The House resumed from April 11 consideration of the motion, as amended, for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke North.
I would like to congratulate you on your re-election, Mr. Speaker, and also take this opportunity to thank the people of Etobicoke Centre for the honour of being elected twice in the last year and a half to represent them in the House of Commons. Both times I have been elected by overwhelming electoral margins, which means that my obligations to the people of Etobicoke Centre are that much greater and that I will work on their behalf that much harder. What I bring to the House of Commons from Etobicoke Centre are my constituents' values of hard work, integrity and generosity of spirit.
This past weekend was Easter weekend for my family, as it was for most Ukrainian Canadians as well as those of the Orthodox faith. For this reason, I would like to begin my response to the Speech from the Throne with a quotation from the Bible and one of topics of discussion during this past Easter weekend: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”.
This past weekend, four Canadian lives were extinguished half a world away. These Canadians volunteered and left the safety and warmth of their families' hearths to travel to the dangerous and desolate mountains of Afghanistan. They went there to bring peace to a part of the world where evil continues to breed in caves, where the men of hate, the Taliban, gather in order to sow the seeds of death, and where, in vast cultivated fields of poppies, the destruction of millions of lives grows.
There is no doubt that these four Canadian soldiers whose lives were extinguished believed that they were fighting a just war, that they were in fact peacemakers. For this ultimate of sacrifices, Corporals Matthew Dinning and Randy Payne, Lieutenant William Turner, and Bombardier Myles Mansell will be remembered as “the sons of God”.
The throne speech touched only briefly on Canada's international role, stating that “Canada's voice in the world must be supported by action”, that we will support our “core values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights”, and finally, that our policies will be “infused with growing confidence that...[we] can make a difference”.
Unfortunately, the throne speech did not address either a vision or the “how” of our engagement with the world when it comes to supporting these, our core values. True leadership entails a vision and action within the framework of this vision. I will take this opportunity to speak to a vision and a framework on how we as a country can and should engage the world outside of our trade relationships.
Canada's international role has evolved over the last 139 years. For a good portion of our history, we were viewed as a junior partner in the international interventions of imperial powers with which we have been allied. Whether it was the United Kingdom or the United States, or the Boer or Korean wars, Canada could be counted on to send its men and women to wage war alongside our allies. We were also members of grand coalitions during the two world wars.
Finally, half a century ago, a Canadian diplomat, Lester B. Pearson, envisioned a new and groundbreaking role for Canada's soldiers. He envisioned that young Canadian men and women would travel to conflict zones throughout the world not to wage war, but to serve as peacekeepers. This novel approach was a major paradigm shift in how Canada saw itself engaging the world. It earned Lester B. Pearson the Nobel peace prize and established for Canada a tradition of peacekeeping.
Today, using soldiers for peace has evolved and expanded to include peacemaking, as we call our Afghani mission, peacekeeping, as we have done for decades in places such as Cyprus, and peace-building, as we are doing in Haiti.
However, today it is not just Canadian soldiers who are emissaries of peace. Today there are more Canadian civilians volunteering abroad, as humanitarians and civil society builders with non-governmental organizations, than there are Canadian soldiers.
Peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace-building, civil society architects and good governance: it is difficulty to understand exactly what these terms entail. When does a soldier become a peacemaker? Does he or she take on a constabulary role in Haiti or civil society building in Afghanistan? How do we guarantee that we do not again make the mistake of using as peacekeepers soldiers trained in the specialities of war, such as the airborne regiment in Somalia?
For Canadians to build on our half-century tradition of peacekeeping and to once again show international leadership, let us establish a clear framework for how we engage in countries where major conflicts or fundamental transitions are taking place.
Let us imagine our Ministry of Defence becoming a ministry of just wars with unambiguous obligations and regulations outlining under which circumstances we would engage in war. In the situation of territorial defence, the case is clear. In the case of war to counter threats to our peace, the threats must be clearly verified and acknowledged by international agencies. In the case of R2P, the responsibility to protect outside of situations of genocide, which require immediate action, it should also include a clear responsibility to rebuild.
Finally, let Canada become the first country in the world to establish a ministry of peace, a ministry which would include peacekeepers, humanitarians, democratic and civil society builders, a ministry with an organizational structure similar to our armed forces that would sign up volunteers for multi-year contracts with a choice of fields of specialization: peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and democratic civil society building.
In any given year there are at least a dozen countries in the world where major conflicts or fundamental transitions take place. Quite often in Canada we have large diaspora communities from several of these countries. Not only do our multicultural communities have linguistic and intimate cultural knowledge but they also have emotional ties to their ancestral homelands. This uniquely Canadian reservoir of human potential can be tapped into to help in the processes of conflict resolution and civil society building.
If properly executed, Canada can establish for itself, through our ministry of peace, an international role as an honest broker which will resolve conflicts and rebuild society without the countries affected fearing a loss of sovereignty or control of national resources.
Having played a positive role during historic transitions, Canada will have established goodwill and trust among the peoples of these countries and their political leadership. Let us give peace a chance.
Today, unfortunately, is an unofficial day of mourning. It comes just days after Easter when we meditated on the selfless sacrifice of oneself in the battle against evil; the concept that through death comes rebirth. Four young Canadians have offered up the ultimate sacrifice, their very lives, to bring hope into the lives of strangers and those not yet born in a country far from home.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God”. Let us envision and build a Canada that will be blessed, for it will be known as a nation of peacemakers, a nation of God.
Mr. Speaker, I will answer the member's question in two parts.
First, on the issue of commitment, unfortunately our commitment has slid. At the same time, there is a great deal of confusion. Some people talk about our Afghani mission as being a peacekeeping mission but quite clearly it is not.
Can it be justified? Is it a military mission, a just war? I believe that argument can be made but we need to establish clear parameters. What is peace-building? What is peacekeeping? In regard to peacekeeping, the rules were quite clear. Peace negotiations are taking place between the warring sides. A truce has been established. There is a physical buffer between the two warring sides and that buffer is filled by peacekeepers.
Regarding peace-building in Haiti, it seems that our soldiers have taken on the role of a constabulary. Then there is the danger of using soldiers, who were trained as warriors, as peacekeepers. We saw what happened in Somalia.
As the concept evolves and expands into different areas, peace-building and peacemaking, the peacekeeping role should be split off into a separate ministry, a ministry of peace. People trained as peacekeepers use very different equipment than soldiers use in war. I believe that by establishing this sort of ministry we will once again establish a leading role of being a vehicle for peace internationally.
The second question was regarding militarization of aid. We often find a lack of coordination between NGOs, and the tremendous work that they do, with peacekeepers, peacemakers or peace-builders, and not just in Afghanistan. Having had the opportunity to visit Darfur I believe it is incredibly important to have this ministry of peace that would coordinate with our ministry of defence. However we should establish what that ministry would do. Would it be a ministry of defence or just a war ministry? We need to have coordination between that particular role and the role of rebuilding and building democratic civil societies.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the wonderful people of my constituency of Langley, British Columbia. It is an honour to be re-elected and to be given this opportunity to represent them once again in Parliament. Langley is one of the most beautiful communities in Canada. It is the birthplace of British Columbia. The Hudson's Bay fort is still there. It is a great place to visit and even a better place to live.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate you on your responsibilities and appointment.
The Conservative government is already proving itself. Canadians believe that we can and we will introduce positive changes for the betterment of Canada. Canadians also want a government of action. They are tired of stalemates and they are tired of an old government just talking and doing nothing.
The government has five priorities which are based on the values of integrity, family, respect for hard work, achievement and commitment to a strong and free Canada. It is based on values that all Canadians share.
The first priority is to clean up government by passing the federal accountability act. The federal accountability act would toughen the Lobbyists Registration Act. It would ban secret donations to political candidates. It would make qualified government appointments. It would clean up government polling and advertising. It would clean up the procurement of government contracts. It would provide real protection for whistleblowers. It would ensure truth in budgeting with a parliamentary budget office. It would strengthen the power of the Auditor General. It would strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner. It would strengthen access to information legislation. It would strengthen auditing and accountability within departments. That is legislation that Canada needs.
It is a priority to provide real tax relief to all Canadians by cutting the GST. We will cut the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. The GST is the only tax that all Canadians pay. Our plan delivers a tax cut to everyone, including the 32% of Canadians who do not pay any federal income tax.
It is a priority to help parents with the cost of raising their children. Our government will introduce a new $1,200 per year choice in child care allowance for children under six and a $250 million community child care investment program for capital assistance for the creation of 125,000 new child care spaces. The choice in child care allowance will apply to an estimated 2 million children of preschool age. Our plan provides money directly to parents. They can choose the child care option that best suits their family needs. That is a good plan.
It is a priority to work with the provinces to establish patient wait time guarantees. Canadians should receive essential medical treatment within clinically accepted wait times. We will work to ensure that Canadians can get urgent medical care when they need it. That is what they paid their taxes for and that is what they will receive. 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 benchmark times, they will be able to get that care either outside of the province or in a private clinic with the cost being covered by public insurance. That is what Canadians want.
Finally, it is a priority of the Conservative government to crack down on crime. As a former member of the House of Commons justice committee, I spent the last two years exploring at length various justice reforms that are desperately needed in Canada. Our Conservative government will make our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime. Canadians have the right to feel safe in their communities. Our government will stand up for safe streets by tackling gun, gang and drug violence and by keeping criminals off the streets. The government believes that serious crime should have serious time.
We will provide more front line police officers. We will invest in effective gun control, not phony measures. We will get tough with sex offenders. We will strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We will establish a national victims' ombudsman office. We will enact a national drug strategy. We will secure our borders and we will ensure effective deportation laws.
My riding of Langley has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of mail theft in Canada. Mail fraud and identity theft are huge problems in Canada and in my riding. It is one of the many issues that have inundated police forces that simply do not have the numbers to follow up on all the reported cases.
A Conservative government will reinvest savings from the cancellation of the ineffective long gun registry into hiring more front line enforcement personnel, including filling 1,000 RCMP positions. We will negotiate with the provinces to create a new cost shared program jointly with provincial and municipal governments to put at least 2,500 more police on the beat in our cities and communities.
Interstate 5 in Washington state is the west coast pipeline not only for trade, but also for illegal drugs. A huge flow of B.C. bud goes down and cocaine comes back up to B.C., along with laundered money, other drugs and guns.
People smuggling is not just an overseas problem. In my riding people smuggling is second only to drug smuggling. We all remember the Langley drug tunnel from last summer. Illegal immigrants are paying smugglers to bring them across the border. The bushes at the border are riddled with well-worn paths used by smugglers. Security cameras in place on the border are not solving the problem because there is still insufficient manpower in place to actually apprehend the illegal immigrants.
Our Conservative government will create a national security review committee to ensure effective oversight and a greater degree of accountability and transparency regarding Canada's national security efforts. We will ensure that agencies like CSIS, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency have adequate resources and equipment. We will deploy face recognition and other biometric technology at border crossings and ports of entry. We will ensure that the men and women who keep our borders secure are also secure themselves.
Last spring explosive testimony came to the justice committee when it was studying Bill C-2 on child pornography. University of Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Ron Langevin provided shocking results from an intensive study on deviant sex offenders and recidivism rates in Canada.
According to the study, 88% of deviant sex offenders in a 25 year follow-up have reoffended. Dr. Langevin also revealed that 44% of deviant sex offenders who were caught, charged and convicted of crimes were never incarcerated. He told us that sex offenders who serve their sentence at home present a high risk to reoffend. A Conservative government will eliminate conditional sentences for violent and sex offenders. That is good.
In Langley a convicted sex offender, a pedophile who assaulted two young girls who were his neighbours, was given a conditional sentence of house arrest. His sentence included the opportunity to continue watching his victims from his home.
I am proud that this Conservative government will prohibit conditional sentences for sex offences committed against children. We will require the registration of all convicted sex offenders and dangerous offenders. The registry will include mandatory DNA sampling of all those convicted of, or currently in custody for, such offences. We will adopt a zero tolerance policy for child pornography, including raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years of age. This government is on the right track. We are listening to Canadians.
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development recently announced funding of $2.5 million to address an environmental issue in my constituency.
This government listens. It is a government that wants to make Canada safer, better, productive and cleaner.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in this debate on the Speech from the Throne.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like first to thank the voters in Etobicoke North for expressing their confidence in me again in the election on January 23. It is a great honour and trust that they have bestowed upon me, for the fifth time I might add. I will respect that trust and work at my utmost to represent them well here in the House of Commons.
Let me take this opportunity as well to thank the many volunteers who worked with me on the election campaign. Their efforts are very greatly appreciated.
I would like also to express my grief and sorrow in relation to two recent and separate incidents, first to the friends and family of Bhupinder Singh Khroad and Ravinder Jit Kaur Khroad who were tragically involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident recently. I extend my thoughts and prayers to all of them as they mourn their loss.
To the friends and relatives of the four Canadian soldiers killed on Saturday in Afghanistan: Corporal Matthew Dinning, Lieutenant William Turner, Bombardier Myles Mansell and Corporal Randy Payne. We all share their grief and can assure them that these brave men did not die in vain. They gave unselfishly to their country for the cause of freedom and the struggle against terrorism.
Let me turn now to the Speech from the Throne. It is 12 pages in length and is not exactly a difficult read. It lays out five priorities of the Conservative government. I understand well the idea of focusing on a few issues, but this, it seems to me, to be taking it to new limits.
At any rate, the five priorities that the Conservative party touted during its election campaign—along with many other promises that did not appear in the Speech from the Throne—do not offer the Canadian public a very sound official policy.
Let me cite just three examples. One is to reduce the GST. It is well known that it is three times more beneficial to the economy to have income tax cuts of equivalent amounts. That was the Liberal plan and was tabled in the House. Now the Conservative government will reduce those income tax reductions to implement the cut in the GST. We know this is not good for Canadians. It may be politically popular, but it is not the best solution for Canadians.
The Conservative Party approach to child care is misguided, in my judgment. Its plan to provide the parents of each young child with $1,200 annually, while politically attractive to some, does not constitute a child care program. It is more like the old baby bonus scheme which was disbanded long ago. The Liberal government replaced it in the 1990s with the national child benefit. The national child benefit program is delivering about $10 billion annually to medium and modest income families. The $1,200 could be added to this and the child care agreements negotiated with the provinces and territories by the Liberal government should be respected. This would offer real child care support for working parents.
While I support tougher action against crime and criminals, and in fact the Liberal government tabled a series of responses to the plague of gun violence before the last Parliament was dissolved for the election, scrapping the gun registry would be a serious mistake. The gun registry, although certainly not a panacea to deal with gun violence, is supported by Canada's police chiefs and also by the Canadian Professional Police Association. These are the rank and file police officers. Law enforcement officers across the country are making 6,000 inquiries per day to the gun registry. Surely this is telling us that the police find the gun registry to be a useful tool.
The annual cost to operate the gun registry is now at a level of $20 million per year or less. While I acknowledge the high cost to develop this system, which has been exaggerated in the House and elsewhere, the system is now developed, in place and is costing less than $20 million a year.
Likewise, tougher sanctions against criminals in and of themselves will not be enough. We need to build on our investments in the community based national crime prevention program and programs like breaking the cycle, which operates in my riding of Etobicoke North. This program helps young people extricate themselves from gangs, and it is working.
Ministers in Prime Minister Harper's cabinet have been told to stay on message and stick to the five priorities laid out in the Speech from the Throne.
As the Liberal party critic for natural resources, I have to wonder how Mr. Harper's policy on staying on message will play out. Furthermore, the terms “natural resources” and “agriculture” appear only once in the Speech from the Throne, which includes no clear ideas on either of these subjects.
This is pretty unbelievable, given that natural resources and related industries represent 13% of Canada's GNP and provide jobs for nearly a million Canadians. Contrary to popular belief, these jobs are located in both rural and urban areas.
We can only hope that the budget about to be tabled will take into account the major impact of the natural resources sector on the entire Canadian population.
Coming back to the focussed messaging that Conservative ministers apparently are working under, what will this mean for the Minister of Natural Resources when he meets with Canada's mining industry? Will he describe the party's plan for child care or will he be permitted to dialogue on the severe labour shortages looming in Canada's mining industry and the need for incentives to encourage more exploration and development in Canada's mining industry?
When the Minister of Natural Resources meets with representatives from Canada's forest industry, will he describe to them the get tough on crime initiatives proposed by the Conservative government, or will he be permitted to dialogue with them about what his government will do to resolve the long-standing softwood lumber dispute with the United States and what action the Conservative government will take to ease the burden on the softwood lumber industry, its workers and the communities affected? Our Liberal government had announced a relief package of some $1.5 billion, as interim assistance, until the dispute was finally settled in Canada's favour. Now we have some ministers on the government side saying that we are not going to win this dispute. Shame on them.
When the Minister of Natural Resources meets with the energy dialogue group, will he describe to them the proposed reduction in the GST, or will the Prime Minister allow the minister to explore with them the need for an energy strategy or national energy framework for Canada? Will he be able to discuss how the government will address such critical issues as energy conservation and energy efficiency? Will the minister be provided enough slack to discuss the Mackenzie Valley and Alaska pipeline projects, or will he digress into one of the other five priorities of the government, being very careful of course not to stray off message?
When the Minister of National Resources meets with environmental groups, will he discuss the government's new accountability package? Will he be able to respond to their questions when they ask what Canada's plans are to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and how those objectives will mesh with the development of the oil sands in Alberta? Will this type of discussion be permitted, or will special clearance be required from the Prime Minister if he wants to proceed in that way?
For the sake of our country and for all Canadians I hope the Minister of Natural Resources will be allowed to stray into these very important areas which, although not a priority obviously for the Conservative government, need the attention of all of us.
I look forward to the upcoming budget and other initiatives of the government. What was contained in the throne speech was pretty thin gruel and not enough to go on.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure we will all want to take that admonition to heart.
With all due respect to my hon. colleague opposite, for whom I have a great deal of respect, I am a little disappointed at some of the rhetoric he has thrown into his response to the Speech from the Throne with regard to two particular issues: first, he called the Conservative child care approach misguided; and second, his comments on the gun registry.
First, with regard to the child care plan, I am surprised that the member continues to tout what Canadians themselves, parents of young children, have said when asked what type of child care they prefer for their children. He continues to endorse and promote what Canadians rate as the fifth choice. Canadian parents prefer to manage their children as much as possible by themselves, or with a close family relative, or a neighbourhood day care, or a workplace-oriented day care. I am surprised the member would continue to ignore what statistics show us, which is Canadians prefer to have control of their child care.
Second, with regard the gun registry, the member referred to the great number of hits that the police have on the gun registry and how useful it is to them. Frankly, that information is so misused. We know that to get hits, every time officers stop cars for speeding, or for going through a stop sign or a red light, or for any check at all, they punch in the licence place number and it automatically accesses the gun registry, which officers at the side of the road completely ignore. However, they get great numbers according to the hits on the registry. It is totally useless and misguided. How could they possibly have spent $159 million on computers for a registry that has produced so little value to actual policing or reducing crime or violent gun crime in the country?
We have elderly citizens who are concerned. I had a man In my community approach me just this week on this subject. He has guns he inherited from a family member. He does not hunt himself, but they are family heirlooms. He is being told that if he does not register so far ahead of his birthday, not only will he lose his registry, he will have to go through the whole application again, and it will cost him another $60 to register, if he can get the registry in on time.
Why would the member continue to endorse a program that everyone recognizes as a complete and utter failure?
Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I did not realize that the period for questions for the hon. member was over. You have caught me by surprise but I will come at it from another direction.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
As all Quebeckers must realize, this is my first speech here in the House. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the people of Ahuntsic for placing their trust in me. I would also like to thank my family for their love and support, especially my parents, my brothers and sisters, my husband Ibrahim and my son Christopher.
I would also like to thank all of the Bloc Québécois supporters in the riding of Ahuntsic. I am here today thanks to their hard work. I also send my regards to my team, currently holding the fort in our constituency office. I would also like to acknowledge my former colleagues at CSST, who made it possible for me to be with you here today. Finally, I would like to extend my warmest regards to the Lebanese and Arab communities in Quebec and Canada, and to the people of Lebanon, which I am proud to say is my country of birth, and to those from my home town of Akkar.
I chose Quebec because it offers a good environment in which to achieve the hope of peace and solidarity. I can now say that it also feels good to be chosen by the people there. I will therefore try to prove myself worthy of my fellow citizens' kindness and of the political ideals that I share with my party.
As the ancient Romans said, “scripta manent”, which means, “what is written endures”. Wise people have long known that what is written endures; it follows us and we are judged by what we write.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister send a letter to the Feminist Alliance for International Action. The letter stated, and I will quote in English:
Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality.
If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada.
He made a commitment to take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the UN, to support women's rights.
As we all know, the Prime Minister was elected. The women of Quebec and Canada are now waiting for him to take the concrete and immediate measures he referred to, as the UN recommended. The Speech from the Throne is silent on these measures, which the Prime Minister promised in writing. By signing the letter, what did the Prime Minister pledge to do?
In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which is also known as the treaty for women's rights.
In 1981, Canada ratified this convention. Twenty-five years later, women still suffer discrimination.
In 2003, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women released its report on Canada. It reads in part as follows:
While appreciating the federal Government's various anti-poverty measures, the Committee is concerned about the high percentage of women living in poverty, in particular elderly women living alone, female lone parents, aboriginal women...immigrant women and women with disabilities, for whom poverty persists or even deepens, aggravated by the budgetary adjustments made since 1995 and the resulting cuts in social services.
I will give a few examples of what the Prime Minister was committing to when he signed the letter. On the issue of violence against women, in paragraph 370, the UN committee asks Canada to “step up its efforts to combat violence against women and girls and increase its funding for women’s crisis centres and shelters.”
What, specifically, will the Prime Minister do about that? I wonder. As regards domestic help, the committee calls for, among other things, a quicker process to enable these household employees to obtain permanent residence. Another fine challenge for the Prime Minister.
In addition, as Ms. Asselin, the president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, pointed out in an open letter that appeared in La Presse on December 23, the enshrinement of pay equity in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms some 30 years ago has not ensured that women working in businesses under federal jurisdiction enjoy pay equity.
For a number of years now, there has been consensus in Quebec on pay equity. Some 120,000 persons, primarily women, do not have pay equity, simply because they work for firms under federal jurisdiction. Therefore, in Quebec, 120,000 persons are paying the price because Quebec is not independent and master of its directions and its life choices. This lack of pay equity on the federal level leads me to make a comment for my fellow Quebeckers on the relevance of sovereignty. The reason for sovereignty is all the more understandable, despite all that is involved, as is the reason we want to be independent. So, what will the Prime Minister do to honour his signature?
In the debate on Canada's presence in Afghanistan, on April 10, a number of ministers of this government justified it by an altruistic desire to protect the rights of women and children. The Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages said, and I quote:
In addition thanks to Canada's help, more than 4 million children, one-third of them girls, are registered in primary school. Canada is helping to bring concrete, lasting change to the living conditions of women and children in Afghanistan.
The Minister of National Defence said:
For Afghan women to have access to such services was simply unimaginable under the harsh Taliban regime. ...more than 4 million children, one-third of them girls, are registered in primary school.
In my opinion this government seems very sensitive to the cause of Afghan women and children and that makes me very happy.
I presume the same will be true for the women of Quebec and Canada. I also presume that the Prime Minister is a man of his word and that he will keep the promise he made in writing to the women of Quebec and Canada on December 18, 2005.
I will therefore support the Speech from the Throne, since I am an optimist and I have confidence in the word of the Prime Minister, who will, I am sure, go beyond the Speech from the Throne.
Furthermore, I am quite pleased that this government has shown its openness to addressing the fiscal imbalance, which is something we did not see with the previous government. Indeed, the previous government did not even recognize that there was a fiscal imbalance.
This apparent willingness to find fiscal arrangements gives hope. I do not intend to kill that hope.
The current government's desire to address crime is another important aspect of this speech. Nonetheless, we must not forget that criminal behaviour does require repression alone, but also rehabilitation and prevention.
I will close by saying that I will give the Prime Minister a chance to keep his word. In time, the men and women of Quebec and Canada will take notice of what he does and does not do. For now, we will give him the benefit of the doubt, but we are keeping our eyes wide open.
Mr. Speaker, allow me first to congratulate my colleague from Ahuntsic. She just expected to ask a question but actually delivered her maiden speech in the House. Speaking personally and on behalf of my colleagues, I congratulate her because it was a fine speech. It did a good job of setting out the debate on the help and respect that women deserve in our society.
Allow me as well to thank my constituents in the riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Again they expressed their confidence in me to represent them in the House and ensure that the ways in which Abitibi—Témiscamingue is different are recognized all across Canada and Quebec and that these differences are vigorously defended in the House, as they should be.
Getting down to the Speech from the Throne, allow me to point out that it was very predictable. We are glad, though, that it did not go on for more than 15 or 20 minutes because it was a redundant repetition of what we heard during the election campaign. This entirely predictable speech was based on the five great actions that the current government wishes to take.
We were glad to see two of the Bloc’s proposals mentioned in the throne speech: international treaties will be ratified by the House and the government will apologize to Chinese immigrants for the head tax they had to pay. This is very important. During the last session, after sitting on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I sat as well on the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. We carried resolutions asking that apologies be made to the Chinese community, and they will be. The money reimbursed to them will not make them forget the mistakes of which they were the victims, but at least it will make them feel welcome in Canada.
Let us look now at the five priorities on which the government based its Speech from the Throne. It will probably base all its policies on them in this Parliament, and especially its budget speech, to be delivered in the next few days.
Insofar as accountability is concerned, the Bloc was already talking in 2001 about the crisis surrounding the sponsorship scandal, which cost the previous government a great many seats in Quebec. The last word still remains to be written, though, because the courts have yet to pass sentence on people who abused the system.
We obviously need an accountability act. However, this bill casts a very wide net, too wide perhaps. We will see. Our suggestion is that the government should work together with the opposition parties on consideration in committee of the bill and its implementation. The bill was just introduced in the last few days and will have to be studied in committee. It has more than 200 sections, and we will see how the committee manages. It is a huge bill, but it is hard to be against virtue itself.
Finally, there is day care. The Bloc’s first reaction is to tell the current government that it is good, it is a fine idea. It must be said, though, that we have had this in Quebec for quite a few years now.
Thanks to the Parti Québécois, Quebec endowed itself with the best day care system in Canada. In the words of the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Chrétien, it is probably one of the best in the world. So it must not be cut back.
We sincerely believe that, in the next budget speech and in the Speech from the Throne, the government must ensure that Quebec is compensated and deserves to be compensated. We calculate that the daycare centres of Quebec will lose $807 million if the government introduces the $1,200. Our leader has emphasized this, and I will repeat what he said. We have no objection to the $1,200, far from it. However, three things are important.
First, the government did not mention that this $1,200 would be taxable, and that will create all sorts of problems. Second, in Quebec in particular, this amount of $1,200 will be deductible from income security benefits, that is, welfare. That $1,200 will not be very good for people in need. Third, we suggest that the government revisit its idea of $1,200 and maybe offer it as a tax deduction or tax credit. We shall see how it is treated in the budget. What is certain is that the Bloc Québécois will fight to see that Quebec’s jurisdictions are respected, particularly in this matter. It will be very important for Quebec to receive its fair share.
Very quickly, I would also like to talk about wait times. The government has to be careful, because health is a field of provincial jurisdiction. It will have to respect provincial jurisdictions before implementing any program whatsoever, especially in the area of health and wait times.
Let us also talk about security and justice. I want to speak about this because, in the previous Parliament, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice. The party now in power, which was in opposition at that time, presented various ideas—which I will not venture to list—for draconian increases to sentences and for minimum prison sentences. To such ideas, we say no. No, because that would be using the Criminal Code to do the work of judges. Yes, there are ways of issuing directives, of inviting the courts to give serious consideration to possibly increasing sentences. Take for example the Coffin decision which was just rendered by the Quebec Court of Appeal. Mr. Coffin pleaded guilty to defrauding the government in the sponsorship scandal. The trial court had sentenced him to about two years less a day plus community service. The Court of Appeal has just revised this decision, in the wake of popular pressure and the notice of appeal filed by the Crown, and has imposed a prison term.
With all due respect, I would like to advise the party in power to be very careful before tabling bills of this nature. The right wing in Canada is not enjoying very good press at the moment. Criminals are not going to be deterred by minimum prison sentences. I know whereof I speak, for prior to June 28, 2004, I was a criminal litigator for 25 years. For the last 15 of those years, I worked in criminal law only. As I told the members of the standing committee, imposing long prison terms is not the solution; rehabilitation, on the other hand, is very important. It is true, however, that we should perhaps take another look at suspended sentences.
We could examine excessively hasty probation and releases.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Simcoe North.
I would like to dedicate this, my maiden speech, to my father, Mark Lake, who passed away three years ago this week. Given my lack of political involvement during his lifetime, he would not have dreamt for a second that I would today have this great honour and yet I can scarcely imagine being here had it not been for his wisdom and influence in my life.
It is my tremendous pleasure to stand here on behalf the people of Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. As this is my first time speaking in the House, I would like to take a few moments to express some appreciation. First, I want to thank God for the experiences in my life, even the hard ones, that have prepared me for this moment and those that will follow.
I thank my family, my wife Debi and my kids Jaden and Jenae, for embarking with me on this family adventure. I want to thank my mom, Bonnie, for showing me by her daily example what it means to put others before oneself, and my grandma, Eleanor Lake, for giving me my dad and for teaching him to be the amazing father that he was.
I thank all of my constituents, of course, regardless for whom they voted, for making our little piece of Canada such a wonderful place to live. My constituency is a perfect snapshot of capturing what makes Canada the greatest country in the world: a mix of urban and rural; French and English; blue collar and white collar; and truly multicultural, with 30% of the population being from a visible minority.
This constituency is also representative of the Canada-wide recognition that we need to change the way we govern this country if it is to remain great. On January 23 the people of Edmonton--Mill Woods--Beaumont, who had elected a Liberal in each of the last four elections, voted Conservative by a 17,000 vote margin.
At this time I would like to recognize the man who served Edmonton--Mill Woods--Beaumont prior to the last election, a dedicated and well-respected parliamentarian for 26 years, the Hon. David Kilgour. The reason the Liberals were able to hold on to the seat for so long is that David knew the importance of putting his constituents first and he had a heart for service. For that, he will always be held in high regard by the people back home.
I will move on to talk about the Speech from the Throne in a moment but first I want to acknowledge a group of Canadians who are close to my heart. They, like myself, are parents of young children with autism. My son Jaden is 10 years old now and was diagnosed with autism when he was two. I would like those parents to know that I have been where they are. I have experienced the same emotions that they are experiencing right now: the intense love that a parent has for his or her child; the fear that accompanies the discovery that there is something different about the way the child is developing; the hope of finding out that there is a treatment that is helping other children with similar challenges; and the utter frustration and disappointment as time ticks away while the child waits for that treatment.
I am also fortunate enough to have lived in a province that has made treating autism a priority. I absolutely believe that my son is a different person because of the behavioural therapy that he has received over the past eight years.
While it seems clear that the responsibility for providing the treatment programs children with autism so desperately need lies with the provinces and territories, I want those parents to know that I will do everything that I can to promote action to the full extent that the federal government can play a role within its area of authority.
Now I would like to talk about the five main priorities of this new government, starting with the revolutionary new federal accountability act and accountability in general.
A lot of people have asked me what it was that drove me to leave my business career with the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club to get involved in a life of politics. Over the past several years I have been growing increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with the disastrous combination of high taxation and the lack of both stewardship and vision on the part of the previous Liberal government.
A quote by Alexander Hamilton sums up my feelings and I think those of many Canadians who have started to wake up just in time to what has been happening over the past 13 years. He said, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything”.
With this Speech from the Throne we finally have a government that is prepared to stand up for something, a government that recognizes what so many Canadians already know: that as great a country as Canada is we could be so much better.
Accountability is not something to be feared unless one is hiding something. In fact, most business managers would tell us that a well-planned and straightforward budget and a good set of rules to monitor and govern it are actually very freeing.
When I was the director of ticket sales with the Oilers, I had to submit and then operate within an expense budget for my department. On a fairly regular basis I would sit down with our vice-president of finance to ensure we were running smoothly according to the rules we had set out. I enjoyed this process because I knew that I was being a good steward of the company's money and it was important to me that the shareholders were comfortable with that knowledge as well.
Here our shareholders are all Canadians and they deserve to have that same level of accountability, that same comfort level, and that is what the federal accountability act is all about.
The second of the five priorities mentioned in the Speech from the Throne is the commitment to reduce the GST immediately from 7% to 6% and then eventually to 5%. As has been mentioned several times in this House but seems to be conveniently ignored by those across the floor is the fact that this is a tax cut that will benefit every taxpayer in the country, including those at the lowest income levels who do not make enough money to pay income taxes in the first place.
This is a tax cut that people will see every day and it cannot be taken away by stealth while they are out working hard to make ends meet. Most important, it is a clear, unambiguous step in the right direction for all Canadians.
The third of the five priorities in the Speech from the Throne is a promise to make the safety of our streets and our citizens a priority. As I have talked to people in my constituency, both during the election campaign and since, the topic of crime is consistently mentioned with almost unanimous support for the positions my party has laid out in this area. Citizens, as well as police and prosecutors, are sick and tired of the rights of criminals trumping the rights of law-abiding citizens. It is time to treat serious crime seriously. It sounds so ridiculously simple and yet we are constantly hearing about violent criminals receiving short or conditional sentences, often only to reoffend when they should still be in prison. That is clearly unacceptable.
I will skip the fourth of the five priorities, child care, but I will come back to it in a moment.
The fifth priority is the government's commitment to work with the provinces to establish a patient wait times guarantee. Along with accountability and crime, health care was one of the top three issues in my riding that people wanted to talk about on their doorsteps. There are many concerns but the general theme I heard was that the health care system was not working the way it should for the amount of money going into it. The complaints were almost never about the level of investment in the system. Rather, the conversation almost always centred around the return Canadians are getting in terms of service.
Canadians want and deserve a universal, publicly funded health care system that they can trust to be there for them when they need it. With our aging population, the demands on this system are only going to increase. It is good to see that we finally have a federal government that is making the health care of Canadians a priority.
I have purposely left until the end of my time the choice in child care plan because I want to give it the attention it deserves. Let me begin by saying that I do not begrudge parents choosing to send their children to day care. It is a choice that my wife and I have not made for our family but I have many friends and family members who are terrific parents and use day care.
I also want to point out that our choice in child care plan, unlike the Liberal plan, has a component whereby we will work with the provinces and territories, employers, community and non-profit organizations to create more child care spaces that meet the needs of ordinary Canadians.
During the election campaign I heard the former prime minister talk often about the Liberal day care plan as the first new social program in a generation. Backed by an army of government funded special interest groups, Liberals espoused the virtues of their sacred and “progressive day care plan”, which blatantly left hundreds of thousands of Canadian families unfairly paying through their taxes to fund other families' child care choices.
To quote the view of C.S. Lewis on progress in general, which is a long quote but it captures the essence of this debate perfectly in my mind, he said:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
To illustrate the difference between the two plans, I want to use the example of a family in my riding for whom I have tremendous respect, the Matychuk family. Jeff and Nancy Matychuk have five children ranging in age from 5 to 14. They are a one income family with one vehicle, a 12 year old minivan that does the job, usually. They live in Edmonton in a modest home with no garage. Jeff takes the bus to work, a one hour ride each way downtown, so that Nancy can have the van to move the kids around. Jeff's income last year was about $39,000. The Matychuks do not use day care, institutional or otherwise, and their kids are as well-rounded, mature and social as any we could ever meet. This is a truly incredible family that has chosen to forego many of the luxuries we take for granted because they feel it is the best decision for their family and they do it gladly.
For the purpose of this illustration I want to pretend that Jeff and Nancy were just starting their family and that Amy, the 14 year old, was born this year. Under the Conservative choice in child care plan, over the next 15 years, until the youngest child turns six, the Matychuks would receive 36,000 after tax dollars to help with the costs of raising their family. Under the Liberal plan they would receive absolutely nothing. In fact, under the Liberal plan they would actually pay through their taxes to send their neighbours' kids to day care. That is simply unfair no matter how we look at it.
Thankfully, on January 23 Canadians voted for a well thought out and straightforward plan that will give real support and real choice to all Canadian families when it comes to child care.
I wish to take a moment to congratulate all members of the House on the honour that their constituents have bestowed on them. I look forward to working together with everyone here to ensure that Canada remains the greatest country in the world in which to live.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first address to the House I must say that it is a distinct honour and privilege to stand and represent the citizens of my riding in this place. I thank them for placing their confidence in me.
My thanks therefore go out to the citizens of Simcoe North.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to my family, especially my wife Heather and our children, but also the family members who are continuing to manage the family business, giving me leave and the opportunity to serve our community in this most distinguished way.
My family emigrated to Simcoe North from England in 1874 and successive generations have fashioned their livelihoods from our small village on Sparrow Lake ever since. Simcoe North is a fairly prosperous and growing region, about an hour and a half drive north from Toronto, on the cusp of cottage country encompassing, as the name suggests, the northern half of the historic county of Simcoe. We have a mix of rural and agricultural businesses with a strong representation in the tourism and manufacturing industries to supply much of our primary employment.
We are home to the general headquarters of the Ontario Provincial Police and one of Ontario's most recent and modern correctional facilities. As members might imagine, law enforcement, crime and sentencing issues are very top of mind among a key group of residents in my riding.
Simcoe North is home to two first nations communities, Mnjikaning and Beausoleil, and a large Métis community. We are also proud to have one of the few French speaking communities in southern Ontario in the town of Penetanguishene in the southern Georgian Bay area.
As the greater Toronto area has grown, so too has Simcoe North. A growing number of people commute from our communities to work in or near Toronto and many more have moved to our area in recent times to enjoy their retirement years in the more peaceful and picturesque surroundings offered by Simcoe North. While my riding may enjoy relative prosperity, there is a growing sense that governments at all levels must act more honestly and decisively to bring real results, lower taxes, and spending only in the areas that matter most to Canadians.
It is with this backdrop that I support the agenda for this Parliament that we heard ever so eloquently from Her Excellency the Governor General on April 4. With this past election people were ready for change. They had their limit of theatrical politics, politics where words, announcements, re-announcements, scandal and photo ops overtook the real business of our nation and plunged the cynicism toward elected officials to a new high. On January 23 they voted for change and change is what they will receive.
I am pleased that the first act of the government was to introduce the federal accountability act tabled on April 11 to begin the process of making the government more effective, transparent and accountable to the people. I believe this bill will be the first important step in regaining the trust of Canadians in their federal government.
To reduce taxes we will cut the GST to 6% and then to 5%, giving the widest form of tax relief possible. This will provide tax relief even to the nearly 30% of Canadians who do not pay income taxes. I have heard from many in my riding in that category who reminded me clearly that income tax cuts would not help them to pay for their ever increasing energy costs, rent and living expenses.
As I referenced earlier, the government's commitment to crack down on crime, restrict the use of conditional sentencing, and direct more resources to law enforcement, border security and against the proliferation of illegal firearms will be welcome in Simcoe North.
I represent a riding where many of our well paying jobs are on shift work and a good many more are held by people who live in rural areas where day care does not exist. They, like most families, seek out child care solutions that suit their circumstances, whether it is a relative, a neighbour or, where permissible, a neighbourhood day care centre.
The $1,200 per child under six that we pledged to them as a child care benefit will help. We know it will not completely pay, and they know it will not completely pay, for their child care, but it is far better to have that direct benefit in their hands than being lost in more government administration and programming that they may not even be able to seek out. They know this will help. They know they will have a choice.
As for the families that do have access to traditional day care services, I commend the efforts of professionals in the child care services area for developing programs like Ontario's best start program.
I encourage them to utilize the government's commitment to help maintain that program through to March 2007, and if best start proves to be successful, as it appears it will, then the Ontario government has every right to continue it on its own. It is its jurisdiction and I hope it does.
Our commitment to create 25,000 new child care spaces each year over the next five years will clearly tie in well with the good work of Ontario child and family services programs.
Finally, I have spoken to people in my riding who have given up on the health care system, people who have chosen not to endure the pain in their knees or hips, for example. They have reached into their own pockets to pay for medical services in places such as Buffalo, New York, a two and a half hour drive from Simcoe North. For those who have that financial capability, it is an alternative and that is a sad indictment of our health care system.
Excessive wait times are at the root of the public's loss of faith in our once proud system. I am delighted to see the government's undertaking to address wait times with a guarantee. The guarantee is tangible. It goes beyond the usual flowery words on a page. It compels actions and sets consequences if or when services fall short of medically appropriate wait times.
This is the kind of action that will help Canadians to regain their faith in our system and be proud of it again. At this time, when public health care services are struggling to meet demand, it makes perfect sense that we consider a greater role for private health care providers inside the bounds of our universally publicly administered and publicly paid system. That will mean better service for patients and better value for their investment.
It is encouraging to see the provinces working in this vein already: in Quebec, Alberta and recently, even in my home province of Ontario. It goes to show that when we work together, we can bring timely access to quality care. That is what Canadians want from their health care system and it is the kind of cooperation they expect from both levels of government.
In closing, I am optimistic about what lies ahead for our country. In this focused and succinct plan for the 39th Parliament I see a way to move forward, to step forward in meaningful, measurable steps. These steps reflect the kind of change that Canadians seek, that they believe are priorities for themselves and their country: a well deserved break on taxes, safe communities, accountable good government, choice in child care, and probably for the first time, a guarantee of service in health care.
The priorities set out in the Speech from the Throne become even more poignant when balanced against their commitment to address fiscal imbalance, to engage our provincial and territorial partners in a more open brand of federalism, and to restore Canada's reputation as a dependable leader on the international stage.
I look forward in this Parliament to implement these priorities. I ask hon. members opposite to see the value and the benefit to all Canadians from this program, to get behind it and support it, and for the first time in too many years, bring concrete results for all Canadians to share.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Kenora.
As I begin my remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the voters of Vancouver Centre for re-electing me for the fifth time as their member of Parliament. I promise that I will continue to represent their views to Ottawa and strive to be worthy of their trust. I also want to thank my sons for their absolute patience and support, and I want to thank all of the great Vancouver Centre volunteers.
My initial reaction to the Speech from the Throne was one of disappointment. After several weeks of reflection, I stand here today and admit that my first impression was absolutely correct.
The five priorities laid out in the government's speech are disappointingly long on rhetoric and short on substance. What is most disturbing for those of us who live in British Columbia is what was not said. There is nothing about Canada's critical workforce deficit, nothing about productivity, and nothing about research and development. And amazingly, from the first elected western Prime Minister in two decades, there is not a word about the west, not a word.
The Prime Minister defends his Speech from the Throne by saying that it focuses on the five priorities that his government promised during the election: cutting the GST; a new federal accountability act; reforms to the criminal justice system; a Conservative child care plan; and a plan to continue the previous government's initiative to reduce wait times at hospitals.
This is not enough. When these things are complete in about the next three weeks, what else is there? Where is the vision?
Traditionally, Speeches from the Throne are about vision and a long term plan that a government hopes to implement to move the nation forward positively and address the concerns and challenges facing the country.
Maybe this tiny vision means that the Prime Minister does not expect to be here for a long time. However, let us deal with what we have: the five priorities.
Priority number one is the government's short-sighted and risky GST cut. The Prime Minister appears determined to forge ahead with his GST cut despite every serious economist in the country agreeing that it is poor public policy and a misuse of about $4.5 billion in federal fiscal flexibility every year. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that families earning over $150,000 a year will receive an average of over $2,000 in savings, while families earning less than $40,000, which is almost half of all Canadians, will receive a mere $163 after taxes.
Once again, we see that a leopard never changes its spots. A Conservative government, no matter what its new name is, favours the wealthy over low income Canadians.
Priority number two is a new federal accountability act. This is motherhood. Who could object? But on close examination, it is evident that this bill is nothing but a hollow shell.
Let us not forget that it was the last Liberal government that put in place the infrastructure for accountability by severely limiting individual and corporate political contributions and third party election spending. We brought in whistleblower legislation and new accountability guidelines for crown corporations.
This bill, however, would do nothing to prevent the revolving door between political staffers and lobbyists, something the Conservatives talked about non-stop when they were in opposition.
There is no mention of putting an end to lobbyists working for the government, where conflict of interest is an even greater concern. When we see, however, that the Conservative defence minister was a former lobbyist for the defence industry, it is not surprising that this has been left out of the bill.
Some of my constituents have pointed out that we should have expected these hidden surprises. From the moment the Prime Minister was sworn in, he developed sudden amnesia with regard to his campaign promises of openness, transparency and accountability.
First, he appointed an unelected Conservative backroom boy to cabinet and in one of the most sensitive portfolios as well. The minister, now a senator, can never stand in the House and be accountable for any of his decisions. Second, before the metaphorical ink was dry on the ballots in Vancouver Kingsway, the current Minister of International Trade leapt with dizzying haste from the party under which he was elected to the party that received only 18% of voter support.
Canadians have become cynical and embittered about politicians. The only feeling of empowerment they have in this democratic nation is that vote during an election when they can show their approval or their disapproval, so this lack of respect for the voter is beyond arrogance.
Priority number three is to get tough on crime. In spite of the fact that crime rates went down 12% under the last Liberal government, the Conservatives have taken a new, punitive approach of hanging them high and hanging them long, locking them up and throwing away the key, an approach that runs contrary to all research. In fact, this approach would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners, which experts believe could mean building up to 23 new prisons. Let us think of the billions of dollars that will cost. In addition, the Prime Minister will abolish the gun registry, against the wishes of law enforcement professionals.
So who does the Prime Minister listen to? Not the experts, certainly not the research, and obviously not the police.
Priority number four is child care: $4 a day, after taxes, to care for our children. In my riding, that cannot not even buy a latte.
Where is the choice? This has nothing to do with early learning. What an insult to Canadian families and what a disservice to their children.
Priority number five is hospital wait times. It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and I thank the government for adopting the last Liberal government's plan to send patients to other facilities for care if wait times are too long. I think this is a controversial issue at best. My colleague recently brought it up. However, what is interesting is that, with typical Conservative spin, this is now going to be one of the most costly ways of delivering health care. Our plan was to send patients to different parts of Canada. The Conservative plan is to send patients to the U.S., where the same service costs almost 10 times more. Did anyone do a cost benefit analysis on this? No wonder Conservative governments rack up deficits.
I cannot end this speech without pointing out so many issues of concern to Canadians, issues that were not in the Speech from the Throne, a speech deafening in its silence on these issues.
There is silence on B.C.'s Pacific gateway strategy.
There is silence on affordable housing. Will the government continue negotiations with provinces on the $1.5 billion national housing program that our previous government started?
There is silence on seniors. Will the government implement our plan for reverse mortgages, the $50 million new horizons for seniors program, the caregiver tax credit increase to $15,000, and the expanded EI compassionate care program?
There is silence on productivity, on workplace issues and on post-secondary education and training.
There is silence on immigration and on internationally trained workers.
I could go on about the lack of substance in this Speech from the Throne, but as I said at the beginning, what an opportunity wasted. It is such a disappointment.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate you on your appointment.
I thank the member for Vancouver Centre for sharing her time with me today.
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne, but I would first like to thank the residents of the riding of Kenora, who have returned me for the second time. It was a challenging election in which I managed to learn many things from the residents. I would like to thank them.
I would also like to thank my wife Carole, my daughters Sheena and Megan, and my son Cody for putting up with my new career. It can be challenging in a riding the size of mine.
The riding of Kenora is unique in many ways, both in its geography and its demographics, but essentially the people of Kenora share the concerns of the majority of Canadians.
They are concerned about their jobs. In our riding, forestry is the industry in crisis.
They are concerned with access to quality services, such as options for child care and services for seniors.
They are concerned with the protection of our health care system while ensuring that the system is improved.
They are also concerned about the future of our environment.
We have faced many challenges over the last couple of years. We have had significant job losses in Kenora, Dryden and other areas. In Kenora, Abitibi Consolidated announced the closure of its mill just before Christmas. We lost over 400 jobs. In the community of Dryden, almost 500 jobs have been lost in the last few years; when we consider that the plant had 1,100 workers just a few short years ago, we can see the devastating impact. Kenora had over 900 workers, but in just a few short years the mill has been closed entirely. We have a lot of difficulties.
As well, Sioux Lookout, Ignace and Ear Falls have all lost opportunities whereby small contractors are no longer able to maintain their businesses. These are communities where forestry is the sole industry. The situation is more important than partisan posturing. All sides of the House must provide leadership as we try to address this issue.
For the last two years I have been travelling throughout the riding listening to people's concerns. While priorities differ slightly, there is a common theme. People want their government to act responsibly as they want to secure a better future for themselves and their children. This is their priority. Unfortunately, the Conservatives' Speech from the Throne falls far short.
I am honoured to represent more than 38 first nations communities. Those 38 first nations were looking for a throne speech commitment for the Kelowna accord.
I was looking to the speech for the families of Sandy Lake, where the housing shortage is extreme. It is not uncommon to find more than 10 people living in a two-bedroom home. We hear of many instances where more than 20 people are sharing a larger home, an overcrowded home that is in desperate need of renovation. The Kelowna accord would have started to address some of the severe housing shortages that exist in all these communities I represent.
I was looking to the speech for the Chief of Neskantaga First Nation, Peter Moonias, hoping that the serious water concerns in his community would be addressed. I represent a riding where many first nations are under boil water advisories. This is a serious concern that will not be addressed by changing one or two regulations. Money must be invested in training. In my riding, the Keewaytinook Okamakanak Centre of Excellence is a leader in the training of water treatment plant operators. Centres like these must be supported by our government to ensure that all Canadians have access to safe drinking water.
I was looking to the speech for the children of the Fort Severn First Nation on the Hudson Bay coast, where the children have been unable to use their school due to mould problems. The children do not have a safe environment in which to learn.
I represent a riding where the complexities of education in a remote area with language barriers have not been properly addressed. Our kids are not staying in school. This must change. The Kelowna accord would have addressed the unique needs of first nations children to give them the tools they need to contribute to our society, and we need their contributions.
I was looking to the speech for the survivors of residential schools. We have taken steps to address the wrong done to our first people. We must be vigilant in ensuring that the agreement is kept. It was a tragic time in our history and it took us far too long to acknowledge it. We must live up to the agreement with all survivors, starting now. In many of the communities I visit, survivors are lined up at the airports to ask me questions. As a sign of respect they have been there to meet me, and out of respect they are asking questions that they want answered.
I was looking to the speech for the young people of my riding, many of whom have been victims of suicide. First nations communities must be given support to address this growing crisis. We must give our young people hope. We must act now. Let us learn from our mistakes in the past and prevent the tragedy from growing in scale. I urge the government to acknowledge it and to work on prevention.
I have worked with the leaders of the aboriginal communities, who have educated me on the needs of their people. Grand Chief Arnold Gardner, for Treaty 3, and Grand Chief Stan Beardy, for Treaty 9, have worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of their communities. I urge the government to listen to their advice.
I have also worked with members of the unions representing workers who have faced unemployment due to the forestry crisis. I have worked with the municipal leaders such as Mayor David Canfield of Kenora, Mayor Anne Krassilowsky of Dryden and Mayor Jim Desmarais of Ear Falls and many other communities. They are all struggling to diversify their economies. I worked with my colleagues, as chair of the Liberal forest caucus, to propose measures to address the situation, and I was able to participate in announcing the $1.5 billion package for forestry aid. This started to address many of hurdles that are hurting the industry.
I was looking to this speech for the people directly and indirectly affected by the crisis. The government must act to help these families and communities that have been devastated with total job loss, again in small town northern Ontario. Although I am hopeful that the softwood lumber dispute will be resolved, it is contributing to the overall situation. There are many more issues that must be addressed. High energy prices have been crippling the mills in our area. Support for the new and existing energy sources is essential and should have been addressed in the Speech from the Throne.
We also support the industry with research initiatives in order to diversify the output of our mills. The investment in value-added project would be an example. The importance of the forestry industry is a national concern and must be treated as such if we want to be a leader in the global market. Policies must be developed to ensure the sustainability of the industry. Forestry was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, and I urge the new government to make it a priority.
Compounding this issue is a concern by our communities that our tourism industry will not be sustained due to the new passport requirements introduced by the United States. My constituents are concerned about the decline of the tourism industry once restrictions are put in place. I would remind the House that these are communities that have lost their sole employer and have been devastated. Some estimates say that up to 40% of the tourist traffic in our area could be limited or restricted due to this new regulation. We must have a strategic and coordinated effort as to how we will deal with this change and we must be very aggressive in educating our tourist operators on the requirement to reduce the negative impact of this policy.
I was born in northwestern Ontario. As all Canadians, we are a proud people and our way of life is important to us. In this way it was important for us when the governments of the past recognized the contribution of our area to the rest of the country and were willing to support our communities by way of FedNor. The current government's lack of commitment to this important department concerns me.
Regional development is not about subsidizing people, but recognizing the importance our regions and their impact on the overall economy and culture of our country. Without mention of regional development in the Speech from the Throne, I challenge the government to instill confidence in northern Ontario by maintaining the current funding levels for these programs in these communities.
Many of my constituents have written to me about another of their priorities, which I will quickly mention. As part of the make poverty history campaign, many of my constituents have identified Canada's implicit responsibility to assist the poor at home and abroad. They urge the government to increase its share of foreign aid to the 0.7% commitment. I thank the constituents of those communities for that advice.
This last week has been very interesting. I travelled over 2,000 kilometres on a very short visit to the northern part of my riding, and not even at the extreme edges. I travelled to the northern parts of my riding, sitting with constituents from some of the most isolated communities in Canada. I travelled to Bearskin Lake where Chief Rodney McKay informed me of the community's concerns about the lack of housing. I travelled to Keewaywin where Chief Joe Meekis expressed frustration with the process required to apply for badly needed funding. I was hosted by Chief Archie Meekis at Deer Lake. He expressed concern about the falling apart police station in which they had to hold people. I travelled to Slate Falls where an elderly lady held my hand and anguished over the residential school issue. I visited Wunnumin Lake where Chief Archie Wabasse said that they were interested in exploring a restorative justice program.
Although their concerns may differ, they share a common concern. They are not asking for handouts. They are asking for resources to do the jobs themselves. I thank them for sharing their concerns with me.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the four brave Canadian soldiers who were killed this weekend when their armoured G-Wagon was struck by a roadside bomb. The thoughts and prayers of all Canadians are with their families and their comrades who must carry on the important work they are performing in Afghanistan.
I am pleased to show my support today for the Speech from the Throne, which proposes a balanced action plan.
The Speech from the Throne establishes a solid foundation upon which to build a better Canada and it is based on five priorities:
Restoring integrity to government; cutting taxes; fighting crime; offering child care choices; and providing the necessary health care services.
The vision of Canada articulated in the Speech from the Throne is one that will give Canadians greater confidence in government accountability and getting things done. As well, the throne speech commits the government to revitalizing the military with a wide range of capabilities essential in these unpredictable times. A restored military, one that is able to ensure sovereignty across our nation and one that is able to protect Canadians, is a military that Canadians can trust to show up with the necessary skills and equipment in difficulties.
I for one am proud to be part of a government that so strongly supports our armed forces, a government that acknowledges the enormous contribution that the men and women of Canada's military have made to this nation in times past and today. I am proud of a government that takes defence and security issues seriously, a government that is willing to take a leading role in contributing to international security and stability.
For a long time, Canadians have rested secure in our geographic remoteness from global conflict. Our southern border is protected by cooperation with the United States. The east and west approaches to Canada are guarded by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and our north is viewed as a vast frozen barrier. However, as we enter the 21st century, Canada's geographical remoteness is under challenge. The melting polar ice cap, the potential for environmental degradation and commercial opportunity in the Arctic are changing how we and others view Canada's north, an area larger than Europe.
Now is the time for Canada to assert its northern sovereignty. To that end, the government's Canada first policy will demonstrate to Canadians with concrete plans and substantial investments in those military capabilities that enhance surveillance, reconnaissance and presence in Canada's Arctic Archipelago.
Likewise, terrorist attacks in continental North America and larger, more frequent natural disasters have alerted us to the necessity of enhancing security and emergency response in Canada. Canada first envisions the establishment of military capabilities in all regions that can quickly respond to domestic needs as well as capabilities that will allow us to focus the forces' wide resources in the event of a national disaster.
Our Canada first policy for defence will strengthen the Canadian Forces' capacity to defend our country and its citizens, assert our sovereignty and assume a leadership role in international operations. It will also allow Canada to better fulfill the responsibility that we share with the United States in protecting the North American continent. It will make Canada more effective in security cooperation. Our policy will also see our military assigned the essential task of helping bring security and stability around the world, just as our men and women in uniform are doing today in Afghanistan.
In order to pursue our policy, it is essential that we transform and modernize our military. We also need to acquire capabilities that will allow Canada to be a leader on the international stage that can make meaningful contributions to global security and humanitarian demands.
In cooperation with allies and like-minded nations, this great country will defend and advance Canada's interests in the world.
In order to properly carry out our policy, we need to expand, modernize and transform the Canadian Forces as quickly as possible so that Canada will be in a position to rise to future challenges.
Furthermore, the government will reform the defence procurement process in order to provide our armed forces with the equipment they need, when they need it, and in a way that is transparent and fair.
The government also intends to strengthen the Canadian Forces within Canada and boost their role on the international stage by giving them new capabilities or improving their existing capabilities.
We would like to see a naval presence on three oceans, a strong land force and revitalized air force, all functioning within an integrated and efficient team of armed forces in Canada, North America, or anywhere in the world.
It is a vision to increase the pride and confidence that Canadians have in their military.
Canadians will know that our soldiers will continue to answer the call whenever they are needed, as they have done for decades.
It is a vision that will allow Canada to be a leader in world affairs, as is the case in Afghanistan.
Canada is in Afghanistan because it is in our national interest. Having been there myself together with the Prime Minister, l am more convinced than ever that this mission is right for Canada. Afghanistan was once a safe haven and breeding ground for international terrorism. Now it is a country striving to establish peace, order and good government. It is a country that needs help.
During our recent visit to Afghanistan, the Prime Minister and I saw important signs of progress. Our soldiers are improving the security situation on the ground so that infrastructure can be rebuilt. Political and social institutions are taking root and the economy is picking up, but the task ahead remains significant. It is a complex and dangerous mission where unfortunately Canadians have lost their lives. But let me be clear. Canada will not be intimidated or deterred by terrorists. As the Prime Minister said to our troops in Kandahar, we do not make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble. We are staying the course.
The vision of Canada articulated in the Speech from the Throne is one that will give Canadians greater confidence in what this great country can do for them and in what this great country can do for the world. This Conservative government will put Canada first by strengthening our national sovereignty and security. We will enhance our presence on land and sea and in the air. We will enhance the security of Canada and its citizens both at home and abroad by acquiring the means to act wherever and whenever required. We will become more reliable and effective international security and humanitarian partners with the means to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
Great endeavours come at a great cost. With the support of Canadians, the will of the government, this great nation's resources, the outstanding service members and the support of their families, we will achieve our vision. Canadians need this and Canada can do it.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for splitting his time. I commend the Minister of National Defence not only for his remarks but for the work that he is doing. I would add to his opening remarks and on behalf of the constituents of Central Nova extend our condolences and best wishes to the families and colleagues of our fallen soldiers.
The throne speech itself sent a clear message to Canadians, a message not only of change but that this government will stand behind its commitments and will be consistent with what we said and what we are going to do. We will fulfill the commitments in enhancing the opportunities in building communities and families and to also build security, basic premises upon which Canadians agree. This government will ensure that it is not only accountable and responsible for the needs and hopes of Canadians but that it also works closely with them in achieving more.
I am very proud and honoured to be joining today's debate on the Speech from the Throne as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the member representing the constituency of Central Nova.
In the short time that I have been in cabinet, many people, particularly those in my own constituency of Central Nova, have commented to me about the diverse responsibilities that have been given to me by the Prime Minister in these two portfolios. At first blush it may seem that the duties of foreign affairs and ACOA may seem like a strange match. The reality, however, is that the world today is no longer some faraway place that appears on the nightly news. It is very much at our doorstep and in real time, affecting the daily lives of Canadians no matter where they live.
Canadians have always had a strong sense of interest and belonging to the global community. We are a very diverse nation comprised of individuals from around the globe. There is very much a tie-in, I would say a complementary nature, to these two departments.
To strengthen Canada's role in the world and to prepare a more promising future for Atlantic Canadians, we must make a solid commitment to Canadians, focus on the future and be determined to get down to business. That is precisely what the government is offering in these two important portfolios.
One of the goals the Prime Minister set for our government is to restore our reputation as a leader and reliable partner within the international community when it comes to defending freedom and democracy in the world.
Promoting Canada's interests in this complex and at times dangerous world requires assurance and the independent capacity to defend our sovereignty and the safety of our citizens.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I will see to it that Canada's international policies support these priorities and commitments.
Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, I will be working cooperatively with our friends and allies within the international community to advance common values and goals and advance our interests in areas such as human rights, the rule of law, security and democracy, principles and values that we as a country endorse and that elevate people. A very clear example of that is happening in Afghanistan. Many on all sides of the House have commented on the fact that young women are able to attend school and housing projects are underway. Clean water is being provided. Efforts are being made to bring about a stable form of governance.
The goal of this government is to build stronger multilateral and bilateral relationships, starting with Canada's relationship with the United States, our best friend and largest trading partner. Our relationship with the United States is crucial to our economy, our security and our influence in the world. Canadians expect their government to not just manage this relationship but to move it forward in ways that balance our sovereignty with our aspirations. We also need to be on a secure footing. We need to be seen as mature, reasonable and responsible and we need to work cooperatively where we can and to stand up for Canada's interests where we must.
We are also committed to supporting Canada's core values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law and human rights around the world. In order to do this the government must support a more robust diplomatic role for Canada, a stronger military and the effective use of aid dollars. We must work to ensure enhanced cooperation for Canadians and Canada's principles of prosperity in a globalized economy. Important energy and natural resources, highly skilled workforces, creativity and hard work make our country poised for greater gains. Looking for opportunities for Canada abroad, as well as trying to bring investment to this country, is something I will be doing in collaboration with the Minister of International Trade.
I am very proud to say that there are examples within my own constituency of Canadians taking leadership roles in helping to make the world a better place. The Coady International Institute in the riding of Central Nova, founded and named for the esteemed educator Moses Coady, is located on the campus of St. Francis Xavier. For almost 50 years it has worked with community leaders from developing nations around the world. Many come to St. FX to learn about the world famous Antigonish movement and its approaches and methods which can be applied to their own local towns and villages. The Coady institute has a huge impact on international economic development through programs that promote education, innovation, group action and sustained economic activities. I might add that St. FX has deservedly earned the reputation of the number one undergraduate university in the country. It is another example of communities in my riding of Central Nova playing a role in developing leaders for tomorrow.
Another such example is the 14 airfield engineering squadron in Pictou, of which I know the Minister of National Defence is familiar. As one of the squadron's three flight locations in Atlantic Canada, Pictou and surrounding areas have benefited and have been served well over the past decade from a community partnership with the Department of National Defence. Through community-based programs, the military personnel at 14 engineering squadron often provide assistance with the labour component for non-profit community projects. I commend Ralph Heighton and the organization for the work they do to promote our local community. Working with these local organizations gives military personnel valuable experience in community building that will serve them throughout their military careers, both here in Canada and around the world.
Like my father before me in a previous Conservative government, as Minister Responsible for Atlantic Canada Opportunities I am again afforded an opportunity to provide help and assistance throughout the region in areas of economic development. Atlantic Canada has gone through dramatic changes in the past number of years and so has ACOA. Our region is building on great achievements. Our educated and motivated workforce is attracting national and international investment.
ACOA is committed to responsible and accountable support through communities and through the region. Partnership programs, in particular, are an example of how the government can work cooperatively with all other levels of government in areas like rural infrastructure and working with other education facilities.
The promise of fair oil and gas royalties has finally been realized and our region is looking forward to the opportunities in the international area of commerce.
The realities of international trade provide immediate opportunities for Canada. Growth in China and the Indian sub-continent is causing significant changes in trade patterns and supply chains.
The Atlantic and the Pacific gateways are crucial elements in the national strategy to enhance Canada's competitiveness in the global economy and to gain the maximum benefit from the new trade opportunities.
The Atlantic gateway will allow us to profit from these new avenues, to save money and to promote a stronger economy in the Atlantic region.
Atlantic Canada provides one of the gateways to the largest markets in the United States with a deep water, year round, ice-free port capable of servicing the new post-Panamax ships on the North American eastern seaboard. This Atlantic gateway will create a value added transportation hub and a network consisting of major ports, rail, airports and the region's major highways. It will capitalize on the potential for increased international trade in the region.
Through ACOA, the Government of Canada is working with provincial governments and other partners to develop an effective Atlantic gateway strategy to take full advantage and immediately realize the opportunities of global commerce. We can see that the Department of Foreign Affairs and ACOA are not strange partners at all in moving forward in very productive ways. They complement each other and reinforce the goals.
I am confident that, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the new Conservative government, with its clear focus and accountability to citizens, will ensure that Canada's priorities that were enunciated in the throne speech both at home and abroad will be fulfilled.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
This being the first debate in which I have spoken in this House, I would like, first, to thank the people of Gatineau for their support. I will be worthy of their confidence because they voted to have a member who is accessible and who will listen to their concerns and take action to help them in order to improve their quality of life.
I would also like to take advantage of this opportunity to say that I will be a true defender of Quebec’s interests. Until our national independence is achieved, I will attend valiantly to this task along with my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois.
Insofar as the Speech from the Throne is concerned, I want to point out some oversights regarding matters of great concern to many of our citizens so that the newly elected government is well apprised of them and able to act accordingly.
One problem is of particular concern to me, namely that the government should do what it can to combat the unfairness that exists between the two shores of the Ottawa river, between the Outaouais region and Ottawa. In the past, the Liberal governments took my region, the Outaouais, and my riding, Gatineau, for granted. As a result, they neglected the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. They considered the Quebec side just an extension of the city of Ottawa. This mindset must end. The Outaouais and the riding of Gatineau are part of Quebec and share its aspirations and distinct vision. The Outaouais should get its fair share in all respects. I am talking here about including the Outaouais, which is just as important a region as Ottawa.
Twenty-two years after the federal cabinet set itself the goal of raising the proportion of federal public servants who worked on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river from 22.6% to 25%, the proportion has actually fallen. If Crown corporations and agencies are included, only 20% of public servants work in the Outaouais, in comparison with 80% in Ottawa. This shortfall added up to more than 5,500 public servants in 2004, or a loss in annual income for the Quebec side of the river of nearly $300 million. Now that this situation has again been pointed out, it should be remedied.
Still with regard to the inequities between the two banks of the Ottawa River, in the federal capital area, the Government of Canada spends over a billion dollars on research and development. Of this amount, 93.6% goes to Ottawa, while a slim 6.4% comes to the Outaouais region. This is explained in large part by the number of federal research centres in each area. Out of a total of 31 federal research centres, 30 are in Ottawa and only one is located on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River: 30 to 1. It is more than time the federal government made sure that one-quarter of the research centres were located on the Outaouais side, and three-quarters on the Ontario side.
There is one file that has been open for over 20 years and that could be closed with the good will of the current government. This is the construction of an anti-noise barrier in the Promenades area of my riding. The previous Liberal government reneged on its promise to participate, with the Government of Quebec and the City of Gatineau, in its construction last November. I sincerely hope that the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities will formally join the project so that it can be completed once and for all. After waiting for 20 years, the citizens concerned are entitled to expect the federal government to keep its word.
With regard to the distribution of museums between Gatineau and Ottawa, the Outaouais is now entitled to get the next museum. The Science and Technology Museum has been waiting 40 years for a permanent location.
Since the inauguration of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, the City of Ottawa has obtained the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian War Museum. Now it is the turn of Gatineau to get the new museum within its borders.
I also hope that the federal government will take a significant part in the Rapibus public transit project in Gatineau. I hope that it will do likewise for the building of a four-lane Highway 50, when the Government of Quebec asks it to do so.
As for realities that go beyond Outaouais-Ottawa relations, we should think about employment insurance. The EI fund became a real cash cow for the previous government, even though it had not paid a penny into it since 1992. That has to stop now.
A study conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress shows us that the restrictions on the employment insurance program accounted for an annual loss, between 1993 and 2003, of $3 billion in Quebec. For my riding, Gatineau, this means a loss of $52.1 million for each of those ten years.
What will the Conservative government do about that? The Coalition des sans-chemise and all the people who contribute to the employment insurance plan are waiting to see whether the openness of the Conservatives will close up tightly when the time comes to discuss this issue.
Seniors in Gatineau have been forgotten. As if the precarious economic situation of seniors were not difficult enough, the previous Liberal government was determined to refuse to make full retroactive payment to seniors identified as being entitled to the Guaranteed Income Supplement. As a result of the efforts of the Bloc Québécois, the party was able to identify some 42,000 seniors who were entitled to this, out of the 68,000 Quebeckers eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. From 1993 to 2001, no less than $800 million, for all of Quebec, should have been paid out by the previous government to the most vulnerable seniors. In the riding of Gatineau, 800 to 900 people were cheated, with the losses averaging nearly $4 million. The government must locate those people and pay them what they are entitled to.
The Speech from the Throne did not mention social housing. From 1993 to 2001, the federal government completely withdrew from funding new social housing units. That withdrawal is one of the causes of the current shortage of rental housing and the growing problem of homelessness. This is a serious crisis.
Because nearly 6,050 renters in the city of Gatineau spend at least 50% of their meagre incomes on housing, and nearly 12,470 households pay at least 30% of their income to rent the roof over their heads, the federal government has to loosen its purse strings for social housing.
There is also SCPI, the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative. That program has generated investments of over $4.5 million in the riding of Gatineau since it was created in 2001. In addition to meeting the essential needs of socially excluded individuals and families, it has promoted the hiring of dozens of experienced workers.
I sincerely hope that the new government will renew and expand the SCPI program so that organizations involved in the fight against homelessness are able to continue their good work.
The Bloc Québécois will stand up against inequality between the two sides of the Ottawa River. It will also continue to stand up for the rights of Quebeckers in this House.
The Conservative government has promised a lot for Quebec. The Outaouais is a region of Quebec in its own right. The ball is in the Conservative government’s court. I am always ready to work with the government for the proper development of the riding of Gatineau to the level to which it is entitled.