Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat)
Mr. Speaker, the government has embarked on the first step in democratizing Parliament by allowing free debates such as this one on the future of Canada's social programs. For that it really should be commended. I hope it will soon finish the job by allowing free votes on these issues we are debating.
So as to keep our heads on straight during this emotionally charged debate I think there are a few questions we should be asking ourselves as we begin the much needed overhaul of Canada's social programs. In fact I believe these are questions we should always ask ourselves in our role as parliamentarians.
The first question we need to ask is: Does the federal government need to be involved at all in resolving this problem? Can it be more effectively dealt with by other levels of government, by business or through private sector organizations or even charities?
In response to that question there is no doubt in my mind that a completely overhauled unemployment insurance program could be run by employers and employees themselves. This of course is what many have been asking for. In essence this was the recommendation of the highly respected findings of the Forget commission in 1986.
With respect to health care and welfare it is important that we recognize that the provinces are in charge of the administration of these crucial programs. We should let them continue to lead the way in progressive and meaningful reform. Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Alberta are all bringing forward exciting new approaches to income support and supplementation. Alberta is also proposing bold new initiatives in health care. Out of these varied approaches will come a synthesis, an idea, a program that combines the best of all.
In both areas however the provinces are limited in the scope of the reform by the strictures of federal legislation. I encourage the federal government to put everything on the table in its initiative to bring change to health care and social programs.
The second question we should be asking is: Will this decision lead to a long-term solution, or is it a short-term band-aid fix that helps in the short run but creates problems of its own in the long run.
I would argue that the changes made to unemployment insurance over the last 23 years have not only led to ever rising premiums and a bankrupt program, more important it has led to dependency on government, a problem whose economic and human costs are incalculable. For the sake of Canadians let us ensure we have the courage to design social programs and health care reform that promote personal responsibility and initiative.
The third question we have to ask is: Are all the stakeholders involved in making these decisions or is it the top down, my way or the highway approach?
How many task force reports and royal commission reports now serve as chair props and doorstops because governments were not committed to following through on the recommendations that flowed from the people of the country? How many times have governments committed to a process of consultation only to ignore the comments they do not like?
The government should listen extra hard to the people who fund the health care system to find out what services they are willing to pay for. The government should listen especially hard to the people who fund unemployment insurance to find out where it needs changing. The government should strain to hear from the people who fund social assistance to see how that program can be improved.
The fourth question we need to ask is: Will this decision make government more user friendly and more accessible, or will it increase paperwork and layers of bureaucracy?
Canada's social programs today are a nightmare. They are designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats and woe is the user who dares to verse his social program without his trusty bureaucrat at his side. The design needs to come from the people who use the programs. To do otherwise is to dehumanize further and make even more wasteful an institution, and I speak here of government, that is already characterized by gross inefficiency.
The fifth question we have to ask is: Does this proposal have clear measurable objectives, or are its goals vaguely stated and therefore unmeasurable?
I desperately hope that the government will bring forward a clear set of objectives when it tables its new legislation this fall. Putting people back to work or restoring their dignity sounds very nice, but unless we can clearly define our goals in measurable terms and then monitor our progress in striving to achieve them we may as well not even begin the process of reform.
Clear goals will force us to determine beforehand whether or not they are reasonable goals, whether or not they can even be attained. Clear goals will give guidance to the means by which we will achieve those goals. Clear goals will force us to set budgets that will be sufficient to sustain these new programs in boom and in bust periods. Without these goals we will be blindly spending wheelbarrows full of money in the vain hope that somehow this will improve things.
The sixth question we have to ask is: Has it been explained to the public that if this decision leads to more government spending then spending will have to be cut in other possibly more essential areas or that taxes will have to be raised?
The government has a responsibility to communicate what is going on in government. As servants of the people we are duty bound to ask them where their priorities lie, which social programs are the most important to them, second most important, and so on. As the debt passes a half trillion dollars it must be apparent by now that our resources must be carefully rationed. I hope the government will fulfil its responsibility and address this issue.
The seventh question I ask is: Is this decision being made with complete awareness of the current economic, political, cultural, historical and social situation and environment both within the country and outside the country, or does it ignore current trends and important facts?
While I touched on the economic situation, we must also be aware of other factors that determine our environment. For instance in the fast-paced world of free trade we have to decide if it is even possible for government to predict successfully where the jobs of the future will be. Can we determine if technology will allow us to do more with less in the field of health care? These are questions that can only be answered by carefully investigating the delicate interplay of the many forces that shape our country.
The government is embarking on an ambitious plan. Canadians from coast to coast recognize that our social programs and health care are in desperate need of deep, profound change. Not so obvious, however, is the subtle link between strong social programs, a strong economy and the right of Canadians, not politicians, not special interest groups, to guide this modern day reformation movement.
Well intentioned politicians find it easy to spend other people's money. Their good intentions are infinite but sadly the money is not. Well intentioned special interest groups want to help but have a powerful economic incentive to maintain the status quo. Only real taxpayers, people who grind it out every day to make a dollar, can make those tough decisions about how their money should be spent. We should trust them to tell us what is wrong with the social programs, what is wrong with health care, which programs are most important to them, and how they should be distributed and paid for.
I will conclude with these two lines that I believe sum up what I have been attempting to say this morning. If we fake it, if we only hear some people, if we only push our agenda, we cannot succeed; but if we listen hard, if we communicate, if we take our guidance from real taxpaying Canadians, we absolutely cannot fail.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Social Security System