To continue my remarks from yesterday, Mr. Speaker, also of great concern to the citizens of my riding of Parkdale--High Park is the issue of crime. As many know, a scourge of guns and gang violence has hit Toronto in recent months. For Toronto to thrive, its residents must feel safe. During the election campaign, I spoke of the need to deal seriously with violent crime. The throne speech mentions that “equally important” is the need to prevent crime before it takes root.
Many African Canadian parents in Toronto are worried sick about their kids. For crime to truly be prevented we need federal help to create new sources of opportunity for our young people, to keep community centres open and especially to help in the most vulnerable and economically depressed neighbourhoods.
The members of Parliament have to work together to prevent the flow of illegal firearms from the United States that end up on our streets, killing our young people. Only by working to eliminate handguns from our streets will we be helping to safeguard our urban centres like the city of Toronto.
The citizens of Toronto also face another danger from a different source, one that is less high profile, perhaps, but is becoming all too visible: smog, pollution and climate change. To tackle this problem we need more than platitudes in a throne speech. We need more than a promise to stay in the Kyoto protocol while ignoring its targets. That strategy seems vaguely familiar. I hope this is not a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
We need concrete measures to reduce the smog and air pollution that kill thousands of Canadians every year. I was proud to bring Greenpeace and the Canadian Auto Workers together to help create the green car strategy for the NDP. We need to implement this and other innovative ideas so that we can clean our air and protect Canadian jobs at the same time.
I am proud to have been involved with the labour movement for many years and, as such, protecting decent paying jobs for Canadians is also a key priority for me. The government should know that you cannot simply mention working families without speaking in concrete terms as to how we are going to create and protect jobs.
The throne speech had no mention of industrial strategy, no mention of trade policy and agreements that threaten our workforce and no mention of protecting unionized workers with real anti-scab legislation. In my mind, this is simply not good enough. Working families need more than 1% or 2% off the GST. They need child care spaces. They need safe, clean cities. They need decent jobs.
As I mentioned earlier, the city of Toronto has to be more than a vital economic engine. It must be our cultural and artistic centre.
Former NDP culture critic Wendy Lill once said that “art is the soul of any great nation”. She was right, but it is more than that. Culture and the arts also represent jobs for Canadians. Twenty-five thousand Toronto jobs are tied to film and television production alone, yet there was no mention of culture in the throne speech. The decision of the CBC to cancel programs like This is Wonderland is having a profound effect on employment and also on our collective identity. We need a strong cultural sector in order to tell our stories as Canadians and protect our sovereignty.
Our sovereignty also depends on an independent foreign policy, one that does not see us blindly walk into George Bush's war on terror. I want us to support our brave men and women who are stationed all over the world, including in Afghanistan, by making sure that we fully debate their role in Parliament, as we started to do last night. If we claim that we are defending democracy abroad, then we must practise it in this chamber by voting on future missions and future deployments.
I know that the people of Parkdale--High Park and Toronto work hard and pay their taxes, but they told me at the doorsteps, in the subway stations and in the coffee shops during the election campaign that they do not mind paying these taxes if they see value for their taxes, if they see that money invested back into their communities in programs and incentives for their neighbourhoods. They want a beautiful waterfront. They want more child care spaces and more affordable education and training programs for their children. They want to see an end to smog days that start as early as February. They want a city within a compassionate country that feeds and houses all its citizens as a very minimum.
In short, we want a Toronto that the whole country can be proud of. It is what I want too. That is why I am hoping to work with everyone in the House as an advocate for Toronto in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park for sharing her time with me.
I will begin by thanking the people of Vancouver Island North for the trust they have shown in me to be their representative. In the election campaign, I promised to make sure that Ottawa knows where Vancouver Island North is and what Vancouver Island North needs, a task I will take very seriously.
I am proud to say that I was born in the riding and have lived in a number of its communities. It is a very large area with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and contains many people who still exhibit that great pioneer spirit that created this country.
Vancouver Island North has the Pacific Ocean as its western boundary and the Strait of Georgia borders on the southeast. It is just over 52,000 square kilometres in size with 109,000 residents. That is two people per square kilometre. Some parts of it are only accessible by air or boat. Most people live in the towns and cities that have been built in and around the traditional industries of the area, which are forestry and fishing.
I listened carefully to the throne speech to hear what the government intends to do to address the serious concerns of people working in those industries. It said, “This Government recognizes the unique challenges faced by those who make their livelihood from our land and oceans in our vital natural resource and agriculture industries”.
Recognition is nice, but action is what is needed. The absence of action on major issues facing workers and their families in our forestry communities is a form of neglect that borders on abuse. We need concrete action to end the softwood lumber dispute and a comprehensive plan to ensure that the money, when it comes back to Canada, goes to the people in those communities who have been so dramatically affected by this trade dispute.
We need to end the practice of allowing raw logs to be exported from private land under federal jurisdiction. We need better stewardship of our forestry resources. We must ensure that it can provide jobs for this generation and many future generations while also respecting the environment.
Earning a living from the fishery is far too rapidly becoming a part of the history of Vancouver Island North. Our inability to be reasonable stewards of our ocean's resources is a sad testimony and a cruel indictment to the many people living in my riding.
Even when fish can be found, caught and landed, they, like the raw logs from our forests, are far too often trucked out of our communities to provide jobs for people in other places. It worries me not to see a single mention of our west coast fishery in the throne speech. We need leadership in Canada. We need to stop standing back and letting unsustainable practices threaten our wild fish stocks. We need to work with aquaculture companies to find a productive and sustainable way to farm fish. We need to shake off our complacent attitude, which in reality will only continue to pit people against each other in our coastal communities.
The pioneer spirit that I refer to shows up in the people who are working hard and investing their time and money in developing new sustainable energy sources. Whether working on common sense wind power or leading edge tidal power generators, people in my riding are looking for leadership from their federal government in moving us away from their reliance on fossil fuels. They are looking for substantive measures to achieve this goal. I look forward to working with these new pioneers to make real inroads in sustainable power generation and to ensure that vague promises made in the throne speech are turned into real and tangible results.
I want to shift gears just a little and mention the vital work done by the men and women in the armed forces based at CFB Comox. Like Canadian armed forces personnel everywhere, they are dedicated to the work they do to serve their country. They approach their dual tasks of defensive surveillance and search and rescue support with determination and professionalism, but they continue to work in outdated buildings that will not survive an earthquake and with planes and helicopters that have long passed their due dates.
The Conservatives made many promises in the election campaign with regard to our armed forces in general and CFB Comox in particular. The throne speech makes a mere reference to “a stronger military”. I will be vigilant in reminding the government of its promises and working with it to keep those promises.
In its throne speech, the government states that it “will not try to do all things at once”. One can argue that this is a prudent way to proceed, but it is my belief that some things cannot wait.
There are two more priorities that I want to outline. The first is the need for the federal government to work with communities across Canada to quickly and efficiently modernize and expand our infrastructure. I am told by elected municipal officials and first nations leaders throughout my riding that this cannot be left for another day. This must be done.
In the Comox valley, our cities and regional districts are struggling to come to terms with aging water and sewer systems. Growth caused by more and more people moving to this lovely area is putting a huge strain on infrastructure, which must be dealt with.
I recently met with Port Hardy mayor Hank Bood and members of his staff and council. They made it very clear that the federal government must share in the cost of upgrading and expanding their sewage treatment facilities to end the pollution of nearby Stories Beach.
I left Port Hardy and drove a short distance down the highway to Fort Rupert, where I was invited to have lunch with the elders of the Kwakiutl Band. In the course of our discussion, the members of the band described the hardship they faced because they could not harvest the seafood that should be readily available to them from the beach on their reserve. That beach, the same one the mayor had spoken of, is badly contaminated and has been closed by health officials.
That brings me to the last concern I want to raise. I was honoured to receive significant support from the almost 20 first nations who live in Vancouver Island North. I look forward to continuing to meet and work with them. I will work with the government to ensure that the commitment in the throne speech to improve opportunities for aboriginal people in Canada is not mere empty words and unkept promises.
In keeping with my objective to bring to Ottawa the voices of the people I represent, I want to close with this passage from a report by Am Johal on the residential school student gathering held in Alert Bay in August last year. It states:
|| In the small island community of Alert Bay near northern Vancouver Island, hundreds of survivors of St. Michael's Residential School stood on the idyllic shoreline near the U'mista Cultural Centre. It was misty as the fog rolled in and perched on the calm water.
|| It was an enchanting setting. Canoes carrying some of the former students arrived at the school for a bittersweet reunion. As they came closer, one of the chiefs stood up from the canoe and asked for permission to come to shore.
|| Chief Bill Cranmer from the Namgis First Nation welcomed them in. They paddled the canoe in backwards as a gesture of friendship, rather than one of aggression, as is symbolized by paddling in from the front.
|| St. Michael's Residential School was open from 1929 to 1975. Over the weekend, more than 250 First Nations from all over British Columbia representing some 18 bands came to attend the healing ceremony.
|| “We used to be beaten for speaking our own language. We were removed from our own communities...we need to remove the trauma, so we can develop in the way we want to,” said Chief Cranmer as he addressed the former students.
|| “We need to move forward and we hope you share with us the notion that this shouldn't have happened to us or our children. The future belongs to us. We need to rebuild our history.”
|| As the Coast Salish dancers began preparations for their healing dance, Chief Cranmer said, “We have come to look past what's happened to you. We have come here for our ancestors. We can find time to move to a better place”.
|| As a line formed inside the school, the hallways and classrooms brought back memories that had many people bent over and sobbing with tears. Some needed to be physically supported. Relatives and friends clung to one another.
|| Back at the Big House, another speaker said, “It is time for healing and reconciliation. The colonisers brought an oppression which made us oppress ourselves.”
|| Chief Cranmer once again addressed the gathering. “We used to line up to pray to a God we didn't believe in.
|| Our role models weren't positive.
|| We suffered from diseases brought in by colonisation, the residential school system which hurt our culture, and the potlatch prohibition.
|| They took away our humanity.”
The throne speech talks about building a stronger Canada. On behalf of the people of my riding, I will keep their concerns in the forefront as we work in this Parliament to achieve that goal.
Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you. Having served this House longer than anyone here, it seems a fitting place to find you. In his absence, I would also congratulate the Speaker on his re-election.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.
As this is my first occasion since the last election to speak to the House, I want to thank very much my family, my wife Denise, my sons Nathan and Nicholas, and my newest son Noah, who is only eight weeks old. My wife was very much expecting Noah during the campaign, so she gets added appreciation for having gone through the election campaign expecting a baby on the 24th of January.
I also want to thank the people of the riding of Fredericton. No Liberal has been elected twice in Fredericton since Confederation and I have had the honour to serve the people of Fredericton riding for my fifth election. I do appreciate the honour and the opportunity to represent the good people of that riding here.
Given the nature of the standings in this Parliament, we are all going to have to work very hard to make Canadians proud of the institution. I hope to do my part by being as positive as I can be. There is a role in opposition to point out limitations and inadequacies, but that can be a constructive role.
Within the Speech from the Throne, the references to the soldiers in Afghanistan, to dealing with the Chinese head tax and to picking up on waiting times initiatives are all positive and the government is to be commended. Having said that, the repeated commitment to a limited number of priorities does lend itself to the observation that some very important things were left out. I would like to enumerate a few of them.
First, as the infrastructure and communities critic for the official opposition, there is a glaring omission having to do with investment in infrastructure, to which the previous speaker from the New Democratic Party spoke, not only because of the importance of these investments but also because of the importance of the relationship that the former government was able to establish with municipalities. Having been an infrastructure minister in the past, I can say it was well received and very important to the country.
Also left out was a reference to the Indian residential schools agreement and the Kelowna accord. In particular, on the question of Indian residential schools, as was mentioned by the last speaker, I would just make the point that the answers to the questions on Indian residential schools have been that we are waiting for the final agreement. The reason there was an agreement on an advance payment was that we knew the final agreement would take some time and many of the elderly people perhaps would not be able to share in that. An advance payment is, by definition, something that would come in advance of a final agreement. I think the government should reconsider that position.
There was no reference to research and development, or making universities more affordable to students. In the case of research and development in particular, we have come a great way. In terms of publicly funded, university based research, in the early 1990s Canada was in the middle of the pack and now we are leading the world in this area. The research chairs program, the indirect cost program and increases in all the research granting agencies have had that effect. I would hope when the budget is presented that the absence of reference to research and universities in the throne speech will be mitigated by good news in the budget. I see the Minister of Finance grinning. I hope that is a good sign and not that he just finds me funny.
Regional economic development is critically important to Atlantic Canada. I am concerned about that. During the last campaign a lot of references were made to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which were not necessarily the most positive. I hope the investment has been made, particularly in innovation. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is an entirely different institution than it was when the Liberals took office in 1993, with a new commitment to communities and innovation primarily. I hope that continues and is in fact enhanced.
I want to acknowledge the regional minister for the province of New Brunswick, the Minister of Veterans Affairs. That causes me to think about agent orange and herbicide spraying at CFB Gagetown in my constituency. The area covered is shared by my constituency and the constituencies of the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the member for Fundy Royal. I have great optimism, because of his awareness of the subject and his commitment to his constituents, that the Minister of Veterans Affairs will be able to move this file quickly.
I was also surprised at the lack of reference to what I consider to be a huge demographic challenge facing the country. It is most acute in Atlantic Canada, but I think it visits all of rural Canada, in particular, in terms of the shrinking and aging population. It simply cannot be sustained.
Finally, this is the 25th anniversary of the International Year of Persons with Disabilities and the obstacles report, which was a seminal piece of work on disabilities. By leaving that out of the throne speech, I hope the government does not intend to see that year go without attention. I am optimistic that it will not.
There was no reference to culture, which has been the subject of many questions in question period, and I will await the budget to see what will happen in terms of the commitments that were made to the Canada Council and the CBC in particular.
Specifically, on the infrastructure program, my concern is that the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund is, for all intents and purposes, committed fully. Therefore, if this budget does not see a renewal in the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund, not only will that be a huge loss to Canada in terms of our ability to invest both in large and small projects, depending on how the applications are organized, but I think it also signals troubling things for the municipal rural infrastructure fund. It would signal the fact that perhaps some of the speeches that have been made in other House about the constitutionality of the former government's commitment to communities through infrastructure spending might in fact see those programs not renewed. That would be a bad thing, not only for the communities that are dependent on these funds but also for a positive relationship in a modern society.
The former government invested between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion a year. To my knowledge the commitment made by the government is $2 billion over five years. If the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund and MRIF are not renewed, that would constitute a 60% cut in infrastructure spending by the government. I will await the budget to see if that holds up. I suggest there are many worthy projects across Canada. In my province the Saint John Harbour cleanup is a significantly important issue.
On the question of R and D, it is an area where there was a lot of investment made and I hope it continues.
I mentioned Indian residential schools. Let me also speak of the Kelowna accord. While Indian residential schools deal with our legacy, which needed to be reconciled, the Kelowna accord speaks to the future, a significant investment in education and housing. At the end of the day, these things are not just about principle. They are also about investment and it is long overdue.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to represent the citizens of Lac-Saint-Louis in Parliament. I believe the West Island of Montreal, a large section of which falls within the boundaries of Lac-Saint-Louis, is a unique and politically significant part of Canada. It is unique because of its geographic location on the great St. Lawrence River and because of the linguistic and cultural makeup of its population. It is significant because of the insight it can bring to our nation's politics by virtue of being a microcosm of the larger country.
Lac-Saint-Louis is a community of minorities. Its anglophone population is a minority in Quebec while its francophone population is a minority within Canada. As for the number of other linguistic and cultural groups that enrich the life of the riding, not only are they minorities in Canada and in North America, but often they are new to the West.
No doubt, because of its diversity, the West Island is a community of tolerance and moderation. It is a community that rejects radical change that can disrupt meaningful human connections. It is a community that prizes unity over division. It is a community inspired by political visions, rooted in high-minded principles rather than by ideologies that encourage retreat into one's own space. Lac-Saint-Louis is anything but a community of firewalls.
The people of Lac-Saint-Louis are committed federalists. In 1995 they voted massively “no” in Quebec's second referendum. They support the federal Clarity Act adopted by the previous Liberal government. They believe that political decisions should be clear and informed and that rights such as the right to remain in Canada as a Canadian citizen cannot be suppressed by a simple majority of votes in a highly charged plebiscite on a question that is the object of wordplay.
The people of Lac-Saint-Louis know Canada is not a political straightjacket, that it is not, as the Bloc likes to tell us, an overly centralized and centralizing state. In the United States approximately 80% of federal transfers to state and local governments are conditional grants. In Canada no less than 76% are now unconditional. These figures do not portray a rigid, constricting and inflexible Canadian federalism.
The Conservatives have confirmed their support for a deconstructed federalism. They do this subtly and softly by, for example, acquiescing to the theory of the fiscal imbalance. They sometimes do so more explicitly, as did the Prime Minister during the first question period last week when he spoke of a centralizing federalism.
The fiscal imbalance theory suggests that Quebec and the other provinces are financially mistreated by federalism. The residents of Lac-Saint-Louis know that is not true. If the Conservatives go ahead and modify equalization by removing oil revenues from the equation, then provinces without oil, such as Quebec, will certainly suffer.
The Conservatives are playing a dangerous and deceptive game by agreeing with the Bloc Québécois on the existence of a fiscal imbalance when so many facts disprove this theory.
The debt to GDP ratio of the provinces is far less than that of the federal government. Furthermore, federal transfers to the provinces increase more quickly than federal revenue.
What is more, all the provinces have posted budgetary surpluses in four of the past six years.
Finally, when Ottawa made cuts to federal transfers to the provinces in 1995, as part of its successful efforts to slay the deficit dragon created by the Mulroney government, the cuts imposed on the provinces were proportionately much less than the ones Ottawa made to its own programs. If there is a fiscal imbalance in Canada, it is not between different levels of government but between governments and individual taxpayers, and that fiscal imbalance, the real fiscal imbalance, has not been addressed in the throne speech.
Last fall the Liberal government introduced the second phase of its tax relief plan for Canadians. The first phase was the multi-year, $100 billion tax cut announced in the year 2000. In the fall the Liberal government forged ahead and reduced the tax rate on the lowest income bracket and raised the amount Canadians could earn tax-free. The Conservative government owes it to Canadians to cancel its plans to do away with those Liberal tax cuts, otherwise Canadians will see their paycheques, after deductions, shrink this July.
Canadians need and want meaningful and honest tax relief. Canadian families are overtaxed. Many are overburdened with mounting household debts, which put tremendous pressure on family life. Canada now has a negative savings rate of 0.4%. Does the Conservative government really care about families, or is family just a convenient buzzword in the Conservative campaign lexicon?
It is hard to find an economist in Canada who would agree that, given the choice between lightening the tax burden on Canadians through income tax cuts or doing so by reducing the GST, the government should opt for a GST cut. If both are possible, then fine, but aggressive income tax cuts should take priority.
First, a GST cut encourages even more consumer debt and overstimulates an economy whose problem is not weak consumer spending but weak business investment. More investment would lead to higher economic growth in a competitive global economy, where staying ahead of the productivity curve, through capital investment, is the name of the game.
Second, a GST cut will not transfer more money directly into people's pockets. Liberal income tax cuts, on the other hand, would produce extra disposable income for Canadian families that would, in the aggregate, be channelled into productivity-enhancing business investment.
A number of companies that offer mortgages, such as banks, do not even charge GST on their products and services. In those cases, reducing the GST will not lead to savings for the consumer. It will only reduce costs and increase profits for the company.
Some retailers include GST in their prices. Movie theatre operators will not decide from one day to the next to reduce the price to see a movie from $9.95 to $9.86 just because the GST has been cut by 1%. Hairdressers are not going to lower their prices either, and some corporations will benefit simply from their monopoly position to increase their prices ,thereby profiting from the bit of play created by the GST reduction. Gas stations are a good example.
The Conservative GST promise was politically clever and strategic. Some call it calculating. Whatever it was, it was not good policy. As Globe and Mail columnist, Jeffrey Simpson, has said:
|| Of course, having campaigned on the GST cut, [the Prime Minister] will be obligated to implement it, thereby costing the federal treasury $5-billion-plus and aimlessly stimulating an economy that doesn't need that kind of stimulus. After that, however, the Conservatives' mental cupboard is shockingly bare....
Mr. Simpson goes on to say:
||--the Prime Minister knows his party's election platform was just that -- a political document that sufficed for enticing the electorate but will not do for serious governing.
While the Conservative government has opted for a clever but weak tax policy, similarly its so-called child care policy is one dimensional, lacks vision and fails to address the tax system's bias against families with a stay at home parent. Although it was sold primarily as a measure intended to help stay at home parents, as the Globe and Mail editorial board has said, the Prime Minister's plan is “little more than a symbolic gesture” toward these parents.
Again, smoke and mirrors.
Let us be honest. The promised $1,200 taxable annual payment to families is an improvised attempt at a tax cut, but not an honest and sweeping income tax cut like those introduced by the previous government.
The Liberal government pursued an intelligent and comprehensive approach to helping Canadian families. It outlined broad income tax cuts and at the same time negotiated child care agreements with 10 provinces to help build a network of quality, developmental child care. This flexible system would not only have been available to parents who work full time. It would also have been available to those who wanted to use the system part time because one parent was at home. The Liberal government believed it was possible to have parallel policies that reconciled both these contemporary Canadian realities.
The Liberal government took a major step in addressing the needs of children and families, including those with a stay at home parent, when it created the national child benefit in 1998. For example, the national child benefit includes an annual supplement of $243 for each child under seven years of age when no child care expenses are claimed on the family's income tax return. The government should increase this amount for stay at home parents while at the same time maintaining previous Liberal commitments to support a quality educational child care system for families who need it.
The problems of modern societies are complex. Their challenges cannot be met by superficial approaches. The throne speech is a thin document. It is a sketchy road map for a government that is travelling light and not intending to go far on behalf of Canadians.
I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I do want to congratulate you on your position and obviously those of the Speaker and the other deputies.
I want to thank the people of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex for their overwhelming support in the election last January in giving me the responsibility and the honour of representing them in the House. I also want to thank my family, especially my wife Barb, for their encouragement and support. I also want to emphasize that during my tenure as MP for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex I will represent all constituents in the House regardless of political affiliation.
It is important for Canadians to realize what will be accomplished during the 39th Parliament. The Speech from the Throne provides the guidelines for what our government wants to achieve during its mandate. Of course we will be focussing on the five priorities: clean up Ottawa by introducing and passing the federal accountability act; lower taxes for all Canadians by cutting the GST from 7% to 6% and then to 5%; ensure safe communities by cracking down on gun, gang and drug crimes; give parents choice in child care with a $1,200 annual payment for each child under six and by helping to create 125,000 child care spaces over five years; and work with the provinces and territories to establish a patient wait time guarantee.
This past weekend a small community in southwestern Ontario was crushed when a farmer made a grizzly discovery in a field near Shedden. It has been speculated that the crime committed was gang related. This incident makes it quite clear that violent crime is not a phenomenon that is isolated in large cities. It reaches into suburban and rural communities. Our families have lost the sense of safety and security they deserve. Gangs, drugs and guns have no place in our community.
Our position is simple: Canadian families have a right to feel safe and secure in their communities. If we are to protect our Canadian way of life we need to crack down on violent crimes, and that is what this new government will do.
Cracking down on crime and ensuring safe communities is a high priority for our government, including stiffer penalties for serious crimes and fixing our correctional system so that serious crime means serious time. The government will tackle crime. It will propose changes to the Criminal Code to provide tougher sentences for violent and repeat offenders. It will help prevent crime by putting more police on the street and improving the security at our borders.
The wasteful $2 billion, ineffective long gun registry program has been placed as a burden on law-abiding citizens and does nothing to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals. We believe that directing funds away from the long gun registry and putting that money toward more police officers is a responsible thing to do.
Our government will work with the provinces and the territories in aiding communities to provide hope and opportunity for our youth and to end the cycle of violence that can lead to broken communities and broken lives. Sentencing a young violent offender to probation is just not responsible. Our current laws focus on protecting the rights of the criminal rather than the rights of the victim. While we want to rehabilitate our young offenders, our current laws seem to make it easy for youth to choose crime over an education or an honest job. We must impose stiffer sentencing for those who choose a life of crime, especially violent crime.
We must also do more to protect our youth from sexual predators. We will raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years. We will create a DNA bank of convicted sex offenders and dangerous offenders and establish a zero tolerance policy for all forms of child pornography.
The government is setting a new direction with the tabling of the accountability act and is setting the example in sending a message to all Canadians, a message of hope that will bring honesty and integrity back to Parliament. We want Canadians to know that it is possible for Canadians to have an accountable and honest government. For far too long, Canadians have been subjected to Liberal governments that treated taxpayers' dollars as if they were their own. Honest, hard-working Canadians who pay their taxes and play by the rules saw millions of their tax dollars laundered to Liberal friends.
This is a black mark in our great history. However, it has taught us a valuable lesson. It has taught us that we need to tighten the rules. We will prevent an irresponsible act like this from happening again. Our new accountability act will do just that.
It is possible to eliminate undue influence by big money spending donors by banning large personal and corporate donations to political parties. It is possible to make the federal government more transparent and accountable by increasing the power of independent officers of Parliament, such as the Auditor General.
It is possible to provide real protection to whistleblowers, both public servants and other Canadians, who wish to come forward with information about unethical or illegal activities. I, along with my colleagues, believe that we need to give Canadians the good, clean government they expect and deserve.
The other matter I would like to touch on is the state of agriculture in this country today. Last week we saw thousands of farmers exercising their right to organize and speak freely. Let me say that when farmers speak in this country, we will listen.
Our new government is sensitive to the needs of Canadian producers. It is interesting to see the members from the opposite side of the House criticize our government on this file. During his short time as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Mr. Strahl has travelled across this country. He has met with--
Mr. Speaker, may I join the others who have congratulated you on your position as Deputy Speaker. When Parliament began, you were sitting next to me. I had this idea that your booming, thundering voice would be a problem for my ears. Now that you are in the Speaker's Chair, I am delighted to see you there.
This is my first speech in the 39th Parliament. I would like to thank the people of Calgary East for electing me for the fourth time and with an even higher margin. I want to thank people from across the country who have generously supported my re-election. I also wish to thank my family, my spouse Neena, my daughters Priti, Kaajal, and my son Aman, who stood by me during my election campaigns over all these years.
On January 23 Canadians asked for a change and they elected a new Conservative government. During the election we told Canadians what this party would do. What is more important is that Canadians told us that they wanted safer communities. Canadians are concerned about the urban crime problem, particularly as it relates to guns, gangs and drugs. They wanted tougher sentences for those who commit serious crimes, particularly those involving guns. I received a letter from a constituent in Calgary. This is what he said:
|| We bought our house in 1984 when this part of Calgary - Marlborough Park - was quiet and sleepy. You could leave your door open, and I mean wide open, go to Banff for a day, return and find nothing touched. And I know what I am writing because it happened to me once.
I know things have changed everywhere in the world, not only here in my riding. Recent events are forcing me to ask myself, as the elected representative here, as to what officials like myself are doing to resolve this dramatically escalating issue. This is a concern that we have heard right across this nation.
Conservatives have a long history of fighting for the criminal justice system that deals with crime in our society. As a matter of fact, in the last three parliaments I have myself introduced private member's bills for tougher sentencing for break and enter, asking for a minimum of two years for repeat offenders. Statistically, it has been shown that those who commit break and enter are more often repeat offenders because it is a very profitable business for them. Once they commit the crime and go for sentencing, they receive a light sentence. Then it becomes a profitable venture.
This is why Canadians want to see that we are tough on crime. My party campaigned on this plank. Therefore, as we have heard in the Speech from the Throne, we have pointed out our five priorities. One of those five priorities is to ensure that crime does not pay in this country. If a person commits a crime, there will be punishment. This is a part of our platform and that is one of the Conservative Party's five priorities that the government has outlined. People rely on the government to ensure that our streets and communities are safe, so that our children and families can live in peace.
The Conservative Party has always fought for mandatory minimum penalties for those who use guns in the commission of a crime. The RCMP deaths in northern Alberta, the Boxing Day shooting that took place in Toronto, and yesterday's massacre were all done with guns. This indicates that those who use guns in the commission of a crime need to face serious sentencing with minimum penalties. That is what we will be doing. It will become one of the priorities of this government.
We will implement the solutions that address these problems rather than waste money on things like the gun registry. The gun registry has been here for a while. In this House time after time we have stated how the gun registry has become ineffective. In no way has there been a decline in crimes committed with guns. The registry has just created more bureaucracy and has made life difficult for ordinary Canadians.
We are looking for conditional sentences that will ensure that those convicted of a crime causing serious harm do not serve sentences at home, but that those who are convicted of violent crimes serve real prison time. Some will say that we are hard-nosed Conservatives with no compassion and that we want to throw all those guys in jail. No, we are not talking about that. We are talking about violent crimes. We are talking about making our streets safe.
Our system will also focus on ensuring that we provide to those youth who have strayed from the path, not tough sentencing but hope to go back into the community. That is also the priority of the government. One should not say that we are just solidly committed and heartless in the sentencing for crime for everybody. We are saying that for the youth that have strayed, we will provide resources and money to ensure that they become productive citizens of this country.
We cannot close our eyes to the fact that violent crime has escalated. We need to take dramatic action. The government will put more police on the streets. That is one way of ensuring that our streets become safer. I received a letter from a constituent who is concerned about crime on the streets. Putting more police on the streets will give confidence to people that our streets are safer.
We also want to improve the security at the borders. We want to ensure that those who maintain our borders also have the weapons to ensure that they feel secure as well.
Most important, we will work with the provinces and the territories to help communities provide hope and opportunity for youth. We will be supporting crime prevention programs and we will invest in youth at risk programs.
The government has five clear mandates. The government is focused on five areas. This is a minority government. We do not know when we will be back at the polls. We do not make throne speeches like the Liberals used to do. They would put everything together and not deliver on anything. We want to deliver on the promises we made.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure today that I present my reply to the Speech from the Throne. First of all, since this is my first speech in this 39th Parliament, I would like to thank the citizens of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. A great majority of them, over 22,000, have entrusted me with the mandate to represent them in the House. I thank them for their confidence. In the months and indeed the years ahead, I shall defend as best I can the interests of Quebec and of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.
I will be directing most of my attention today to the environmental aspects of the Speech from the Throne. Where the environment is concerned, the best one can say is that this throne speech is vague, soft and inadequate, particularly as regards the federal government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change not only in Canada, but also in the rest of the world.
In the battle against climate change, this is a major step backward. Why? First, because there is nothing in this throne speech to clearly indicate that the federal government intends to respect Canada’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
Why else is this a major step backward? Because in the throne speech of October 2004, on page 12, we read that the Government of Canada will respect the commitments on climate change that it made in signing the Kyoto protocol. In October 2004, the government clearly and solemnly affirmed before this House and the people of Quebec and Canada that it intended to honour its commitment.
A few years later, in April 2006, there is but one small sentence about climate change and compliance. We hear that the government “will take measures to achieve tangible improvements in our environment, including reductions in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions”. As for international compliance in the campaign against climate change and the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at source, it is obvious that the federal government has decided to step back from its commitments.
We on this side of the House are not surprised at this withdrawal by the federal government. Why? Because even in the days that followed the election campaign, the Prime Minister indicated to the Canadian public that he wanted to promote a new protocol on climate change, even though we already have one, the Kyoto protocol.
We have reason to be worried, today, as we see the federal government’s backhanded dismissal of the Kyoto protocol, and see it concurring with certain other countries on the international stage. I am thinking, for example, of that Asia-Pacific partnership headed by the United States and Australia, which is taking part in the action against climate change and yet setting no reduction targets or timetables.
Is this what Quebeckers expect of the federal government—to simply let things slide in dealing with this issue? The answer is no. Eighty-seven percent of Quebeckers want the Canadian government to respect its commitments on climate change. In recent weeks, in March, I went on a tour of all the regions of Quebec.
I visited over 13 regions. I met with representatives of regional environmental councils and citizens in each of them. They told us that they expected the Bloc Québécois and the opposition to force the Government of Canada to honour its commitments. Clearly the government has not heard what Quebeckers have to say. They expect the government to honour its commitments.
Not only is the government saying on the international scene--Canada is presiding over the Convention on Climate Change--that we will not honour international commitments made by our country but, in addition, the government is already preparing the public for a reduction in allocations to environmental organizations fighting climate change. Even before tabling the budget, the government has announced to Quebeckers and Canadians that they should expect a 40% reduction in moneys allocated to the fight against climate change.
Not only are we backpedalling with regard to international and national objectives, but we are also reducing funding provided to organizations and companies to reach our targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.
We can see the government coming for miles. It will give the excuse that greenhouse gas emissions increased by 24% in recent years in spite of over $4 billion in investments and that we are not going to reach our objectives. That is exactly what the Minister for the Environment said in her speech last week. It is as though the government were trying to use the failure of the Liberal's approach to avoid honouring its own and Canada's commitments. Or, as though the lack of or inappropriate action of the Liberal government in the fight against climate change provided the Conservative government with a reason to not take action.
We expect this government to respect the will of Quebeckers and to clearly indicate its intentions, both within Canada and internationally. An important meeting will be held in Bonn on May 15 of this year. The Minister of the Environment will preside over the deliberations. We expect her to stand up and confirm that we will meet the objectives of the Kyoto protocol. We expect nothing less from the minister. If she refuses to demonstrate this willingness, which the government has clearly expressed, we will be left to conclude that the Canadian approach has changed significantly, giving way to a new approach in the fight against climate change. That is the danger facing us, no more and no less, in the weeks and months to come.
We must bear in mind the words used in recent weeks by the government, the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister. The desire to propose a new protocol, despite the existing Kyoto protocol, corresponds to the desire clearly expressed by the government to renege on its international commitments.
We would have preferred that the Speech from the Throne clearly support the existing protocol. Furthermore, we expect that government not to reduce the funding or budgets allocated to the fight against climate change in the next budget. Lastly, we expect the government to adopt a territorial approach that would allow Quebec to carry out its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the fight against climate change, we are hoping for a common approach adapted to each province. This will ensure improved performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and everyone will come out ahead. This should be the government's preferred approach.
): Mr. Speaker, to begin, I congratulate my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, for his excellent speech on the importance to future generations of abiding by the Kyoto Protocol. In Quebec, the Kyoto Protocol is important.
I also thank my fellow citizens of Berthier—Maskinongé for placing their trust in me for a second time, in the recent election campaign. I can assure them that they will not be disappointed in their choice and that I will work hard to represent their interests.
As always, the Bloc Québécois team will never waver in its efforts to get the federal government to respond to the concerns of Quebeckers. That is the mandate we have been given and that is the challenge we intend to meet.
Quebec's interests will be what guides our party at all times. But we believe that only sovereignty will genuinely enable Quebec to freely make the decisions that meet its needs and aspirations.
The Speech from the Throne gives a general picture of the government’s vision of the state of Canada and gives an indication of its legislative agenda. However, as a number of my colleagues have said, the Speech from the Throne presented by the Conservative government is a very general statement, with no precise direction and no timetable, and provides few details as to its priorities, particularly those of special concern to Quebec.
Last December, in the middle of the election campaign, in his speech in the national capital of Quebec, the leader of the Conservative Party was much more specific, and created very high expectations, by stating that he was going to work to eliminate the fiscal imbalance.
The throne speech does indeed—although very briefly—address the question of the fiscal imbalance, but it does not provide details as to the government’s intentions. I would even say that it is disquieting to see that the Conservative government is offering no details about timetables for resolving this important issue for Quebec.
The throne speech would in fact have been an excellent opportunity for the government to establish timetables. It is important to recall that the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa, Quebec and the provinces represents a dysfunction in fiscal federalism that cannot be corrected, to lasting effect, by piecemeal agreements, or solely by increasing federal cash transfers.
If the federal government wants to eliminate the fiscal imbalance in a permanent and satisfactory way, it will have to increase transfers for post-secondary education, transfer tax revenues to the provinces and give Quebec the right to withdraw, with full compensation and without conditions, from a federal program that falls within its areas of jurisdiction.
During his speech in Quebec’s national capital, the Conservative leader also broached the matter of Quebec’s role in the international community, notably in UNESCO. The Conservative leader then stated that Quebec could participate in UNESCO, as it does in the summit of la Francophonie. This statement may be found, moreover, in the Conservative platform.
The Speech from the Throne narrows the scope of these promises by affirming that now it is a matter of granting the Government of Quebec a role within UNESCO, while specifying that Canada must speak with one voice in the international community. That includes UNESCO. At the Francophonie Summit, Quebec speaks for itself and has a vote on certain matters. The government now seems to prefer the previous government’s approach instead.
I would now like to talk about a file that concerns me a great deal, namely job losses in the manufacturing sector. Unfortunately, any issues affecting the future of the manufacturing sector were totally ignored in the Conservative government’s Speech from the Throne.
For the past few years, however, our manufacturing sector has been faced with new challenges, particularly the keen competition from the emerging countries, including China and India, the rise of the Canadian dollar on the international market and the abolition of quotas in the clothing and textile sectors.
These changes have caused major negative repercussions. In Quebec, in 2005 alone, over 33,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector. In Canada, 115,000 jobs were lost during the same period.
In Quebec, private investments in the manufacturing sector increased by only 0.8% in 2005, compared to 10.2% in Ontario. The federal government must therefore increase its investments in its skills development programs for workers, and create innovation and productivity assistance tools better suited to Quebec’s needs.
The hon. member from Joliette and I recently met with representatives of the Quebec manufacturing association. They stated that the job losses we have experienced may well grow worse in the coming months and years if nothing is done. So something needs to be done soon.
In the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which I have the honour of representing, one major economic sector is trying to deal with Asian competition, and that is the furniture industry. We know that China has experienced tremendous economic growth, which does not appear to be slowing down.
Just between 2000 and 2004, Quebec imports of furniture from China jumped by 389.7%, for an annual increase of nearly 50%. In 2004, 42% of Quebec’s imported furniture came from China, compared to 16% in 2000.
That is huge and above all extremely fast. It is hard, in such a short space of time, to adjust to the effects of Chinese competition. These repercussions, moreover, have so far caused the loss of 2,000 jobs and the disappearance of some 15 businesses in Quebec. The furniture industry accounts for more than 35,000 jobs, most of them in Quebec, including close to 70 companies that hire some 2,300 people in the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé alone.
The furniture industry has already done a lot to improve its productivity and the quality of its products. It had to adapt to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now that the challenge posed by NAFTA has been met, it finds itself faced with new Asian competition.
The way in which furniture manufacturers meet this new challenge will determine the future of furniture manufacturing in Quebec and Canada. Innovation and improved productivity will be essential in order for them to succeed. New investments will therefore be necessary.
That is why the Bloc Québécois has been asking the federal government to set up a program to support modernization and adjustment, not to forget the development of a marketing assistance strategy for promoting our products abroad. The Liberal government, however, did nothing in this regard.
We have recently made some specific proposals, like the one asking that the parliamentary committees on industry, foreign affairs and international trade should meet in order to work together on some long-term approaches for dealing with the problem.
I will finish by underlining two major topics that were neglected in this Speech from the Throne, that is employment insurance and agriculture. In the situation just described, it will be very important to improve the employment insurance program and establish POWA.
Although I am pleased that the amendment to the amendment that we introduced requesting the establishment of an income support program for workers, a POWA, was adopted unanimously, there is reason for concern that there was absolutely no mention in the throne speech of improvements to employment insurance.
We must ensure that comprehensive improvements, including POWA, are adopted as soon as possible. It will also be very important to finally create an independent fund, especially when we consider that the employment insurance account has already accumulated a $1.7 billion surplus after 10 months in the last financial year. The Conservative Party promised to set up an independent fund; with the support of the Bloc Québécois, nothing is preventing it from acting quickly.
Insofar as agriculture is concerned, I would like to remind everyone that the Conservative government should keep its promises by doing what is necessary to mitigate the crisis in farm incomes. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food acknowledged that the farm income stabilization program was inadequate. Since this is the case, we expect quick assistance for farmers, especially when the federal government itself acknowledges that it has a $10 billion surplus.
Finally, it is important to state that we will not accept any compromises in the area of supply management at the WTO negotiations.
I could mention other matters as well that were passed over or forgotten in this speech, such as social housing or the Kyoto protocol. The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie just spoke about them. We will have an opportunity, though, to discuss these matters over the next few weeks. We are going to do a thorough analysis of the new government’s proposals and we will act in accordance with what has always been our guiding principle: the best interests of Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga South.
As this is my first speech in the House in this 39th Parliament, I would like to congratulate all new members who were elected for the first time to Parliament and all those who have returned. This place can be daunting but the reward of serving our communities and our country quickly becomes evident.
For the new minority government, I look forward to a real and open dialogue with compromised positions being incorporated in the government's agenda.
I wish to thank the people of my constituency of Sydney--Victory who have once again entrusted me with their confidence. I will not disappoint them. I will stand in this House and be heard on issues that are important to them.
For the hundreds of volunteers who assisted in my re-election right in the dead of winter during the campaign, their commitment and our common vision for the country truly inspired me.
Last, I want to thank my partner in many things, my wife Pam, and my family. Without their support, being in Ottawa and travelling constantly would be very hard to do.
My riding of Sydney--Victoria is home to the Sydney tar ponds, the most challenging toxic site in Canada to clean up. The tar ponds have been the focus of many studies over the years. In 2004, I am proud to say, the Liberal government committed $280 million toward the $400 million federal-provincial agreement to clean up these notorious tar ponds. Now the community is preparing to review the cleanup process through a full panel review of this project.
Recently a student organized symposium at Sydney Academy High School was held to gauge student concern on the tar ponds cleanup. I had the honour to be there when they were engaged in this dialogue. Sixty students from local high schools gathered at the symposium to listen to the government and also to the Tar Ponds Agency and provincial people on the cleanup proposals.
Following these presentations, the Sydney Academy environment club, which was granted intervenor status before the full panel review, will present its suggestions and concerns. This is community involvement that must continue. This cleanup must be fully supported by the government.
Recently the Minister of the Environment visited Atlantic Canada. I was disappointed that the tar ponds were not on her agenda. Also, she did not respond to questions on continued funding for this important cleanup project. Most important, the throne speech made no mention of the Sydney tar ponds cleanup. In the two previous throne speeches it was noted.
I once heard from a wise man who said, “It's not what's in the speech that you need to worry about; it's what's not in the speech”. With no mention of the tar ponds in this throne speech, I am hopeful that the old saying does not apply here.
On the issue of child care, Statistics Canada tells us that over half the children under the age of five are in child care, a 12% jump in the last eight years. Many thousands of families are on the waiting lists in an attempt to get their children into child care facilities. We have 21 day care facilities in my riding alone and my office has been in contact with all of them. Many have circulated a petition that we will be presenting in the House which asks the government to honour the full $5 billion five year child care program committed to by our government.
Where will the quality child care spaces come from? The government has no plan to build affordable child care spaces. It believes that $100 a month and a corporate tax break will create a national child care system in the country. I have yet to hear from one child care provider who believes that this hands off approach to building a national child care system works.
Let us talk about education. In order for our country to continue to grow, we must invest in our students. Education and training are the tools our students need to succeed in the future and make our country prosper. Yet there was no mention of education in the Speech from the Throne.
Recently I met with the students of Cape Breton University. They were very optimistic about our fifty-fifty platform that the Liberal Party proposed. Many were waiting to see some similar assistance offered in this Speech from the Throne. Again, they were disappointed like many other Canadians. They were left out of the Conservative agenda.
After listening to and reading the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne, I have arrived at two conclusions. First, the speech illustrates the government's disregard for addressing issues that profoundly impact Atlantic Canadians. Second, Atlantic Conservative MPs are not effectively advancing fisheries concerns affecting the region, whether it is in their caucus or in cabinet.
A large portion of the economic activity in my riding of Sydney—Victoria is dependent on the fishery industry. May I remind the House that in the last election the Conservative Party made a lot of promises for the fishery industry, including the capital gains tax relief for fishers transferring their licence, an expanded and robust Coast Guard and the implementation of custodial management on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.
In last week's Speech from the Throne, I expected to see some mention of these promises. I did not hear them when the Governor General read the speech, so I read the document. I still cannot find any mention of these promises. They are just not there.
These issues are not only important to Atlantic Canada, but they are also important to fisheries across the country. Countless fishermen in Cape Breton and other regions expect action on this important issue, and the government has let them down in its first big test.
Let us talk about agriculture. As a former parliamentary secretary to agriculture, to international trade and being from a farm family, I understand the urgency of farmers when they were on the Hill last week for their rally. To me, agriculture is the backbone of the Canadian economy. This is why I have great difficulty understanding why the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne did not prioritize agriculture.
In 2005 our government, led by the hon. member for Malpeque, went across the country and had consultations with farmers and producers. From this came the report, “Empowering Canadian Farmers in the Marketplace”. The report has been widely accepted among farmers in Canada. It received big praise last weekend in Alberta. My only hope is that the Conservative government will listen to the farmers and take the report's recommendations into consideration when dealing with our farm crisis.
I would also like to touch upon the WTO negotiations in Geneva. The window for negotiations becomes smaller by the day. Farmers in Canada are depending on the government to reach an appropriate agreement where all sides can benefit. As a farmer and as a member of Parliament, I ask the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of International Trade to treat the WTO negotiations with the respect that farmers deserve.
On regional development, our country will make major shifts in its economy. I have a lot of disappointment in the government's treatment of Atlantic Canada as far as regional development is concerned. First, the province of P.E.I. has no cabinet representation. Second, the government has downgraded ACOA to a minor portfolio, led by a minister who has two departments in addition to two provinces for which he is responsible.
As the members across the floor say, the member for Central Nova is a capable man. However, it would have been wise for the Prime Minister to give an important portfolio like ACOA to a minister who could devote 100% of his time to this portfolio. ACOA and ECBC are excellent resources for the riding of Sydney—Victoria in building a stronger economy. I will continue to fight for this important development agency that is helping Cape Breton to transform its economy to equal status with the rest of Canada. I will also--
Mr. Speaker, since 1980 I have had the opportunity to run in seven federal general elections. It is a great honour to participate in the political process. It is even a greater honour to be elected to this place.
Having been successful in the last five elections, I first want to thank my family. Without the support of our families, it would be very difficult to do this. I am very pleased to say that my family has supported me in pursuing a career they know I love.
I also want to thank the constituents of Mississauga South for their support and confidence. I look forward to going to work each and every day to represent their views and their concerns.
Today we are discussing the Speech from the Throne. It is interesting to note that over the past seven Parliaments I have watched the throne speeches. They have been quite different and each has had an opportunity to lay out what the government believes is the most important messaging that it would like to get to Canadians. Regardless of the words in the throne speech, the representations of the various parties during the election campaign also are very important. They lay out what I believe to be an assessment of where we are today and what the shape of Canada is. They also try to articulate to some extent where we should be going and put forward some of the elements, the structure and skeleton of a plan which allows us to move forward in that direction.
I have often thought that the measure of success of a country is not an economic measure. It is the measure of the health and the well-being of its people. We have talked throughout this debate about a number of issues which relate to people in many circumstances. However, I first wanted to relay and share with members what I have learned as a member of Parliament over these last 12 years.
One of the first committees I went to was the health committee. We were told at that time that 75% of health care spending was spent on fixing problems and only 25% on prevention. We were also told by health officials that this model was unsustainable, and I think we have shown that that is right. Health has always been the number one priority of Canadians since I have been a parliamentarian. I believe all hon. members should put that health lens on the camera to ensure that everything we do is related to the health and well-being of all Canadians.
I also learned that there were exceptions to everything. Therefore, if we make an argument, someone will come up with one exception to try to invalidate the argument. However, as parliamentarians, we have to look at the preponderance of evidence, at the majority of cases or the general case so we can make an argument, understanding and respecting the fact that there are circumstances. There are parents who are excellent caregivers and there are some parents who are terrible caregivers. It has nothing to do with things we can control, but we have to understand there are exceptions.
Let us not dismiss the general argument, the preponderance of evidence, of what happens especially as it relates to our first priority, which I would think would be children. I have learned that we cannot legislate behaviour, but we as parliamentarians have an opportunity to educate, inform and provide the tools so people can seek to be as good as they can be, from cradle to grave.
I have learned that in this place we need to have a bit of a philosophy. I would characterize my philosophy as a Canadian, first, as protecting the rights and the freedoms of the individual. It is a very important foundation of this place and of the work that we do. The second, which may not be shared by all, is to help first those in most need.
We know there are people within our society who have challenges, whether they be the disabled, the mentally ill, the infirmed or the aged, those who are unable to help themselves. We have a responsibility to keep their interests first in our minds, to make absolutely sure that they do not fall through the cracks.
If I were to characterize my work as a parliamentarian over the last 12 years, I would say that putting children first probably has been a common theme through much of the work that I have done. As members of Parliament we have an opportunity in our careers, however long they may be, to leave a mark, a fingerprint or an impression so that others who come after we are long gone will be able to build on those values systems that we brought forward.
I remember presenting petitions in this place hundreds of times which stated something like managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society. It is unpaid work, but it is still work and it deserves to be recognized.
As a consequence, one of the first bills that I put into this place was a private member's bill to permit income splitting between spouses, so that one could stay at home and care for preschool children. It was not to suggest that somehow we simply share an income fifty-fifty, but that we should recognize that the income of a family belongs to that family and that the tax rule should recognize that it is a good relationship and that a strong Canadian family is very important to healthy outcomes of children. We wanted to send that message.
Mothers and fathers both have an important role to play with children, yet family breakdown is probably the single largest cause of child poverty in Canada. In fact, 15% of all families in Canada are lone parent families and account for 54% of all children living in poverty. If we want to eliminate child poverty, we have to be prepared to deal with the dysfunction and the breakdown of the Canadian family. That is not a view held by all members in this place, but we should think about it because statistically that is the fact.
I wrote a number of small books on some issues. I remember in one of them I defined what I felt was real love. I described real love as being a situation where one person has put the interests of another ahead of his or her own.
When we think about it, for instance, when a couple in terms of having children makes a decision to have one parent withdraw from the paid labour force to care for the children, the family is losing a net paycheque. It is an expensive proposition. Their value system and belief is to put the children's interests first, because they know how important it is particularly during the first three years of life. That is when the brain is being wired. It is when children are being influenced in terms of their cognitive abilities. That is the investment the parents want to make. It is short term pain, but it is long term gain.
I was very disappointed that the OECD would characterize our current day care situation as being glorified babysitting. I am awfully afraid that any moneys we are going to throw at this has not been dedicated to anything new, but rather may be putting clean oil into the old dirty oil. We may not see better outcomes in terms of child care delivery systems.
We must be very careful in this debate. I think I understand. I certainly am a champion on behalf of families that choose to provide direct parental care. In my value system no one can provide better care, that secure, consistent attachment of an engaged, committed adult, than the mother and the father. That is my value system. It is not necessarily shared by all, but I will be here to defend it.
I also intend in this Parliament to do work again on fetal alcohol syndrome. I have told this House so many times about the linkages between criminal activity and the mental health condition called fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
In the last Parliament we had evidence that 50% of the people in Canada's jails suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects. If we want to address real crime in Canada, there is also a non-violent element. That is the problem of maternal consumption of alcohol which causes mental health in a very large percentage of our children.
I have some other priorities. I am hoping that we will look at matters to do with the aging society, the underground economy, and a prosperity agenda, because good fiscal policy makes good social policy and good social policy makes good fiscal policy.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start my speech by thanking the constituents of Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam for the privilege of serving them for the third time as their member of Parliament. To my constituents, in my almost six years as the member of Parliament for Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra I have never forgotten my first responsibility will always be to make decisions that are first and foremost in our community's best interest. It has been my pleasure and honour to serve my constituents and I promise to always work at the peak of my abilities to represent them.
On January 23 Canadians voted for change, for a new direction for this great country, and this Conservative government is providing the new direction Canadians were hoping for. Throughout the election campaign and through to the throne speech we have been clear and consistent about our top five priorities for this Parliament.
First, we are going to pass the federal accountability act. The federal accountability act will change the way business is done in Ottawa forever by eliminating undue influence by big money donors by banning large personal or corporate donations to political parties; by toughening the rules governing lobbying, and getting rid of the revolving door syndrome that so often was seen in the past involving political staffers, bureaucrats and lobbyists; by making the federal government more transparent and accountable by increasing the power of independent officers of Parliament such as the Auditor General; and by providing real protection to whistleblowers, both public servants and other Canadians who wish to come forward with information about unethical or illegal activities they may have seen in some area of the federal government. The idea is to give Canadians the good clean government that they expect and deserve.
The second of the five priorities is we are going to give tax relief to all Canadians by cutting the GST. It is becoming more and more expensive to live in Canada's major cities and their suburbs. There are fewer places where the rising cost of living is having a harder impact on residents than in Vancouver and its suburbs. Our plan is to leave more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians, ordinary Canadians, so that they have a little more money left over at the end of the week to pay the bills and save for their children's education.
Key to this will be an immediate cut in the GST from 7% to 6% with the rate eventually dropping even further to 5%. Because everyone pays the GST, this cut means that every Canadian will benefit.
The member for Mississauga South said that low income Canadians would benefit from the income tax cut but would not benefit from the GST cut. He may be surprised to know, but he should not be surprised to know, that the lowest income Canadians do not pay income taxes but they do pay the GST. They get their rebate at the end of the year, but an immediate GST cut will help them more than the mythical Liberal tax cut.
It is estimated that such a cut will save families hundreds of dollars every year which they can use to pay for the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, transportation, utilities and housing. Making the government budget smaller and the family budget bigger so that all Canadians have more power, choice and influence in how they choose to live their lives is a Conservative ethic and a Canadian value that this government will act upon.
Third, we are going to help families with the cost of raising their kids and give parents more choice in child care. Canadian families face many stresses and none are more personal and important than the raising of Canada's next generation. While meeting the need to balance workplace and family responsibilities, many Canadian families are struggling and they could use some help. One way will be to give parents more choice in child care so that they can find the best way to meet their needs and those of their children.
No two families are the same, which means that the one size fits all approach pursued by the Liberals and supported by the NDP in the past just does not work. We are going to fix this. We are going to do it by providing parents with a $1,200 annual allowance for each child under the age of six to be used to pay for the child care that best fits their situation. Be it public or private day care, a neighbour or a relative, it is their choice, whatever works best for them.
We are going to work to create more child care spaces across the country, not by complicated agreements between governments but by helping companies and organizations create thousands of child care spaces for their employees and those living in their communities.
Fourth, we are going to work with the provinces to address growing health care wait times. The throne speech makes it clear that we are going to work with the provinces and territories to establish a patient wait times guarantee. The benchmarks established by provinces and territories set maximum limits on wait times for certain medical treatments. The guarantee will ensure that if people cannot get the medical care that they need where they live in the public system within the established benchmarks, they will be able to get that care either outside the province or in a private clinic with the cost being covered by public insurance.
Universal access to a single payer health care system for all Canadians is an ethic which Canadians have time and again said they want protected. This Conservative government will defend this ethic and will work to ensure that all Canadians will have the care they need when they need it.
Fifth, we are going to get tough on crime. For my constituency, I believe the most important set of issues this Parliament will address is criminal justice reform. As a lifelong resident of my riding and as someone who has seen more bars put on windows, more youth violence than ever, more property crime than ever, drug violence growing, and a sense of frustration by every day citizens over our justice system go deeper and deeper, I believe that changes to our justice system will be the most important contribution this Parliament will make to the health of my community.
As such, I am proud that our government will make criminal justice reform one of the cornerstones of our governing agenda. The justice minister, the member for Provencher, has visited my constituency twice in the past year and has heard firsthand from mayors, city councillors, the Coquitlam RCMP and Port Moody police about the kind of justice reforms we need to ensure our community stays as one of the greatest places in the world to live. I am proud to report that both he and the Prime Minister have listened, have made a commitment, and will act on important criminal justice reforms.
Last week, in a speech to the executive board meeting and legislative conference of the Canadian Professional Police Association, the Prime Minister outlined our justice package. He pointed out that one of the things that has made Canada a great country is our traditionally low rates of crime. In fact, our peaceful, law-abiding communities are part of Canada's traditional identity and values, but times are changing and our cities are changing. The safe streets and safe neighbourhoods that Canadians have come to expect as part of our way of life are threatened by rising levels of crime. Clearly, this cannot go on.
If we are to protect our Canadian way of life we need to crack down on gun crime, gang crime and drug crime. Canadians are tired of talk. They want action and they want it now. That is what the Conservative government is going to do. We are going to take action.
First of all, we will hold criminals to account. We will set mandatory minimum sentences for serious, violent and repeat offenders. We are going to hold criminals to account. This means making sure sentences match the severity of crimes and getting violent criminals off the streets so they cannot reoffend. This government will send a strong message to criminals that if they do a serious crime, they will do serious time.
That is why during our mandate this government will take the following actions. We will introduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug traffickers, weapon offences, repeat offenders and crimes committed while on parole. We will end conditional sentences for serious crimes. We will repeal the faint hope clause. We will replace statutory release with earned parole. Parole will no longer be granted automatically as it often is today. Parole is a privilege and it has to be earned.
We also know that holding criminals to account will require more police. We are going to work with our partners and other levels of government to ensure there are more police officers on our streets. This is a vital element in fighting crime because many police officers are currently underfunded and feel under siege.
We are going to act. We are going to do so by establishing a new cost shared program with provincial and municipal governments to hire new police officers; by reinvesting savings from the long gun registry into front line law enforcement; and by investing new federal money into criminal justice priorities, including youth at risk programs.
When it comes to drug crimes, the government will also act by doing a number of things such as ensuring mandatory minimum prison sentences and large fines are given to marijuana grow operators and drug dealers; by introducing a national drug strategy; and by not reintroducing the Liberal government's plan to decriminalize marijuana.
We will also get tough on sex offenders. I will also continue my personal efforts to have tough laws enacted against those cowards who use date rape drugs to sexually assault, rape and abuse women. For too long this problem has been allowed to grow and I believe it is time to take action against those who use date rape drugs.
Let me finish where I began by thanking the people of Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra for the honour of being able to stand here today and speak on their behalf in this great Parliament.
The five priorities that will be the focus of this government and Parliament this year will lead to a healthier Canada, a stronger British Columbia, and stronger tri-cities. After 13 years of dithering and delaying, this Prime Minister and this Conservative government will get things done for Canadians. Let the debates begin.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen in this Parliament to give a speech. I have made some remarks, and questions and comments. As this is the first time, I want to thank my constituents back in Saskatoon--Humboldt for re-electing me to this chamber. When I was elected the first time, I received one of the more narrow margins in Canadian political history and one of the more unique circumstances.
I want to thank the people of Saskatoon--Humboldt, from Quill Lake to Saskatoon, up to St. Louis and St. Brieux, and all the towns in between, for re-electing me with one of the largest margins in the history of my region; a margin which, in percentage terms, was not exceeded since 1945, according to my research. So, I really appreciate the faith my constituents have in me. For the 50% of the constituency who did not vote for me, I will be there to represent them, not just the people who voted for me. I am the member for the entirety and will seek to serve everyone.
In speaking to the government's Speech from the Throne, the government emphasized and stated five key priorities. Five priorities, though, do not mean that other issues will be ignored. We noted, toward the end of the speech, a strong statement on agriculture.
As we emphasize in this debate the five priorities of the government, we will note that the government will take action on things that are key; things that may not be key to all parts of this country but are key to areas such as agriculture, which is important to my home province of Saskatchewan.
One of the five major priorities of the government is the accountability act, an act to bring trust, respect, and a certain degree of honesty and integrity into the public system, into the political system, one that should be there innately without any need for legislation and it is amazing that we even need to have legislation.
A second priority is child care, an attempt to emphasize to help all Canadian families. If I may say, it is child care not day care that the government is emphasizing. Frequently, a mixture of statistics have been quoted in this House stating that the majority of Canadian children are in child care, and then not noting that only about a third of those listed in child care are really in day care. All options, be it with day care, stay at home mothers, relatives, friends, or neighbours babysitting, need to be looked at because parents want what is best for their children.
The health care wait times guarantee is something which I am sure will be the feature of many debates in this House.
The cut to the GST is something that was also noted.
However, I especially want to emphasize today the government's priority on cracking down on crime, on making a very strong statement that law and order is important to this country.
I am particularly pleased to support the Speech from the Throne and the emphasis on criminal deterrence for several reasons, one of which is the importance to my constituency, the people I represent here in the House of Commons.
In my first term, I did quite an extensive survey, spread out evenly throughout my riding, and contacted 10,000 different households. One of the issues that we questioned the constituents on to ascertain their views, and again this was not a send-out self-response survey where we only get the actively interested but a scientifically spread out one, was on crime and criminal punishment.
Approximately 92% of my constituents said, in response to the questions, they thought that the criminal element in our society was being treated too leniently; they were being caught and they were being released. It is very important to me to see that the government is representing my constituents in the Speech from the Throne.
A second reason I am very pleased with the government's emphasis on justice issues in this Speech from the Throne is my conversation with police officers during the campaign in Saskatoon--Humboldt, both this one and previously. I particularly remember when I was door knocking in the region of Silver Springs in the Saskatoon portion of my riding.
I came to the door of one couple's house in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and began to visit with the gentleman. He had a considerable number of questions about the criminal justice system. It turns out he was a long term veteran of the Saskatoon police force. He said that the situation was terrible. He said that we arrest someone and before we are done the paperwork, they are back out on the streets.
It is highly inappropriate that we spend more time in being concerned about criminals being looked after than we do in defending our society. It was a concern which he wanted emphasized in the House. I am sure that if he is watching or following the news, he will be quite pleased that the government has taken this action.
Another reason is that it is appropriate for the government to be involved in the enforcement of law, the enforcement of justice. I am noted for being even a conservatives' Conservative and am not always so pleased with some of the more redistributive elements, shall we say, of economic packages that tend to go out, that tend to be a large element of our political discourse. But the government has an appropriate force to use, and that is in the enforcement of the rule of law and the enforcement of justice.
What is law? As French economist Frederick Bastiat said:
|| What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense. Each of us has a natural right--from God--to defend his person, his liberty, and his property.
It is the government, through action, through the arms of the state, that does have a legitimate right and duty to enforce that law, so I am proud to say that my government is actually doing something that government should be doing and is not interfering in the many political shenanigans we have seen previous governments engage in.
The government's overall approach has been based on principles of justice. What are those principles of justice as I understand them, speaking as the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt?
One of the principles is deterrence. We need to make sure that when we have a justice system, there is a deterrent, so that when a criminal weighs the decision to commit a crime--and admittedly, not all of them do it on a rational basis--he will understand the consequences.
The punishment must also be appropriate to the offence. It should not merely be a slap on the wrist for something serious. It has to be balanced between what is insubstantive and what is substantive.
Justice also has to say something about the valuation of society. One of the things that most disappointed me about the legislation of previous governments was in issues dealing with the protection of children from sexual exploitation. By not taking a firm enough stand on these issues, previous administrations have said that they do not value the protection of children enough. That is a concern I had previously and I know that it will be dealt with again in this House.
There is, of course, protection. When a criminal does something, we put him away not just for the deterrence, not just because society is making a statement about values, but for protection. Some criminals, sadly enough, are beyond the point of redemption. There are times when it is necessary to lock them up and throw away the key. It is a sad instance for any human being or any life, but for the protection of all of society, it is necessary.
What are some of the applications the government will be making to enforce its justice policy and to make it a practical application for Canadian society? One of the things we will be doing is imposing mandatory minimum sentences to state that there are certain bottom lines that need to be raised for punishment. When we commit a crime, when we take someone's life, when we damage someone's freedom, when we threaten society, and when we create an atmosphere of fear, there is a certain minimum punishment that is necessary to provide those principles of justice that I spoke of earlier. That is one practical aspect the government will be doing.
The other practical aspect will be providing resources. Resources are needed in our society to help provide the elements for the forces of law enforcement to do their job. Particularly, we will provide support to police and to the RCMP, who have had problems in always getting the resources they need. These are some of the very practical elements. They will affect my constituency, because I have spoken in the House before about the need for funding for the RCMP.
To state it again, as the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt I will be quite proud to support the Speech from the Throne. It has dealt with five major themes while still noting other themes that will be taken care of by the government, but it has put as one of its primary emphases the defence of justice, the protection of the innocent. That is something which every government should make a primary priority. It is something that we, as members of the House, should be proud to support.
Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment as Acting Speaker of the House.
At the outset, I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Egmont.
In accordance with tradition—and a laudable tradition it is—I will begin by thanking the constituents of Ottawa—Vanier for giving me a fifth term as the representative for this lovely riding. I believe most of you go through my riding every morning and evening, and many of you visit it regularly, perhaps without even knowing you do.
This riding is located just east of the Rideau Canal. Located within it are the residences of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Governor General, and institutions such as the National Gallery of Canada and the National Research Council Canada. With all due respect to 24 Sussex, the NRC is probably the most important institution or address in the riding.
I am therefore very proud and very grateful to the constituents of Ottawa—Vanier for renewing my mandate. I will try to continue representing them well. I will concentrate on certain priorities, including the redevelopment of the Rockcliffe military base, which is probably the most important key issue for the riding and the eastern part of the region.
Like my Liberal colleagues, I must get used to sitting on this side of the House and intend to be here regularly. I have also been given new responsibilities as official opposition critic for heritage, which I gladly accepted.
I have gladly accepted these new responsibilities as heritage critic. I will focus most of my remarks on that, but not exclusively, however.
In the weeks leading up the opening of this 39th Parliament I had the opportunity to engage in consultations to establish certain priorities, what we would encourage the government to focus on in terms of heritage. I did not finish this consultation, but I did have the chance to meet with a number of groups and I must say, there was not much in the Speech from the Throne. That is what we are talking about.
In the Speech from the Throne, except for what our Governor General said about linguistic duality and this country's artists, there is nothing in what the government itself prepared. This is very disconcerting especially since last Thursday the minister, in response to a question I asked in the House, said that neither she nor her government intends to respect any commitment of the previous government. This is quite worrisome to the cultural community of this country.
Does that mean, for example, it will not honour the commitment we made to double the funding to the Canada Council for the Arts by 2008, for an annual increase of $50 million in order to bring this funding from some $151 million to $301 million? This would essentially double from $5 to $10 the contribution, direct or indirect, of every Canadian through their taxes for arts and culture in the country. This commitment was the result of a two-year or more consultation with the entire cultural community in the country, whose support was unanimous.
Now we are being told that the government has no intention of respecting the commitments of the previous government. This commitment, by the way, was not limited to doubling the budget for the Council for the Arts; it included other highly interesting aspects that were highly appreciated by the artistic and cultural community in terms of training and promoting our cultural products and artistic achievements abroad.
We do not know where we stand on this. We hope that in the assessments and in the upcoming budget we will get other indications than those we have received so far.
Another priority that we have identified, which touches on some of what the government has said, particularly the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is the CBC. The government has said that it intends to review the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada. The government has that prerogative and we do not question that. If it wishes to have a review of the mandate of the CBC it will proceed. However in so doing we advise caution. As some people will recall, we had the Clifford Lincoln report of the heritage committee where there was a dissenting opinion signed by the gentleman who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, where, by and large, what was recommended or contemplated was the privatization of the CBC English television. That was very disquieting.
One would hope that if the government proceeds with the review of the mandate of the CBC, it would also include in that review a request to look at the funding formulas because if the mandate is reviewed then the funding to execute that mandate should also be considered and implemented. Finally, on that front, we would hope that any review of CBC Radio-Canada's mandate would be an open and a vast consultation with Canadians who want to see the country continue supporting a public broadcaster of the quality of CBC Radio-Canada in all of its manifestations.
We therefore advise caution on this issue.
Lastly, during this first session of the 39th Parliament, in the spring or the fall, we invite the government to introduce a bill to update the Copyright Act. Copyright is a very complex and controversial issue. I know something about it because I took part in the deliberations on Bill C-32. We succeeded in modernizing the Copyright Act somewhat, but much remained to be done.
Technology is evolving so rapidly that the act is falling further and further behind the times. In addition, the act must reflect our international commitments under the international conventions our country has ratified.
We encourage the government to take action on this, and we will work with the government, because we think it is important that the Copyright Act be brought up to date again.
The heritage portfolio, which is a vast, complex and quite fascinating portfolio, contains other important files and dossiers. I will mention the renaissance initiative in Toronto where the Art Gallery of Ontario, the ROM, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the National Ballet School, the Royal Conservatory and the Canadian Opera Company are looking to the government to match the Government of Ontario's top up of $49 million to their expansion project. I would encourage the federal government in its budget to match the Government of Ontario's contribution which was announced just a couple of weeks ago.
In Montreal there will certainly be files of interest, including the upcoming cultural summit, the theatre district and the film festival. We will invite the governments of Canada and Quebec to work together to resolve the film festival problem so that Montreal can proudly take its place again on the film festival circuit.
More locally, we certainly will encourage the government to maintain its support of national institutions and to focus on two local important initiatives which are the Great Canadian Theatre Company and the chamber music concert hall project.
I have just one minute left, so I will simply add that arts and culture, for which the Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible, are vital to Canadians' quality of life. Often, we ignore the commercial aspect, which is also important. On behalf of the official opposition, I would like to encourage the government not to ignore the cultural and artistic side of our lives: drama, performing arts, visual arts and literature. The Government of Canada has a role to play, and we invite it to play that role.
I would like to close by congratulating the creators of the film C.R.A.Z.Y. and Robert Lepage for his Projet Andersen.
I want to congratulate that gentleman, who is a native of London, Ontario, for being the first to win back to back Oscars for writing the script for the best film of the year.
Mr. Speaker, in a democracy, the greatest gift people can bestow on a fellow citizen is that of being their representative in their government. I am pleased and humbled that the people of the riding of Egmont have chosen me six times for that honour.
One of the four ridings in P.E.I., Egmont encompasses the western part of Prince Edward Island from the city of Summerside to North Cape. It includes the city of Summerside, the main Acadian areas of P.E.I., the Evangeline area, St. Edward-St. Louis, numerous fishing villages and farming communities, the Lennox Island First Nation, the home of P.E.I.'s fledgling aerospace industry in Slemon Park and the wind power facility in North Cape.
I want to thank the people of Egmont for their continued trust and support.
I also want to, during this Easter season, commend our troops in Afghanistan for their services to Canada and to that unfortunate country. I wish them and their families here at home a happy Easter to all. We are proud of all of them.
In the last Parliament I was privileged to be the minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. I would like to thank the prime minister of the Liberal government and all those who supported me in my role as minister.
I had the opportunity to work with many of the individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations and governments. I believe together we accomplished a lot. Most notably, we were able to secure a $708 million package for Atlantic Canada that will continue to foster economic development in our region over the next few years.
We have a $300 million Atlantic innovation fund, the R and D arm of ACOA, which was put in place in the year 2000 by the Liberal government and was continued in the last Liberal budget and which I see the present minister having a great deal of pleasure with these days in making announcements through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
We also had a $175 million innovation fund, the innovative communities fund, which is designed for rural communities and for community development.
ACOA plays an important and vital role in the economic development of Atlantic Canada. The men and women who work at the federal agency should be proud of their accomplishments. Their goal to help our region prosper is a noble one and I applaud their efforts. I was proud to be their minister and I wish them and all of their partners extended success.
Atlantic Canada must continue to strive to get its share of national investment in the area. It still has not reached that point yet and we still have a lot of work to do.
I would now like to touch on two key issues in my reply to the Speech from the Throne, that of fiscal responsibility and strong families. I would like to quote page 3 of the throne speech which states:
|| Through hard work, foresight and good fortune, we have come together to make our vast country one of the most successful the world has ever seen.
|| The distance we have travelled is remarkable. A country once perceived to be at the edge of the world is now at the leading edge of science, business, the arts and sport. Whether it is on the podium in Turin, on the rugged hills of Afghanistan, or in the bustling markets of Asia, Canadians demonstrate time and time again that they are leaders.
|| The Government is proud of what Canadians have accomplished so far, and is inspired by the country's bright prospects.
That is the true legacy left by the Chrétien-Martin governments over the past 13 years.
First I would like to comment on the issue of fiscal responsibility--
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to comment on the issue of fiscal responsibility. I am pleased to hear the government claim that it will follow the lead of our previous Liberal government. The Liberal government showed tremendous leadership by tackling and overcoming our nation's debilitating annual deficits.
As a result of the leadership demonstrated by the Liberal government, our federal government and our country has been able to boast of eight consecutive balanced budgets and has set the groundwork for our nation's books to remain positive. We will watch, with interest, to see that the government keeps its promise and maintains the positive legacy of the Liberal government, a legacy of strong fiscal and social management. The key to a prosperous nation is having one's fiscal house in order.
Our Liberal government was able to maintain strong growth by building on economic achievements, including, as I mentioned, eight consecutive balanced budgets, over $60 billion paid off on the national debt and more than $150 billion in tax savings. Our country is flourishing as a result of strong fiscal management. The national unemployment rate has gone from 11.2% in 1993 to 6.6% this past October, the lowest rate in 30 years. In 2004 we had the fastest growth in exports in more than seven years. Between January 2003 and October 2005, 650,000 new jobs were created, nearly all of which were full time. That is millions of jobs over the past 13 years.
Once our Liberal government accomplished the feat of balancing the books, we were able to invest in important priorities to Canadians. We were able to invest heavily in health care, in our children, in research and development and in the environment.
We made investments that encouraged growth in a knowledge-based economy and led to further job creation. Investments such as the Wind Interpretive Centre and the National Wind Institute in P.E.I. are two examples. These two facilities have put my home province of Prince Edward Island in the forefront of wind power generation. These positive investments have already captured national and international attention from those interested in the development of environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources. The knowledge garnered at these facilities is being shared across the country and will lead to further developments in wind power, creating new jobs and renewable energy sources that will help fuel a growing nation.
A prosperous nation, with a federal government that abides by the rule of balancing the books and paying off the national debt, is able to make investments, the kind of investments that make our country the envy of nations.
I believe one of the strongest investments we can make is by investing in strong families. Our future is our young people. Our Liberal Party has been very vocal and active in supporting families. I am proud that our Liberal government created the national child benefit, a program touted as being the most significant national social program since medicare. Payments under the national child benefit are projected to reach $10 billion annually by 2007-08 by which time the maximum benefit for a two-child family will be $6,259 per year. About 40% of Canadian families with children benefit from this important program.
Our Liberal government also brought in the Canada child tax benefit supplement, which provides an additional benefit for families caring for children under the age of seven at home. The benefit currently provides $243 per year for each child, and last year it helped support 2.4 million children. This supplement is on top of the Canada child tax benefit which is providing a tax free monthly payment to help low and middle income families with the cost of raising children. About 80% of Canadian families benefit from the CCTB.
I believe the principle of strong families is also a Liberal legacy that I hope, and I believe Canadians hope, to see the Conservative government maintain.
One of our greatest achievements as a Liberal government in the last Parliament was the establishment of a brand new social program. We marked an historic milestone when we were able to get a consensus with all provinces to establish the framework for a national, affordable, quality early learning and child care program. Affordable child care is something Canadians want. Once we had our fiscal house in order, we worked with our provincial partners and together we can be proud of what we achieved.
My fear, however, is that the Conservative government will undo all that has been accomplished. The Conservatives appear to have no intention of abiding by the agreement that was signed by all our provincial partners. Instead, the Conservative government feels that providing parents with $100 a month is better. How does $5 a day help with the cost of child care?
The tidbit about encouraging others to create child care spaces is not the kind of leadership Canadians want. The federal Liberal government showed leadership by working with the provinces to get the commitment to create quality child care spaces.
I urge the Conservative government to rethink its position and support our families and our children by living up to an agreement, by expanding it, not contracting it, an agreement which all our provincial partners agreed to in the last number of years.
Mr. Speaker, as one of the many newly elected members of the House, I want to begin by expressing my sincere thanks to the great people of Parry Sound—Muskoka who put their trust and faith in me to represent them in this new government. I am honoured to serve the 85,000 people in my riding who live in one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, 15,000 square kilometres stretching from Georgian Bay in the west to Algonquin Park in the east and from the French River in the north to almost the tip of Lake Simcoe to the south.
The riding brings together people from all walks of life who share a love of spectacular nature and the abundant number of lakes and rivers throughout the area. The numerous towns and villages in the Parry Sound—Muskoka riding are home to many families that have been there for generations and other families that have only discovered what the area has to offer.
It includes the notable communities of Bala and Baysville, Bracebridge, Burk's Falls, Dorset, Dwight, Gravenhurst, Emsdale, Honey Harbour, Huntsville, Kearney, Loring, MacTier, Magnetawan, Muskoka Lakes, Parry Sound, Pointe au Baril, Port Carling, Port Severn, Restoule, Rosseau, South River, Sundridge, Utterson and Windermere, to name a few. In addition to many other small towns and villages, it also includes my own home of Port Sydney on beautiful Mary Lake.
These communities are often referred as cottage country by visitors and residents alike and for over 130 years Parry Sound—Muskoka, has been a tourist destination.
However, it goes beyond cottage and outdoor recreation life and includes many industries that provide local employment and contribute to the national economy. These include: Fenner Dunlop in Bracebridge, which is a large employer for manufacturing industrial conveyor systems for worldwide distribution; Algonquin Industries in Huntsville, an auto parts manufacturer with branches in Gravenhurst and Bracebridge; Marshall Well Drilling in Sundridge, a long time family-owned and operated well drilling business; Shaw-Almex in Parry Sound, a locally owned and operated plant for splicing, repairing and manufacturing conveyor belts; Found Aircraft in Parry Sound, which is the manufacturer of the famous Bush Hawk-XP, one of the toughest, most versatile aircraft built today and named one of Canada's top 100 innovative companies by NRC and Industry Canada; and Muskoka Wharf development in Gravenhurst, a multi-million dollar joint venture to revitalize the Gravenhurst waterfront including residential, commercial usages in green space. These are just a fraction of the prosperous companies situated in my riding.
There are also nine first nations communities in the riding and they add to the mosaic of diversity found in Parry Sound—Muskoka
The riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka and the wonderful people whom I now know so well can feel confident in voting for change. I will always represent their interests, both in the House and in the riding, and I thank them again for the trust they have placed in me.
I also wish to thank my family, my wife, Lynne, my children, Alex, Max and Elexa, and my parents, Carol and John, for their patience and support through thick and thin. With family ties to Cyprus and the Middle East and having immigrated to Canada as a four-year-old, they have all helped me realize my dream of service to higher goals and community.
The options were clear to Canadians who voted last January. The citizens made their choice. Now they expect our government and the House of Commons to tackle the important issues.
That is why this government is moving quickly on its commitments as outlined in the Speech from the Throne. It is centred on the five priorities that the Prime Minister set out during the election campaign, five priorities that have been our focus since forming a government.
As health minister, along with my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, one of our primary responsibilities is to ensure that Canadians receive the health care they need and deserve. Too often Canadians find themselves waiting too long for critical procedures with no alternative but to wait even longer, often in pain and discomfort and at some risk to their health. They want and deserve certainty that they will receive the care, what they need when they need it, wherever they live and regardless of the ability to pay.
We made a commitment to improve the quality of health care in this country and we will honour that commitment to Canadians. As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, we will work with provincial and territorial governments to develop and implement a patient wait times guarantee for medically necessary services. We will ensure that all Canadians receive medically necessary treatments within clinically acceptable wait times.
The wait times guarantee will allow us to reach two important objectives. First, patients will have an idea of when they will receive care and will know what to do if wait times become excessive. Second, accountability is built into this guarantee so that patients will receive the treatment needed within an acceptable timeframe.
Since becoming the Minister of Health, I have discussed wait times with my provincial and territorial colleagues, health care representatives and other organizations whose members are on the front lines of health care delivery in Canada. In my discussions with these groups it became evident that reducing wait times is a priority we share together and that the wait times guarantee becomes the logical and necessary extension of that goal.
In fact, the Quebec government recently proposed its own guarantee for certain services. It is the first province to do so.
Ministers of health have already agreed on an initial set of 10 common benchmarks or common goals for the provision of medical treatments and screening services in key elective areas for cancer screening and care, cardiac surgery, hip and knee replacements and cataracts.
In addition, our government is ensuring the funding needed for action. Canadians through their governments have already made significant investments in the system and this government is on track to put that additional $41 billion over 10 years into the health care system.
To live up to the commitment of the patient wait times guarantee, the government will make some fundamental changes in our health care system, changes based on four key cornerstones: research, technology, improved collaboration between jurisdictions, and health human resources.
With regard to the first cornerstone, research, the government has committed to increase investment in this area. Mr. Speaker, I do not have to tell you that solid research evidence helps build consensus among the many different groups involved in health care.
We must continue to invest in research on wait times and to concentrate on establishing better indicators, a standard for measuring wait times and the best possible benchmarks based on clinical data.
This work has already begun through research supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Governments have worked in partnership with CIHR to support research needed to establish an initial set of benchmarks in the five key priority areas. Further research will be carried out to help develop evidence and wait times benchmarks for cardiac procedures, diagnostic imaging and cancer. Research also plays a vital role in reducing wait times by helping to prevent illness.
Consider diabetes, a contributing factor to more than 40,000 deaths each year in Canada. Diabetes one day may no longer be a problem and diabetics may not have to worry about daily insulin injections, thanks to gene therapy research by a team at the University of Calgary.
Also consider breast cancer. Research from the University of Toronto has shown digital mammography is more accurate than film mammography in detecting breast cancer earlier for many women.
Finally, consider mental health, which accounts for up to 40% of disability claims in the workplace at a cost of up to $33 billion annually. CIHR has started a major research initiative on mental health in the workplace to find solutions to this huge drain on productivity.
Preventing or at least curbing the impact of any one of those conditions helps keep people healthier and reduces the strain on the health care system. It is supported by our government through CIHR and other organizations.
The government is convinced of the importance of research and will apply clinical results to an action plan for health care. This will improve the lives of all Canadians.
The second cornerstone is the need to continue to pursue advances in and the better adoption of information and communications technology in the health system. This will ensure better productivity, better information sharing and most importantly, better and more timely access to care for all Canadians. It is not about collecting data for data's sake, but rather on transforming access to the health care system and making informed management decisions. These technologies will ensure that patients do not have to repeat their health histories to several providers while going through the different stages of the health care system. They will provide health professionals on the front lines with the information they require to make the best choices for patients.
This use of technology can ensure that the people who are managing and coordinating the system have the information they need in order to meet patient wait time targets. Some regions are sharing diagnostic imaging between hospitals and throughout the country, telehealth initiatives are bringing vital health care services to people in remote communities. In most provinces there are already websites and online access management registries providing data on wait times and performance indicators.
Improved systems increase productivity, enhance access to information and ultimately reduce patient wait times and help enhance access to care.
The third cornerstone of change is improved collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments. Canadians have no interest in jurisdictional squabbling. They want results. We need to move away from talking about who is responsible for change and accept that we have a shared responsibility in delivering quality health care for all. On this front this government will lead the charge.
We must not focus solely on our similarities in terms of needs and values. We must respect and understand the differences, not only between provinces and territories, but also within the Canadian population. With an awareness of these differences, we will be better positioned to identify best practices throughout the country and to share them in order to improve health care delivery in the best interest of all Canadians.
The provinces and the territories have made significant progress. Together with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, they are working on developing standard means of measuring wait times This will allow for uniform measurement of wait times across Canada and for accountability.
The Cardiac Care Network of Ontario and the Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network are just two examples of systems that most provinces now have that rank patients on a waiting list according to urgency, so that those who need the service most get the attention their condition demands.
Collaboration among governments, clinicians, regional health authorities and researchers through the western Canada wait list project has been instrumental in developing prioritization tools to ensure that patients waiting for key services are treated fairly.
Some provinces now have centralized booking for particular types of treatment to streamline patient referrals and they are already producing excellent results. I am speaking of initiatives like Alberta's hip and knee pilot project, which has been part of reducing wait time from 47.7 weeks to 4.7 weeks for hip and knee replacements.
As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, making our health system timely and sustainable requires innovation. All these innovative approaches clearly demonstrate that patient centred innovation is achievable within our current public system. They show that common commitment to results that Canadians want and which our government will support and encourage.
The fourth and final cornerstone of change in our health system is to address health human resource issues. We are talking about the women and men on the front lines of health care in Canada, doctors, nurses and other professionals. They want the best for patients and they want a system that works for all of us.
I wish to work actively with our partners from provincial and territorial governments, as well as with stakeholders, to provide Canada with the best pool and distribution of skilled workers to fill the many roles vital to our health system.
We have seen recent increases in the number of student placements in medical schools. We have seen considerable growth in the numbers of provincially funded openings for post-medical school education in our teaching hospitals and similar facilities. We are seeing more positions opened to the international medical graduates who have made Canada their home and who want to use their talents and expertise in this country.
Nurses and other health care professionals provide care before, during and after surgical interventions. Effective recruitment and retention initiatives are imperative to make sure that we have enough qualified workers to support the care guarantee and to reduce the burden of waiting.
The number of nurses is increasing. For example, the nurse practitioner role is being enhanced, which helps to improve access to health care. We are seeing better workforce planning as well as investment in promoting healthier, more stable workplace environments.
While these developments are important, we need to make more progress in exploring how health professionals work together and share responsibility. We need to explore opportunities for new and emerging health professions. This will require improving how health professionals work together, share responsibility and collaborate.
I also want to advise hon. members of our government's support for the Canadian strategy for cancer control. The Prime Minister has been clear about his support for the five year strategy at a cost of nearly $50 million per year.
The Speech from the Throne sets out the government's commitment to Canadians. It puts this government, the House and the country on a path that will mean increased benefits and better results for Canadians. I am honoured to have the responsibility for a priority that means so much to Canadians, ensuring Canadians receive the health care they deserve.
The government is committed to supporting and enabling innovative approaches to health care delivery. We will do so in ways consistent with the principles of universality and accessibility in the Canada Health Act.
I have been pleased to have had the discussions I have had with my provincial and territorial counterparts and with leaders of health organizations.
Quality health care is the foundation of Canadian priorities. Parry Sounders and Muskokans are counting on me to represent their values and interests in this place. Canadians are counting on all of us in the House to improve the foundation and build a better health care system for all.