The House resumed from April 7 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, and of the amendment as amended.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to speak in this new session of Parliament, I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to my constituents of Don Valley East for re-electing me as their federal representative in Ottawa. I also ask my volunteers to please accept my heartfelt thanks for their hard work and dedication. I would also like to thank the hon. leader of the official opposition for placing his confidence in my abilities in asking me to serve as the official critic for National Revenue.
I also congratulate you, Mr. Speaker. Once again the members of the House have expressed their confidence in you to preside over this Parliament. I also offer my congratulations to all returning parliamentarians and new parliamentarians.
As an opposition critic, I intend to do my best to keep the government accountable and to make this a productive Parliament regardless of however long this minority government survives.
It has been noted that this is one of the shortest throne speeches on record. It is a remarkably thin document that is equally short of new ideas. It does in fact address five narrow objectives identified by the Conservatives and yet it is what the speech does not mention that makes this speech truly remarkable.
Let me cite a few examples. The speech says nothing about protecting the environment and the Kyoto agreement. It is silent about funding for citizen communities. It ignores students and access to post-secondary education. It makes no mention of honouring the groundbreaking Kelowna accord reached last year between the government and Canada's aboriginal peoples. For those Canadians looking for affordable housing, they have no prospect of any form of help from the federal government.
There are, however, some things to talk about regarding the five narrow objectives outlined in the throne speech and how they match up in reality. An accountability package, crime and punishment, family allowances instead of early childhood development, personal tax increases to pay for a cut in the GST and a health care guarantee.
In terms of accountability, let us review what has happened in the first few weeks of the Conservative government in office. Throughout his career, the newly elected Prime Minister has claimed strongly to support an elected Senate. As a Reform member of Parliament, this was his mantra for years and yet his very first act as Prime Minister was to give a Senate appointment to his personal friend and campaign manager. That puts accountability down the drain. To add insult to injury, his second act was then to make the same person the unelected Minister of Public Works, one of the largest departments at the federal level responsible for government procurement. The public works minister is not a member of the House and therefore is not subject to the daily question period. Canadians are asking what kind of accountability that is.
Does the Prime Minister believe he is above accountability? The Prime Minister talked about restricting lobbyists and yet he turned around and immediately appointed a lobbyist as his Minister of National Defence. We are talking about someone who has listed over 40 top defence companies as his clients. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
On top of that, we have since learned that Conservative staffers who worked for current cabinet ministers suddenly jumped into the private sector and are now registered lobbyists.
The Prime Minister talks about turning a new leaf. Well, he is certainly turning a new leaf. Do members remember the Mulroney era on the take? Here we find the Prime Minister's idea of accountability involves rewarding his closest friends.
Let us move on to crime and punishment. My constituents of Don Valley East are deeply concerned about gun violence on the streets of Toronto. In the last Parliament the Liberal government had prepared a comprehensive legislative package to combat crime on a number of levels.
Bill C-82 would have created minimum penalties for smuggling, trafficking and possession of firearms and other weapons. It would have created new offences specifically aimed at breaking and entering to steal guns and would have offered protection for those witnessing a crime involving firearms.
What happened to that bill? The Conservatives effectively killed the legislation when Parliament was dissolved last November. This was a bill that my constituents wanted to become law but it became an unfortunate victim of political brinkmanship.
What about guns? The Liberal Party pledged to ban all handguns and get them off the streets and out of the hands of criminals. What is the Conservatives' response? They plan to gut the firearms registry that is being used by police which would make it easier for criminals to obtain unregistered weapons.
There are so many things to talk about. Let us talk about child care. For the first time in Canadian history the federal government had finally reached an agreement with all 10 provinces and the territories to provide affordable, accessible and quality child care for all Canadians. In the throne speech, the Conservatives have promised to simply tear up these agreements, kill the early learning and child care strategy and replace it with nothing more than what amounts to an old-fashioned family allowance which, after tax, will do little or nothing to assist families.
An Alberta politician once offered a $25 cheque to each voter if he were successfully elected. That politician was none other than William Aberhart, Premier of Alberta in the 1930s and well remembered in history for his elaborate vote-buying scheme. Let us fast-forward to the 21st century and we have a Prime Minister using the very same method of flaunting taxpayer dollars to buy his way into office.
On the subject of taxes, let us take a closer look at the Tories' proposed 1% cut to the GST. The Liberal Party firmly believes that the first target for income tax reduction should be income taxes, not consumption taxes. It is far better to return more money to the taxpayer at source than to simply reduce sales taxes.
In order to pay for the so-called tax cuts, the Conservatives are going to wipe out the $50 billion tax reduction plan started by the Liberal government and make history by being the first federal government to raise personal taxes since the Mulroney government.
The Prime Minister is planning to raise the basic personal amount that Canadians can earn tax-free; roll back reductions of tax rates in the first three brackets, which would have benefited low and middle income families; and eliminate a proposed working income tax credit to help low income people move away from social assistance which would have resulted in putting thousands of low income seniors back on the tax rolls after they were removed in the Liberal budget last year.
Why is the recently elected government punishing low and middle income families while, at the same time, rewarding its wealthy friends with tax cuts?
The Conservative government has traditionally blamed the Liberals for leaving the country in bad financial shape. This time the Tories have no excuse. As my colleague, the hon. member for Wascana, recently noted, no other incoming government in Canadian history has inherited a better fiscal situation.
As an incoming government, it has inherited a strong economy, eight consecutive surpluses, world-leading reductions in federal debt, low interest rates and low inflation, a AAA credit rating and unemployment at a 30 year low.
I therefore challenge the government to live up to the expectations that people have developed over the past 12 years and to work with members on all sides of this House to make this country better for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.
I rise today in the House for the first time and I do so with a great sense of humility and of course enthusiasm about the possibility that always accompanies change. Clearly, a significant change was exactly what the people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek voted for on January 23. I remain sincerely grateful for the confidence and trust shown in me and I will not let them down.
Short days ago, as I took my place for the first time in this great chamber, I was struck by the fact that within our great democracy working people like myself, originally from a small community like Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, as part of life's journey can still make their way through the halls of our national Parliament.
I wish to thank my wife, Barbara, who is in the gallery, and my family and my friends who have believed in and supported me over the years as we follow the trail leading to this place. To the good people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, my office is now open. My staff and I are available to work with everyone to make our community stronger, to address the needs and questions around federal programs and services, and to fight for the change that Canadians voted for in the past election. Constituents now have a representative who will take their concerns to the government instead of bringing the government's message to them.
In regard to the throne speech, I am encouraged to see some NDP priorities referred to, but we have heard promises of such things as child care over the past 12 years only to be disappointed. Action, not words, creates change. Before this new government becomes too self-assured, I would remind it that more than 60% of Canadians did not vote for its vision, its so-called five point plan. More than 60% of Canadians did not vote for its vision of child care.
Approximately 16% of Hamilton families live in poverty and $1,200 will simply not begin to either meet the needs of those families if there are no affordable, accessible child care spaces. We need ongoing sustainable funding for a publicly administered child care program, not another tax credit or moneys given only to be clawed back. The NDP will stand firm in its commitment to public, not-for-profit child care.
The Conservative plan to give $1,200 to each family for each child under six, and cancelling the first agreement in years that would have made public, not-for-profit spaces, is shortsighted to say the least. If the Conservatives were serious about helping Canadian families, why not do both? Why not help parents pay for the child care they choose while also ensuring that there are quality, affordable, not-for-profit spaces being built?
Parents in Hamilton were excited about the best start program, excited about this much needed program that was working with parents and the community to create more spaces, better care, and a more integrated approach to families, schools and the community to improve early childhood education in our community. Best start was also supposed to ensure that all parents, regardless of economic and social circumstances, had access to quality child care options.
Instead of promoting this worthwhile program in communities like Hamilton across Ontario, the government is cancelling $1.4 billion of the $1.9 billion in federal money promised that made best start possible.
I must echo the words of my leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, when I remind the House, it is the will of Canadians and the majority of the House to build a truly national child care program. I call on the government to build upon the current agreements instead of cancelling them. Working together we can achieve more for child care in the next 12 months than the previous government did in 12 years.
One in five Hamiltonians live below the poverty line. Child poverty is still epidemic in the country. In my riding, the highest incidence of low income is with new Canadians, recent immigrants to our country. Yet in its throne speech, the government did not talk about poverty once, or what we need to do to address social and economic causes of poverty. It was a shameful omission. There is much to be done.
I will stand firm in this House to ensure that the little progress that has been made by the Government of Canada over the last few years is not rolled back and that we do more to fight poverty in our country. While the throne speech did mention working families, it is the NDP that has promised a working families first agenda in this Parliament. This is good news for the people of my community. They have seen significant restructuring of major industries.
Many people who live in my riding, particularly in the Stoney Creek area, work in manufacturing and steel industries. They live in fear of not only losing their jobs to globalization but because of poorly crafted trade agreements that the last Conservative government put into place. They also now face the fear of not having a company pension when they reach retirement age.
New Democrats have long called for sectoral strategies for our important manufacturing industries such as steel and auto parts. Corporate welfare, handouts and more tax cuts do not encourage businesses to change their behaviour.
When industries are deciding whether to invest in making innovative products that often have higher price tags, perhaps those that would clean our air, they need to know consumers will buy them. For example, consumers who want to buy green cars must have access to rebates and other incentives to afford these newer, more environmentally friendly cars. Broader support to workers in these sectors to ensure that they have the skills to participate in these industries through EI reform is essential.
While the government did talk about working families in its Speech from the Throne, there is nothing new or substantial there for them. As millions of baby boomers prepare to retire, pension protection has never been more important. In the last Parliament, we won protection for workers wages. In this Parliament, we will fight for the pension security that workers deserve.
New Democrats will continue to fight to protect workers basic rights and better assistance for new Canadians and their families, so they can take the productive place in society that they came to Canada to provide.
The NDP is putting working families in Hamilton and all across Canada first. We want to talk about pocketbook issues beyond the simplistic approach of a GST cut. We want to talk about accountability and cleaning up corruption beyond government. We want to talk about ensuring that Canadians can afford the prescription drugs they need, get adequate dental, vision and health care, and have access to better EI programs.
The Conservative government talked only about innovation in health care in its throne speech. It did not talk about the need to invest in innovations instead of squandering our money on GST or corporate tax cuts.
We are failing our parents and grandparents, the people who built our country because too many of them cannot get the basic care they need. That is why I am so pleased to join my caucus colleagues to fight in this Parliament to enact the principles in the NDP's senior charter.
We will give working families the tools they need to support their parents and grandparents, so that seniors have access to good quality, long term care, so that seniors and people with disabilities get the home care they need, and so that no senior is ever forced to choose between buying medicine that they need or buying groceries. Seniors have waited long enough. Working families have waited long enough.
The Speech from the Throne promised more support to Canadian core values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights around the world. The Prime Minister has pledged that this would be achieved through a bigger diplomatic role, a stronger military and a more effective use of aid money.
As the NDP advocate for human rights, both domestic and international, I intend to hold Mr. Harper and this government to those promises made last week. Promoting human rights at home or abroad is a big part of what makes us Canadian.
Canadian values must be reflected in our actions overseas and we must continue to ensure that we address human rights issues at home. I and my NDP colleagues will not waver in our determination to ensure that Canada's foreign policies reflect our values.
Before my election, I was a member of the Strengthening Hamilton Community Initiative, begun after the events of September 11, to respond to an increase in racially motivated hate crimes in our community. The initiative's goals have been to bring civic and community representatives together to come up with collaborative solutions to ensure that prejudice and exclusion had no place in our community.
Building diversity and inclusive communities needs support and action from all levels of government. I hope that we will see more of this from this government as it promotes diversity. Canadians sent all of us to Parliament to work. People said they wanted change and they wanted the NDP to balance that change and ensure that there are no rollbacks where progress has been made.
I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities to represent the people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to be here. As a school teacher, when I studied government with my students, I emphasized the fact that politics was indeed an honourable profession. All of us are here because we want to serve our country. In my case, I became involved in politics because I am concerned about the future of my country.
My parents came to Canada as political refugees, fleeing the horrors of the Russian revolution and civil war. They were very thankful that Canada gave them a home where they could raise their family in peace.
My father spent 38 years working in a lumber mill. As a youth going to school, I was also able to work there, earning a union wage at that time of $1.92 an hour.
Thanks to my union job and relatively low tuition fees, I was able to finish university basically debt free. This is no longer the case. It is harder for students to get well-paying jobs as our industry is hit by the negative effects of NAFTA and the ideological pressure to contract out jobs.
Many students work in various fast food outlets trying to make ends meet and are faced with increasing tuition fees. It is not uncommon for university graduates to have a debt load of from $20,000 to $60,000 upon finishing.
Our government wants to reduce the GST when there is apparently not enough money available for post-secondary education. I think things would be fairer for ordinary families if education were more affordable.
It is an honour and a privilege to represent those in B.C. Southern Interior. I will do everything I can to represent their interests, just as our previous MP and his staff have done. I thank him for his hard work and wish him all the best in his retirement as he hits the golf trail and prepares gourmet meals for his wife, Ann.
The past few years have been perhaps the most enriching ones of my life. The energy and time put in by all the volunteers, in addition to their individual financial contribution that kept coming in, was truly amazing.
I am happy to announce today that four of these amazing people Ann Harvey, Laurel Walton, Gina Petrakos and Jayme Hadikin have accepted positions as my assistants. Together with an amazing Hill veteran, Jennifer Ratz, I believe we have a team second to none.
In addition to our Castlegar office, it is my pleasure to announce that, as of June 1, I will have part time offices both in Oliver and in Princeton to better serve the western part of my riding.
It is difficult to name all those dedicated and committed people who have stood beside me over the past years, but a special thanks should be said to my wife. In spite of the fact that she said “I think you're crazy” when I said I was thinking of running for office, she is still right here with me in Ottawa.
The three others who encouraged me right from the beginning are our former MLA, Ed Conroy, his wife, Katrina Conroy, who is now our MLA, and Lily Popoff, our riding president at that time.
Before moving on to talk about some issues facing our riding, I would like to pay tribute to some old-timers who not only supported me in the campaign, but who have spent their entire lives, or most of their lives, in the pursuit of social justice. My old friend Albin Carlson from Oliver, a long-time social democrat from Sweden, who will be 100 years old this year; Marshall and Isabella Johnson of Princeton, who will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this year; Agnes and Hugh Herbison of Argenta, with roots in the Quaker community, who have been fighting for peace and justice for many years; and finally, what would I have done without Harold and Phyllis Funk when we blitzed Grand Forks with leaflets last September?
Many diverse ethnic groups make their home in our riding. It was indeed a pleasure for me on New Year's Day to be present at the Sikh temple in Oliver, as it was to have met some members of the Portuguese community in Osoyoos prior to the last campaign. I have also had the privilege of attending a couple of dinners at the Columbo Lodge in Trail, one of the gathering points for the Italian community.
One of the main reasons my wife and I moved to Castlegar 12 and a half years ago was because of the Russian presence in that area. It is possible to go downtown in Castlegar and Grand Forks and hear Russian spoken in restaurants and on the streets.
The Doukhobors came to Canada at the turn of the 20th century because of religious persecution in Russia. They are pacifists, who have worked for peace and justice since the community was established.
Over the years they have made contributions to the cooperative work ethic of toil and peaceful life. They have built railroads, developed farms, flour mills, sawmills and jam factories.
One of their trademarks is choral singing. Their beautiful acapela choirs have performed at the United Nations and in Europe. I invite everyone to come to Castlegar in the May long weekend to attend the Doukhobor Youth Festival and get a taste of Doukhobor culture, especially the delicious food.
Two members of this community have been helping to build bridges between Canada and Russia by undertaking projects in that country. Mike Kanigan has been helping people in Rostov-on-Don to set up a door and window manufacturing business, while Alex Jmaeff has spent a number of years in Yasnaya Polyana spearheading a bakery and restaurant project.
In the Kootenay Boundary region, many people, including members of the Doukhobor community, are working for peace and justice. They want Canada to work with the United Nations to promote peace throughout the world and they are concerned about the role our country appears to be setting for itself these days and especially our military commitment.
I would like to thank my friends, members of the Kootenay Regional United Nations Association and others for their tireless pursuit of world peace. They, along with many in our riding, welcome the debate on Afghanistan, which will take place this evening.
At this time I would like to recognize Private Will Salikin of Grand Forks for his contribution and service to our country. On behalf of all Canadians, I wish him well as he recovers from injuries sustained while serving in Afghanistan.
A young woman from Castlegar, Mireille Evans, is currently preparing for a dangerous mission in Colombia as a volunteer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She will be spending time in the peace community of San Jose de Apartado to help discourage, by her presence, the abduction and killing of community members by illegal paramilitary groups. I fear for her well-being and I salute her courage.
The throne speech talks about reducing wait times in our hospitals. One way of ensuring that patients receive timely care is to target federal funding for long term senior care spaces. This would open up more acute beds in our hospitals, which would in turn decrease surgical wait times.
As members can see, there are many concrete and positive alternatives to cutting the GST by 1%.
Our rural communities are facing difficulties. We have heard over the past week what farmers are telling us. Unless there is some immediate help and a long term agricultural policy, the family farm, along with the thousands of towns and villages in rural Canada, will be a thing of the past. In my riding of British Columbia Southern Interior, our cattle industry needs some flexibility to be able to access locally owned and approved slaughter facilities. It is a disgrace that we allow Washington State to dump their apples in B.C. while our primary producers in the Okanagan are fighting to survive.
It is my hope that there will soon be an end to the softwood lumber dispute. I urge our government to demand an immediate return of the $5 billion-plus which was literally stolen from our communities. I urge the Prime Minister to remind the U.S. President that this is not a way to treat our friends.
I am encouraged to see there will be a review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. We in B.C. Southern Interior live in a pristine place. It is important that we preserve our wilderness areas and species that inhabit them, such as the mountain caribou.
Finally, the survival of our rural way of life depends in part on a fair and just federal infrastructure program. Our communities need continued assistance and more flexibility in deciding their local priorities. A common thread uniting the citizens from Manning Park to Kaslo, Salmo and New Denver is a desire to live in sustainable and prosperous rural communities.
I urge all members of all political parties to work together to truly represent the interests of rural Canada.
Mr. Speaker, my congratulations on your new duties.
I want to thank the member for his speech and welcome him to the House of Commons, and also his colleague, who spoke earlier and who, like me, is a maritimer. It is nice to have a band of maritimers here even if we ended up having to come to Ottawa for what we consider gainful employment but what others would say is a little more dubious.
The member spoke about the question of child care, which we also support and which we advanced in the last Parliament, with funding for it negotiated with the provinces. We advanced an agreement for developing an early childhood program as well as assisting lower and moderate income families through tax breaks, through tax reductions and the increase in the tax exemption, both of which the Conservatives took a completely different tack on. Their tack in fact assists higher income earners, people who can afford having only one member of the family working outside the home with the other working at home. In this situation, only the lower income is taxed. If both family members are working at $30,000 or $40,000, they are fully taxed and there is very little revenue.
The same is true with the GST and low income families. Most of the expenditures of low income families are not taxable items, but if someone is earning $100,000 plus, the GST reduction is a substantial rebate. It is fitting that the Conservatives would reduce the GST because, after all, it was their party that introduced it. Neither our party nor theirs would oppose that type of economic approach.
Perhaps the member could explain to me why his leader would have de facto supported the Conservatives in the last election, knowing exactly what their agenda was, knowing that these were the items they were promoting. The Conservatives were straightforward in saying that there would be a financial transfer to families with children under six, not considering that it still costs a lot of money for education, maintenance and care for children above six.
They were also straightforward in saying they would provide a slight reduction in the GST but that at the same time this would be paid for by an increase in tax exemptions and personal taxes for lower and moderate income families. Could he explain why his leader would de facto have supported that type of government?
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a privilege and a pleasure to rise in the House today and speak to the throne speech.
I would like to advise you at the beginning of my 10 minutes that I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.
I would like to begin by thanking the constituents of Battlefords—Lloydminster for sending me back to this place to continue many of the arguments and debates we have been having for the past nine years I have been here, and for a couple of years before that when I served as a constituency coordinator for Elwin Hermanson, who went on the lead the Saskatchewan Party and of course has done great things in the province and will continue to do so.
It is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the throne speech, that document of the vision and the accountability we are bringing to the House. It is based on everything we campaigned on, on our five major planks. There was a lot of discussion by the Liberals and some of the media that there was a hidden agenda, but I am here to say there was no hidden agenda. Everything we said during the election campaign is underscored in the throne speech, in this document of focused vision, which would be the best way to describe it.
We are hearing a lot of nitpicking from the other side about how we are building on the great economic stability that the Liberals built up during their 13 years in power. The member for Don Valley East was going on earlier about that great economic period and so on, but agriculture did not benefit from that economic period. If anything, primary producers, the farmers and ranchers in this country, are in worse shape now than they were 13 years ago.
In those 13 years, we have not seen any sort of direction, vision or program stability that would speak to this issue. In the nine years I have been here, I have seen group after group come forward and say that this program does not address what they need and this program does not develop into what they thought it would, and then a real reticence about the fact that the federal government shows leadership in a lot of the agricultural files. The formula for the disaster in business risk is 60-40 with the provinces. There has been a lot of discussion on that formula and I think that is a good thing. We need to discuss that and do a lot of work on the equalization formula as well, but those come in a little later on.
Having started with agriculture, let me drop back to the other five units in the throne speech. With regard to accountability, we campaigned hard on the lack of accountability and on the lack of measures to trigger an audit, whether it is for first nations bands, which themselves are calling for better and more timely audits, or others. This plan would allow the Auditor General to do that. Someone who does not have an axe to grind, so to speak, will be able to go in, have a look at those books, say what is going well and what is not, come back with an action plan, and give it to the department, saying, “Act on this. Let us see something change”. I think that is a great thing.
I know that for a lot of the nine reserves and the urban component in my riding, with some 15% of the population in the riding being Cree, the rank and file are excited about this. When we talk to the chiefs and councils, and of course the national leaders, we hear them saying that they do not want this, that they do not want anyone looking over their shoulders. That is unfortunate, because this will actually bring in more stability. If they are looking to long term vision and some constructive steps to build a better relationship with the people in the constituency they represent, this is an excellent tool for them to take advantage of. I hope they will.
Through access to information, it is also going to allow folks to have greater input into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Wheat Board. A lot of departments like that are arm's-length crown corporations that really have no accountability to the taxpayers who are asked to pony up and keep them alive at times, and of course in the case of the Wheat Board, the producers who support it and would like to have better access and more timely reports and so on. That is a whole other debate in and of itself.
Regarding tax cuts, tremendous discussions went on before we put forward our platform, Mr. Speaker, and I know you took part in that as well. Everyone seemed to realize that the GST cut would affect everyone. I hear a lot of naysayers from the Liberals and the NDP saying that it only helps the rich. Let me tell members something. Everyone in my riding, regardless of income, pays GST. It is a hidden tax. We pay for it at the gas pumps, in our rent, or in the payment we make on a house when we buy it. We pay it when we pay our power bill, our telephone bill or our heating bill. It is in there. Having the GST go down a point is going to be significant for everybody at every level, whether they rent or own, whether they are a senior or a high level income earner. It is all based on how it is going to be good for everyone.
The Liberals are saying their tax cuts were bigger than our tax cuts. I have tried to figure that out, but I cannot for the life of me figure out if those cuts actually even passed. That was part of the economic statement last fall, leading up to the election. They were all flying out, with $750 million for farmers and so on, which we have delivered. We went ahead and did that, warts and all. We made sure that money to producers was expedited. They needed it this spring.
As for all these tax cuts the Liberals talk about that were part of their agenda and so on, I cannot for the life of me figure out where they went. Our GST cut is certainly going to be more beneficial to people than a pledge or a promise that was never really implemented.
We also are doing a lot of work on the criminal justice system. This is one of the issues that really dragged me into this place 10 ago and got me started in politics in a way that was much bigger than just handing out pamphlets and putting up signs. The firearms registry was the thing that drove me into this place.
We have been working diligently. We were never deterred from the idea that we were going to get rid of the long gun registry. It serves absolutely no purpose in the criminal justice system, other than to deflect what is now over $2 billion away from real policing, real court work and real criminal justice systems to a system against duck hunters and farmers. It serves absolutely no purpose at all. We are working diligently to unwrap that horrendous package the Liberals put together. Some 132 orders in council have isolated and insulated the nub of the long gun registry. We are going to tear that sucker down. It is going to take time, but we are going to get there.
With regard to child care, there has been a lot of discussion here as to whether that $1,200 per year is adequate. It is light years ahead of whatever was offered under the Liberals or any of the NDP provincial governments. They gave us zero: no dollars and no child care spaces. This $1,200 speaks to $100 a month per child under six so that parents can make the decision about whether they go to the institutionalized system or have Aunt Fannie do it. They would have the money to make those choices.
We think that is the right thing to do. It just makes common sense. People elected us because of this. They voted for change. They saw that change in our election platform. People said that the Liberals talked about this for 13 years. The NDP, just before the election, went on and on about how the Liberals had not done a thing about it and they were absolutely right in that instance. The Liberals did not do a thing.
What the Liberals were proposing was based on the Quebec model. They had agreements for one year out of five. We are going to honour that one year. The five year commitments that the Liberals talked about could and would cost some $10 billion a year. Let us do the economics. They pledged $5 billion for five years. That would not create anywhere near what is required. Our program creates 125,000 spaces over five years, plus that $100 a month per child that is to go to the lowest income earner of the family. It is money that people are going to be able to do things with and they voted for us because of it.
The whole health care debate has been driven by everybody but people needing health care. We have a whole basis for health care in this country that is based on politics and administration, not on actual health care. People cannot get any work done without seeing three or four specialists; they have to run back and forth and do all these things. In rural Canada, that is compounded by the long distances we have to travel. In my riding, people can get in to see a doctor in our small town if they are lucky--if there is one left. Then they get referred into the larger community, and from there, into Saskatoon or Regina or even Edmonton, outside the province, because that is where people have to go to have any kind of MRI or CAT scan or any of those types of things done. We are seeing people absorbing that travel cost. It is horrendous for them to have to travel those distances and of course absorb the overnight stay costs and all those types of things and still not be able to get the results they want.
We are looking at working with the people out there and with the parties in this House to better the quality of life for all Canadians coast to coast to coast on a myriad of issues. The five that we highlight in the throne speech merely tell Canadians that we are following through on the pledges and promises we made during the election.
I started by talking about agriculture. That is the biggest issue in my riding. I am here to tell the House that we are going to continue that fight. We are going to work with producers to come up with situations that are common sense, producer friendly and producer driven.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my first speech in this Parliament by acknowledging and thanking the wonderful people of Edmonton--Sherwood Park for sending me back here again. It is indeed an honour. I feel particularly privileged, but also I feel the burden of responsibility to represent them well.
I had the opportunity this past weekend to stand at the Sherwood Park Trade Fair. I do not know whether other members do things like that, but it was my 15th year that I have had a booth at the fair.
On Friday I was there but I was interrupted because I had to go to a funeral of a friend. I was standing at the booth for about six hours, and on Saturday it was close to 11 hours. My knees complained at the end of the day, but my brain and my heart got a lot because there were hundreds of people who came by. I hardly had a chance to sit down. They were telling me how happy they were that the Conservatives have formed the government. The main theme that I heard from them was that finally we have an end to the mismanagement of the money by the Liberals. That was a constant theme.
A number of people asked about the gun registry and how soon we would be able to scrap it. I told them that we have a minority government and on the parts of it that will require legislative approval we expect that the other parties will finally come to their senses and support some real measures in addressing the question of crime and not waste it, as our leader and the Prime Minister said, targeting duck hunters. They are not the ones who perform criminal acts. It is the criminals who do, and it is those very criminals of course who have access to guns and will not register them.
The main issue was the corruption that was unearthed by the independent Auditor General of Canada and also the independent Judge Gomery and the fact that under the previous administration money was literally stolen from Canadian taxpayers.
Consequently, those are the issues they had. At the end of two gruelling days of standing there, I felt elated because I listened to my constituents and they almost unanimously expressed great support and gratitude that we were now on this side of the House.
With it of course comes added responsibility, and I believe that I and my colleagues bear that honourably. We want to do what is best for our constituents, for our individual provinces and for our country as a whole.
I am very pleased that the throne speech addressed the major issues. Instead of making 85 promises and hoping to deliver on one or two of them, we focused on just five primary issues. They have been iterated a number of times here, so I will not repeat them individually. I will simply say they are the issues that resonate with Canadians. These are the things they want done. We are committed to do our very best to get those things through Parliament and have them enacted.
During the short time I have today, I would like to speak primarily about families and child care. It is no secret that over the years I have been a strong advocate for strong families. The members who were here before this Parliament and have heard me speak noticed when I was on the opposition side that whenever issues of the family came up, I made strong statements. I have always done that.
As a matter of fact, I am quite convinced that the viability, the strengths, the very character of our country is based not on all of the other issues which sometimes we look at, but rather on strong, vibrant families. In my view, both from my own experience as a youngster growing up, which now is a long time ago, and also in the raising of our own children, I realize more than ever the importance of a strong family bond.
I remember reading not very long ago that if a father wants to have the best influence on his children, the best thing he can do is to love their mother. I thought how significant that is, because it shows the basic unit of the family, the marriage of a man and a woman, and the children, and their care for the children.
I am very pleased that in our throne speech and in our election platform we were careful to put in measures that strengthen the family. I do not know whether I should give too many personal anecdotes; I think I will probably limit it to two or three.
We decided that when our children were born my wife would be a full time mom. I had a fairly above average paying job as a professional math instructor at NAIT, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. With the high taxes and all of the expenses, we had difficulty making ends meet and so I took on the additional job of teaching night classes. Besides the additional income that I earned, I also enjoyed those adult night students who were there to further their careers.
I brought home a little extra income. This was many years ago. I remember saying that Tuesday nights I worked for Trudeau and Thursday nights I worked for my family because even back then, about half of our income went to taxes. It is very important that families be given a tax regime that will allow them to look after the needs of their families.
To a great extent I was an absentee father. I was also involved in volunteer work and worked two nights a week there and came home usually after the children were in bed. I am really grateful to my wife who did the major role of raising our children. I am so glad that she was there for them. She was there in the morning to send them off to school. She was there with them before they ever went to school. She was there for them when they came home from school. I think it helped to add to the character building in our children's lives.
Then I think of our own children. Our daughter, Beverley, has two children, Dallas and Kayla. She, too, was a full time mom. Her husband is a farmer. Often the parenting went on in the truck while they were sitting waiting for the combine to bring another load of grain or wherever. There was a lot of good bonding time. It was an excellent opportunity for the parents to influence and to build character into the children.
Our son, Brent, and his wife, Susie, have three children, our wonderful grandchildren, Noah, Hannah and Micah. They are so beautiful. We just love all of five of them. That is why I mention their names here. I am so happy that Susie also is able to be a full time mom. But that is not without sacrifice. We must recognize that every family that makes that decision makes it at a considerable financial sacrifice. They forgo one income in order to do that but it is so valuable. I wish that more Canadians could do that.
I recognize there are some families where it simply is not possible. The economic demands are great. In far too many cases, there are single parents who have been left with the responsibility of raising their children and child care is needed. But I am absolutely adamant that it is the parents' decision as to what care they use.
After our children grew up, my wife took on the job of being a full time nanny for neighbours of ours. She was not a registered government sponsored day care but I can say that those children in the Schaufele residence got the absolute best personal care they could in the absence of their mother. She looked after them and we have grown to love that family as if it were our own. In fact, we have often said that we have become their surrogate grandparents, even though they have grandparents of their own.
The plan we have for child care is absolutely the best. I support it. I urge all members of the House to support the measures we are taking to strengthen families and to strengthen child care.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for St. Paul's.
I would like to begin today by thanking my constituents from Kings--Hants who have given me the honour and privilege of being their representative now through four elections.
I was elected for the first time in 1997. It has always been a great pleasure for me to represent the electors of Kings—Hants.
Coming from Kings--Hants, which is, by the way, one of the most beautiful ridings anywhere in this beautiful country, gives me a special concern particularly for environmental issues. I live in a little community called Cheverie on the shores of the Minas basin, where we have the highest tides in the world. Climate change is not an esoteric concern when one lives on the shores of the Bay of Fundy or the Minas basin in Nova Scotia.
The people of Kings--Hants and the people of Canada are justifiably concerned about the environment. What are Canadians to make of what has been the most environmentally unambitious throne speech in the history of Canada?
At a time when Canadians are united in their concern for action on the environment, this is a government that is silent, that lacks ambition and that lacks vision to build a cleaner, greener Canada. At a time when Canada's Minister of the Environment takes over as president of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the government has no plan to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At a time when accountability and transparency are supposedly the hallmarks of the government's modus operandi, more than 100 federally funded climate change programs have been secretly eliminated.
Protecting the environment is a top priority for Canadians—usually one of their top three priorities. Our government responded to the priorities of Canadians by taking action to ensure a better future. Since 1999, the Liberal government had invested over $10 billion to address the environmental priorities of Canadians.
What was among the first actions of the new government? It was to cut and destroy many of those actions, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from climate change programs. Included in this radical amputation was the community-based one tonne challenge, a program which supported communities in their efforts to identify and address local climate challenges.
Less than a month ago, the environment minister said in a CBC interview that the one tonne challenge was a “really good example of the kinds of things that we want to focus on”. However one week ago, on the day that the Sierra Club is now calling “Black Friday”, she ended funding for groups across Canada that were engaged in the one tonne challenge. Three weeks ago she said that the one tonne challenge was the kind of idea that the government believed in and a week ago she cancelled the funding. There is no consistency with the government's efforts on the environment.
Our government adopted strategic measure to meet these objectives in the short and long terms. By balancing the need to protect the environment and the need to increase our productivity, we created a vision focussed on sustainable development. We consulted every level of government and our strategy for the future is reflected in the programs we developed.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and provincial governments have been important partners with us. We worked with municipalities across Canada building green infrastructure through the $675 million green municipal fund, a program created by the Liberal government in 2000. To date more than 450 projects have been approved with an investment of $275 million leveraged to an additional $1.8 billion.
Climate change is a major challenge. It requires all governments to work cooperatively with the private sector. The fact is that the Liberal government understood that the impact of global climate change would have significant impacts, not only on issues of the environment but in terms of issues of health care, in terms of issues of quality of life and on an ongoing basis the very principles that we value in Canada in terms of being in a country with one of the most pristine and beautiful environments anywhere in the world. Citizens who have made a difference in Canada and engaged with their governments could be making more of a difference. The one tonne challenge was important because we were engaging Canadians from coast to coast to coast with the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Our government demonstrated leadership by greening government operations. As minister of public works, I reformed our federal fleet management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today 40% of the federal vehicle fleet operates on alternative fuels. This is not only important in terms of a reduction in greenhouse gases from a direct perspective, it is a strategic step in helping to stimulate demand for alternative fuel vehicles, alternative fuel infrastructure and associated green technologies, such as biofuels.
In taking a leadership role, our government was not only reducing its own emissions but actually helping to increase the options available to Canadians for making sustainable development part of their ongoing life, part of their purchasing pattern and providing a solid platform for emissions reductions across the transportation sector, in fact building a market for these kinds of products.
Our record on greening government extends beyond fleet management to how we manage our buildings, how we use our purchasing power to actually create demand to actually go to market on an ongoing basis. In fact, in our building management we reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 24% and saved, at the same time, Canadians $16 million. This was not only good economic policy in terms of what we were saving the taxpayer, it was good environmental policy. Environmental policy has to be integrated into economic policy on an ongoing basis.
As far as energy is concerned, our government expanded the potential market for renewable energy.
We proposed a minimum standard by which 5% of the energy used by the federal government must come from renewable sources.
We took action in the budget of 2005, a budget that the Sierra Club called the greenest budget in the history of Canada, to ensure that our government operations would be greened and we would play a leadership role with the private sector and other levels of government within Canada on that.
I believe that environmental policies must be used to create economic opportunities.
Canada could be the world leader in environmental technologies such as green energy. To do so, the government must invest in research and development. Generous tax credits must be implemented for investment in this area. With that approach we could attract the capital and the talent. This would give young people the opportunity to earn a living while being innovative.
In this vision, Canada would play a more important role in making the world greener.
Our leadership, internationally, is important. Canada has a history of respecting her international treaties. We have signed on to and support the principles of Kyoto. The fact is that it represents not only an environmental responsibility or an important leadership role in terms of multilateralism, it also represents an economic opportunity for us not only to respect our international treaties, to respect the Kyoto accord, to maintain within Canada the kinds of policies that we had implemented as a government previously, which could help us meet those targets, but to create economic opportunities within Canada in what will be the fastest growing area of the 21st century, and that is the area of environmental technologies, particularly on renewable and clean energy.
We have an opportunity to move ahead as a country, to embrace environmental technologies, to embrace the economic opportunities inherent in environmental technologies and renewable energy and to create economic opportunity out of environmental policy.
I would propose that the government needs to see environmental policy for what it is, not only in terms of its imperative and of building a cleaner, greener Canada, but also in terms of its opportunity of building the kind of economic opportunities where young Canadians can not only have an opportunity to make a living in Canada but can make a difference in the world.
I would propose: that the Minister of the Environment issue a clear and unequivocal statement regarding its priorities on sustainable development; that funding be restored to all climate change programs that have been cut by the government, including the one tonne challenge; that the government pledge to conduct an open and transparent decision making process when sustainable development programs are under review as opposed to cutting them by stealth; that the Minister of the Environment move forward on climate change by implementing strategies and programs announced in the April 2005 project green; that the government commit to maintaining and expanding sustainable development research capacity which enables Canadians, communities, public and private sector decision makers to make informed decisions; and that the government continues funding research and development and in fact expands it for clean technologies that can help create economic opportunity and build a cleaner, greener Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question. In fact, it is very important to consider the challenges. In the traditional economy, it was difficult to combine economic growth with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It is possible to do so, but it is very difficult, with the growth of the oil industry in the traditional economy.
There is a disproportionate level of emissions produced by the natural resource sector, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
Most of our economic growth was in these sectors. Consequently, it is a challenge to reduce emissions and, at the same time, have economic growth in traditional sectors such as natural resources.
However, it is possible to have economic growth and reduce emissions for the future. This takes fundamental changes in our economy and our environmental policy. We put in place significant changes to reduce emissions.
Project Green will be a good approach, and I am confident that it will reduce emissions. However, the Conservative government has decided to cut funding for these programs.
In my opinion, this is dangerous for the environment and does not bode well for our future economy.
It is possible to have economic growth and at the same time reduce emissions if we have a plan. We put in place a plan that is being dismantled by the Conservative government. It does not believe in the idea that in reducing emissions, environmental policy can coexist with economic growth. The Conservatives are old thinking. What we did reflects new thinking, which is why the Sierra Club referred to our plan and our 2005 budget as the greenest budget in the history of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, as the social development critic for my party, I am very pleased to stand today to respond to the throne speech.
First, I want to thank the truly engaged citizens of St. Paul's for sending me back to this place. It is truly humbling. The citizens of St. Paul's represent the best of Canadian democracy, a democracy between elections that insists upon two-way accountability between citizens an their elected representatives.
As a family doctor, I understand the importance of the social determinants of health. Proper management of such determinants as poverty, violence, housing, equity, training and particularly early childhood development, is the real solution for the sustainability of the health system and a key factor in our economy.
As a doctor, I am also obsessed with the importance of accountability of results for all government projects and programs.
Today we watched the first blow to the accountability of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development and to the whole government when the minister acknowledged to the Toronto Star that the planned tax incentives for early learning and child care would not work. It did not work in Ontario or New Brunswick and it did not help in any of the communities, in terms of not for profit, to create one more space of early learning and child care.
It is quite clear the government has no plan, not one more child care space. This is going to be the real accountability for the government. It will be the real results that we will be watching. We need policies that are based on evidence, not ideology. The tax system cannot fix everything. As my friend the hon. member for Kings—Hants and I are often known to say H.L Mencken's quote, “For every complex human problem there is a neat and simple answer that is wrong...”. Unfortunately, crime will not be fixed by more cops and the tax system will not fix all the problems. We cannot go backward on early learning and child care just because of an ideology.
In 1981 when my older son Jack was born, I had been in practice as a family physician for over five years. I had delivered hundreds of babies, but as a mother I was a total rookie. I was insecure and highly conscious of how much I did not know. My husband and I eagerly sought the advice of more experienced parents, early childhood educators, public health professionals and both sets of grandparents, who, happily, lived close by.
If there is one thing I am thankful for, and there is certainly more than one, it is that I was surrounded by people and resources who could help us with this monumental responsibility, that is parenthood. I was lucky and I knew it. It is the toughest job any of us have ever done.
Many of my patients were very much alone as they tried to raise their children. Parents were far away, there was no partner, they were living on social assistance, hoping for a better future for their children, a better neighbourhood, a backyard instead of a balcony. They thought about going back to school or about getting jobs, but there were barriers, the biggest one being the lack of affordable quality child care.
Without exaggeration, in my 20 years as a family doctor not one week went by that I did not hear mothers or fathers expressing anxiety about who was looking after their children or their ability to find quality child care that they could afford. Now we have wait lists that demonstrate my anecdotal evidence for the thousands of families whose children are on those wait lists now. That is why I believe the Speech from the Throne should have confirmed the early learning child care agreement signed by each of the provinces and demand that the Conservative government stand by those agreements as well. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Critics of the former Liberal government's program have attempted to turn the debate into a question of whether parents or paid professionals are better at raising children. This is a gross oversimplification of the issue, misses the mark and ill-serves Canadians. We acknowledge that staying at home is a choice that must be honoured and respected.
What the government does not understand or chooses to ignore is that all families, urban or rural, single or double income, one parent or two, day job or shift work, can benefit from the ready availability of a broad range of quality care and early learning services, such as prenatal classes, parent-child drop-ins, licensed child care, early learning activities and after school programs. These services can make the lives of parents easier and ensure that they can make the choices that are right for their families, while ensuring the best possible start in life for their children.
However, one cannot choose what does not exist. Too many of these services are unavailable to meet the needs of those who want them and where they are available, the cost is often prohibitive. Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, and the government is offering--
Mr. Speaker, the government is offering $100 a month while the cost of full time child care can reach $90 a day. A few more dollars in people's pockets does nothing to create new spaces. This is not a choice; it is only an illusion of choice.
Meanwhile, the move to cancel the agreement that the provinces negotiated in good faith and signed with the Government of Canada is already taking choices away from Canadians. There will be no choice for the single mother who thinks she is going back to school this fall if the spaces that were going to be created are not.
The waiting lists are just getting longer and longer. There will be no choice for the child care worker in Alberta to attend a course in order to earn an early child care educator certificate if the jobs are not there after she earns it. There will be no choice for the Saskatchewan nurse who decides to stay home until her child is in school if the proposed program for all four year olds in that province is cancelled. That nurse will not be in the workforce this fall.
That is the real, personal, and immediate impact on Canadians, economic and social, as a result of the cancellation of the early learning and child care agreement. It is long term social and economic costs. We know that if we do not invest in our children, we pay dearly down the road in health care costs, special education and corrections. When parents who need help do not get it, we all lose. We lose money.
For every public dollar we invest in preschool children, we save $2 later. We save $7 later for the children from our most vulnerable families in corrections, special education, and mental health. We lose when at risk children grow up to become dangerous to themselves and to society.
I am not alone. The majority of Canadians want this program. All 10 provincial governments have made their choice as demonstrated through agreements they have signed. Parents and advocacy groups have been clear.
In January nearly 63% of Canadians voted for a party that supports a national system of early learning and child care. These parents know that such a program will give all of our children the opportunity to thrive while giving them as individuals the peace of mind that they need to be full participants in the workforce if they so choose.
Almost all Canadians are aware of the importance of child care services in early childhood development. Ninety-four per cent believe that the first six years of life are the most important for brain development. Eighty-nine per cent believe that poor child care services hinder development regardless of family history. Seventy-nine per cent feel that well-trained child care workers provide better service.
Child care services have overcome significant obstacles in the public eye. Two-thirds of the population now feel that these services foster child development. Only 17% perceive them as “child-minding” services.
Child care services are also viewed as an essential service.
We are now paying horribly in Toronto for the ideologically driven cuts that Mike Harris made to homework clubs and family counselling. That has resulted in a problem with guns and gangs, Those kids felt, after joining a gang, that it was the first time they ever belonged. The first time they had ever been told they were good at something was when they were found to be good at shoplifting.
I have talked to those kids. They know that had there been a homework club, had there been family counselling, and had there been the kinds of interventions in the community, their lives would have been very different. I believe the government must stick to the facts and must do what is evidence based. Trying to pit parents against child care workers as though it is either/or, is absolutely unacceptable.
I encourage the minister, the Prime Minister and the entire caucus to go to an early learning centre and talk to the moms and dads there who want more resources like that for their families. Every day they are grateful and every day they want the government to do the right thing and honour the agreements. This government will be accountable for the results, socially and economically, the number of child care spaces, and the readiness to learn measurements as the children hit school.
Cancelling agreements with the provinces has major social and economic consequences.
I want the government to be put on notice that we are watching for the results.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Lambert.
Because this is the first time I have spoken in the House since the election on January 23 of this year, you will permit me to thank the people of the riding of Joliette. For the third time, the voters have again expressed their confidence in me. I will always be grateful to them for this. I can assure them that I will do everything in my power to represent the interests of the region of Lanaudière and Joliette, and the interests of Quebec.
I will now address my remarks to the Speech from the Throne. I would like to come back to the meaning of the Bloc Québécois vote on that speech. I think that we have to be careful not to interpret it incorrectly. I have on occasion heard some rather loony interpretations of the Bloc Québécois’ support from representatives of the new government.
The Speech from the Throne seems acceptable to us, essentially because of three factors. First—this is probably the clearest thing in the speech—the present Prime Minister, unlike the Prime Minister in the former Liberal government, has recognized that he is the leader of a minority government. He had no choice but to do so, first because of the reality of the House, in which his government does not have a majority of the seats, but also because of the wishes of the people. In Quebec, for example, 70% of the people who voted did not vote for the Conservative Party. The great majority of them voted for the Bloc Québécois. The fact that the Prime Minister has recognized this is, in our opinion, an indication of openness to the opposition, and also to the democratic choice that Canadians and Quebeckers made on January 23.
Second, because the Prime Minister has recognized that he is the leader of a minority government and that he needs the opposition in order to govern, he has obviously included some of the opposition’s concerns in the Speech from the Throne. I will identify some that the Bloc Québécois has been expressing in this House for many years.
The first one that comes to mind is the fiscal imbalance. The former government and the former Prime Minister created quite a dramatic moment for us all when, a few hours after the Speech from the Throne, they had to give in to the opposition parties. Those parties were calling for logical amendments to the throne speech, including an amendment to recognize the fiscal imbalance. We reached a compromise because the Bloc Québécois is, first and foremost, a constructive and responsible opposition party. The drama concluded with finely tuned wording stating that the government recognized the existence of financial pressures some call the “fiscal imbalance”.
At no time during the last term or during the election campaign were the Liberals able to acknowledge this. At only one point during the debate did the member for LaSalle—Émard let slip the words “fiscal imbalance”, but he pulled himself together immediately.
Simply acknowledging the fiscal imbalance in the Speech from the Throne is proof that this government is more willing to address the issue. However, I must note that the wording used—fiscal arrangements—allows the government to buy time. This does not fool us at all. As my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot stated this week, it is clear that the fiscal imbalance cannot be corrected without transferring tax points or GST revenues to the provinces. The Speech from the Throne could have mentioned this measure, which would not require extensive study given that the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Finance already made very similar recommendations.
Recognition of the special cultural responsibilities of the Quebec government is also a good sign. Giving Quebec a seat at UNESCO, like it has as a member of the Francophonie, shows a willingness to recognize the distinct nature of Quebec culture. Of course, this does not go far enough.The government should also recognize the national character of Quebec culture and the existence of many nations within the Canadian political sphere, including Quebec and Acadia, first nations, and of course, Canadians. The government is taking steps toward this, but they are just baby steps.
In the Speech from the Throne, the government backed away from its campaign promises. I will not go on at length about this, as I am sure my colleague from Saint-Lambert can do a better and more detailed job of it than I. All the same, this is a beginning.
There is room for cooperation. It may be possible to find avenues for ensuring that Quebec has access to the international stage not only in culture and education, but also in all of its fields of jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will be working on this in the weeks and months ahead and, I hope, over the coming year.
The third element among the Bloc’s concerns has to do with the international treaties that will be submitted when they are important. We realize that many treaties are signed by Canada and its partners. However, some are more important than others. In the past, in fact, the former government and former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien felt it important to submit the Kyoto protocol to the vote of this chamber.
We are told that this procedure will be applied more often. The Bloc Québécois warmly welcomes this new openness. You will remember that our colleague, the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, had tabled a bill in this chamber precisely to this effect and which was defeated by a lack of support from the Liberals. Now that they are in opposition, we can only hope that their behaviour will be governed by common sense again.
First, the Prime Minister acknowledged that he is leading a minority government. Next, he incorporated the opposition’s concerns in the throne speech, in particular certain concerns of the Bloc Québécois. Finally, the third element is the inclusion of the subamendment tabled in this House by the Bloc. That subamendment asked the House to recognize there was no reason for the lack of a strategy to help older workers who lose their jobs. And yet, this is a reality.
Again this week, in my riding, 50 persons unfortunately were laid off because of the competition from China. Many of those people are over age 55 and will have difficulty finding other employment.
The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to help out older workers who lose their jobs. Among other things, this strategy should provide for income support measures or avoid a decrease in anticipated early learning and child cares spaces in Canada
These three elements make the Speech from the Throne acceptable to the Bloc Québécois. But the speech is still extremely vague as to how the government intends to give tangible form to this new openness. As we have indicated, on issue after issue, the Bloc Québécois will be exerting the necessary pressure to come up with results that meet the concerns and needs of Quebec and Quebeckers.
Some issues, however, get no mention whatsoever in the throne speech. I have to point that out. As concerns what is going on in my riding of Joliette, for example, there has been no mention of reopening the RCMP detachments. As we know, the detachment in Saint-Charles-Borromée, in Lanaudière, was closed by the RCMP as were nine other detachments.
In this region, as my colleague from Repentigny will testify, there is a huge problem of squatting where farmland is used for the illegal production of marijuana. Since the RCMP closed its detachment in Joliette, we have noticed a significant increase in the production and trafficking of marijuana and other illegal drugs, especially around schools. Parents are concerned, educators are concerned and elected representatives are concerned. They are all calling for the reopening of the detachment at Saint-Charles-Borromée. Obviously, what goes for the Lanaudière region goes for the other regions of Quebec as well.
The first nations were also given lip service. The federal government must assume its responsibilities in the day to day matters of the first nations. In my region, Lanaudière, there is a major safety issue. Over 40 people have died in recent years on an extremely dangerous stretch of road. Together the federal government and the provincial government have a responsibility to make the road between Saint-Michel-des-Saints and Manouane safer.
In conclusion, I will mention two other issues. One is a firm commitment to make no concessions at the WTO on supply management and the other is an immediate emergency plan to help the softwood lumber sector, where businesses are going into bankruptcy one after the other. In recent years, there have been huge job losses in this sector. In the last Parliament, the Conservatives supported the Bloc in this regard.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. We will work constructively to come up with solutions in response to the concerns of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Mr. Speaker, in speaking today I would first of all like to reiterate my thanks to the constituents of my riding of Saint-Lambert who re-elected me. I will do my very best on their behalf.
Many of my constituents are concerned about the future of culture in Quebec and in Canada under a Conservative government. Some of them even believe that the term “culture” is not part of the Conservative vocabulary owing to the absence of any significant vision for culture in the throne speech. I would like to believe that this is a misunderstanding.
At this time I must point out the importance of culture. What is culture? It is that which enables humankind to create a framework for itself and for its development. It helps us to think for ourselves. It enables us to understand the world and to contribute to changing it for the better.
In Quebec, many of us believe that culture is key to having a sense of belonging to a community. It represents the essential fibre of a people, influencing its thoughts, words, actions and daily life and enabling the development of individual members of the community. For Quebec culture, this reality is intertwined with the exceptional need to affirm itself and to encourage the expression of its originality in North America.
Pursuing this affirmation, modernity and international influence is, for the only francophone state in the Americas, both a major cultural challenge and a top collective choice. Cultural Quebec is ready for sovereignty. As an exceptionally creative society, in a context of globalization and the burst of new technologies, it is important from now on for us to consider the challenges of communications and telecommunications, of creating and experiencing the arts, of accessing public institutions, cultural industries and heritage.
One of the main duties of the Bloc Québécois is to defend this reality to the Conservative government, which threatens to destroy any chance of a normal existence. In light of the Speech from the Throne, we anticipate the upcoming Conservative budget to be completely out of touch.
Rabelais said, “Science without a conscience will lead to the destruction of the soul”. Is the end of culture in Quebec and Canada nigh? With the Conservative government, that is the question.
Is the Conservative government against culture? Is the Conservative government against the arts? Is the Conservative government against artists and artisans? Is the Conservative government against renewal?
Silence on the issue of culture—I repeat—leads us to anticipate a slow death of culture by destruction of the arts, artists, the next generation in Quebec, of Quebec's identity, by the liquidation of our cultural sovereignty. This destruction will strike a major blow to Quebec's humanist and progressive culture, which has resisted standardization and cultural uniformity and which, during the Quiet Revolution, became formal policy, in the public service in particular. Public service and progressive culture are inextricably linked.
Would the silence concerning culture in the Speech from the Throne be hiding rather the temptation of a massive intrusion by the private sector, with its alienating financial power, into arts and culture?
Are we going to witness the dismantling of the museums? Are we going to witness the end of the transmission of knowledge in schools? Are we headed towards U.S.-style homogenization? Will we eventually undergo the unilateral, impoverishing ideological marking of content in the publishing media? Are we going to witness the accelerated deterioration of our public television and radio services, followed fatally by privatizations and moronic ratings races to sell available brain time to consumerism?
Life teaches us. To consume is to be consumed, but to cultivate is to create, to sow in the hope of reaping, to protect in order to receive.
A society makes its mark in history and in the hearts of the living only with its culture.
So, I beg you, support arts and culture; do not destroy them.
If by chance they do so, we would be curious to know one last thing first. Could it be the orchestration of the WTO directives devoid of any reference to the common good by being weaned on neo-liberalism that will inspire the destruction of our arts and culture? The question is relevant, since this type of destruction is already taking place symphonically in countries with neo-liberal government ideologies.
Quebec is not asleep. An infraspectacular resistance is building. The political maturity of the people of Quebec is reinforced in proportion to the predictable assaults of challenges to what makes the common good. It will withstand this civilized-seeming barbarity.
We will stand firm for culture!
In closing, here is a quotation from André Malraux, who said it in 1968.
Culture is what provides a foundation for man—I would add woman—when he no longer has the foundation of God.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for what he had to say about culture.
Our new road map does talk about culture. I would like to remind my colleague that we have a culture of accountability here in Ottawa. In my view, the highest priority of this Speech from the Throne was to re-establish confidence in our members of Parliament and elected officials and the confidence of people in their government.
This culture of accountability can be seen particularly in the fact that the throne speech was not a laundry list of priorities that head off in all directions but never reach any of their goals. I would like to reassure my colleague. Culture is important for Canadian and Quebec society. We know how much the great federal institutions have done to support and sustain French, English and Quebec culture.
Let us take, for example, the role played by the CBC. Again last night, there were some broadcasts that had very high ratings, which reached large audiences and helped specifically to advance culture.
In his address, my colleague covered a lot of points. But I did not hear any specific recommendations or suggestions regarding measures that could be included in a budget to support culture and continue doing so through federal institutions.
If he has some specific suggestions, therefore, I would encourage him to let us know. I would also like to know if, when a budget is introduced by our government in the course of our work in the House and there are measures to support culture, will my colleague be in favour of them?
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Wetaskiwin.
It gives me great pleasure to rise on this occasion as a member of the new Conservative government in Ottawa. The people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke have my sincere gratitude for giving me the honour and the privilege of being their representative in the 39th Parliament of Canada. Now that the Conservative Party is the government of our nation, I pledge that I will not forget the people who made this possible. They can be assured that I will continue to fight for the issues they tell me are important. I am their servant.
There are many, many individuals to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for the confidence they placed in me, for their hard work and the selfless hours they put in, to build on the winning streak that has marked the re-emergence of democracy in Canada. The Ottawa Valley became the eastern beachhead of democracy in 2000 and marked the beginning of change as together we entered the 21st century. I extend my heartfelt thanks to our entire campaign team and to the many hundreds of other volunteers who demonstrated what a truly grassroots campaign Ottawa Valley style is really all about.
If anything demonstrates the difference between the new Conservative government and the old regime, it is in the treatment of families and children. During the recent federal election I campaigned on the promise to support parents' child care choices through direct assistance and by creating more day care spaces in the workplace. Anticipating a July 1 start, our plan would see every family with a child under the age of six receive an annual child benefit of $1,200 per child to choose the day care arrangements that best suit their needs. Our plan gives choice to parents to make their own decisions about their family in a way that best suits their needs.
What is not clear is whether or not the Liberal Party of Ontario plans to claw back this child care allowance the way it claws back the national child benefit from the neediest children in our province, those whose parents are on social assistance.
The Liberal Party oversaw a deal in 1997 which resulted in the clawback of the national child benefit supplement from the pockets of some of our neediest children. As a new program in 1997 to assist Canadian families with children, it replaced what many Canadians called the baby bonus. It was introduced as the Canada child tax benefit, the CCTB. It included a basic benefit and a supplement, the national child benefit supplement, the NCBS.
The NCBS program was supposed to reduce poverty among low income families with children. Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments around the implementation of the NCBS resulted in most provinces, Ontario included, deducting the NCBS amount from the benefits received by families who were on social assistance. This is what is commonly known as the NCBS clawback. Many provinces justify the clawback on the basis of fiscal imbalance.
In my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, social programs such as housing, welfare and child care have been downloaded to the second tier municipality, which in our case is the county, by the province without the funds and little say in the rules to run these programs. I note that in the county of Renfrew some of the 80¢ dollars that are provided by the province for child care were returned unused. Out of every dollar the province of Ontario received from the federal government, it was taking a 20% cut with the expectation that the 20% would be squeezed out of parents already overtaxed through their local rate paying from a property tax base that is already stretched to the maximum.
The net effect of the child care program being pushed by the opposition would see increases in property taxes facing taxpayers, particularly those on fixed incomes and forcing them out of their homes. It would make the dream of home ownership unaffordable to millions of Canadians who would not be able to afford a mortgage and crippling high property taxes.
Both parents are forced to pay household debts and work outside the home. This in turn drives up the need for even more day care which in turn raises taxes. This is a vicious cycle that conveniently forgets the people whom this discussion is all about, the children.
It has been recognized, even by the defeated Liberals, that the problem of allocating billions and billions of dollars for a day care program with no control on how that money is eventually spent is the greatest weakness in the top down approach to government programs. So much for providing benefits directly to the children. The drive to provide Soviet style institutionalized day care is being pushed from the top down, not the other way around that has been suggested by the opponents of giving parents choice in child care.
I mention this specific example to illustrate that for the previous 13 years, Canadians had been saddled with an interventionist government that without a doubt has been anti-family. The worldwide trend away from Soviet style institutionalized day care has been very pronounced in those countries that were formerly part of the old Soviet empire and are now democracies. Our plan to provide benefits directly to families is in tune with the experience of other democratic countries.
On a positive note, our new Prime Minister has recognized the fiscal imbalance as a national concern. The current Ontario government campaigned on the promise to stop the clawback, a promise it promptly forgot once it became elected. While I am encouraged by the support of the provincial NDP in Ontario to defend the $1,200 per child benefit for children under six, I look forward to the fourth party in the House making a similar declaration of support. Even child poverty activists in their own party acknowledge that the best way to help families in modest circumstances is to provide direct assistance, not another government program filtered through many fingers with little time left at the end of the day for the supposed intended recipients.
Canadians are paying attention to this debate about choice in child care. Carolee Slote from Pembroke called to ask me to tell our new Prime Minister and all members of Parliament to “stay the course” on our campaign pledge on child care. Carolee asked me to give this message, “I am a stay at home mom. My children are just as important as the children of parents who work outside the home”. That message is one I have been hearing from my constituents on a continual and regular basis.
This weekend past, community leader Del O'Brien stated that it could not be emphasized enough how the Conservative child care plan will help children in rural areas, whereas the other did not. He is pleased overall to see how rural Canada is finally receiving the attention it deserves under the new Conservative government.
Our country has many resources, but none are more precious than our children. They represent the hopes and the dreams of families, communities and the entire nation. They are our future. I am pleased to be a member of a government that cares about supporting our most vulnerable members of society.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. I look forward to working closely with you.
As this is my first speech in the House of Commons, I would like to begin by thanking the people of the great constituency of Wetaskiwin for the resounding endorsement they gave me on January 23. I would like to invite you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues to come to Wetaskiwin to experience our renowned western hospitality.
On the July 1 weekend, the town of Ponoka will host the 70th annual Ponoka stampede, the largest six day professional rodeo in Canada.
History abounds at the old Wetaskiwin Courthouse, which was built in 1907, and the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, which dates back to 1799. In Lacombe, visitors are welcome at the flat iron building, one of the few buildings in Canada with this unique and distinctive architecture that has been recently transformed into a visitor interpretive centre.
At this time, I would also like to thank those who were so instrumental in getting me here today. I would like to thank my wife, Barbara, and our children, Eryk, Kasandra and Krystian, who have supported me so much and provide me with the strength I need to work so very far from home; my parents, Gordon and Beverly, and my brother and sister for the strong family ties they have provided for me; and my campaign team and all those who have supported me and the Conservative Party in this most recent election and all past elections.
I would also like to thank Dale Johnston, the former member for Wetaskiwin, for his nearly 13 years of tireless and dedicated service to the constituents of Wetaskiwin. I hope he and his wife, Dianne, enjoy a well earned retirement.
I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister for bringing forward a focused agenda that aligns the government's priorities with the priorities of Canadians.
The five priorities that we campaigned on will be implemented by the government. Canadians voted for change because they were tired of empty promises. They wanted accountability. They wanted a government that lived up to its billing and politicians who worked for them, not for themselves. The government will do that and more.
Despite the fact that agriculture accounts for roughly one in eight jobs and 8.3% of the total gross domestic product, it was virtually neglected during 13 years of Liberal governments.
Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector is a key contributor to our quality of life. In the constituency of Wetaskiwin, agriculture is at the heart of our local economy. Our farming roots run long and deep.
Last week, my father, who has farmed in the Lacombe area for over 40 years, celebrated a birthday. While he is younger than many of today's farmers, it is not an occupation that can be pursued forever.
Even though we have the best, most fertile soil in Alberta, young people are leaving the family farm in droves. Like me, they have found employment and careers away from the uncertainties and struggles that are part and parcel of the business of farming.
Drought, BSE, grasshoppers, subsidies and trade irritants have contributed to the loss of many family farms and have left the farm industry struggling to cope. Farmers and cattle producers are a resilient lot, but when they are in dire straits they, and all the communities that rely on their success, should be able to count on their government to help them fight for their livelihoods.
No one works harder than our agricultural producers, something the new government knows well. Rural Canada is important to the government and we will work hard to help them retain their livelihoods.
The Conservative government believes that agriculture is a key strategic economic sector, so the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food acted immediately after his first cabinet meeting and announced payment of the $755 million, under the grains and oil seeds payment program, would be sent out immediately. Already, more than 73,000 cheques totalling nearly $400 million have been distributed to producers. Then, he travelled across the country and listened to hundreds of producers tell him about the difficult financial situation they are facing and their desire to continue farming.
The government also recognizes that the CAIS program does not meet the needs of producers. Changes will be made to the program to make it simpler and more responsive to the needs of producers. We are urging the provinces to get on board and help us develop a program that really works for farmers.
During the last election campaign the Conservative Party promised an extra $2.5 billion investment in agriculture over five years. We will demonstrate our commitment to farmers by creating an economic climate that rewards hard work and innovation.
It is hard work and innovation that characterizes the people of the Wetaskiwin constituency. They have invested in technology that allows them to diversify and branch out into new value added products. An example of this is the proposed environmental gasification plant in Rimbey, which would use agricultural byproducts as the key feedstock component. This innovative plant would allow the community to continue to diversify, create jobs, and still maintain its strong agricultural base and complement our thriving oil and gas sector.
We have always been innovators in central Alberta and we have not looked back since the discovery of oil in 1947. The petrochemical industry has added a new and exciting dimension to life in Alberta. Thanks to black gold, new industries are locating throughout the constituency of Wetaskiwin in towns like Lacombe, Rocky Mountain House, Blackfalds, Ponoka and Calmar. Thanks to the spirit of the local people, this remains a great place to live, raise a family and conduct business.
Ours is a family oriented society, home to independent parents who want their government to treat them fairly. They want to feel safe and secure in their communities. They want our government to stand up for safe streets by tackling gun, gang and drug violence and keeping criminals off the streets. They want choice in child care. The one size fits all approach pursued by previous governments does not work in areas like Wetaskiwin. By providing parents with $1,200 a year for each child under six, it allows them to find the best solution for their family, be it public or private day care, a relative or a neighbour.
Families in the constituency of Wetaskiwin work hard to pay their taxes and they want to see the hard-earned dollars they send to Ottawa used prudently. They want to keep more of their income to pay for the necessities of life. The government believes that Canadians pay too much tax and so the Prime Minister developed a tax plan that over time will reduce the tax burden on all Canadian families.
The reduction in GST will bring a tangible savings to young families, so they can buy their first house or perhaps move to a larger one. It will make big ticket items like a new car or appliance a little more affordable and it will leave more money in parents' pockets to save for their children's education and for everyday goods and services they acquire from their local businesses.
Lower taxes will encourage job growth and give parents secure, steady employment. We value our way of life and look forward to real change and results. We in Wetaskiwin finally have a government that will deliver real change as outlined in the throne speech.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Yukon.
I am pleased to have the opportunity today to rise in the House and highlight some of the concerns that I have with the government's agenda outlined in the Speech from the Throne, called “Turning a New Leaf”.
I appreciate the opportunity to continue in this House as a representative for the constituents of Kitchener Centre. I would like to thank the citizens of Kitchener for the confidence they have placed in me and for their continued support.
One would think that after 13 years in opposition the new government would have made constructive use of that time and would be in a position to articulate a clear, comprehensive vision for the future of Canada. Unfortunately, in the government's blueprint for the future, we see no evidence of the appreciation for the complex and wide-ranging issues that face Canada.
The government has the opportunity, indeed the privilege, to lead a nation that is economically sound and in the best fiscal position of any country in the G-7. This is a time to share economic success with Canadians and provide meaningful investments in important Canadian priorities. The government's agenda falls short in many respects and it is causing concern right across Canada.
The Speech from the Throne echoes five priorities. These are the priorities that formed the cornerstone of the Conservative election campaign. They seem to be a single focus for the government.
The GST cut is a priority, despite constant criticism from economists right across the country that it presents benefits for higher income families while offering relatively little tax relief to low income Canadians.
The plan also includes a commitment to crack down on crime, with stiffer penalties, contrary to the research that shows crime prevention programs, not stiffer penalties, are what bring crime rates down.
A wait time guarantee alone is not a cure-all for health care. We must work in cooperation and consultation with health care partners to restore confidence in our universal public health care system.
The principles of the Prime Minister's accountability act were also outlined in the throne speech. We all learned very important lessons on accountability from the report of the Gomery commission. It is not enough simply to talk about transparency, talk about openness and talk about accountability if our actions demonstrate the opposite. The public takes politics seriously and they have high expectations of their elected officials. They deserve nothing less.
The last item on the government's agenda includes cancelling the child care funding agreements with the provinces and providing a small baby bonus for families with young children. As the parent of any busy young child will tell us, this is not child care. This is not providing opportunity.
The holes in this agenda are massive and they are shocking. As a representative of Kitchener Centre, a diverse and multi-faceted urban centre, I am very disappointed that cities and communities are ignored in the government as it takes its vision forward. We depend upon strong communities and strong cities for our prosperity. The link between healthy cities, productivity and competitiveness is well established.
I am proud of Kitchener. It is a great city to live in and a terrific place to do business. It is an inclusive community. Kitchener has become an attractive destination for new Canadians. Over the years, Kitchener has grown and it has diversified to meet the challenging and evolving needs of a modern society. The federal government needs to be a partner in supporting and inspiring the kind of growth that we have seen in Kitchener and, as a matter of fact, the kind of growth that we see right across Canada. Cities need federal support and partnership to ensure continued growth.
Good policy is good policy, regardless of the partisan stripes under which it is conceived. I encourage the government to engage municipalities in collaborative activities such as those initiated by the Liberal government in its new deal for cities. Our cities need updated infrastructure, effective public transit and affordable housing. Homelessness continues to be a tremendous challenge in communities such as mine, right across Canada.
The supporting communities partnership initiative program, as part of the national homelessness initiative, has supported local initiatives that address local housing needs in urban centres. We cannot simply abandon the progress that has been made on this important federal issue. I believe everyone in this House believes that all Canadians should have access to affordable housing. Let us ensure that our future policies reflect that belief.
When I look at my own city, I am amazed at the various opportunities there are to enjoy Canada's art and culture. Our nation is home to a wealth of talent, enabling us to share and celebrate our culture through music, arts and theatre. In our museums, we discover and share the heritage that has provided the foundation for our continued growth. The Canadian identity is rich in its diversity and continues to evolve with our changing cultural landscape. Continued funding for the arts, the support of the CBC and museums is absolutely essential in preserving and sharing our culture and our identity.
I believe our nation is only as good as the air we breathe. Canadians know that our health and the health of our children, the quality of our communities, and our continued economic prosperity depend on a healthy environment.
The problem of climate change is creating new health and environmental risks. We cannot look into the future without a solid commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the challenge of climate change. For the health of this generation and for those who come after us, the government must define an environmental strategy.
There is no doubt that Canadians chose change on January 23. We respect that. I look forward to working in opposition to hold the government to account for the commitments it has made.
However, I have to say that my greater concern lies in what is missing from the Speech from the Throne. We live in a complex, demanding, diverse nation. We must govern for today, tomorrow and beyond. We must be both responsible and ambitious, focused and flexible, to ensure that Canada continues to prosper through the leadership in this 39th Parliament.