The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion for an Address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, as amended.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to note that I am sharing my time with the member for Mississauga--Brampton South.
I rise today for my maiden speech in this House. I am very honoured to be here.
What is the Canada that is reflected in this Speech from the Throne? We are a challenging place. Our northern climate and our sheer size, east to west and south to north, are difficult for railroad, for telecommunications and even for government policy to bridge. We are not so powerful or so strong as to control our world around us or to even pretend to. We need always to adapt and learn, to be humble and respectful, resourceful and alert.
In our thousands of communities we know that most things cannot be done alone.
We have to work with others together: be flexible, find accommodation, discuss, work out and compromise. Rigid ideologies do not work for us. In many ways, we have had to make it up as we go along.
In Canada, we live a “find a way” existence. We are a “find a way” people. It is reflected in our habits, attitudes and personality. In the way we look at the world and interact with it. In our culture and sport. In our expressions as a people.
In my other life, I played hockey. Hockey is a game beyond control. We practise it, we make our plans, a coach puts those plans on a board for all to see, the puck drops, and everything goes haywire.
Those who play hockey best, the teams that win, do not agonize at the loss of perfection when the chaos begins.
They accept what they have, gather up the pieces and put them together as fast and as well as they can. They find a way. Different from football's calculations and baseball's order, hockey is a find a way game.
I have the extreme privilege of representing York Centre. In the western part of the riding there are many Italian Canadians. They came to Toronto in the early 1950s with little formal education, unable to speak English, with no money and no family or friends ahead of them established to ease their way.
The women came to stitch the clothes that Canadians would wear, the men to build the thousands of new suburban homes that would make the city. They also built homes for themselves. They put in front gardens with lots of flowers and green lawns. They put in back gardens lush with vegetables, fruit trees and vines. They raised their families. They did it with hard work and pride and are still there today. As new immigrants, as parents of young families, they had to find a way and they did. Now, as older people, they are doing the same.
In the eastern part of York Centre is a large Jewish population. Some are older. Many were raised in the riding and have returned to buy their own homes and to raise their own families. Their ancestors came mostly from Poland and from other parts of eastern Europe. Most arrived first in Montreal, some came directly to Toronto. Again, they spoke no English and had no money. Again, they had to find a way and they did.
Now in the northeast of the riding is a large and growing Russian speaking population. They began arriving in Toronto after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Many are young adults with young families. Many have their aging parents with them. They are well educated with energy and expectation. In their new northern climate in the southern Ontario landscape, they feel at home. They are beginning to find their way. For Peruvians, Bolivians, Guatemalans and Filipinos, York Centre is a find a way riding.
I also have the extreme privilege of representing the Department of Social Development as its minister. As Canadians, we have certain understandings about what it is to be Canadian, what we expect of ourselves and for ourselves, what we expect of and for others.
As Canadians we expect a chance and a second chance. We expect the opportunity of a full, rich, rewarding life.
For some that does not happen easily because of illness or accident, disability, poverty, age; because of personal or family circumstance; because of something that puts us behind when the race begins or somewhere along its way. At the Department of Social Development it is our job to see the gaps between those understandings we have as Canadians, and what is, and, with others, to do something about it.
We have a responsibility for seniors, to ensure their pensions are enough to underpin the basics of a life and to ensure that those pensions will be there next year, 10 years and 50 years from now when they and when we need them.
What else? We are living longer, healthier lives. We are living longer as seniors. We will live almost one-quarter of our lives after retirement, after our families are grown. What will our lives be like? Where will we find our new purpose? Through this age of great vulnerability, physical, financial and psychological, how can we help seniors find a way?
We have a responsibility for people with disabilities. Once they were kept out of sight. Their disability was allowed to define them, never in their minds of course. They are people who have a disability. They want to live as persons, fully, completely, at school, at work, at play, in their moment to moment lives. How can we help them find a way?
We are responsible for voluntary organizations. In our communities, big and small, everywhere, they do remarkable things. They engage as volunteers more than 6.5 million people. They employ more than 2 million people. They put the equivalent of $71 billion annually into our economy. They meet community needs of a range and depth that governments, companies and individuals cannot do. However, as a society, there is still more we want to do. How can we help them find a way?
We also are responsible for the government's new child care program. Seven out of ten women with children under the age of six are in the workforce. Child care has become the way we live. It is a national understanding, a national expectation. It is time that we understand it that way, think about it that way and approach it that way.
It is time for a national early learning and child care system.
It is time because, in the way in which we live, in what we want and need for our children for the future, the Canadian people have said that it is time.
We have a long way to go. It is a big task. As we have learned through our history, we cannot do it alone.
We have to work together with others, with the provinces and territories and with our other partners.
We have to be flexible, find accommodation, discuss, work out, compromise. Rigid ideologies do not work for us. In some ways we will need to make it up as we go along, but we know where we are going.
We are like where we were a little more than a century ago in education, where we were 40 years ago in health. We live in many different circumstances across the country. In big cities, in small towns and villages, we are at different stages. We can offer different things but each of us can see the future.
We know our final destination. It is time to get on with it, to get at it. We do not know all the ways of how we are going to get there but we do know we will find a way. The Department of Social Development is a find a way portfolio.
In last June's election, we laid out a platform and we were given a mandate by the Canadian people to govern. Now we have reaffirmed that platform in the Speech from the Throne. No matter the complications and difficulties of a minority government, the Canadian people expect us to fulfill that mandate, to govern. They expect us to find a way and we will.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. Minister of Social Development for sharing his time with me today.
As the newly elected member of Parliament for Mississauga--Brampton South, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on becoming the Deputy Speaker in this 38th Parliament.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, and more importantly, the constituents of Mississauga--Brampton South. I consider myself fortunate and privileged to be a member of Parliament. I look forward to representing the needs and interests of my constituents in Mississauga--Brampton South.
Before I begin to express my views on the Speech from the Throne, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of Canadian navy Lieutenant Chris Saunders. This tragic event reminds us that we can never forget, or underestimate, how fortunate we are to have such fine men and women that serve to protect this great country of ours.
Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to speak to my constituents regarding the content of the Speech from the Throne. Through these discussions, the overall consensus is that the Speech from the Throne provides a well rounded perspective on both domestic and international issues. Today I intend to touch upon a few key underlining themes in the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to comment on the economic strategy that will continue to fuel and strengthen this economy. However, before I dissect the Speech from the Throne, it is important that we recognize the success of the Canadian economy over the past 10 years. During the past 10 years the government has generated over three million jobs and during the same period it has balanced the budget for seven consecutive years. This is the first time this has happened since Confederation.
These are remarkable achievements and pride points for all Canadians. Not only did we create jobs and balance the budget, but because of our sound fiscal management we will receive an ongoing savings on interest payments of approximately $3 billion per year. What does that mean? It means we will pay less for fewer hard-earned taxpayer dollars on financing the debt and more money on other key areas such as health care, our children, our cities and our seniors.
Aside from sound fiscal management, the government will be more transparent and accountable. Accountability begins by conducting an extensive expenditure review that will shift funds from areas of lower priorities to areas of higher priorities. Also, the government has laid down the foundation for developing a workplace skill strategy that recognizes the importance of accelerating the process of foreign credentials.
It is important to note that there are thousands of individuals living in my riding of Mississauga--Brampton South who have sound foreign education and experience. I believe these individuals, coupled with the local talent, will be the engine for the strong knowledge economy of the 21st century.
During the campaign I met many parents who had young children. These parents were concerned about saving money for their children's tuition fees. I am especially pleased with the learning bond which will assist many low income earning families in my riding of Mississauga--Brampton South. I agree with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development when he stated, “These measures will help families to turn their dreams of their children's education into real savings”.
I am also pleased to see that the government recognizes the importance of increasing trade and investment in the country. I believe that in order to increase trade and investment it is vital that we have more reliable access to U.S. markets. We need to work aggressively to resolve issues such as softwood lumber and BSE.
I would like to turn my focus to health care. I know that our health care system is a cherished national social program and that is why I consider September 15, 2004 a historic date. On September 15, our leader, the right hon. Prime Minister, along with the health ministers, established a framework for a 10 year plan that will strengthen our health care system.
I believe that at the core of this plan are the patients who will benefit from the evidence based benchmarks with clear targets that will ultimately drive change and provide the much needed reform in the system. The deal also provides funding that has met the Romanow gap and provides more accountability in reform that represents key commitments that were made during the election campaign.
I also agree with the component in the Speech from the Throne indicating that the government plans to take a more proactive approach in addressing and promoting healthy living. This is very important because we need to have a pre-emptive approach that tackles such problems as obesity that has been on the rise in the past few years.
We have a rich past that has been built upon the hard work and sacrifices of so many Canadians who are now retired. We must not forget their hard work and contributions. The government is doing the right thing by increasing the guaranteed income supplement for Canada's least well off seniors. Next time when I visit the senior citizens in my riding, I can tell them that we have not forgotten their hard work and that we will continue to support them during their retirement.
We have a rich and proud past, but we must look at building a strong and vibrant future. How do we do that? By investing in our children through the national system of early learning and child care. The government gets it. It is not only the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do. The government has demonstrated the ability to create a program that will benefit thousands of families.
Our future is also based on investing in our cities and communities. The anchor for our new deal for cities and communities is a portion of the federal gas tax over the next five years. This, coupled with the GST rebate, will provide sustainable funding that will go into projects like transit, roads, clean water and sewers.
This is an important initiative because it is ridiculous that people across the country, especially individuals, families and friends that I know in my riding of Mississauga—Brampton South, spend hours a day travelling to and from work.
It is the quality of life of Canadians that has made us the envy of world. The government understands the importance of spending time with family and friends. That is why the speech outlines the cities and communities agenda as a key priority.
Another important issue I would like to touch upon is our role of pride and influence in the world. We are defined as a nation of peacekeepers and we have a proud tradition. We did the right thing by increasing our regular forces by approximately 5,000 troops and our reserves by 3,000 which will further our cause in promoting peacekeeping missions around the world.
It is clearly apparent that our identity as a nation has been defined through our peacekeeping efforts in such nations as Afghanistan and Bosnia. This is how we want to define ourselves going forward.
I agree with our Prime Minister that we do have a responsibility to protect. By increasing our troops and reserves I have no doubt that we will be among the leading nations when it comes to protecting human rights and civil liberties.
It is our diversity and our ability to demand and provide equality of opportunity for all individuals that forms the cornerstone of our values as a nation.
Today I have outlined some key areas that were touched upon by the Speech from the Throne. We have a strong plan for the economy. We are the defenders of health care. We are addressing the quality of life issue with our cities and communities agenda. We are investing in our children and in our seniors.
In conclusion, I have full confidence in my colleagues and the Prime Minister in serving the interests of the people of this great nation and I expect the same commitment from the opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my hon. colleague on his first speech in the House. I say well done.
However, I want to take exception with the part of his speech where it would appear as though he was bragging somewhat about the commitment made by the Liberal Party of Canada in the last election campaign to increase the Canadian Forces by some 5,000 troops. It is pretty well know by all Canadians at this point in time that over the last decade the government has been solely responsible for decimating the ranks of our armed forces.
We need only look at the sad situation as it pertains to equipment, such as the rusted out Iltis jeeps to transport our troops on the ground. I know that equipment is slowly being replaced, but it took years and years. There is the fact that our airmen are still flying in 40-year-old helicopters that consistently fall out of the skies and now of course there is the problem with our submarine fleet.
I believe it is well known and should be known even to the new member in the House of Commons that the Liberal Party of Canada made a big issue in the last election campaign of lying to Canadians--that is the fact of the matter--in its advertisements when it said that the Conservative Party of Canada was advocating that we buy aircraft carriers. I think all of us remember the images of its TV ads that showed nuclear aircraft carriers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Part of the Conservative platform, when it came to refurbishing and rebuilding our military in this country so that it could return to its proud heritage, was the commitment to build a new class of ships, hybrid carriers. They are a cargo ship capable of carrying troops and equipment with a flight deck on top for helicopters. They would be more akin to a freighter with a flight deck. Yet the Liberal Party of Canada perpetrated this great deception on the Canadian people that the Conservatives were advocating building nuclear aircraft carriers. It was simply ridiculous and I want to take the opportunity to set the record straight.
I would ask the hon. member to set the record straight as well. Instead of standing up and pretending that his party is going to rebuild the Canadian Forces with this commitment of 5,000 troops, why does he not tell Canadians the real story?
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today.
It is with a great sense of pride and honour that I rise in the House today to respond to the throne speech on behalf of the people in my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul in Manitoba. This is my inaugural address and I want to begin by congratulating the Speaker on the re-election in this assembly and to congratulate as well those other members who were elected to represent their constituents. It is my hope that we will each justify the faith and confidence that our constituents have shown in us. I also want to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your appointment to the bench and it is a great honour to have you sitting there as well.
I am honoured to serve my constituents. I am here today because the Leader of the Opposition has proven to be a very capable, intelligent person with a vision for Canada. He renews the Canadian spirit and rekindles my faith in the political future and the well-being of our nation.
I would like to say how special I feel about my very special riding of Kildonan. I want to acquaint members with it because the Speech from the Throne impacts the people I serve. It is a place where families live, work and grow together. The beauty of the countryside is reflected in East and West St. Paul. The sense of community touches anyone who lives there.
For example, the people of West St. Paul had a vision to build a brand new recreation centre. They raised thousands of dollars toward that dream. They did not wait around for someone else to do it for them. They got busy and made it happen.
I celebrated Canada Day with them this year and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere that surrounded the event. The family fun days are amazing in East St. Paul. Hundreds of people showed up to make the event a success. I stood all day handing out tickets and candies to young and old alike. It seemed like the day went by in a moment, and that moment was filled with much fun and more memories.
A short while ago, our gateway community centre was host to two socials for local people who needed community and financial support. They had both developed cancer, unfortunately, and the whole community was out to see that they had the support they needed. That is an example of true community spirit. That is what Kildonan—St. Paul is like. I was never more proud to be the member of Parliament than when I rolled up my sleeves and worked alongside these dedicated people, my people of Kildonan—St. Paul.
It is the same community spirit at what is known as 1010 Sinclair. This is a well known and well respected home for residents who need support. It is a place on which people can count.
The Seven Oaks hospital is our local hospital and has become a pillar of our community. The wellness centre attached to it attracts people from all over the city of Winnipeg, and I know of the care and dedication of the medical staff there, the doctors, the nurses and the administration.
My constituents do not ask a lot. They just want commitments made to them by the government to be real and honest. However, as the throne speech was read, I had an uneasy sense that I was watching a rerun of an old television series, one in which the plot had become predictable, the outcome a foregone conclusion and so familiar that viewers could recite the words with the actors. It is unfortunate that the present minority government opted not to take better advantage of the opportunity to address the concerns voiced by Canadians and lay out an agenda with substance for this 38th parliamentary session.
There was an air of expectation in the homes of families across our great country. They wanted the newly elected minority government to stand by its election promises and provide substantial programs, policies and funding in critical areas of concern, areas like health care, the BSE crisis, the military, justice issues, victim rights issues and the much needed infrastructure concerns.
In Kildonan--St. Paul the recent Liberal announcement boasting about Winnipeg becoming the home of the National Centre for Disease Control is in need of a reality check. This grand description implies that a lot will be happening in our capital city.
The present government led our residents to believe that many new jobs and many new opportunities would be created for the people living there. Far from increasing Winnipeg's job market, this new entity instead will spread the jobs all across the country. The same holds true with the virology lab announcement. It will not provide the jobs for Winnipegers that were promised by the government in the last election.
As I said earlier, my constituents want these government announcements to be real and honest. They want new jobs in Winnipeg, not recycled press releases with grand promises of things to come, camouflaged by spin that permeates the reality of what actually will be provided.
Parliament can work for the good of all Canadians. This was demonstrated yesterday in these halls when all members of the House voted unanimously for amendments to the Speech from the Throne. Canadians are encouraged by the fact this has happened, but we still have much to do. I hope that members opposite will grow to show respect for our neighbours to the south. They have families just like our families. Our neighbours to the south have been friends for a lot of years.
Over the years, we as Canadians have had much pride in the bond we have with the U.S.A. and pride in the open border between our two countries. Now things have changed. I believe the problem is not one mad cow. The problem lies with the careless use of public words that crumbled the trust between our two countries. This issue has to be addressed. I would encourage members opposite to promote respectful interaction between our two countries at all times. Friends do that. Our international trade depends on it.
In closing, I would like to make a comment regarding our Canadian military. Now that our military has made the front pages of our newspapers, under regrettable circumstances, perhaps the government once and for all will work toward ensuring increased funding is made available to it. These fine men and women in our military work under extremely difficult conditions. Their duties will not diminish, rather they will increase in the future.
I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me this time in the House of Commons to put a few comments on the record. I am hopeful about the future of our country and I am very proud to serve on this side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I have mixed feelings as I stand to speak on the government address in reply to the throne speech. On the one hand, it is of course an honour to speak on behalf of the people of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. On the other hand, the speech from the throne offers very little to speak about that has not already been spoken about far too much. It is basically a regurgitation of the same old rhetoric and the vague, unkept promises that have been included in every Liberal throne speech for the last 11 years. Incredibly, the government even had the gall to talk about fiscal discipline, after overseeing a decade of the worst spending scandals this country has ever seen.
We have experienced the HRDC scandal, the 100,000% cost overrun for the useless gun registry, the sponsorship scandal and the unaccountable spending of millions of dollars on Liberal patronage appointees. All this waste took place while our Prime Minister was gutting health care and the military, the two most important fundamental responsibilities of government.
The Prime Minister delights in saying that he has balanced the budget, but anyone can balance a budget by raising taxes and cutting basic services, as he has done. Neither talent nor vision is needed. On the other hand, balancing a budget in a well thought out and responsible manner while contributing to Canadians' quality of life takes real leadership.
Let me give members an example of this government's misplaced priorities that is especially relevant to my riding. The government has done almost nothing to help rural Canadians cope with the devastating circumstances beyond their control, such as drought, floods and BSE. Remember the AIDA program? It failed to deliver. The CAIS program is no better, and the government's response to the BSE crisis is virtually non-existent. Yet the government happily throws good money after bad into a program forcing rural Canadians to register firearms.
Finally, having taken their property rights away and watching their livelihoods die, all the government can offer rural Canadians is better Internet access. I suppose if they have the Internet, farmers will be able to advertise the sale of their farms and look for work in the city.
That is where things are headed as long as the government fails to support our agricultural sector. It is ironic that the government is so fond of talking about high speed communications for rural Canada, when its response to the BSE crisis has been so slow.
In the throne speech the government calls broadband communication one of the fundamentals of rural economic development. What about agriculture? When will the government realize that agriculture is the very essence of our rural economy?
The government has become so arrogant that it thinks it understands the needs and priorities of rural Canada better than rural Canada does itself. Farmers are not alone in being treated in such a paternalistic and ill-advised way by the Liberals. Some of the measures proposed in the Speech from the Throne indicate that families are getting the same treatment.
Rather than enabling all families to make the child care choices that work best for them, the government continues to promise funding for only those families who choose to put their children in day care facilities. There is no mention of any incentive or assistance for parents who choose to stay home to care for their children. There is nothing for those whose children require special care.
Every family has different circumstances and the government should enable families to make the choices that best meet their own needs. This government loves to pay lip service to diversity, yet its cookie-cutter approach toward child care disrespects the diversity of families and removes their freedom of choice.
The approach to the provinces comes from that same paternalistic attitude. The throne speech is filled with fine phrases about respecting regional diversity in Canada, but this government will nevertheless continue to interfere as much as ever in areas of provincial and municipal jurisdiction.
There are good reasons for Canada being a federal state. Where government policy relating to regional interests is concerned, the provinces are the ones in the best position to make decisions.
Just as individuals and families should be able to make their own choices with respect to things like child care, provinces should be able to make decisions in areas such as municipal infrastructure, skills training, education, and other areas that, according to both the Constitution and common sense, are provincial matters.
This government is so busy making policy where it should not that it has failed to make policy where it should. The most obvious example is national defence. The throne speech started with a very appropriate tribute to our men and women in uniform, but I suspect that most of our military personnel and their families and, for that matter, most Canadians will find the tribute more than a little hypocritical coming from this government. The Liberals have mismanaged and neglected our military almost to the point of collapse.
The government has not even reviewed its defence policy in more than a decade. I am talking about the decade since the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unprecedented nuclear proliferation and regional instability. None of these things have been taken into account in the government's defence policy.
Our military has been systematically dismantled since the Liberals came to power, thanks to this government. The Canadian Forces have no rapid reaction force. Thanks to this government, Canadians paid half a billion dollars not to buy helicopters for the navy, and now we will pay again to buy the cheapest helicopter instead of the best.
This government oversaw the demise of Canada's last submarine fleet, and the replacements, like those for the Sea Kings, are the cheapest instead of the best. The government is eliminating the army's tank force. Our military cannot move its own heavy equipment overseas, either by sea or by air. One of our four destroyers is in mothballs because there is not enough money to put it to sea.
Only the dedication, discipline and quality of our military personnel have allowed them to perform their duties so well up to this point. Our men and women in uniform deserve the safest and most effective equipment available. They deserve our respect and appreciation. The government has asked them to do too much with too little for too long. It must stop.
One of the commitments the government made in the throne speech was to build consensus when it comes to setting the nation's objectives. There is already a consensus in Canada that the military needs better equipment and more funding, but so far there is no evidence that the Liberals are interested in that consensus.
The same is true in many other areas. Canadians of all political persuasions know and agree that there is a need to strengthen our democracy. The official opposition of the House and the governments of all the provinces would almost certainly agree that the people of each province should elect the senators who are supposed to represent them. I suspect that there would also be broad consensus on establishing fixed election dates so that government cannot reserve democracy for an opportune time.
There is also a broad consensus in Canada about criminal justice issues. I think a large majority of Canadians and members of the House would agree that our children should be protected by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.
If the government really wants to act on the basis of consensus, it should start where the consensus already exists. The government has made no attempt to build consensus on anything it has done so far in its mandate. As Treasury Board critic for the official opposition, I listened with great interest as the Treasury Board president tried to make it sound like the government had consulted stakeholders and the opposition on Bill C-11, which deals with disclosures of wrongdoing by public servants. I know I was never consulted. Opposition critics were told of the changes made to the bill a few days before it was tabled, but we were certainly never consulted during the drafting of the bill and it shows.
The government most definitely did not consult the opposition parties on the throne speech. Even if some of us over here will have to vote in favour of its adoption in order to enable the government to continue, this is an unbelievable show of arrogance on its part.
Let me say in closing that I had hoped this throne speech would herald a Parliament built on cooperation and common sense. This is what a minority government situation calls for. But I was disappointed. The throne speech shows no effort to build bridges and no innovation in the areas that matter to Canadians. That is what the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition is meant to fix, and I sincerely hope that it passes with the support of my hon. colleagues opposite.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the Minister of the Environment.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you on your appointment. It speaks well for your ability to be conciliatory with all parties in the House as well as the respect you have earned over the years. I am sure we will all benefit from your expertise and wise judgment.
I rise today as the member of Parliament for Ottawa—Orléans to address the House in response to the throne speech. It is an honour for me to represent the people of Ottawa--Orléans. I am grateful to them for the confidence they have shown in electing me to represent them in Parliament. I would like to assure them once again here today that I will represent their interests to the best of my ability. It is quite an honour for an Ottawa Valley boy to take part in this glorious assembly.
It is with both pride and humility that I accept the honour of representing the people of Ottawa—Orléans in the House of Commons. I will try my best to listen to them attentively and promote their interests in this House and with this government.
I began my career in Orléans 30 years ago. Thanks to my first job, I came to know and appreciate the community and the area of Ottawa—Orléans, to which I now wish to devote my energy and efforts.
I would like to start by paying tribute to this great community of Ottawa--Orléans. As many would say, it is the best kept secret in Ottawa.
I take this opportunity to invite all members of the House of Commons to visit. It is about 20 minutes away from here, and I would certainly be pleased to welcome you with warmth and friendship.
The riding of Ottawa--Orléans is made up of a collection of small and large communities in Ottawa's most eastern sector. Our population is highly educated and qualified as well as culturally and linguistically diverse, which makes it very representative of the whole of Canada. It is also a community where the quality of life is second to none. We have a vibrant arts community and our citizens are renowned for their charitable leadership and community involvement.
More than 100 years ago, the village of Orléans saw the construction of its first hotel, its first post office and its first school. This village and surrounding borough now has a population of over 100,000 people. Since the early to mid-1980s, Orléans has been one of the fastest growing communities in Canada and all signs indicate that this trend will continue.
This means that Ottawa--Orléans not only has many needs as a community but is ready to assume its rightful place in the national capital region and at the federal level. I am therefore very pleased that the government is committed to forging a new deal with cities and communities. This is more important than ever for the inhabitants of Ottawa--Orléans living, working and raising families.
Our communities are vital to Ottawa's economic, social and cultural viability. The challenges our cities and communities must face are now so numerous, and at times overwhelming, that it is beyond the capacity of local governments to act alone.
That is why the new deal focuses on striking more productive relationships among all three levels of government and community groups as well as the private and the not for profit sectors, relationships that will lead to local solutions for local problems. These relationships will have fiscal benefits for all communities.
Since 1993 our government has contributed over $12 billion in infrastructure funding, which in turn has leveraged over $30 billion from all partners. I am delighted that my colleague, the Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities, will lead the federal efforts to secure this new deal.
In Ottawa--Orléans, we immediately got down to work. The day after the election I began organizing the first of two economic summits, bringing together all elected public officials. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my provincial counterpart, Phil McNeely, Mayor Bob Chiarelli, and the four city councillors, Rainer Bloess, Herb Kreling, Rob Jellett and Michel Bellemare, who have all committed to begin this strategic economic development for Ottawa--Orléans. We have already identified 11 concrete projects for Ottawa--Orléans.
I pledged to my constituents that I would place Ottawa--Orléans on the federal radar and I intend to deliver.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk about the Speech from the Throne, because it is a faithful reflection of our election promises, both nationally and locally, and especially for the young families of Ottawa—Orléans.
Under the leadership of the Minister of Social Development, our government, along with all the partners involved from the various communities and the provinces, will prepare a national plan for preschool learning and child care, based on the key requirements identified by parents and child care experts—quality, universality, accessibility and development.
I am particularly proud of our commitment to help Canada's children. As a trained educator, I am pleased to support the government in this file and offer my expertise. The announcement in the throne speech that $5 billion will be allocated over five years to early learning and child care is truly good news for Canadian families. We must, however, respect the diversity of our population and the self-determination of our communities.
One of our government's key commitments was health care. In less than three months after the election, we have already met that commitment through our agreement with the provinces. This past September's historic agreement on health care will ensure that appropriate services are accessible and wait times will be significantly reduced for all Canadians no matter where they live and their income level. This agreement is part of our 10 year action plan to aggressively address health care in Canada.
All this was accomplished under the leadership of our Prime Minister who did a fine job delivering the goods. I had the privilege of taking part in this negotiation with the provinces and territories and to see the birth of this new evolving federalism.
This agreement is especially historic because our government obtained the signature of all the provincial and territorial premiers in order to ensure fair and stable funding for health within well-defined parameters and an accountability framework. This was possible because the governments recognized that that is what every Canadian wanted.
The government is very committed to health care because it is the one social policy Canadians constantly identified as their number one priority. In our 10 year health care plan, $41.2 billion will go to the provinces. However the government has ensured that the provinces and territories will produce information on outcomes so that Canadians can be assured their money is being spent where it should be, securing for them, their families and community the best access to the best health care possible.
I am also very proud to be part of this government for its work with official languages. It has always shown a strong commitment to Canada's linguistic duality. It has just reiterated its support to the francophone and Acadian communities in the Speech from the Throne.
Our government will make sure the official languages action plan is applied and will continue to promote the vitality of official language minority communities across the country and not, as some would suggest, only those communities where the numbers justify it.
Allow me also to take this opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contribution and extraordinary work of Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has always been a great defender of the rights of Franco-Ontarians and francophones outside Quebec.
I want to pay tribute to this citizen of Ottawa, who has had an exceptional career in the House of Commons and in the Senate. In addition to his work as an MP and a senator, and his involvement in the community, he was the Chair of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie from 1997 to 1999. He is a role model for all Canadians. Senator Gauthier, we will miss you when you retire at the end of the month. We thank you for everything you have done for francophone and Acadian communities across Canada.
I strongly believe that the Speech from the Throne truly conveys a message of hope to all Canadians for a better and stronger Canada, for safer and healthier communities, for more effective partnerships and respect for the diversity of our people. In my humble opinion, it reflects the priorities expressed to me by my constituents in Ottawa—Orléans, and I am proud, as their representative, to lend it my full support.
Mr. Speaker, thanks to the support given to me for the fourth consecutive time by the electors of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, and thanks also to the trust that the Prime Minister has placed in me, I am very proud and privileged to be responsible for the environment just as this issue is becoming more crucial than ever in terms of improving our quality of life. It is at this moment that the links ever more clearly joining the environment with economic competitiveness have the effect of changing the global economy; those nations that succeed in reconciling the environment and the economy will enjoy immense economic advantages; Canada must assert itself as a leader in the new industrial revolution, that of the sustainable economy, as it has done in all previous industrial revolutions.
To help Canada succeed in the sustainable economy, the Speech from the Throne gives us some powerful tools. In fact, no fewer than 13 initiatives were mentioned there, 13 levers that will help us both to make our environment healthier and to make our economy stronger. Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to comment briefly on each of them.
I would call it the 13 levers speech. If I take too long I will speed up near the end. It is not my fault if the throne speech is full of good initiatives. Yes, it is my fault.
First, the Government will work with its partners to build sustainable development systematically into decision making. This is the most important of our 13 undertakings and it means that we are dealing not only with 13 separate measures but also with an overall plan. The environment must be at the heart of our collective decision-making, both private and public.
We have to bring together around a single table governments, industry and NGOs in order to make the best decisions and select the best processes for both the quality of our environment and the competitiveness of our economy.
Second, the government will work with the private sector to improve the commercialization of the best new environmental technologies. Major investments funded out of the proceeds of the sale of the government’s Petro-Canada shares will support the development and deployment of these technologies.
Technological innovations must be used to their full potential. Not only our environment but also our economy will benefit from this and we shall at the same time strengthen the environmental technology industries. There are too many good ideas that simply aren’t successfully crossing the final hurdle of commercialization.
At the same time we need to invest in next-generation technologies, such as fuel cells and “smart systems” for energy in the home, as well as technologies to help key industries such as oil sands, mining, forestry, and aluminum production be as efficient and environmentally sustainable as possible.
Third, the government will consolidate federal environmental assessments and will work with the provinces and territories toward a unified and more effective assessment process for Canada. This is part of the more effective decision making process that we must develop, especially within the federal government.
Each year the Government of Canada undertakes environmental assessments for projects that represent billions of dollars of potential investment. It is important to consolidate the federal assessment process in order to ensure that proponents do not face undue delay or administrative dysfunctionalities in that these assessments are consistently applied and always of a quality that protects the health of Canadians and our environment.
Fourth, by 2006, the government will implement a new Green Procurement Policy to govern its purchases. The federal government is the largest employer in Canada and also has an immense purchasing power. It has to lead by example in ensuring that its buildings and fleet of vehicles are as environment--and climate-friendly as possible, and that its procurement has the lowest possible impact on the environment.
This will help bring the most advanced environmental technologies onto the market and, over time, the federal treasury will benefit from the savings that more energy-efficient buildings and vehicles generate.
I intend to work closely with the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and the President of the Treasury Board to green government operations. To achieve our goal, we are developing a government-wide performance management framework and common performance measures.
Fifth, the government will introduce legislation that will strengthen the focus on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks. The ecological integrity of our national parks is important to the health of Canadians and is part of our national identity. Canada's parks are important for sustainable tourism, community revitalization and partnership with aboriginal people.
The Government of Canada has a responsibility to ensure that these special places, our national parks and historical sites, are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations, and will continue to contribute to vibrant communities and local economies.
Sixth, the government will place increased focus on energy. In the past, Canada has shown that it can transform impossible energy dreams into reality. When the oil sands of the Athabasca were discovered in the 1960s, no technology existed to exploit them and the economics were simply crazy.
It took decades of dedication, and especially sustained federal support of $40 billion in various fiscal incentives and tax breaks, to eventually transform this impossible project into a thriving industry that will provide enormous amounts of both energy and wealth to the country for decades to come.
Yes, Canada is rich in sources of energy of fossil origin, particularly natural gas, oil and coal. We will need them for quite a while. We have to learn to produce them in a much cleaner way and to use them responsibly in a way that does not harm the climate.
Canada also has great potential in generating power from wind, the sun, from geothermal and biomass. What Canada needs now is an energy strategy including a renewable energy strategy. The government will work with the provinces, industry, NGOs and consumers to develop a clean renewable energy strategy that provides a framework for further investments in hydro developments and transmission, cogeneration, wind and other emerging renewable energy forms.
Seventh, the government will support wind-power production, stimulated by a quadrupling of the Wind Power Production Incentive.
In the last decade, wind power has made tremendous progress in some countries. Canada has enormous potential. This government is determined to make Canada a world leader in wind power production, as just one step towards being a leader in other renewable energy sources.
Eighth, the government will refine and implement a national plan for climate change in partnership with provincial and territorial governments and other stakeholders. When Canada ratified Kyoto in 2002, it also adopted a first version of its plan. As stated in the plan itself, the plan was by necessity a work in progress that would evolve over time. We now need to refine our plan in order to make it more effective.
I see that my speaking time is almost up, so I shall be brief.
Ninth, the government will work with the United States and agencies like the International Joint Commission on issues such as air, water and invasive species.
Tenth, the government will bring forward the next generation of its Great Lakes and St. Lawrence programs.
Eleventh, the government will move forward on its ocean action plan.
Twelfth, through the new deal for Canada's cities and communities, the government will enable municipalities to make long term financial commitments needed to help contain urban sprawl and to invest in new sustainable infrastructure projects.
The thirteenth point is about our sustainable strategy for the north. The government will develop a comprehensive strategy for the north.
The Prime Minister has recommitted to make this plan work for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate responding to the Speech from the Throne. I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby--Douglas.
I want to again thank my constituents for the honour of being here. I want to thank my family for their understanding and support through all of this. I also want to thank my campaign co-managers, Dennis Young and Anna Rae Fishman, for without them this would not be happening either.
I come from a riding that faces challenges very similar to those faced by other municipalities right across the country. The government has talked about making cities a priority. The test for me is how well the quality of life has improved in Hamilton.
Hamilton Centre encompasses downtown Hamilton. It includes not just our precious downtown but also our waterfront, and some of the very wealthiest people in Hamilton, including some of the oldest, established families, some of whom have friends on the other side of the House.
People in Hamilton Centre, like other Canadians, are facing some of the greatest challenges one could ever imagine, the least of which are the number of new Canadians coming in and the needs they have in terms of wanting to lay down their roots, and wanting to raise their families and participate fully in their communities.
Quite frankly, that is not an option for us. That is not a luxury whether we deal with the issue or not. Our economy will not grow without an immigration program that works. If our economy does not grow, it will stagnate, and we will continue to fall behind.
We need to take this issue very seriously. People in downtown Hamilton are trying. The city council is doing the best it can. Infrastructure problems, the lack of affordable housing, and the lack of assistance from the two senior levels of government have left Hamilton city council, like most other city councils across Canada, completely hamstrung in terms of knowing what the pressures are but just not having the money to do anything about them.
I had the honour of attending a world forum on cities. That forum recognized the fact that cities are playing a bigger role within their provinces, within their states and within their countries. One of the workshops was on the whole issue of cities and how they could impact the international agenda. What is happening in Canada is not happening in isolation. The question is, is Canada responding in an adequate fashion or not?
For some of us middle age folk it is hard to appreciate that in some areas of progressiveness Canada is falling way behind our neighbours to the south. We always used to take somewhat smug pride in the fact that our environmental laws were a bit better, that our minimum wage was always a little higher, that our health and safety was a bit better, and that we invested more in communities than our American neighbours. A lot of that does not stand anymore because of the right wing tilt of the Liberals and those provincial governments that have bought into those arguments.
I see one of the members across the way throwing his head back and laughing. When we reach the point where the minimum wage is higher in the United States of America than it is in Ontario then something has gone horribly wrong.
Promises are not good enough. This throne speech document is just promises. The difficulty for a lot of us on this side of the House is the fact that we have heard all of these promises before. The government has said that cities are its priority and yet in the Speech from the Throne it says, “Shelter is the foundation upon which healthy communities and individual dignity are built”. Those are great words. That is a great promise. What is the reality? The reality is that the Liberal government has cut the last existing federal housing program.
Quite frankly, we are one of the few developed nations that does not have a comprehensive national housing strategy. How can the opposition members and Canadians be expected to have faith that the government means it this time? Perhaps that is what should have been put in the bill in a few places, that the government really means it this time, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
The difficulty for the New Democrats in looking at the Liberal throne speech is not that the government is going in the wrong direction necessarily in so many areas. In many of the areas we do agree. However, it is always only words. When it comes to action or money the government goes in a completely different direction, let alone the fact that in the areas where it is going in the right direction it is a halfhearted measure. There does not seem to be the same kind of commitment.
If the government really cared about housing, why did it spend the last four years prior to this Parliament spending $100 billion on tax cuts? The government says that health is a priority, cities are a priority, housing is a priority, education is a priority. They are words, just like in the throne speech. In reality $100 billion of cold hard cash went out in tax cuts. Let me say that the vast majority of people in my riding of Hamilton Centre did not see their fair share of that $100 billion.
We have to understand what the priorities are. It is in the track record. There is talk about a child care program, but we have been here before many times, at least back to the 1993 Speech from the Throne.
If we really want to push the issue of Liberal promises, why is the GST still in effect? I remember all the promises made by the former prime minister, but it is still the same party, in order to go from that side of the House to this side of the House. I should say that side of the House; it is awkward sitting over here. In order to go from the opposition benches to the government benches one of the big things was the GST, and guess what? We still have the GST. We do not have a comprehensive and adequate housing strategy, but we still have the GST.
If health care is such a big priority, why over the tenure of the current Prime Minister as minister of finance did he cut $25 billion from health care? If it is an absolute priority, why did he become the first finance minister, to the best of my knowledge, that has ever cut $25 billion from health care? If that is how priorities are treated, then the Liberals have a funny way of governing.
An hon. member: What about the $41 billion they put back in?
Mr. David Christopherson: A member asks about the $41 billion put back in.
If health care is so important and if it needs that kind of money, why was $100 billion put into tax cuts instead of health care? Why was there $100 billion in tax cuts instead of affordable housing? Why was there $100 billion in tax cuts instead of investment in necessary infrastructure, roads and sewers for our cities? Let us follow the money and that will tell us what the priorities are, not the words. Let us see where the money goes.
I want to spend a moment talking about an issue that is incredibly important to steelworkers in Hamilton and across Canada, and quite frankly, workers right across the nation in all different kinds of industries. That is the whole matter of the CCAA, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. That law says that in a bankruptcy the banks will get their money first, insurance companies will get their money first, major suppliers will get their money first, and who is last? The workers' pensions are last.
The current government House leader made a lot of commitments to Tony DePaulo, who was the NDP candidate against him in the last election, especially in the dying days of the election. He said that he and his government care about steelworkers and that they care about protecting the rights of pensioners. The proof will be in the pudding. We want to see some changes to that law. The banks should not be ahead of pensioners who have worked their entire lives and deserve the dignity and the safety of a pension plan that they have worked so hard for.
There is a whole host of issues on which we will hold the government's feet to the fire. There were a lot of promises made. Words are not good enough. In a minority government we can actually do something about it. I intend to use my precious vote to do everything I can to force the government to bring about the kind of quality of life that all Canadians deserve, and not just words.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to make my first speech in the House in this debate on the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to thank my supporters in Burnaby—Douglas for expressing their confidence in me. I would also like to assure those folks who supported other candidates that I am always willing to listen to their concerns and that they will always have access to the services of my office.
I would also like to pay tribute to the candidates who stood in Burnaby—Douglas in the last election: Bill Cunningham, George Drazenovic, Shawn Hunsdale, Adam Desaulniers, Frank Cerminara and Hanne Gidora. It is an honour for me to represent a riding that has such a strong NDP tradition. The first leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas, represented the area through the 1960s as the MP for Burnaby--Coquitlam. To say that Tommy Douglas was a hero of mine would be an incredible understatement.
I also want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Svend Robinson. I worked with Svend for 18 years, briefly here in Ottawa but mostly in his constituency office. Everyone here knows of the difficulties that Svend faced last spring which led to his decision not to seek re-election.
Svend Robinson has a proud record of service to Burnaby, British Columbia and Canada through his more than 25 years as a member of Parliament. Svend was known for his service to his constituents and as an outspoken member who was not afraid to take on controversial issues. He was Canada's first openly gay member of Parliament. He was a tireless defender of human rights here in Canada and around the world and a prominent advocate for the environment.
Svend Robinson's voice will be missed here in the chamber. Like Svend's many friends from coast to coast to coast and, indeed, around the world, I know that he will continue his justice seeking work in new and exciting ways in the coming months.
I want to focus on the Speech from the Throne. I know that child care is an important issue for many families in my riding. Child care is not a luxury issue for the people of my riding. It is an issue of daily importance that has an impact on the development of the children of our community and on the pocketbooks of families.
The people of Burnaby—Douglas have anticipated a national child care program for many years, and rightly so since Liberal governments have promised it for at least 11 years. The throne speech mentions child care but does not give any details. I know that a throne speech is intended to paint broad strokes of the government's plan but I remain disappointed that specifics were avoided when it came to a national child care program.
The time for a high quality, universal, accessible, affordable and inclusive national child care program is now. In fact the time was yesterday but because the government has refused to budget we still have to press for what is urgently required.
Burnaby—Douglas is home to two fine institutions of post-secondary education: Simon Fraser University and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Many people in my riding see post-secondary education as a key priority. We are still reeling from the huge cuts made in transfer payments for education. Students and their families are reeling from ever increasing tuition fees and students face a huge debt load as they graduate. When I look to the Speech from the Throne for measures to address that situation, I find nothing. This is a terrible oversight.
Like most cities, Burnaby has a significant infrastructure and public transit needs. The Speech from the Throne mentions the federal gas tax but promises only a “portion” for our cities. This backs away from the far more specific promise made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign.
On the environment, the government's program is also disappointing. Canada's record on the environment is terrible. We are now one of the worst of the OECD countries when it comes to pollution and greenhouse gases. We need a plan and a timetable to meet our Kyoto accord obligations. Climate change is an urgent reality on our planet, not some far off theoretical notion.
Poverty is an issue across the country. In Burnaby almost 27% of people live below the low income cut-off lines. Child poverty has increased in Canada despite Parliament's commitment in 1989 to end it by the year 2000. We need significant measures, such as an affordable housing program, to address the distribution of wealth in Canada.
I am glad the Speech from the Throne recognized the need for electoral reform. New Democrats will be pursuing proportional representation as a high priority. We want to ensure that the House reflects the human diversity of Canada and the full spectrum of political ideas found in Canadian society. We will be pressing for public hearings on national missile defence and star wars to give Canadians a chance to fully participate in this crucial decision.
I was pleased to be asked by the leader of the NDP to take on critic responsibilities in the areas of citizenship and immigration, Canadian human rights and western economic diversification.
Wearing that hat, I note that the Speech from the Throne contains yet another promise to address the issue of foreign credentials. This has been an issue for decades, if not longer. Why does Canada continue to deny the calling and waste of talent and dedication of those who were trained overseas? I hope the government will proceed on this issue with some urgency.
As I speak this week, Canadian churches and other organizations are calling on the government to address its refugee policies. This summer the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration criticized churches for allowing people, on the verge of deportation after failed refugee claims, to take sanctuary.
However there is a far more pressing issue than the small number of people in sanctuary in Canada, although each of their cases deserves careful review by the minister. The fact remains that there is no significant fact based appeal on the merits of a case available for refugee claimants in Canada. This is despite the fact that such an appeal was mandated by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act passed by Parliament in 2002. The government must implement the refugee appeal division for this injustice to be undone.
We need to attend to the private refugee sponsorship program, a program that was largely responsible for Canada being recognized by the United Nations for its assistance to refugees. Delays in processing applications for this program are leaving refugees in danger and potential sponsors frustrated.
We need to address the huge number of undocumented people resident in Canada. These people form an easily exploited underclass and we must find ways to regularize their status. Canadian workers are increasingly worried that the government is willing to allow foreign workers into this country to do work that they are ready, able and available to do. This practice must be stopped.
On the human rights front, the government must answer for its use of the special security certificate procedure, which has denied a fair hearing to at least five people in Canada and which threatens to remove them from this country and potentially return them to torture and persecution. Many Canadians face racial profiling at borders or when they travel; blatant discrimination based only on the colour of their skin or their ethnic, national or religious origins. This practice is unacceptable.
Transgendered and transsexual Canadians face huge challenges in our society. We need human rights legislation that offers protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. As a gay man, I would urge the government to end its appeal of survivor benefits for same sex partners. The House must finally deal with the question of gay and lesbian marriage. The government must have the courage of its new-found convictions in support of equal marriage and introduce legislation immediately.
Those are only some of the issues I hope to pursue. They were part of the NDP platform in the recent election. They remain part of our commitment to Canadians and are key to my commitment to the people of Burnaby--Douglas.
I often quote J.S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the CCF, when he said:
|| We are thankful for these and all the good things of life.
|| We recognize that they come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over.
|| What we desire for ourselves we wish for all.
|| To this end may we take our share in the world's work and the world's struggles.
We do indeed have much to be thankful for as citizens and residents of Canada. In our increasingly interconnected world, much of what we do here directly affects people around the world. Their actions similarly affect us. It becomes harder and harder to justify selfish concerns as it becomes clearer that our greed is directly related to others' poverty, that our indifference can sentence brothers and sisters to lives of incredible difficulty and sometimes even death.
I also have always been moved by Svend Robinson's assertion, when he was asked at the time of the death of Sue Rodriguez, what the highest duty of a member of Parliament should be. Svend responded that “the highest duty of a member of Parliament is to love”. I know Svend did not have in mind a romanticized notion of love but a love that drives us to act justly to better the lives of those around us, honour their full humanity and live with care on this planet.
I feel those challenges and those words very acutely. I look forward to the day when we in this place hear a Speech from the Throne that is written from a perspective of love that seeks justice and that truly seeks to accord to others that which we desire for ourselves. I do not think we are there yet but I live in that hope.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke Centre.
I am very proud to deliver my maiden speech today in this House as the member for Madawaska—Restigouche. Allow me first to thank the people of this New Brunswick riding for electing me on June 28. It is a golden opportunity. Being elected to represent a region and its citizens is quite a privilege.
This privilege is not a given. We are at the service of people whose interests we must represent to the best of our knowledge. It is not up to any of us to decide in this House whether we will keep our position or not. It is up to the voters to decide whether we will be elected from one election to the next. That is the privilege of democracy.
I am really proud to be standing here today as the member of Parliament for Madawaska—Restigouche in New Brunswick. I would like to thank the population of my riding for the confidence they showed in me in the last election. It is clearly a privilege to be standing here, and I will definitely do my best to represent the people of Madawaska—Restigouche.
I hope throughout my mandate to contribute as much as possible to the debates in this House, but also to be able to introduce new ideas.
Over the past few months since I was elected, I have had the opportunity to tour my riding many times. I have met with the provincial and municipal elected representatives, citizens who are very involved in the community, and businesspeople who want to contribute to the success of the beautiful region of Madawaska—Restigouche. One of the things that struck me the most was the dedication of the public to ensuring the success of our communities.
I have gone to festivals, galas and cultural activities where I have met many volunteers who contribute to the success of a broad range of events and to the vitality of their town, village or community.
Today in this House, I want to recognize all the volunteers who contribute to a cause, an event or an organization. Without volunteerism, our communities would not be able to provide certain services or activities. By further contributing to the dynamism and creativity of our communities, we will be giving a much needed helping hand to the thousands of volunteers who, through their volunteerism, contribute to the growth of every community.
The Speech from the Throne expresses the wish to enable our cities and communities to serve their populations well. In February, hon. members will recall, this government reimbursed Canadian municipalities for their entire goods and services tax payments. This was extremely well received by the municipalities, as it enabled them to deliver more services to their populations.
In this Speech from the Throne, the government commits to making available a portion of the federal gas tax to the municipalities. This reimbursement, which will grow over the next five years, will enable municipalities to make the long-term financial commitments needed to finance sustainable infrastructure projects. As we know , municipalities provide such indispensable services as drinking water. Through this initiative, the Canadian government is helping to lighten the burden on our municipalities.
We must never lose sight of the contribution made by those who came before us in the work force. They have helped build this magnificent country and so every effort must be made to show them as much respect as possible. The desire to enable our seniors to continue to enjoy a full and challenging life, particularly through the New Horizons program, is set out clearly in the Speech from the Throne. As well, it is important that they be able to benefit from the support of family members when they need them most
As hon. members know, the family is one of this government's priorities. Young families need support in order to enjoy quality of life. It is therefore very important to adopt a truly national system of early learning and child care. This will provide young families with more flexibility, and their children with real opportunities to learn.
For young families like the ones in my riding, a national early learning and child care system is a priority. Progress is needed and people to bring it about. This government wants to make things better for its citizens, and this is something of which we all must be proud.
The Speech from the Throne, which opened this 38th Parliament, is a clear illustration of the government's desire to follow up on its commitments to the people of Canada. Whether the economy, health, our children, our seniors, Aboriginal people, cities and communities, the environment, or our international role, the Speech from the Throne represents a total program for Canadians.
The environment is an important issue for all Canadians and does not make an exception in Atlantic Canada. Surely the development of our economy is important, but should never be put before the respect of our environment in our priorities.
The Speech from the Throne clearly shows the commitment of the government to ensure respect of our environment. We are committed to respect our commitment regarding the Kyoto accord on climate change.
The situation of seasonal workers is of great concern to the population of Madawaska—Restigouche. I am happy to see that the Speech from the Throne emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the employment insurance system meets the needs of Canadian workers.
These days, we must constantly improve ourselves because everything that relates to society or the economy changes so rapidly that we must ensure the necessary changes are made quickly, so that the families in our areas can have the quality of life they deserve.
The population of Madawaska—Restigouche, and from all over Atlantic Canada, are proud people. They not only wish that their region can maximize its development, but they also want to contribute to that development. Regional development is a means to ensure that Atlantic Canada can be a part of the world economy.
This means that the tools for regional development are very important to the people of Atlantic Canada. Funds such as the Atlantic Innovation Fund are important regional development tools and I congratulate the government on giving them particular attention in the throne speech.
Like all Canadians, people from Atlantic Canada want a strong and growing economy. They want a government that balances its books, pays down debt and has a plan to build an even stronger globally competitive and sustainable economy. The vitality of our economy largely depends on our small and medium businesses. Those businesses are definitely leading the way in tomorrow's economy by their strong leadership and precise management.
It is clear that many sensational ideas emerge from small and medium enterprise. The economy of Atlantic Canada largely depends on the success of its small and medium enterprises and their future development. Therefore, it is getting more important to make the capital required by our small and medium businesses available. The plan to ensure venture capital for early stage businesses is good news for the growing number of entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada starting new enterprises and needing capital to take their good ideas to market.
Health continues to be an issue of primary importance for the Canadian people, as it should. The federal-provincial conference on health care was an opportunity to negotiate a 10-year agreement worth $41 billion. I would like to recognize both the remarkable effort the government has made in the negotiations leading to this agreement, and the cooperation of the provinces and territories toward improving the quality of life of our people.
For the region of Atlantic Canada, this means an additional transfer of $2.5 billion over the next 10 years, in addition to a share in the $5.5 billion allocated through the wait times reduction fund.
This new agreement means a lot for a riding like Madawaska—Restigouche, with its aging population and recent serious cuts in certain services. I dare to hope that this agreement will being a breath of fresh air to the current situation in my riding with respect to health care. Many people have blamed the federal government for problems with health care. Today we can be proud; we have shown that we want to improve the level of health care services provided to all Canadians.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize the importance of our role as parliamentarians in ensuring that our constituents enjoy an improved quality of life. I also want to point out the remarkable work of this government which is presenting a vision in its throne speech that will make it possible to achieve tangible results for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on the Speech from the Throne. In its broad outlines were our government's three major priorities. However, this throne speech is just the latest marker along a path toward a greater vision.
It is a vision that entails the establishment of a social charter; a social charter as part of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Once attained, such a charter will be an example of what a society can make possible, the castle on the hill, which once built, the rest of the world can turn to for inspiration.
Each throne speech and each government that this Prime Minister has been a part of has set itself difficult targets and markers. In 1993, having inherited a dangerous downward fiscal spiral, the then finance minister set as fiscal goals the attainment of which many were rightly skeptical about. However, due to the hard work and sacrifices of all Canadians, 11 years later, each target has been achieved.
The Liberal government's fiscal responsibility was a rebuke of the policy of stacking more and more debt on to future generations, and a realization that we will only be able to dream greater dreams for Canada in the future by governing responsibly in the present.
When transitions occur there is no point in time that one can look back and definitively say this is when it began. However, I believe that in the future when the vision of a social charter becomes our reality this throne speech and the resulting debates and legislation will be that starting point. This minority government and all of us in this House will be seen as the first builders of the castle on the hill.
During this transitional period our minority government still acknowledges the fiscal challenges of our recent past and its lingering debt effects. However, having now put a firm fiscal foundation in place, we can recommence building upon the social programs enacted by governments, including minority governments of the 1960s and 1970s.
This mirrors what 70% of Canadians told us through the ballot box in this June's election. Seventy percent of Canadians voted in favour of socially progressive platforms, and we intend to deliver. Canada has an extensive social safety net. Unfortunately, many Canadians still slip through its holes. This throne speech spoke of not just weaving a tighter social safety net, but of putting in place social programs which would be the beginnings of a new social construct that would provide equal life opportunities and quality of life for all Canadians.
For example, to give all our youth the aforementioned equal life opportunities, universal daycare based on the QUAD principle, qualitative, universal, accessible and development daycare will provide an equal start to all children, ensuring that those of this generation will have a lesser need of social safety nets.
Our education bonds are a signal, a start in addressing the fiscal burdens that act as a barrier to entry which can overwhelm those wishing to enter post-secondary institutions.
The fiscal foundation is in place and we are now constructing the pillars. Education, medicare and shelter are the pillars on which the construct of a social charter will be built. It is a vision that is a continuation of a dream from the 1960s and 1970s. This throne speech has the potential to act as a catalyst to return us to a dream which the fiscal uncertainties of the 1980s and 1990s forced us temporarily to set aside.
During the election campaign my constituents in Etobicoke Centre would often ask, “Is this vision affordable?” I would reply, yes. Let us afford ourselves the opportunity to dream a greater dream. It may take us a generation to build, but let us plan for it. Let us set the time lines and begin the construction.
When the voters and I met in May and June, we also spoke of local needs and a local vision. We spoke of the communities in our urban environments. Our local vision for Etobicoke Centre and the GTA was one of ribbons of blue and green, parklands along Etobicoke's and the GTA's waterways, connecting our communities and connecting us to a beautiful new waterfront.
I hope to use the National Capital Commission's parklands along waterways as an example of how we can improve the quality of life of all of Etobicoke Centre's and Canada's communities.
Finally, I would like to thank the citizens of Etobicoke Centre for showing their confidence in me and for entrusting me to be a conduit for their personal hopes and societal dreams. It is a role in life's journey that few are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fulfill.
I look forward to working with my House colleagues, perhaps against the odds of minority governance. When people ask, “When did the new beginning start?”, they will be able to pick the date of this government and say, “These were the men and women who put in place the first pieces of a social charter which became a part of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. They will say, “They were the builders of a new Canada, of that castle on the hill”.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and respond to the throne speech on behalf of the people of Saanich--Gulf Islands, who have given me the honour of representing them here in the House of Commons.
I am going to address a number of areas in the throne speech, starting with some of the areas in which the government is lacking or is failing to address. I am also going to talk about some of its broken promises. I also want to talk about the direction that the Conservative Party will take and some of the amendments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, which have recently been agreed to by all members in the House. I am also going to talk a bit about some of the more specific areas that I want to see addressed in this Parliament for the people of Saanich--Gulf Islands.
As we move forward in this 38th Parliament, though, we need to ensure that the promises that are made are kept. I will admit that we heard promises being made during the last campaign, but I have heard promises since before I was elected, going all the way back to 1993 when the government was first elected, including scrapping the GST. There is always a long litany of promises made in order to get elected, but they are never followed through on by the government. Hopefully we are going to see that cycle come to an end with this minority Parliament. I hope the Liberals will start keeping some of their promises as opposed to recycling them every four years.
I said I would start by talking a bit about some of the things that were missing. I have to say that, bar none, the single biggest issue in the past election campaign for the people of Saanich--Gulf Islands was accountability, along with honesty and integrity. There was not a place I went to in the last election where people were not telling me of their incredible frustration at how their tax dollars were being spent, and spent not just unwisely but used for political gain. A lot of people called it outright theft or they called it corruption. People were really angry. They were angry at all politicians in general. They were frustrated at seeing hundreds of millions of dollars of public money, of which the government is the caretaker, the trustee, the guardian, given off to supporters of the Liberal Party. If there was one issue that resonated right through the campaign, that was it.
Of course in my time here as a member of Parliament, I have seen scandal after scandal in one department or another, whether it be the sponsorship program, the HRDC scandal, or $2 billion given to the gun registry. There is a long list. There was hardly a mention of this, if at all, in the throne speech. I think the Prime Minister needs to address this. He needs to assure us that it is never going to happen again. I am not convinced he is capable of doing it and maybe that is why it is absent from the throne speech.
My old boss once said to me that silence is consent. If we do not deal with something, if we do not talk about it, we are actually consenting to it. I wonder if that is why the Prime Minister has been so silent on this issue. Of course we hear more information coming out at the inquiry into the sponsorship program showing that the Prime Minister actually had involvement in it. His office knew of it. He was looking at this. I am very troubled by that.
An hon. member: Come on now.
Mr. Gary Lunn: Members on the opposite side obviously do not like this information coming out, but it is coming out from an independent inquiry. This information is not coming out from members of the Conservative Party or members of the opposition. This information is coming out of an independent inquiry. Of course they do not like it, so they make some noise.
The other area that is terribly troubling is with regard to the position we have been put in on our relationship with the United States. The throne speech indicated that we need to appeal to “shared values” and “mutual respect”, and I could not agree more. The United States is our greatest friend and our greatest neighbour. Eighty-six per cent of our trade is with the United States, with $1.5 billion a day of two-way trade between the United States and Canada.
The relationship here is absolutely critical. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years we have seen this relationship not just deteriorate but disintegrate because of comments made by members of the Prime Minister's Office, which have been repeated numerous times. I will not go there, but there have been very degrading remarks made about our friends south of the border, the Americans.
We have had some pretty tough times. True friends can disagree with one another, but they have to do it in a respectful way. That has not been the case in the past and, unfortunately, we as a nation have suffered tremendously on numerous issues: from mad cow to softwood lumber, a number of trade issues, and probably more important the relationship between Americans and Canadians in general.
I travel to the U.S. a few times a year and some of the comments I hear are incredibly troubling. Unfortunately, our government did not do anything to correct this. It did not do anything to make it better. Instead, it poured gasoline on the fire. It fanned the flames. Sadly, it is happening even today.
Even in this Parliament there have been very disgraceful comments made. Americans were referred to as idiots. I want to emphasize that silence is consent. The fact that these issues are not dealt with is extremely troubling. Those are some very serious concerns I have. Hopefully the government will take them seriously and address them.
In other areas, the government has promised a defence and foreign policy review. I do not know how many times we have had reviews in the House. We need to get into an action plan. Some of the most impressive retired military people in the country live in my riding, from the army, the air force and the navy, very high ranking officials. There is a wealth of knowledge. I speak to them and a lot of them question the government's long term direction for international defence policy. I think there is a lot more that we can do.
When the government releases its comprehensive international policy statement on defence and foreign affairs, I hope that it is not another endless recycled promise. I hope that our senior military people and commanders can plan for the future and know the resources they are going to get. Unfortunately, in the past we have not seen that.
There are a couple of other areas that I think are really important to talk about once we get past the money that goes to political friends and we get into some of the unnecessary programs. One is the gun registry. There is not one person who I speak to that says this is a good thing. Nobody wants to see anyone in Canada walking the streets with guns. People never have and I suggest they never will. It is not the Canadian way. A $2 billion database is not the answer. It is absurd. Prior to the gun registry people could not walk around with guns in Canada, nor should they be able to.
There are a few points I want to address on our amendments to the throne speech. One is the EI fund, some $45 billion. I am glad the government has accepted this amendment and I hope that it will heed it and not just use it for its own purposes. It is critically important that we reduce taxes for low and modest income families. There are seniors living in my riding who are below the poverty line and paying taxes. That is simply not acceptable.
We need electoral reform. Hopefully these will not be broken promises and the government will follow through. It supported these amendments and we expect to see action.
Specifically, in Saanich—Gulf Islands there are a couple of issues that are critically important. One is the missing persons DNA database. I put forward Bill C-441 in the last Parliament. I know I had the support of the former solicitor general, the member from Prince Edward Island. Hopefully the government will look at bringing this in. This is not a cost item but something that is very important and we need to look at.
I hope the Prime Minister comes through on another promise he made during the election. I was there with former employees of JDS. People were caught in a devastating tax situation and were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes for a phantom income that never existed. The Prime Minister promised them that he had told someone to take care of it. Hopefully it does get taken care of in this calendar year and that something is done.
I look forward to making this minority Parliament work. Canadians sent us here and expect all parties to make it work. I will do my part to ensure that it happens.
Mr. Speaker, I was compelled by the argument of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands that silence is consent. I cannot sit here and be silent when I heard some of the inaccuracies and exaggerations that he made in his remarks.
I find the member's comments strange. The government has said it is going to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal. It set up the Gomery inquiry and day by day we get questions in the House because of the testimony of one witness. I know the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is a lawyer. Is that the way that he would conduct a review of the proceedings in a trial if it was that way? Would he pick up the testimony one day without listening to the cross examination? Would he not look at the whole spectrum and see how it would unfold?
I think it is an aberration of justice. I am sure that the member realizes that the only reason it is done is to score political points. It is quite disgraceful, frankly. We should let the inquiry do its work and wait for the outcome. We all want to get to the bottom of it.
In terms of Canada-U.S. relations, I find it strangely ironic that last week we had U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge here in Ottawa. This week we have U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft visiting us. I am not sure that the relations with the United States are as strained as the member opposite would predict.
I, too, share his concern about comments that come from whatever source and attack our relationship or make some derogatory comments about our partner and neighbour, the United States.
The other night I chatted with the U.S. ambassador. The reality is that they do not lose a lot of sleep over those kind of comments because they look to where they came from. They wish of course that the comments were not made, but I do not think it is a deal breaking type of issue.
On the gun registry, the cost of $2 billion is totally exaggerated. It makes a nice round number that the media and opposition parties like to throw out. In fact, it is nowhere approaching that kind of figure. Would the member realize that right now the gun registry is getting about 20,000 inquiries per week from police officers? Does he know that the Association of Chiefs of Police is saying that it is a good tool, that it is helpful, especially with domestic violence situations?
How can he argue that, at a cost of $25 million a year and a total program cost of $80 million a year, it is not a good thing if it helps to save the lives of Canadians?
Mr. Speaker, let me begin with the Gomery inquiry. Absolutely, we are listening to the witnesses. The information that we have seen come out on this file over the last year is all corroborating what we knew in the past.
It is important for Canadians to understand exactly what went on. There will be more witnesses coming forward. Of course, the members opposite do not like it because it makes them look very bad, but it is a very troubling file. I do not think it is responsible to minimize it and I look forward to the whole inquiry coming out. As information comes out, I think it is critically important that we talk about it. It is critically important that Canadians know exactly what went on.
With respect to Canada-U.S. relations, the member said representatives from the U.S. administration are here visiting. We have had that forever and we will continue to have that forever. They are going to come up to visit, but the member cannot deny the fact that our relationship has been damaged. To say they are just oversights, we do not really pay a lot of attention to those, is minimizing something that I think is very serious.
This has been an enormous issue in British Columbia. Every person who I talk to knows about the damaged relationship between Canada and the United States. Has it had an impact on us? Yes it has, in British Columbia on the softwood lumber file. I believe if we did not have such damaged relations we would have made a lot more progress on the BSE.
There is absolutely no question that the administration in Washington has not looked favourably on the administration here, and for good reason for some of the stuff that has gone on.
I think the member opposite is minimizing some of these things. I do not think we should, but hopefully these are tough lessons learned for us and they will not happen again in the future. It is critically important for the future of our country.
Mr. Speaker, it is with humility and pride that rise today to speak in this venerable institution. I do so fully cognizant of the enormous responsibility entrusted to me on behalf of the wonderful citizens of Prince Edward—Hastings. I am honoured to represent their views and look forward to meeting my responsibility in an honest and positive manner.
Before I begin my maiden address, I want to congratulate my neighbour, the member for Kingston and the Islands, on his re-election. I know I speak for all members when I say I can trust him to facilitate debate and not stifle opinion, to temper our emotions but certainly not our passions. The choice of the Deputy Speaker also leaves little doubt of the high regard of the House for the member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon. Of course, I extend the same confidence to the present Chair occupant.
As is customary practice, I wish to take a few moments to sing the praises of my riding. Prince Edward—Hastings is steeped in the history of our nation. Originally settled by United Empire Loyalists, it has been a home to Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell and authors Farley Mowat and Susanna Moodie. It is headquarters for the storied Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. During the second world war the plowboys, as they were affectionately known, due to the large number of farmhands on the muster roll, fought off the Italian Peninsula before seeing action in the liberation of The Netherlands. This is but a small slice of the history of this proud and accomplished regiment.
I have been fortunate to work and travel across this great land of Canada. With all consideration to the respective opinions of my colleagues, it is my considered objective belief that this part of southern Ontario bordering on the sandy beaches of the south to the distinctive rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield in the north is unexcelled.
I am proud of the rolling farmland, the quaint shops, the expanding wineries, the beauty of the northern lakes and highlands, and into Belleville, a veritable gem of a small city. This Quinte city offers a wide variety of economic opportunity including the offices and manufacturing plants of many national and international companies.
Prince Edward—Hastings is indeed renowned for its quality of life. I spent most of my life working in and enjoying the attributes of this riding. To be able to give back to my community as a member of Parliament is truly a great honour.
It was more than 30 years ago when my riding member of Parliament of the day, Mr. Jack Ellis, said something in his maiden speech that is as relevant today as it was then. Speaking of the riding, he said “I am concerned that the bureaucracy of the government is at best totally unaware that this part of Canada exists”. Well, listening to this throne speech and the debate surrounding it, I know just how Jack felt.
The throne speech speaks little to the issues that are of great concern to the people of Prince Edward—Hastings. I was hopeful that the government would move decisively to address concerns of Canadians in need. Regretfully, I was disappointed to hear a rehashing of recycled promises and of vague generalities totally void of detail. The timetable for implementation not only is far beyond its mandate, but is totally insensitive to the harsh imminent realities many of our citizens are facing.
In particular, I met with many of our agricultural producers who are in dire straits. Multi-generation farms are being forced out of business. Not only are we losing a basic industry but we are doing so with indifference to the tremendous human suffering as a result of an historic loss of life, the family farm.
We pleaded with the government to recall Parliament before October to deal with the issue of BSE. It did not. We offered a plan last February and even held a joint news conference with the opposition parties to help the government solve the crisis. These offers were rebuked. When Parliament was finally recalled I, like most Canadians, expected the issue to be a major initiative for the government. Regretfully, BSE and agriculture were given brief reference in the Speech from the Throne.
Simply stated, the government approach is too little, too late. Even within the confines of the emergency debate on BSE, I found the government attitude once again to be sadly indifferent. I say to hon. members in the House that this is just not a numbers game; it is real people with real pain.
Many farmers are waiting for their CAISP cash advances for 2003, so one can imagine how long last month's promises will take to reach the farm gates, if ever. Frankly, I am deeply concerned that the government is unaware of the fact that promises do not pay the bills for these folks. One could not help but wonder how members of the government would feel if their remuneration was subject to the same delayed timeframe.
Just as the throne speech barely mentions agriculture, it glosses over the abhorrent conditions of our military. Just days ago we stood here together united in grief to remember the life of Lieutenant Chris Saunders who lost his life while fighting the fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi. I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and pray that this type of event never happens again.
Just over two years ago the chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence visited 8 Wing, CFB Trenton, Canada's largest air transportation base. In his report he outlined a shocking neglect of the base by the Liberal government of the day. In the most damning indictment of the government, the Senator spoke of the condition of the Hercules C-130, the backbone of our peacekeeping and disaster relief assistance program. “If you look at the age of the fleet,” he said, “what we are seeing here will soon become the Sea Kings next year”.
In last week's Toronto Sun, senior analyst Howie Marsh of the Canadian Defence Association said, “Soon we should start to see the Hercules try to take off and their wings fall off”. How are we to have a role of pride and influence in this world, as the throne speech promises, when our military is on the verge of complete collapse? How are we to have a role of pride and influence in the community of nations when our government has mishandled the defence file in regard to botched helicopter deals, defective submarine purchases and obsolete military equipment? What comfort does the throne speech give to those who fly the Hercules or to my constituents who live underneath their flight paths?
There are many other concerns which I need to briefly address at this time.
In Prince Edward—Hastings thousands of jobs are dependent upon the service and hospitality business. In the ridings of hon. members across the country hundreds of thousands of jobs depend upon the success of our domestic and international tourism market. Yet not even a word of reference was given in the throne speech to an industry that attracts well over 20 million visitors per year. Sadly, the government has jeopardized the tourism industry by extending insult to our biggest market, our neighbour to the south. A more positive, mature approach would help to create a more welcoming environment.
Accountability and integrity are the cornerstones of a civil society. Accountability is not wasting $2 billion on an ineffective gun registry. Accountability is not wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship scandals. Accountability is not wasting $500 million in penalties for cancelling helicopter deals. Accountability is understanding that this is real money we are talking about, money from hard-working Canadians. Imagine the positive effect it would have if it were spent on real priorities.
Sadly, Canadians today see their government subject to numerous investigations: the political investigations of the public accounts committee; the criminal investigations, numerous ones, of the RCMP; and the legal investigations of the Gomery inquiry. They are suspect. When their government knowingly keeps information from the public accounts committee prior to the election and yet miraculously millions of pages of information are forwarded to the Gomery inquiry after the election, no wonder cynicism reigns supreme in the public.
In closing, I would like to address an area of concern upon which I hope to have a positive impact during my time here as an MP. I believe that we as members have not just a commitment but a vital responsibility to restore public confidence in the institution of governments. We must reverse the declining role of voter participation in our electoral process. However, democracy will only succeed if people have faith in the system. I challenge my colleagues here today to expand their vision for Canada. Perhaps if we take more time to consider the grander consequence of our actions, not just simply the optics of the polls, but the overall impact on democracy as a whole, we can begin to win back the respect of Canadians. We should all remember the words of M. Russell Ballard who stated, “It may not always be easy, convenient, or politically correct to stand for truth and right, but it is the right thing to do. Always”.
Mr. Speaker, may I start by congratulating you on your position and all your fellow Speakers, as well as all my colleagues in the House who have returned and those newly elected.
I would like to thank my family for the support they have given me over the past 11 years while representing the Kitchener--Waterloo riding as the member of Parliament.
As I stand to speak in the 38th Parliament of our country, I cannot help but think of the many constituents I have, and every member has, to represent here. I want to thank them for placing their trust in me, as I am sure is the same with every other member who occupies this place.
If I think back 11 years, when we were first elected to government, one of the biggest problems we had in the country was the level of the national debt and a deficit of $42 billion. At the time, with the exception of Italy, we had a debt load that was the second highest in the G-7. Italy had the highest debt load.
This coming year we will end up having the lowest debt load. We have eliminated the $42 billion deficit and we have started making substantial payments on the national debt, which to me is a real pay off to the hard work of Canadians. It means that Canadians no longer have the biggest expenditure that we make as a nation, and that is interest payments to finance that debt.
The riding I represent really points to the excellence of our post-secondary institutions. It also points to the need to continue to support our post-secondary institutions. My riding is home of the University of Waterloo which began in 1957. In 1957 the population of Waterloo was something like 15,000 people. The university grew and so did the city. The population of the city of Waterloo is now over 100,000 people.
We are also blessed with Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as a campus of Conestoga College. Therefore, when I talk about the new and emerging economy, my community is at the forefront of the new economy.
We have other industries besides educational industry in my riding. Many of them have grown from the universities. We are a leader in the area of insurance, having the home offices of Manufacturer's Life and Sun Life of Canada. We have a chamber of commerce. We have a high tech association of industries known as Communitech. We also have Canada's technology triangle which encompasses the Waterloo region.
When we saw t we were making headway with getting the fiscal order of the country in shape, one of the first things we did was start investing in research and development to assist emerging Canadian knowledge based companies that were coming into their own and developing in Canada. We made sure that these companies could grow in Canada and become world leaders.
In my community, in particular, we have many of these companies. One of the smaller companies is Micohealth, which involves new technology information to deal with health problems such as diabetes. It is an emerging company. As well we have Mitra and Agfa which are leading providers of imaging information systems for health care enterprises. Also, DALSA Corporation has digital imaging technology. Dspfactory is in audio processing and is responsible for the best in hearing aids, which more and more of us will be needing or are using now.
We are home to Raytheon Canada which does radar installation at airports around the world and has invented over the surface radar for maritime surveillance. We also have Sybase for managing unwired enterprises, as well as Open Text, which is the world's largest search engine for corporations. It is like Yahoo, but its clientele are corporations. Of course many members in the chamber are familiar with Research in Motion, which makes the world famous BlackBerries that many of the members have.
What is so wonderful about those companies is that they are the payoff that we get for investing in research and development. I think that is something very wonderful.
On October 1, I, along with one of the principals of those companies, Mr. Mike Lazaridis, attended the opening of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, a research centre for pure physics. Mr. Lazaridis, who came to this country in 1966 as a six year old Greek refugee from Turkey, personally donated $100 million to have this institute started.
The Prime Minister, who was at the opening, talked about the importance of knowledge. He said “Sovereignty in the future will depend on the capacity of a country to demonstrate to the world that its brainpower, its ability to look into the future, is as great if not greater than the others. I think Perimeter Institute stands for the kind of Canada we want to build”.
When Mr. Lazaridis made that $100 million donation to the research institute, it was the single largest donation to a research facility.
The throne speech talks about modernizing the Citizenship Act that we have as Canadians. First let me say that this is a promise that I hope we will discharge, and I hope we will discharge it with another component of the throne speech which talks about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because this is of great importance to Canadians, particularly those Canadians who were not born in Canada.
I came here in 1957 following the Hungarian revolution, which will be celebrating its 48th anniversary on October 23 of this year. I adopted Canada and Canada adopted me. I have really been blessed to be part of this country. However the reality is that under the current Citizenship Act my rights to my citizenship are not covered in legislation that respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly section 7. I look forward to working with the government to make this happen. I am very pleased that I am the chair of the citizenship and immigration committee.
When I look around this chamber, we have 39 members who were not born in this country, which is really wonderful because it is a real testament to this country as to how a person can come here as an immigrant or refugee and be elected to this chamber. Of the 39 members, 23 countries are represented.
I look forward to working with members from all sides of the House, particularly on the issue of citizenship because it is an issue around which we should not have partisanship. We all recognize the importance of immigration to Canada. We are either immigrants or we are descendants of immigrants. I really look forward to this 38th Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise in the House today to comment on the throne speech and my home riding of Kenora. I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me today.
First let me thank the voters of the Kenora riding for entrusting me with this great privilege of serving their interests. It is with great honour that I undertake this important task.
As some may know, the riding of Kenora is vast. It consists of close to 80 communities spread over 300,000 square kilometres. This riding is the largest in Ontario and the eighth largest in Canada. Add to this the fact that most of the riding does not have road access, one can begin to see some of the challenges that we face.
We have a habit in northern Ontario of turning challenges into opportunities. Our communities come together in hard times and we pull through difficult challenges with a renewed sense of accomplishment. This is a testament to the strength and commitment of the people of the riding.
Let me tell the House a little more about the uniqueness of the Kenora riding. We have 38 first nation communities that make up more than 50% of our population. When I travel to these areas I am always amazed by their pride and wisdom. They believe in the government and they believe we can make things happen for their communities.
The difficulties that these Canadians face each day would be hard for many of us to understand. These are small, isolated towns hundreds of kilometres from most of the services that we all take for granted. Most have nursing stations and schools but lack proper facilities. Housing is overcrowded and underfunded. The rates of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV and suicide are alarming. This is not acceptable in our Canada.
However, we have made progress. Last month the Prime Minister and aboriginal leaders from across the country met to establish priorities in order to effectively address the needs of all aboriginal communities. We have earmarked $700 million which will provide for greater health care and other initiatives in these communities.
For years aboriginal communities have advocated the need for assistance that was driven by the communities themselves, citing the effectiveness of these types of programs. I have witnessed the success of these programs. For example, the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in Sioux Lookout, along with the support of the provincial and federal governments, are working together to establish a health care centre designed to fit the needs of their communities. I applaud their efforts and diligence to have this project succeed. I also applaud the federal government for realizing the importance and value of this integrated approach. This refocus in the way we provide services represents a new chapter for our country.
Yes, there is opportunity in the Kenora riding. Literally hundreds of thousands of square kilometres in northwestern Ontario are undiscovered. This is an area dotted with aboriginal communities that are awaiting the day for resource sharing agreements that will allow development to move forward. They want to be an active part of Canadian society.
With cultural sensitivity and cooperation from all levels of government, we can accomplish this task. When we open up our great north in the Kenora riding with sound environmental practices and sensitivity to all our citizens, we will become a major economic force. The opportunity for all natural resource based companies will be incredible. Local employment opportunities will rise and the standard of living will also rise. All communities will benefit as we bring our part of Canada into the mainstream of Canadian life.
Many of our communities, like Sioux Narrows, Ear Falls and Sioux Lookout, are great places to live. They enjoy nature at its best, but all would benefit from more development. Areas like Pickle Lake have survived for decades with only the benefit of short term mining operations for gold and other minerals, but it is essential to encourage more stable development in our area. In Red Lake we have the richest gold mines in the world. Right now this community is benefiting from a mining boom as new shafts are being sunk. New technology has created great interest in this area and worldwide expertise is being employed to make plans for more gold production.
Along the Trans-Canada Highway we have communities like Ignace, Dryden, Machin, all self-sufficient in their own way but all eager to see opportunity and development move forward. Our largest centre is the city of Kenora situated on the majestic Lake of the Woods. This is truly one of the great lakes in Canada and is shared everyday by thousands of tourists and residents alike.
In my riding of Kenora there are thriving pulp and paper mills, sawmills, agriculture, mines, a dynamic tourism industry and many more opportunities that are dependent upon our environment. Over the past few years we have faced challenges with regard to the natural resources sector.
The acknowledgement in the throne speech of the particular challenge that the northern region faces within the national economy makes me hopeful. Furthermore, the development of the first ever comprehensive strategy for the north is an exciting step forward for our region.
The people of Kenora take great pride in their environment. We are connected to our environment. The protection of our surroundings is paramount. The throne speech outlined environmental protection as a priority while maintaining our place in a worldwide economy.
The greatest priority of our riding, however, has to be health care. With the great distances we face between communities, the small populations and extreme weather conditions, accessibility to proper health care is important for all our citizens. It is a challenge for our riding.
It is important to realize the unique circumstances in the riding of Kenora. The shortage of doctors and nurses is alarming. The delivery of essential health care procedures is not always available. We need to look at innovative solutions that will positively impact health care in the north. For example, telehealth, long distance medicine and video conference capabilities can put the experts of the world in touch with our communities. Kenora has just received its first CT scanner and along with the PACTS system, we can see the benefits for our citizens.
The throne speech means that Canadians who live in the north can get access to the best diagnosis. For everyone to live to their full potential and enjoy all that this great country has to offer, we must make health care our first concern. The 10 year plan that has been agreed to by the federal government and the provinces addresses this concern. We hope that this will be the change that we have been waiting for.
In the riding of Kenora we believe in the throne speech. We believe it is a step forward for our communities. We believe it is a step forward for Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking in this assembly for my maiden speech. I want to thank all of the voters of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for the trust they placed in me in sending me to this very honoured assembly. It is a matter of great pride knowing that I will be speaking on behalf of my constituents at every opportunity in this assembly.
The riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre is like many in Saskatchewan. It is comprised of a split between the urban portion and rural portion of the province. In my particular case it is about 65% urban encompassing the northwest quadrant of Regina, and 35% in the rural portions of the riding. In typical Saskatchewan flavour we have a number of unique communities named for some reason that I am not familiar with. There are communities like Tugaske, Marquis, Eyebrow, Bethune, Craik, Nokomis, Davidson, Regina Beach, Lumsden and Craven.
The one thing that I found during the most recent election campaign was that regardless of where I campaigned, whether it was in the rural portion of the riding or whether it was in the urban portion of the riding, three issues consistently came to my attention. These three main issues were ones that we heard whether it be from a housewife in Regina or a farmer in the rural portions of the province. One thing that all of our voters had told me explicitly was that when I got to Ottawa, I was to make sure that I did not forget these issues because they were the ones they thought I had to take to the government to pressure it into changing its attitude, approach and way it dealt with these issues.
The first issue is one of government accountability. Prior to the election, we all heard and we were all brought into the light of what was happening with the sponsorship scandal. This was probably more of a lightning rod for discontent with most of the people in my riding. It typified the approach the government has had over the last 10 or 12 years when dealing with taxpayers' dollars.
The sponsorship scandal was something that enraged people in Saskatchewan and particularly in Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre. They felt it was nothing but another example of a government that did not respect taxpayers' dollars, and felt it could do whatever it wished with our money. The people in my riding said to me in no uncertain terms to make sure I got to the bottom of this.
Well, we have heard many things from the Prime Minister and the government in relation to the sponsorship scandal. The most startling in my mind were the comments made by the Prime Minister prior to the election after the sponsorship scandal came to public light through the Auditor General's report. The Prime Minister of the country said, number one, “I am mad as hell” and number two, that we would not have an election until we got to the bottom of this scandal.
What happened? Not only did we not get to the bottom of it, but the Prime Minister called an election in the middle of testimony before the public accounts committee. There were over 70 witnesses left, yet the Prime Minister deemed it necessary to call an election when there were too many unanswered questions. Those questions have yet to be answered but we are finding out more and more about the sponsorship scandal.
That exemplifies the problem with the government. It speaks to a government that does not care about its taxpayer. It speaks to a government that wishes to hide more than divulge. It speaks to a government that is corrupt. I think history will show that the government, in the 37th Parliament at least, was the most corrupt in all parliaments in Canadian history.
We have to do something about government accountability, yet in the throne speech there was no mention of it. There was no mention of taking steps to curtail the abuse of taxpayers' dollars. That is just tragic because before the election, everyone in this assembly knows that had there been a vote in January or February, prior to the release of the Auditor General's report, prior to the discussion about the sponsorship scandal, if we believe the polls, we would be looking at a government that would have had perhaps 250 Liberal members and the rest of the seats divided among the other three opposition parties.
What happened? What happened is the people of this great country of ours finally started to understand what it was like to have a government that did not respect them. They became very angry about this and it was reflected in the results of the last election.
However, it is not just what was discovered before the election, but what we have discovered since. Since that time, with respect to the sponsorship scandal we are starting to get more information from the Gomery inquiry, information that is extremely troubling because, number one, it is starting to point the finger at the Prime Minister's Office. We have found out only in the last 10 days to two weeks, according to witnesses testifying at the Gomery inquiry, that someone from the Prime Minister's Office made a phone call to the sponsorship's administration branch back in 1999, inquiring on the status of a grant application.
The grant application of course came from a very well known Liberal supporter. Lo and behold, after that phone call there was a grant awarded to this very group. This is not to suggest that the Prime Minister had any undue influence on the granting of that particular request, but it does speak to the fact that our Prime Minister, it appears, had once again misled the public. Prior to the election he said he really had no knowledge of what was happening in the sponsorship scandal, or at least with the events surrounding the sponsorship scandal, yet it appears that he must have, because one of his aides made inquiries.
The recipient of this money was a well known Liberal who eventually, two, three or four years later, hosted a major fundraising event for the Prime Minister following his successful leadership campaign. This does not sit well for anyone in my constituency, because again it erodes the confidence in this government. It reinforces the belief that this government is one that is corrupt. It reinforces the belief that this government does not care for taxpayers' dollars. This is something that I was told in no uncertain terms: to come to Ottawa and at every opportunity speak out against this flagrant abuse and the lack of respect for the taxpayer.
However, it is not only in the sponsorship scandal that we have seen these examples of government abuse. We have seen it every day in this House since we reassembled. We have seen an example where the former heritage minister spent $55,000 of taxpayers' money flying during the election campaign to the Banff film festival to deliver a highly partisan speech. Clearly that is against election laws, yet there has been nothing done about it. What makes matters worse is that this same individual, while defeated in the general election, is now the principal secretary to the current Prime Minister. All that says is that this government not only condones the actions of individuals like that, but rewards them after the fact.
I raised questions in this assembly over the last two weeks about a different couple of ministers who, it appears, again contravened election laws by bringing paid ministerial staff into their home ridings during the election for what appears to be nothing more than electioneering work or campaign work. That is against the law. Yet again, the members opposite have no idea of what was done wrong. The minister of heritage, whom I questioned, was totally dumbfounded and said, “I reported all the expenses. It is on my web page. What is the problem?” The problem is that they have to start respecting taxpayers' rights and this government has no idea of how to do that.
Second, if I may use a sports analogy for a minute, if anything typifies the TSN highlight of the night when it comes to taxpayers' abuse, it is the gun registry. There is no one in my riding who has anything good to say about the national gun registry. The interesting thing is that most urban women, who are not firearm owners, are as upset as anyone because they see the flagrant abuse of taxpayers' dollars. Over $2 billion has been spent on this program to date. Even though the government states that it will be capped at $25 million a year from here on in, we know that is also a false and misleading statement. It will be closer to $100 million on a go-forward basis, for what I can only categorize as a total waste of taxpayers' money.
Finally, the last thing people told me was for me to come here to Ottawa and make sure the government understands the serious crisis we have in agriculture. This throne speech had one word about agriculture, one word and nothing else. Precious little. We must make the government understand that agriculture is a Canadian priority and has to be treated as such.
I have just been reminded, and I should have dealt with this at the outset of my address, that I am pleased to be splitting my time with the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon.
Finally, let me just say this. With all the examples I have given, whether it be abuse of taxpayers' dollars, disrespect for the taxpayers, the national gun registry or a lack of respect for Canadian agriculture and agricultural producers, I am a believer in one thing. I truly believe that every Canadian, or at least the vast majority of Canadians, understands the difference between right and wrong. And I am a firm believer that the members of this assembly absolutely know the difference between right and wrong. If we do nothing else but simply this, that is, enact legislation in this coming parliamentary session that is the right thing to do, then perhaps history will record that the 38th Parliament will go down in history as being one of the most respected parliamentary sessions in history.
Mr. Speaker, regarding accountability, the fact that this government called an inquiry I think shows the Prime Minister's commitment. He moved very quickly to call the inquiry, and a public inquiry.
My good friend from Dufferin--Caledon, who served with me in Ontario, will be speaking next. He will remember that in Ontario we had two incidents. One was the Walkerton situation and the other was the Ipperwash situation. At the time I was speaker and I watched while the opposition asked two successive premiers to call public inquiries on those two issues. They did not do it. Eventually it was done on Walkerton and when the new government came in it did so for Ipperwash. That contrasts with the leadership of this Prime Minister, who moved very quickly, right away. He said it did not matter who was involved, whether or not it was anybody within the Liberal Party. He called the inquiry.
I contrast that with the situation of Ipperwash in Ontario. I will not get into details, but there were allegations that the premier's staff was involved. This Prime Minister Minister moved very quickly and said, “We are going to get to the bottom of this”. That, sir, is accountability.
I would ask the hon. member to comment on that as well as the balanced budget. There have been seven straight balanced budgets. Again, my friend from Dufferin--Caledon, who also served in the Ontario legislature, will remember that the government of the day left a $5.7 billion deficit. Serving as speaker, every day I heard the opposition say to the government that it had a $4.5 billion deficit. The minister of finance said there was no deficit. After the election there was a deficit of $5.7 billion.
In terms of accountability, this government moved very quickly on the Gomery inquiry and I think the Prime Minister should be commended for that. Second, how does the hon. member account for the fact that this Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Finance, cleaned up a mess, quite frankly, of $40 billion left by the previous government?
Number one, Mr. Speaker, let us deal with accountability. It appears to me that again this is typical of the Liberal response. Rather than taking responsibility for their own actions, they first try to deflect it by saying, “Yes, but we are not as bad as those guys”. That is what they have been doing historically: they do not take account of and responsibility for their own actions.
But let us talk about accountability. While the hon. member says this Prime Minister should be applauded for his quick and decisive actions, again, let us go back to what the Prime Minister's words were prior to the election. He said, “I'm as mad as hell and I will not call an election until we get to the bottom of this”.
What have we seen? We have not got to the bottom of this and yet we have had an election. Why is that? It is for one very simple reason, in my view: because the Prime Minister knows that some of the information coming out of Gomery is going to implicate members opposite and is going to be extremely embarrassing and politically damaging to the government of the day. He did not want to have that happen and then call an election, because he would have risked losing even more seats than he did.
Is that something to be applauded? Is that accountable? I do not think so. There is an old saying in politics, “I say what I do and I do what I say”. If the Prime Minister lived by that credo, perhaps then I could stand up here and say that I applaud the Prime Minister. He said one thing and did another and that is not something to be applauded or rewarded.
With respect to the seven straight balanced budgets, I would like to point out one thing. We have also had a series of over-surplus projections. Well, let me rephrase that. We have two finance ministers, both the current and sitting Prime Minister and the current finance minister, who since 1997 or 1998 have been under-projecting the budget surplus. So yes, while it is great to stand on that side of the House and say, “Is it not wonderful to have had seven consecutive balanced budgets?”, we have also had a situation wherein the government and the two finance ministers in question have been misleading the public, again purposefully in my view, about what the true budget surplus situation is.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been examining the budgets for the last several years and it has always come in with its projections far closer to the actual budget surplus than the government has. It has access to the same information the government does, and perhaps even less information, yet it is able to do this and this year it was almost spot on.
Why is that? Because the government wants to play fast and loose with taxpayers' dollars. It projects a $1 billion or $2 billion surplus at the end of the year. It is usually $6 billion or $7 billion above that, so it can use the money for what it wants, and it does not consult with the Canadian people. That is not being accountable. That is not something to be applauded. I think the government has to be held to account for both its financial management and the accountability it has lacked over the past 10 or 12 years.
Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure and an honour it is for me to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to thank the constituents in my riding, the new riding of Dufferin--Caledon, for the trust that they have placed in me to deliver their message to the House of Commons. I will endeavour to serve my constituents to the best of my ability, always aware of my responsibility to them.
Dufferin--Caledon is a diverse riding combining rural, urban and suburban communities. Dufferin County is made up of the five townships of Amaranth, East Garafraxa, East Luther-Grand Valley, Melancthon and Mulmur, and the three towns of Mono, Orangeville and Shelburne.
Caledon is a geographically large town in the region of Peel. It is basically the northern geographic half of the region of Peel. It is made up of a number of smaller communities including Bolton, which is the largest, Caledon East, Inglewood, Palgrave, Cheltenham and Alton, to name but a few.
Dufferin--Caledon has outstanding and diverse geographical characteristics, such as the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The headwaters of four of southern Ontario's river systems have their origins in Dufferin--Caledon: the Grand River, the Humber River, the Nottawasaga River and the Credit River. Rich agricultural croplands allow for a diversity of crops, including potatoes, corn, soybeans and barley. The lands support a variety of livestock such as beef and dairy cattle, hogs, chickens, sheep, goats and horses.
The Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association markets the treasures of the riding as being just outside Toronto's back door. These include downhill and cross-country skiing, world class golfing, the Bruce Trail for hiking pleasures, hunting in our forests and fishing in our rivers.
The industrial sector of Dufferin--Caledon encompasses manufacturers of components for the Canadian automotive industry; a thriving plastics and manufacturing sector, including the manufacturing of sophisticated, state of the art injection moulding equipment; and a large number of small and medium size manufacturing companies in the larger centres of the riding.
The throne speech is proof of William Shakespeare's observation that there is nothing new under the sun. When does the government get beyond its old promises and begin to envision a country with a government that leads its citizens and takes its rightful place as a leader in the international community? How many times must we sit through a Speech from the Throne only to hear the latest reiteration of the same old promises? With the passage of time, the lustre comes off these same old promises. Yesterday's vision belongs to yesterday. A promise of a health care plan for a generation suddenly shrinks to a health care plan for a decade.
Canadians had an opportunity to make their voices heard this past June. They chose to elect a minority government which would reduce the amount of power that any one party had in the hope that it would result in the introduction of some new ideas and a fresh vision that would move Canada in a forward direction.
New ideas are not what Canadians are getting with the throne speech. It is left to opposition members like me to report back to our constituents and explain why the government has so little interest in the challenges facing the rural constituencies of Canada.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Dufferin--Caledon consists of many farms and many farm families who have been farming for generations, although there are not as many as 10 years ago. Like the rest of the country today, we have fewer farmers doing more, but for how much longer?
Farmers in my riding talk about their concerns for their industry. They are increasingly telling me that for the first time in the history of their family business they are losing equity. They are worried about the future of their livelihood and the country's future ability to feed itself. With the average age of farm operators in the riding of Dufferin—Caledon now being 52, an age when they should be planning for retirement, they are left wondering if there will be anything left to retire on.
Canada was founded on the principles of agriculture. It is one of the four main industries on which our country was built. The recent throne speech promised nothing but a few words on the recognition of the importance of reliable access to U.S. markets. At least there was no speculation that the border would be opened sooner rather than later.
International borders were shut down due to one cow that carried BSE. It is 16 months later and the borders are no closer to being opened than they were months ago. How can we believe that anything will be done given the lack of prominence provided to BSE in the throne speech?
BSE is given a few words in one paragraph in the speech, and the government is asking Canadians to trust that it will be building on successful smart borders initiatives and on measures to develop a more sophisticated and informed relationship involving business and government officials in the United States. My constituents can take little comfort from this tepid mention masquerading as a plan or a strategy to get the border with the U.S. open. It is neither.
Given the fact that my riding of Dufferin—Caledon is situated at the source of four southern Ontario river systems and significant aquifers, the natural environment of the riding requires an informed and dedicated stewardship.
I am disappointed to see that the environmental portion of the speech is a collection of promises made in earlier years with delivery dates in 2005, or start-up dates in 2006 and 2008 or at some other distant date in the future. When it comes to an environmental plan, Canadians deserve more than platitudes and a promise of some vague action some time in the future. Our environment requires action now.
Having outlined solutions to all of the challenges facing the government in areas traditionally recognized as being matters of federal responsibility, the throne speech proceeds to offer solutions for some areas in the provincial domain with a new deal for cities and communities, and the often talked about national child care program.
In government circles this is probably what passes for thinking outside the box. Given that municipalities exist at the pleasure of the provinces, surely any new deal should rightfully be orchestrated by them.
Last month I met with the warden of Dufferin Country, his worship Keith Thompson. The purpose of Warden Thompson's meeting was to advise me of the county's needs for a continuing and significant infrastructure investment by all levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal.
The warden pointed out that the rural municipalities' need for investment in roads and bridges, and water and sewage upgrades was outstripping their ability to keep up. He told me that one of the local townships had closed a road because it could not afford to replace a bridge that was no longer serviceable. In the small community of Marsville, residents now face the extraordinary situation of having annual water bills that exceed their yearly property tax bills. These are just two examples of the need for traditional infrastructure programs in rural Canada.
Canada's rural communities are much more than a rich resource of natural resources and our cultural heritage. Some 40% of Canada's exports and 24% of our country's gross domestic product are generated by rural Canada. Investment by governments in rural communities make good business sense in that 40% of all of Canada's exports are generated by rural Canada. This is an impressive contribution to the prosperity of our country.
Rural Canada's ability to continue to make contributions at this level is very much in question, which brings me to the second reason for Warden Thompson's visit. The warden reminded me that the great disadvantage of rural communities is the digital divide that separates rural and northern communities from our neighbours.
In the 2001 Speech from the Throne, a commitment was made by the Liberal government of the day to work with the private sector to achieve the goal of making broadband access to citizens, public institutions and all communities in Canada by 2005. That has not happened and I do not see any sign in the last throne speech that it is going to happen. The throne speech reminds me of Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot.