Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, congratulations.
I want to begin by thanking my wife, Amy Symington, my parents, and my family and friends for their love and support through this year's marathon campaign. I thank also the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly to give me this opportunity and all the residents of Beaches—East York who put their trust and confidence in me.
I am especially proud of my community's recent efforts to come together in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis. Many neighbours have pledged both their time and money to welcome refugees into our community. I commend the work of local churches, community organizations, and hard-working, caring individuals.
It is an important reminder that long-term peace is forged by a compassionate and inclusive society. I see those values as my fellow neighbours work to welcome newcomers into our community and do their part in our world. Equally, our response to the Syrian refugee crisis is a reminder that we can and should work to put politics aside. In doing so, we have the ability to accomplish great things.
I am one of 197 new MPs, and my home riding sent me here to take a new approach, one focused on honest debate, respectful disagreement, and building consensus.
Pollsters tell us that less than a quarter of Canadians have faith in our democracy. I am asking everyone in this House to help change that. I believe that politics is a noble profession and I am naive enough to want every Canadian to feel pride in the work that we will do here when they watch us in action. Canadians agree on more than we often realize. Rather than scoring points and tearing each other down, we should work as hard as we can to prioritize agreement.
In the throne speech, we were promised a government that is smart and caring. Those two themes are important: fiscal responsibility and social progress -- matching a social justice perspective and an investment outlook.
There are any number of issues where we may disagree on why we support a given policy or initiative, but we do in fact agree on the end conclusion. It is our job to point these out, and many of these issues were rightfully highlighted in the throne speech. I will mention five.
First is a recommitment to science, evidence and data-driven government. In the U.S., former officials in the Obama and Bush administrations estimate that less than one out of every hundred dollars of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely. We experienced similar problems here in Canada, yet good data is central to good decision-making. We need to collect better data about the policies and programs that work, to fund or increase funding for what works, and to direct funds away from those programs that fail to achieve measurable outcomes.
I am proud that 2016 will be a census year, but that must be only the beginning. Fairness requires that our social programs are effective. Reason requires that they are also efficient. Good data is essential for both.
Second, we should work across the aisle to end poverty in this country. Our Canada child benefit is one significant piece to that puzzle. It is effectively a guaranteed annual income for kids and families in need. As an aside, a basic annual income has been advocated by those in both the traditional left and the traditional right, including the hon. Hugh Segal.
Bringing kids out of poverty is obviously a matter of social justice. It is on its face the right thing to do, but we also know that kids lifted out of poverty are more likely to finish high school, go to university or college, and contribute to our economy in a serious way, not to mention the savings in future social assistance, criminal justice, and health care.
In 1989, this House unanimously committed to ending child poverty by the year 2000. It is now 2015 and over one million children still live below the poverty line, but the importance of that objective should not be forgotten.
Our benefit aims to bring over 300,000 of those kids above the poverty line. More work obviously remains to be done, but it is an important initial commitment. We will not dictate how the money should be spent. We will simply ensure that the money is targeted to those families in real need.
Third is public infrastructure investment. We talk a lot about deficits in the House, but we should be clear which deficit most concerns us. My primary concern is the infrastructure deficit. It exceeds $120 billion across the country, according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It costs our economy billions of dollars in productivity every year.
The Board of Trade of Toronto has estimated that congestion costs the GTA economy at least $6 billion every year. The C.D. Howe Institute estimates that this figure exceeds $11 billion in the GTHA. If we do not make investments in core infrastructure and public transit now, it will cost us more in the long run. With interest rates at historic lows, we have a unique opportunity to invest.
In the spirit of not scoring points, let me remind Canadians that investment in infrastructure rose from 2.5% of GDP a year in 2000 to 2006 to 3.3% in 2007 to 2012. In other words, our former Conservative government understood the need for public infrastructure investment, made historic investments, and we are continuing and expanding upon that work.
Fourth is our environment. The provinces have moved forward in the absence of federal leadership over the last 10 years. We need to work with them. Without question, there is a significant future cost to climate change. Reports tell us that inaction will ultimately cost us more than action.
For starters, we need to ensure effective carbon pricing across our country. In 2008, B.C. implemented an effective carbon price that is revenue neutral. I am encouraged by similar efforts to date in Alberta.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke of intrusive government yesterday, but there is a consensus among economists about the usefulness of a carbon price. It is supported by those who believe in free markets. It emphasizes the principle that polluters should pay. It is a classic economic response: internalizing the externalities imposed on our environment that are not adequately captured in the current price of fossil fuels. When Preston Manning and the cross-partisan Ecofiscal Commission are calling for carbon pricing, it is quite clearly not the job-killing tax on everything that Canadians have been repeatedly told.
Fifth is health care, including preventive health care and a focus on the social determinants of health, poverty alleviation, and better support for nutrition and physical activity programs. There are many steps we can take to improve Canadians' quality of life, all the more important when one considers that an unhealthy Canadian costs our public system $10,000 more per year than a healthy Canadian.
Similarly, we must heed the call of the Canadian Medical Association and invest in home care and long-term care facilities. Hospital stays can cost over $1,000 per day, long-term care $130, and home care as little as $55 a day. As seniors already represent 50% of health care spending, it is incumbent on us both to improve the quality of care and to create savings in our health care system.
There are many other ideas and issues to add to this list, from expanding the housing first initiative to reversing unjust tough on crime policies that put more Canadians in jail at an average annual cost of $120,000, to a public health approach to drug policy, and on and on.
Finally, there are a number of initiatives that respect the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the openness of government without affecting the public purse. Our merit-based and practical plan for Senate reform to remove partisanship and patronage in the upper chamber is endorsed by constitutional experts.
I look forward to helping craft death-with-dignity legislation to protect the constitutional rights of the terminally ill; to demanding better customer service from our government agencies for Canadians in times of need, especially in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; to fixing Bill C-51 to ensure that our charter rights are respected; to bringing animal welfare laws into the 21st century; and to adopting long-overdue electoral reform, not only making every vote count but also strengthening Elections Canada and respecting the freedom to vote our conscience, as promised by the Right Hon. Prime Minister.
I want to end on this note and stress the importance of independence in the House, the importance of thoughtfulness, and the importance of respectful disagreement. I am a proud member of the Liberal caucus, but I am prouder still of standing here in the House as the voice of all residents of Beaches-East York.
I look forward to being a strong voice for my riding in the House over the next four years and to working with each and every member in the House for all Canadians, to build consensus, to prioritize those issues where there is consensus, and to be a government that gets things done.
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