The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Ms. Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will share my time with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.
It is with great sadness that I rise in the House today because, in many regards, the motion before us forces us towards a sad conclusion. My speech here this morning will focus mainly on the part of the motion that deals with the cuts made to Status of Women Canada.
For the past several weeks, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women has been hearing from representatives of women's groups directly affected by these cuts. These women's groups have made remarkable progress in achieving gender equality within our society for the women of Quebec and Canada.
These women have travelled from across the country to try to convince the government to reverse its decision. What is most shocking about these cuts is that they have been made deliberately.
The Minister for the Status of Women even stated—she had the audacity to say—that 12 of the 16 Status of Women Canada offices were being closed because the employees in those offices provided too much support to groups that lobby for women's rights rather than focussing on providing direct services to women.
First, I would remind the minister that direct services fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Second, it is extremely pernicious to do this sort of thing. It shows very little respect for women who are fighting to obtain their rights.
I fail to understand. Every day, it seems, this government tells us that Canadians are important to it and that it wants what is best for them. But every day, it seems, as a result of ideological decisions, the government makes them more vulnerable. I can not understand it. Women represent 52% of the population. Women all across Canada are protesting these cuts. To date, there is perhaps one group that I have heard of that was in favour of these cuts. That group is REAL Women of Canada.
I remind members that REAL Women of Canada represents 50,000 people while we represent 52% of the population, that is almost 18 million women. Consequently, 50,000 people out of 18 million is a very small number on which to base the policies that affect all women.
In addition, Gwen O'Reilly of the Northwestern Ontario Women's Center tells us that the cuts affect all the groups in communities that benefited from the services that were previously offered: francophones, aboriginal people, rural residents, and women’s groups working on issues of poverty, violence, access to justice and employment.
Yet, in December 2005, the Prime Minister made an election promise to respect and promote the human rights of women.
Where is he now? When do we hear him standing to speak out against the decisions of his ministers? Women know that he is not listening, as Mrs. Day of CFAIA put it so well.
Clearly, this government is very hostile toward women who form groups to defend and promote the principle of equality for women. The closing of 12 offices is an extreme measure to ensure that women’s organizations can no longer participate and make their voices heard in the development of public policies.
It is shameful to treat women this way, to try to muzzle them and to try to ensure that women will no longer have the chance to be heard in defence of their rights. It is shameful. I would even say that by changing this program into a program of services to individuals, the government wants to make women even more dependent.
The women of Quebec and of Canada do not need charity. That is what the government is now doing by changing these programs; it is offering charity. For too long, women were under the thumb of the Church. Everything they received was given as charity; they had no rights; they had to bend to the will of people who decided what rights we were entitled to.
Now, women have come into their own. We have developed tools and programs to ensure that all women have the same rights, that all women will have access to equality and that all women will have access to equity.
These budget cuts are designed to ensure that we will return to the middle ages and that women will become “real women”. That may be the Prime Minister's position. In my opinion, real women are persons unto themselves and REAL Women of Canada does not represent all Canadian women and especially not me. I consider myself to be a real woman and I believe that I have the right to express my disagreement when I do not agree with the decisions made for me and not by me.
As I was saying, Quebec and Canadian women do not need charity. We thirst for justice, equity and respect. Even though the Prime Minister and the Minister of Status of Women are trying to silence us, we will be heard. We will continue to speak out until the Prime Minister, his Minister of Status of Women, his cabinet and his members have understood and reinstate the programs and tools needed to attain these objectives of respect, rights, justice and equity.
Ms. Paule Brunelle (Trois-Rivières, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to talk about the part of this motion concerning the Conservative government's misconception that Canadians are not in favour of increasing the number of child care spaces on a national basis.
Let us not forget that supporting families is essential. In Quebec, three family support initiatives are the pillars of our program to help families. These three initiatives are financial support for families, increased number of child care spaces and the implementation of the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.
This support is intended to promote equality between men and women, so that equality will no longer be a right, as it is today, but a fact.
All governments must truly commit to supporting families. Need I remind this house that 74% of women who have children under the age of six are in the work force? Need I remind this House that women are the heads of single parent families, the poorest families in our society? They need this support.
This support is necessary and part of it is the balance between work and family life. This work and family balance can only be achieved if the child care network is effective, financially accessible and available—in other words, it needs to be a top-notch child care network. When all these conditions are met, parents can satisfy their desire to have children.
The Canada-Quebec agreement on child care services and early learning was signed on October 28, 2005. This is a good agreement. The Bloc Québécois asked for it for years. We finally got it after a tough fight.
Unfortunately, one of the first things the Conservative government did when it came into power was to end this agreement and dig in its heels to oppose this way of doing things that was so appreciated by the majority of parents in Quebec. No one was complaining about this agreement. It truly gave the Government of Quebec the latitude to focus on its own jurisdiction and provide top-notch child care services.
The government responded with its new policy. Its right-wing vision—which we are seeing more frequently—does not meet the expectations of most Quebeckers; it only satisfies a small minority of people.
When the Canada-Quebec child care agreement ends, there will be a shortfall of $269 million a year for Quebec. This will further accentuate the fiscal imbalance. Our needs still exist in Quebec and the money still remains here in Ottawa.
After being elected, the Conservative government announced an annual allowance of $1,200. This allowance does not equal child care, and it is taxable. When the time comes to fill out their next tax return, Canadians will let us know that this amount is taxable.
For parents who are less well off, this diminishes the chances of receiving help from other levels of government. This amount is therefore further reduced.
The Bloc Québécois proposed that this $1,200 be given in the form of a refundable tax credit. This would have cost the government no more money and would have helped families that are less well off. The government ignored this proposal, which upset many taxpayers. More right-wing bills!
However, the Conservative government must acknowledge that it made a big mistake in cancelling this agreement. Quebec's family support program—although not perfect and constantly evolving—is valued by Quebeckers. It has even been recognized by the OECD. As I already mentioned, Quebec families are supported through comprehensive, harmonized measures, policies and programs.
I would like to remind the members that it is up to Quebec to set its own standards. We must respect the its jurisdiction and allow Quebec to retain complete control over education and child care issues.
It is clear that Quebec is satisfying expectations. Thanks to these measures and according to the latest statistics, the number of births rose gradually between 2003 and 2005 from just under 74,000 to just over 76,000. The rate of increase accelerated in 2006; the most recent estimates indicate that there were 82,500 births in 2006, the most recorded in Quebec since 1997.
It appears that when we support women and families and provide a fair and accessible child care system, we can increase the number of children, who are certainly our greatest treasure.
In 2003, Quebec's goal was to create 200,000 more child care spaces. The province met that goal.
The Bloc Québécois will support today's motion because the Conservative government is imposing an ideological agenda that is too socially conservative, pigheaded, and not in line with what the people want. Child care services are a right, not a privilege. The women of Quebec and Canada are clamouring for it, and they expect their governments to support them. To ensure our children's future, we must provide quality child care services as part of an education system that is worthy of a developed country like Canada.
Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Canadians who may be watching this debate must be very frustrated listening to members of each party criticizing members of other parties. We have a blame game going on. I think the experience of life for many Canadians is one of a deterioration of their standard of living and a nervousness about their future and their children's future.
However, I do not want anyone to get me wrong. There is certainly lots of blame to go around and much of that has been put on the table this morning.
Canadians have real concerns about their day to day lives that they want to see their government address. I want to touch on a few of the issues that have been brought to me by my constituents in Parkdale—High Park in Toronto.
The first concern is on the issue of child care. I have been campaigning for a national child care program since before my children were born. My youngest son is 21 years old and we still do not have a national child care program. However, during that time we have seen a generational change where in the 1970s only about one-third of mothers with children under the age of five were in the paid workforce and now we see almost three-quarters of mothers with children under five in the paid workforce. We have seen a massive social change during this period.
Successive federal governments have failed to address this change. Canada is one of the few developed, industrialized democracies that does not have a national early learning and development program for its children.
I have campaigned for many years in my community on the need for a national, not for profit, good quality child care program that puts the needs of our kids front and centre. It would not replace the role of parents. It would embrace the role that parents play and try to help them in every way possible.
Unfortunately, governments after governments have squandered the opportunity. Even when we had successive balanced budgets and successive majority governments, especially by the previous Liberal government, there was too little too late. There was a kind of deathbed conversion to the issue of child care that, unfortunately, squandered the opportunity.
To now see the current government roll back the baby steps taken by the previous government in terms of provincial agreements on early childhood development is, quite frankly, shocking. For the government to replace that with a kind of taxable baby bonus and to tie that up in a bow and pretend it is child care, people do not buy it.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to say that I will be splitting my time with my colleague here.
For the government to pretend that what is being offered to parents is a baby bonus, is quite a dissimilation. We need to recognize that the majority of parents are facing a difficult reality today. I know that in my riding the child care fees go anywhere from $800 up to $1,400 for a child and yet the waiting lists are long. In some child care centres hundreds of kids are on the waiting lists. Parents are at their wits end trying to deal with the situation.
Child care is an urgent crisis and I do not think Canadians care which party deals with it, they just want it dealt with. They want the blame game to stop and they want parties to get on with representing them here in the House of Commons and make progress on the things that affect their daily lives.
In my community there has been a real deterioration and a growing poverty. Studies have called it the growing gap. We see people who increasingly are working for very low wages. Housing costs are skyrocketing. The average cost of renting an apartment in my riding is about $1,000. People simply cannot afford this. Transit costs a lot. People need to travel great distances to get to work.
We know that in the 1990s there were massive cuts to social spending and most of that money was never restored. Welfare rates were cut, the national housing strategy was cut and people with disabilities and mental illness were left to fend for themselves.
Many university students in my riding have massive student loans and incredible debt that weighs on their shoulders when they finish university. Many graduates start out really terrified because many of them cannot get a job. Even after they graduate, it could take a number of years to find a job with a sufficient income to pay down their incredible debt.
Our cities, where 80% of the Canadian population lives, are stretched to the limit. The cost of services are being downloaded onto our cities. They have a $60 billion infrastructure deficit. They lack a national urban transit strategy, which is something for which I have been calling for some time. They are struggling to pay for things through property taxes, things that ought to be paid for through our income taxes. This has had the inevitable impact of a deterioration in our quality of life, especially our environment with the growing smog in our urban centres, and the deterioration of our water systems. My riding borders on Lake Ontario.
I think what Canadians need to judge all representatives by, especially governments now and past, is not what they say, especially when they are in opposition, but what they do when they are in power.
The challenge for the current government is to use this opportunity today to make, what I think has been a deteriorating situation in our country, it better, certainly not to make it worse.
One of the very bad decisions being made by the government is around politicizing judicial appointments. This is very dangerous. We have seen south of the border what happens when judicial appointments are politicized and how very dangerous that situation can be.
Last night, I joined a number of members from this House to celebrate the successful outcome of the Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh situations, who, unfortunately, were the victims of a climate of fear created after the September 11 attacks and the casting of a net so wide that it began to undermine our democratic rights and freedoms. It was, in part, because of a courageous judge who spoke the truth and cleared Mr. Arar's name, that ultimately led to his exoneration and finally to a public apology by the Prime Minister. Hopefully, the family will now be able to get their lives back on track.
However, that case hit home once again the importance of an independent judiciary and the importance of having our fundamental human rights and our democratic rights protected at all costs.
We also have great concern with the government cancelling the court challenges program. It is a very small amount of money in a multi-billion dollar government. It is only $5 million to ensure that those whose rights are supposed to be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually have access to the necessary legal processes to have those rights defended.
When a francophone, a woman, a lesbian, a gay, a bisexual or a transgendered person, a person with a disability, a first nations person, whoever a person is, does not have access to the halls of power, to have the court challenges program as a safety measure to ensure their rights are protected is fundamental. I see no justification for the complete elimination of this program. I find that very troubling. Because so many disadvantaged people have had to seek their rights through the courts, I believe this is a provision that must be enshrined.
I have spoken out many times against the cuts to women's programs and literacy programs. It is important that these programs be restored and that opposition voices be guaranteed in our country. It is a sign of maturity and security on the part of a government when it not only allows opposition voices but in fact encourages and fosters opposition voices. That is a sign of a healthy democracy.
As Canadians listen to these debates, they expect us all, whatever party we are in, to do better and to act on behalf of the good of all Canadians.
Ms. Penny Priddy (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share the member's time.
When I talk to people in the constituency of Surrey North, which I have the privilege of representing, they talk to me about the things that matter in their weekly lives which is really what matters to most of us. People talk to me about being concerned about affordability, about being able to afford things for their children for school. Many of them despair of ever being able to afford to send their sons and daughters to anything past high school, the trades, apprenticeship, college, university. They know there is a growing gap between what they have and what other people have. They see that growing gap and it frustrates them and they do not understand it. They expect their elected representatives to do the job we were elected to do which is to represent them.
As I look at today's motion put forward by the Liberals, there are some comments I would like to make.
I am very concerned about child care and child care choice. I have spent most of my paid and unpaid adult working life, which is longer than I might even want to say, looking for child care opportunities for families, not just child care during regular workday hours, but child care that is within the reach of everyone, regardless of what they do for a living. I still do not see that.
I was very disappointed. I worked with the Liberal government in the early 1990s, from 1991 to 1996, looking at universal child care and a national child care initiative. If that had worked and had been in place, we would not be standing here now saying that the lack of child care is the crisis that it is, because it would have happened. It would have had roots and would have been in place. It would not have been something that could have been so easily cancelled by the current Conservative government.
When the Conservative government cancelled the national child care strategy, it also sent a message to provinces about the lack of importance of child care. What the Conservatives did was not child care choice. One hundred dollars a month before taxes is not child care choice. No one would deny that parents could use an extra $100 a month, or whatever it is after taxes, to provide support for their sons and daughters, although they must be under six years old. After a child reaches six years of age, what does the child care choice become? It does nothing for child care. It creates no spaces. It trains no child care providers. It speaks not at all to the needs of a child over the age of five. I would hope that the Conservative government is not suggesting that children who are six, seven and eight would provide their own care. This really has created a crisis across this country.
I was very interested in the cancelling of the Status of Women offices. One of the best pieces of research I have ever seen done by that office was about how to get more women into government. From looking at the Conservative caucus, I would have thought that the Conservatives would want that research to continue. Surely the Conservative Party more than any other party in this House could use that research about how to have more women elected as part of that party. That was very puzzling. I hope it does not mean that the Conservatives do not want more women as part of their caucus. That was the research that was going on and they certainly could use that assistance, I would suggest.
People in Surrey North are very concerned about the affordability of housing. The amount of CMHC money going into Surrey North this year is $48,000 for the entire constituency. That will do some rent subsidy I am sure, but it is not going to get housing for the homeless and it is not going to help with affordable housing for people in any significant way. If people do not have a safe home, they cannot raise their children in safety.
Speaking of safety and the cutting of child care, the Conservatives talk a lot about crime but they do not talk very much about the prevention of crime. Anybody knows that child care and good early childhood initiatives and interventions would make an enormous difference in preventing children from getting into crime and making those very bad choices that lead them down that road. The Conservatives are at the other end around punishment, but they have cut off the avenues of preventing the crime in the first place by cancelling the child care initiatives. In many ways that is a travesty.
I have noticed the Conservative government reaching out into the ethnic community. Every time I turn around there are Conservative members at events in my riding. I know the Prime Minister has been there. But on truly embracing cultural diversity, where are the centres on credentialing? Where are the centres where physicians, nurses, teachers, engineers and accountants can have their credentials from other countries assessed? We welcomed those people to Canada to address skills shortages because they had those degrees.
I have a motion on the notice paper, but I do not know how quickly it will come forward. The motion talks about seniors from other countries, in particular, India, who cannot collect the seniors pension even if they are citizens in this country. They live in poverty. They cannot collect a pension because we do not have a signed treaty with that one country. Many people from India have contributed to our country, but they cannot have a seniors pension for 10 years, even though they are working, contributing and volunteering in their communities, because India is not one of the, I do not know, 112 countries that have signed a treaty. That has been raised with the government on a number of occasions and there has been no action on it.
I agree with my colleague who just spoke, that people who elect us to come here judge us by what we say and what we stand for. People will judge governments in power by their actions, not by what they say they are going to do, not by what they say they care about, but by what they do.
I do not see the kind of action that will make a difference for the people I have the privilege to know and to work with in Surrey North. A post-secondary education is no closer for the children of those people who cannot afford the still very large tuition fees. Many people want their sons and daughters--many daughters, I hope--to go into apprenticeships and work in the trades because they can make a good living. We have a huge skills shortage in British Columbia because of the building boom. Their sons and daughters cannot take advantage of that opportunity because it is too expensive and there has not been enough money put into the post-secondary education envelope and student loans for those people to afford it.
People just want their lives to be a bit better. They want to have a bit of hope for the future, just like all of us do. They want to know they are doing the best they can for their children. They do not expect miracles. They do not expect to be rich. They do not expect special privileges. They just expect to live safely in their communities with access to the kind of resources that their families might need. That is not what they are seeing. That is how the government will be judged.
There are some missed opportunities, as I said, with child care. The child care initiative could have had deep roots if the Liberal government had moved on it when it was first discussed. I do not know when it was first discussed, but when I first started discussing it with the federal government was in 1991. It would have had deep, deep roots in the community by now and would have created more spaces.
The issue around protecting and promoting linguistic and cultural diversity that is in the Liberal opposition motion is an important one. We cannot just go into communities that have contributed to this country at the last minute, whether they are Asian, South Asian or whatever the country of origin is, and try to make friends without addressing the things that those people have said are important: the seniors pension for people in the South Asian community; credentialling for people from every community.
People ask what we do for foreign trained physicians in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mostly we just let them drive taxi cabs because we do not have a way that they can be credentialled, even though the federal government encouraged them to come. It said we needed physicians. It said we needed accountants. It said we needed engineers. But there they are, driving taxi cabs. There is nothing wrong with driving a taxi cab, but they want to use the skills in the profession for which they were trained.
There have been many missed opportunities by the previous government and there have certainly been choices made by the Conservative government that will not give more hope, a better life, and a little bit of hope for the future to the constituents of Surrey North. It will simply reinforce for them that there is indeed a growing gap, that they are at the bottom of that growing gap, and that they are not going to be able to provide the kind of future that they want to see.
My constituents do not care who we are here. They do not care what colour hats we wear. They just want us to do our jobs, make their families safer, and let them provide good lives for themselves and their families.
Mr. Michael Savage (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to split my time with my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
I welcome the opportunity to speak today on the motion presented by our distinguished colleague, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Today we are debating a motion that goes to the heart of what I think troubles Canadians very much. We are discovering what I think people knew or at least had an inclination, but are now finding confirmed, that the party that forms government in Canada across the aisle is a narrow-minded, meanspirited, ideological-driven government whose primary objective is to emasculate the role of the federal government, and in doing so cause Canadians to be disconnected from their national government and I would say from each other.
It occurs to me that the government loves power but hates government, especially good government. There was a time in Canada when we had two major parties in the House of Commons, the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, with varying philosophies but in general recognized and continued the social infrastructure of Canada of which Canadians are proud.
There was a time we could count on reasonable and fair government, whether it was our party or the Progressive Conservative Party. Ours was better, but at least we knew that Canada would not be dismantled while the PCs were in power.
Canadians knew they could count on a moderate government, one that acted in the national interest and that despite our differences would attempt to do what was right.
A few years ago the member for Central Nova killed the Progressive Conservative Party shortly after saying that he would not. The current Conservative Party is obviously not progressive. I suspect most of my colleagues on the other side would be offended to be called progressive. In fact, they are regressive in every sense of the word.
I would like to speak to this motion today specifically on the issue of skills development and education and to a part of Canada that I think the government forgets and that is the people of Canada and in particular, the most vulnerable people in Canada.
I asked a question this week of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development on why he and his government slashed $55 million from the summer career placement program or as many of us know as the summer grants program. Since its inception in the mid-1990s it has employed hundreds of thousands of students across Canada. It was also a program that helped many worthwhile community organizations, not for profits, to obtain a little extra help from students who brought their energy and talent to organizations that in most cases actually related to their field of study. To many students these summer jobs represented the only chance they had to earn some money and to help pay their way through university or community college.
The response we got was no response. Instead, we got non-answers while students and community groups are left to wonder what will happen. There is still no information available on the HRSD website, directing students or community groups as to what will happen with what is left of that funding. It is a disgrace.
There is no legitimate reason why this important program would be slashed except in the case that the government does not believe in helping students or that the government does not believe in continuing Liberal programs, even Liberal programs that most of its members would concede work.
We know that students were not the only Canadians who were victims of the government. Last year in my community of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour the recipients of grants from the student summer career placement programs were the East Dartmouth Boys and Girls Club, the Cole Harbour Boys and Girls Club, Dartmouth Public Housing, the MS Society of Canada, Regal Road United Baptist Church, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Dartmouth Day Care.
Every single grant in my riding went to a not for profit organization. There are no Exxons here, there is no GE, and there are no large companies benefiting from this program. That was one of the reasons that was used when the program was virtually dismantled in the fall.
Study after study has suggested that one of the great challenges facing Canada is the shortage of skilled labour to meet the demand of the labour market. Yet sadly, at least nine million Canadians suffer from lack of literacy, unable to obtain the necessary training and skills needed to compete for those jobs.
It is shameful that those who are illiterate, the vast majority of whom happen to be poor, have been singled out, targeted by the government with millions and millions of dollars taken away from literacy funding.
The money allocated by the previous government did not go to pay big salaries. It did not go to pay for huge administrative costs. The money for literacy went to help ordinary Canadians who could not read or write. The funding was beginning to make a difference where individuals were obtaining the reading and writing skills necessary to get a decent job and in doing so, providing for their families and making a contribution to their communities.
The Movement for Canadian Literacy could be days away from closing down permanently. Ann Marie Downie, who runs Literacy Nova Scotia, has told me that her organization and the other 30 community organizations that work with her to provide training to learners will probably have to close their doors maybe within months, but certainly within the next year. Why then would the government cut funding to literacy?
Next up on the chopping block is the $5 million cut to the Status of Women. For some reason the $1,000 a day limo minister of heritage decided that cutting support for women's organizations was in the best interest of government.
The history of the women's movement in Canada is one of hard work and dedication to equal rights, the inclusion of women and their equality in the charter. This work continues to seek greater equity in Canadian society for women and yet the funding was cut. It makes no sense. Again, I would suggest the Conservative government loves power but hates government.
While the Conservatives have slashed social programs that are valued by Canadians, they have undertaken what can only be called a massive orgy of pork-barrelling. Since they have come into power they have hired friends, party hacks, and major contributors to their right wing party. In Atlantic Canada, it seems every new senior official appointed to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has been a Conservative, and yet they have the temerity to lecture others about accountability.
Their blatant stacking of the judicial committees threatens not only the independence of the justice system, but it is an attempt to go after the charter, a document that has always made elements of that party uncomfortable, including its leader, the Prime Minister. The Conservatives have stacked the judicial committees for no other reason than to appoint right wing judges that will render the charter hollow. That is their goal. There can be no doubt.
Today in James Travers' column in the Toronto Star, and he is certainly far from being a card carrying Liberal, he suggests that:
|| Woven through its declared willingness to ride roughshod over Parliament is the same single-minded determination that is driving its attempts to add partisanship and ideology to the appointment of judges. Both are risky steps in the wrong direction...Reversing the trend away from a politicized appointment process by loading the screening committee is as damaging as what it's doing to Parliament. Along with raising the U.S. spectre of mixing personal beliefs with legal competence, it erodes public confidence in an independent judiciary.
There are a lot of comparisons between the Conservative government and the government in the United States right now under President George Bush. Canadians are beginning to realize that the current government in many ways is in lockstep with the right wing values of its republican friends to the south.
Whether it is cuts to students, women's groups, literacy, court challenges program, or the assault on the charter, we now know that in May 2005 the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was replaced by a narrow, right wing party that seeks to eradicate the role of the Canadian government and unravel what Canadians feel brings them together.
I would say that generations of Canadian governments, Progressive Conservative and Liberal, have focused on building a stronger, united Canada. Today's government is focused on creating a reduced and divided Canada, a Canada where the federal government abdicates and off-loads its responsibilities to the most vulnerable, and those members do not want to talk about it.
Canadians do want to talk about it. They want a generous nation, a big nation, a strong nation, a nation that knows that we are stronger when we take care of the most vulnerable, and make them part of the success and the future prosperity of Canada. That is what the Liberal Party believes as well.
Hon. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to outline what the Conservative government has done to our country because we have never seen anything like this before.
A large social engineering project is occurring, masterminded by the Conservative government, and it is below the radar screen of many Canadians. The implications of this are quite enormous. Although much of the package sounds good, it goes against common good public policy.
It is not only retail politics trumping fact based public policy, it is much more than that. It is seeding a rigorous social Conservative view in politics, education and the bureaucracy. It is a marriage between social Conservative religious groups and one political party, the Conservative Party.
All people have an absolute right to believe in whatever they want. Indeed, any religious group can lobby any political party or government as hard as it wants. However, we draw the line at responsibility. A government is responsible to ensure that religion and politics are separate. This is an unsaid but widely accepted viewpoint of most Canadians. Out of respect for people's religious views, we do not marry or mix religion and politics. However, that is not what has occurred.
I will speak about the implications of this in a moment. The fact is it will affect and has affected everything from Parliament to the courts, to the media, to education and to the bureaucracy. Parliament has largely become, at least within the government, a dictatorship where power has been centralized within the Prime Minister's office, ignoring good advice from bureaucracies, his own MPs and cabinet.
It must be an unsatisfying and soul destroying experience to be members of the government now and to be seen as little more than potted plants, not listened to or respected by the Prime Minister. This is a very dangerous situation for all who voted for individuals and expected their members of Parliament to advocate for them in a constructive way in the House.
The courts have also been changed, as we saw recently. The current grouping, in terms of deciding who will be judges, has changed quite significantly and has been stacked with individuals who reflect the social conservative values of the Prime Minister.
The media is in the hands of a small number of people. I know this is not a very satisfying situation for many journalists. That does not have anything to do with the government, but having media centralization in a small number of hands stultifies different viewpoints and does not allow the Canadian public to see the breadth of views out there. It is not a healthy situation for strong public discourse.
The implications are quite serious, and I will go through some of them.
The first is the loss of democracy. We have a situation where the power is controlled by and large within the Prime Minister's office and the hands of a very few. We know that party would have supported Canada joining the U.S. in the war in Iraq. Imagine if the U.S. invades Iran. If the U.S. were to ask the government to join in that fight, what would it do? Would it support it? If it did, It would be a devastating.
On cuts to the poor, the government does not even pretend to advocate for the poor. It raised the income tax rate on the poor and dropped the basic personal exemption. As a result that, the poorest in our society have been hammered and have less money in their pockets now than ever before. The discrepancy between the haves and the have nots are widening.
On child care, as colleagues have mentioned before, $3.5 billion have been cut. In my province of British Columbia as well as in all other provinces it has had a profound impact on child care workers, spaces, parents and families. They do not have the choice that the party across the way professes to give Canadians.
Furthermore, the $1,200 child care benefit is taxed. Because of that what ends up in people's pockets is a fraction of that $1,200. In fact, it amounts to about $2 a day. That is not child care, those are not spaces and that is not a choice. The 25,000 spaces that were promised by the government so far amount to zero.
On the issue of human reproductive technologies, another board has been stacked by the government, filled with people who are anti-choice. The implications of this in terms of embryonic stem cell research are devastating for our researchers. As a result, Canadian research into embryonic stem cell activities will be crushed and the ability of our researchers to engage in the lifesaving research required to deal with diseases, such as cancers, will be snuffed.
On the issue of productivity, the government has been silent, riding on the wave of the Liberals, who created a healthy economy for Canada.
On health care, we fought hard to keep the needle exchange program in Vancouver. Did the government extend it for three years as had been requested? No. It extended for one year in a sudden death decision. This is a research program that saves lives and money and reduces crime. However, because of an ideological approach, the government has not extended the program past the one year, a program that has proven to save lives. In fact, the government has ignored the facts in The Lancet and other world renowned medical magazines.
The Prime Minister's foreign affairs platform can basically be described as improving Canada-U.S. relations. What happened to the rest of the world? Clearly, Canada-U.S. relations are exceedingly important, but the world is a lot bigger than this continent.
Where is the government on the Sudan? It is missing in action. Where is the government on the Middle East? Quite rightly, it supports Israel and its peace and security, as we all do. However, where is the government on the crisis in Gaza? It rightly removed funding from Hamas, but it is nowhere in being able to alleviate the catastrophic situation taking place on the ground in the Gaza Strip. People dying of preventable causes right now.
Afghanistan is one of the most egregious situations that has taken place while the government has been in power. The public, and unfortunately members of our beloved military, believe the government is doing things in their favour. What they do not know is the government has used our troops as a political pawn for its own political benefit.
The government gave the House 48 hours to make a decision, which was the most important decision that any of us had to make, on whether to put the lives of our troops on the line for our country. Yet, the public does not know that.
The government got it wrong. It did not have the development package correct. It did not have the political package correct. As a result and as we see from Senlis Council briefings and other people on the ground, we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Why? The government does not have a plan for dealing with the poppy crop. It does not have a plan for training the Afghan national police. It does not have a plan for dealing with the insurgency coming from outside. As a result, our troops, which are bleeding for our interests and those of Afghanistan, do not have the backup they require to do the job.
Political solutions are required to deal with Afghanistan and the government is missing in action. It did not get it right when it rammed this through Parliament and it does not have it right now. It is leaving our troops bereft and on the side to do the hard work without giving them the backup on the ground. That is reprehensible.
The government needs to listen to the solutions that are being offered. They would make that mission a success and would allow our troops to be safe and get out by 2009, with respect to the combat aspects.
I might add that the poppy crop eradication process taking place right now is going to dramatically increase insecurity for our troops. Therefore, I demand that the government speak to the United States and the United Kingdom and stop this plan. The farmers have said that if we take away their poppy crops, we will destroy their ability to provide for our families and because of that they will join the Taliban.
Why does the Prime Minister not pick up the phone and speak to President Bush and tell him to stop? Why does he not do the same for Mr. Blair? If it that does not happen, the attacks against our troops will increase. I demand that the government do this, and do it now.
I know government members do not have the power because the Prime Minister controls everything, but I encourage them, within their caucus and publicly, to speak out on the good public policies they would like to have their government adopt in the interest of their constituents and in the interest of our country.
Mrs. Joy Smith (Kildonan—St. Paul, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.
I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. Unlike the motion by the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, I will be brief and I will stick to the point.
The omnibus motion before the House today is reminiscent of the Liberal Party of the past. It is an indication of what would come should the Liberals ever have the opportunity to form government again. It should remind us that all that party is is a party in disarray, a party that cannot pick priorities and a party that is obviously facing division within its own ranks. The motion touches on Kyoto, day care, agriculture, justice, linguistic duality, the Wheat Board and the Status of Women Canada. It is the latter that I will discuss this afternoon.
For months now, the opposition has been attempting to mislead Canadian women about what has been happening since we formed government. There has been a great deal of discussion around the renewed terms and conditions of the women's program and the new criteria for funding. We believe advocacy has a role to play. Canada's new government believes that now is the time to act and we want to focus taxpayers' dollars towards action. We have the studies; we know there are problems. Instead of wasting time discussing the issues, our government is looking at tangible ways in which we can make a difference now.
For example, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is dealing with matrimonial property rights for aboriginal women. Our government increased funding to on reserve family violence shelters by $6 million. As well, the minister announced $450 million for improving water supply and housing on reserve, education outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families, real money in the hands of organizations that are on the ground working to make a difference.
In terms of human trafficking, the former minister of citizenship and immigration developed a program to offer victims temporary visas. Human trafficking is on the rise and the majority of those trafficked are women. They are brought to this country and are forced into a life of prostitution. Instead of being treated as criminals, our government will issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days and will provide the necessary health care required free of charge.
Women's issues are issues that all Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers are concerned about, not just one minister, all cabinet ministers. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced $4.48 million to help retrain women on social assistance in New Brunswick. This three year pilot project called Partners Building Futures will help women on social assistance get the training necessary to find jobs.
As well, the minister has introduced legislation, Bill C-36, that will make it easier for Canadians to access the guaranteed income supplement. The guaranteed income supplement pays out $6.2 billion a year and goes to 1.5 million low income seniors who are mostly women. This is real change that will affect people right where they live in our communities across our nation.
In one short year we have introduced the universal child care benefit to help women and their families in their homes. We have implemented patient wait time guarantees for prenatal aboriginal women. We have expanded eligibility for compassionate caregivers, most of whom are women. We have introduced pension splitting for senior citizens. We have targeted tax cuts like the GST, the textbook credit and the credit for families with children involved in physical activity to ensure that families are supported. This is real change, ideas and policies that are making a difference in real Canadian women's lives.
This government is committed to action in terms of women and justice issues. There are stories in the paper every day about repeat offenders, men who have abused their wives, children or girlfriends, who are back on the streets putting lives in danger because law enforcement does not have the necessary tools. Domestic violence is an issue that this government takes seriously.
The Minister of Justice has brought forward tougher legislation. We need effective sentencing where dealing with sexual predators and repeat offenders is addressed. We need to end conditional sentencing and raise the age of protection. This is critical.
Canada's new government believes in supporting programs that have a direct impact on women. We believe in putting money into the hands of groups that will help women in their communities.
In October 2005 Canada was cited by the United Nations committee on human rights as failing to adequately address the high rate of violence against aboriginal women. These women and their children deserve safe communities. This is why Canada's new government has committed to the multi-year funding of $1 million a year until the year 2011 to the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Sisters in Spirit initiative addresses the high rates of racialized, sexualized violence against aboriginal women. This project will have a direct benefit on the lives of aboriginal women in their communities.
There is no simple answer. The economic security of women can be traced back as a root cause of the problems women face on a daily basis. We need to ask how we can work together to alleviate these problems, and how we can work with the provinces to better provide services for women. That is one issue which the status of women committee is addressing as we speak. The committee is taking a look at the economic security of women all across our nation.
When a woman faces domestic violence, what can we do to help her get herself out of that cycle of abuse? How can we help women to get out of these situations, to find jobs, build homes, be self-sustaining? We need to let women know that there are other options enabling them the opportunity to change their lives.
The idea that this government is trying to silence women or their advocacy groups is completely ludicrous. I would like to put our partisan political differences aside and work with all members of this House to ensure that we are making a difference in the lives of women all across Canada.
It is imperative that action replace words. It is imperative that problems are solved so women in their daily lives, in their homes and communities all across this nation can get the assurance and support that they need.
It is a pleasure to be here today working with our government in terms of putting words into action.
Mr. Mike Lake (Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the motion of the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, particularly with respect to plans for child care. It gives Canadians who are following this debate a chance to see whether the new member brings a new and fresh perspective to the tired old policy that Canadians rejected a year ago last month.
The Liberals first promised in their 1993 red book to deliver a child care plan. Canadians waited. And they waited. I do not know where the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore was for the past 13 years, but Canadians like us waited 13 years for Liberals like him to tell us what their plan was. When the Liberals finally got around to telling us the plan, they got it wrong in the eyes of Canadian parents.
Before the last election, Canadian parents said they were looking for choice in child care. What did the Liberals offer? A cookie-cutter approach to child care.
Canadian families are diverse. The Liberals ignored our diversity. Some families are looking for spaces like the Liberals promised, and we will begin delivering in the upcoming fiscal year. Many others only need access to part time child care. Others are looking for flexibility of care to meet their rotating shifts. Still others want to stay at home or have a trusted family member or neighbour care for their children.
The former Liberal government's child care plan offered these families nothing. Under the Liberals, only a select group would benefit. Anyone looking for something other than a regulated, nine to five, child care space got nothing. Regular Canadian families got nothing from the Liberals.
That was the old Liberals' plan. Since then, we have had an election where that plan was up against our plan for choice in child care, and it lost. Since then, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore came back to Canada. Since then, the member had a chance to listen to families in his riding, families who do shift work and families from China and India who have more than one generation under the same roof and prefer having grandparents help raise the kids.
The member has had time to listen to Canadians who looked at the child care options they were presented last election, Canadians such as Kate Tennier of Advocates for Child Care Choice, who was quoted in the December 5, 2005 National Post as saying, “You might have a perfectly good grandmother or neighbour to look after your children, but you are forced into regulated day care” under the Liberals' plan.
What new plan does this new member bring us? The same old tired Liberal child care plan that Canadians said they did not want. Rather than rejuvenating the Liberals with fresh ideas, it looks like the old Liberals were able to get to him and make him sound just like them. Too bad it does not sound anything like what Canadians sound like.
In fact, the most recent statement of what Canadians want in child care comes from Today's Parent magazine. Today's Parent polled Canadian parents. Results were published in this month's edition and they show a mere 16% of parents looking for child care spaces and the Liberal plan. They show that 38% prefer to have a parent stay at home and 17% use relatives. These families want support too.
Conservatives are listening to Canadians. Only the Conservatives offered Canadians support for their choice in child care. The good news for Canadian families is that we did not take 13 years to do it, like the Liberals did.
The new government's choice in child care plan will see an investment of over $12 billion over five years. The Liberals promised less than half that. The new government delivers support directly to families for their choice in child care. The Liberals transferred less funding to provincial bureaucracies, with no accountability measures for what the money should deliver.
In fact, the shortcomings of the Liberal plan were so stark that they led no less than former Liberal deputy leader Sheila Copps to comment, “The last agreement actually saw some provinces rake in millions in cash without creating a single new day-care space”. That is from the Calgary Sun during the election campaign, in its issue of December 7, 2005.
The new government's plan has two parts: the universal child care benefit, which delivers $100 a month to every child under the age of six for the child care of choice, and the child care spaces initiative that is set to begin delivering spaces in the upcoming fiscal year, as promised.
We have delivered on the UCCB. Over $1.4 billion has gone out to 1.4 million families on behalf of 1.9 million children. That is more benefits to Canadian families in half a year than the Liberals would spend for an entire year.
Just as we have met our commitment on the universal child care benefit, we will deliver on our child care space initiative, but Conservatives recognize that a plan for child care spaces has to be better at meeting the needs of Canadian parents than what the Liberals had planned. The Liberals wanted to fund day care providers. We want to fund children.
Conservatives recognize that Canadian parents with young children are involved in all kinds of work environments and situations, not just nine to five, five days a week, with evenings and weekends off. Our plan looks for options for Canadian parents who are working shifts and on weekends. We want spaces that are flexible for the needs of farm families and parents who work in fisheries. The standard nine to five child care that the Liberals had planned is not suitable for them.
Last year's budget set aside $250 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2007-08 to support the creation of new child care spaces in communities across Canada. We want these spaces to answer the real needs of Canadians. We have taken the time to hear their concerns and get their ideas.
In the meantime, we have provided the provinces and territories with $650 million to help in the transition to our new child care policy. We have consulted with the provinces and territories on our plans for child care spaces. Together we will find a child care solution so that Canadian families can balance work and family life as they see fit, no matter where they live.
These are the initiatives we promised Canadians in the last election. They are initiatives we promised in the Speech from the Throne last year. They were included in last year's budget. We are delivering on these promises.
I urge hon. members to join me in voting down this motion.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton—North Delta, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
Today I rise to speak about the last year, one long year in which we are beginning to see the impacts of the decisions of the new Conservative government. We now can see the Conservatives importing their narrow minded and ultra-conservative agenda for the people of Canada.
This is not something that we see only with the government's actions in the House of Commons. We are actually witnessing the impact of these decisions on the day to day lives of hard-working Canadians. I see this every day in my own riding of Newton—North Delta.
Eliminating child care spaces, summer job programs for students, national literacy programs, programs designed to improve the advancement of women in our society, and legal help for those trying to defend their charter rights: these are only a few examples of the government's disconnect with the values and dreams of the majority of Canadians.
The Conservative government looks at the federal budget like a ledger, as simply numbers on a page that can be crossed off if the title does not fit the narrow vision of the Conservative Party. Of course, if this is reflected in the polls they will change their strategy until a majority is in hand, but they will never change their minds when it comes to Canadians. The Conservatives will re-announce the previous Liberal plan with a new blue banner and a catchy phrase. It is very simple for them, really, as if it is some sort of a game.
This is not a game. These numbers are not just abstract accounting notes. They reflect the efforts of this country to make the lives of ordinary Canadians better. They reflect the Canadians who try to find early learning and child care spaces for our children. They reflect the efforts of teachers to help Canadians read and write. They reflect the advocacy efforts of women trying to break glass ceilings. They reflect the work of committed Canadians trying to exercise their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They reflect the efforts of this country to make itself a better place for its citizens.
I am afraid that the impacts of what the Conservatives are abandoning will only get worse. This country has achieved landmark child care agreements with every province and territory, but what does the Conservative $5 billion cut across this country really mean?
Let me tell members that Child Care Options, in my riding of Newton—North Delta, is having its entire funding slashed. This is a direct result of the government's heartless treatment of our children. Who is going to answer the more than 30,000 inquiries that the Child Care Options agency receives every year? It will no longer be there to help parents in my riding find child care spaces and early learning opportunities.
Furthermore, Surrey's teen parent program that supported young parents who want to complete their high school education has no idea how it will survive these cuts.
It gets worse. The Conservative government also cut $18 million in literacy funding that is badly needed in my riding of Newton—North Delta. I will never understand how this program does not fit even the narrowest of conservative beliefs, but apparently it does not.
These programs not only help those individuals who are learning to read and write, they strengthen the social and economic fabric of entire communities, the small communities in British Columbia that need this help very badly. The Conservative government obviously believes that this is pointless.
The Conservative government has continued this social policy rampage by turning back the clock on women's equality. It has shut down the Status of Women Canada offices across the country. It has removed the word “equality” from the mandate of its women's program and it has cut $5 million from Status of Women Canada. This important avenue for the achievement of women is being destroyed, and I would say that it is shameful.
The Conservative government is cutting $55 million from the youth employment services. It will save $10 million with the elimination of the international youth internship program and another $10 million with the elimination of the Canadian volunteerism initiative.
Those cuts will have a devastating impact on students and young people in my riding of Newton—North Delta.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Conservative government's agenda is its cancellation of $6 million for the court challenges program. The Prime Minister's chief of staff is on record questioning whether this program should exist. His opinion obviously won out in the backrooms of the Prime Minister's Office.
I guess some organizations should be viewed with more suspicion, at least from the Conservative Party's perspective. The government needs to stop groups that may use the court challenges program to advance equality and language rights under the charter. Those suspicious on the Conservative list include but are not limited to: Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, The B.C. Human Rights Coalition, the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, the Canadian Association of the Deaf, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Women's Health Network, The Canadian Hearing Society and even the Brain Injury Association network are on the Conservative Party's hit list.
The court challenges program was responsible for allowing deaf people to fully participate in Canadian society by mandating translation services in sign language so they could interact with the government. This success alone is enough to justify the continuation of the program. Those are only a few examples.
This will be a country where a young mother will not be able to find a child care space or even afford one if found. It will be a country where this mother will have vastly reduced access to literacy and adult education programs. It will be a country where job opportunities through youth employment programs will not exist for this mother. It will be a country where, if this mother's rights are violated, she will have no access to the court challenges program.
I suppose the Conservatives believe that ignorance is bliss and that the ignorant will vote Conservative. However, I, along with the Liberal Party, will work to stop this from happening, even if the NDP continues to support this ultra-conservative agenda.
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion before the House. I will concentrate on the egregious cut and elimination on human rights and justice issues.
In particular, I would like to start with the elimination of the court challenges program.
I am from Moncton, New Brunswick. It is the cradle of Acadia and its capital. We have many Acadians who speak French. It is very important to emphasize that Acadians know what it is like to be a minority.
Of all the obligations of members of parliament, the most important and vital is to protect human rights, civil rights, the rights of individuals across the country. Throughout Canada we have minorities with religious and language rights.
Moncton, New Brunswick has a long history of fighting for the minority rights of Acadians.
The story really starts in the 1700s when the Acadian people settled most of the parts of what is now New Brunswick and what was then Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia was split into two parts, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with New Brunswick being the better part, seeing no members from Nova Scotia near me.
What happened is that the Acadian population in 1755 was put to an egregious deportation in the time of colonial wars, which we will not get into, but essentially they were from that time forward treated as second class citizens in the region.
It was a long time from 1755 to 1960 but in 1960 the first French Acadian premier of a province that is 33.5% bilingual, or French and Acadian in population, was elected. His name was Louis J. Robichaud and he instituted a program of equal opportunity.
I will paint a picture of New Brunswick in the 1960s. French, a language spoken by one-third of the population, 40% in the city of Moncton, was not spoken at municipal hall meetings nor spoken in the provincial government. This was long before Pierre Trudeau's visionary Official Languages Act and, I might add, in a brief moment of non-partisanship, long before the vision of Progressive Conservative Premier Richard Hatfield of New Brunswick who brought forward the official languages act at the provincial level in the 1980s. It also was long before 2002 when the city of Moncton, where the largest number of Acadians live in the province in one place, became officially bilingual. This is a continuum from 1755 to today.
What is important to remember is in New Brunswick in the time that I grew up, notwithstanding the great numbers of population who were French speaking Acadians, they had very few schools. They were fighting to keep their own hospitals. I will keep it at schools and hospitals because the other pillar I believe of social justice requires that we look at the judicial system.
The judicial system, because it was more federally regulated than the other two pillars that I wish to delve into, was very much ahead of its time with respect to according linguistic rights to the French speaking minority.
In the realm of schools let me paint the picture that many French speaking Acadians in New Brunswick were told. They were told that they would not go to school but that they would learn a trade. The schools in the area of Moncton, in southeastern New Brunswick and in other parts of New Brunswick did not have sufficient spaces for francophones until equal opportunity and Louis J. Robichaud.
Hospital care was not what it should have been either. It was primarily religious in nature. It eschewed public funding and did not get the public funding it deserved. With time and, I will say, with the progressive measures of people like Richard Hatfield, following on Frank McKenna as well, measures were adopted to certainly visit égalité dans ce secteur.
This drives me to the main point of how the cuts with respect to linguistic minorities in this country are absolutely shameful. The Conservative government should be ashamed of turning the clock back on the advances that have been made over time, particularly with respect to minority rights. With that I am speaking about the wholesale elimination of the court challenges program.
It can be asked, “Isn't that just a fund”, as the Conservative hyperbole would lead us to believe, “that funds lawyers to fight cases and otherwise increase their income?” No, it is not. I will give two good examples of what the fund is about.
First, it helped to ensure the survival of Montfort hospital in an area where the minority population required health care. This program provided funding for the new school L'Odyssée, which will open its doors in Moncton, New Brunswick.
These are but two examples that I hope bring home to the Conservatives the importance of the court challenges program.
The Montfort Hospital we do not have to speak about in great detail. It was a very well publicized case with the Mike Harris government. There are vestiges of the Mike Harris legacy in this House and in the government. We see it with the discussions and in the cuts that are made with respect to how government operates today. It is very much like Mike Harris in Ontario.
I will not go into a complete brief of that. There is not the time, but there is time to explain that the Mike Harris government and many of the people who represent the Ottawa region in this House for the other side were all in favour of closing a hospital that served the needs of a French-speaking minority in this region. That was unacceptable.
The challenge was put under the court challenges program and it was won, legally and then politically. That is an important process to remember. Often the political battle is won after the legal battle is won. This may be another non-partisan moment where I say all governments are going to comply with the law, which is why we are so confident on this side that Kyoto will be implemented by the government because it will obey the law. The law told the provincial government of Ontario at the time that it must keep the Montfort Hospital open and it did.
Let me explain the other case that is real and has a connection to the elimination of the court challenges program.
A group of people in Moncton, New Brunswick decided, because of their growing numbers, that they deserved a school for their school-aged children, grades one to nine, in Moncton. They filed the brief against the provincial government. They started the action. The action was never pursued because when it was publicized and a copy was sent to the provincial government of the day, it agreed to build the school.
This program does not challenge the federal government, as the former minister of justice suggests. It challenges other levels of government that have less open laws toward minorities, and it should have been kept. It is there to protect people who cannot protect themselves. It is there to encourage municipalities, boards, agencies and commissions, and even provincial governments, to do the right thing.
These are two cases that exemplify the reason why the elimination of the court challenges program is an unacceptable measure. It shows the meanness, the narrowness, and the unconstitutional posture of the government. It shows that it is just Mike Harris writ large, on the blanket of this country, and right-thinking Canadians will not stand for it.
It is why I am very proud that our leader and other members of this chamber have risen today and said this is enough. There is no vision that includes everyone in Canada on that side. We will take the time it takes in this House to show to Canadians that the vision from that government is not a vision that will sustain a country. It may sustain pockets of people who think like it does, but it does not sustain a patchwork of Canadians who deserve equality rights for minorities and a better country in the future.
Mr. Marc Lemay (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this interesting debate on this Liberal Party opposition day.
In the past few hours I have been re-reading the Liberal Party opposition motion. This is nothing short of a motion of defiance. I would say we are on the brink of having an election, judging by this motion. There is so much to criticize about this government that has been in power for a year and a few weeks.
I want to start with the opposite of what my colleague from Moncton said. In other words, I will start by talking about court challenges. I sat on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and we heard from representatives of Canada's linguistic minorities. They explained to us the importance of this right to bring a challenge in the courts and what a small portion of the federal budget this right represented, compared to the impact it will have on the stakeholders.
It is devastating. I hope that someone from the other side of the House will listen. What this government did by cutting this program, that barely cost anything but gave rights to the communities, is devastating. I am talking about francophone communities outside Quebec and, of course, anglophone communities in Quebec. With respect to francophones outside Quebec, just one example will suffice to show this House the importance of the court challenges program. I am talking about the Montfort Hospital.
We heard from people representing the hospital. They explained that the few thousands of dollars they received allowed them to appeal to the Supreme Court. The minister, who was President of the Treasury Board, but has since changed portfolios and is now the Minister of the Environment, said that he was proud to announce to the representatives of the Montfort Hospital that they had won. I find this outrageous and hypocritical. I could use other words that are unparliamentary, but I will let you use your imagination. These people had to fight the government, but they managed to win their case before the Supreme Court. If the government, represented then by the now Minister of the Environment, had truly been in agreement, then it should have just reimbursed all the legal costs.
I think that the court challenges program must be brought back in as soon as possible because it is critical to the survival of cultural minorities in this country. Over the next five or six years, several francophone communities could disappear if they do not get the rights they have a right to—pardon the redundancy—to file appeals with the courts.
Let me go a little farther with that and talk about this government's hypocrisy—yes, hypocrisy—with respect to the summer career placement program. I live in a region called Abitibi—Témiscamingue that I am proud to have represented for nearly two and a half years now. We never thought that the summer career placement program was a social assistance program for students. We still do not think so. We fought for it and we asked for a program that would bring students to our regions, keep them there, and enable them to pursue their studies in areas that interest them.
Last year, I saw students in pharmacy, accounting, administration, tourism and more come back to Abitibi—Témiscamingue to spend the summer there rounding out their studies.
I just do not understand. Nobody, not even the minister, has been able to explain to us why they are cutting such an important program. Even if they tried, they could not find a better way to score a direct hit on Quebec than to cut the summer career placement program.
Why? Because unfortunately for young people from Abitibi—Témiscamingue, there is no pharmacy school in Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Unfortunately for us, forestry engineers are still being trained at Université Laval. Same thing goes for mining engineers and everything that has to do with tourism development. They get their training somewhere other than Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Young people from our region who want to further their education in those sectors have to go to university or even CEGEPs or vocational schools outside of our region. For example, the closest veterinary school is in Saint-Hyacinthe.
The summer career placement program provided an opportunity to bring first-, second- and third-year students back to the regions, where they could find a job in their field of interest, such as with farmers or veterinarians, or even in accounting firms in the regions. Thus, students were able maintain a link to our region. By cutting this program, the government is forcing our students to stay in Montreal, Quebec City, Saint-Hyacinthe, Jonquière, or elsewhere in Quebec, rather than returning to our region for the summer to develop their skills.
We are preparing ourselves for the worst in our regions. We will fight this. I also hope that someone on the other side of the House will become enlightened, whether by the Holy Spirit, Mohammed or Buddha, and understand how important it is for the regions to preserve the summer career placement program. It is essential for our regions. If the Conservatives fail to understand, they will be reminded once again during the next election, certainly in Quebec and likely in other areas across Canada.
If that were the only issue, we could probably accept it once again, but there is something else. I would like to talk about the judiciary. Let me just mention what the Prime Minister said yesterday in the House. It was rather strange. Yesterday, in response to a question asked in this House, the Prime Minister said that they want to make sure that they are bringing forward laws to make sure to crack down on crime and make our streets and communities safer. So far, I think everyone can agree on that. Where he went wrong is when he said that they want to make sure that their selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives.
I call that profiling. That is what the government is doing. This is condemned by the Barreau du Québec and the Canadian Bar Association. The government is telling us, quite openly, that there will be profiling. This is unacceptable, completely unacceptable.
I know, because I have sat on judicial selection committees. What we want to know about future judges is whether they can hand down a judgment and whether they can do so independently of political and public opinion. This is an essential quality that we look for in judges.
With the announcement the Prime Minister made yesterday, we think that this will no longer be the case. The risk is that candidates for judgeships in the highest courts—the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Québec and the Court of Appeal—will be asked whether they are willing to be harsher, lean more to the right and enforce more strictly the legislation we could adopt. This legislation has not yet been adopted.
Given what Canada is going through at present, it is a good thing that this government does not have a majority. It is a good thing. I hope that Canadians and Quebeckers will understand that if an election is held, this government must not be given a majority.
If you look closely at this government, it is easy to see that it is a right-wing government modelled on George Bush's government in the United States. That is very dangerous for us. We have only to look at the role right-wing ideology is playing in judicial appointments.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was told that the government wanted to have police officers on selection committees and was asked why appeal court judges were on the committees. We believe, we hope and we know, because we have frequently pleaded before them: judges are independent and want to stay that way. Judicial independence should be a priority when judges are appointed in this country.
That is not all. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, who just a few months ago was the Prime Minister of this country, the member for Wascana, who was the Minister of Finance in the former government, and the member for Fredericton, who was the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs until the election, came to testify before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, on which I sit as the Bloc Québécois critic. They came to testify. We asked these three guests specific questions about the Kelowna accord.
I will repeat the question I asked the three guests.
As far as the $5.2 billion is concerned, for implementing the Kelowna accord and allowing the aboriginals of this country to take just a small step toward catching up with the rest of Canadians, we had asked whether this money was in addition to the money the Department of Indian Affairs already had. The response from the three guests, the hon. members for LaSalle—Émard, Wascana and Fredericton, was “yes”.
This government has not respected an agreement signed between nations. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard was then Prime Minister and he did not sign the Kelowna accord as the member for LaSalle—Émard, but as the Prime Minister of this country. As for Phil Fontaine, he signed as Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations of Canada. It was nation to nation and when we look at the documents, this is precisely what was set out.
There is therefore a $5.2 billion shortfall. This money was earmarked in the budget and was withdrawn and transferred elsewhere by this government. The residences in the aboriginal communities of this country are currently still in the 19th century. We all know how cold it is outside. This evening, when I go back to my riding, I will go by an aboriginal community in the La Vérendrye wildlife sanctuary. In this community, which is called Kitcisakik, people still get water with a pail. In Winneway, an aboriginal community in Témiscamingue, there is so much mould on the walls of a number of the homes that they have to be destroyed.
There is a shortfall of $5.2 billion, which was allocated and which will not be there to help the aboriginal communities make up for lost time.
One thousand homes were to be built for the Inuit and the aboriginal peoples of this country, and that will not be done. Knowing that the birth rate among aboriginal women of this country is 3.4 per woman, we realize that there is currently a population explosion. If nothing is done, there will be major health problems.
How is it that today, in 2007, aboriginal communities have the highest rate of tuberculosis in Canada? That is unacceptable. That does not make sense. This government must absolutely listen to reason and realize that it is headed down a dead-end street. It must get back to reality and realize that the first nations need additional monies to survive.
To conclude, I will say that we will be voting in favour of the Liberal motion because the one thing we want is for this government to understand that it can no longer continue down the path it has taken. This has to stop. It must rethink its decision and understand. There is no way we are going to allow right-wing judges, with a conservative ideology, to be appointed in this country. There is no way. There is no way we are going to axe programs such as the summer career placement program. That is unacceptable.
I think it is totally unacceptable for the $5.2 billion earmarked for aboriginal peoples to be reallocated. This government must be made to understand that we can no longer tolerate this situation.
Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the member for his support for the motion and his participation in this debate.
I would like to know whether he is aware of any reason other than pure far right Conservative ideology to explain how, on the same day that a budget surplus of $12 or $13 billion is announced, a $6 million program is cancelled that makes it possible for disadvantaged people in our society to enforce their rights and go to court to have the court decide whether, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they are entitled to services? We are talking about education for francophones outside Quebec, for example, in the Maritimes, in Nova Scotia, where I live.
In my day, we had English-language schools. They were called French, but they were English. The teachers were francophone, but all the books we had to read were in English. The administration was francophone, but the classes were taught in English. After grade 12, when I went to a French-language university, I was at a disadvantage, in terms of language, and that was very difficult.
Statistics in Canada tell us that in the Atlantic provinces, particularly for minority language groups, the literacy rate is very low. On that same day, not only was $6 million for the court challenges program taken away, but funding for literacy was also cut.
In addition, jobs are also being cut for young students who are now in universities and schools and preparing for their future. They are losing their funding, as are women who want to enforce their rights. At the same time, this government says that it supports the Charter of Rights, but it supports it by taking away the oxygen it needs to survive.
I would therefore ask the member whether he knows of a reason to explain this other than far right Conservative ideology.