The House resumed from April 5 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, first and foremost in my remarks I want to thank the voters of Malpeque for their confidence in me in returning me to the House of Commons. I might add as well how proud I have been to have served the riding of Malpeque, under two prime ministers, in a party that turned the finances of the country around and turned the government over in extremely good shape to the new government entering the House. I also am looking forward to this time period of holding the government to account as the member of Parliament for the riding of Malpeque.
The Speech from the Throne sets out the government's general direction, but this speech fails completely. As much as the Prime Minister may want the country and Canadians to have only five key priorities, that is not how a country as complex as Canada functions, nor how a federal government should respond.
The minister who best revealed how the Prime Minister intends to function was the Minister of Agriculture. He told the CBC that if he brought forward legislation this spring “The Prime Minister would look at him as if he were from Mars”, meaning basically that if the issue brought forward were not in the Prime Minister's five key areas, then do not bring it forward this spring. I can tell the House clearly that farmers on the Hill yesterday do not want the minister or the government to be from Mars. They want the minister and the government to act on their concerns, whether they meet with the Prime Minister's five key issues or not.
The message from the Prime Minister and from the Minister of Agriculture was clear to farmers and any Canadian: the Prime Minister does not consider it worthy of attention. If this issue does not meet with the five priorities of the Prime Minister, they are out of luck. The Prime Minister has decided that only his agenda matters and those other issues, whether related to trade, or related to rural Canada in terms of the agriculture crisis and farm income, or the future of the fishery, or issues related to transportation and infrastructure, or the needs such as in Atlantic Canada in terms of economic development, will just have to wait.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to mention at the beginning that I am splitting my time with the member for Laval--Les Îles.
Let me turn to the issue of agriculture. I want to congratulate the new Minister of Agriculture in his position and his responsibility. As agriculture critic for the official opposition, the Speech from the Throne is a failure as it relates to agriculture. Yes, there was a paragraph in the speech, but it basically looks like it was almost an afterthought.
Let us begin with this one fact. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in February of this year, stated that farm income across Canada would decline in 2006 by a further 16%. In the previous year, 2005, the farm income crisis situation was evident and responded to in five specific areas.
First was the ongoing support for income support programs such as CAIS. The government committed itself to working cooperatively with all stakeholders on improving the program. While the Prime Minister said during the election campaign that he was going to scrap the CAIS, he has now at least changed his mind and said that it will be in place for a year to give some stability. However, the lending community as it relates to primary producers has been taking action, in part because of the uncertainty caused by the Prime Minister himself.
Last year as well there was the direct infusion over the year with support going primarily to grains and oilseed producers, beginning in March of 2005, of close to $1 billion in ad hoc payments to assist with spring planting and other needs of producers.
In October an additional commitment, through supplementary estimates, of $348 million was lost to farmers due to the efforts of the other three parties causing an election.
There was an additional announcement of $755 million in November of 2005. This money was booked in November and the new government has only managed to get $400 million of that out to farmers as yet, according to the Minister of Agriculture recently. What is the holdup with the government?
Last year a comprehensive report on farm income entitled “Empowering Canadian Farmers in the Marketplace” was tabled with the federal and provincial ministers of agriculture. It has some 46 recommendations and provides strong support for the farm community. The government should be acting on those recommendations and moving forward so it empowers primary producers in the farm community.
That was the direct action taken by an activist government in response to the needs of Canadian farmers. That is what the previous minister of agriculture and agri-food did as part of his responsibility to those he represented at the cabinet table, the farmers of Canada. His job was to fight for additional assistance and he received it.
Ministers should not stand before audiences of desperate people and say that they would like to do something, but they do not want to disturb the Prime Minister's timetable or disrupt his plans. We need to see some leadership from the government as a whole on the farm crisis before us.
Also during the election the Prime Minister left the impression that there would be $500 million for producers. However, we find out now that it is not $500 million more for producers. It is $500 million over and above the safety net programs, which means it is about $1.2 billion short of what was actually funded over the last two years by the previous government. That is unacceptable. As farmers said on the Hill yesterday, they need cash and they need it now.
I see the member for Essex sitting opposite. I was surprised last night by his comments. While he said during the election campaign that the government would give immediate assistance to primary producers, he did not mention the word agriculture in his speech last night. He did not mention farmers. We have not seen a dime come forward from the government as yet. All we have seen is part of the money that the previous government put in place.
The Minister of Agriculture is either prepared to defend the interests of farmers in Canada in need or he is not. The Minister of Agriculture is a good person and a great individual. By reading the throne speech and seeing practically nothing in it in terms of the agriculture portfolio, I can only assume that the Minister of Finance, the President of Treasury Board and the Prime Minister himself have their own priorities in agriculture, and primary producers do not seem to be a part of it.
Yesterday close to 10,000 farmers from across Canada were on the Hill. They outlined their concerns about the inaction of the government and the fact that it had not put forward an ad hoc program for producers this spring. That is what the Minister of Agriculture has indicated thus far. Farmers are demanding cash and they need it now. The Minister of Agriculture called a press conference and basically said not to look to him because the problem relative to CAIS lay with the provinces. They support CAIS but it is not the only program.
Members across the way now make up the Government of Canada. They cannot sit there and just complain any more. The throne speech should spell out clearly what they are going to do for those rural communities many of them represent. We need to see some action. That is what producers yesterday were telling members opposite. That is what they were telling the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture. They want to see some action, not just hear words. It is not enough to say the problem is with the provinces. The members opposite are in a position of responsibility. What we need to see from the Prime Minister and the new government is leadership and leadership is going to require dealing with the farm crisis, putting money out there, or at least catching up to the kind of financial commitments that the previous government put in place.
Mr. Speaker, I am angry, not to say enraged, to hear the speech by my Liberal colleague.
It was the Liberals of the previous government who precipitated the agricultural sector into one of the worst crises, which has now become even more brutal. For nearly three and a half years now there has been trouble in the agricultural sector. Everything started when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called “mad cow”, was discovered in Alberta.
Since then there has been a snowball effect on the dairy producers, who were its first victims. Next came the cattle farmers. Now it is the grain growers, who for two years have been getting next to nothing in international prices, for those prices are set by Americans vying with each other to subsidize their agricultural sector. We have seen the rise of the Canadian dollar, the doping of the Canadian dollar with western oil exports. There has been no compensation for hog producers, for example, who are also experiencing what is almost the worst crisis of their lives.
For three and a half years, those people did absolutely nothing to help farm producers. We knew from the outset that the stabilization program set up by the Liberals would not work, because the compensation mechanism was totally warped.
Now here we are with one of the worst crises. Those people are responsible. This gentleman, a past president of the National Farmers Union in the Maritimes, did nothing in the 13 years he was in that office, and nothing again over the last three and a half years.
I am also counting on the Conservatives to respond quickly. Yesterday I was not satisfied with the minister’s reaction. We must take action before all the agricultural producers of Quebec and Canada are wiped out. We must do so quickly, with significant amounts of money. In recent years the government has been more catholic than the Pope. It has slashed subsidies, starting with the dairy subsidy which at that time was paid to all the dairy producers in Canada.
We have beaten our competitors to the punch. With the result that, today, it is not the quality or supply of our products that is lacking, but the subsidies. We are competing with the American and European subsidies. That government did nothing over all those years to help out the producers. And here we are facing the worst of crises.
What does the past president of the National Farmers Union for the Maritimes say to that?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House of Commons on behalf of the official opposition to reply to the government's throne speech.
Before I begin, allow me please to welcome the new government, especially the new members. I would also like to offer you my warmest congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole House. I have no doubt that you will provide the wisdom and calm needed in this House.
I must also take a moment to thank the residents of Laval—Les Îles in Quebec for electing me a fourth time. It is an honour to continue to be their voice in Canada's Parliament on issues such as immigration, early childhood, youth employment, expanding the labour market, infrastructure development, old age pensions and, right now, bilingualism. Their trust will not be betrayed.
In the 10 minutes that I have, I will cover four issues missing from the government's agenda: integration of minority language communities outside Quebec, support for la francophonie arts and culture, youth and child care.
The Governor General's opening remarks reminded me of my own travels across Canada and the people I have met in the two great linguistic communities. I too can attest to their tremendous asset to our country. We are indeed living in a country where everything is possible. We can follow our dreams and help build a strong and united country.
Mr. Speaker, I am not satisfied with the rigid contrast found in the message of the Government of Canada. It offers no vision for the ongoing integration of francophones and anglophones in Quebec or for the development of official language minority communities.
The year 2006 will mark the 40th anniversary of French immersion programs. It all started with a project at the Riverside school board in St. Lambert, Quebec. Today, this vision of the duality and equality of the two languages is enshrined in the Official Languages Act, and $751.3 million over five years has been earmarked by the action plan for official languages, which sets out clearly the government's responsibility for putting it in place. Linguistic duality is now firmly entrenched in the foundations of our multi-faceted society.
The mother tongue of almost six million people in Quebec today is French. Almost 66% of another approximately 700,000 English speaking people speak French at work. Also, 400,000, or 63%, or another half a million people without French or English, many of them immigrant workers, live and work in French.
The most recent statistics indicate that nearly seven francophone workers in ten living outside Quebec, or some 566,000 people, use French at work.
The Liberal vision of a bilingual country has taken root. We now have a government that is trying to destroy that vision. The day before yesterday I asked a question in this House about the future of bilingualism in Canada. The hon. member responded, and I quote:
“We have a strong minister in charge of heritage and culture who has indicated that she wants to promote that”, meaning bilingualism, “throughout Canada”. The member also said that “bilingualism is something this party supports”. I am very happy about this since the Prime Minister can certainly thank the Liberal policy on bilingualism for having had the opportunity to learn French.
How has the government shown support for bilingualism? The Prime Minister appointed a unilingual minister whose mandate is to coordinate the horizontal work of the government in promoting French and English. What has that minister done since her appointment? She has refused every attempt by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Madame Dyane Adam, to meet with her.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage has yet to say two words about official languages or even meet with francophone and other national organizations which are still waiting two months later for a return phone call.
These groups confirm today that:
in the Speech from the Throne, arts and culture in Canadian francophonie have been eradicated from the vision of Canadian society as the Conservative party sees it. The Conservative party wants to build a strong, united, independent and free Canada, but it is an aberration to think they can do so without culture, without the arts and without cultural diversity. We cannot accept this. How does the Canadian government intend to sustain these sectors, these strong social, economic and educational drivers of our Canadian society and true foundations to building our identity, within the francophone and Acadian communities?
Instead, the minister had a lot to say about the CBC even before her briefing and nothing to say about the minority language community.
There is more. Without even bothering to read the mandate of the Canadian Unity Council, funding was gutted from the council because it does not fit into the Conservative government's vision of open federalism that, according to the throne speech, recognizes the unique place of a strong, vibrant Quebec in a united Canada.
The Canadian Unity Council is a non-profit, non-partisan organization created in 1964 when a group of francophone and anglophone Quebeckers established the Canada Committee, which was the precursor to the council. Its mandate is to create an openness toward federalism and its mission is to inform and mobilize the public on the development and promotion of Canada. It stems from our social foundations as a nation.
Most of the council's work affects young people. For example, its summer job and student exchange program, originally supported by all parties, allows young francophones and anglophones to improve their second language while discovering a region of Canada they are unfamiliar with. I know for a fact that one hon. member opposite benefited from this program when he was young. Because of this decision by the Conservative government, roughly 80 Canadian employees, including 21 at the council's head office in Montreal, have lost their jobs.
The Conservative government talks about supporting democracy, about accountability, open federalism, respect for diversity, bilingualism and the understanding of cultures. How does it do it? It does it by gutting the funding of the Canadian Unity Council across Canada.
Here is an institution able to add to the dialogue of our country. It has or, more aptly put, had offices located in every region of the country. Thirty-two regional round tables were held in Quebec alone through the Council's Centre for Research and Information on Canada. They engaged all sectors of our society: academics, business people, volunteers and the general public. Their work was citizenship participation in action.
How do Canadians get to understand their country if cultural misperceptions exist, if access to people's stories is cut off? If integration and adaptation is eroded by the government's hidden agenda that is now coming to light, how many other non-profit community based organizations are going to be affected?
In the meantime, the Prime Minister's first public address to public servants, delivered mainly in English and posted on the government's website, was a direct violation of the Official Languages Act. Now we know the Conservative leadership's stand on bilingualism. Since being elected and establishing its cabinet, the government's target has not been about bilingualism because it has no vision.
It has been about building super jails to house youth while abolishing the gun registry, instead of putting in place better community support systems and leaving in place the substantive national crime prevention strategy and the youth employment strategy that have helped to reduce crime by 12% over the last 10 years.
This government's Speech from the Throne is an insult to the five-year plan of action to allocate $751.3 million to official languages. The agreements reached between the federal government and the provinces on early childhood education helped to fund more places for official language minority communities.
Nova Scotia could have stimulated the vitality of its francophone and Acadian communities. Newfoundland and Labrador could have worked with its associates, such as the regional health services, to satisfy the needs of francophone children.
There were also plans to have the appropriate authorities report on the provisions available for services in French. This government will put the future of our children at risk because of its linear views on flexible and open federalism.
The Conservative alliance government might definitely need to use as its guide the foresight which our forefathers showed to build a federal system that would be flexible and accommodating of diversity.
In that way, the Conservative alliance could build on one of Canada's greatest strengths—the federal system of government. In the meantime, it would build on the unique strengths of the different parts of our federation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all the people of Winnipeg South who elected me to this chamber. I also would like to highlight that my wife, who is my biggest supporter, is very happy to be here today.
I am happy to be participating in this debate on the most recent Speech from the Throne which contains a number of important new initiatives that I found of great interest as a westerner, as an aboriginal Canadian and as an entrepreneur. I am especially proud to speak before you today, Mr. Speaker, as a Métis member of Parliament from Winnipeg South, an area of Manitoba which has not elected a Métis representative since Louis Riel.
A lot has changed since then and the Prime Minister highlights that change by giving me the opportunity to work as the minister's parliamentary secretary in this important department relating to aboriginal issues. I also look forward to working with the Prime Minister on our government's important new initiatives which will benefit everyone in Canada, including our first peoples.
Of these new initiatives there are several I would like to highlight. For example, take those measures designed to strengthen the family, that vitally important institution that lies at the heart of everyone's community. It represents the very foundation of this country.
One of the most important measures would give Canadian parents greater choice in child care, so they can choose the option that makes the most sense for them. This is particularly important now that the family unit has changed. Many families have different makeups and their needs should be addressed. In these various situations it is critical that their children be well cared for while they are on the job and that child care options be right for their child and match the family's needs and values.
However in order to get this right it costs money and many families do not have enough money. This is where the Government of Canada comes in, helping to make good child care a bit more affordable.
The problem is that the federal government has not always done a very good job of addressing the needs of families. This was particularly true since the previous government tended to have a do nothing approach to child care, which became a one size fits all approach whenever an election was looming.
As a result, the previous government ploughed every penny of taxpayer dollars into publicly funded daycare, while stubbornly refusing to accept that there might be any other options. We as a government campaigned on a different approach. We as a government believe that money is best kept in the hands of parents who can decide what the best care option is for their children. It is simply a matter of philosophy; would parents rather be given a choice or would they rather have the government tell them how best to care for their child? I and my colleagues believe that choice should and must rest with parents.
Under the old system, if a family did not fit into some stereotype dreamt up by Ottawa bureaucrats, ivory tower academics or lobby group leaders they were simply out of luck. Families had to choose between trying to live their lives the way the experts said they should or digging into their own often meagre financial resources to pay for child care that matched their needs. That was then and things have changed. This government recognizes that every family is unique, which means their needs are different too, including their child care needs. That is why the Speech from the Throne calls for greater choice in child care by providing parents with a child under the age of six with $1,200 per year to help them purchase child care that is right for them and right for their child.
That is not all, to ensure parents keep as much of their income as possible, the throne speech also contains a commitment to drop the GST from 7% to 6% and ultimately down to 5%. Such a tax cut would be particularly welcome for those families living on modest or fixed incomes, people whose income is often too low to allow them to benefit from a cut in the personal income tax rate.
Since the GST is the one tax that everyone pays no matter what they earn, cutting this tax benefits all Canadians. Again, this is a question of philosophy. Where is the hard-earned money of Canadians best kept? Both our government and Canadians believe that their money is best kept in their pockets. Cutting the GST is a tax cut that benefits all Canadians from all income levels. I am sure these benefits will become quite apparent.
Strengthening families is about more than just money. It is also making sure that people can get the medical treatment they need to live long and healthy lives when they need it. After all, they paid for it.
This is addressed by our promise to negotiate a patient wait times guarantee. Under such a system, people who cannot get the medical care they require in their own locality in a timely fashion using the public system can go to a private facility or another jurisdiction with the cost being paid by public insurance. Such a guarantee is long overdue. People who often require significant medical attention on an urgent basis in the past could not get it. This was particularly true in families with young children or elderly or disabled family members.
The universality of health care has long been ignored and we will do our part as a government to ensure that Canadians get the health care they deserve and the services they are entitled to.
Mr. Speaker, I am also splitting my time with the member for Calgary Southeast.
Of course, some families involve veterans, many of whom are seniors living on fixed incomes. These are people to whom we owe a lot which makes it imperative that they be treated with respect. Unfortunately, one group made up of first nations, Métis and Inuit veterans has not received the respect it deserves.
I recently had the pleasure of witnessing the honouring of five such veterans myself. Bob Ducharme, Oscar LaCombe, John Pederson, Joseph Clement and the late Louis Lamirande are Métis nation citizens who along with their brothers made a great sacrifice for our country, who for too long have not been properly recognized. This is why I was so pleased that the government committed to making redress for the inequities they have suffered for the last 60 years. I look forward to working with the government to make this a reality.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Métis National Conference in my home province of Manitoba. I can tell the House that the Métis people are fiercely proud of their veterans. I, along with them, look forward to the day when their sacrifices and their selfless contribution is awarded the recognition it deserves, not just from their families but also from government.
The Speech from the Throne contains measures aimed at protecting and strengthening communities, For example, to ensure citizens can go about their daily lives in peace and security, the throne speech contains measures aimed at combating gangs and youth violence that we see in some of our larger cities including my home of Winnipeg. To do this, it proposes a two-pronged approach. First of all, we will get serious about youth crime by giving police and the justice system the tools they need to combat it.
The message here is simple. If one commits a serious crime, one is going to do serious time. This message is even stronger given the resolve of our justice minister who will stem the tide of victimization in our justice system. Law-abiding Canadians will be protected with him at the helm.
However, tougher laws and law enforcement cannot by themselves solve all the challenges in this area which is why the Speech from the Throne calls on government to help those young people already in trouble to get back on track. It commits us to working with our partners, in the community and other levels of government, on projects that encourage young people to make good choices, so that they can get their lives back on track.
Taken together this should go a long way toward providing our young people, who are after all the very future of our country, with the help they need to become healthy, productive and well-adjusted citizens capable of making their own special contribution to this country and their community.
Canadians are yearning for change. They are looking for new ideas and they want a government that works for them and with them. The throne speech contains a number of important new measures which, when implemented, will strengthen Canadian families and communities even more.
However, translating these commitments into action will not be easy for we are talking about complex issues where everyone must get involved if we are to enjoy success. We will require the ideas and cooperation of all members of the House if we are to find solutions to challenges facing us. By working together we can be an example to all Canadians. We can show them that through cooperation much can be achieved. Together we will restore the public's faith in their elected officials. It will not always be easy and it will require hard work. Still, it will be worth the effort, for when we are finished, we will have laid the groundwork for a stronger and safer Canada.
It is for this reason that I support the commitments in the throne speech and I encourage other members to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by adding my words of congratulations on your elevation to the Chair. Mr. Speaker, as dean of the House and one of the most respected members of this place, it is encouraging for all of us to see you assuming your rightful place in the Chair. As a member of the government, I am delighted that you will not likely be participating in question period very often in the future.
Let me also begin by thanking my constituents of Calgary Southeast for the honour of serving them for a fourth mandate here in the House of Commons. It is a particular honour in my case, not to be boastful, because they rewarded me with more votes than any other candidate in this election, 46,000 votes, which is more a sign of the growth of Calgary than the quality of their member of Parliament, I assure the House. It is also a sign of the need for, among other things, this Parliament to allow full representation by population given that many of us from cities like Calgary represent a huge and growing population that deserves proper representation.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for making me his parliamentary secretary and for assigning me certain responsibilities. I have great faith in this Prime Minister’s leadership and in his vision for the future of our country.
It is a vision that was well and briefly articulated in the Speech from the Throne. Members opposite have criticized the throne speech for its brevity. It is impossible of course in any throne speech to provide a comprehensive program for every area of public policy. What we see here though is a different approach. Canadians voted on January 23 for change and they have a new government which has expressed that spirit of change in this throne speech document. They have a government which is focused on achieving results, focused on priorities, and not distracted by dozens of priorities.
The former Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, has said that if a government has 45 priorities, it has no real priority. He was right.
That is why the present Prime Minister has decided to set a government agenda that focuses on certain priorities shared by all Canadians.
Those priorities were well articulated in this throne speech.
I would like to stress the fact that the first priority of this government is, obviously, accountability. We are going to replace the previous government’s culture of kickbacks with a culture of accountability. That is why the first bill introduced by this government, which will be tabled next week, I believe, will be the Federal Accountability Act. The purpose of that act will be to carry out the most ambitious reform of federal institutions in the modern era of Canadian politics.
This will affect everything from party financing to access to information to whistleblower protection to the ability of the Auditor General to look into every nook and cranny of government to route out waste, and to stop it before it begins. That will be our hallmark.
We are setting a high standard and we in the government recognize that. We are setting a high standard for ourselves, and if we fail to meet that standard, a price will be exacted. We understand that. We understand that mistakes will be made. The Prime Minister has said that no one is perfect in any organization with thousands of people. Mistakes will be made. The difference in this government is that when those mistakes are made, deliberately or otherwise, there will be consequences and people will be held accountable.
That is the difference between this government and the previous one. Under the previous government, politicians and public servants could do anything at all without being held to account.
That is why Canadians voted against the Liberal government. They saw the enormous waste of their money. Canadians and families in this country work hard to earn that money and pay their taxes. They want to support the services provided by the government, but they do not want to see the waste, the corruption and the kickbacks that they witnessed over the last 13 years.
That is why this government has a mandate for accountability and change.
I am speaking directly of my own constituents now. We are very blessed in Alberta generally, and in Calgary particularly, with tremendous prosperity. I think my riding is the fastest growing constituency in the country. We have become magnets for risk taking, entrepreneurialism, business and enterprise.
The people in my constituency in particular would like me to say that they want us to be focused here on reducing the tax burden on Canadian families. I think they are pleased that one of the first acts of this government and the tremendous new Minister of Finance from Whitby—Oshawa will be a universal tax cut for every Canadian family.
The Liberal Party’s finance spokesperson said during question period yesterday that his party is in fact opposed to reducing the GST, because they want to keep the previous Liberal government’s tax strategy.
The income tax reductions proposed in the Liberals’ last budget do nothing for the 32% of Canadians who have the lowest incomes. Those families do not pay income tax, because they do not have enough income for that. However, all Canadian families pay the GST. That is 100% of Canadian families who will benefit from a tax reduction in the first budget of this government, thanks to a reduction of the GST from 7% to 6%.
Then, of course, it will go to 5%.
This is a universal tax cut. It is just like our day care program, our choice in child care allowance. It is a universal approach.
In the past, the Liberal Party was in favour of the principle of universality in public policy, when it comes to social programs. It supported the principle of universality, under which everyone must have access to the same services. In fact, it developed a child care centre program that actually targeted 20% to 24% of parents, those who use institutional child care services. However, it forgot about all the other Canadian families and the great diversity of choice that is available to them for child care.
We are not going to forget the other three-quarters of Canadian families. We are going to provide 100% of the families with preschool children with resources to assist them in their child care choices. Yes, we admit that it is not perfect, but to be blunt, we do not have the fiscal capacity to provide the $13 billion in budgeted money that the advocates of a universal, Ottawa-run, institutional-government-knows-best, cookie cutter style of Liberal day care program would cost. That $13 billion is precisely why the Liberals never delivered such a program in 13 years. It was 13 years and $13 billion. They delivered nothing except a tiny pilot project last year, at a billion dollars a year.
The Liberals pretend that the choice is between universal, quality day care and the $1,200 a year choice in child care allowance. What nonsense. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the choice is between something, the $1,200 a year, or nothing, which is what the Liberals delivered after 13 years.
Those are our priorities. I know that, in particular, accountability, tax reduction and child care choice are priorities that my constituents would like me to speak to.
As a word of personal interest, I would like to commend my hon. colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister for the new principled dimension of our foreign policy that we are already seeing at the beginning of this government.
I am somebody who came to this place partly because I had a heart for human rights issues abroad and for moral principle in foreign policy. I am delighted to see that already in the first few weeks of this government we have seen some principle restored and Canada's prestige restored to our role in the world, most clearly typified by the Prime Minister's brilliant voyage to Afghanistan. Many Canadians have said to me that they now feel proud of their government again. That, I think, is already our greatest achievement.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished and respected colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île. I would also like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and thank the electors in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for their vote of confidence for a fifth consecutive time. I will continue to work with my usual passion and conviction to improve the welfare of my fellow citizens.
Expectations for the new government are high. They parallel the commitments made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. He has the arduous task of repairing the breakage from 13 years of waste by the Liberal regime, a cynical, arrogant and corrupt regime that slashed transfers to the provinces to fund the obligations set for them under the Constitution.
I was happy, but not surprised. Throughout the election campaign, the Prime Minister made firm commitments regarding the fiscal imbalance. He convinced some voters in Quebec that he would settle the matter and rectify the fiscal imbalance. I was not surprised to hear that. I was happy, because it was beneath the previous government to even acknowledge the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada.
The government must now rectify two aspects of the fiscal imbalance. First, there is the vertical fiscal imbalance, the government's ability to tax our fellow citizens beyond its financial requirements for carrying out its mandate. The governments of Quebec and the provinces, on the other hand, are unable to obtain the financial resources they need to meet the obligations set out for them in the Constitution. In other words, there is too much money in Ottawa for the federal government's requirements and not enough in Quebec and the provinces to enable them to carry out their mandates as effectively as possible. These are fundamental mandates to provide direct services to the public such as education and health care and other provincial obligations.
We are not asking the government to resolve this issue tomorrow. However, we are asking that it start making corrective changes as early as the next budget, which will be brought down in a few weeks. In particular, we are asking it to promise to sit down with Quebec and the provinces to negotiate, much the same as in 1964 at the Quebec conference between Mr. Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Jean Lesage, the Premier of Quebec. In 1964, it was agreed that the federal government had a fiscal overcapacity and that major reforms were needed in the provinces, in matters of education and student assistance in particular. At the time, Mr. Pearson agreed to hand over some of the federal government's tax fields to the provinces that wanted to benefit from this. In 1964, only Quebec benefited. Today, when we talk about tax points and their value of several billion dollars, it comes mainly from that conference.
Our expectations when it comes to the vertical fiscal imbalance are that the government will initiate discussions with the provinces and with Quebec and end up transferring these tax fields or taxes like the GST, transferring revenue, and taking jurisdictions that are exclusive to Quebec and the provinces away from the federal government. With this new revenue, Quebec and the provinces could fulfil their basic missions.
The second type of fiscal imbalance the federal government must correct is the horizontal fiscal imbalance. The government has a fundamental instrument at its disposal, an instrument that has even been in the constitution since 1982 and that is equalization. The horizontal fiscal imbalance is the inequality between the provinces in their ability to obtain tax resources to provide comparable services from east to west in Canada. This equalization system can offset the horizontal fiscal imbalance, in other words, the disparity in provincial wealth obtained from taxes and used to fund basic programs.
The current situation makes the imbalance much more apparent than ever. Alberta, for example, is swimming is unbelievable wealth. Soon the Maritimes will have their turn thanks to offshore oil. Meanwhile, the other provinces are getting poorer in relative and absolute terms.
We must not forget that the oil boom and Alberta's massive oil exports are artificially raising the value of the Canadian dollar. In Quebec and Ontario in particular, but in the Maritimes as well, businesses are becoming less competitive, especially against emerging countries. When the Canadian dollar is pumped up by oil exports, the whole manufacturing sector suffers, in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Today, with the rise of economic powers such as China and India, a number of regions are faced with massive job losses. I will come back to this later. Business owners do not know where to turn, with increased competition and the rise in value of the Canadian dollar, which makes businesses less competitive.
Equalization is the perfect way to try to alleviate the disparity between provinces, but there needs to be a way to accurately measure each province's revenue-raising ability before the have-not provinces can be adequately compensated with equalization payments. Equalization reform is needed.
First of all, the equalization formula has to be based on the 10-province standard. Each province's fiscal capacity must be calculated against a Canada-wide average, not just a five-province average, as is the case now. All 10 provinces have to be taken into account. As well, some tax bases, such as property tax, need to be reviewed. For some provinces, estimates of the government's ability to raise property tax revenue are used. These provinces' property tax capacity can be overestimated, with the result that they receive lower equalization transfers than they actually need.
Second, when we say that each province's total fiscal capacity has to be considered, this means that we must not remove a tax base from the equalization formula, as the Conservatives are proposing to do. They want to take out non-renewable natural resources. This would skew the system and add to the horizontal fiscal imbalance between the provinces. One province's relative wealth would increase, while the other provinces' relative wealth would decrease. We have to be consistent.
Equalization is the only program with constitutional status. In the past it was felt that there would be growing inequalities among the provinces in terms of their capacity to collect wealth in the form of taxes, and this program served to correct that. Equalization has to be reformed, but not in the way the Conservatives have proposed to us.
We are on the government’s side if it intends to rectify the fiscal imbalance in the medium term. The situation at the moment is urgent. Post-secondary education—i.e. colleges and universities—has been underfunded for many years. That began when the former finance minister, who later became Prime Minister, made savage cuts to transfers to the provinces for the funding of post-secondary education.
The situation in which we now find ourselves is dangerous. I have met with the president of the Association des collèges du Québec and the principal of François-Xavier-Garneau college, in the Quebec City region. They informed me that, since the mid-1990s, education programs have been reformed and modernized to take account of labour market realities and technological development. However they do not have the funds to set up these new programs. It is becoming a disaster. We know that education is fundamental, that it is the future of our economy and our societies. We do not even have the money to modernize our programs, much less set them up.
When the Conservatives were in opposition, I chaired a sub-committee on the fiscal imbalance. I told them that we needed to increase the federal contribution to 25%. They agreed. This represents an increase in transfers for post-secondary education of $4.9 billion per year for all of Canada. This has to be done. The government must take action on this.
I would also like to mention three other issues of close concern to me. One is POWA, the program for older worker adjustment. With the fierce competition from emerging countries, it is important to help workers aged 55 and over to get through this period until the time comes to retire. This program used to exist in 1997. In my riding, the people from Peerless in Acton were the last to benefit from it, in 1997.
Since then we have been fighting to bring it back. This is urgently necessary. The program is not expensive, and it helps the families of workers aged 55 and over to pull through.
Of course, the government must act on agriculture and the RCMP posts. The Conservatives have agreed to reopen the eight RCMP posts that had been closed.
In Saint-Hyacinthe, we expect to be waging total war against crime, thanks to the Info-Crime committee established by the warden of the RCM, Ms. Beaulac, and myself. We also believe we can do this with appropriate policing tools. That requires the reopening of the RCMP post in Saint-Hyacinthe and assignment of a significant number of investigators to it, i.e. eight. That is the functional mass that is necessary.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his question. He is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.
We have indeed taken a position with regard to children, young, older and in between. First, we have to talk about child care centres. The agreement signed on that subject between the previous government and the government of Quebec must be honoured. We insist on this. We will continue to fight, together with the government of Quebec and all parties in the National Assembly, to have the present government honour the signature of the previous government.
Second, my colleague from Trois-Rivières will have an opportunity a little later this week or next week to introduce the proposal that, if there is a direct transfer to parents for children under the age of six, that transfer must be done properly, that is, in the form of a refundable tax credit, and not in the form of a lump sum payment of $1,200 to families, which would be taxable. Under the latter option, families with low or moderate incomes would be heavily penalized by the tax on their cash transfers.
Third, I would mention education. Post-secondary education, colleges and universities, that too is for young people. For a number of years, they have been underfunded. We support the demands by the federations of students in Quebec and Canada for restoration of the transfer that was eliminated in 1994-1995. At that time, it was worth $2.2 billion, but since then there has been inflation. As a result of the emergency correction of the federal transfers in college and university education, that transfer is now worth $4.9 billion.
Fourth, when we talk about child poverty, we have to think of the parents. Because if the parents are poor, their children are poor too. At present, because of the emerging nations, including China, India, Brazil, in the agri-food industry, and Chile, we find ourselves in a situation in which workers are experiencing mass layoffs. We have seen this in the Huntingdon region, the Drummond region, and in my region as well, in the case of Olymel, AirBoss, and so on. We have to help the workers. That can be done by reforming employment insurance and especially by introducing the assistance program for older workers.
After 30 or 35 years of service, workers are finding themselves in a situation in which, after a few months, they are no longer entitled to employment insurance and have to become social assistance recipients. To do that, they must sell all the property they have accumulated since they began working, for 35 years, all the time they have held jobs that demand unbelievable vigour and huge outlays of energy. At the end of the day, after 30 or 35 years, people can no longer reposition themselves on the labour market.
In 1997, POWA targeted workers aged 55 and over. That program enabled them to live decently and with dignity until their pensions started. The program was not expensive. When it was abolished, the cost was $17 million for the whole of Canada. Today, that must be about $60 million or $70 million dollars. On the other hand, we have to think about the number of tragedies that a program like this can avert.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of Deputy Speaker. I thank my colleague for his speech, which was brilliant, as usual.
And I thank the citizens of La Pointe-de-l'Île for re-electing me for a fifth time. Their strong support meant a lot to me and is a positive indication that they support the positions that the Bloc Québécois will defend to ensure the progress of Quebec.
To begin my reply to the Speech from the Throne, I would like to refer to yesterday's question period. It was my turn after my party leader and I asked the Prime Minister about keeping an election promise regarding UNESCO. He replied, “I am sure that the members of the Bloc will not support such an agreement. We know that their objective is to do much more than give Quebec a voice on the world stage”.
First of all, I must say that the Prime Minister is right and wrong at the same time. Simply because we are Bloc members does not mean that we would be willing to accept a proposal on Quebec's position in the federal framework if that proposal were unsatisfactory. As we will see, there are many federated countries that have given their component parts the power, for instance, to sign treaties. In point of fact, we are sovereignists and we hope to achieve more than just a place for Quebec on the world stage. We want Quebec to play a role similar to small countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which all contribute significantly in terms of international aid and conflict resolution. We believe that we could play such a role. However, what we hope to achieve here is progress for Quebec.
I would like to point out that I was inspired by a book written by Stéphane Paquin, who studied models of federalism that have been reformed since the 1990s. Belgium is certainly a case in point. Following a debate that ended in 1993, Belgium permitted its federated entities--regions and communities--to play a role on the international scene. They have become the model to be admired and also to be copied. Rather than leading to the anarchy that some believed would ensue, this model on the contrary has also created mechanisms for cooperation enabling the regions and communities to further their respective development.
There are three types of treaties in Belgium, that is to say treaties signed by the federal government. It must by law consult them, but the treaties are concluded and ratified by the government. However, treaties that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of communities or regions and that are concluded and ratified by the authorities of these entities do exist, from the legal point of view, in the same manner as treaties concluded by the federal government. The parliaments of the federated states approve treaties.
In matters of shared responsibility, the treaty is concluded according to a special procedure, as agreed to by all the governments, and must also be approved by all the parliaments concerned.
If a parliament does not agree, the treaty cannot be approved. Of course this requires discussion and negotiation. However, this allows each entity to make known its point of view. The same principles apply to international representation. When an entity is not satisfied with the position taken, there is no position. For example, Belgium will not voice an opinion; it will abstain rather than voting or speaking. This does not mean that Belgium is powerless on the international scene. On the contrary, compromises are sought out. This is a situation that does not occur often here.
Spain is another country that is very interesting and that is not a federation. It is a unitary state made up of communities. The communities are consulted when treaties are made or for international representations. Catalonia is an exception, since it has signed an agreement with the Spanish government, and a bipartisan committee studies treaties and international representations. That enables Catalonia to express its particular points of view. It might also be recalled that Switzerland allows its entities to sign treaties, provided they are consistent with what exists on the federal level. The great respect Switzerland shows to each of its entities is well known. This does not occur with respect to sovereign countries; the entities are federal entities.
I am insisting on this subject, because we think that, when the Prime Minister made his statements during the election campaign, he made an appeal for Quebec, particularly in the current context, to finally see its jurisdictions respected. I will quote a few of these statements:
We will respect federal and provincial jurisdictions, as they are defined in the Canadian Constitution.
In a while, through you, Mr. Speaker, I will put some questions to him because Canadian jurisdictions, since the strong centralization movement of federation, have lost a lot of their shine and their essential oils. In Le Devoir of last December 20, one could read:
On the international level, Quebec, as well as the other provinces, though they see less need for it, “will have a say in matters affecting their own jurisdictions,” said the leader of the Conservative Party.
So this does not concern just their jurisdictions, but it does affect them. The Prime Minister also said:
—we are going to design mechanisms that will give the provinces a greater role in their own areas of jurisdiction on international issues.
In his much talked-about speech on December 20, he also said:
Clearly this issue is of greater concern to Quebec than the other provinces. I am ready to discuss mechanisms to enable the provinces to extend their jurisdictions on the international scene.
The extension of jurisdictions on the international scene is the doctrine favoured by Paul Guérin-Lajoie in 1965. On the basis of a decision by the Privy Council, a colonial court, he demanded the right for Quebec to negotiate, sign and ratify its own treaties, since globalization meant that Quebec needed to have a hold over its treaties and over international representation.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Minister of Transport, my colleague the member for Pontiac.
It is a great privilege for me to rise in this place for the first time. At the outset I would like to thank the electors of Ottawa West--Nepean for their support. I commit to them that I will work hard each and every day to serve their interests in this place. Their priorities which they sent me here to address are health care, crime, support for seniors, and to be an advocate for our public servants.
A great number of very distinguished people have preceded me in this place. I would like to pay tribute to Marlene Catterall who served as our member of Parliament in Ottawa West--Nepean for the past 16 or 17 years, to David Daubney, Beryl Gaffney, Bill Tupper who was a real mentor to me, former Speaker Lloyd Francis who was good enough to come to my swearing in, along with David Daubney, Walter Baker, Dick Bell, and my great-uncle who served as the member for my riding in the 1940s. I am very privileged to follow him.
Today I rise to speak about accountability. It is one of the most important responsibilities, in my judgment, facing any government. Canadians, all of us, were shocked at the sponsorship scandal and other examples of irresponsible government. It shook the confidence of Canadians to the core. As the Prime Minister has noted publicly, and I do not think we can do it enough, this Conservative government does not blame the members of the public service for what happened. They did not cross the line. It was their political masters who did.
I want to say very directly that rebuilding the public trust can be the most important legacy for the 39th Parliament. Our federal accountability act can change how government works. It will make it easier not just for the House but for all Canadians to hold their federal government to account. I hope we will use this first step to rebuild the public trust of Canadians in their government.
We are going to focus on five key reforms. We want political reform through changes to electoral and party financing so that there is real confidence that undue influence is not exerted on the political process, on the parliamentary process or indeed on government. We want parliamentary reform through enhanced support for parliamentary committees so that all members of Parliament can do their jobs, and through stronger roles and greater independence for the officers and agents of the House of Commons and Senate.
We want public sector reform through better and improved accountability structures.
We want procurement reform to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are getting value for their hard-earned tax dollars and that the processes are open.
We want to see additional reforms to help increase transparency in government.
The reforms we will present to the House and through the House to Canadians will be far reaching and comprehensive.
Accountability is the very foundation for Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Parliament and Canadians that public resources are used both efficiently and effectively. Accountability means leading by example. That is especially true for those who aspire to public office, for members of Parliament and the political parties that all but one of us represent.
As I mentioned earlier, the federal accountability act will reduce the opportunity to exert undue political influence through large and secret donations of money to political parties and candidates. This will ensure greater transparency and help Canadians feel more confident about the integrity of the democratic process.
Canadians expect their elected representatives and indeed all public office holders to make decisions that are in the public interest and not in their personal interest both now and in the years to come. Public office holders must perform their duties and arrange their private affairs to withstand the closest public scrutiny. They must uphold the highest ethical standards at all times.
The weaknesses in the current Lobbyists Registration Act have increased the perception of conflict of interest. We must be concerned about conflict of interest, but we must be equally concerned about the public perception of conflict of interest. Some people feel that there is a privileged access to government that is reserved only for a chosen few. That is something this government intends to deal with head on when we introduce the federal accountability act next week.
I am privileged to represent the riding of Ottawa West—Nepean. In the national capital region a huge number of men and women work in the public service and deliver important programs and services that touch the lives of all Canadians every single day. We recognize the professionalism and dedication of the men and women who work in the public service and the value that they bring to the table. As Conservatives we see a strong role for a vibrant, healthy and dynamic private sector as the instrument of economic growth, as the engine of opportunity in the country, but it does not demean the important role that the public sector plays in the Canadian economy and the important role that members of the public service play.
The federal accountability act will help clarify roles and responsibilities which first and foremost will strengthen accountability. Our objective through the federal accountability act which was cited in the Speech from the Throne will be to have an even stronger public service, one that will continue to be second to none internationally.
The government is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the country. I strongly believe that the bidding process for government contracts must be fair, open and transparent. The federal accountability act will include an overarching statement of principles to meet these objectives.
One of the most important roles of Parliament is to hold the Government of Canada to account for the use of taxpayers' dollars. To do this effectively, parliamentarians need objective and fact-based information on how the government spends funds. That will be an important part to the parliamentary budget authority that we will propose next week.
I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House to make this new federal accountability act reality. The measures that I highlighted today signal a dramatic change in the way this city works to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability that pervades Parliament Hill, that pervades the public service, that pervades Canadian society so that all taxpayers will have the confidence that their tax dollars are spent wisely and well.
I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House, with my own caucus colleagues, with members of the official opposition, with members from Quebec and the Bloc Québécois and colleagues from the New Democratic Party. Pat Martin, one of the NDP members of Parliament, was quoted in the Hill Times. He said that we could leave a better legacy--
Mr. Speaker, in the few minutes granted to me as the member for Pontiac, the transport minister and the minister responsible for Quebec, I would like to speak briefly on how the program outlined the day before yesterday fits in with the desire for change expressed by Quebeckers.
Before I do so, I must first thank the citizens of the beautiful riding of Pontiac. I would not be here today without the trust and support of the majority of my constituents. Together, the residents of Pontiac and I have embarked upon a wonderful adventure--one that will bring change. I remember very well a campaign meeting held one cold December night, during which an elderly woman admitted that she had never voted for the Conservative Party in her life. Fortunately, I was able to reassure her as I told her, “Nor have I, Ma'am”.
The people of Pontiac are proud people. They are honest, hard-working and independent people. They believe in fundamental values, community spirit and regional solidarity. They believe that efforts should be rewarded and initiative should be encouraged. They are courageous and compassionate people.
Though its first limits start only a few kilometres from this historic precinct, the Pontiac region needs help to develop its full economic and social potential. I want to assure the people of my riding that I will do my utmost, both within and outside this chamber, to give new hope and better opportunities to the people of the Pontiac.
As a member from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, I would also like to tell the thousands of public servants who work in the area and throughout Canada that we understood the frustration many of them felt when an attempt was made to pin the rap of scandals on them. The truth is--and I am reminded of this every day since assuming my duties as a minister--Canada has one of the best, if not the very best, public services in the world.
I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa West--Nepean and President of the Treasury Board, shares these sentiments. I look forward to working with him to give our public service and servants the respect they deserve and the instruments they need to continue serving their fellow citizens with pride, integrity and independence.
The election on January 23 did not just bring a new government and a new political party to power. That has happened many times in our history. But seldom do voters decide to make a more profound, more radical change in the calibre of their elected representatives. That is what happened on January 23. Canadians renounced a philosophy of government, a concept of federalism, that led to the worst abuses in recent years, and embraced a new vision of our future.
For too long, the former government acted as though Quebec was its to plunder. Illegally, with tricks and lies, it took whatever it could. The former Prime Minister banned members and officials from the party for life because their actions were simply indefensible.
At first blush, the Federal Accountability Act, the first piece of legislation we plan to introduce, may seem complicated to many Canadians. Yet it can be summed up in just two words: never again.
The throne speech referred to our government's commitment to address any fiscal imbalance so that all governments have access to the resources they need to meet their responsibilities. This imbalance reached dangerous levels under the former government. Our commitment to deal with this problem is very ambitious. But as with all our priorities, we have not chosen the easy way. We will focus on what is important and urgent. We may be a minority government, but we do not intend to be a caretaker government. We want to be a decisive government that takes action.
Fiscal imbalance is not just a Quebec issue. It is a Canadian problem which affects nearly all provincial governments. It also affects our cities even more where 80% of Canadians live. This is why we have put it on the top of our agenda, not because we think it is easy to accomplish but because we believe it must be done.
During another time not so long ago, I had the privilege of serving in another parliament, at the Quebec National Assembly. I have already noticed some differences, but I see in my new colleagues around me today the same dedication to strengthening their nation and the same desire to serve their constituents. That is why I want to congratulate the hon. members from all the parties and the independent member from the riding of Portneuf on their recent election or reelection. They already have my admiration and they can count on my cooperation.
Upon entering this room as a member for the first time the day before yesterday, I must admit that some memories came back to me. For instance, I remember the sense of trust and solidarity that existed between then Premier Bourassa and Prime Minister Mulroney. This sense of cooperation between these two remarkable leaders, which was applied in the interest of all Canadians, served the interest of Quebec quite well.
No one can deny that there currently exists between the new Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec a community of similar ideas and ideals that can only result in great accomplishments.
When I was in the National Assembly there was no Conservative party, but there was a sovereignist party, a close relative of my new friends at the Bloc Québécois. That is another reason why I do not feel out of place here. There is common ground everywhere. It was no so long ago that sovereignists hoped that Robert Bourassa would support Quebec independence one day. In the end, he was a fine example of how the interests of Quebec and the integrity of Canada could both be served.
Today the sovereignists are saying they will support some of the promises the Prime Minister made about Quebec during the last election campaign, such as Quebec's involvement in UNESCO, because that could possibly serve the separatist cause. I would say to them, amicably but frankly, that the success of our commitments toward Quebeckers will not be to demonstrate that independence is possible. On the contrary, it will demonstrate that it is not necessary. We will prove that federalism works well when it is well thought out and well managed.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you and your fellow Speakers. You certainly have an important job in the House ensuring that decorum is maintained and the impressions of Canadians are enhanced.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brampton—Springdale.
I would also like to congratulate all the other members of the House, those who have been re-elected and those who were newly elected. I started out on this side of the House, over in the rump. I remember the Prime Minister was down on that side back in 1993. Certainly, as new members, we were very enthused and in some ways naive, but it has been a really incredible privilege, and I say that for all of us, in being able to serve our constituents in the Parliament of Canada.
There is no question that our families greatly assist us in the work that we do. In my case in particular, my wife Nancy and my daughter Erin have put up with a husband and a father being off in Parliament since 1993. I extend a special thanks to all the volunteers who believe in the democratic process, and help each and every one of us get to this place.
When I first came into the House in 1993, this country was on the verge of bankruptcy. Unemployment was very high. There was not a lot of hope and there was a lot of despair. Over the years when the Liberals were in government, we restored the country's fiscal health. Instead of going on at length, I draw the House's attention to the Globe and Mail article on March 31 that stated:
A strong economy, a booming job market and generous government benefits have lifted more than one million Canadians out of the low income ranks since 1996.
Poverty has been reduced to 11.2% from 15.7% in 1996. That is important. Granted, one person in poverty is one too many, but the fact of the matter is we made change. The other part of the issue is that we were able to give hope versus the despair that we inherited.
I looked over the throne speech and I must say it is a throne speech that I have seen in my years in the House. The government talks about bringing back accountability. We as a government have done a whole lot of those things, but it is one of those issues where the work is never done and we have to continue working on it.
I urge the President of the Treasury Board, as he is making up the legislation, to perhaps take a look at the book entitled On the Take, which chronicles the abuses of the Mulroney government. I also ask him to pay special attention to W-Five, which pointed to Schreiber making payments of $300,000 to the former prime minister. I think that is important. The people of this country have a right to have some kind of accountability framework around it.
In terms of helping families and Canadians, we all want to do that. Over the years the Liberal government put in place record tax cuts.
On the issue of tackling crime, I am a bit bothered at the U.S. style approach that has been taken. I say that because the rhetoric around that issue from the Conservative Party is very much like the rhetoric that comes from the Republicans in the United States. When we compare the crime rates of the two nations, while we have our problems, we are much better than the United States of America.
Providing child care support is going to be a real issue for us because it is not going to create one child care space nor is it going to enhance early childhood education. It is going to give money to parents who have preschool kids.
I must commend the government on another issue that it talked about and that is regarding an apology to Chinese Canadians with respect to the head tax. I agree that is long overdue. What is lacking is a comprehensive approach. We as a country have to come to terms with that. Apologies should also go to Ukrainians, to those Canadians who were interned during the wars, to first nations people, and also to all those people who were discriminated against in the evolution of Canadian history until we arrived at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In a very real way it was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that said those acts of discrimination were wrong. It was the charter that said we are not going to go there anymore. We are going to have it guide us in our future legislation. To that extent I have proposed a policy, call it the hall of the charter, which would educate Canadians about past injustices. Whether one is French, a first nation, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Italian, Black, or Asian, it is important that we understand each other's history because then we can understand why we need something like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that we learn from our past mistakes and to ensure we never go there again. I am a bit disturbed that in this document there is no mention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is supposed to bind all of us as Canadians.
I have a greater concern with this throne speech about what is missing. There is no mention of post-secondary education. There is no mention of research and development. There is no mention of the Kyoto accord or the Kelowna accord. There is no mention of the charter. There is no mention of protecting manufacturing jobs in Canada which are under threat by countries that dump here from overseas.
Most important, there is no mention of anything really substantial with respect to citizenship and immigration. Reforming the Citizenship Act was part of the throne speech of the last government. When the House fell in November of last year, we were on the verge of receiving legislation from the government to upgrade the Citizenship Act. There was all-party agreement in committee on how that should be done. The report on the revocation of citizenship received concurrence in the House, but there is no mention of that here. I really hope that we are going to deal with this issue.
I look forward to working in the 39th Parliament, recognizing that I am a temporary guardian of the public trust. I am here, just like every colleague in the House, to represent our respective constituencies.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to have the member for Kitchener—Waterloo back. He served with me on the Standing Committee for Citizenship and Immigration in the previous session.
I would like to thank the citizens of Vaudreuil—Soulanges for the renewed trust they have placed in me.
The immigration system, I agree, has deteriorated and suffers from some significant shortcomings, particularly in terms of the rights of refugees. By failing to implement the refugee appeal division, the government is not respecting its own legislation.
Delays in processing permanent residence applications are also growing. There is no real possibility for regularizing the status of nationals of certain countries affected by moratoriums on removal.
Reuniting immigrant and refugee families is truly a nightmare and causes much distress and suffering.
My colleague has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for citizenship issues and we have made great strides together. The refusal to table the citizenship act promised in the Liberal throne speech has also been a source of considerable frustration.
Does the member believe that there is a certain consensus about the possible solutions to problems affecting temporary workers, the obvious lack of workers in several areas, including the lot of illegal immigrants? With regard to citizenship, I would like to hear the member address the issue of international adoption.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne. I first would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the new colleagues and new members in the House on their victories.
I also would like to begin by expressing my sincere and genuine thanks to my constituents of Brampton--Springdale for their support in awarding me this tremendous honour and privilege to continue to serve as their member of Parliament.
I also would like to thank the thousands of volunteers who dedicated many tireless hours to ensuring that we would be successful in our victory in Brampton--Springdale. I thank my volunteers for their had work and their tremendous commitment.
As I stand here before the House today as a member of the opposition party for the first time, I would like to assure Bramptonians and Canadians that I will continue to be a firm proponent of ensuring that we create and build an environment in which children, seniors and families have the opportunity to really prosper and succeed.
In addition, I look forward to working on behalf of my constituents and thousands of Canadians to ensure that the values of equality, of justice, of acceptance, of respect and tolerance continue to remain the hallmark of our great country. Many of these values unfortunately have not been highlighted in the Conservative government's future agenda.
As I stand here today in the House, I wish to echo the concerns of many of my constituents of Brampton--Springdale who have called and e-mailed on their disappointment in the vagueness in regard to the lack of vision presented in the Speech from the Throne.
Although the Speech from the Throne reiterated the five Conservative campaign priorities and added two additional priorities with regard to federalism and the international obligations, it really provided no comprehensive plan or path for the future of our great nation. Many priorities and issues that are important to Canadians from coast to coast have been neglected in the Speech from the Throne.
The path that the Prime Minister has envisioned avoids issues that face our seniors, our women and our young people. It really makes no concrete reference to our first nations communities and barely even touches upon many of the issues that face our new immigrants such as foreign credential recognition.
In short, the Speech from the Throne really sets no clear goals and provides no legislative or fiscal framework of how these initiatives will be implemented.
It was unfortunate that in the Speech from the Throne language was utilized which was very unstatesman-like and also focused on the past instead of really ensuring that the Speech from the Throne would focus on the future.
Many of the priorities outlined do not serve many of the other pressing issues that our country faces. What Canadians need now is a government that will ensure and is prepared to face the many challenges that are encountered by families on a day to day basis. I think it is extremely important that the Conservative government move forward on a positive note, on a positive message instead of promoting negativity.
As I stand here today, I think it is extremely fortunate that the Conservative government has inherited one of the best fiscal records of any incoming government, due to the tremendous achievements that were accomplished by the Liberal government and by our former ministers of finance.
This incoming government has inherited from the previous Liberal government one of the strongest economic records, one of the best fiscal records in the G-7, a 30-year low in unemployment rates and eight consecutive balanced budgets. Yet I find it extremely shocking that the government is going on a slashing binge and cutting very important social programs that are essential to many Canadians and their families.
The first question that I think is important to ask is, why is the government cancelling child care funding agreements with provinces that have taken years of hard work and dedication by many members of the House and many stakeholders from coast to coast to implement?
The Conservative plan to scrap the child care agreements reached by provinces after much negotiation and with stakeholders by the Liberal government has been put in in favour of a taxable $25 a week payout to parents. Having a cash payout to parents is really not a child care strategy or a child care plan. As many of us know, $1.60 a day is not going to allow parents across the country to provide quality child care for their children.
The Ontario government recently announced that it would not proceed with its plan to create 6,000 new child care spaces. The Conservatives keep talking about choice. What choice are parents going to have if child care is expensive and unavailable due to the chronic shortage of spaces?
All provinces, as well as parents' groups, women's groups and advocacy groups, especially those representing the lower and middle income class, have not been in favour. They have been opposed to the Mr. Harper's plan because they recognize the importance of ensuring a nationally funded--
Mr. Speaker, the point of order is noted. I apologize.
One must also ask the question to the Conservative government of why there has been no mention in the Speech from the Throne about the implementation and the continuation of the historic Kelowna accord, which would ensure that the standard of living for the Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis people is raised.
Moreover, the Conservative Speech from the Throne did not talk about innovation, research and development, important qualities that our nation must ensure to compete in a global arena. We require those qualities to ensure Canada's success in the global arena, yet the Speech from the Throne had no mention of global competitiveness.
The Conservative government has inherited one of the best fiscal records from the previous Liberal government. I would hope that as it moves forward it will ensure that Canada continues to remain one of the best countries in the world.
As we all know, it is of priority and extreme importance that we have a knowledge-based economy. That knowledge-based economy will be built by people, by investing in people with regard to education, human resourses and a proper health care and child care plan.
Another issue raised by many of my constituents is the GST. They have asked why the Conservative government is willing to reduce the GST by 1% , yet not retain any of the $30 billion tax cuts proposed by the previous Liberal government. Talking to any economist, one realizes that the savings provided by the Liberal government are of much greater value and benefit to Canadians than the 1% GST cut proposed by the Conservative government.
The Prime Minister needs to ensure that the government listens to Canadians. He needs to re-evaluate his plan to ensure that Canadians of all socio-economic backgrounds benefit from any financial savings. When we take a look at the statistics, only 5% of families make over $150,000. The Conservative plan of a reduction of 1% in the GST would provide 30% of its benefits to those 5%. When we take a look at it, half of Canadian families from coast to coast earn less than $40,000 a year. While 50% of Canadians are earning less than $40,000 a year, only 20% would receive the benefits of Conservative tax cuts, an average of just $163 per year.
The only clarity offered in this plan by the Conservative government is it would benefit higher income families while those who need the help the most, middle and lower income families, would not benefit.
I must also question the Prime Minister's intentions in reneging on Canada's Kyoto commitments to deal with climate change and the environmental degradation to Canada's air, land and water. We need to talk about sustainability. Cancelling the one tonne challenge that was utilized to promote many of these important criteria across this country is not a step in the right direction.
As we move forward, it is important that the Speech from the Throne and the priorities of the Conservative government reflect the needs of all Canadians, regardless of their cultural backgrounds and socio-economic record, and ensure that it focuses a message on positivity.
I would hope that the other priorities I spoke about, such as immigrants, the aboriginal population, seniors, young people and women, would be addressed by the Conservative government in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kelowna—Lake Country.
It is a pleasure to speak today in reply to the Speech from the Throne. It is with a great deal of honour that I take my place here in the House of Commons as a Conservative member from Tobique—Mactaquac in New Brunswick.
I thank the voters and my campaign team for giving me the opportunity and privilege to represent the issues and concerns of my constituents.
I would like to take advantage of this occasion to thank the voters for giving me the opportunity and privilege of representing their views on the various questions and concerns of my fellow citizens.
I am honoured to be here with all the members of the House. The first two months as a new MP has been both challenging and gratifying, including my première semaine en immersion française.
I want to take this opportunity to welcome friends from the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac in Fredericton, New Brunswick, as well as some relatives, who are with us here today. I also was happy to have some of my riding staff join us here in Ottawa at the beginning of the week. They were unable to be here today as they were returning to the riding. I am not sure if yesterday's question period was too much for them.
For those members who are not familiar with the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac, it is located in western New Brunswick. It is one of the larger ridings in Canada and covers some 250 kilometres from north to south along the Saint John River and spanning from the U.S. border to almost Boiestown in central New Brunswick and all points in between.
The riding of Tobique—Mactaquac is home to a diverse community which includes both anglophone and francophone municipalities as well as two first nations communities, namely Woodstock and Tobique. Tobique—Mactaquac is known for the picturesque beauty of the Nashwaak, Tobique and Saint John River valleys and the head waters of the Miramichi River system. It is also a region of proud heritage in agriculture and forestry and a riding that boasts manufacturing, including McCain Foods.
Of course, there are problems. The family farms that cultivate these fields are facing hard times. There have been many factors at play: international trade issues, market forces and a previous government that did not respect the family farm.
I am proud of the new Minister of Agriculture. He has a firm grasp of these problems and intends to address them.
Under the Conservative government the family farm can grow and prosper and all of Canada can be proud in the food and agricultural products we offer to the world.
I hope to be fortunate enough to work together with the minister on this matter in order to help our farmers.
Forestry is also very important in my riding, and unfortunately, since the difficulties and restrictions at the border, we have seen a steep decline in the jobs related to this sector.
I am pleased to be part of a government that understands the concept of resource management and that industry needs innovation and change to be viable in the future. In spite of these issues, the people I represent have an entrepreneurial, can-do attitude and work very hard for every dollar. They want their government to work hard for them. They do not waste their money and they were very clear with me during the election when they said that government should clean up its act and that it could not be a trough for personal friends and insiders.
I want to thank the Governor General for delivering the Speech from the Throne and setting this new Parliament on a path to a better Canada. A new government gives all of us a time to stop and re-evaluate the direction for the country. We will not run a government where the rich friends of members are given lucrative contracts for government projects. Some of these projects were real and some were not but all were funded by the taxpayers of Canada without any consequence.
There must be consequences. Our new government will not allow for this practice to continue. Our first act in the House of Commons will be to bring in the federal accountability act. During the election we said that our first move as the government would be to clean up Ottawa, starting with the accountability act. This is exactly what we are going to do. This is an important piece of legislation. We want to restore Canadians' faith in the way they are led. Without the faith of the population, we have a country on a decline. That is not the country we want to give to our next generation. Canadians expect politicians and public sector employees to conduct themselves with the highest ethical standards.
The government must be more effective and accountable to Parliament and to Canadians. The federal accountability act will set out in legislation an end to the influence of big money in politics by banning corporate and union political donations. It will also limit individual donations and put it back to the grassroots in our parties. It will strengthen lobbying rules and put an end to the revolving door that allows former ministers, political aides and the top bureaucrats to turn around and lobby the government for contracts. One portion of the act that I am proud of is the section that will give more power and teeth to the independent watchdogs, such as the Auditor General. This is all about making the federal government more transparent and accountable. It will not be about adding red tape. It will be about making it easier for people to do their jobs.
I am a professional accountant and member of the Certified General Accountants Association of New Brunswick.
In my role as an accountant and a consultant, I had the opportunity to work in Canada, the United States and Australia. In each case, my goal was to implement processes to secure various companies' assets from breaches in trust and ensure they were properly safeguarded. That included a budget authority to ensure credibility in our financial forecasts.
I believe government must take all measures possible to safeguard its assets and I believe the act will put in place the processes to do just that.
I understand the importance of complying with my association’s code of conduct. If I observed only part of this code, I would certainly lose my licence to practise.
We need tough rules for government, including crown corporations and foundations created under federal statute. The accountability and ethics code also requires me to report ethical breaches and put processes in place for companies to protect all their stakeholders, including employees and shareholders. Why should the federal government not be held to the same high standards of ethics? Our act will protect whistleblowers from reprisal when they surface unethical or illegal activities they have seen while working in a department or agency that serves the federal government. Our citizens have the right to know what is going on in government.
Finally, we will make government more open by strengthening access to information laws, including extending laws to crown corporations. Such changes will take a thorough and complete debate to ensure we balance concerns for personal privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security.
I believe that this part of the legislation is important for a new start. As a member of Parliament, I think that it will help us establish a work relationship based on collaboration that will be productive for all Canadians.
These principles will give Canadians the good, clean government they expect and deserve. It also builds on our platform commitments and takes into account discussions with officers of Parliament, such as the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner, public policy experts, eminent Canadians and unions.
Accountability is everyone's business. It requires that Parliament, the government and public service work together to serve Canadians honestly and with integrity. Let us work together and use this bill as one thing we can all get behind immediately. It is time to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. We will fix the system for Canadians and the time is now.
Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment. I look forward to your bringing honourable decorum to the House.
On January 23 the people of Kelowna—Lake Country confirmed that they, like Canadians across the country, wanted a change of government. I am proud to be standing in the House of Commons representing the citizens of Kelowna—Lake Country. I thank them for their support. I thank all the volunteers for making it happen. I am humbled and honoured to have been given the responsibility. I am proud to be a member of a party that recognizes it is time for a change in the way we deliver government to the people.
The 2006 election proved that Canadians are weary. They are weary of hearing about the misuse of funds, of insiders appointed to high levels of government who believe they are above the law, of watching the Auditor General struggle to bring to light wrongdoing only to have it ignored, or to watch it get caught up in the circus of political theatre only to be reminded that under the current system there will be no accountability and no relevant punishment meted out to those who have committed real crimes against Canadians. It must stop. Canadians will never regain confidence in government if we do not make it stop.
As members of Parliament, we should not be the enablers of scandal. We must be the defenders of the people's right to honest, good governance. Canadians expect every politician and public sector employee to conduct themselves according to the highest ethical standards. On this we must deliver.
We must deliver a government in which Canadians can once again be proud. We must give back to them a government that works for them, one that invests its resources not for the pursuit of power, but for the purpose of creating relevant and timely programs and services; for in truth, the biggest casualty of a lack of government accountability is the business of government itself. If the programs and services required are not in place, real solutions to longstanding problems are not carried out and confidence in doing business with the government wavers.
Many of my constituents should be excused if they believe federal accountability to be an oxymoron. I have many files on my desk already that express my community's frustrations with delays in non-existent funding from the previous government for important issues like Highway 97, a passport office, affordable housing, crime prevention strategies, health care and supportive social programs for seniors and youth. Many have had their attitudes hardened by the federal government's promises for assistance, only to have important programs delayed while being forced to read about misspending and inappropriate fund allocation.
Thousands of farmers are visiting Parliament Hill this week. Some of them represent orchardists from Kelowna—Lake Country. These growers were promised a farm income stabilization program that would be responsive to their needs, as well as being open, transparent and accountable. To the duress of all Canadians, this never happened.
The 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire was the most destructive natural disaster in the history of British Columbia. In total, over 30,000 of my constituents were evacuated from their homes and hundreds returned to find nothing but charred chimneys and the foundations upon which their homes formerly sat. Since then the City of Kelowna has had to undertake $2.6 million in drainage mitigation in order to prevent upwards of $10 million worth of fire related flooding damage. Despite assurances in 2004 that a national disaster mitigation strategy was being developed to help with such costs, the program still does not exist today.
Residents of Lake Country may not be used to the idea of an accountable government that would ensure that disaster mitigation is a priority, but I can assure everyone that they, like most Canadians, are very supportive and excited by the notion of it. They listen closely, too, when other issues are at stake.
Recently Kelowna—Lake Country has been at the head of the debate on the future of Canada's first nations and aboriginal people. Their livelihood is of tremendous importance to our community. The fact that Kelowna was chosen to host the recent meeting between first nations, aboriginal leaders, premiers and territorial leaders bears witness to this. While there was much goodwill, there was also a sense of unease about the accountability of the promises made. My constituents want the Kelowna accord to be successful, but are all too aware of the systemic problems that could hamper its effectiveness.
Accountability in Ottawa is imperative, but it must also extend to the government's agreements. For the previous nine years I was a councillor for the City of Kelowna and a member of the regional treaty advisory committee. I have a good working relationship with Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louis and the band councillors. Consequently, I am very concerned about the plight of Canada's aboriginal community. I believe that an independent auditor general would provide a very necessary and concrete measure to further foster aboriginals' unique and important role in Canadian society.
In previous federal governments, upwards of $9 billion was spent on Indian affairs. Strikingly, over 70% of that money did not find its way to the reserves. Instead it found its way into the pockets of lawyers and consultants.
Instead of contributing to the proliferation of cleaner water, safer streets and better schools, money has disproportionately been spent on those who work in the boardrooms. This industry needs to be overhauled. We need to ensure that first nations people directly receive the majority of the funds.
An independent auditor general would provide transparency and bring these discrepancies to the forefront. It would allow native communities to see where their money was going and initiate dialogue on how their federal funding could be more effectively and efficiently utilized.
Canadians need a government to ensure that there is accountability not only relevant to Ottawa and Parliament, but also relevant to all areas that involve the commitment of federal funding designed to help Canadians. Federal accountability is our commitment and our obligation. We are obliged to change government from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. When we do so I believe we will see a government that works better for all Canadians. We will move away from government which too often fails to deliver programs directly to those in need, to a culture of effective programs and services where the funding reaches the intended purpose.
This is the reason our first order of business is to table the federal accountability act and to put in place the foundation of good governance. The new federal accountability act, the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history, will change the way business is done in Ottawa. It will not be easy, but change must begin in our own backyard. That is why a large part of the federal accountability act will focus on cleaning up corruption in Ottawa. Accountability should be the engine that drives government, not a casualty of political warfare.
The federal accountability act builds on our platform commitments and takes into account our discussions with officers of Parliament such as the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner, public policy experts, imminent Canadians and unions. This act will address long-standing and difficult issues head on.
We will increase public confidence in the integrity of the political process by tightening the laws around political financing and lobbying, by eliminating the power and influence of money and the insider. It is time we made the work of independent officers of Parliament such as the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, and the Registrar of Lobbyists purposeful.
To accomplish such a reformation in Canadian politics, Canadians will require the cooperation of all parties in the House. If we are going to give Canadians the effective government they expect and deserve, then we must all come to the table with the intent of doing what is right for Canadians. We must ensure that our objective is clear, that there is a structure in place to provide for a political system of accountability.
Our number one priority is to restore Canadians' faith in government and provide them with a government that works for them, not in spite of them. This is not a partisan idea. This is the core value of democracy. Accountability is an objective upon which we all agree and one which we must achieve. That is what Canadians expect from us and it is what the constituents of Kelowna--Lake Country expect from me.
In closing, accountability is everyone's business. It requires that Parliament, the government and the public service work together to serve Canadians honestly and with integrity. I support the Speech from the Throne and look forward to working with all my colleagues in the pursuit of providing Canadians with a federal accountability act that will be deserving of their trust, their confidence and their respect. This is the broadest ethics reform this country has ever seen. The best is yet to come.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the hon. member into this august House.
It is interesting to note that he talked about accountability, yet in the accountability act proposed by the Prime Minister, in fact the Auditor General has the most powers and the crown corporations too.
It is very interesting to note that the current Prime Minister himself thinks he is above ethics. He has displayed arrogance and basically thumbed his nose at the common people while saying he is about ethics. He started by appointing his friend and campaign manager to the--
An hon. member: Feathering his own nest.
Ms. Yasmin Ratansi: Yes, to feather his own nest, Mr. Speaker.
He appointed him to the Senate and then lo and behold appointed him as the Minister of Public Works. He has allowed his previous MPs--
An hon. member: A lack of accountability.
Ms. Yasmin Ratansi: A lack of accountability, Mr. Speaker. He has allowed his previous MPs to become members of the Privy Council and lobbyists. He has allowed former employees of the Conservative caucus to become lobbyists.
How does he justify to his constituents that accountability on that side of the House is going to work?