could judge its adequacy or inadequacy in reasonable terms.
The minister of youth not only has made no effort to find out what those numbers are but he has done nothing to improve the program to any degree at all. How can the minister of youth serve as an advocate if he does not know what is being done?
We have a problem. It is that in the whole vast area in which the government claims it is doing so much for youth we cannot get any specific figures. However we do know that the Canadian Jobs Strategy was cut by $200 million. If we can assume that 40 per cent of that program is directed toward youth then clearly youth have not been well served as their unemployment rate rises to nearly 18 per cent. In the meantime the amount of money being contributed to training and other programs for youth is being cut.
This is a tragic time for young people. We know that the costs of unemployment are high. They are high not only when unemployment exists among youth but when it exists among their parents. When poverty becomes too extensive and too deep for too many then we have automatically shut out many young people from any prospect of success in the future.

May 31, 1993
The crime rate among young people has risen 404 per cent in the last five years. That is one gauge of the tragedy that we can see in the number of youth on the streets of our cities. We see it not only in crime but in mounting manifestations of youth frustration such as occurred on this very Parliament Hill.
As in Germany, unemployment among youth leads to scapegoating and conflict within the nation. I warned this government four years ago that we would find that kind of conflict within our society.
Are we ever going to be served properly? Are we ever going to come to grips with the fact that there are priorities that must be established? Obviously the most fundamental of all priorities must be to ensure that our young people will not be lost to us forever.
I notice that the Liberal motion calls for the initiation of a national apprenticeship program and a national youth service as major steps toward solving the problem of unemployment among youth. We had some idea to what extent that program has been worked out by the Liberals after the question was posed: How was the national apprenticeship program supposed to be implemented, will it involve co-operation with the provinces and in what fields will it be targeted?
We got a vague answer that said that apprenticeships should range among a whole host of new skills beyond plumbing, carpentry and that sort of thing. That may be true but we would expect that if they were going to make a proposal there should be some detail associated with it.
The Liberal recommendations include not only a national apprenticeship program but the adoption of a tax-based system to encourage work place training. In our task force report back in 1985 we also called for a national apprenticeship program in co-operation with industry, with the provinces and with labour.
It is true that we only have one-sixth the number of apprentices in this country as they do in Germany. It also must be clear that there is a very different educational system in Germany and the notion that we should simply borrow from Germany is something that we rejected in our report five years ago.
There needs to be a Canadian solution. That Canadian solution should certainly be tax-based, and indeed a grant levy system. We were specific, not vague. There should be a grant levy system in support of work place training. We say that a more elaborate development of initiatives already taken by the federal government subvented by a funding source would be extremely useful.
A national youth service is a major step. I looked at the Liberal agenda for youth and at the 10 recommendations and surprise surprise, there is nothing about a national youth service. That is one of more curious things about this.
What I find is the Liberals saying: "The federal government should establish a Canadian environmental youth force in which young people could participate in environmental rehabilitation and education projects around and across Canada". I and my party have no objection to an element of national youth service that would include the environment. However that sounds an awful lot like those old job creation programs the Liberals had before they lost their last government in which youth were seen cutting grass and picking up stuff from ditches rather than getting a decent background and work experience of the kind that would be necessary in the future. I hope that is not what they are talking about.
Let me say this, the mention in this motion of a national youth service is another straight steal from the full employment program of the New Democratic Party in which a national youth service is proposed which would provide a wide spectrum of job experience for young people. It would include not only summer work experience but also something else we recommended back in 1985. That is an expansion in co-operation between the educational institutions and the provinces of work experience in co-operative initiatives at the high school level.
In addition to such proposals as a national youth service, back when we had our youth task force we suggested a number of significant things. I mentioned the federal stay-in-school program earlier. It is not a bad program. It is decent in its public relations, through
May 31, 1993

television and radio and various other vehicles, encouraging young people to stay in school.
More significant than that in our examination is the situation of youth in which we talked to young people without exception. They said they wanted more counselling in the schools. We found that there is about one counsellor per 1,000 students in the schools. Encouraging young people to stay in school is not a series of 20-second bits on television. Sometimes personal problems are involved. Sometimes it involves close one-on-one discussions with those adults who have the experience and knowledge to help them stay in school.
I would suggest there be a more intensive effort in that direction. Perhaps some funding could be provided in co-operation with the provinces to ensure that not only do we have good teaching but we have good counselling in the school system as well. That might be a more significant thing than PR in maintaining attendance at school because it is a problem.
It is true that recent figures indicate there has been a drop in the drop-out rate. We must always doubt new statistics but if that is true, it is salutary. However, we still need to do much more.
We also said in our task force report that illiteracy should be addressed. Whatever the drop-out rate or whatever anything of the sort is, we do have a serious situation: 28 per cent of our high school graduates cannot read adequately; 44 per cent cannot add, divide and subtract adequately; 30 per cent of the general population is illiterate.
It is certainly obvious that we must have something more than a voluntary approach to illiteracy. It must be a targeted program to achieve zero illiteracy within 10 years. That cannot be done on an ad hoc or voluntary basis, however useful that might be. It must be a part of a national training program addressed not just to youth but to the population in general.
We are not just concerned about ensuring that apprenticeship and training programs are there. We are also concerned about who the clientele is for such programs, who will be selected, who will be inclined to take advantage of such programs which involve experience on the job primarily.
One of the things one realizes immediately is that there is a bias inherent in all that we do. It favours a predominance of higher income people in the post-secondary institutions, particularly universities, and favours low income people in apprenticeship and training. We must find some way to eliminate that bias.
There has been a great deal of talk about accessibility to universities. We must do something about the student loans program. Certainly we must counter the negative steps taken by the government in terms of eliminating interest relief and cutting back on the loan allocations for students. We must find a system of supporting people in training and in school that ensures they are all able to subsist in an equal way so that there is no bias in access or choice.
I will now turn to one of the things the Liberal program did not offer.

Full View