PARLIAMENT of CANADA

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Publications - November 18, 1999
 

STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

COMITÉ PERMANENT DES FINANCES

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, November 18, 1999

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[English]

The Chair (Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan—King—Aurora, Lib.)): I would like to call the meeting to order and welcome everyone here this evening.

As everyone knows, the finance committee is holding public hearings on pre-budget consultation as we get ready to make recommendations for Budget 2000. We've travelled from coast to coast to coast seeking input from Canadians.

Tonight, here in Ottawa, is no different. We will be seeking input from you, the panellists.

We have the pleasure to have with us representatives from the Canada Family Action Coalition, the National Children's Alliance, the Canadian Child Care Federation, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.

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We will begin with the Canada Family Action Coalition and Mr. Peter Stock, national affairs director.

As you know, you have five minutes to make your introductory remarks. Once all the panellists are finished, we will proceed to a question-and-answer session.

Welcome, Mr. Stock.

Mr. Peter Stock (National Affairs Director, Canada Family Action Coalition): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Canada Family Action Coalition is a national non-partisan citizens' action group. We're interested in promoting and defending the family, parental rights, and other issues related to that, like community standards for decency and so on. We receive no government funding, unlike some of the other groups here.

First of all, as an organization we'd like to extend our thanks to the finance committee, specifically for the work it has done in the past year on the issue of family taxation and on the child care expense deduction in particular. Some of the members who are here tonight worked very hard on that subcommittee. We're grateful for the work that was done.

One of the things that committee clearly looked at was the need for an examination of the whole child care system. Of course, in our view and, I think, in the view of most Canadians, the best quality child child care—and I emphasize the word “quality”—is the child care that's provided by the parents of the children themselves.

The government has recognized this fact—or at least it appears it's about to in this next budget—with an extension to the EI leave for parents with regard to maternity benefits.

We still think there's some work to do in the area of family taxation, but we're encouraged that the government is moving, seemingly in the right direction. We would like to see discrimination resolved in the area of taxation on marriage. We think marriage should be promoted, not discriminated against. There are some areas of the tax system where some work needs to be done.

The second point we'd like to make tonight is that taxes are too high overall. In our view, there are no new social programs needed. We are encouraged by the fact that the government has a so-called children's agenda. We believe that children's interests are of course best represented in their families, and families with lower taxes are better able to care for their children.

We're encouraged that the government is taking a serious look at what's best for children and we hope that in doing so they will do what's best for families.

In our final area, we come to the finance committee with items like this every year. Families are concerned about spending they see as wasteful, unnecessary, and otherwise contributing to a negative situation in their communities.

This year we decided to take a little look at the Canada Council. There are a few grants there that perhaps we're all aware of: Bubbles Galore, the pornographic film, $60,000 of taxpayers' money; dead rabbits hanging in the woods near Winnipeg, $15,000. Finally, this one didn't make the big front-page news, but I'd just like to inform the committee that at the end of September and the beginning of October, Simon Fraser University hosted a panel—a literary panel, they called it—“Sex, Drugs and the Law: Pushing the Boundaries”. The Canada Council contributed $10,000 towards it. Guess who was a featured speaker at that panel? None other than child pornographer John Sharpe.

We feel there are probably better ways that this government, this committee, can be spending taxpayers' money. We would encourage you to continue to look at those items, and we'll be encouraged to see improvement.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Stock.

We will now hear from Neil McFadyen.

Mr. Neil McFadyen (Individual Presentation): My wife is actually going to make the presentation.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner (Individual Presentation): I'll speak on behalf of Mr. McFadyen.

The Chair: Ms. Gardner.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I'd like to talk about family tax fairness, in particular, section 63 of the Income Tax Act.

Family tax fairness is about fairly treating families raising children, regardless of whether one or both parents work outside the home. It means treating each member of a family the same as any other individual.

Specifically, it means protecting the individual rights of those who are identified as spouses. It's not about asking for a freebie or a bigger spousal exemption for no good reason. In fact, it's about recognizing child care work performed by spouses, which has value to society and which, if performed by any individual other than a spouse, would be governed by minimum wage legislation and Canadian labour law and could be expensed under the Income Tax Act.

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Family tax fairness is about recognizing the cost to parents and the value to society of the so-called unpaid work performed by spouses. Historically, this unpaid work has been referred to as “women's work”. Therefore, family tax fairness is really about fairly treating women and spouses who provide child care.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is supposed to guarantee individual rights regardless of marital status. Therefore, the individual status of a spouse should be irrelevant. Why, then, does the Income Tax Act continually subordinate married persons, generally married women, as spouses and eliminate their individual rights? It's the elimination of the individual rights of the spouse, typically a woman, that results in the unfair taxation of families.

I just want to tell you briefly why my spouse and I are interested in this subject.

I was a government employee posted overseas. My spouse accompanied me and worked abroad. After we returned to Canada, he was assessed more than $100,000 because he was married to me. As a spouse of a government employee posted abroad, he was denied non-resident status and he was denied access to the relevant tax treaty. This has been a devastating experience for us.

So I can say that we have experienced first-hand, in a most extreme manner, the tax discrimination imposed on spouses through seemingly benign legislation. This was section 250 of the Income Tax Act.

The Minister of Finance recently saw fit to make amendments to that legislation, for which we are extremely grateful. However, we are still both on our way to...well, not on “our” way...my spouse has been to Tax Court and I'm on my way to Tax Court, so therein lies the reason for our interest.

Section 63 of the Income Tax Act effectively prevents one spouse from paying the other spouse for child care It also discriminates against spouses. Tonight I want to propose some changes to the Income Tax Act to address this family tax fairness issue and to protect the individual rights of spouses by recognizing the value to society of raising children.

Child care is of no less value to society when performed by a stay-at-home spouse than by anyone else hired to do the job. For tax purposes, Canadian society already recognizes the child care expenses deduction of $7,000 for a child under seven years of age and $5,000 for a child over seven years. Why must a parent perform this function for nothing? The Supreme Court describes this situation as exploitation in the recent M. v. H. case.

I am quoting from the ruling:

    ...there are many people living together in such relationships who are being exploited by their partner[s]. They have been induced to enter into the relationship and to stay home and raise the children arising from the union, or children of another union, and have thus been put in a position of total dependency on the person as a result of being out of the labour market for a lengthy period of time. Many of these people are later abandoned and, under the present law, they have nowhere to turn but to the welfare authorities for support.

Must a spouse or a parent provide child care for nothing because no one will pay the spouse or parent? No. Spouses or parents must provide child care for nothing because existing tax legislation effectively prevents a partner from paying the spouse or parent by denying the right to claim such an expense for tax purposes.

In 1993, Mr. Jim Boland went to Tax Court to fight section 63 of the Income Tax Act. He did not wish to exploit his partner and tried to claim a deduction for paying his wife for child care. The judge did not find the case to be discrimination under section 15 of the Charter of Rights on the basis that stay-at-home parents are not a vulnerable group historically subject to discrimination.

This, I think, is in direct conflict to the Supreme Court's reference to exploitation of stay-at-home parents. What the judge failed to recognize is that the vast majority of stay-at-home parents caring for children are women, who do comprise a vulnerable group historically subject to discrimination.

Section 63 discriminates against stay-at-home parents and spouses and perpetuates the exploitation of this group, who are primarily women. The tax legislation consistently acts to keep money out of the hands of spouses. In particular, it keeps money out of the hands of women who are spouses. Section 63 is in fact very similar to subsections 74(3), 74(4), and 74(5), which were repealed in 1980. This section 74 prevented a spouse from being paid as an employee of his or her spouse, of his or her spouse and partners, or in partnership with his or her spouse.

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Effectively, a spouse was required to provide free labour to his or her spouse, and this is an example of historical exploitation and discrimination against spouses. Marriage should not be something that condemns women or spouses to servitude by performing free labour for their spouses or for the benefit of society. Marriage doesn't make one spouse a meal ticket and the other a freeloader or a slave. Marriage does not mean a spouse ceases to be a person. However, this is exactly what section 74 did and what section 63 of the Income Tax Act does now.

It should be noted that the only circumstance in which one spouse may pay another for child care is if the partners separate or divorce and payments are made as alimony. It is a sad comment on the value of marriage towards society if one partner has legislative access to the family wealth only upon breakup of the family.

Income splitting has been proposed as a solution to the family tax fairness problem. Again, this proposal acts to keep money out of the hands of women and spouses by denying them earned income. Further, income splitting does not recognize the value of the work performed by the stay-at-home parent who cares for children. Income splitting would likely be available to spouses who did not care for children, because to deny them the benefit of income splitting would be seen as discriminatory taxation based on family status.

Therefore, it's essential that the solution to the family tax fairness problems starts with recognition of the value of child care provided by a parent or spouse. It is earned income that recognizes the contribution to society of those who provide child care. With earned income, stay-at-home parents can have all the rights and benefits that others with earned income have, that is, they would be able to contribute to an RRSP, they'd be able to contribute and be eligible for CPP, EI, and disability insurance, and they'd be able to get credit cards, bank loans, etc.

The solution is to begin with repealing section 63 of the Income Tax Act. Then Canada will be the best place in the world for women to live.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Gardner.

We'll now hear from Mr. Stokes.

Mr. Frank E. Stokes (Individual Presentation): Mr. Van Wagner will speak.

The Chair: Mr. Van Wagner.

Mr. Charles E. Van Wagner (Individual Presentation): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Ladies and gentlemen, my colleague and I are two private citizens. Our subject is once again the income tax system and our viewpoint that of the husbands in two retired senior couples, each living on one pension.

Now, our professional backgrounds may not include economics or taxation policy, but we do have some relevant experience, namely, we've paid income tax for 40 or 50 years and we are, in addition, very curious. Several years ago, we began asking why it was that our incomes are taxed almost as if we were single when there are obviously two people living on them. After a small mountain of correspondence and reading, we have not yet heard an argument in favour that could, in our view, withstand five minutes of honest debate.

Start with the concept that our income tax system is just a blind set of arithmetical equations. Its assumptions can be readily inferred from its structure, and no interpretation can stand as valid that does not match that structure and its output exactly. Analyse the tax codes arithmetic and it is obvious that couples with equal incomes pay the least tax.

These therefore become the logical standard of comparison. All other couples pay more as their incomes diverge. Call this extra tax the income difference penalty and its maximum value the single income penalty. The tiny spousal credit when one income is zero still leaves the breadwinner taxed almost as a single person. Note that it matters not whether these two incomes differ by choice or necessity. The tax penalty is exacted regardless.

The figures in our tables, which I hope are before you, lay all this out clearly, and we may hope that they intrigue and interest you.

Obviously these tax differences have become very large, especially since the disastrous revision of 1988, when the penalty for living on one income doubled or tripled at one shot. Few Canadians, we suspect, including some people in government, understand the size and nature of these penalties. They are almost certainly the largest such penalties in the world, if not in the entire universe.

Now consider two different views of marriage that exist side by side in Canadian law and are about as unlike as oil and water. In family law, marriage is a social and economic union of two partners sharing equally and enjoying the same living standard. In tax law, by contrast, marriage is two people under one roof but living like strangers on their separate incomes, no matter how unequal.

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Do our tax authorities really believe that Canadian couples sink or swim on their individual incomes? Or worse still, do they believe that we should live that way, even, one could ask, when raising our children?

Oh, the crucial missing ingredient in the tax marriage model is, of course, informal sharing. This is, without doubt, a slippery concept. Deny that it exists and one may as well claim that water can exist at two different levels in the same tank, but once admit that it exists in any significant degree and any defence of the present income difference penalty collapses.

Next, consider what happens when the tax system bases some secondary feature on joint family income: an intractable contradiction instantly raises its head. The reason is, joint income is not, as of now, a true measure of anything about a married couple, certainly not tax payable or after-tax disposable income.

The prime example example of this is, of course, the matter of children. As long as the parents are taxed separately, it will be impossible to design an equitable child benefit scheme based on joint income. Only equal incomes will, as now, receive the full intended benefit. All the rest will pay back more in an income difference tax as their incomes diverge at the same total.

Note that this inequity is not just between single-income couples on the one hand and dual-income couples on the other, but all through the range of dual-income ratios as well. In other words, unless the tax system gets it right for couples in general, we cannot see how it can get it right for children.

This is, I believe, the International Year of Older Persons, a good time to reflect on what happens to the parents after their children have grown, for it is among retired couples that the primary inequity is most exposed and indefensible. There's no employment expense, no children, no question of re-entering the workforce—just couples living on their combined pensions and paying tax. In fact, the single-income penalty actually increases after retirement. This is because all three of the special features for senior citizens work against single-pension couples and in favour of two-pension couples.

Worst of all, any parents spending their family years on one income can never completely recover. Even if both earn after the children have left, two equal pensions are out of the question, and it may be only one. The tax penalty of their family years is thus a life sentence for their retirement years as well. Cumulate several decades of some of the penalties in the tables before you, and it is clear that many older couples have lost a small fortune merely because their incomes were never listed evenly under both names, a reason incomprehensible to any couple that innocently shared equally all their married lives.

Back in 1966, the last Royal Commission on Taxation said that of course a married couple is a single economic unit and, one way or another, should be taxed as such. Their arguments, rejected at the time, seem to us now more valid than ever.

Of course, tax relief is very much in the air but by itself would only perpetuate the present inequity. With cash on hand to spare, surely the government has a golden opportunity to carry out some serious tax reform as well. As the new millennium dawns, we say it is finally time that Canada has a neutral tax system that no longer favours one lifestyle over another or penalizes any married couple just because their incomes happen to be different.

The Chair: Thank you.

Now let's hear from the Canadian Child Care Federation, with Ms. Dianne Bascombe, past executive director.

Welcome.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe (Past Executive Director, Canadian Child Care Federation): Hi. I'm glad to be here this evening.

I'll keep my remarks on behalf of the Canadian Child Care Federation quite brief. We wanted to just to speak briefly again—and I know that many of you are well aware of it—of the research that looks at the importance of early childhood in making sure that Canada's children can grow and reach their potential in this country.

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I think we have an incredible opportunity here in Canada with the signing of the Social Union Agreement and the national children's agenda. We're certainly at a time where we can take positive action, really begin to make a difference, and really begin to compensate for some of the cutbacks we've seen in the some of the programs, which have affected our most vulnerable citizens, our youngest children, those between the ages of 0 and 6.

What we're asking you to consider at this time is this: that when you put forth Budget 2000 in February of the year 2000, we start the millennium with a children's budget, with a serious commitment by the federal government to really show leadership and set the stage for making the national children's agenda something real.

All of us who have been reading the papers and looking at the research studies note that there's a growing consensus in this country that we need to invest in our youngest children. We need to ensure that they get the high-quality early childhood care and education that will set the stage for them for the rest of their lives.

I also wanted to make the point that when we talk about early childhood care and education, we're not talking about programs for just one type of family. We're talking about programs that serve the range of needs of all the families in this country, whether the parents work, whether the parents are at home.

We need to recognize that our economy is structured such that families and parents do work. We have to ensure that when they work or study their children receive high-quality child care. We also need to recognize that for families who are at home we need to make sure there's a full range of community and social supports to serve their needs as well. We need to look at family resource programs. We need to make sure we have early intervention programs for children who are risk, for our vulnerable populations. When we're talking about early childhood care and education, we're really talking about a broad range of community services that will meet the needs of our youngest children.

Briefly, as members of the National Children's Alliance—who are going to be presenting with a colleague in the next go round—we certainly support all of the recommendations that are coming forth from the alliance. In particular, we really think that it's timely for the federal government to put an investment into a fund for early childhood care and education. We're thinking about $2 billion as a good down payment to move forward and make a real difference in the lives of our youngest children in Canada.

Also in terms of moving forward on the children's agenda, it's critical that the federal government put some money on the table in Budget 2000. That can really act to kick-start a whole process whereby all levels of government, the voluntary sector, and people in our communities begin to rally round to make sure we have the coordinated kind of system we need to serve the needs of our youngest children in the broad range of services for early childhood care and education.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

We'll now hear from the National Children's Alliance, with Mr. Harvey Weiner.

Welcome.

Mr. Harvey Weiner (Deputy Secretary General, National Children's Alliance): Thank you, Chair.

It is a very distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to speak for the National Children's Alliance, a network of more than 25 national organizations across Canada that provide services directly to children and youth across this country.

I think it is a small miracle in itself that we, as an alliance, the 25-plus member groups who touch the lives of millions of children and youth across the country, and whose constituencies—if you look at the list on the last page of our brief—would involve, I would suggest conservatively, some one million taxpayers across the country who are involved in these voluntary organizations and non-government organizations, such as my own, the Canadian Teachers' Federation...we have come together to share our expertise and to share our knowledge as service providers in terms of all of the areas that do affect the well-being of health of children and youth across the country.

We see the work that has been done within a number of federal government departments, within provincial departments through joint committees that have been set up, work that has resulted in what we believe has the potential to be an opportunity to move into the new millennium with agreements that will provide comprehensive and sustainable services to children and youth across this country.

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The framework agreement, the Social Union Agreement that was reached jointly by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, provides a real opportunity to forget about the jurisdictional hassles and to work together collaboratively with us in the voluntary and NGO sectors to make the lives of children and youth better.

We believe that in the upcoming budget a commitment of $5 billion over a period of two years to children, youth, and families would be an excellent way to move this agenda forward. It would be a clear signal to the provinces and the territories that there are significant dollars on the table in the event that they can reach agreement with the federal government on an extensive set of programs, services, and income supports that will help improve the lives of children and youth across the country.

In the specific area of income security measures, we believe that part of this investment should be dedicated to the national child benefit: to raise the amount provided to $2,500 per child and to index the system to inflation. It also would provide an opportunity to expand the scope to include all low-income families regardless of source of income.

We see some essential elements of tax reform that would tie in to the needs of children and families. In that respect, we recommend the introduction of the non-refundable tax credit of $2,000 per child, to support all families with parents at home or in the workforce.

We are very pleased with the government's announcement in the Speech from the Throne regarding the extension of parental benefits. We think it's a good first step. As an alliance, we recommend that the two-week waiting period for benefits be eliminated and that the levels be increased from 55% of prior earnings to 75%.

In the area of community-based supports, we, in the discussions we have had and in the work we have done and are going to continue to do as an alliance, say that we do need to have a comprehensive range of services and community supports to make sure that all children can benefit from healthy development.

In that respect, we would see establishing a designated fund in Budget 2000 that would provide for an investment of $2 billion over this budget and Budget 2001 to allow for critical improvements in a variety of community services in areas of particular need, such as early childhood care and education, social housing, programs for children and youth at risk, youth services, parenting supports, as well as a comprehensive range of preventative health services.

In moving towards the implementation of this national children's agenda, it is critical—and we share this view with government officials who have been working on this—that evaluation mechanisms be provided for to ensure that we are able to monitor how well our children and youth are doing. This monitoring should take place on a long-term basis.

We are delighted with the work that is being done thus far through the national longtitudinal study of children and youth. The outcome's preliminary indications are all supportive of the kinds of initiatives we are putting forward to you today, but we still lack a set of basic quantitative data on service delivery to children, youth and families.

We believe an initial investment of $50 million to help develop and implement a national strategy that would monitor the health and well-being of Canada's children and youth, in collaboration...and we're prepared to lend our expertise and our in-kind support to that. I am talking, of course, about the voluntary and the NGO sectors.

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In conclusion, Chair, we believe the federal government has a true opportunity to continue the leadership it has begun to show by making tangible the initiatives it has set out in a very caring way. The tangible way to do so would be to make specific allocations in this upcoming budget to make a long-term commitment, as Minister Martin has done in the past with success on deficit reduction and as he apparently intends to do with tax reduction. Surely our children and youth deserve no less than that kind of long-term, sustainable commitment.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

We'll now hear from the Learning Disability Association of Canada, with the past president, Mr. James Horan.

Welcome.

[Translation]

Mr. James Horan (Past President, Learning Disabilities Association of Canada): Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I'd like to thank you for your invitation.

[English]

I am past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. I've been with that association for over 15 years at the chapter, provincial, and national levels. Our mission is simple: advance the education, the employment, the social development, the legal rights, and the general well-being of persons with learning disabilities.

My presentation today will actually focus on four very key recommendations: early identification of children, compensatory equipment, assessment of post-secondary students, and tax relief for post-secondary students with learning disabilities.

As I make the recommendations, be aware that the Learning Disabilities Association is aware of the precarious position this committee is in, for we see that you have a national debt on one side and a multitude of people with needs on the other. That is a very difficult position to be in, but it's a position that is not insurmountable. For Canadians, there is an internal flame that is within each one of us, so remember, the Canadian spirit will allow us to be great as we move into the next millennium.

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children released a report today, and I think we all know what it says. The newspapers are pretty clear with the headlines. According to the report, Canada meets a lot of the obligations of the convention. However, it clearly shows that Canadian children with learning disabilities are not receiving the basic educational and social services they require. The report highlights the lack of appropriate early diagnosis and intervention for children with learning disabilities.

Comprehensive bodies of research and experience with our membership show that if you have early diagnosis, if you offer a continuum of service, and if you put your investment up front, those young people with learning disabilities turn into young adults who will have opportunities in this country.

For you see, right now we make investments: we invest a tremendous amount of money in young people who are 16, 17, 18, and 19, who have learning disabilities and who are in detention centres, who are incarcerated. We make investments. There is no question about that.

The question is, how can we remove money from that and move money into early intervention? Isn't that a better investment? It just makes good economic sense to shift money around a bit. If we invest today, the payoffs are much greater tomorrow.

Therefore, we recommend that the Government of Canada commit to a national children's agenda and that it include a universal and accessible screening mechanism for children between the ages of three and six.

Recommendation 2 is for compensatory equipment: computers and software. As we move into the technological age, there is no question that those who do not have access are shut out. Those who do not have access will live in poverty and will not be able to participate in the day-to-day activities that go on in this country.

We've had many discussions with Finance Canada. Their concern is that if they give it to us it could be abused. What we say in return is that we're talking about a very small percentage of Canadians who are severely learning disabled and who, without that software and hardware, are basically at a disadvantage.

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For those young people and those who are physically disabled and have a retrofit on a car, yes, we know that is a legitimate expense. What I say to you today is that for those young children, for those young adolescents, for those adults who are severely learning disabled, we level the playing field by ensuring that they have an opportunity to actually have the hardware and software they need.

Therefore, we recommend that the Government of Canada provide tax relief for the purchase of compensatory equipment, such as software and hardware, for persons with severe learning disabilities.

Assessment of post-secondary students: I'm thrilled to talk about this. At one time, very few Canadians who were learning disabled ever went to university or ever had the opportunity to go to a college.

The Government of Canada and the Canada study grants, formerly special opportunities grants, provide assistance to students with permanent disabilities. Under the CSG, a student with a permanent disability is eligible for a grant of up to $5,000 to cover those exceptional education-related costs associated with the disability.

Unlike student loans, the grant does not have to be repaid, but in order to qualify for a CSG, a student with a learning disability must have documentation showing a permanent disability that limits the ability to participate fully in post-secondary studies or in the labour force. In other words, a student with a learning disability must have a formal diagnosis with accompanying documentation—often within three years. While the study grant covers exceptional expenses—tutors, interpreters, special equipment—it never covers the associated cost of a psycho-educational assessment, and they run between $800 and $1,500 now.

Assessments are used to make recommendations to professors on how to adapt the teaching and the examinations for students with learning disabilities. In essence, it levels the playing field. It allows a learning-disabled young person in a university setting, who has beaten the odds—just think, they've beaten the odds, they've made it all the way to university—an opportunity to have the level playing field they need to convocate.

For you see, if they fall through the cracks and fall out of university, then we're back to the wrong type of investment—because we're going to have to carry them. If we can help them convocate, they can then of course be contributors in Canada, and you will get your investment back because they will pay taxes.

At this time, assessment waiting lists are very long. Some universities and colleges will provide the assessment for a fee. Others don't even provide the assessment. Those few that do provide an assessment have very long lines. Therefore, we have this wonderful opportunity of young Canadians who are learning disabled going to university in greater numbers, but we need to offer them a helping hand. If we can help them help themselves, we will be paid back.

The report by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, a brand new report on ensuring access, showed that 91% of the 70 institutions surveyed require disability documentation from students requiring accommodation. Institutions further report that documentation must bear the signature and credentials of the physician, psychiatrist, or registered psychologist. Therefore, if you don't have a current formal diagnosis and you're in university, you're not going to qualify for the Canadian study grants. In fact, you're not even going to qualify for academic accommodation at that university. Therefore, the playing field is no longer level.

We recommend that the Government of Canada expand the Canada study grant guidelines to recognize learning disabilities assessment as an exceptional education-related cost. Furthermore, we recommend that the Government of Canada make $25 million available to universities and colleges for assessing post-secondary students with learning disabilities and for institutions to provide training for instructors to enhance teaching skills.

Lastly, in 1996, the federal task force on disability issues—better known as the Scott task force—advised the Government of Canada not to treat the Canada study grants for students with disabilities as taxable income under the Canada student loans program. We recommend that the Government of Canada not treat Canada study grants for students with disabilities as taxable income.

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In conclusion, as we move towards the new millennium, I don't think any of us have the right to sit here and put out our hand without offering something in return to the government. The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, four years ago, in front of Jim Peterson, said that we would work on literacy and we would not ask the government for money. Four years later, we have a national tutoring program up and running in three sites. We have two more provinces that will be up and running within 12 months. That national tutoring program is making inroads. We are doing it with corporate partnerships, with corporate donations, and with our membership.

Therefore, I challenge every single person around the table, as you go back into your constituencies and your communities, to let the eternal flame within each Canadian sparkle almost like a star in the sky, because when we do that, when we help each other, it is guaranteed that we will be a much stronger country in the next millennium.

Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

That concludes the panel discussion. We'll go to the question-and-answer session.

We'll start with Mr. McNally. It's going to be a 10-minute round.

Mr. Grant McNally (Dewdney—Alouette, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all of you for your presentations. I know it's getting on into the evening and we're all busy people with lots of commitments, so I appreciate you taking the time to make your presentations. You've certainly covered a lot of material. I'm sure you'll get lots of questions from all of us. I'd like to start at the beginning, with Mr. Stock.

You made some interesting comments. You made some comments about Simon Fraser University and a conference that was held there. I just recently graduated from there myself, so I'm going to check into that one a little further. You mentioned an incident or a funding proposal I wasn't aware of, a $10,000 grant.

Mr. Peter Stock: That's right.

Mr. Grant McNally: I'm sorry, but I didn't catch the details of that.

Mr. Peter Stock: This was reported in the Canadian press on September 28, 1999. Both the B.C. Arts Council and the Canada Council jointly funded a literary panel held at SFU. The panel was called “Sex, Drugs and the Law: Pushing the Boundaries”. It was organized by The Small Press Action Network and ran from October 1 to 3.

Star billing was given to John Sharpe, who's the pedophile who is currently challenging the laws on prohibiting possession of child pornography in this country. That case, of course, is going to the Supreme Court on January 18 of next year. Our organization of course has a big problem with people possessing child pornography, and we have a problem with government grants, taxpayers' money, going to fund a platform for such a despicable individual to speak from and to promote his filth.

Mr. Grant McNally: Thank you. I have the details of that now. Thank you for filling that in—

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Is—I think it's—Mr. Sharpe a pedophile or...?

Mr. Grant McNally: I think it's my time, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Mr. Szabo.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Do you know he's a pedophile or he is just someone who was charged with possession of child pornography?

Mr. Peter Stock: He's been charged with that. I think if one reads his writings, he would claim that is his predilection, yes.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.): He has never been charged with—

Mr. Peter Stock: He can sue me if he wants.

Mr. Grant McNally: Thanks. I think that's a well-documented fact.

You also mentioned that, in your group's opinion, marriage is discriminated against. Can you tell us more details about this?

Mr. Peter Stock: Yes. In fact, we did hear from some of the others around the table about exactly that point. There are many areas of the Income Tax Act that we feel penalize marriage. It's quite clear that those who live together who do not get married or who perhaps divorce do receive several tax benefits. Those are things that, again, we've heard some detail about. They've come up before this committee before.

Specifically, one we're really concerned about is the child care expense deduction. It's not discrimination against marriage per se, but it does discriminate against many families who do take a view that having a parent in the home is an excellent way to raise their children and would like to do so, at least for the first years their children are around.

The Chair: Do you have any further questions?

Mr. Grant McNally: Yes, I have a couple of questions for Ms. Gardner.

• 1855

You talked about the notion of unpaid work by spouses. You are clearly advocating, then, that spouses be allowed to pay each other for child care.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: Yes.

Mr. Grant McNally: Can you expand on that notion, on how you see that being put into place in a practical, nationwide...? How would we set that up and make it work?

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I was hoping we would have some legal minds and some real legislative developers dealing with the wording of something like that. I don't want to be sexist about this. The notion is that for women who stay at home to raise children—and statistics will uphold that it is largely women who stay at home—their work is of value. For tax purposes, that value has already been defined. If I choose to go out to work and my husband chooses to go out to work, I have to hire a third person and I'm told what I can write off in terms of expenses to have them provide the very necessary child care that we need.

Now, if just one person, one parent, decides to go out to work, why is his spouse simply put in the position of having to provide free child care? Marriage is not servitude—

Mr. Grant McNally: Excuse me—sorry to interrupt. So you would say that the current system is discriminatory in that—

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I would say that the current system is very discriminatory against spouses.

Of course on the surface the legislation would appear to be quite benign, but it is not. If you look at some history as to the way women have been treated, and if you simply look at section 74 of the Income Tax Act—some of which was repealed as recently as 1980—section 74 deals with spouses being able to work for their spouses, spouses being able to work in partnership with their spouses, and spouses being able to work for their spouse and that spouse's partners.

Now having given you some history on that, in 1952, I think, a man took his case to the Supreme Court, I believe. He was an employee of his wife and her two partners. He took it to court. It was a different section of the legislation. It wasn't section 74 at the time, but it was the same type of legislation that prevented him from earning an income. His income had to be declared as his wife's income because she was the owner of the business. He took his argument to court in 1952 on the basis of the wording “the employee”. He was supposedly “the employee” of his wife and, therefore, as “the employee” he could not be paid.

His argument was that there were 86 employees so he wasn't “the employee” but simply “an employee”, and he wanted to be treated like every other employee. But we didn't have human rights legislation at that time, so his argument hinged on the interpretation of the words “the” and “an”. Even though the court ruled against him, subsequently the law was changed to really ensure that spouses are put in a position of servitude. It's unacceptable.

I think re-examining section 63 of the Income Tax Act, which prevents one spouse from paying the other, is going to do a lot to deal with family tax fairness and the whole issue of adequate tax benefits not being provided for families with children.

The value of child care to society is the same if it's provided by a non-parent or by a parent. We're talking about tax legislation here. We're talking about the recognized value for tax purposes. Whether or not I think $7,000 is enough to stay at home and look after a child under 7 years of age...? No, it's not, but that is what the tax system is allowing us to write off at this time.

It's very important that we look at spouses just as people, as individuals, under the tax legislation and stop trying to discriminate against them by using this sort of gender-neutral term, “spouse”. It typically applies to women, and they are typically a group that has historically been discriminated against. It's time that we re-examine this. Maybe it is a large change in thinking, but maybe when section 74 was revised in 1980 that was a large change in thinking. I think this time has come. We are going into a new millennium. We do have to re-examine it.

• 1900

Mr. Grant McNally: So you would advocate, then, that the tax law not treat one family arrangement or child care arrangement over and above another.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: That's right.

Mr. Grant McNally: So if somebody were to choose to stay at home and look after their kids, or to have their children in day care, or to have somebody else look after the children, the tax law should be neutral on that.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I think it gives families the option to choose what they prefer. When women leave the workforce to stay at home...and many women are in the workforce. I believe the statistic is in the 1998 census: 69% of married women were also in the paid workforce. When they choose to leave the workforce and stay home to look after their children, they shouldn't have to choose servitude.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. McNally.

Mr. Szabo, followed by Dr. Bennett.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Dr. Bennett will go first.

The Chair: Okay, followed by Mr. Galloway for one question.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: My question is for Mr. Horan: how early can you detect a learning disability in a child?

Mr. James Horan: At this point, someplace around the age of three. Of course medical advancements are moving so quickly in this field that we really are starting to be pretty accurate even around the age of three.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Is there any evidence to show that the outcomes are better depending on how early it's picked up?

Mr. James Horan: Yes, there is. There is a body of research presently available, which really begins to indicate that if you have a continuum of service you can make a difference. In regard to our membership, because we've worked with so many families at risk across the country, when we work with those families we do see a difference.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Are there some kids that aren't picked up until they are in prison?

Mr. James Horan: Yes. It is interesting that Correctional Services has recently started a screening process for some of our inmates. What they're finding, sad to say, is that a number have learning disabilities.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: I've seen studies that say it's as high as 70%.

Mr. James Horan: Yes, you're correct. I think what bothers me more than anything is working with a 14- or 15-year-old who is learning disabled and who has had no service but is on their way to a detention centre. It's a terrible thing to go to through and to watch. In essence, what you see is a broken toy—basically a human being that's very difficult to put back together at 14 or 15 years old.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Maybe I'll put this to you, Mr. Stock. Are you aware of the evidence that shows that people who have been exposed early to childhood educators are in a better position in terms of readiness to learn when they arrive at the school door?

Mr. Peter Stock: I think your question is about early childhood education, and I'm not really sure—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Well, I think having a trained childhood educator who understands about reading, maybe picks up on learning disabilities, maybe understands conflict resolution, sharing, all of those things...there's no question that no one can love a child as much as a parent. I guess the question in terms of actual early childhood education is...I don't think I was born an early childhood educator or that when my baby was born I became an early childhood educator—compared to the patients I had who sure knew a lot more about this than I did.

I guess that the research now is showing that this is really important in terms of the readiness to learn and in picking up some of these things, from fetal alcohol effects to learning disabilities. When I was in practice, there was a children's storefront down the street where the moms dropped in and had stimulation, whatever, and would run things by their peers in terms of how the kid's doing, of whether the kid should be able to read by now and those kinds of things, like how to fight, how to share, all of those things.

I think what I'm hearing is that you're sort of opposed to the state having anything to do with this. I guess what all of the Ministers of Health across this country have said is...they've agreed that there's this opportunity gap in terms of how we don't actually see kids until they're six and we start investing then, but in terms of the brain malleability and the ability to do all of this, we've missed the most important time by the time we start investing in kids.

I was just wondering whether you would be opposed to the existence of early childhood development centres whereby the parent who stays at home would be able to avail themselves of those services.

• 1905

Mr. Peter Stock: The short answer is yes. I think these things can be done privately. For example, when I was young, my mother started a day care centre, and—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Did she have any training?

Mr. Peter Stock: No, she didn't have any training.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Well, let's go over here, then, because—

Mr. Peter Stock: I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm not quite finished. There are two other points I wanted to address there.

The second is intervention, and quite frankly—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Did she get paid to look after other people's children?

Mr. Peter Stock: No, this was strictly volunteer—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Because I think that's one of my concerns. We have a huge underground economy in this with people who are basically untrained. When you say you're worried that a national day care plan would have a domino effect on children who are looked after, I have huge problems with it...that a lot of those people have no training, that there are no standards, and that some of those children are worse off than if they were in a certified day care with trained people looking after them. Your idea of the problems in terms of the undesirable domino....

Ms. Gardner, having been a family doctor for 20 years, my main problem with your brief is this compelling evidence that the income tax law has...I mean, you've almost said that income tax law is causing Down's syndrome. If we actually go to the bottom of the page, it reads, “compelling evidence that income tax law has affected choices...about getting married”. I would like to know what that compelling evidence was. Also, it says that the Income Tax Act tells people to delay their families. I don't get that.

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I just think about women—and I'm thinking about my age group—who have gone to university and have decided to apply themselves to a career. They have not said, oh, I'm going to put the career on hold in 3 years; they have applied themselves to their careers for 10, 12, or 15 years, which requires that they—by that time they're financially stable, presumably—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: But you've said it's because of a problem in the Income Tax Act. Can you help me with that?

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: The Income Tax Act doesn't support; there's no child tax deduction any more. There's no incentive to stay home with your children once you've had your 15 weeks or whatever it was. Now it's 25—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: But even if you weren't going to stay home, why would you delay your family?

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I think part of the reason you delay your family is that you're getting your career on track. You're putting in the 15 years it takes to get your career going so that maybe when you do take some time out, you'll be financially able to do so.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: This doesn't sound like compelling evidence in terms of my experience, but I will accept that you have anecdotal evidence of it. But I think that—

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: Seventy per cent of women are in the workforce in 1998, but I entered the workforce in the mid-1970s. Having worked at my career for 15 years before having my children, I did have my children over the age of 35, and yes, the Down's syndrome test is one of the tests that I got for free because of my age. I don't think my experience is unique. I think my experience is actually quite normal for my age group.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: I just think that what we're trying to find is the best policy mix and balance so that people actually have real choices about this stuff.

I didn't have any choice. I went back to work after six weeks because my husband was in the film business and we had one income. I think every family is very different—

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: Yes.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: —in terms of the choices they really have. Some families just make a choice about moving neighbourhoods, and it's not because of anything other than they'd rather have a backyard than a balcony, and that's the reason both people are working, right?

That's the dilemma of this committee: we're trying to find fairness in terms of real choices for that particular family, not the apples and oranges of two different families at $60,000 but that one family at $60,000 or $30,000 or whatever, whether they decide to go back to work or not, not comparing themselves to their neighbours, whether it's fair for them to make the decision.

It's as if we talked about a bachelor versus yourself. At least in your tax situation you're getting two sets of health care, two sets of...there is some reason why, when there are two people covered in a set of taxes, you would be...you're actually a lot better off than a bachelor, aren't you?

• 1910

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: How would you rate a couple that has two equal incomes that amount to our one total one? This is the problem.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Yes, well, if you compare yourself that way, but it just depends on who you want to compare yourself to.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Are you finished with your questions and your comments?

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Yes.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Let's finish with Mr. Van Wagner.

Mr. Van Wagner, when the finance committee did a study of taxation for one-income versus two-income situations with the same total income, exactly what you're saying was demonstrated, but we found that comparing you to somebody else was really a soft argument. The real question would be that if both of you were, say, earning $30,000 and one of you decided to stay out of the workforce, the other person's income wouldn't go up to $60,000 to be equal.

We make choices in life, so you can't compare one $60,000 income to two $30,000 incomes. It's a non-argument; it's not a valid argument at all. It's an issue that triggered a lot of debate, and a number of people here have tried to talk about it. The fact is, if you have a couple who are both in the labour force, and they have a child, they have two choices. The two choices are: one, pay someone to care for this child and claim the child care expense deduction, or two, have one of them withdraw from the labour force and provide direct parental care.

Most people say the discrimination—and I hear it from Ms. Gardner—is in the child care expense deduction, but you'd be interested to know that in 1997, which is the last full year that Revenue Canada reported on the income tax returns filed by Canadians, only about one-quarter of families that could—two-income families with kids—claimed anything. Of those that actually did claim something, the average claim was $2,554 when, in 1997, they could have claimed up to $5,000 for one child. As we know, some families have more than one child.

So Dr. Bennett is absolutely right. There is a huge underground economy in this whole child care thing. That is one of the reasons, I think, why we came to the conclusion that because we do have, as has been stated earlier, so many different configurations of whatever, there is no possibility of having a fair and equitable system and accommodating all those different permutations and combinations, with and without children, etc., and still be fair to everybody.

The tax system is based on the individual unit of taxation. It's progressive and it deals with a broad range of situations, such as one income earner, two income earners, a lone parent that can't split income, etc. There are so many different ways.

I want to ask the panel, because you all have a vested interest in this to some extent, would you prefer that—I'm talking about couples with children—changes be made within the Income Tax Act to deal with it or outside of it, for that matter, which would put more money into your pocket so that you could make choices as to how you want...?

Or would it be a better approach to introduce programs? There's been a lot of talk about enriched preschool, early childhood development programs, etc. I'm curious as to whether there is a consensus about whether or not a broad enough base of programs could be introduced to meet all the needs or whether we really are talking about how parents have to choose because they are the only ones who can really figure out what the best possible arrangement would be for their children. I'd be interested in your comments.

The Chair: Mr. Weiner.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: I think we would come out clearly on the side of programs and services. Parents certainly are the primary caregivers. There's no question at all about that, but the children and youth we're talking about are Canada's children and youth. There is a collective contribution that all of us have an interest in making in order to ensure that they grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, contributing members to civic society, contributing members to the economy—and the more we can do to ensure that happens, the greater our tax base will be.

• 1915

Mr. Paul Szabo: Do you favour a formalized program?

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Absolutely.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Okay.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Without question, and obviously—

Mr. Paul Szabo: Sure. I want to get on with the rest of—

Mr. Harvey Weiner: —the parents would opt in to these programs and services, which would be accessible to them, coherent, and integrated, and would be there on a timely basis to meet their needs.

The Chair: Ms. Bascombe.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: I'd just like to make the point that without an investment in infrastructure for early childhood programs there will be no choices for parents, because there will not be available in their local community a range of high-quality early childhood care and education services for them to choose from.

I think we don't really have a choice but to make an investment in some infrastructure and in some programs and services so that parents actually do have a choice, whether they are at home or in the workforce, so that they have some viable options for quality programs for their kids.

The Chair: Mr. Stock.

Mr. Peter Stock: First of all, I resent the implication that my mother was involved in the underground economy. This was a volunteer situation.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Just to clarify, in the underground economy situation, someone would pay someone to care for their kid but would not claim the deduction, and the person they paid would not claim the tax. That is tax fraud.

Mr. Peter Stock: Absolutely.

Mr. Paul Szabo: That's what I'm referring to.

Mr. Peter Stock: I realize that's what you're referring to.

The earlier comment was untrue, though. The day care my mother was involved in was strictly volunteer all the way around, and I think that's maybe the case in a lot of situations. There's a case in my family presently where my brother has his child cared for by his mother-in-law. Again, there's no money changing hands. It's simply looking after family, but the parents are in the workforce. There isn't necessarily the huge underground economy there. There are alternate avenues for child care that don't involve so-called quality day care paid for by the government.

The other point is on the child care expense deduction and who is claiming this. We brought this up at the subcommittee. You referred to 25% who are actually claiming an average of about $2,500. I believe those were roughly your figures. Probably what we're seeing there, more realistically, I think, is that about 10% are actually claiming a very significant amount. The other 15% are probably claiming a very small amount for things like a summer camp or whatever. That would correlate quite closely with the number of people who are actually using this licensed and receiptable day care on a full-time basis so they can be in the workforce.

Mr. Paul Szabo: You see, that doesn't work if both are employed and have preschool kids. Somebody must be taking care of them. Two income earners not claiming a child care expense deduction—or just a tiny amount—means there's something wrong.

Mr. Peter Stock: No. I'm suggesting that there are a lot of alternate forms of care, like the ones I was referring to earlier with my brother and with my mother.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Okay.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: In our position, of course, the first thing I could say is that we've been there and we have seen it all, so we know about raising children and all the choices that have to go with that. Things were quite different in our days. We tried to explain the consequences of adopting that lifestyle, which appeared to us to last for the remainder of our lives.

You would prefer, sir...I've heard this before and we've of course read the report of the subcommittee on children's affairs...the idea of a choice between two incomes and dropping one is a very significant part of that report. But have you observed what happens to that single income when the parents have foregone one of them? It is then fully exposed to the very single-income penalty we talked about—

Mr. Paul Szabo: —and changed, though.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: Oh, yes.

Mr. Paul Szabo: It was something and when the other part dropped out, their income still was the same amount.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: The example in that brief, in your report, was the 36:24 ratio of a $60,000 couple. They decide to forego the $24,000 in order to keep a homemaker at home. They are left with $36,000. It is all in one name. The income tax that they will pay on that $36,000 is—

Mr. Paul Szabo: It goes down.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: Yes, but it is still $1,000 more than if their income were evenly split. They're paying a single-income—

Mr. Paul Szabo: That's not true—

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: —penalty of $1,000.

Mr. Paul Szabo: —because you get a spousal exemption.

Mr. Grant McNally: Let him finish.

• 1920

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: The spousal exemption is about—

Mr. Paul Szabo: It's $6,000.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: —one-tenth of the average family income. A better way to look at it is that it reduces a breadwinner's income by a mere $1,400, which makes him almost like a single person. However correct your argument seems in quality and quantity, the situation is too ludicrous.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Another issue many of you talked about is caring for kids. In regard to some of the answers you've given, you know what? You're all right.

All of you are correct, but you are correct depending on your assumptions as to whether we're talking about children who are zero to three years or four to six years because, to my knowledge, there are no enriched preschool or early childhood education programs for infants. In fact, if your concern is the healthy brain development, neural development, of a child, the engaged, committed care of an adult, not necessarily a parent...but a secure, consistent attachment with an engaged, committed adult is going to take more than you can buy from day care, if that's what you're talking about.

If you are talking about the child when he is out of diapers, etc....and we don't have junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten any more. If we did have something that took the place of that, where there in fact is stimulative, active variety, etc., there's no question that the child coming out of that environment will do better when they hit grade one or kindergarten compared to one who has to start with the ABCs when they get to school.

So all of you are right. I ask the question, then, when we're talking about healthy outcomes of children as your objective, if you had only one dollar to spend, would you spend it on children of zero to three or children of four to six?

Mr. Peter Stock: I'd spend it on zero to three, on allowing parents a better opportunity to stay home with their kids.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Okay.

The Chair: Mr. Weiner, do you have an opinion on this?

Mr. Harvey Weiner: We have more than one dollar to spend. It seems to me that if we go into forced choices like that we're shortchanging not only the kids but ourselves.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Let me not be coy. What's more important: zero to three or four to six?

Mr. Harvey Weiner: They're both important.

Mr. Paul Szabo: What's more important? What are the priorities?

In all the research, from Fraser Mustard right down the line, year one is dynamite. He told that to the human resources development committee. Every report done says that 80% of the lifetime development of the human brain occurs by age three. I'm sorry, but if you don't have the physiological and neural development in place, I don't care what you do for them when they're four, five and six, because you have damaged goods—the way it's been described to me in the past by some people. Early childhood development means from zero on, and if you didn't do well in zero to three, don't expect to make it up.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Zero to three is critical, but if you're telling me that we're going to write off from four onward because 80% or whatever...by the way, there's a lot of good work that Mustard has done, but his research is in fact controversial in a number of aspects. The early years are extremely critical, very important, but making arbitrary cut-off decisions that we're going to spend a dollar for zero to three...? We have more dollars than that.

The Chair: Ms. Bascombe.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: I'm certainly not going to argue about the importance of zero to three. I'm also going to make the point that I think 70% of mothers in the labour force do have children in that age group, so when we're talking about making sure we have a range of early childhood services that serve kids from zero to six, they're serving kids from zero to three.

We certainly support the extension of maternity/paternity leave to one year, but realistically we know that families need to be in the workforce for economic security. We also know that even kids of one, two, three, four, and five years need access to these high-quality learning environments, whether parents are at home or in the workforce.

• 1925

In some ways, it is a false choice in that it's the same kinds of family and community social supports that are going to serve the needs of those families with young children. We don't cut them off at age three. We need the range of programs and services.

The Chair: Mr. Horan.

Mr. James Horan: I think history will judge those of us sitting around this table by what we do for the most vulnerable—and that means our youngest.

I am the past president of the Learning Disabilities Association, but I'm a principal of what's is known as a compensatory school. What does that mean? I feed every child in my school at 10 o'clock every single day.

If someone asked me where I would put all of this paper, number one would be early identification of children at risk. Where would I put in my resources? Before they ever come to see my school.

Better Beginnings is tied to my school. It's a wonderful program and is for those from the age of zero until the time they get to me. It's working. But let me assure you, if you were to come and spend time with me and live with me every single day, there would not be one single person around this table who would not say, hey, let's put the dollar into the most vulnerable, into the youngest. Either we invest today or we pay a terrible price tomorrow.

Dr. Bennett, you're a family doctor. You've been in this business 20-odd years. You've seen it all—just like me, a compensatory school principal. We have seen it all.

I'll tell you something. Be there, walk with me a while, walk into a practice that Dr. Bennett picks out for you, spend some time in a north end community health centre, spend a day. When you come back, you'll have a whole different way of looking at Canada.

The Chair: Mr. Gallaway, do you have a question?

Mr. Roger Gallaway (Sarnia—Lambton, Lib.): Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Neil McFadyen: Mr. Chairman, may I...?

The Chair: Sorry, Mr. McFadyen, did you want to say something?

Mr. Neil McFadyen: I just wanted to comment about spending the money on early childhood development centres. I guess you're talking about creating some kind of improved day care.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Like parent drop-in, anything.

Mr. Neil McFadyen: But you were implying earlier that in some of the existing centres people aren't qualified enough or that you're sending your child to the babysitter down the street and she's not qualified enough.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: I'm saying registered early childhood educators running them—

Mr. Neil McFadyen: Okay, but when you're sending someone aged zero to three to a babysitter, exactly what qualifications does the babysitter need? How do you know that parent or that babysitter down the street is not giving the same or better care than someone hired off the street—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: You could say that about doctors too.

Mr. Neil McFadyen: —to go into a day care who has passed a test—

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: If we didn't have registered doctors...some of them would be pretty good even without a licence and some of them wouldn't be. What we're saying is that Canadians should have confidence in where they put their kids, that there's actually a set of standards and a core training that you can count on.

Mr. Neil McFadyen: Are you saying that stay-at-home parents should have a qualification, then, before they can take care of their children?

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: I'm saying the kids are better off if the parent knows enough to drop into one of these centres—for sure.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: I have a question.

The Chair: Yes, Mr. Gallaway.

I hope the rest of you don't mind, but we'd like to join in. Mr. Gallaway has been waiting for a number of minutes now. Mr. McNally probably wants another round and he's going to get impatient soon, so give the chair a break.

Go ahead, Mr. Gallaway.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Thank you. It's nice being a spectator here this evening.

Mr. Weiner and Ms. Bascombe, this is your summary of actions, and Mr. Weiner, I think this is your chart. One of you mentioned $2 billion; another one dropped the figure of $2.5 billion.

I must say that what I've been hearing here from you tonight is that parents, in some way, are not the best equipped to deal with their children, that we're going to start dumping them into centres. As a parent, I'm quite alarmed by what I'm hearing here about this stuff.

I find that this is about choices. We're talking about choices. Usually having a child is about having choices. There are all kinds of choices we make in life.

You talk about income security, social and community supports, and national research and monitoring, and I think you put on it a number of $50 million or something like that. My question is simply this: what would you estimate the cost of income securities to be? Those things are doable principally through the Income Tax Act. Of the $2.5 billion you requested, how much would you devote to that and how much would you devote to programs?

• 1930

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: We have revised our brief at this time. On the income security measures, we're looking for a $2 billion investment in the national child tax benefit.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: We're talking per annum, I assume, when you talk about $2 billion—

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: We were looking at it being spread over a two-year period.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Over a two-year period.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Over a two-year period...so then what are we talking about in terms of social and community support?

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: Two billion dollars.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Over two years.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: I'm confused, then. What is the tax portion of it, then? How much is the income security?

Mr. Harvey Weiner: An additional what...? Isn't it $2.5 billion?

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: For the national child benefit.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Well, you have six items listed. You must have quantified it.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: It's $2.5 billion per.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: All right. There's $2.5 billion per for social and community supports. Is that what you're telling me?

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Yes.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Over two years.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: That's correct.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: So you're talking about $5 billion over two years.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: That's correct.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: All right.

Now, I find all this conversation very interesting, but we're sitting in this room on Parliament Hill and the Fathers of Confederation are watching us. We have choices to make here, and we have to go out on the streets to talk to people and find out what they're saying. There's this connection between what you're saying and what people on the streets believe.

I should tell you that the Department of Finance has had extensive polling done very recently. People are concerned about the health care system. People are concerned about post-secondary education. People are concerned about tax cuts. They're concerned about the national debt.

And way down here is this whole idea of a children's agenda. Taking a bunch of money and giving it to a bunch of social workers and teachers just isn't palatable.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Oh, oh!

Mr. Roger Gallaway: It's just not palatable. What we're talking about is—

Mr. Paul Szabo: Don't be coy.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Yes. Let's be real here. That's all I'm saying. Let's deal with reality here, not with theory.

As for what you're telling me here tonight, I don't think I can sell it to anyone in my riding—that I've met.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett: Buzz Hargrove can.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Before Dr. Bennett gives me Down's syndrome here, what I'm saying to you is that I think there's this big gulf between what you're saying and what Canadians are going to buy. I'm not buying anything you're saying.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: We're probably not reading the same polls, Mr. Gallaway. Let me give you some arguments that you can use with your constituents who may be saying that.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: Let me just tell you that I've made statements in the press in my riding and I haven't had anyone—other than one person—come forward and say they disagreed with me. The person who came forward is an early childhood educator.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: Okay.

Mr. Roger Gallaway: I can't find anyone. I'm looking. I'm being provocative. I can't find anyone.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: I guess one of the problems is that children and youth don't get much of an audience at meetings such as these.

I think there's another issue. Our health, our pensions, the quality of life in this country, and the financial supports for that, even the financial supports for our tax system and the tax cuts, which I think all of us at some point would certainly like to see, are going to come—and come in greater quantity—based on the kind of investment we're prepared to make in our children. I use the term “our children” advisedly. Certainly by no means did anyone imply—and I certainly would be the last one—that the parents are not the major critical caregivers for children.

We talk about “our children”, Canada's children. Whether you had a child that is now an adult or you never had any children at all, these are the children that will grow into adulthood and determine the quality of life you and I are going to have when we retire, the benefits that we're going to be able to enjoy—that we would like to enjoy—when we retire. They're going to be the support at the bottom of that pyramid, so to speak. If we don't give them every opportunity to succeed...every last one of them is born equal and every last one of them should have the maximum chance to reach his or her potential.

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It's been demonstrated conclusively through research, Canadian, American, and European, that this kind of investment is the best investment you can make. We will end up getting bigger and better tax cuts down the line. We will end up cutting down on non-discretionary expenditures that we are forced to make: to incarcerate people, to remediate people, to fix broken people. The research is there to support it. It's an investment, not an expense.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: With respect, I don't think I want to up your polls poll by poll, however, I think there certainly are polls to the contrary in terms of Canadians' support for children and families in this country. We can—

Mr. Roger Gallaway: I don't want to—

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: So I don't want to go on with the poll thing, but what I do want to say is this: the reality of the situation is that millions of our children—our very young children—are being put into situations every day where they're cared for outside of the home while their parents work or study and we need to make sure they have high-quality child care environments. It's a fact: they are out there. We need to support that. I can't imagine that Canadians don't support the fact that our young children need high-quality care. We're not talking about dumping money into social workers or into programs that are not completely effective and outcome-oriented, programs to make sure that kids meet their potential.

I don't think you would quibble with the research about the importance of the early years either. We have to recognize that we need to make sure parents have access to high-quality programs while they go to work.

Mr. Paul Szabo: Mr. Chairman, could I just correct a point? That 70% of people who have kids—

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: Preschool children.

Mr. Paul Szabo: —and 70% of women—

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: Are in the workforce.

Mr. Paul Szabo: —work. It's not exactly...it doesn't give the right information. One-third of women with preschool kids are in the labour force. One-third stay at home. Full-time work in the labour force or workforce is defined as 30 hours and more. The middle one-third is anywhere between 1 and 30 hours a week. I've seen the numbers. We're going to get them from Statistics Canada; we've asked for them.

That means, I think, that you're going to find that a vast majority of that middle one-third actually have a very low number of weekly hours because they're working part-time, overlapping, or going to work after the husband gets home. So they are in fact providing direct care. I think we're going to find that the majority of parents with preschool children are providing direct parental care to their children, contrary to what HRDC has been saying to you and to many other Canadians for a long time.

Ms. Dianne Bascombe: The numbers are still huge, no matter how we cut this thing. The numbers are huge in terms of the range of kids needing care in the preschool years. Whether their parents are full-time in the workforce, part-time in the workforce, or at home, we need to have a range of those services to meet the needs for all those families. The numbers are huge and we certainly don't have the kind of infrastructure for early childhood services in this country.

The Chair: Mr. Stock.

Mr. Van Wagner, you still want to make a comment about a previous issue.

Mr. Charles Van Wagner: Mr. Chairman, I wonder if it's just possible to take another look at this idea of the proper basis of comparison and make a little dent in Mr. Szabo's argument if I can.

The argument that one should compare the choice of having two incomes with one income is a very fine way of looking at it, but it's not right, I don't believe, to look at it only that way, to throw out the idea that in fact joint family income is some kind of basis for taxation. The government wants to use it in judging how to deal with children, but it refuses to recognize it when taxing the couple themselves. This seems to me like a very bad thing in any kind of systems analysis; you don't do that in the professional world of systems analysis.

Besides, if a couple that has only one income is in fact living just exactly the same as another couple that has two halves of that income under their separate names, it's very hard to find a reason, then, for taking thousands of dollars more tax from them. They're getting the same services, you see. It's very difficult.

Mr. Paul Szabo: It's difficult, but you do need to have fairness and equity within the system. You have to ask yourself, if you have a couple that chooses not to have children or that just lives together for convenience, where one decides they're going to have this person stay home and just keep a nice home for them, make their social arrangements and all that other stuff, and they'll get to split their income with them...that creates a problem. All Canadian taxpayers pay for every tax benefit or tax expenditure that we give out—

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Mr. Charles Van Wagner: Oh, yes.

Mr. Paul Szabo: —and they do that in the expectation that the tax expenditure meets some sort of national objective or value. I don't understand why you would suggest that because two people decide to live together they should be able to split their income when there may be no expectation or possibility of that having a national value or benefit.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Szabo.

I'm just getting to the point where I think I'm going to get Mr. Szabo as a witness.

Mr. McFadyen, Mr. Horan, and Mr. Stock.

Mr. Neil McFadyen: I just thought I'd comment about the talk on polling from Mr. Gallaway and Dianne. I was just wondering if anyone has actually polled the kids. Go to a day care and poll them when they're being dropped off at 7.30 in the morning. Ask them if they want to go to day care or to stay home with mom or dad. Let's see what the result of that poll is.

The Chair: Good point.

Mr. Horan.

Mr. James Horan: We have 140-odd chapters across the country, so we're in every province, every territory. We get a lot of questions about 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-, or 18-year-olds who are incarcerated or on their way to a detention centre. Often they'll ask me when I actually knew about it and what could have been done. That question comes up time and time again when dealing with those young people who are learning disabled.

That's why I keep going back to early identification of children at risk. We somehow have to make it accessible and universal. How we do that is for another day and another discussion, but I think you have to come to a consensus in this country that for young children at risk, early identification is the way to go. If not, we will continue to get the questions at our national office, at every chapter in the country, when they see young people on their way to detention centres. They'll say, “What could we have done and when could we have done it?”

The Chair: A final comment, Mr. Stock.

Mr. Peter Stock: I have just one quick point. It's interesting that Mr. Gallaway mentioned the Fathers of Confederation, because one of the terms that keeps coming up here is this idea of early childhood education. When the Constitution was written, education, as we know, was assigned as a strictly provincial responsibility. So if we're talking about a social program that is glorified babysitting and government-subsidized, that may in fact be an area of federal responsibility, and it may be legitimate for witnesses to come before this committee and ask for more funding. But if we're talking about education, these witnesses really should be heading to Queen's Park and some of the other provincial legislatures to make their case.

The Chair: Mr. Weiner.

Mr. Harvey Weiner: I would suggest that the previous speaker look at the social union framework document. It is a document that has been signed by all the provinces, with the exception of Quebec, and by the federal government, and it clearly makes provision for the provinces and the federal government to come to an agreement on all of the programs we've been talking about in our presentations.

The Chair: Thank you.

Are there any final comments?

Ms. Sheridan Gardner: I have a final comment, Mr. Chair, thank you.

I would just like to say that I'm not against early childhood education. The years zero to three are very important years, and yes, maybe it would be good to have a drop-in centre where I could take my children, but the point is, I'm never going to be able to do that unless I have the option to stay home and look after them. The way to do that is to put more money back into the pockets of families, and the way to do that is to look at the legislation to see where we can even things up. This is a situation in which section 63 of the Income Tax Act is glaring in its discriminatory bias, and I think it should be addressed.

The Chair: On behalf of the committee, I really thank you very much. One thing is certain: there's really no consensus on this particular issue, tonight anyway, which leaves us with the difficult decision of figuring out where we go on this. But all kidding aside, I want to express to you our sincerest gratitude. As you know, we have choices to make, and they're going to be challenging ones.

Judging from the quality of the debate I've seen tonight, I'm sure that writing this report is indeed going to be quite a challenge. I'm sure your points of view are going to be expressed within that particular text.

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On behalf of the committee, thank you, and good evening.

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