Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.)
|| That the House recognize that an effective, Canada-wide early learning and child care system requires both continued vigorous effort to provide supports for family incomes and proactive intergovernmental activity to create a sufficient number of high quality, universally accessible, affordable and developmental child care spaces to meet the broad range of needs of Canadian children;
||that the House observe that the present government has made, in both these tasks, significantly less progress than its predecessor, which had provided income support programs for families with children totalling more than $10 billion per year and had negotiated child-care space-creating agreements with all provinces valued at at least an additional $1 billion per year; and,
||therefore, that the House urge the government to increase substantially its activities in this regard in order to provide Canadian families with the early learning and child care facilities that they need and deserve.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion because Canadian families face a genuine crisis caused by the shortage of quality child care and early learning services in this country.
This government has torn up federal-provincial agreements that would have created up to 350,000 day care places over the next five years. It replaced this plan with a cash allowance that offers only minimal benefits and that in no way allows for the creation of places in early learning and child care services.
I want to begin by asking, what is the role of government? The role of government is to govern. It is not to use administrative tactics to pander to its supporters as they exist. This is about the future of the country. The future of the country is about our aboriginal people, about post-secondary education and research innovation. The future of the country and the planet is about climate change, but the real future of the country in terms of human capital is our kids.
Today, this motion is about why the Prime Minister of the country would agree to not cut and run on the people of Afghanistan, but is prepared to cut and run on our kids. It is extraordinary that ideology has replaced evidence based practice and real research on what will underpin the future of our country in terms of social justice and what will underpin the future of our economy as a country in a globalized world.
That being said, in 20 years as a family doctor, I cannot imagine that there was one time, as I delivered a baby, that the parents or family did not have a huge understanding of the challenges facing them as parents and the choices that they would have to make in terms of being the best parents possible and offering the best possible opportunity to their children.
There were some families that actually did have choices. There were two parents, one at least with a fabulous job such that there was a choice. One of the parents could stay home. Even in that situation, there were situations where that parent that was able to stay at home needed the support of a community drop-in centre where there was some help in terms of the kinds of things that could happen.
Some of those children may have had special needs and special concerns. Some children may have had autism where it was virtually impossible for those stay at home parents to give the kind of care that they would want 24/7. But for those families there was a real choice in terms of a parent being able to stay at home.
For the other parents there was a choice, as well, and they had to decide whether with two incomes they could actually support their child in a better way and perhaps move out of a certain neighbourhood, or change a balcony for a backyard. Those were parents making the best possible decision for their children.
I think it has been extraordinarily unfair to be fanning the flames of a fight between those difficult choices that those sets of families have had to make in our country and to pit one choice against another choice as a better choice, or indeed to say that parents did not know what was best for their kids and could not make the choices that were best for their children.
Today's motion is very much about the people who have not had choices, who know they have to go to work. They know that they need affordable early learning and child care spaces in order for them to do what they have decided is best for their child. For those families whose children are still on waiting lists and therefore have no choice, this is the insult of this government plan. It is referred to as choices in child care. In fact, it is a family allowance that has absolutely nothing to do with early learning and child care, and is indeed the most insulting thing that I have heard in a very long time.
There is too much misinformation out there and I think that it is extraordinarily important that the government understand how it is flying in the face of the public's understanding of the importance of the best possible experience for kids in their early years.
Statistically, 94% of Canadians know that the most critical years for brain development are in the first six years. Regardless of a family's background, 89% believe that poor quality child care hurts a child's development. Some 79% believe that child care providers who have had more training provide better care. Child care services have passed some important hurdles. It is extraordinarily important that the parents who need to go into the workforce do so and 94% of Canadians believe that child care is essential to allowing that decision. Approximately 90% know that it is important in assisting a child's education and 78% see it as important to developing stronger community ties. We all know that isolation is one of the most important determinants of poor health.
It is important as we go forward that we not deal with ideology. We should deal with the facts and the research that is there. In fact, province by province in this country, in determining what would be the best for the children of those provinces, elected to sign on to an agreement with the Government of Canada to use the $5 billion in a way that was completely flexible and best for the families in their province in order to go forward.
Three of the 10 agreements were fully funded before the NDP decided to sellout and help force the unnecessary election. In Ontario alone, 25,000 new spaces would have been created in the first two years, including investments in training in quality programming.
In Quebec, the aim of the agreement was to allow the province to reach its objective of 200,000 spaces in licensed services this year and improve both the quality and availability of training in all regards.
The Manitoba agreement, meanwhile, placed special emphasis on creating spaces in rural and remote areas, in stark contrast with this government's insistence that the Liberal government's early learning and child care strategy catered only to urban families. Quite clearly we have heard from many people in Manitoba how important this is in terms of protecting the family farm for those spouses who have had to come into town to work in a bank or a hospital in order to be able to keep the family farm. Those families know they need affordable quality child care, like in small-town Ontario, and this government does not seem to understand that.
Quite frankly, I am convinced that the Prime Minister and his caucus have never actually read these agreements, because it was so clear how carefully the provinces had designed what would be best for them. Other provinces had detailed plans. I think the members from Saskatchewan should understand that cancelling the full universal preschool program for all four year olds in the province of Saskatchewan is devastating to those people who thought those children would be going to school this fall, those people who thought they would be going into the workforce.
Alberta focused on training because in Alberta almost 80% of early learning and child care is done in the private sector. Those operators wanted to have those funds to be able to go back to school so they themselves could qualify as regulated child care space operators, with the understanding that parents have much more confidence in a place that knows the public health requirements and those kinds of things around exercise, nutrition and the training of those workers.
Last week the Leader of the Opposition and I were able to visit the Andrew Fleck Child Care centre here in Ottawa. It is one of the examples of the kind of quality child care that helps children get the best possible start in life. There is an exciting range of programs offered there, programs that are inclusive, supportive, flexible and fun for children. This is a centre that provides all kinds of care, including flexible hours, drop-ins and playgroups for families where a parent is able to stay at home. It is inclusive programing that meets the needs of today's diverse families, including those with special needs.
The Andrew Fleck centre is also designed to offer caregivers answers to questions with information about programs and services that are available for young children, and an opportunity to talk to early year professionals as well as other parents and caregivers in the community. It is a truly integrated service for Ottawans and their children and has been since the early 1900s.
It is what will happen to that centre that is the issue of today's motion. The two story building next door currently has 30 children and the funding the centre was to receive from the early learning and child care agreement would have been used to renovate the whole building and create an additional 34 spaces, including integrated spaces for those special needs children and especially those children with extraordinary special needs, children with autism, in order to help those families. Because the funding was lost, the centre cannot renovate. The building is now so old that there will be no spaces in the building. Essentially the loss of funding means the loss of 64 child care spaces for Andrew Fleck alone.
Meanwhile, this government's plan offers the vaguest of promises to create child care spaces. The government has backed away from the tax incentives as a solution because it now understands that it would not work and it is just not evidence based. There were seven pages in the plan for discussion of the new family allowance, yet less than a page for the discussion of creating spaces; it was funding starts only and costs only. There was nothing for the ongoing costs of service delivery and nothing to ensure the quality of care. It is the same approach that failed under Mike Harris, and here I have to say as a member of Parliament from Ontario that we cannot let the Prime Minister do to this country what Mike Harris did to Ontario.
The government keeps saying that giving parents money gives them choices. They cannot choose what does not exist. All families can benefit from child care and early learning services. I remember in the very early days of prenatal education how it was very important for people to understand that the community needed to help those expectant mothers and their families understand the best they could about how to become a parent.
Nobody would question the need for communities to support prenatal education. We are now saying that with extended parental leave and all of the exciting things that we as a Liberal government were able to do, it is a necessity to have parent-child drop-ins in communities, and it is important to have licensed child care, early learning activities and after school programs. We have to get around the rhetoric of this government, which continues to explain, as though we do not know, that parents are the experts.
Of course parents are the experts in terms of raising their children, but some of these experts, as parents, have come together in boards to put together what they think is the best for the community and their needs. Those parents now sit on those boards and are making sure that the experience of those children is the best it can be in terms of the best possible start in life.
The real catastrophe, however, is the fact that the plan gives little to those who need it most. Taxing the allowance based on the salary of the parent with the lower income means that low income families will keep only part of the allowance, while those better off will keep the most.
It is astounding that the $249 young child supplement is being eliminated so that wealthy families can have their share. Those on waiting lists will continue to wait. As we have said, there is the single mom who will not be able to go back to school and also what have seen on so many of the petitions, such as the nurse who thought she was going back into the health care sector but who will not be able to go back because her child will stay on a waiting list.
I thought that “a hand up, not a handout” used to be a Conservative mantra. What happened? How are single parents struggling to get off social assistance and get jobs or the training for better jobs going to do it if there is no one to look after their children? It has often been said that the real measure of a civilized society is in how it treats its most vulnerable. If that is true, then this so-called plan represents a giant step backwards. What happens when parents cannot read to their children?
As members know, Fraser Mustard has been studying this for a very long time. It is appalling that the government would not understand his extraordinarily seminal work in understanding what other countries around the world are picking up on, whether that is India, China or South America. It is going to be extraordinarily important that children have the capacity in terms of literacy to be able to compete in a globalized world, to be able to partake of a post-secondary education. We know that starts at the earliest possible time and that we actually must do this in order to compete economically in a globalized world. Besides, it is just the right thing to do.
There is huge evidence that money invested in early learning translates into savings down the road, both socially and economically, and in health care, social services and correctional services. We know that is the case. We know from these programs, particularly in Vancouver, that by having an early learning and child care program we can identify at the very earliest stage a child with FASD and be able to help that mom, who may herself have had FASD, get the kind of help that she needs for her dependence on drugs or alcohol, and for her then to have that kind of intervention so that she does not have a second, third, fourth or fifth child affected with FASD. If her first child had not been identified in a program such as this, she would go without those really important services.
I am offended that the minister, who knows that she is abandoning the most vulnerable of Canadians, would kind of deflect this by pitting families against one another, fanning the flames of this extraordinarily important choice that every family in this country makes in terms of what is the best choice for their families, also understanding that by taking away the choice for our most vulnerable families, she is putting our country at risk and she is flying in the face of basic Canadian values of social justice.
I am thankful for being able to articulate today how much the people of Canada support what was the Liberal plan. On January 23, 63% of Canadians supported a party that supported the Liberal plan for early learning and child development. It is extraordinarily important for us to understand that 89% of Canadians have been clear that it is important to offer the same level of services to everyone. Eighty-nine per cent have said it is important to make quality child care available to everyone. Eighty-eight per cent have said it is important that child care be inclusive for children with special needs. Ninety per cent have said it is important to make quality child care affordable for everybody.
It is so important now as we go forward to understand that the choices have to be real choices. There cannot be real choices if these families do not have a place in their community to take their children to if they are staying at home, to get the kinds of services they need or to be able to make a choice of re-entering the workforce and being confident every day they are in the workforce that their children are getting the best possible experience and the best possible start in life.
I cannot say strongly enough how proud I am of the Liberal record on this, how proud I am of how quickly after the member for LaSalle--Émard became Prime Minister that our minister was able to go across this country and negotiate these 10 deals with the provinces, because it is so important to those families and those communities.
We call upon the government to substantially increase its activities. Please listen to the research. Please do not hide behind individual little payouts and handouts. Give the vulnerable families in our country the handout they really need.
I hope we will see some changes. We cannot wait to see this approach dealt with properly in committee.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
The safe and well chosen care of our very youngest citizens is an issue of paramount importance for governments and, indeed, for millions of Canadians. It is therefore only proper that we debate this issue in Parliament. However, I would respectfully disagree with the basic tenet of today's motion.
The role of government is not to tell Canadians how and where to raise their children. It is to ensure a range of child care options is available to them and to help them take advantage of these broadened choices. That is the underlying premise of Canada's universal child care plan, one of the new government's five key priorities.
The cornerstone of the plan is a direct benefit to parents of $1,200 a year for every child under the age of six. Combined with numerous federal supports already available to Canadian families, this universal allowance would help parents afford the child care they choose. At the same time, the plan also recognizes that many parents find their choices are constrained by the acute shortage of good day care spaces, which is why, beginning in 2007, our plan will also invest $250 million annually in the creation of 25,000 new flexible child care spaces per year.
When it comes to child care, every family in Canada has its particular needs. Nine-to-five care in a regulated day care facility is used by the families of about 15% of preschool-aged children. Over half of all the families look after the children at home by themselves, or with the help of a close relative like a grandparent. There are many other alternatives, from nursery schools to informal care at neighbours' homes.
The unfortunate truth is that many Canadians do not have a real choice in child care because there simply are not enough options available. Some families cannot afford to let one parent stay home to care for the children. Others cannot find a suitable caregiver or a day care centre without a mile-long waiting list. Indeed, statistics do tell us that there are only sufficient formal day care spaces for one in every four children up to the age of five. That is where our government and its universal child care plan will make a real and tangible difference.
Beginning in July, the parents of each of Canada's 1.2 million preschoolers will be eligible to receive $1,200 per year to offset the costs of raising a young child. The money is there for the child who stays at home to be raised by mom or dad, or for the child cared for by someone else at home or perhaps a neighbour down the street, or for the child who does attend a day care. Whether the funds are used for books, musical instruments, enrolment fees at a nursery school or to boost a child's registered education savings plan, the choice would be made by the experts: the parents themselves.
I also want to underline that the universal child care benefit comes on top of the $13 billion a year that the government already invests in other supports for children and families. These include the Canada child tax benefit, the child disability benefit, the national child benefit supplement, the child care expense deduction, extended parental leave provisions and the Canada learning bond.
All that said, we also recognize that some people's options are limited by factors beyond their control. The shortage of day care spaces, for instance, is a legitimate concern. It restricts the choices of people living in big cities, as well as those in rural and remote parts of Canada. It is another concern that our universal child care plan seeks to address.
Beginning in 2007, in collaboration with provinces and territories, employers, community groups and non-governmental agencies, our objective will be to create 25,000 flexible community-based spaces per year.
We know better than to put forward a one size fits all program. We understand that not all Canadians can be served by the same uniform network of child care centres. I want to emphasize that the goal of the government is flexibility.
Once again we are vesting control in the real experts, the parents. The parents, along with co-ops, community organizations and non- governmental enterprises recognize the local need and they have a compelling reason to address it.
Here is how our proposal would work. Let us say an aboriginal community, a small town or big city neighbourhood suffered from a serious shortage of child care spaces. In conjunction with local businesses, provincial and territorial governments, non-profit institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, or other interested parties, the community would determine what kind of service was needed, regular nine to five facility perhaps, or maybe not. Perhaps it would something else more suited to shift workers or more suitable to seasonal employees.
For example, in Weyburn, Saskatchewan the Souris Valley Child Care Corporation is open from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday to Saturday helping to meet the needs of the health care workers at the Souris Valley Extended Care Centre.
The point is that the arrangement must be flexible to accommodate the needs of local parents. In rural Canada, parents and community organizations might unite to create a child care centre in some kind of multi-purpose establishment offering a range of services, including learning resources, a community centre, and outreach support for families with unique needs, for example, farmers, cultural communities or fishermen. In a town or small city, a group of employers might band together to offer child care for employees working shifts that run late into the night or on weekends.
An initiative as ambitious as this will obviously take careful planning. We will take the time to get it right. We will also be appointing an advisory committee to assist us in our efforts. Over the coming months we will be talking with provincial and territorial governments and drawing on the knowledge of employers and community groups and people who have had experience in developing innovative approaches to child care across Canada.
Most important, we will talk to the experts. We will talk to the parents. We will find out their needs and their priorities for child care.
Canada's universal child care plan has been designed with two things in mind: the well-being of the children and the freedom that parents gain through real and meaningful child care options.
We know this is the right way to go because parents have told us so, including many in my riding. Parents like Kim Krett of Saskatoon wrote in support of our plan because, “It gives parents the confidence that they can choose what is best for the child and that they are capable of making the right decision for their child”. Misty Cey, as a professional dietitian and the mother of two, also of Saskatoon, supports our plan because it shows parents that we value their choice.
Kim and Misty made it clear that they know how to raise their own children. They do not need us to tell them how to do it, but what they do need from us is a bit of help. That is what Canada's universal child care plan provides.
In addition to a practical and direct financial benefit for all parents of preschoolers, our plan will promote the creation of a substantial number of flexible child care spaces by the people who truly understand the particular needs of local communities.
I call on all hon. members to reject the motion before us because it is not flexible and it is not universal, and to support the speedy adoption of this government's important initiative by supporting the budget.
Mr. Christian Paradis (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the opposition day motion on child care.
This motion implies that the government is not keeping the promise it made to Canadians during the election campaign.
It suggests that Canadians were not aware of the two components of the universal child care plan: providing parents with an annual benefit of $1,200 for each child under the age of six years and creating 25,000 day care spaces a year starting in 2007.
This plan will honour the bilateral child care agreements made by the previous government for one year.
When our Prime Minister said publicly during the election campaign that we were going to create our own child care plan—not the previous government’s plan—he was not joking.
Canadians then took action and elected the Conservatives. We are respecting the democratic will.
The provinces and territories will receive full funding in 2006 and 2007, the transition period during which we will gradually terminate the child care agreements that were made.
During that year, Quebec will receive $152.8 million. It will have the latitude it needs to invest its share of the federal funding in child care and the well-being of families.
I would note that only three provinces had signed funding agreements, and each of those agreements included a provision permitting either party to terminate the agreement on 12 months’ notice.
I would also note that it is up to the provinces and territories to decide what child care strategy reflects the consensus of their populations.
As far as possible, the Government of Canada will respect the right of parents to choose what is best for their children and their families. We will respect the great diversity of this country, from one province to another and from one family to another.
The universal child care benefit amounts to $1,200 paid directly to parents every year, so that they can make choices that meet the needs of their families. This benefit helps parents during a time when expenses are high and income is lower.
No two families are the same. Every family is unique in itself. They live on farms, in small municipalities, on reserves, on the coast, in the urban core and in the suburbs. As a government, our role is to help parents raise their children in the best possible way.
By supporting parents in the formidable job of raising children, a job that contributes to the development of the nation, we are encouraging them to do even better.
Starting in July, parents will receive $100 a month for each child under the age of six years. That money will be taxable in the hands of the spouse with the lower income.
Parents may use the universal child care benefit in different ways. Parents may want to invest in a registered education savings plan for their children. Some parents may use it to enrol their children in a nursery school or junior kindergarten. Others may use it to pay for swimming lessons or to enrol in a sports league. Or this benefit may help a working parent to pay a family member or neighbour for child care. The benefit can also be applied to the child care expenses of a parent who works nights and weekends and who does not have access to daytime services.
I would like to remind the House that the universal child care benefit will complement a range of federal benefits offered to Canadian families: the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement, tax-free monthly payments to help families assume the costs of their children’s education; the child care expense deduction, which allows parents to deduct the cost of child care when they are working or studying; and extended parental leave, which provides parents with income support for a maximum of one year when they decide to stay at home to care for a newborn or a child they have just adopted.
It is a real feat for certain parents to earn their living while trying to provide their children with the best possible care. Not all parents can entrust their children to established day care centres: sometimes that option is impossible because of their hours of work or the fact that they live in a rural community.
Statistics Canada recently released a report on child care in Canada. It mentions the wide spectrum of choices that families make in the area of child care. It also indicates that in spite of the increased number of mothers working outside the home, nearly half of parents decide to care for their children themselves in the home.
For those who cannot manage this, the report says that a growing number of parents turn to family members to act as caregivers for their children, and others to friends and neighbours as well. In fact, only 15% of preschool children are enrolled in established day care centres.
We know that, of all the provinces and territories, it is Quebec that has the highest proportion of preschool children in day care, at nearly 52%. That tells us that the cost is very reasonable: seven dollars per day per child. There seems to be a consensus among the people of Quebec that this solution is right for them, and the province is willing to support it.
The Government of Canada recognizes this diversity among families and within our federation itself. Each province is developing a child care strategy that suits its culture and its social policy.
That is why we are offering another solution which will be based on and enhance the nine-to-five child care service model. Starting next year, we are resolved to join with employers, communities and the other governments to create up to 25,000 new child care spaces every year all across Canada.
The plan is simple: we want to offer choices in terms of the design and establishment of child care services. No government can impose a national child care system that is strict and closed to change.
In the months ahead, the Government of Canada will be speaking with employers, small and large businesses, community organizations, the provinces and territories, and people knowledgeable about innovative child care strategies. We will talk to parents to find out their needs and priorities in this regard. Above all, we want to support Canadians and Quebeckers in their important role of parent.
To close, I will mention that Canadians have voted for a government for which children are one of its five major priorities. Our objective is not to impose a solution, but to recognize the diversity of our country and the great ingenuity to be found in each of our communities.
Canadian parents are the real experts on child care. Let us support their choices.
Ms. Paule Brunelle (Trois-Rivières, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today about respect and what is needed to provide equitable child care services for all families. Among other things, we must speak about respect: respect for how Quebec is different, for our jurisdictions and powers, for Quebec’s financial needs for its day care system, and most importantly, respect for families. We also need to provide more support for families so that they can realize their desire to have children.
Quebec has given a lot of thought to this issue; it has found its solutions and wants its differences to be respected.
Family policy does not fall within the competence of the federal Parliament. Today’s debate strikes us as surreal: the Liberals want to convince us that their family policy is the best, the Conservatives want to convince us that their family policy is better than the Liberals’, and the New Democrats want to convince us that their family policy is better than that of the Liberals or the Conservatives. But what the three federalist parties need to understand is that family policy does not fall within the competence of this Parliament but rather of Quebec and the provinces. For us in the Bloc Québécois, the best family policy is the family policy that Quebeckers will decide upon on their own; in short, the policy that they themselves will choose.
It is very important for us, therefore, to respect our areas of jurisdiction. We have a day care system that is really in the vanguard of all that is done in North America. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the following, “There are, however, positive developments that are important to underline: The extraordinary advance made by Quebec, which has launched one of the most ambitious and interesting early education and care policies in North America. ... none of these provinces showed the same clarity of vision as Quebec in addressing the needs of young children and families”.
In order to have this day care system, of course, Quebec really needs a lot of funding. What we should talk about, therefore, is how to deal with this problem by settling the issue of the fiscal imbalance.
We have established our child care system and it is also a national early learning and child care system.
This Liberal motion says that we need proactive intergovernmental activity to create a child care system, but in our view this is wrong. Quebeckers have never asked Canadians for permission to develop a child care system. In our view, there is no question of that changing.
It is no accident that family policy is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. We just need to remember that it is closely connected to a society’s intrinsic culture and values.
All of that seems quite striking to me. This family allowance the Conservatives want to give, the $1,200 they say is equivalent to child care services, will never, in our opinion, amount to one. At best, it is a family allowance. They are forgetting the whole socialization and education component of a child care service. It must be seen as an integrated unit which prepares our children for school and their future. Quebec's day care network is integrated with a child care network in an educational setting and provides for socialization. Many studies have shown that our children will thus be prevented from dropping out of school and will avoid a number of learning problems.
So, clearly, Quebeckers will not accept the thrust of the motion, which is to have the federal government substantially increase its activities in this regard and provide Quebec families with preschool education programs. We can look after that ourselves, and education, like family policy, is a provincial matter. It is an integrated whole, and day care centres come under Quebec family policy, which includes parental leave and family support, where child care services come in. Separating child care services from family policy is a serious mistake.
We have no doubt that the Government of Quebec, the government closest to the people, can best understand the needs and determine the values and priorities of its society.
I quote the OECD once more:
|| As the experience of Quebec has shown, a rapid increase in expenditure is not enough—
Increasing spending alone is not enough to create day care spaces.
||—building administrative capacity is a key issue. Detailed strategizing and planning are necessary to expand a large system efficiently and coherently.
Citing the example of the recent budget tabled by the Conservatives, it provides for $175 million for day care. That really falls short. We do not think it is up to businesses or non-profit organizations completely separate from a network to create an effective day care system. This sort of thing was tried in Ontario and elsewhere, and it seems obvious to us that businesses lack the administrative capability. It is just not their job to establish day care services.
A system like Quebec's, which is managed by social economy enterprises and a board made up of parents, can truly meet needs and monitor changes in those needs. If a pan-Canadian system were put in place, we can imagine how complicated it would be to try to solve problems that have to do with people's day-to-day lives.
We reject federal standards in areas that do not come under federal jurisdiction. The motion mentions federal criteria for the quality and universality of child care and even the educational content, because the government wants child care facilities to promote child development. At least that is what they say. In our view, this federal approach is totally unrealistic and runs counter to our values and priorities. A Canada-wide network of child care facilities could not work. For the Bloc Québécois, it is out of the question.
Regarding the Canada child tax benefit, Quebec already rejected a federal family policy. The motion applauds the Liberals' income support programs, totalling more than $10 billion per year for families with children---that is, the Canada child tax benefit. I would like to remind this House that Quebec refused to implement the federal benefit and piggyback it onto its own programs.
I would remind this House of Quebec's position:
|| [Quebec] is opposed to implementing any pan-Canadian social program, such as the “national” child benefit, as this would mean that Quebec would not have full authority in this area.... The Government of Quebec has exclusive jurisdiction over social policies...and...intends to exercise full authority over this area in Quebec. Quebec therefore called on the federal government to transfer tax points or funding equivalent to federal expenditures for the child benefit in Quebec and any funding allocated to meet the goals of its family policy....
The motion says nothing about Quebec's opposition, even though Quebec's refusal was made clear in 1997 at the federal-provincial conference of ministers of social services in Toronto.
Are the supporters of this motion not aware that Quebec rejected the federal social program? The federal government created this program despite the division of powers. We cannot accept this motion as it is worded.
On the issue of child care, all Quebec wants is a new unconditional transfer and the possibility to opt out of any pan-Canadian program.
Certainly, the Conservatives' rejection of the agreement between Quebec and the federal government has increased the fiscal imbalance.
This has also reduced the Government of Quebec’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities, which include family policy.
It is imperative for the Bloc Québécois that Quebec recover the $807 million shortfall. There could be a new federal funding program for child care. There could be a specific agreement with Quebec. It could be part of fixing the fiscal imbalance. The Bloc could not support a motion that eliminates these three avenues right away. At least this agreement did not impose any conditions and did allow Quebec to pursue its development.
As for the $1,200 payment to parents, the Bloc Québécois is not opposed to the principle of this family allowance. Families certainly need funds, money and support. Direct payment to parents, however, is a form of interference in our fields of jurisdiction, although the Conservatives have promised to respect Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction. This allowance is taxable and is more to the advantage of well-off families than low-income families.
We are very disappointed that the government has not accepted the suggestion by the Bloc Québécois to have a refundable income tax credit. That kind of tax measure did not interfere and enabled us to grant a larger amount to disadvantaged families. In our opinion, this was a much more equitable solution, because it made it possible to help families in need.
While the hon. member was talking about flexibility, it is a shame that her government did not display any in this case. The only shortcoming the government agreed to correct concerns the reduction of benefits that the program would have entailed, including the Canada child tax benefit and the GST refund, which will be amended so that the $1,200 allowance does not penalize those most in need. Still, at the end of the year, when families have to declare this income, calculate the tax on it and then repay the government, they will realize the extent of the damage. This money will already be spent and long gone but the corresponding income tax will still have to be paid.
Quebec has always refused to let its family policy be decided by Ottawa. With these initiatives, the problem remains unsolved. Will Quebec agree to amend its laws and adapt its social programs to compensate for federal interference? We do not know. We do know, however, that the Government of Quebec said that the $1,200 will be taxable. That will again create new disputes, new tugs-of-war between Quebec and Ottawa. All this arises from this Conservative initiative, which is inconsistent with all our demands and wishes not to have our fields of jurisdiction invaded.
In Quebec, the huge coalition to maintain the child care network in Quebec, which represents over 200,000 members, is asking that the Conservative measure to be replaced with a refundable tax credit, a solution similar to the one proposed by the Bloc. The Conservative initiative has been widely criticized throughout Canada. It is too bad that the government is stubbornly refusing to amend it and correct its shortcomings. It is time to realize that, where issues like this are concerned, Quebec and Canada are working at cross purposes.
Quebeckers treasure their early childhood centres. As a woman and a mother, I had the privilege of knowing that my children were benefiting from quality services that were accessible at a reasonable price. I was able to witness, first hand, all the benefits for working mothers, who do not have to worry when they leave their children at a day care centre that provides quality services and opportunities for children to socialize and learn.
For Quebeckers, the obstacle to the development of the network is financial and, until sovereignty is achieved, it hinges on resolving the fiscal imbalance. Obviously, we will revisit this issue. Based on the text of this motion, the development of the child care network would fall under a federal child care program.
We understand that, for Canadians outside of Quebec, this may be logical and acceptable. For us, however, this is unacceptable. We already have such a network that works very well. We are at the forefront in this area. This whole child care issue once again illustrates the difference between Quebec and Canada.
In conclusion, as long as Quebec is part of Canada, it will prevent Canada from developing the coherence desired by the rest of the Canadian public, and Canada will prevent Quebec from developing at its own pace. It would be better for us to be good neighbours than a bad couple. Our relations could only be better.
In addition, I would like to put forward an amendment to this motion. I move, seconded by the hon. member for Montcalm, "That the motion be amended by adding after the word 'deserve' the following expression: 'by giving Quebec the unconditional right to opt out with full compensation'".
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Sault Ste. Marie.
Last week in Trinity--Spadina, I was at a wonderful event with many happy children and parents. It was the unveiling of Kensington Kids, a wonderful, new, community based, not for profit child care and early learning centre. Parents and children across Canada need affordable, accessible, quality centres like Kensington Kids. When the children entered the centre, I watched as they immediately started to laugh and play. Both the kids and the parents had beautiful smiles on their faces.
These parents have been waiting for child care for a long time. Kensington Kids child care centre is their choice. In fact, those parents helped create this child care centre. Because it is community based and is set in a public school, it is the parents who are on the board of directors. One of the parents, Lynne Woolcott, is the chairperson.
It is parents who want the best for their kids. These parents created the kind of child care centre they want for their children. It is their choice. They dreamed about this centre for a long time. It is based in a community school. The kindergarten teacher, Sandy Banting, explained to us the importance of early learning and child care. She said that kids who go to this centre enter kindergarten ready to learn and have a much better academic performance in grades 1 and 2 as a result.
A really cute little boy named Ryan asked me to give a message to the Prime Minister of Canada and to this House of Commons. He said he wants his little brother to be able to join him next year. That was his dream. I said “was”, but that is his dream and maybe that dream will not be fulfilled.
Parents and kids in my riding as well as those all around Toronto and right across Canada have been disappointed time and time again when we have tried to create new child care spaces. We have had 12 years of empty promises from the Liberals since the first time they promised a national child care program back in 1993. Finally last year, with the minority government, we saw some action and some federal funding. With that action, Toronto was able to give the green light to Kensington Kids, with the best start funding, to create badly needed new child care spaces.
Unfortunately, the child care agreements were not enshrined in legislation by the Liberals, so Kensington Kids did not secure multi-year funding. That means it will have no funding after this year. These happy, smiling children may be booted out by this government. They may be out in the cold. These children cannot wait another 12 years. They deserve better and so do their parents. Their dreams and their parents' choices have been crushed by this callous budget.
These parents and kids and early learning and child care experts face the real impact of the government's bogus $1,200 choice in child care scheme. As we have shown time and time again, this scheme provides no choice and no child care. It does not even provide the full $1,200. The government has dropped some of the clawbacks, but it has failed to protect the allowance in the child tax benefit, so it is still taxable.
As well, the government plans to take away the young child benefit. This young child supplement is $250. The government is reducing this allowance for the working families that need it most. This government is delivering more to the stay at home spouses of wealthy Canadians, not the working families who need child care, and certainly not to the kids. It is certainly not delivering to Kensington Kids. They had no reason to smile yesterday and they have no reason to smile today.
It is the same old story. This is another government that gives with one hand and takes with the other. With this budget, most working families will see only a couple of dollars a day at best. That is barely enough for diapers, let alone child care. It certainly is not enough to fund a quality centre like Kensington Kids.
This scheme is a cruel joke. Maybe we can call it a choice of diapers plan because at least diapers are available in shops but child care spaces are not. Thousands of kids are on waiting lists. This country can do better. We have waited too long and have had too many disappointments, and closing down a new and badly needed child care centre would be the cruelest joke of all.
For the sake of children, for Kensington kids and the parents, families and communities in my riding and all across Canada, New Democrats have been working on a three point plan: multi-year funding to create and sustain new child care spaces; the full $1,200 to families through the child tax benefit so it is not taxed back; and entrenching quality, accessible, affordable, not for profit child care in legislation, with the option, of course, for Quebec to opt out.
The Liberal opposition motion that we are debating today is well-meaning but it is vague and flawed. It is designed to let the government off the hook. It has a lot of bluster but not enough teeth. The Liberals may be distracted by the leadership race, I do not know. They seem to be more interested in blaming the NDP. They cannot get over the fact that it is Canadians who are tired of empty promises and corrupt government.
The motion today opens the door for the funding of corporate, big box child care rather than the public, not for profit, community based child care programs. The NDP would support a motion that specified not for profit child care. No taxpayer money should go to big box profiteers. We would also support a motion that required government accountability on child care.
Therefore, I would move, seconded by the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie, that the motion be amended by inserting “not for profit” before the word “facilities” in the last part of the motion and adding to the last part of the motion a new section, which would read as follows, “That the House urge the government to ensure that funds designated for early learning and child care are spent to deliver high quality, universally accessible, affordable and not for profit child care spaces, and that this House ask the government to report to Parliament in order to provide for transparency and accountability on how funds designated for child care have been spent by the end of the 2006 fiscal year”.
I urge all members of the House to do the best we can for the children of this country. We have the power to make children smile. Let us use that power wisely.
Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important subject this morning and to put a few thoughts on the record.
I spent a lot of time in the last Parliament working on this agenda, travelling the country, listening to parents, communities and advocates and hearing their very sincere requests for a national child care program.
I have to say at the outset that I am very concerned about the agenda of the government. I became even more concerned on Tuesday when I looked up in the gallery and saw Mr. Harris, the former premier of Ontario, listening to the budget being read. It was a bit of déjà vu all over again.
I was in Queen's Park in 1995 when the provincial Conservatives delivered their first budget and I must say that the damage is still reverberating in that province. It was the beginning of the dismantling and the consequent difficulties in our public education system, our post-secondary education system, our health care system and the list goes on. When all of these very valuable programs were put into place and substantial public money invested, they were challenged in the same way as the Conservatives and their supporters attack a new national child care program today.
However, I do want to address the inadequacy of the Liberal effort. The Liberals had over 13 years to build, thoughtfully and confidently, the best early learning and child care program in the world and to fund it generously with the surpluses they had generated year over year. Instead, they waited until the last hour, pushed by New Democrats in a minority government, to introduce a very half-hearted, lukewarm effort that was easy for the Conservative government to walk away from.
I tried and my caucus tried to get the Liberals to take some leadership with the provinces, in an accountable, transparent, full court press, and enshrine a national child care program in legislation, rooted in the principles put forward by communities, advocates and parents, a program based on quality, universality, accessibility, developmental and available to people challenged with disabilities, and a program delivered through a not for profit network across the country.
I met with the previous minister on many occasions and spoke to him precisely about this and asked him to consider our contribution. I think he was very sincere in listening to me and trying to factor that in but, alas, it seems there were forces afoot in the Liberal government of that day that would not allow him to go the distance. If it had been adequately funded, this would have provided real choice to families everywhere, in cities, towns, rural, northern and remote Canada.
I travelled the country last year meeting with and listening to parents, communities, advocates and experts. The experts we listened to were parents who had become frustrated with the lack of opportunity and choice for them in terms of child care and became active and involved. Some of them became involved in child care for their own children and now are grandparents fighting for child care for their grandchildren. They spoke overwhelmingly in support of a national child care program. They did not say that parents were not the primary care givers and ultimately responsible, or that parents were not good teachers and nurturers, but that many parents wanted more and needed help because of the changing nature of our society and our economy. Two parents working with no extended family close by and not sure who their neighbours were wanted assurances of quality, safety, consistency and learning.
People know the value of early learning, people like Charles Coffey, David Dodge and others from the financial world who speak about this. They talk about the value of early learning in later life as children become adults and participate in the economy and the way that they can contribute if they get that early start. They know the nature of work and that the workplace is changing, which calls for creativity and flexibility.
I was in Saskatchewan where I heard from farm families who asked me to make sure that they were not left out. Farming can often be dangerous. With both parents working, oftentimes off the farm, they want a safe, secure place to have their children nurtured and involved in early learning activities.
The offer in the budget by the government is totally inadequate. To emphasize and expand on the remarks by one parent of the argument made, “This will not provide more choice. It will reduce the potential in fact for greater choice”. Look at the response of a couple of families in my town of Sault Ste. Marie after the budget came out the other day.
One mother said, “I am a mother of three. I have a three year old, a two year old and a newborn baby of nine weeks. I am currently in subsidized housing and on maternity leave from my job. My husband has made the choice to stay home and raise our family. I am what you call a typical low income family here in Sault Ste. Marie. This is all well and good to say, but Mr. Harper is not helping low income Canadian families with his $1,200 per year per child subsidy. Even if I wanted a tax break, even if I wanted to put my children into day care, I could not afford it, because unsubsidized day care costs on the average $25 a day or more and only if the space is available”.
Here is another situation, and I dare say all members have the same situation in their ridings of people who have children but they are over six years of age. This is from a family in my community, “As you know, the province is using the last year of federal funding to fund the next four years and therefore, the cost per space has decreased significantly”. This is from a person working in child care, “In Sault Ste. Marie this is having a negative over all aspects of child care, including the elimination of summer programming for school age children”.
A woman with two kids over six wrote to say that she gets no allowance from the government and now hears that the programs for the summer have been scrapped because of the funding cuts. She does not know what she will do.
People in other communities are saying the same thing. A woman in Sudbury said, “It will take a lot more than a 1% reduction in the GST or a $100 a month child care allowance to endear greater Sudbury voters to the fiscal agenda of the Stephen Harper government”.
“A hundred dollars a month does not even come close to paying for a month of child care”, said Chris Kattle, a father of three children, “Creating more spaces is a better way to go. The way things are now, we have to give up our spaces every June and find new ones in September. There is no continuity or consistency for our girls”.
In the April 12, 2006 issue of The London Free Press, a letter to the editor stated:
|| While the Liberal program, like most of their promises, was too little, too late and too long between promise and delivery, it did move the affordable day-care challenge forward. The Tory program shuts down those gains and turns back the clock.
|| Their proposal, while allowing people to keep a bit more money in their own hands (the rich more so than others), does nothing to create the spaces needed, to ensure the spaces are licensed and to make them more affordable.
|| The City of London's research supports the position put forward by NDP MP Irene Mathyssen that more people can benefit from the same dollars by expanding the current program rather than shutting it down. Stephen Harper's Tories ignored ideology to appoint--
Right Hon. Paul Martin (LaSalle—Émard, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, this is my first speech in the House since the last election
First of all, I would like to thank the voters of LaSalle—Émard for placing their trust in me for the sixth consecutive time.
I rise today to discuss the importance of the Government of Canada honouring and building on the early learning and child care agreements signed with all 10 provinces over the course of the last year. Today the government is moving to implement a different plan, one that has at its core a theoretical payment of $1,200. There is a tactical elegance to this proposal. It is easy to understand. It is easy to remember. Furthermore, families need support, and I for one will not argue when it is provided.
However, the government claims that these cheques will provide tangible and fair assistance to families who need it. Furthermore, simply by distributing these cheques, the government says it will be giving Canadians a choice in child care. Again, the tactical elegance is who could possibly be against choice.
Therefore, in my remarks let me address not the government's political tactics, but on the basis of substance, the two important questions that we need to deal with. Is the government's plan truly fair? Does it provide real choice?
As the Caledon Institute of Social Policy predicted, and unfortunately it predicted correctly, “The new child care allowance will be a flawed scheme creating deep inequities”. For example, the Conservatives are going to cancel a young child supplement which goes to the most needy families. Why? They are going to do it to partially pay for the new benefits for better off families. They are doing this in the same budget that has actually increased income taxes for low income Canadians.
It is difficult to understand the perverse thinking that would take money out of the pockets of the working poor so that their better off brethren might benefit.
When we take a closer look at the proposed annual benefit, it boils down to a few dollars per day after taxes. That is fine if we wish to leave our child at the day care for 40 minutes per day and no longer.
For some families, especially low-income families, this benefit heralded by the government will be even smaller after taxes and clawbacks of other government benefits.
It amounts to a few dollars per day to help parents raise their children, whether they go to day care or remain at home. What choices do individuals have with these few dollars per day?
Giving parents a few dollars a day does not provide choice. It is not a child care strategy. It is not a child care solution. It does little to help those with children in care and it does nothing to help those who have trouble finding affordable quality care for their children.
Over the course of the last number of years, the federal government has pursued and implemented initiatives that were designed to make a real and positive difference in the lives of Canadian families.
We created the child tax benefit, over $10 billion a year in crucial income support to some three million families. We created the national child benefit. We created the young child supplement, so that families who need help most get it. We expanded maternity and parental leave benefits, so that mothers or fathers can spend up to a year at home with their babies. During the past two years, as the member for St. Paul's has said, we reached an agreement with every province to put in place a nationwide system of early learning and child care based on the principles of quality, accessibility, universality and development.
The member for York Centre and I travelled to provincial capitals to sign these agreements. Child care workers, families, volunteers, provincial premiers of all political parties, and ministers of all political stripes were there to welcome the birth of this program. Yet, the new federal Conservative government has attempted to characterize it as the state interfering in the parenting decisions of Canadian families.
This is not about and has never been about government telling Canadian parents how to raise their children. The government demonstrates an abysmal lack of understanding of how Canadians live today and the challenges that many families face when they make that allegation. Parents make their own decisions and what they have decided, out of necessity or out of choice, we ignore at the expense of the next generation.
At the present time, well over half of all Canadian children age five and under are in child care of some sort. Too often this occurs against virtually insurmountable odds, arising out of the difficulty in finding or affording quality care. When parents cannot find quality care, their children suffer and the family suffers.
A national child care program, in which all governments cooperate, is the nation standing behind the choice that more and more families have already made. Handing over a couple of dollars a day to Canadian families is not going to give them the ability to afford quality care, nor is a grant to build new spaces without recognizing the ongoing costs of operating those spaces anything more than a political patch for a deeply human need.
In short, the government speaks of providing choice, but it is a false choice that it is offering Canadians. It is a false choice it is offering families in need. Whereas, the national program that was signed last year by the federal government and all of the provinces provides the foundation for that choice.
So far in the national debate that is underway, concern has been focused primarily on the need to create new spaces, but as the member for St. Paul's said earlier, there is another aspect to the debate that is every bit as important. It is an aspect that in my belief has been insufficiently touched upon since the election. It is the need for early learning, the recognition of the importance to be paid to a child's development in the crucial years of zero to six.
As Dr. Fraser Mustard and the Hon. Margaret McCain said in their study entitled “The Early Years”:
|| We consider, in view of this evidence, that the period of early child development is equal to or, in some cases, greater in importance for the quality of the next generation than the periods children and youth spend in education or postsecondary education.
I would hope that the recognition of the importance of early learning in terms of its unique benefit to the child as a person would be enough to carry the debate, but in case it is not, let us look at a harder equation, one which might appeal to the government.
The Governor of the Bank of Canada has said that early learning is the single most important investment a society can make in its own future. James Heckman, the Nobel laureate economist, put it as follows:
|| We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age–a time when it may be too late to intervene.
He went on to say:
|| Since learning is a dynamic process, it is most effective when it begins at a young age and continues through adulthood.
Finally, a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in the United States, hardly the hotbed of left-wing social engineering, concluded that early childhood development should be at the top of a government's priorities, that such investments in children yield high public and private returns in terms of better schools, better workers and reduced crime. In short, learning begets learning; and skill begets skill. What greater gift can we give to our children?
The agreements that the Liberal government put in place with the provinces are not just about child care. They are about better care, with a real emphasis on development. The focus is not only on creating spaces, but on creating opportunity to providing a real head start for Canadian children.
We live in a country that, like many in the industrial world, is facing the challenges of an aging population. We have fewer young people supporting more older people. It is therefore more crucial than ever that the children of today and tomorrow are afforded the best opportunities, are given every advantage, and every possible chance to succeed.
This is true for the children of all Canadians. It is one of the most powerful economic arguments for the higher social principle of equality of opportunity. An argument that is made all the more powerful when one considers the needs of aboriginal Canadians who represent the youngest segment of our population and the needs of new Canadians who represent the fastest growing segment of our workforce.
The simple fact is that if we want to ensure that the children of all Canadians are given a head start in a world of ever increasing global competition, then we had better understand that what the current debate is really all about is how we provide all our children with the opportunity for early learning, not just a select few. Unfortunately, the government is walking away from a system that would do just that.
The presidents of a number of school boards and teachers federations said after the budget that “By failing to uphold the federal-provincial child care agreements, the Prime Minister and his government have chosen to forego a once in a generation opportunity to give our children the kind of start that assures their readiness to succeed in school and in life”.
The research is overwhelming, consistent and irrefutable, that children's readiness to learn at the start of grade one is the single greatest predictor of how they will do in school in every grade, whether they will graduate successfully, what their earning potential will be, how positive their contribution to society will be, and how healthy they will be. Every child deserves the best possible start in life.
Our social policy depicts our country as we would like it to be. This policy bears witness to a profound conviction: we feel that Canada's success depends on our common belief that we must not leave anyone behind.
Together we are stronger than any one individual on our side, and over the years it is this belief that has been the basis for so many Canadian success stories.
Today, we must act on this belief once again so that the requisite resources are made available to continue building a national day care system, a system adapted to the individual needs of the provinces and one that respects their areas of jurisdiction.
Over the last decade, we have accomplished remarkable things in Canada. We have eliminated the deficit. We have reduced our debt by over $60 billion. We have surpassed all other G-7 countries in terms of economic growth, employment and standard of living.
In the last decade, Canada's achievements have put us at the forefront of the world's evolution. We must not become complacent. Every day we are confronted by new challenges. We will meet these challenges only if we support Canadian families by building this generation's legacy to the next, a national program of early learning and child care so that Canadian children, regardless of income, can enter school ready to learn and succeed.
For years, we as a nation struggled to live within our means. We fought to curb the chronic deficits that ran up the national debt and hampered us from investing in the things that mattered most. But we did the hard work of eliminating the deficit. We did the hard work of putting in place the foundation for a nationwide system of early learning and child care, the first new social program in a generation and one that we must continue to build on.
What we have gained must not be lost. I ask indeed, by what intellectual rigidity does the government now tell us that child care is not a priority and that early learning is not a worthwhile goal? Today, we have the means to prepare Canada to succeed and our children to succeed. We have the opportunity to invest in our shared future. To achieve these goals we have to come together. We must recognize where lies the common good and that is the role of the federal government.
For sure, let the new government build on, let the new government improve on, that which has been achieved, but let it not seek to destroy that which has already been set in place with the provinces.
The role of government is not simply to govern for today. It must govern as well for tomorrow. That is what our first action on taking office was, to eliminate the deficit. That is why when we eliminated the deficit, our first budget was to bring in the education budget, and it is why the national child care and early learning program is so important. This is an approach that has produced the best country and one of the strongest economies in the world. We must not abandon that now.
The early learning and child care debate is not a debate only about the families of today. It is about the Canada of tomorrow. The choice that we make on child care and early learning will speak to the kind of society we want to have. The federal government has a duty to contribute to a culture of learning that goes to the heart of when learning begins, and to ensure that each child will get a better start, a better chance of thriving in the later years of school and in life. It is the right thing to do for children. It is the right thing to do for Canada.
Ms. Diane Ablonczy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell.
I am proud to say that this government is acting on behalf of Canadian children, every Canadian child and every Canadian family, because that is our commitment and that is what we are doing.
We all recognize that the most important investment we can make as a country is to help families raise their children. This is the most important work that parents do. Strong families ensure a bright and strong future for our country.
Equally though, the government understands, while the previous government never did, that no two Canadian families are alike. We also understand that parents with young children balance their work and their family lives in different ways and for different reasons. It is for that reason that we believe parents must be able to choose what type of child care is best for them and for their children.
I am proud that our government offers parents options through Canada's universal child care plan. Central to this plan is the universal child care benefit that places money in the hands of parents so they can make decisions regarding the needs of their families. Government should not be making these decisions. Bureaucrats should not be making these decisions. Parents should be making these decisions, and that is what we are supporting.
Effective July 1, Canadian families will receive $100 per month for each child under the age of six. Our plan is a balanced approach. It recognizes that parents are best placed to choose the type of child care that suits them. It is a plan to meet the needs of families, regardless of where they live, their hours of work and the choices they believe are best for their children. This plan supports parents and their freedom of choice.
A one-size-fits-all approach to child care simply does not work. It does not meet the needs of Canada's diversity. A Statistics Canada report, released on April 5 and entitled “Child Care in Canada”, shows that the choices families make in caring for their young children are manifold. There is a wide range of choices that parents make. Despite the increase in the number of mothers working outside the home, it is striking that almost half of parents still care for their children inside the home. For those parents who choose alternative forms of child care, most turn to family members, friends or community facilities. That is why, as part of Canada's universal child care plan, we are committed to introducing new measures that will help employers and communities build new spaces, where they are needed most, to help working families.
We have introduced a child care spaces initiative. We will create up to 25,000 new spaces per year. We are doing this with a concrete plan, not just throwing money out and crossing our fingers and closing our eyes. These spaces will be designed, created and delivered in the communities where parents work, live and raise their children.
It is important that these spaces not be designed by a government that believes it can tell parents what works best. These spaces will be designed by parents who know their children and who know what works best for them. These new child care spaces will be flexible and responsive to the needs of working families.
Our approach is to ensure that these measures work, not just for businesses but also for non-profit and community organizations, because we are going to provide them with incentives that will be translated into workplace based child care centres in big cities and rural areas, and for parents whose work hours do not fit a 9 to 5 model. We are not going to rush into an ill thought out, government imposed approach to creating child care spaces, because we are establishing an advisory committee of parents, businesses, non-profit employers and community organizations, as well as the provinces and territories. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be working with this broad-based advisory committee and drawing on its experience to promote the creation of new child care spaces.
These groups will be able to work together under our plan. They can form partnerships and we believe they will in many cases, with businesses and non-profit organizations partnering with the community to establish day care spaces.
In rural areas that do not have the quantity of resources available in the urban centres, employers could partner with parents and with community and farm organizations, such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, to create child care spaces in a multi-purpose child care centre offering child care and learning resources and family centred meeting places. These are some of the options that are already coming forward. These are just a few ideas, because this work is just beginning.
Canadians have already proven that they have the skill and the imagination to do this, and when it comes to finding the best care for their children, we trust parents and we trust the communities where these children live. I am confident that, through Canada's universal child care plan, new avenues to explore will come forward, avenues that lead to innovation and quality care that meet the individual needs of children, families and parents.
We know that Canadian parents support our plan. We have heard this from parents across the country. They have told us that our plan provides just the kind of flexible, responsive approach they are seeking.
Now, through the work that we will be doing, we will be hearing Canadians' ideas about how to make the plan work. We know that flexibility is a key because our goal is to meet the needs of all parents and all children regardless of their individual circumstances.
I am pleased to say that the premiers of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta have all endorsed this plan. The New Brunswick premier said, “I stated very clearly that I support the approach of the federal government to provide more choices to parents”.
Groups with an interest in child care have also voiced their support for our plan. Here are just a few: Advocates for Childcare Choice, Kids First Parent Association of Canada and Prairie Advocates for Childcare Choices.
I think the representatives of Advocates for Childcare Choice summed up exactly what we are trying to achieve through our plan when they said, “The proposal is going to give parents more flexibility, which is what they need”. They say, and we all know this:
|| Different families have different requirements: home-based business, shift work nurses who work 12-hour shifts...all kinds of people don't work 9 to 5...The greatest thing about [the plan] is the principle and philosophy that says each person, each parent, is in charge of their own child.
We trust parents, says the group. They are the ones who have the legal and moral duty and responsibility, and the right and privilege, to care for our children. That means they deserve flexibility to carry out those responsibilities.
Our universal child care plan is about flexibility. Our role as a government is to ensure flexibility. We are here to support families, to ensure they have choices and to respect their choices. That is what we deliver with our plan, Canada's universal child care plan.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am dividing my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.
I appreciate this opportunity to participate in today's debate to discuss a matter that is of vital importance both to Canada's parents and to all Canadians.
I am sure most Canadians can agree on one thing: our children must come first. Few issues matter more than ensuring our children get off to a good start in life.
I would like us all to take a minute this afternoon to reflect on what is happening in Canada. More than half of young Canadians under six years of age are cared for by someone other than their parents, often in arrangements that differ from one family to the next. Institutional day care does not necessarily suit all these families.
In fact, a recent Statistics Canada report found that only about 15% of preschool children are in formal day care centres. The biggest proportion, well over half of all children under the age of six, are actually cared for at home by mom, dad, a close relative or a neighbour. The report clearly shows the wide diversity of child care choices Canadian families make.
As the father of five children, I am well aware that there is no one size fits all solution to child care, and so too is this government. There was a time when four of my children were under the age of six. I can tell members that the Liberal government did nothing to help me or other families like mine.
What it did do was increase taxes and then insult parents by stating that the Liberals knew better than parents how best to raise their children. What arrogance. Earlier this week, we had a Liberal member implying that without the Liberal day care program crime would go up. It is unbelievable.
Canadian parents are the real experts on child care. They do not need to be told how to raise their children, least of all by government. Parents know best when it comes to raising their children and preparing them for future successes.
That being said, this Conservative government recognizes that parents could use a little financial help. That is why we want to provide parents with real choice in child care: so they can choose the best form of child care to meet their unique needs.
During the election campaign, we defended the right of families to choose for themselves the kind of care that suits their children. We want to give parents the right to decide what best meets their needs.
For this reason, one of the first actions that the government takes will be to give all parents of pre-school children a universal child care benefit. Beginning in July, Canadian families will receive $1,200 a year for every child under age six.
All parents will receive the universal child care benefit, regardless of the type of care that they choose. Whether they care for their children at home or have them cared for by a neighbour or family member, whether they send them to a day care or opt for something else, they will get the benefit.
We know that there are as many ways to raise a child as there are children. We understand that no two Canadian families are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for the other. Parents must be able to choose the child care that best suits their family. That is why parents could use this benefit as they see fit to pay for child care. It might be public or private child care, provided by a neighbour or a relative, or whatever works best.
Today many parents work evenings, weekends or night shifts to make ends meet. Other parents have seasonal work or run a small business from home. These parents need child care options to fit their families' unique schedules and needs.
The day care systems that work well in Canadian cities do not necessarily work well in rural areas, and vice versa. For example, in my riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, the Liberals’ institutionalized day care system would not work. There would not be any day care spaces in such small towns as Embrun, L'Orignal or Vankleek Hill.
Canadians want a system that suits all children and their parents, whether they live in a large urban centre or in a small town or on a family farm.
Quite simply, Canada's universal child care plan is about putting the choice for child care back into the hands of parents. We want to give Canada's parents the freedom to choose the best care for their own children. The universal child care benefit will help Canadian families in a very real and tangible way.
After 13 years of being told about grand designs for day care by the former government, Canadian parents were left with nothing more than empty promises. That is why Canadians voted for a new government that is making child care one of its top five priorities. This government honours its commitments and will follow through with child care.
We know that the right investments work wonders today and for decades to come. Strong families ensure a bright future for Canada. One of the most important investments we can make as a country is in our children. We are offering something real to all Canadian parents, something that will make life easier and help parents with their child care choices.
If we work together and get this budget passed, parents will receive their first cheques in July. Why would anyone want to deny parents this money? This allowance is in addition to the $13 billion that the Government of Canada already invests each year in Canadian families and children, including the Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement, the child care expense deduction and the Canada learning bond.
Some families will choose to send their child to a day care centre. However, as most Canadians know only too well, there are simply not enough spaces in day cares for the families that need them. This lack of spaces only aggravates the stress that the families of today already feel. That is where the second part of the government’s new child care system comes into play.
We are going to introduce new measures to help businesses and non-profit organizations create child care spaces where they are needed most. To that end, our plan will invest $250 million per year to create 25,000 more child care spaces per year across Canada beginning in 2007. These are spaces that will be designed, created and delivered in the communities where parents live, work and raise their children. They will be flexible and responsive to the needs of working families.
Our solution is to help employers and community organizations to create new child care spaces that make sense for the way Canadian families live and work in their communities today. We will be working with provinces and territories, businesses, communities and non-profit organizations to make sure we get this initiative right.
Unlike the previous government's record, which is one of neglect and inaction, this government has a real plan to support Canadian families. Simply put, Canada's new government is going to the wall on the issues that matter most to Canadian families and children.
The lives of our children are very dear to us.
During the last election campaign, we made a firm promise to protect Canadian families.
Protecting Canadian families means protecting all kinds of families—whether they are urban or rural, whether they consist of two parents or one, whether the parents are in the labour force or stay at home.
For too long, the people in power have been dismissing the difficulties that hard-working parents face.
Let us give hard-working Canadian families the choices they need to raise their children as they see fit. Let us give Canadian parents a break. Let us give Canadian families a real choice in child care with Canada's universal child care plan.
Hon. Ken Dryden (York Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga—Erindale.
Truthiness: something that is spoken as if true that one wants others to believe is true, that said often enough with enough voices orchestrated in behind it, might even sound true, but is not true.
Truthiness: $1,200 a year before taxes for every child under the age of six. The words say it is for child care but of course the money can be spent on anything: a brace for a child with a disability; for parents who work hard and never get a break, a night out; gas for the car. All good things, maybe necessary things, but still anything.
This is not a voucher and yet it is called the universal child care benefit. It could be called a universal transportation benefit, an affordable housing benefit. We could call it anything we want. And theatrical indignation and political outrage do not make it any different.
Truthiness: The word “universal”; we think of universal in terms of education or health care, something that is for everyone, but something that also meets basically all our needs in education or health.
Here, $1,200 before taxes. After taxes, for a family with an average income, less than half, less than $2 a day.
The average cost of child care in this country is $8,000 a year. Even your neighbour down the street who takes in two or three other kids costs more than $5,000 a year.
Here, $1,200 a year before taxes; after taxes, for a family with an average income, it amounts to less than $2 a day. The average cost of child care is $8,000 a year. It even costs the neighbour down the street, who takes in two or three other kids, more than $5,000 a year. However, the government says it is for everyone so it is universal. If we were to give 10¢ to everyone that would also be universal.
Truthiness: choice. Let us take the full $1,200 a year and imagine that every penny of it will go for child care, to give every benefit of the doubt. Let us pretend that truthfulness is actually truth. Will that $1,200 a year enable a family to afford to choose child care when otherwise it could not? Will it enable it to afford truly better child care? Will it put enough more money into child care as a whole to enable notoriously poorly paid child care educators to get paid better, to encourage the right people into the field and to keep them there, to offer the safe, interesting, exciting learning place parents want for their kids? No, no and no.
Will it enable a family to make a different choice? For one parent, usually a woman, to leave the outside workplace where she earns an average salary of $25,000, perhaps $17,000 or $18,000 after taxes, because now she has $1,200 or less in her pocket; $17,000 or $1,200. Let us see. Choice. Providing a broader inability to do just about everything. Choice? No.
Truthiness: the national system of early learning and child care we were creating with the provinces, the Conservatives called it “institutionalized child care”, “socialist style child care”. “Just governments putting money into each other's pockets”.
We have no federal child care centres and no provincial child care centres. What we do have are some municipal child care centres. They know that. The biggest child care provider in the country is the YMCA. The great majority are Bunny Bear Day Care and Tiny Tots Day Care. They know. They are in their ridings. Do Canadians talk about kindergarten and elementary school as institutionalized education? I do not think so. Why here?
“The only experts are mom and dad”, the Conservatives like to say. Moms and dads are experts. They have to be. However, what do moms and dads say about their daughter's grade two teacher? Is it possible that here and there parents might be looking for a little help to help them be even better parents?
Truthiness: Why say things that they know are wrong? Why do they not want the public to understand? What are they trying to do here and for what purpose?
The $250 million a year to build child care spaces is for bricks and mortar. We have a shortage of spaces and we have wait lists. If we encourage businesses and community groups to build these spaces, the logic goes that they will come. Who will come? Who can afford $8,000 a year. That is more than it is for university. We must remember that there is no other money here for subsidies. Who will come and who will not come and, if they do not come, who will build it?
Truthiness: The $1,200, let us call it what it is. It is a family allowance. If that is what makes the government proud then it should be proud of it. It should be proud of the truth but it is the truthfulness that is wrong, obscene and offensive.
It is the same throughout this budget for low and middle income Canadians, for aboriginal peoples, for students and for the environment. The government offers some programs because Canadians have said that each matters and matters a lot. It uses words that suggest more, deliver less.
It is veneer. It is about now. It is about me. It is about illusion. We all want more money in our pockets, but Canadians also want more money in other people's pockets too. We want it now but for the future as well. To many people, this budget appeals to the least in us. We are so much more. This country is so much more.
It is veneer. It is about now. It is about me. It is about illusion. We all want more money in our pockets but Canadians also want more money in other people's pockets too. We all want now but we all want for the future as well. This budget appeals to the least in us. We are so much more. This country is so much more: not a vision but a blink.
What are the words we hear most often about the Conservatives' campaign platform in the last election and about this budget? It is clever. It is smart politically. All that is said with a sense of admiration for pulling it off, for its truthiness, and all the time in a rush to the next election wanting to move so fast our heads cannot stop spinning long enough for us to discover what truthiness really means. But in order for them to win the next election, who has to lose?
Black is black and white is white except if we need black to be white and then we call it white. We do it again and again, louder and longer, until black seems white. However, it is not and it will not be. In the Conservatives' early learning and child care and the rest, the more we look the less is there. Truthiness.
Mr. Omar Alghabra (Mississauga—Erindale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to express my disappointment with the recent budget announcement. As a newly elected MP, who has been entrusted by the voters of Mississauga—Erindale, I came to the House with a sense of great responsibility and a determination to protect the interests of Canadians. Above all, I am committed to working positively with the members of the House for the collective good of our nation.
I will be honest. I was looking for reasons to celebrate the budget. It contains some reasonable proposals. We all welcome the idea of reducing taxes. The more I studied the budget, the more concerned I became. I felt like someone who has just been told that they won a fancy car, but after the excitement had faded and after reading the terms and conditions, I realized that I had to keep up the hefty monthly payments, which I cannot afford.
The Conservative government had the benefit of inheriting one of the strongest fiscal conditions in recent history. Instead of building on the best track record of the G-7 nations, it opted for a one-dimensional, short-sighted approach. If we believe that the federal government has a role to play in investing in the prosperity and unity of our country, we will find that the budget misses the mark. The Conservative budget will weaken our federal government, as it shows a disregard for its responsibilities to the public.
The budget has serious shortfalls. Raising income tax less than seven months after it had been reduced by the previous government is unacceptable. Reducing the GST should not be at the expense of increasing income taxes on the lowest income tax bracket. If the government truly believed that the GST cut would balance out this increase, why did it not opt to raise income tax on the highest bracket instead of the lowest?
Also of concern, the Conservative government is breaking a major election campaign promise. It committed to help new Canadians in accrediting their foreign credentials. The Conservatives committed no money and outlined no plan to deliver this promise. Taking steps toward the creation of an agency does not fulfill their promise, and it is just not good enough. I know I have the unfortunate task of breaking this news to thousands of new Canadians who live in my riding.
However, even more disheartening, is that early learning and childhood programs have been neglected and hundreds of thousands of child care spaces across Canada are at risk. Working families have been advocating for more choice in affordable and high quality child care. The government is ignoring their call and cancelling the agreements that were struck with the provinces. Despite what the government claims, this will take away the choice for most working families and set our country back more than 30 years.
In the Peel Region alone, the previous Liberal plan, which had already been negotiated and agreed upon with the province of Ontario, would have created about 2,100 new child care spaces. Now it is all gone because of a government that wants to take the choice away from working parents.
The hopes of many parents have been devastating and the plans of many child care facilities have been destroyed. There are 1,100 children on a waiting list right now for child care spaces in the city of Mississauga alone. Those families were not forced by the Liberal government to sign up for that waiting list. Now these children and their parents have to fend for themselves because the Conservative government does not care about them.
The proposed taxable $1,200 is a great child bonus that will be helpful to any family, but will it actually cover the cost of child care? The average cost of day care in Mississauga is about $800 to $900 a month. With that calculation, a parent requires $9,600 a year to cover child care expenses. That is far more than what the government is paying a family for the whole year under its plan and that is only if the parents are able to find a quality space for their children.
What is next? Will the government end funding public education and give parents money and say the choice is theirs?
In my riding there is a great disappointment that funding has been reduced and will come to an end. Waiting lists for fee subsidies and special needs resourcing exist now and are growing, but the Conservative plan will do nothing to help the situation. The notion that its proposal offers a choice is outrageous and must be exposed. It takes away their choice. Parents who work hard and contribute to our economy and prosperity will soon realize that they cannot afford nor find quality spaces for their children. This takes away any choice they have and may require one parent, who is often the mother, to stay at home with the child.
I would like to draw attention to a recent study conducted in Alberta. The study showed that given the lack of quality, affordable child care spaces in Alberta, the participation of women in the workforce has declined to one of the lowest in our country after being one of the highest. A government sponsored early childhood learning program not only ensures quality and accessible spaces, but it provides parents with a real choice. A parent can choose to stay at home with their child and possibly receive the child tax benefit, which could amount to thousands of dollars per year, or they could choose to use a high quality day care program and maintain a career of their choosing. It is a shame that the government does not realize that.
If one believes the government does not carry the burden of ensuring the collective good of its citizens and can afford to fend for themselves, then one would cheer the budget. However, like the majority of Canadians, I feel the government has the responsibility to invest in its citizens, in its future generations and to build for the prosperity of our nation.
I point out that the budget failed miserably to address the environment, education, multiculturalism, immigration, resource and development and aboriginal needs. We in Ontario have seen what a simplistic, short-sighted ideological government can do. Premier Mike Harris, who was here on Tuesday cheering on the architect of the horrendous financial and social failures in Ontario during the nineties, and who also happens to be the current spokesperson for this budget, has left deep wounds in Ontario from which we are still trying to recover.
If I did not care and if I were a cynic, I would have chosen to stand by the sideline and watch with interest how the government is digging a hole for itself and let it expose its incompetence on its own. However, my concern is the government will not damage its credibility, but irreversibly damage the fiscal and social foundation of our country.
The government has chosen to mortgage the future of our country and hide the fine print from Canadians. It has no plan and no vision.
On behalf of children, students, aboriginals, farmers, immigrants, environment, working families and all Canadians, I ask the government not to allow ideology to dictate its action. I ask them not to do it for me, not to do it for the people who voted for me, but do it for the people who voted for them expecting that they would treat them with respect.
Ms. France Bonsant (Compton—Stanstead, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member from Laval.
Today's debate is becoming surrealistic. The Liberals want to convince us that their family policy is better than the Conservatives’; the Conservatives are trying to have us think that the $1,200 family allowance is better than the Liberals’; and the NDP is attempting to convince us that its family policy is better than the ones proposed by the other two parties. None of these three parties seems to realize that family policies are the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
For the Bloc Québécois, the best family policy for Quebec is the one developed by the members of the National Assembly, in collaboration with civil society in Quebec. It is not surprising that Canada wishes to acquire a child care system based on the Quebec model, since Quebec’s is the best model ever, according to the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The creation of these centres, however, is not within federal jurisdiction, but within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
The early childhood centres contribute a lot to Quebec. For example, they make it possible for women to get back into the labour market after having a baby. For someone earning a small salary and wishing to get back into the labour market, it is much better to pay $7 a day for child care than the $30 that it would normally cost. Quebec developed a family policy for itself in order to help those young women and the young women who wish to go back to school but cannot afford to pay $150 a week for child care. Once again, it is preferable to pay $7 a day. Early childhood centres are non-profit agencies that provide a structure for children to help them progress in society.
The $7 a day early childhood centres have an economic impact. These women who are returning to the labour market pay income taxes to the government. If the early childhood centres cost $150 a week, we do not think that these same women and these young families would get back into the labour market. We are thus investing in our young people and our children, as well as in the young women and young men who wish to get back into the labour market. This also helps our children grow. Early childhood centres are like little schools where children learn to grow. They are also in contact with other children and are properly supervised during the day. Thus they can progress. This is the choice made by Quebec and it is a very good investment.
The Liberal motion mentions that proactive intergovernmental measures are necessary. That is false, because Quebec did not give permission and certainly did not wait for whomever it might be to create its own child care system.
I have nothing against the provinces creating child care centres. That is their choice. Each province should invest in that, it is not up to Parliament to do it for them, or to impose its terms. Family policy is under provincial jurisdiction, because it is closely connected with the transmission of values and culture. And in that vein, child care centres socialize and educate our young children.
In any event, Quebeckers do not want their money to be invested in federal interference, unlike the Liberals who have interfered in the provinces’ jurisdictions for over 100 years. Child care centres must absolutely remain under provincial jurisdiction, and in Quebec they must be managed by Quebeckers. But we will give this a chance.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased with the agreement for $1.1 billion that came out of the child care agreement. Unfortunately, Quebec is losing $800 million because the Conservatives have thrown that agreement overboard, even though it was welcomed in Canada and in Quebec.
Canada had its child care centres and Quebec had its financial contribution.
The Conservatives are now offering families a taxable benefit of $1,200. The Bloc does not oppose this measure in principle, but it could be unfair and it has serious flaws. Instead, the Bloc proposes a refundable tax credit that will be equitable for families.
The government has fixed some of the flaws; for instance, its benefit will not affect the national child benefit. This is only a start, which the Bloc welcomes, but there are other things to be done in order to keep moving forward.
The Bloc Québécois also welcomed the government’s plan to put an end to the fiscal imbalance. Obviously, the $800 million that Quebec has lost is included in the solution. We are extremely pleased.
In the meantime, the fiscal imbalance must certainly not be exacerbated, as the Liberals are still proposing. When the fiscal imbalance is corrected, Quebec and the provinces could be in charge of their own investment choices, which include education, health and child care.
As well, since Quebec established its early childhood centres, Quebec and Ottawa have been pocketing even more of the taxpayers’ money. The government confiscates $250 million from parents in Quebec, an average of $1,300 per child. That is more than the taxable $1,200 that the government is offering them in the recent budget.
The Bloc Québécois has for years been calling on the government to transfer the money it is saving on the backs of Quebeckers to Quebec. However you look at it, those are our taxes. Transferring it back would enable Quebec to invest in its family policy, among other things.
The Bloc Québécois is grateful for the concern of Canadians who want to raise our children, but we will tell them no, thank you, because we are grownups and we prefer to look after it ourselves.
Quebec has an effective child care system that is the envy of the rest of Canada and the world. We are very proud of it.
I would like to point out that if the fiscal imbalance were solved—better yet, if we were a sovereign country—we would not be here debating a societal choice that should be made only by Quebeckers. While we wait for that magical moment to come, the Bloc Québécois will continue to put its heart and soul into defending the interests of Quebec’s families.