Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cambridge.
In rising to give my address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, I am giving my maiden speech in this hallowed House. I want to thank the people of Wellington—Halton Hills for giving me the privilege of representing them here, as well as thank my wife Carrie for all she has given. I will do my best and work my hardest for my constituents.
I also join with other members in congratulating the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker on their elevation to the Chair.
I hail from the great riding of Wellington—Halton Hills. My predecessors include Alf Hales, Perrin Beatty, Otto Jelinek and Garth Turner. I am proud to serve along with my provincial counterparts, Ted Arnott and Ted Chudleigh, as well as their predecessor, Jack Johnson. I want to recognize all of them for their dedication to public service. I will strive to do the same for the people of Wellington—Halton Hills.
Wellington—Halton Hills is made up of Wellington county and Halton region. Halton region recently received recognition as one of Canada's top 100 employers. I wish to congratulate Chairman Joyce Savoline, Halton Region Council and all of Halton Region's 1,700 staff for this recognition. This award recognizes that Halton has attracted and retained skilled employees to the public sector, employees who are a big part of the reason that Halton is such a great place to live.
As we embark on this 38th Parliament since Confederation, I hope that all my colleagues will join me in congratulating Halton region on this award.
Like many new Canadians who come today and those who came before, my late mother and father came to this country with nothing but dreams and hopes. Through perseverance and hard work they blazed a path so that their children could pursue opportunities unbounded in this vast and inchoate land. We owe much to these pioneers who came before and began to build this country. Their project is not yet finished and we must carry on.
I believe in one Canadian people and in one Canada. To be sure, there are a myriad of ethnic groups, there are the different regions, there are the two founding cultures and languages, and before all of these there were and are the native peoples. Each in their own unique and important way has contributed to the fabric and diversity of this country. However, above all of these, there is one Canadian identity, fragile as it sometimes may be. An identity forged out of war, out of history and out of tribulation, but above all, an identity forged out of an encounter with a vast and inchoate land.
It was this vision of a common Canadian identity that moved Sir John A. Macdonald to forge the mergers necessary for Confederation. He united the French Catholics of Canada east with the English Protestants of Canada west to form what would become the Conservative Party of Canada. He joined with his most hated nemesis, George Brown, to make this happen. It was in this spirit of nation building that our leader, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, and our deputy leader, the hon. member for Central Nova, forged a coalition for the betterment of Canada.
As it was once said by a great member of this House, political capital is not meant to be hoarded but spent on great causes for one's country. It is in this spirit of bettering my country that I criticize the throne speech on two issues: agriculture and funding for municipalities.
Agriculture is important to Wellington—Halton Hills. It was to my riding, into Puslinch township, that the first Hereford cattle were imported into Canada by Frederick Stone in the 1850s. It is in my riding that part of the world renowned Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph is located. Wellington county and Halton region together have 3,200 farms generating $570 million in farm gate sales.
However the Speech from the Throne does little to address the problems facing these farmers, especially for those farmers devastated by BSE in non-managed markets. It is ironic that 46 years after Alf Hales rose in this very House to speak up on behalf of beleaguered farmers, I now do the same with one big difference: the plight of today's farmer is far, far worse than it was in 1958.
Speaking in January 1958 on a farm bill introduced by the Diefenbaker government, Alf Hales stated in Hansard that the average selling price of steers for the 10 year period was $21.80 a hundredweight. That was in 1958 dollars. Today that would be $150 per hundredweight.
The base support price set by the government for farmers in 1958 was $17.44 per hundredweight. Even then farmers struggled. Today that would be a base support price of $120 per hundredweight.
The government's agricultural policy does not even come close to that kind of support.
Because of the government's farm policy in non-managed markets, the average family farm is no longer economically viable. The average farmer can no longer make ends meet and must rent hundreds if not thousands of acres to achieve the economies of scale necessary for a very modest profit.
We are creating a new kind of feudalism in this country where landowners rent their farmland out to impoverished tenant farmers. This is a shame in a country like Canada. We should and we can do better.
The throne speech also fails to deliver on money for municipalities. While I realize that a throne speech is the broad strokes of a government's plan, this one is so vague as to be meaningless.
It is possible the government will announce funding details by the end of the year but municipalities need details now so they can start budgeting for 2005. The municipalities face huge infrastructure costs. I will give two examples to illustrate my point.
The township of Centre Wellington, with a population of 22,000, has over 100 bridges. In that township alone we are currently facing bridge repair costs of $15 million, is a huge number for a township with an annual operating budget of only $15 million.
In Halton Hills I have been told there is a backlog of $57 million in road work and other infrastructure, an equally big number for a community with only 50,000 people and an annual operating budget of $20 million.
While these numbers may seem small to some, if one were to extrapolate them to a city the size of Toronto with a population of 2.5 million, one would get an infrastructure backlog of $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion. All of which is to say that rural communities, with their more scattered populations and large infrastructure, face the same kinds of challenges on a per capita basis that larger, more densely populated communities do.
We should not forget these rural communities, the lifeblood of our nation across its vast geographic expanse. However I worry that smaller communities will get less of the money on a per capita basis in favour of more densely populated areas.
I am also concerned that the government has moved from a specific to a vague commitment. During the election, 5¢ per litre of the gas tax was promised. In the most recent throne speech we now hear a promise of a portion of the gas tax. I hope the government is not backing away from its commitment to cities and municipalities.
Municipalities desperately need the money. The lack of detail and the lack of action means more closed bridges, more deteriorating roads and ultimately higher property taxes because the money must come from somewhere.
It means that seniors, like Maria Kurath in Erin, may have to sell their homes because they cannot afford the property taxes. These are the real life stories of what happens when a government fails to act.
The gas tax promise was made before the election, during the election and after the election. It has been mentioned in two throne speeches. There is a $9.1 billion surplus. The time for vague talk is over. It is time for action.
In closing I wish to indicate my support for the loyal opposition's amendment to the Speech from the Throne.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House on this occasion to present to the House my response to the throne speech on behalf of my riding and the good people of Cambridge and North Dumfries.
I would like to say how honoured I am to represent the community where I was born and, for the most part, have lived my entire life. I intend to dedicate my energy and all my skills to represent my community, my neighbours and my good friends all across what has clearly been a forgotten centre of wealth, both industrially and intellectually.
My riding sits just 45 minutes southwest of Toronto and holds in its northern corner the city of Cambridge with some 113,000 people. We enjoy a pluralism of many communities from all around the world. Our industry is considered some of the best. Companies, such as ATS and Rockwell Automation, Toyoto, Challenger Motor Freight, ComDev, Strite Industries, Babcock, John Forsyth Shirts, Arriscraft and Polymer Technologies, are now famous contributors, not only to the Canadian landscape but to the global landscape.
Cambridge is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. Indeed, only a few years ago the Hespeler part of Cambridge was considered to have the fastest growth rate in Canada.
North Dumfries is the beautiful rolling hills of quiet pasture lands and quaint communities such as Branchton and Ayr just south of the city itself.
This area is mostly agriculture and attracts visitors who dine in wonderful little eateries and visit antique shops. Some are so drawn to the spirit of this area that they relocate their families here and it too now grows, straining infrastructure and health care services.
These communities are bulging and at the same time are strangled by the government's lack of forethought. Traffic comes to a virtual halt as cars and trucks attempt to navigate too few lanes and too few bridges. Childhood asthma is now increasing at alarming rates as our skies become polluted, not just from the idling vehicles stuck in traffic but as a result of emissions from our border states.
What has the government done for our riding? With respect to these concerns, we still wait and fear that we will be left out of a new deal for cities and communities. We believe that unless distribution is based on population, or at least on fuel consumption, that only the larger Liberal centres will benefit.
Cambridge and North Dumfries need stable and predictable funding too. After the Liberal finance minister bled the health care system to near death, literally causing the crisis we now face, the Liberal Premier of Ontario implemented a health tax and cut services, such as chiropractic and physiotherapy, care that has a proven track record of decreasing the cost of health.
Now we suffer double dipping deep into the pockets of Ontarians for their health care.
Despite the throne speech and the recent 10 year plan to strengthen health care, we do not have any fix for a generation. The government has already had 10 years to put in place a concrete plan to restore the number of doctors and front line workers.
Our community lacks doctors in a most serious way. I can tell the House that people's lives are in danger.
The government has been and continues to waste the skills and minds of thousands of new Canadians while other Canadians suffer. More MRIs, without a concurrent plan for more front line workers, does not help the problem. All it has done is moved the line from diagnostics to treatment.
The people of my riding not only deserve better, they demanded it. It is my privilege to finally represent them in achieving a more level playing field from their government.
No longer will it be acceptable for a community our size and with our needs to be hushed and ignored. Our region sends almost $1 billion more to the government than it receives. Still all levels of taxation are strangling and destroying our right to live well now and into our twilight years.
Cambridge is held together by an amazing group of volunteers. The good news is that there are thousands of people in my riding who dedicate themselves every day to projects like Cara's Hope, Bridges, Argus House, the food bank of Cambridge and so many others. The sad news is that the government, with its billions of dollars in hidden surpluses, has allowed it to happen in the first place.
These groups and social programs should not be punished because of past corrupt and incompetent behaviour by this very government. Tightening the application process, redefining accessibility rules, and designing complex forms that require lawyers to fill out to make up for its billion dollar boondoggles is just plain unfair.
Canadians are indirectly being punished because the government has and continues to waste good money on silly programs like the gun registry. The gun registry is the ultimate boondoggle and again, almost as predictable as the stars, this too was not even mentioned in the throne speech. The fact that it takes the government $2,000 to simply write down that a duck hunter owns a $300 rifle lends credence to the old adage that if the Liberals owned McDonald's, a Big Mac would cost $25 and take six weeks to get.
The Prime Minister has put forth a speech that is not only vague and inadequate, but has failed to give us any confidence that the government's past mistakes will not be repeated.
What of the BSE crisis? My hon. colleague mentioned it and this is the largest crisis to face Canada in my memory. The records show that it is the Conservative Party that has fought the hardest, not only for the farmers but for the millions of people affected by the collateral damage from this crisis.
From hardware stores to trucking companies, from universities to furniture stores, this crisis has bled an estimated $6 billion out of our economy and destroyed generations of work for thousands of Canadians.
What are we to think when the programs that the Liberals do put into place have no application forms and require farmers to put tens of thousands of dollars that they do not have into the banks to be eligible? What little money Liberals do throw at these programs is only enough to tide things over for a few months, mainly to reassure the banks. People are without hope. Liberals smirk and blame everyone else for their failed initiatives.
It is just like hep C. The ones who are being helped the most on these programs are the administrators. In some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars a month are being spent on administration fees. We cannot find money to increase our old age securities in any real way, but the Liberals have found $133,000 for the funding of films in Toronto to find the best penis.
The throne speech says it will continue to review the EI program. What does that mean? That to me is just more fluff and more rhetoric. The Liberals have been at this for 10 years. Canadians and their employers have been bilked out of $45 billion and they do not want more review. They want their money back or at least some assurance that the money will be used only for the benefit of the workers.
We can only be left with one conclusion. This throne speech, like the almost identical last few, is written with words meaning to impress Canadians about the Liberals rather than putting in place concrete solutions for Canadians. The sheer impotence of the throne speech confirms that the Prime Minister and his party choose to play it safe at the expense of hardworking Canadians who deserve far better.
In closing, we in Cambridge still worry about our health. We are very concerned about infrastructure and we need help. We need bridges, light rail transit, go trains, roads and highways. Our future growth is being compromised. We are overworked as volunteers and desperately need the government to do the right thing and spend our taxes on programs that work for us, not just its friends.
We do not need more talk; we need action. We do not need pretty speeches; we need firm, creative solutions. We do not need politicians; we need leaders.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. It is an honour and a privilege for me to do so. I do not mean the former Prime Minister, who was in power from 1948 to 1957, but the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent. My colleague who represents that riding will also speak in this 20-minute period in response to the Speech from the Throne.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased to support the Speech from the Throne as amended. Since this is my fourth time being elected, it is the fourth time that I have the privilege and opportunity to speak to the Speech from the Throne. As I said to reporters in my riding, this speech is quite exceptional. I think you have experienced the same thing, Mr. Speaker, during your political career. Coming to this minority government and being able to truly negotiate and amend the throne speech in a concrete, conclusive and significant manner is a solid way of increasing and enhancing the role of MPs and all political parties.
All the parties, the New Democrats, the Conservatives and ours, have sat in opposition, in the traditional sense. Journalists and analysts used to wonder what the point was in having opposition MPs, since they could not really effect change. I believe the past two weeks have shown the entire population that, regardless of the political party they voted for, the MPs who represent them in the House of Commons each have an extremely important role to play, especially in a minority government.
The Bloc Québécois' amendment to the amendment significantly changed the throne speech, as regards both recognition and respect of provincial jurisdictions, more specifically those of Quebec, and the recognition of the fiscal imbalance. Had the Bloc Québécois not been here in Ottawa, the Liberals would certainly not have woken up one day saying they wanted to add all this to the throne speech. These major changes also relate to the agreement reached by all political parties to change the employment insurance program, to the tax cuts for middle income families, to the implementation of a system to calculate surpluses or prepare financial statements more conclusively and to a vote on the missile defence shield plan. These are four issues in which I will be taking a particular interest. The Liberals would not have spontaneously written a throne speech that would have included these important issues for Quebeckers and Canadians.
The Liberals delivered a speech that was reminiscent of the days when they formed a majority government, a speech full of pious pronouncements and vague rhetoric. They used to tell us that, because they were a majority government, the Speech from the Throne would be passed and that we would just have to put up with it. The fact that they now find themselves in a minority situation has forced the Liberals to look more closely at what they were writing and to make corrections, first to honour the promises they made during the election campaign—time will tell whether they will act on their commitments—and also present to the public a throne speech that has more substance.
The amendment presented by the Conservative Party and supported by the Bloc Québécois and all members—indeed, it was unanimously passed—includes the following:
1. An order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities instructing the committee to recommend measures that would ensure that all future uses of the employment insurance program would only be for the benefit of workers and not for any other purpose.
The first point of the amendment put forward by the Conservative Party is very important. A total of $40 billion was taken out of the EI fund to pay off the debt and get rid of the deficit. The Liberal Party also has a debt, but that is another story. The Liberals used the sponsorship program to try to pay off part of their debt.
If it is recognized in the throne speech that all future uses of the employment insurance program would be for the benefit of workers only and not for any other purpose, then it would be perceived by all as a major victory.
Unfortunately, this huge victory came only after all the promises the Liberals made in 1997 when they travelled to the regions and said “We will change the unfair employment insurance system”. In 2000, they came back with the same promise and said “We will change and improve the EI system.” The only references to this issue in the throne speech before the amendment reiterated the things we had heard in 1997 and 2000, in other words, the government would have continued to plunder the EI fund to replenish the consolidated revenue account and bail out the country.
So, this is an important point for the unemployed, the workers and employers, all of whom contribute to the EI fund.
The second point of the amendment urges the government to consider the advisability of:
Opportunities to further reduce the tax burden on low and modest income families consistent with the government's overall commitment to balanced budgets and sound fiscal management.
There is absolutely no doubt that we, along with all the other parties in opposition, do not want to see the government end up with another deficit, which our families, our children and grandchildren will have to pay off some day. However, when a government amasses a surplus in excess of $9.1 billion, it might give some thought to disadvantaged families, and perhaps give Quebec the $700 million it is short in connection with parental leave.
Speaking of parental leave, I am going to read a letter from a mother. I will give her name and read parts of her letter, and I will tell you how an amendment like this one could have improved the situation of the men and women in each of our ridings. Magalie Lebrun of L'Épiphanie writes:
I am 26 years old and I just had a baby girl on August 26, 2004. My partner and I are both middle income earners. I trained in early childhood education at a CEGEP and am working toward a certificate in early childhood educational reinforcement through the Université du Québec à Montréal. Since the baby was born, I have been on maternity benefits...I took precautionary withdrawal from work.
...How come my earnings have been halved? ...
I am sure we are not the only ones in the same boat. We are too well off to get any help, but too poor to manage. It certainly is frustrating when you compare our situation with the way things are done in certain parts of Europe, where families are really encouraged and helped. It is society's choice, and I am glad of that, but how can anyone have children when we know that we will be up to our ears in financial problems afterward? Writing this will not have any effect on my own situation, I am sure, but at least it has given me a chance to tell you how unfair I feel this all is.
That is a letter from a woman in my riding. How many women and how many modest families could write us letters like that? How many families, living in modest or barely decent conditions, are saying to themselves, “Writing to my member of Parliament will not have any impact”?
Our role here in the House of Commons is to follow up on this letter and help these families living in difficult conditions, because what we want in our society is to have a family policy and to help young families. But we have to stop talking and get into action.
Consequently, the second amendment proposed by the Conservative Party of Canada and supported by the Bloc Québécois, to reduce the tax burden on low and modest income families is necessary in order to respond to situations like this one seen daily in all our ridings.
In order to reduce the tax burden on these families, we must have budget forecasts that hold up. When the government tells us that the predicted surplus for 2003-04 will be $1.2 billion, and at the end we find there was a surplus of $9 billion, is that not a difference that could have been used to help families like this?
That is why the third amendment calls for an independent committee to provide more precise estimates of surpluses, and we will decide together how to allocate them in accordance with the second amendment and other factors.
I would like to point out one victory, perhaps not the most important, but a very important one, in these amendments to the throne speech. It is the fact that the House of Commons will be able to vote for or against Canada's participation in the missile defence shield and participation and coordination with the American government.
It is well known that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to taking part in the missile defence system. We are asking, and have been asking for a long time, for the opportunity to hold a vote here in the House. The government has always refused.
Now, we have succeeded in amending the Speech from the Throne to ensure that there will be a vote in the House on whether or not Canada participates in the missile defence shield.
For all these reasons, I believe these amendments to the throne speech make winners of the opposition parties and the people of Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, first, since this is my maiden speech in this House, I would like to thank the constituents of the new riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, located in the greater Quebec City area, for sending me here. I want them to know that I am honoured.
In this important speech, I will highlight the main elements of my own agenda as the aboriginal affairs and northern development critic for the Bloc Québécois and as an aboriginal person from Quebec, an Innu-Montagnais from Mashteuiatsh.
Let me start by saying how disappointed I am by this insignificant throne speech, which has only five paragraphs about the first nations. Those paragraphs reiterate the usual generalizations and empty and often inconsequential lip service that usually appears, with a few changes, in most throne speeches. It in an empty shell.
The government's bland commitment identifies the usual horrors, such as the rate of teen suicide, which I was distressed to note recently when I visited the Manouane reserve and learned about a suicide pact some young Attikameks had made. The fetal alcohol syndrome, the yawning chasm between Aboriginal people from other Canadians in the basic living conditions, including the incidence of chronic diseases and housing and clean water. In the Speech from the Throne, the government does not however offer any specific solutions, afraid that such responsible promises could force them to bring about results.
I mention all of this because the elected Prime Minister promised us some great projects before the last election. The throne speech shows once again that the promises made by politicians, even by the Prime Minister, are not acted upon if they fail to meet with the approval of certain influential public servants.
The present government wonders what it could do that would have more impact, that could make a real change in the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and suicide among young people. My answer is that it stop talking about its goals and get down to focussing every effort to make significant changes in these two areas. The future of our native young people depends on it. Let the Prime Minister go and see just how crucial these problems are on the reserves. He will understand that the time for talking about goals is past; now the problems must be solved.
I have reread some of the key points in the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in order to be able to make some useful suggestions to the present government that it would find acceptable.
These proposals from one royal commission after another are just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. To gain some time after the events in Oka in 1990, the federal government paid for a complete investigation costing some $52 million, the royal commission reports. Since then, the Liberal government has made a few trifling reforms of no great consequence, designed particularly not to stir up any irresponsible criticisms from voters.
It is a real scandal that all these reports are out there, gathering dust on shelves, useless but very expensive reports referred to only by academics. Unfortunately the federal government, which footed the bill for them all, does not make use of the wealth of knowledge they contain, on the pretext that the cost might be too high. The politicians behind the decision to create that royal commission ought to realize that Canada'a Aboriginal peoples are Canada's third world, and that some major changes are needed to remedy the huge wrongs that have been caused.
I hope that they have evaluated what the outcome of such an operation would be, and the costs of implementing the changes. If they have not, it reflects very badly on the Conservative decision makers in office at the time. I sincerely do not believe, that the first peoples of Canada deserve such treatment, after the hundreds of years of abuse, pointed out so expertly by the royal commission, and acknowledged by the Liberal government of the last Prime Minister.
A careful and objective examination of the history of Canada led the commissioners to the conclusion that this supposed new world is built on the non-respect of treaties between the first nations and the first newcomers.
These treaties of alliance and friendship on the sharing of the land were quickly replaced by government policies of the colonial powers, which were highly questionable. These were intended, and I quote the commission report on this:
—to remove Aboriginal people from their homelands;
—suppress Aboriginal nations and their governments;
—undermine Aboriginal cultures.
The Liberal Government of Canada did recognize this in its historic Statement of Reconciliation of 1997, but the mea culpa ended there. It was just a passing phase.
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development at that time, Jane Stewart, reacted with complete indifference to the conclusions of the royal commission reported the previous year. She said that Canada was not very proud of it. She thus reinforced part of the most stinging conclusions of the royal commission, which should have incited the government to act as quickly as possible.
The Liberal minister paid dearly for this momentary lapse, since a few months later she was relieved of her duties as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the trustee for Canada's aboriginal peoples.
The commissioners were intent on presenting the outlines for a complete action plan for the Government of Canada, the trustee for the Indians.
The social project the report proposed was intended to change lives. I shall quote another passage from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples:
—to ensure that Aboriginal children grow up knowing that they matter—that they are precious human beings deserving love and respect, and that they hold the keys to a future bright with possibilities in a society of equals.
The point of departure for the commissioners was the obvious recognition of the fact that the aboriginal peoples are not, as some seem to think, an unimportant minority group whose problems need solving. We must understand that the royal commission's mandate was not to modernize outdated attitudes about Amerindians.
In conclusion, I want to point out that the royal commission proposed a program of change that would stretch over 20 years and contain all these elements and more. During that period, the commissioners said, a great many aboriginal nations could be helped to achieve autonomy.
Canada and Quebec will draw from the strength of the aboriginal people, in a full partnership.
Where are we now, in reality, more than 8 years later, in 2004, early in this new millennium, with respect to reconciliation? Not very far along, I must honestly admit.
The new Liberal government has missed a fine opportunity to add headlines to Canada's contemporary history books.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
It is a great honour for me to be here representing the people of Vancouver Kingsway. The privilege has been made greater by the Prime Minister appointing me Minister of Industry.
I am delighted to be speaking in support of the Speech from the Throne. I am delighted to be part of the team that has delivered Canadian economic performance that leads the G-7. I am delighted to be part of a government that has delivered seven consecutive balanced budgets, a substantial program of tax cuts, and a reduced debt burden that will continue to fall over the next decade.
Without this outstanding fiscal and economic performance, a progressive social agenda would be purely academic. There would be no renewal of our health care system, there would be no watershed program to transform cities and communities, and there would be no national program for the care and development of children.
I have a deeply held belief that the pre-eminent role of government is to look to the future. Our most important job is to hand to the members of the next generation a country they can be proud of: a country of opportunity, a country of powerful humanitarian values, a country that leaves no one behind, and a country that draws people and regions together. In other words, a country that is far more than the sum of its parts.
To do this, we need to take our economy to another level. That means taking our competitiveness to another level. It means we have to shockproof our economy. We do face economic threats and challenges. We do face protectionist actions. We do see constant attempts to attract our best companies. We face critical choices. Companies and operations that anchor large clusters of industry are being offered incentives to go elsewhere.
The pulling up of those anchors would have serious consequences for whole regions and whole sectors. We have to fight back. We have to ensure that this country is, by a significant margin, the place to invest for the long haul.
We have some work to do. Our productivity continues to lag behind the United States'. Research and development by private companies is not sufficient to deliver competitive superiority. Infrastructure investments are required to resolve border bottlenecks, not just at the Canada-U.S. border but congestion at our ports and along the corridors leading to ports and border crossings. We are by far the most trade dependent of the G-7 countries. We have the most to gain and the most to lose from the ups and downs of the global marketplace.
We are as a government driving Canadian trade interests at the WTO through NAFTA and through a variety of other mechanisms. We are giving priority to third market development and we are pressing ahead with border security and facilitation issues.
But let us not kid ourselves. There is much that we do not and cannot control. For Canada to be strong, sovereign and independent, there is only one reliable form of insurance. That is the insurance that comes from being the best.
We have to bring our competitive performance to first place. If we are the most trade dependent country, we have to be the most competitive country. That means a quantum improvement in our competitive position. That will not be quick and it will not be easy. It means a margin of competitive advantage has to be attained that will enable us to withstand protectionist actions like softwood lumber, like beef under the guise of BSE, and now pork.
We are not going to be the best by paying our people the least. We are going to be the best by being a technological leader. We are going to be the best by empowering our workforce with the skills and tools it needs to outshine the competition. We have to be at the leading edge of critical scientific developments. We need a cadre of scientific and technical entrepreneurs who can look at science and see commercial opportunity.
We are going to have to regulate smarter and better than anyone. In many cases, our regulatory regimes are complex, duplicative and unresponsive to innovative approaches. We should not lower our standards, but we do need to re-engineer how we regulate. Regulatory costs are largely invisible and they are seldom measured, but I can tell hon. members they are very large.
We are going to have to support critical sectors. I hear many people talking about sunset industries. They used to point at the forest industry as a sunset industry and now I see people pointing at the automotive industry as a sunset industry. I have to say that there really are very few, if any, sunset industries. There are industries that have become globally competitive and there are industries that need to transform to become globally competitive.
We are going to have to maintain and enhance our leadership in “enabling technologies”, such as information and communications technologies, life sciences, nanotechnology and advanced materials. We are going to have to do better than anyone in commercializing and applying science. Canadian businesses, particularly in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector, are not aggressive enough at applying technology to improve the competitiveness of their businesses. We need to fix that.
An economy that is environmentally and economically sustainable is not just desirable, it is essential. Without it we will not be able to carry the freight of social programs that are so vital to Canadians. The Speech from the Throne recognizes these challenges. It signals the priorities that will ensure our next generation receives the torch with a lead, a lead that it too can build on.
I look forward to working with all of the members of the House as we take Canada to a whole new level of competitiveness.
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your new position. The House, I am sure, is going to miss some of your more lyrical interventions during members' statements, but I think they will probably be missed less on this side of the House than on the other.
I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome to the House the new members of Parliament.
To all new members, I look forward to working together as we tackle probably some of the most challenging problems facing this country.
I am proud that the throne speech provides such a strong commitment to addressing the legitimate concerns of first nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians, that it speaks so directly to the need to forge a new relationship with Canada's aboriginal communities based on trust, respect and collaboration.
We are under no illusions that the problems of the past centuries will be solved in the next few months, but we are making progress. Indeed, the past year has seen extraordinary progress and impressive momentum. Building on a 2004 throne speech, a new committee of cabinet, dedicated specifically to first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners' issues and chaired by the Prime Minister, has been created and begun its work.
The engagement, commitment and determination of the Prime Minister to advance first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners' issues provides real hope for change. As early as last March he met with the leaders of the national aboriginal organizations, the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization, the Métis National Council, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples to listen to their concerns and solicit ideas.
This was followed by an aboriginal people's round table, held in April, which was co-chaired again by the Prime Minister, attended by 75 aboriginal organizations, 22 cabinet minister and members of Parliament.
Just a few weeks ago we saw a substantial result of that, addressing issues relating to first nations, Inuit and Métis health and the special circumstances faced in terms of the health of northerners at the special meeting of the first ministers and aboriginal leaders in Ottawa. Previously, in his reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister confirmed his commitment to another first ministers meeting with aboriginal leaders.
Moreover, the important role of interlocutor for the Métis people has for the first time been vested in the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, creating an unprecedented opportunity to put Métis issues at the very forefront of the national aboriginal agenda.
Emerging from the Canada aboriginal peoples round table were six key priorities: health, housing, lifelong learning, accountability, economic opportunity and negotiation. In each of these a process has been initiated, co-chaired by a member of cabinet, which will involve all partners in a collaborative effort to move the yardsticks and make tangible progress.
Let me touch just quickly on each of these areas.
First, with respect to health, as I mentioned, the special meeting of first ministers recognized the need to address unique challenges. The government agreed to establish an aboriginal health transition fund and committed to an aboriginal health human resources initiative to encourage more first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners to choose health care professions and improve the retention of health care workers serving aboriginal people.
Second, with respect to housing, many members in this place have seen first-hand the third world living conditions that are a daily reality for far too many first nations and Inuit people. We need to increase the supply of and access to affordable housing. We need to be more creative in how we finance and deliver first nations, Inuit and Métis and northerners' housing. I am very encouraged by some of the innovative ideas that national Chief Fontaine has proposed following the round table. We also need to be develop new approaches to housing so that more market capital can be accessed to build and maintain homes, while respecting the prerogatives of the collectivity.
Third, with respect to education, we have a long way to go to close the educational gap. However, to be sure, instruments in the past number of years have had a tangible impact on the overall level of aboriginal educational attainment. We need to encourage more first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners to pursue post-secondary education, acquiring the skills and credentials that are so vital to success.
Fourth, with respect to economic opportunity, our goal must be nothing less than to build a country that includes all of its people in its prosperity. We cannot be prosperity without opportunity. For aboriginal people that means growing up in a community with the possibility of building something better for themselves and their children.
Fifth, with respect to accountability, accountability is the hallmark of democratic government; the simple but essential notion that government should be responsible for the moneys it spends. We are proposing the creation of an aboriginal report card, a way of measuring progress against defined objectives. I hasten to add that the report card will be about accountability for everyone.
Sixth is the important area of negotiations of land claims, treaties and self-government agreements. I am very optimistic that together with our aboriginal, provincial and territorial partners, we can make real progress to advance in this crucial area.
In all these areas progress will be made if there really is good will to make a difference, to move beyond the old debates and help create a better future.
Of course, the six initiatives I have discussed today are not the sum total of our efforts. We know, for example, there are tremendous opportunities in the north. To achieve our joint objectives in the north, we need a strategy developed in collaboration with northerners and the Inuit community.
We also recognize the particular challenges faced by many first nations, Inuit, Métis and northern women. The NWAC sisters and spirit campaign is a particularly poignant reminder of deeply rooted wrongs. We will work with NWAC and others to ensure aboriginal women a place of honour and dignity in the life of the country.
It is too often the nature of this profession to lower expectations and dampen enthusiasm, However, I believe we really have reached a decisive moment, a time when we redress fundamental problems too long ignored and render fundamental dignities too long withheld. It is high time to finish the job that was started with the confederation of our country. That work has begun. Our commitment is clear. The momentum is building and the time is now.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Langley.
I will begin by thanking the residents of Simcoe—Grey for electing me to represent their interests in the House of Commons. As all members will know, it truly is an honour to be given such a responsibility and trust by the residents of our home communities. I look forward to giving them representation that reflects their goals and wishes, representation that treats their tax dollars responsibly and representation that includes consultation, not simply explanation on how things are going to be.
As many of my colleagues have so far, I would also like to comment on the throne speech. Millions of Canadians expected action on the gun registry, democratic reform, agriculture, BSE, tax relief and a modernized and effective military, as well as criminal justice reform. The Liberals continue to ignore these priorities.
As I am limited in time, I will raise a couple of issues that are of great concern to my riding and of course to Canadians across the country.
Two issues of great importance to the residents of Simcoe—Grey concern the BSE crisis and the lack of adequate infrastructure funding.
Sadly, the throne speech gives the BSE issue barely a mention and, on helping municipalities, it takes a step backward from the great Liberal election promises of the past. My constituents want to know why they had to wait more than three months for a document totally lacking in hope and vision.
As we have seen in throne speeches of the past, the Liberals have mastered the art of empty promises. There is nothing new in the speech. It recycles the same old warmed over promises we have heard for a decade in other throne speeches and election platforms.
In a quick flip through Hansard we will find these promises and schemes dating back years. Unfortunately, we will not find follow up action or solutions to problems that continue to affect Canadians.
As we heard last Thursday night during the emergency debate on BSE, Canada's beef producers are in a desperate state and yet the government continues to fumble around for answers and solutions. The government failed to prepare Canada for an eventual case of BSE. We could have solved the problem ahead of time. Now we have all had to live with the consequences. The government continues to fail our cattle producers, lacking the competence to get our borders fully open to export.
In my riding of Simcoe—Grey we have many cattle farmers. I told some of the heartbreaking stories of the many farmers who have lost their way of life during the emergency debate. Kandy was an example. She was a seed stock farmer and 75% of her herd were American sales. She has sold off a registered herd that she spent all her life developing. With the border closed she had no choice.
I also talked about the majority of the compensation money going to the processors. My constituents do not understand how this could have happened and they fully expect that this will happen again.
The response from the minister was that the government had tried to manage the program properly and that it had wanted to audit the processors' books. We already know where the money went. It is clearly because of the government's inability to manage our tax dollars wisely; its inability to manage the compensation program wisely.
When it comes to providing funding to municipalities to help them rebuild their roads, sewers and other public services, the government continues to slide. What happened to the great promises of reliable funding? What has happened to promise to transfer a dedicated portion of gas tax revenue? Has it disappeared until the next election?
In my riding, as in ridings across the country, we have a serious need for renewal. Aging infrastructure combined with a growing population has tied the hands of local governments. They need help and they need it now. They need the gas tax revenues to be distributed equally across the nation, not just be focused on cities and public transit.
In the Georgian triangle region, which includes the town of Blue Mountains, it will have issued one million building permits by the end of this year. It needs the dollars to support this infrastructure. In the Georgian triangle area it gets 50,000 to 200,000 visitors per day during peak seasons, weekends and holidays in the priority urban and emerging centres.
We also have Wasaga Beach in my riding. In a census Statistics Canada has recently established that this is the fastest growing municipality in Ontario and it is the fourth fastest growing municipality in Canada with a total growth of 8% per year, and this is due to migrating urban populations. It needs the dollars to support its infrastructure.
Also, in another area of my riding, Essa township, there are 500 residents who have to pay $6,000 per household to upgrade their sewers and water mains. This is over and above the taxes that they pay every year.
I was very pleased and very much supported the amendments to which my leader forced the government to respond. We forced the government to respond to the real priorities of Canadians. These issues are now on the public agenda because of the initiative taken by my leader. It is unprecedented for such substantive amendments to be made to a throne speech.
As a result of our amendments, the government has committed itself to a vote in the House of Commons before a decision is made on missile defence, an assurance it had previously refused to provide. I must admit though that I was a little concerned when I read what the government House leader said:
The vote is non-binding. It's advisory in nature. Parliament will have that debate and provide that advice to the government, and ultimately the government will decide--
To me it sounds as though the government will continue to govern as though it has a majority. This is unacceptable.
We have successfully made the point to the government that it must consult with opposition parties and take their views into account to make this minority Parliament work. We, as Conservatives, understand and have taken the clear message that we will work to make this minority government work.
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. It is an honour to speak before you today. This is my first opportunity to speak in the House.
I would like to thank the wonderful people of Langley for the honour to represent them in this 38th Parliament. My commission is to represent them, and it is about them and their needs that I want to speak about today. I am honoured to be Langley's first member of Parliament because Langley finally has its own riding. I would also like to thank my wonderful wife, children and family for their support and prayers.
Canadians across this country continue to be concerned about health care, our environment, transportation needs and crime. These are just some of the issues I will be working on on behalf of my constituents in Langley.
It is appropriate that I should make my maiden speech in reply to a throne speech that should be dedicated to defining and reforming the government's role in a modern society. I am here today to represent my constituency and to stand up for an ideal, the power of our action together to create a more equal and productive society.
As an elected representative, I am the conduit for communication between the residents of Langley and Parliament. As such I have included a few quotes from some students at Langley Meadows Elementary School. They share with us why Langley is such a great place to live.
Selassie said, “I like Langley because it has many beautiful and nice nature places to go. It is great because it has water parks, ice rinks, restaurants, stores and so many other fun stuff. It is big, but not like a city”.
Partik said, “I think that Langley is such a great town because it is nice and peaceful which is really what more people want. Here in Langley the parks are nice and relaxing”.
Ben said, “Langley is a wonderful city. The schools are great. Our school has nice teachers and we get a good education. In our school we have good computers and we get to stay on them for a long time. We also get awesome field trips”.
Perhaps one of these young community advocates will one day take up a seat in the House to represent Langley with so much heart and goodwill.
Langley is actually two communities with rich heritage and great diversity, Langley City and the Township of Langley. The first nations people, the Sto:lo, are thought to have been the principal occupants of most of the Fraser Valley throughout the last several millennia.
The Langley Township area was where the European settlement was first established. Fort Langley, built in 1827, achieved global attention during the Fraser Valley gold rush. The crown colony of British Columbia was created in 1858, thus Fort Langley was proclaimed the birthplace of British Columbia.
In 1873 the Township of Langley was incorporated. Langley Township is made up of various communities including Aldergrove, Brookswood, Fernridge, Fort Langley, Murrayville, Walnut Grove which is my home, Willowbrook and Willoughby. The township occupies 316 square kilometres and is now home to approximately 91,000 residents.
Langley is also known as the horse capital of B.C. Its horse industry has been valued at over $40 million. Approximately 1,000 horse farms in Langley have produced over 6,500 horses and ponies which represents approximately 16% of the provincial total.
The original settlement of Langley City was known as Innes Corners, established by gold rush enthusiasts William and Adam Innes. In 1955 the City of Langley was incorporated as a separate municipality. In the years since then the population has grown from approximately 2,025 to approximately 25,000 today.
Combined within just 10 square kilometres, the City of Langley contains established suburban residential neighbourhoods, a natural wetland of regional significance, parkland exceeding 300 acres, high density residential development, and a beautiful pedestrian oriented downtown.
The township and city share a regional shopping centre, and one of the most active industrial and commercial land bases found in the Fraser Valley in the Lower Mainland. With a diverse economic base, including well established agricultural communities, state of the art manufacturing industries and a strong retail sector, the Langleys offer excellent potential for investment and business. A favourable tax base, a skilled labour force and the proximity of Langley to Seattle, Vancouver, and overseas markets have made Langley an attractive area for investment and development.
Langley is a constituency that is known as the place where city and country meet, a community of communities, and the place to be. I believe Langley is as close to an idyllic community in Canada that we can find. However, Langley does not exist in a vacuum.
In the three and a half months since I was elected, a young Langley man has been convicted of serious sex offences against young girls in our community. In another instance, an 11-year-old Langley girl was abducted by a stranger and sexually assaulted until she managed to escape her captor.
During my short tenure, I have already established priority issues to work on in the coming year: transportation, auto crime, illegal drugs and child pornography legislation without loopholes.
Transportation is a major issue in Langley. The majority of Langley residents must drive outside of the community to their jobs. This increases traffic congestion to, from and within the community, a problem which has become critical.
A rail line runs right through the middle of Langley and is one of the main contributors to traffic congestion in the central part of Langley. With the planned expansion of the Delta Port container facility, the rail traffic through Langley is expected to more than triple from 9 trains a day to a whopping 34. As it now stands, when a train cuts through the city every major intersection is blocked simultaneously, making responses from emergency vehicles impossible. This is a critical situation which must be resolved as soon as possible.
It is a high priority to secure funding for Langley rail overpasses. I believe that working with the city and township of Langley, CN and CP Rail and all levels of government, we can and will ensure that Langley residents are not just seen as collateral damage by the bureaucracy. I will be talking to the hon. Minister of Transport and the hon. Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities with regard to this important issue.
In my past position with the Insurance Corporation of B.C., I came to realize that our federal government must lead the way in ensuring that vehicle immobilizers become standard equipment in every new vehicle registered in Canada. An immobilizer is an electronic device that prevents the vehicle from being started without the proper key.
Auto thieves target vehicles that are not protected by an immobilizer. Auto crime has reached epidemic levels and is costing Canadians almost $600 million per year in insurance claims. The majority of vehicles being stolen are used to commit other crimes, usually by an offender with a drug addiction. I will be working on a private member's bill on this important issue.
Langley is not immune to marijuana grow ops, the illegal drug trade and prostitution. It is organized crime and drug addiction that fuels most of the crime. I intend to work with my colleagues to see detox and rehabilitation facilities established. It is time for our justice system to use mandatory sentencing and to send offenders with drug addictions to detox. I look forward to serving as a member on the justice standing committee to deal with issues like these.
Langley is located approximately 40 kilometres southeast of Vancouver. It is one of the most beautiful communities in Canada and I encourage every member to plan a visit to Langley.
I close with the words of another young student, Courtney, who said, “Come on! Come see Langley. It's a great place to live! Langley is quiet and peaceful. All the people are very nice and so are the houses. Langley is a beautiful city. I suggest you come on over and enjoy all the fun things to do”. Thank you, Courtney. I could not have said it better myself.
I am honoured to be chosen to represent Langley. I believe in the potential of inclusion, the power of opportunity, honesty, accountability, and our responsibility to share it and make it available to all Canadians. For every day that the people of Langley send me to the House, that is what I will stand for. I look forward to working with my colleagues in this 38th Parliament.
Madam Speaker, like the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I also want, and I do so with great pleasure, to congratulate all the new parliamentarians who have made their maiden speeches at this important stage of the parliamentary process: the Speech from the Throne. Under British tradition, to which the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell is strongly attached, the Speech from the Throne is a time when the government sets the course, so to speak, for the next few years.
Let us note this historical moment, which the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell will remember with emotion a few years from now, when, in hindsight, he will be able to appreciate the very important role played by the opposition parties in improving on the throne speech, which, let it be said in all modesty, was not very substantial.
Some may want to tell me about the role of the opposition in the British tradition. I know that the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell normally refers to the opposition as Her Majesty's loyal opposition, and that is no doubt the proper designation. We are, of course, more or less comfortable with such slightly exaggerated references to Her Majesty.
My point is that, naturally, the role of the opposition is to improve government. This is such hard work that, at the end of each day, all the members of this House go home exasperated.
I take this opportunity to thank the voters of my riding who have allowed me to come and represent them here, in the House of Commons, for a fourth term.
The hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who is to some extent the father of the fight against Internet pharmacies, knows that we will have an opportunity to work on that issue in committee.
I also want to wish good luck in particular to a certain young member who has not been known in the past for being totally non-partisan since, in a previous life, he was the president of the Liberal Party. Because of the passion and desire to serve that he is showing, I do extend to him my very best wishes. I am thinking of my neighbour to the north, the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier.
That having been said, I want to come back to the substance of the throne speech. I must say that, for the first time since I came to this House, we have before us a Speech from the Throne that has been substantially improved through amendments put forward by the opposition.
The hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my good friend the member for Papineau, will remember that shortly before the adjournment, just before the election campaign, the degree of Liberal self-confidence was particularly inappropriate. They said we would suffer losses in Quebec. I remember the members for Bourassa and Papineau saying solemnly and with unbelievable confidence that only 15 Bloc Québécois members would be elected in Quebec. Incidentally, I would like to thank Quebeckers for electing 54 Bloc Québécois members, all of whom are very keen to work to protect Quebec's interests.
Of course, when the opportunity arises, we will cooperate with the government, since there are times in a Parliament when partisanship must be set aside.
When the Bloc Québécois assumed leadership on seven occasions in building a coalition on very important issues, it stayed away from any partisan behaviour.
My first example is an important issue, namely the reform of the employment insurance fund. A few years ago, when employment insurance was called unemployment insurance, two thirds of our fellow citizens who were active members of the labour force qualified for benefits. All this changed when the Liberals took office in 1993 and implemented a reform that had initially been proposed by the minister at the time, Lloyd Axworthy, and then the minister from New Brunswick, who was not re-elected in 1997. Thanks to Lloyd Axworthy's work, we had a reform whereby, today, slightly more than 30% of our fellow citizens who are active members of the labour force can collect benefits when they are looking for work. Of course, we have to contribute to this insurance program. It is funded equally by employers and workers. We all understand that employment insurance is for that transition period during which people who have lost their job are looking for a new one.
How could we end up with such a reform so unfair that it was condemned by just about everyone in Quebec? It is not only sovereignists who expressed their discontent with the employment insurance reform.
You know that eligibility criteria are extremely unfair. I think that the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who is from the progressive wing of his party, will remember how this requirement of 910 hours is unfair to young people. How can you explain that someone without experience, who often has had training, but who has not had the chance to have a first job, should have to meet such a requirement? The result is, of course, that new entrants in the program cannot qualify.
However, as concerns the extreme injustice and unfairness, can you imagine that the government was able to collect surpluses in a program that should provide workers with an income when they are looking for employment. The member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques fought hard in this regard.
All this to say that there was an amendment to the Speech from the Throne, with the vigilance—
Hon. Don Boudria: No, an amendment to the Speech from the Throne cannot exist.
Mr. Réal Ménard: Madam Speaker, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who, as we know, is very knowledgeable of parliamentary business, is telling me, through you, that an amendment to the Speech from the Throne cannot exist. He is telling us that we have taken a slightly comatose and fictitious action when we rose in the House to vote on the amendment and the amendment to the amendment.
Hon. Don Boudria: The amendment to the motion.
Mr. Réal Menard: I know that the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell would like to join me in congratulating all the opposition members who worked at making the Speech from the Throne fairer and more respectful of the expectations of our fellow citizens in Quebec.
Hon. Don Boudria: There is no such thing as an amendment to the throne speech.
Mr. Réal Ménard: Nevertheless, we did present an amendment to the motion inviting the government to make a reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to ensure that the workers contributing to this program would be the main ones to benefit from it.
There is one other very important matter. We know that everyone who has taken an even slightly enlightened look at the key trends in Canadian federalism realizes that there is what is termed a fiscal imbalance. This imbalance is a situation in which the federal government collects far more revenue of various kinds, income and other taxes and so forth, than what it needs to use these funds for.
The issue was not examined by a partisan body. We are talking about the Conference Board, the equivalent of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, if you will. It estimated that, over the next ten years, the federal government's situation could result in an accumulated surplus of $160 billion. We are not talking about fifty years, we are talking about a decade, a timeframe within which economic forecasting can be credible and accurate.
This brings me to another issue I care a lot about, health care. It takes the cake. If we were to grade the federal government on its handling of the health file, it would get an F. It took the mobilization of all the provincial premiers. I would remind the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell that an F means failure.
You will recall that last year at this time every single premier, not just a Quebec sovereignist premier, were mobilizing. Every single provincial premier of Canada, Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat alike, got into the act. They bought ads in newspapers to alert public opinion to the fact that the federal government had been particularly irresponsible.
Why irresponsible? We will recall—
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Réal Ménard: I did not get what the voluble Minister for External Affairs said. We will get back to the issue of the wall dividing Israel and Palestine and the way his government voted on it. I will mention it towards the end of my remarks and establish a link with the throne speech.
That said, through you Madam Speaker, I would like to address my remarks to the former health minister as I remember that the Foreign Affairs minister held that portfolio for a brief few months. It took ads in major newspapers across Canada to take the federal government to task for not paying its fair share.
By the way, I will add that the September conference did not solve the problem. The Romanow commission as well as the Clair and Kirby reports—eight provinces out of ten had their own working group on health care—demands a 25% share of health care expenses be borne by the federal government. With the new investment by the federal government, it will reach 23% to 24% in a good year.
If ever we needed another reason to hold a debate on sovereignty, the fact that the federal government can destabilize provincial public finance is certainly a good one. Do not think for a minute that when the current Prime Minister was minister—
Mr. Stéphane Bergeron: It is important.
Mr. Réal Ménard: Through you, Madam Speaker, I would rather not get involved in partisanship. However, I cannot help but notice something.
The Liberals had been elected in October. The Prime Minister refused to summon Parliament before January because he had to attend NATO meetings. When the current Prime Minister, who was finance minister at the time, brought down his first budget at the end of February, something was done with no warning whatsoever. Without conducting any type of negotiation with its partners in the federation, the federal government cut transfer payments to such an extent that the public finances of the various provinces became destabilized.
When Quebec achieves sovereignty, we will have just one Parliament. Quebeckers—
Hon. Pierre Pettigrew: When will that be?
Mr. Réal Ménard: I cannot give the Minister of Foreign Affairs a specific date at this time.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Réal Ménard: It will be done in a highly democratic manner, which should reassure the hon. member for Papineau.
I cannot help but recall that in the history of the sovereignist movement, there have been three extremely charismatic leaders who have founded political parties to ensure that sovereignty would be democratically voted on from time to time. Of course I am talking about Pierre Bourgault, René Lévesque and Lucien Bouchard. They have been among the most charismatic and knowledgeable leaders in Quebec.
That said, with the permission of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I will not commit to a precise schedule, but we in both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois will not stop being optimistic about one day achieving sovereignty.
Our optimism is strengthened by the profoundly unfair policies and actions of the federal government. The potential for destabilizing public finances by cutting into transfer payments as was done in 1994, 1995 and 1996 helps Quebeckers understand why sovereignty is necessary.
I would also like to say something about health and about the agreement that was reached on September 15. Along with the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes and the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, I attended the conference of first ministers. We followed their work closely. The agreement of September 15 poses a number of problems, that is certain. We will have an opportunity to look at it again, perhaps in more depth. I made a motion in committee and it received support; we are inviting the Minister of Health to appear and explain the agreement to us.
There are problems of accountability, among others. The former health minister, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was very fond of suggesting that there was no procedure for accountability in health care in Quebec. The minister does suffer from selective amnesia. We could quote the text to him, if he wished.
I would like to tell the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose serenity honours us, that in the National Assembly there are accountability mechanisms, such as the social affairs commission, the health commissioner and question period every day when the Assembly is in session.
I would now like to speak about a very sad matter, and I shall do so with all the solemnity it deserves. I was very sorry to hear some news yesterday. I hope that we can count on the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier, and on all members of Parliament.
We will recall that, in 1997, Allan Rock proposed a federal-provincial-territorial agreement on the hepatitis C issue. We are well aware that some of our fellow citizens have been infected through tainted blood or blood products. The number one recommendation of the Krever commission was that hepatitis C victims not be compensated on the basis of any kind of chronology.
As we speak, there is $1.1 billion available for compensation, of which $200 million has been used. In all good faith, the federal government expected to reach 20,000 hepatitis C victims, but has only reached some 7,000 to date.
That is why we have to achieve a consensus on improving the compensation package, so that individuals infected before 1986 and after 1990 can be eligible. I am sure that all parliamentarians in this House will agree to give in to this demand dictated by common sense, and, fundamentally, by compassion.
So, this is a very troubling issue. I cannot imagine the status quo being maintained any longer. That would not make sense. We are working hard at committee.
Madam Speaker, would you ask for the unanimous consent of the House to allow me to carry on for five minutes?
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in this historic House as the second member of Parliament for the riding of Thornhill. I take this privilege and trust very seriously and will work to re-earn their trust. I am a voice for all my constituents because everyone deserves a voice.
Having a father who at 15 years old fought for the Algonquin regiment of the Canadian forces in World War II, I say in his memory today, I am very proud to serve in this House. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of my predecessor, the Hon. Elinor Caplan, and her longstanding dedication to public service.
I represent a riding that is very dynamic and diverse in nature, a community of multi-generational families, a community rich in volunteers, present and past, including Craig Kielburg of Free the Children, and a community that I believe represents the very best of Canada. In many ways Thornhill is Canada and Canada is Thornhill.
One prime example is Mosaic, a grassroots interfaith organization which is both unique and notable. Fundamental to its mandate is the very underpinning of the values of Canada, the values of inclusion, respect and equality, values which must be continuously reinforced and defended, particularly at this time in history. I was very heartened by the strong and definitive message regarding zero tolerance hate and hate crimes contained in the throne speech. This is clearly one of those times in history that requires courageous and proactive leadership to ensure that there will be no comfort level for hate in any form.
In this regard, among other initiatives, we need to direct funds to our schools to teach our children at the earliest possible stage anti-hate and anti-racism education to ensure history is not repeated and maintain our credibility as a just society. These types of measures, along with others, will ensure that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms continues to guide our way of life. Any attempt to erode or compromise our charter must be fought vigorously. There is too much at stake.
I am particularly pleased to hear in the Speech from the Throne our government's strong resolve to reaffirm our commitment to improve and safeguard our long admired health care system. This is essential and goes to the heart of what Canada is all about. As an 11 year breast cancer survivor, I, along with my government, am steadfastly committed to implementing this objective. I was very fortunate to receive state of the art treatment and care in a very timely fashion. Unfortunately, this is not always the case today.
Cancer, like many other catastrophic diseases does not simply affect the individual but profoundly affects entire families and generations. I sat recently in the home of one of my constituents. She told me her surgery and treatment may be delayed. This is totally unacceptable. Simply put, we must ensure that we get back to the previous level of service, and I am confident that we will.
Our throne speech, with its emphasis on reducing wait times and reforming primary care, shows that we get it. Our groundbreaking comprehensive approach, including encouraging prevention and healthier lifestyles, combined with clear targets and evidence-based benchmarks, bodes well for us being successful in this most critical area. This is also part and parcel of our demonstrated commitment to strengthen accountability in all areas of government. The bottom line is, my constituents want to know that when their children or their parents they are caring for need timely health care, they receive it.
As a former city councillor, I have worked on the front lines to improve transit and transportation infrastructure and build healthy, safe and sustainable communities and cities. I am very pleased that enshrined in the throne speech is our plan to allocate a portion of the gas tax to improve our cities and communities across Canada. Just in the city of Vaughan alone, our current local roads and sewer water main infrastructure needs list is approximately $100 million, and this is repeated across Canada. This significant commitment also signals a new spirit of cooperation. Any barriers that diminish the quality of life of Canadians must be eradicated. Having the privilege of serving on the national caucus cities and communities committee and being the new chair of the GTA caucus, I look forward with great enthusiasm to advancing our government's initiatives in this area.
My constituents and Canadians everywhere welcome this direction, which puts them first and casts aside self-serving counterproductive partisan positions that divide us. They expect us to work together, all parliamentarians, building on our best assets, our people, our values and our unique and cherished way of life, one for which is certainly worth fighting.
It is about time that all levels of government worked together to find solutions that affect Canadian lives on a daily basis. This refreshing approach, embraced across the country, is resonating everywhere. Its benefits will be multiple and far reaching. Let us build on this model.
Our forward thinking approach is reflected in the throne speech, which encourages increased clean and renewable energy. Our intent to strengthen and increase our current wind power initiatives is particularly positive and underscores our growing commitment to take responsibility for our environment.
I would like to extend my wholehearted support for our government's plan to implement a national early learning and child care system. As a mother of five grown children and former school trustee, I know how important this initiative is and what it will mean to all of us in our futures in our families. This, coupled with the forthcoming assistance to seniors and caregivers of people with disabilities, speaks volumes about the respect and support for those who have contributed so much to our society.
We have many inspiring examples in my riding of senior clubs that are enriching our community. To name a few, we have the Garibaldi Seniors, the Pinecrest Seniors, Centre Street Seniors, Thornhill Seniors in Vaughan and the new seniors facility in Thornhill Markham. I applaud them all.
As a member of the new status of women's committee, I am very pleased that our government will be bringing forward legislation to protect women against the trafficking of persons. This is absolutely vital to the well-being and security of women here and around the world.
Our throne speech heralds a new era, a new way of thinking, a new way of doing business, a reaffirmation of the best that we have achieved in the past and a recognition of the changing needs and climate of today.
Canadians want us to succeed. Our goals are lofty as they must be and are facilitated by a bright fiscal picture which will allow us to continue to pay down the debt and at the same time invest in essential services, strengthening our foundations and improving the quality of life for all Canadians. Canadians are relying on us to achieve these goals. We cannot afford not to. There is too much at stake.
We have been charged to follow this course and we have walked through the door with great hope and promise. We are not turning back.
Madam Speaker, it looks like I may have the last word in this throne speech debate. I have been married for 30 years and I am not really used to that.
Since this is my maiden speech in this distinguished House, let me take this opportunity to thank the constituents of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission for the honour they have bestowed on me to represent them in this 38th Parliament. I am keenly aware that I serve at their pleasure.
I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the team of volunteers and donors who assisted with my campaign. I would like to think that I was elected because of my sparkling personality, but probably not. We have all come to realize that politics is a team game and I would not be here without their support.
I would like to thank my family, my wife Ruth, my children, Mark, Melanie and Adam and their spouses, who have been with me on this journey. I appreciate their support and encouragement. I thank my parents, Peter and Evelyn Kamp, who have modelled for me that success in life is about giving, not getting. I appreciate that.
Finally, let me thank the previous member of Parliament, Grant McNally, who served us well at considerable personal sacrifice and with whom I had the privilege of working for seven years. It is clear that he was well liked by members from both sides of the House, so I will have big shoes to fill. In fact I think some of his colleagues are afraid that I will not adequately take his place, especially the group that meets regularly at D'arcy McGee's. That fear I think is probably justified.
In my opinion, the riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission is the most beautiful riding in Canada. Some may differ with that, but if people had grown up there, as I did, or even visited there, I think they would come to agree.
It is the hometown of Larry Walker, probably the best right fielder in baseball. It is nestled between the north side of the Fraser River, which used to have fish in it, and the spectacular Golden Ears Mountains. There people will find three growing communities, microcosms really of our country, vigorous business communities co-existing alongside rural areas with farms that still produce and ditches that still croak.
Time is short so let me go directly to the throne speech.
Sometimes it is good to read the last page of a book before starting at the beginning to see how it turns out. If people do that with this speech, here is what they will find. If people go to the last page, they will find the claim that the government's agenda is based on a comprehensive strategy to do three things: one, to build a prosperous and sustainable 21st century economy for Canada; two, to strengthen the country's social foundations; and three, to secure for Canada a place of pride and influence in the world.
I wish I had time to comment on each of these three because they are all important.
Regarding the first, I think fulfilling our fiduciary responsibility is probably the most important task we have. Regarding the third, it is also a very important subject and I think some of us will have an opportunity to speak to that tomorrow. Because time is really short, let me focus on the second.
According to the government's claim, it has a comprehensive strategy to strengthen the country's social foundations. This of course should be of great importance to us all because history has shown us that it is impossible to build a prosperous, influential country without strong social foundations.
What does the speech reveal to us about the government's comprehensive agenda? There is a large section on health, and I will not speak too much about that. It is more a band-aid than a fix for a generation. I do not know if it will solve the personnel problems. We need doctors and nurses.
The speech also mentions in a single sentence the government's commitment to improving home and community care to safe and affordable drugs. There are some first steps in that area, but nowhere near the promises made during the election campaign.
Of course there is that promise that we have heard again and again for a national system for child care and early childhood training. I find it perplexing that the same government that claims to care so much about children cannot seem to produce loophole-free legislation which protects our children from child pornography.
Let me comment briefly in closing on what I did not find. Some of us have been chagrined to realize that our election makes us politicians.