Mr. Jean-CIaude Malepart (Montreal-Sainte-Marie):
Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the Government's commitments and the report on child care.
First of all, I want to say that unfortunately, my colleague the Hon. Member for Outremont (Mrs. Pepin) was unable to be in the House to speak to this subject, although she worked very hard on this Committee. She is in hospital, and I can inform Hon. Members she is doing very well and there is no cause for concern. She has therefore asked me to take part in this debate.
1 agree with the Hon. Member who just spoke on behalf of the New Democratic Party that the Conservative Government is to be censured for its attitude to our Canadian families. Considering the fact that, for three years, this Government has been promising-the House will recall that in the Prime Minister's speech, the family was the cornerstone of Canadian society ... In every Throne Speech, this Government has promised to improve child care and to do something to help our families. However, after three years nothing has been done about child care, despite the hard work done by all members of the Committee who studied all aspects of the subject. Representations were made by Canadians, by people from across this country, by organizations and by people involved in child care. Even now, nothing has been done. Today, the Globe and Mail reports that the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Epp) told his provincial counterparts that he was not yet ready to table his national child-care plan.
Despite the various positions being taken today, the parties concerned have made their decision on child care. I believe that the reason the Hon. Member for Outremont submitted a minority report, dissenting from the position taken by the Conservative majority, was that the proposals made by the Committee, that is the proposals made by the Conservative Members on this Committee, failed to respond to the needs and expectations of Canadians with respect to child care.
Look at the situation today. Less than 10 per cent of our children have access to day care in Canada. I suggest Hon. Members look at their ridings, and whether the riding happens to be my own, Sainte-Marie, or in Vancouver, the Maritimes or Ontario, in one of our urban centres or the Yukon or rural areas, every time we met with community groups, and this was clear from their testimony, we were told there was a lack of daycare services and also a lack of quality standards.
The Liberal Party's position is very clear in this respect. We wanted the Government to table its plan immediately and start a negotiating process with the provincial Governments, because this is very important-we are talking about provincial jurisdiction-the Government must immediately table a comprehensive plan for child care in Canada, with the condition-and this is where there is a difference between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party-that parents
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must have a choice. We absolutely object to what the New Democratic Party is proposing which would prevent parents from choosing where they send their children for daycare. The New Democratic Party is strictly proposing an institutionalized child care plan. In practical terms, this would mean that a person in the riding of Sainte-Marie who has a job and who wants to let the third neighbour down the street look after her child, will not be entitled to financial compensation to pay the cost of having this third neighbour providing this care. She would have to send her child to a government-run day-care centre. I think all Canadians must be against this proposal by the New Democratic Party.
The proposal made by the Liberal Party is clear, precise and simple, and meets the needs, expectations and demands of various interested groups and the Canadian people generally. First of all, through refundable tax credits, it makes it possible for Canadian families and women who want to continue their career to choose between sending their children to a well-organized public daycare centre, or to a private one, or even entrust them to the next door neighbour. Moreover, it is absolutely essential, in order to increase the number of openings-simply adopting the principle without making sure that the number of openings is there to meet the demand would not be enough-that the federal Government should release large amounts of money, for this Conservative Government did not hesitate to use $1 billion to help a number of banks facing bankruptcy.
Now, Canadian families and taxpayers are asking the Government for help. Canadian women want to continue their careers and be provided with effficient, fair and high quality daycare services, making it possible for them to continue to work and raise their children. To achieve this goal, the federal Government should provide the provincial Governments with large amounts of money to improve and expand the daycare systems which exist in the various provinces. But minimum standards should be established by the federal Government and accepted by the provinces. Nothing would prevent, in Provinces such as Quebec, as the Bourassa Government has just announced, the Minister responsible for the status of women to set higher standards.
In its assistance program, however, the Federal Government should provide funding and set criteria not only on the number of openings, but also on the quality of locations, to avoid being simply provided with a daycare network, without any security or education guarantee, and without enough money to provide facilities to meet the needs of growing children.
Together with the Provincial Governments, the federal Government should initiate as soon as possible an awareness and financial assistance campaign to set up daycare networks in the workplace.
It is essential that Canadian employers who often ask for tax credits, whether it is the large financial institutions, multinationals or various government levels, launch an action plan. There lies the power of leadership, such is the request made by the Liberal Party, by my colleague from Outremont. The federal Government must suggest and urge that steps be taken, set up criteria, sensitize employers as well as employees, either
large corporations where possible and also allow small and medium-sized businesses, where it may not be as easy, to set up childcare services. This is the reason why a free choice policy is essential.
Unfortunately, the committee report submitted and concurred in solely by the government majority is rather mitigated. It contains pious hopes. It does not meet the needs and expectations of our Canadian families and the concerns of women in that area.
On the other hand, we cannot over-emphasize the warning against the proposal made by the New Democratic Party. Once again, I say those positions about childcare services, either that of the New Democrats, the Progressive Conservative Party or the Liberal Party clearly show their leanings. In the report, the Tory Party does not really believe in child care. However, a program must be offered, one is announced but in fact they hope nobody will use it. It is more or less the same situation as with public housing assistance programs the Conservative Government now has in place. Those programs exist, but your heart is not in them because they cost so much. It is obvious .. . The Conservatives put forward proposals that are watered down and half-hearted because they have no choice politically, but let us not forget they previously agreed to de-index family allowances, lower the income that made one eligible for the full child tax credit, and authorized the Government to take away more than $1 billion from Canadian families to reduce the deficit or bail out banks, nor must we lose sight of the recommendations made by Conservative Members and the Government's inaction in that area. The social injustice minister, the Minister of National Health and Welfare, did absoluting nothing.
It was more of the same when time came to protect the interests of senior citizens. He was nowhere to be found. That is another matter he is holding up. The implementation of a good daycare program is not held back by the provincial Governments but by the internal quarrels between the Minister of National Health and Welfare and the Minister of Finance (Mr. Wilson). Surely there is someone else mixed up in this who does not know what he is doing.
The NDP stands at the opposite end; they have suddenly decreed that all children should be treated the same way. They must be kept in the same square box and educated in the same manner.
This is unacceptable and the Canadian public will not accept this recommendation. We have to fight against this because it certainly seems simplistic to have a free universal system. It might look fine, but you have to think about what it means. For instance, in the Gaspe Peninsula, in rural regions, you can have 10 families in the same sector and only one person who has to drive to work in another village. It would be unrealistic to organize a daycare centre to take care of two children in one region or village where there are about ten families. This is why it is essential to maintain freedom of choice and the tax credit for people in such regions.
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What possible objection could the New Democratic Party have if a mother decides to place her child in a popular daycare centre in her own area or with a private sitter? She has the right to choose. She would be refused reimbursement because she has decided to go to a private daycare or to leave her child with a neighbour three doors down, maybe with a single mother with two young children who cannot go to work herself. Receiving some money to take care of the child of a neighbour would help her and help her neighbour too. Why should there be any objection to that? We have to oppose such a concept, and I trust that the NDP will change its position in this regard because I find it just as unacceptable as its position on defence.
Madam Speaker, in my opinion, the proposal of my colleague for Outremont, who has been working very hard for three years, travelling throughout the country and consulting people, is very clear and specific. This proposal would meet the needs and the expectations of the public and would be a practical and realistic way of meeting our objective of having a quality national daycare service under the jurisdiction of the provincial Governments. This proposal would provide tax credits for low and middle income families, maintain freedom of choice, and most important, increase the number of places available in daycare centres.
The debate is now open, but there is a very real fear, as my colleague for Saint-Denis (Mr. Prud'homme) was telling me. There are popular daycare centres in his constituency and he told me that he met those responsible and that they need money for equipment and to meet educational requirements. They need funding to improve the premises and this is where the Canadian Government for three years has not been meeting that need. There are still other families in the constituency of Papineau, in the constituency of Montreal- Sainte-Marie or others, in Montreal districts. There is no room and no money, the province does not have enough money to open up another daycare centre in an expanding district where there is a need for some 60 child care places. Everyone is waiting unfortunately-everyone either believed erroneously or was misled by this Conservative Government-everyone is waiting for the famous policy.
The Government stated in a Throne Speech that family is important, the Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney) told Members of Parliament they would have to discuss the implementation within the shortest timeframe of an effective child care policy, but some three years later nothing is forthcoming, so we are getting fed up. And today we learned the Minister of National Health and Welfare is still postponing a decision with provincial Governments on that issue. This is something I had not thought of. My colleague for Saint-Denis brings to my attention that this is because Tory Members refuse to accept a change in our society. This boils down to what I was saying at the beginning of my remarks. Reading the majority report by
Conservative Members, they referred to child care centres because they had to. But for them it would be better not to put a cent in that-left to themselves, they would not bother about it. They could not care less.
Thank God, 1 know Conservative Members are not all of that brand! it is therefore my hope that those who have a minimum of social conscience will wake up and speak to their Minister about social injustice in Canada, they will tell the Minister of National Health and Welfare: look, this has to move. It has to move urgently, because every day lost, every month lost, and we are now talking about every year lost may jeopardize mothers' career plans. Each time they delay increasing the number of child-care services to meet the needs, well every time, perhaps one single-parent mother in some area, whether Vancouver, the Atlantic Provinces, Ontario, Quebec, or my constituency, that person, because she cannot find child care, quits her job, loses one or two years, and after that everyone knows it is difficult to return to the labour market, to retrain.
This is why I think the situation is really urgent. 1 think that indeed in the Meech Lake negotiations there is a meeting with provincial Premiers. I suggest that the federal Government was wrong, for it should have been prepared to co-ordinate this action with the provincial Governments; in Quebec, Premier Robert Bourassa has already set up a daycare system to which he has announced improvements.
1 conclude, Madam Speaker. If the federal Government continues to make cuts in its equalization payments, Quebec will have to reduce its health services and will be unable to go ahead with its daycare scheme. The Quebec Minister of Finance, Mr. Gerard D. Levesque, had every reason to trust the Prime Minister. He should have listened to me; I could have told him right away to be very careful. He thought he was going to get money under the policy announced by the Prime Minister.
As you are signaling that 1 have already run out of time, Madam Speaker, I will conclude by saying that 1 wish the Conservative Members would exert pressure so that... It is absolutely necessary ... It is simple. In case there are Conservative Members here who do not know what to say to the Minister, they should simply tell him this: Take and implement the Liberal policy, and our children will be well taken care of, our women will pursue fine careers and everybody will be happy.
Topic: ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic: CHILD CARE