Mr. Speaker, I am honoured, as leader of Her Majesty's official opposition, to rise today and lead the Liberal Party of Canada in responding to the Speech from the Throne to open the second session of the 39th Parliament of Canada.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Governor General for the elegance with which she delivered the Speech from the Throne. Unfortunately, my congratulations will almost have to stop there. The meagre Speech from the Throne delivered yesterday is so vague, so full of holes and raises so many concerns that it warrants little praise.
Yet, somehow, in thinking about this a lot, I may find something relatively positive to say about the speech. It is not as bad as the one we would have heard from the Conservative Party if it had been a majority government.
As the 's most trusted political adviser, Professor Tom Flanagan, recently described, if the Conservatives form a majority government, rural economies would be threatened by a fatal assault on supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board. Health care would be subject to an agenda of Conservative “radical reform”. One may imagine what that means.
The work of our police officers and the safety of our citizens would be threatened by the absolute dismantling of the gun registry and our environment would be neglected by those who believe that, to quote Mr. Flanagan's incredibly irresponsible statement, “global warming may threaten the planet, but it actually improves the weather in Canada”.
Canadians can count on the Liberal Party. The Conservative Party will never form a majority.
The throne speech we heard yesterday, with all of its weaknesses, has to be assessed in light of the fact that Canadians do not want another election right now. They want Parliament to do its job.
Three general elections in three and a half years, not to mention the provincial elections held recently or to be held shortly, would be too much in the eyes of Canadians.
The and his government may be increasingly frustrated by an opposition that prevents them from implementing their ultra-Conservative program; but we, the official opposition, are determined to make Parliament work. That is what Canadians want.
Let us look at the more positive aspects of the Speech from the Throne. It is encouraging to see that the government intends to expand the scope of the Action Plan for Official Languages, which linguistic minorities are in the bad habit of calling the Dion plan. We hope the government will keep this promise and table a robust plan that it will not have to call the Dion plan II.
But why stop there? Why not revive the court challenges program that has done so much to protect minority rights? And why not reinstate the bilingual requirement for officers of the Canadian Forces?
We are pleased to see that the government has finally decided to offer an official apology to the victims of the Indian residential schools. This does not in any way discharge the government of its obligation to right the terrible wrongs caused by its rejection of the Kelowna Accord, which delayed urgently needed measures in education, health and infrastructure, and by its refusal to sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We are also pleased with the government's interest in Canada's North and we support its intention to set up a world-class research station there. However, we would like to know the location of the site, the budget and the deadlines for achieving this plan.
It was high time for the government to keep its promise of mapping the Arctic seabed. It made that promise 18 months ago. We would like to know how the government intends to respect the crucial 2013 deadline to show that the continental shelf falls within Canadian territory, which our country is required to do since it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The government also talked about expanding aerial surveillance in the North, but then why not deploy fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, as the previous Liberal government planned to do?
One may also ask why the government makes no mention of the building of small craft harbours in the Arctic, when such a measure could create jobs and increase trade and tourism in northern Canada.
And why not take a collaborative diplomatic approach to assert our interests with the Arctic Council, the only international organization of circumpolar countries, which can deal with major Arctic issues, and within which Canada must still play a leadership role?
Finally, to conclude on the North, how can one talk about the North without talking about enhancing the quality of life of its inhabitants, the quality of life of the Inuit people and services that are provided to them, particularly at a time when global warming has such a profound effect on their way of life?
In another positive point in the Speech from the Throne, we were pleased to learn that the government was committed to supporting our veterans. However, the throne speech does not contain any provision to enhance the quality of life of active members of our armed forces and their families, particularly to help them overcome the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder that often follow their deployment overseas.
We take note of the government's intention to modernize the Canadian armed forces. However, we have some concerns about the way that it wants to do so. Will the government continue with its troubling reliance on contracting without tender? Contracts of $30 billion have already been awarded in this manner.
It is good to learn that the government has decided to make a commitment toward Haiti, but it remains vague on the exact nature of this commitment. Is it financial aid for basic health care? Is it funds for reforestation? We still do not know.
Of course we applaud the decision to grant Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi honorary Canadian citizenship. This is an idea that we fully support and that our colleague from the Yukon has been promoting for months.
Let me now turn my attention to the more problematic sections of the speech, starting with the absurd expression that the keeps repeating. Let me tell the Prime Minister that when he argues that “Canada is back” he diminishes the fine tradition of Canadian peacekeeping and international leadership that long preceded the Conservative government's election to office.
And for that, Canadians must wonder where the was back when Canada obtained an international treaty banning landmines; when Canada was a main architect of the International Criminal Court; when Canadian armed forces airplanes were the only ones operating an airlift in and out of Kigali during the Rwanda genocide; when our soldiers fought to protect Bosnia's civilian population; or when Canada hosted the world in Montreal and rallied it around the Kyoto protocol.
The government's continued ambiguity on the mission in Afghanistan is also disconcerting. The government is being deliberately ambiguous about the length of the mission in Kandahar. In fact, it does not want to mention the word Kandahar. Nor does it mention the words “combat mission”. It refuses to call the Canadian mission in Kandahar what it is: a counter-insurgency combat mission in which our troops are required to proactively seek out and engage the Taliban.
The now wants Canadians to believe that this combat mission is a training mission. It is not. If the government wants to transform it into a training mission after February 2009, that could be an acceptable option, one that we have advocated for since last February and one that the blue ribbon panel on Afghanistan has been instructed to consider.
Still, the government should immediately notify NATO and the government of Afghanistan that our combat mission in Kandahar will end in February 2009. By refusing to do so, the government makes it more difficult to replace our troops and to prepare a new Canadian mission.
There is another question on Afghanistan. Why has the government asked the Manley panel to look at four options while the throne speech already chooses one of the four options: accelerated training of the Afghan army and police? Perhaps the should inform the panel that its work is done.
The mission in Afghanistan is an important one, but we cannot remain silent, as the throne speech does, on our other responsibilities around the world. Why has the turned his back on Africa? And what does the government intend to do in Darfur?
Beyond these international issues, we also have important domestic challenges to address. I would like to discuss the important issue of our federation, which has recently been affected by the 's breach of trust with so many provinces.
The throne speech states that “the constitutional jurisdiction of each order of government should be respected”, but the should start by respecting premiers. It is inconceivable that after 19 months in office the Prime Minister of Canada has refused to call a first ministers meeting with the premiers. This is not open federalism. It is simply “my door is closed” federalism.
Hence, the Prime Minister wants to go ahead with his unilateral reform of the Senate despite the fact that many provinces have expressed serious disagreement with his proposals.
Now he is announcing that he will introduce legislation to formally limit the federal spending power. The should understand, however, that he must convene the premiers to discuss this most important issue. Otherwise, he would simply be guilty of more closed-door federalism.
Could I humbly suggest that the consult me on the issue of the federal spending power just as he consulted me before introducing the motion on the Quebec nation within Canada?
When he does, I will tell him that the federal spending power as he described it in the throne speech falls short of the present limits to that power that I myself, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Chrétien, introduced in the throne speech of 1996. More importantly, the proposed limits fall short of the social union agreement of which I was the architect.
To continue with my exercise in humility, I will add that no federal politician placed greater limits on the federal spending power than I did, but I did so without reducing its usefulness.
Let us hope that the 's objective conforms with the spirit of the social union framework agreement; that is, to use the federal spending power as a tool both for social progress and for partnership between the governments of our great federation.
In Canada federal spending power has been instrumental in building the Canada-wide social programs that all Canadians value, such as medicare. It has been essential in promoting equality of opportunity for all Canadians, helping to ensure access to social programs and services to Canadians wherever they are in Canada.
The social union framework agreement, SUFA, recently helped to successfully negotiate the early learning and child care agreements with the provinces and territories. These agreements have, sadly, been cancelled by the Conservatives, depriving millions of children and families of billions of dollars in funding to improve their early childhood development opportunities.
We Liberals will make sure that the initiatives of the Conservative government do not in any way diminish the value of the federal spending power as a tool to promote social progress for Canadians and good partnerships between governments. We will not allow the to build a federalism of firewalls.
Let me also remind the government that today in Canada more than half a million of our senior citizens live in poverty. The men and women who built this country deserve better.
Today in Canada, more than one million children live in poverty. We cannot waste a generation. All of our children deserve to share in the bounty of our nation.
A plan to fight poverty is urgent and, let me tell everyone, it will be at the heart of our Liberal agenda.
Earlier, I mentioned our health care plan, which is the result of a wise use of the federal spending power. In the throne speech, the government congratulates itself—not really honestly, I might add—for the progress it made in shortening wait times. Unfortunately, we do not see any such progress. In fact, according to a recent report by the Fraser Institute, the average wait time for surgery in Canada now stands at 18.3 weeks, the longest it has ever been.
Now, I come to the economy. The Conservative government inherited an unprecedented economic dynamism thanks to the efforts of Canadians and to a decade of sound financial management by the previous Liberal government. The economy has not been in such good shape since Confederation. This is the longest growth period in decades. We have the highest growth rate of all G-8 countries with major job creation, balanced budgets, a trade surplus and a reduction of our national debt. Our country is the only one to have succeeded in putting its pension plan on a solid footing for the long term.
Over the past 19 months, the Conservative government has been content with just riding on this strong economy without having any plans or convincing scheme to enhance our economy's potential. That is what I call being near-sighted. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that there will be no end to the current growth. The fact is that this government has done more harm than good in terms of Canada's international competitiveness. It is about to allocate $12 billion per year to cut the GST by two points, a measure that will not allow Canadians to bring more money home, does nothing to combat poverty and does not make our economy more competitive in any way.
The Conservatives' interest deductibility proposal is a frontal attack on the competitiveness of Canadian companies and has been denounced as the worst tax policy in 35 years. It will cost Canadian companies billions and will serve mainly to enrich foreign governments. The has not listened to common sense, but it is not too late for him to do so.
It is not the time to make such mistakes. The parity of our currency with the U.S. dollar, the uncertainty of the U.S. market, the high cost of energy, and the new powerhouses of India and China are all putting pressure on our economy and on the exporters and manufacturers that generate the jobs upon which we depend to maintain our high standard of living. Nearly 80,000 workers have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector this year alone.
To maintain these jobs, and to enhance this standard of living well into the future, we must find ways to improve the innovation, competiveness and productivity of our businesses and workers.
The throne speech mentions infrastructure. It mentions post-secondary education. It mentions science and technology. It mentions the manufacturing, forestry, fisheries, mining, resources, tourism and agriculture sectors. But a mention is no substitute for a plan. We hope that the fall economic and fiscal update will provide clarity on how the government will improve Canada's competitiveness.
The throne speech promises tax cuts, but the government actually raised income tax rates in the lowest bracket from 15% to 15.5%. This decision costs Canadians over a billion dollars every year.
On international trade, the government did not explain why it closed consulates in key markets such as St. Petersburg, Osaka and Milan.
The government went to lengths to hide the flawed softwood lumber agreement, an agreement that cost the Canadian industry at least $1 billion, which is being put in the hands of those now using the money to sue our companies.
On the matter of criminal justice and security for Canadians, the government laments that much of its legislation did not pass. What the government always fails to mention is that for months it systematically refused Liberal offers to fast track the majority of its legislation. Of the six bills the government wants to reintroduce as part of the tackling violent crime bill, we already support five.
It is the government that obstructed the passage of these bills, causing them to die on the order paper at prorogation, and it did so to the detriment of the security of Canadians. Hopefully the government will be more cooperative in the coming session. We urge the government to stop playing politics with the Criminal Code and to stop putting partisan politics ahead of the safety of Canadians.
Further, with respect to the tackling violent crime bill, we obviously want to see exactly what the legislation will say. We could support it if includes measures that would make Canadians safer. We Liberals are tough on crime and we are tough on the causes of crime.
As for the Anti-terrorism Act, the government has not indicated what changes we can expect. We hope that this time it will be informed by the 100 recommendations made by the House and the Senate in their recent reports and that it will not renew its attempts to play politics with such an important issue.
This brings me to the most disappointing aspect of the Speech from the Throne: extremely weak environmental protection measures.
Once again, the government missed an opportunity to meet the challenge of fighting global warming, the most serious environmental threat facing humanity today.
In this Speech from the Throne, the government said that Canada's greenhouse gas emissions could not be reduced to the level required under the Kyoto protocol for the first phase of implementation, that is between 2008 and 2012. One thing is sure, with this government's so-called plan, greenhouse gas emissions are bound to continue increasing in Canada.
Let me outline the damages the and his government have caused to Canada.
All I need to do is sum up the Sierra Club of Canada's Kyoto report card for 2007. It explains that last year the Conservatives cut over $5 billion worth of investment in environment and climate change programs. The Sierra Club said:
|| Federal programs were slashed, and the importance of addressing global warming was downplayed.
The Sierra Club goes on to say:
||--Canada had a plan for reaching its Kyoto targets. This plan, Project Green...had provided a foundation for action upon which new Conservative initiatives could have been built.... Instead of improving Project Green, the new government shredded it along with its programs and its institutions, in March 2006.
This is what the government has been doing to Canada. It has spent all of 2007 trying to reannounce the programs it scrapped in 2006, changing their names and their logos with less money, less commitment, no coherence and incompetence in implementation.
This is what the Conservatives have done to Canada. Now look at what they have done to the world.
Let me again quote the Sierra Club:
|| The current government also inherited the presidency of the International Climate negotiations, which had been led by former environment minister [the Leader of the Opposition]. The Canadian government’s efforts at the international climate change conference in Montreal won Canada international praise.
|| Under the new Conservative government, Canada quickly went from hero to zero. At an international conference in Bonn, Canada attempted to sabotage the Kyoto Protocol.
It is what the Prime Minister means when he says that Canada is back.
In contrast, in 2007, the official opposition proposed an enhanced climate change plan to conquer our industrial emissions, the carbon budget. When we launched this carbon budget in March 2007, the Pembina Institute said:
|| This is the strongest proposal for regulating industrial greenhouse gas pollution made by any political party in Canada.
||--it sets the right targets and the right timelines....
The Climate Action Network said:
|| This is great. It's hard to ask for much more
It is important to recognize that the other two opposition parties agreed to include this regulatory plan in Bill on air quality and climate change.
On August 23, I wrote to the to ask him not to scrap Bill after proroguing the House. The Prime Minister did not even deign to reply. On reading the throne speech, we can see why.
The Conservatives will only bring forward the minor parts of the clean air and climate change act, the ones they allow their members to support. As a result, the regulatory framework to cut and bring down gas emissions is gone. The regulatory framework to improve air quality is gone. The autonomous emissions standards are gone. This is a step backwards in the face of a major global challenge.
What are we left with? We are left with a government plan that has been panned by all credible experts in Canada and abroad, a climate change plan that has been panned by all the experts, like the new Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore, who called the Prime Minister's plan “a complete and total fraud, designed to mislead the Canadian people”.
The Pembina Institute, that once rated Project Green, the Liberal plan killed by the Conservatives, would have delivered almost seven times more reduction than the government's current approach.
The Deutsche Bank said, “We think that the Canadian government has materially overstated the cost of complying with Kyoto. Under current policies, we would expect Canada's industrial gas emissions to continue rising over 2006-2020".
According to the C.D. Howe Institute, with the government plan, “overall emissions in Canada are unlikely to fall below current levels” until 2050 and beyond.
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said:
||--targets set by your government are so easy to meet that oil companies could end up with a windfall of $400 million worth of easy credits.
Under the Conservative plan polluters do not pay; polluters get paid.
I could also quote the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which also harshly criticized the government's plan.
The throne speech states that national regulations to reduce emissions will be implemented this year. We do not know what the government is talking about, since its own regulations will not see the light before 2010 at the earliest. Does this mean that the government has changed its mind and will assign a monetary value to carbon in 2008?
Let us hope that the government understands that it must significantly strengthen all its initiatives to protect the environment and fight climate change.
Canadians can count on the official opposition to press the government to take action and be accountable. The government must understand that any deadline set for meeting our targets for the first phase of implementation of the Kyoto protocol, which ends in 2012, can be corrected during the second phase, after 2012. But to do that, we have to start today. That is why the government has to significantly toughen its measures to fight climate change.
The official opposition will cooperate fully with the government to help it reach real targets. Canada must remain a party to the Kyoto protocol, the only international accord to fight what is a global threat.
The official opposition certainly remains very critical of the throne speech but never before has a federal government fallen on the basis of a throne speech.
Canadians can count on the official opposition to do everything it can to make this Parliament work. To that end, we will propose amendments and we will not make the government fall on its throne speech, which would cause a third general election in four years, something Canadians have clearly shown they do not want.
The amendments we are putting forward would enable us to support the throne speech. If they are rejected, we will do as the NDP when it decided on October 16, 2006 to abstain on the vote on the softwood lumber agreement in order to avoid causing an election.
As another leader of the official opposition said some years ago, “I believe it's not in the national interest to have an election now. What has become apparent is that the Bloc Québécois and the NDP will grandstand on these things but it is up to us, our caucus, to decide whether the time has come to have an election. In our judgment and I think in Canadians' judgment it is not that time”.
Everybody will have guessed that this leader of the opposition, quoted on March 10, 2005, is our current when he was explaining his party's dissension to the 2005 budget.
I will now move an amendment that could even allow the official opposition to support the throne speech if it met with the approval of the House. I move:
|| That the motion be amended by adding the following:
||and this House calls upon the government to recognize that any shortfall in meeting our 2012 Kyoto commitments would be a result of their decision to kill the previous government's innovative Project Green plan, followed by 18 months of inaction, and the government must replace its weak approach with real action to create the momentum required for Canada to catch-up in the second phase of Kyoto;
||to announce now that the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar will end in February 2009 in order to facilitate a replacement, and begin discussions with NATO and the Government of Afghanistan on what non-combat role Canada can play afterwards to aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan;
||to end 18 months of inaction in the fight against poverty in Canada by building on the good work of the previous Liberal government that funded such initiatives as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, affordable housing, literacy, the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI) and the Working Income Tax Benefit; and
||to stop taking for granted the unprecedented strong economy and fiscal success inherited by this government from its predecessor and bring forward proposals to reduce corporate taxes and other measures that will improve the economy of Canada, especially in sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture, and lessen the impact of the government's egregious mistakes on income trusts and interest deductibility.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and colleagues, for allowing me to reply to the Speech from the Throne delivered yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.
In 2006 Canadians went to the polls and voted for change. Our government ran on a clear platform. We received a clear mandate and we are delivering what we promised.
Now, a mere 21 months later, I believe we can say with pride that the government is clean, the economy is strong, and the country is united.
In the eyes of the world, Canada is back. This change, after years of scandal, inaction and threats to national unity, brings home to us the strength of Canada’s foundational values.
We have a love of freedom, a commitment to democracy, a reverence for human rights, and an adherence to the rule of law. Notwithstanding our imperfections, we have built a society that genuinely aspires to the highest ideals of civilization.
We balance the rewards of individual initiative with a collective commitment to help those in need.
We value people for who they are and what they contribute, and not for who they know or where they come from. We leave the conflicts of older worlds behind to live together here in harmony and we reach beyond our shores to help resolve those conflicts.
The generations that came before us set our country on this noble path: the Aboriginal people who established Canada’s first settlements, long before the arrival of Europeans; the French adventurers who laid the foundations of the Canadian state on the shores of the St-Lawrence nearly 400 years ago.
The British settlers brought their democratic ideals and institutions that we have modelled into our own and of course the immigrants from every corner of the earth have enriched our society with their traditions and ambitions.
Canada is their legacy to us. Enriching this heritage for future generations is our duty to them. Every day millions of Canadians are doing just that. They are setting the nation's moral compass by teaching their children right from wrong. They are building our economy with their hard work and they are making our communities better by giving more than they take.
In return for all that they give to this country, Canadians expect one thing from their government: principled, focused and effective leadership so that they can confidently plan for their future in a prosperous, safe and united country.
We titled our first Speech from the Throne “Turning a New Leaf”, reflecting our mandate for change. We have delivered on that mandate.
Now that we have turned a new leaf, it is time to fix our sights on Canada's longer term horizons, on where we want to go into the 21st century and how we will get there. That is why, for the second session of the 39th Parliament, our throne speech is titled “Strong Leadership. A Better Canada”. Strong leadership delivers more than it promises rather than promising more than it can deliver. We promise Canadians simply this: a better Canada for all of us.
We take inspiration from the great explorers of our true north Radisson and Des Groseilliers, Hudson and Franklin, Bernier, Amundsen and the rest. Just as they were guided by the North Star, we will be guided by a five point agenda for Canada. Our plan is principled and focused. We will strengthen the Canada of tomorrow while delivering real benefits to Canadians today.
For this session of Parliament, our government has five core priorities for a better Canada. We want to strengthen Canada’s sovereignty and place in the world; protect our environment and the health of our fellow Canadians; steer our economy toward long-term prosperity; modernize our federation and democratic institutions; and make our streets and communities safe again.
I do not intend to elaborate on everything included in the Speech from the Throne, but allow me to touch briefly on some aspects of the government’s agenda.
I would be remiss if I did not begin by addressing briefly the comments of the . I, of course, take him at his word that he does not intend to force this Parliament to an election and that he will allow, indeed, the throne speech to pass and the government to proceed with its agenda.
As I listened to the , it reminded me a little of the professor who goes through our term paper, marks all over it everything he disagrees with and then passes us anyway.
I have a bit of a different interpretation than the leader of the NDP on the remarks of the leader of the Liberal Party. While there was much criticism, I thought there was, if we actually cut through some of the verbiage, a fair degree of agreement, or at least apparent agreement, on the main priorities.
I note on Afghanistan that the main problem of the seems to be calling it a combat mission rather than a military mission. I did not hear a claim or a call for Canada to simply leave cold turkey and abandon the Afghan people.
On crime, the said that he would now consider passing all the government's crime legislation. Of course, we will be watching to see that happens in both Houses.
On the economy, I did not hear anything that differed substantially from the government's main lines of approach to the economy. In fact, I think he praised the very strong record that the had created on the performance of the Canadian economy. I know he would like to take credit for that, but he has to be in power to do that.
On the federation and on democratic reform, whether it was the spending power of the Senate, I was not clear whether he was against those things or they were his ideas in the first place.
Most important, the did not repeat his claim today, as he has so often in the past, that he could actually meet the Kyoto target, because we know that he could not and cannot.
Most important, of all the things I take note of, the Leader of the Opposition said that I was in fact his role model as the Leader of the Opposition.
Let me begin in terms of the substance of the throne speech with Canada's place in the world.
It is an understatement that we live in a global village where the economy, the security, the ideas and ideology and even the diseases of any one part of the world can be immediately linked or transmitted to another part. Canadians have always understood the critical nature of our connections to the rest of the world. We have never been an isolationist country.
Whereas in the past Canada participated in the world through its membership in the French and British empires, today we are a fully sovereign country. For the federal government, there is nothing more fundamental than the protection of this country's sovereignty.
Our most important potential sovereignty challenge is on our arctic doorstep.
Our most important potential sovereignty challenge today is on our Arctic doorstep where retreating polar ice, rising global demand for resources and the prospect of year round shipping are creating new challenges and exciting opportunities for the north. As Stan Rogers once sang, Franklin's dream of tracing “one warm line through a land so wild and savage” to “make a Northwest Passage to the sea”, seems about to be realized. However, it must be on our terms.
To ensure this we cannot just point at a map and say it is ours. Protecting and inserting our sovereignty in the Arctic and elsewhere requires real effort, expense and sacrifice. We cannot go 10 years without sending a single ship to the passage as our predecessors did. We have to use the north or we risk losing it.
Conservative governments going all the way back to Confederation have understood the importance of Canada’s true North.
John A. Macdonald, who oversaw Canada’s acquisition of our vast lands to the north and west, was the first to apply the “use it or lose it” principle of sovereignty.
Macdonald said, “were we so faint-hearted as not to take possession of it, the Americans would be only too glad of the opportunity and would hoist the American flag”. And so he assured our possession over the Arctic claims of Britain, just as he had created the Northwest Mounted Police to assure our sovereignty in western Canada.
Half a century ago, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker extolled his northern vision. He foresaw that Canada's future development and prosperity would depend on efficient transportation networks linking northern resources to southern markets. “Roads to resources” he called them. Therefore, he built, among others, our northern most road, the 700 kilometre Dempster Highway from Yukon to the Mackenzie River delta.
The opposition of the day has always dismissed such initiatives as unnecessary, fanciful and even wasteful, and history has always proven it wrong.
That is why our government established a strategy for the North, and why we have already taken a number of steps to affirm our presence and sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic.
In our first two budgets, for example, we have taken strong measures to strengthen the ability of our territorial governments to deliver services to northerners, with particular emphasis on northern housing for first nations and Inuit.
We are expanding our military and coast guard presence into the high Arctic and improving our surveillance capacity, including strengthening the Arctic Rangers.
We are stepping up our environmental activities and increasing the number of protected areas, as reflected in our recent announcement concerning a massive expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories.
And to mark International Polar Year, we are enhancing research in the High Arctic.
These research activities will help confirm our unassailable ownership of the Arctic Archipelago and the waters around them, including the Northwest Passage, along with the resources that lie beneath the land, the sea and the ice.
We will proceed with the first ever comprehensive mapping of Canada's Arctic seabed as well as the establishment of a world-class research station to be located in the Arctic itself. It will become the hub of our scientific activities in the north, gathering knowledge that will support our sovereignty and assist with resource development and environmental protection. The other Arctic nations of this planet already have most or all of these capabilities. Under our watch, Canada will not be left behind when it comes to the Arctic.
I should add that many of my colleagues will be working on these northern initiatives. They will be led by the , who has done such a terrific job of getting Canadian agriculture back on track.
Of course, our role in the world is not just about our own sovereignty. It is also about effective action beyond our borders, in concert with our friends in the international community.
And we cannot be completely effective in either of these respects without solid, well-led and well-equipped armed forces.
That is why our government will continue rebuilding our long-neglected Canadian military. We want to ensure that our men and women in uniform are able to do the work that we ask of them at home and abroad as safely and as effectively as possible.
I have visited our troops in Kandahar twice in the past 21 months. The , the and former national Defence minister, the , the , the , and several other colleagues have as well.
I have also attended Red Friday rallies and other events where communities, friends and others show their support. I have spoken to many of our soldiers and to their families, including some who have lost loved ones.
The soldiers who are serving this country in Afghanistan and the families and the friends who are supporting them back home rank among the finest Canadians I have ever known. Their compassion for the people of Afghanistan, their resolve in the face of a barbaric opponent, their manifest skill and professionalism and the diplomats and development officers they work with are a credit to our great country.
Our mission in Afghanistan is a noble and necessary endeavour. It is making a difference in the lives of men who were victims of Taliban oppression, for children forced to live in ignorance, and for women who had no human rights.
Remember, all of us, that these are ordinary human beings like ourselves, the vast, vast majority of whom just want to live in peace, give their families hope and build a future for their communities.
Parliament will have to make some decisions on the future of the Afghan mission post-2009 within the next year. I hope all parliamentarians will pay attention to the analysis and advice, which the former deputy prime minister, John Manley, and this panel of eminent Canadians will share with us in the near future.
For our part, both in and out of power, this party has faithfully supported our military and their mission since it began in Kabul in 2002 and, of course, since our forces were sent to Kandahar in 2005 by the previous government.
We cannot understate the responsibilities we have undertaken to the Afghan people, to the international community, and to the men and women of our diplomatic, development, and defence forces who have made such enormous sacrifices on behalf of all of us.
Once again, we cannot understate the responsibilities we have undertaken to the Afghan people, to the international community and to the men and women of our diplomatic development and defence forces who have made such enormous sacrifices on behalf of all of us. This Parliament must not let those people down, Mr. Speaker, and I can assure you we will not let them down.
The mission in Afghanistan reflects our conviction that Canadian foreign policy must promote our values and defend our interests. This philosophy is at the very heart of all our international policy initiatives. It was behind our call to confer honorary Canadian citizenship on Aung San Suu Kyi, who has waged a heroic struggle to bring democracy to Burma. It is seen in our participation in the United Nations mission in Haiti. It guides our international assistance programs, which will be refocused and strengthened over the coming weeks.
Our conviction that foreign policy must promote our values and serve our interests drives our effort to renew Canada's engagement in the Americas. Many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are pursuing market reforms and democratic development, but others are falling back to economic nationalism and protectionism, to political populism and authoritarianism. That is why it is so important for countries like Canada to engage in their own hemisphere, to demonstrate that there are alternative models that can meet people's aspirations. Their choice is not simply between unfettered capitalism and cold war socialism.
The Canadian model of democratic freedom and economic openness, combined with effective regional and social support, offers a middle course for countries seeking democratic institutions, free markets and social equality.
Canada can make a difference in the world.
I do have to respond to a couple of things that were said earlier on Africa. This government is the only government among the G-8 that is meeting its commitments in Africa. It has to be said.
In Darfur, a brutal, brutal tragedy for so many people, this government has been involved in assisting the United Nations and the African Union. When I met last month with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, I made it clear that he can expect Canada's help in any way that the United Nations requires that help in Sudan.
We can make a difference. But we will not make a difference by returning to the days when the government lurched from one fashionable international cause to the next, never pausing to assess whether we were making an impact or whether we even had the necessary capabilities to do so. In short, we will not be returning to the days of a government with an announcement on everything but a plan for nothing, as was the case with the previous government, most notably on the environment and climate change.
I met with leaders who helped draft the consensus climate change statements at the G-8 and APEC. They were not asking me how we were going to achieve our Kyoto target. They had figured out a long time ago, when Canada's last government spent a decade raising emissions year after year after year, that that government had no intention of meeting the Kyoto target.
What those leaders want to know is simply what target we are going to achieve and do we have a plan to achieve it. The has been clear. The targets he has set, a 20% reduction by 2020 and a 60% to 70% reduction by 2050, are among the most aggressive in the world going forward and have been recognized internationally to set the stage. He is moving now to implement the plan to achieve them.
And thanks to his efforts and those of his colleagues, we are engaged in a major effort to establish an international protocol that is to include all large emitters, including giants like the United States and China. The government will move forward with its plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.
There is no time to lose arguing about yet another “new plan” that will never be implemented.
It is time. We have heard enough from the with his seventh, eighth or ninth plan. It is time to pass the throne speech and let the get the job done, just as it is time to let the , the and all of their colleagues get on with the job of strengthening the position of the Canadian economy for long term prosperity.
I am pleased to report, wherever I go in the world, that Canada's economic fundamentals are very strong.
The just announced one of the largest paydowns of federal debt in Canadian history, the direct result of which will be a reduction in personal income taxes under our Tax Back Guarantee legislated in Budget 2007.
Canada continues to enjoy one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history.
Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in nearly two generations. Inflation and interest rates remain low. The real disposable income of Canadian households has been increasing strongly since this government took office, but we cannot be, and are not, complacent about the continued growth of the Canadian economy.
Recent volatility in financial markets emanating from the U.S. sub-prime market may be with us for some time to come. There is weakness in some of our export markets. Good jobs are threatened in some of our traditional industries and cost pressures in some parts of the country are creating their own pressures on the budgets of working families. Our government is aware of these challenges.
We have responded and, in this session, we will pursue our action in struggling sectors such as the manufacturing, forestry, fishery and tourism industries. We will also continue to take steps to bolster Canadian agriculture.
Speaking of agriculture, this spring when it looked like there would be marketing choice for western barley farmers, prices went up. When marketing choice was swept off the table, prices went down. The Canadian Wheat Board is supposed to be getting the best prices for farmers. That is what marketing choice will deliver and we will not rest until we deliver the choice that western farmers voted for.
Just as we will not stop defending producers in supply-managed industries.
The will soon be presenting the fall economic and fiscal update, which will report on our progress. Our plan for Canada’s future prosperity is clear.
We are undertaking the largest public infrastructure investments in this country in over half a century. We are strengthening policies on science and technology, research and education. We are helping the disabled and those in poverty move into the workforce.
As the 20th anniversary of our free trade agreement with the United States approaches, we are reinvigorating our trade negotiations to open more markets to Canadian products, as we have done with EFTA. Of course we are dedicated to paying down debt, keeping spending focused on results and reducing taxes for Canadians.
We have cut the GST by one point, cut corporate taxes, and provided specific tax incentives for families, students, children’s sports, tool expenses, and public transit.
We will also be bringing forward a further long term plan of broad-based tax relief in this session.
I notice that the , after voting against every single tax reduction this government has introduced, has now become outspoken in calling for tax cuts for large corporations. They cannot contribute any more. Let me assure you, Mr. Speaker, we will reduce taxes for all businesses as well as for all individuals and families in this country. Because in this country, there is only one party which, over the long sweep of our history, has been consistently committed to low taxes, direct benefits for families, fiscal discipline, and a free and fair market powered by the energy and creativity of the private sector, and that is the Conservative Party.
One of the intangibles that has recently been working to the advantage of all Canadians and to the advantage of our economy has been the clear improvement in national unity since our government took office. I know the Bloc is not happy but that is the idea.
One of the important steps along this road was the recognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, a measure widely supported in this House last year. That was a controversial act and some predicted, and I know they genuinely believed, that it would lead this country in the wrong direction. I have spoken in various parts of our country and outside our country in French and English, not just Quebec. I have urged, and I continue to urge, all Canadians to look at the beneficial effect that this historic recognition has had on the national unity of this country. Canada is more united today than it has been at any time since our centennial 40 years ago.
I believe that the results of the last election and reaction to the action taken since then—action on UNESCO, the nation, fiscal balance—are sending a very important message to us all.
Canadians, and Quebecois in particular, want to move forward. They have had enough of the old quarrels. They are fed up with the bickering between centralists and separatists, between those who would keep all the power in Ottawa, and those that would give all the power to an independent Quebec.
George-Étienne Cartier, MacDonald and their colleagues created a federation that, although not perfect, has served Canadians well for 140 years. In fact, the federation of 1867 created one of the most solid political institutions in the world, unbroken by tyranny or conquest, unbroken by social disorder or economic chaos.
And we mustn’t forget that Canada—a country born in French, a country with two languages and a multitude of cultures, which will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of its first capital, Québec—is one of the biggest success stories in history.
Of course, I do not argue that Canada is perfect, and so we are committed to reforming it for the better. Our government has worked hard to respect the federal division of powers, to strengthen long-neglected federal jurisdictions, and to work cooperatively with the provinces.
In the next session, in accordance with our government practice, we will be introducing legislation to place formal limits on the use of federal spending power with respect to new programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction without provincial consent and to provide for opting out with compensation.
This is a historic measure, one that has already been welcomed by the government of Quebec.
I noticed that the talked about why this would be a bad thing. One of the reasons he stated for how this would be a bad thing is that this might prevent him from trying to take the child care allowance from Canadian families and instead give it back to lobbyists, to researchers, to advocates and to other politicians. We are going to make sure we get that money directly to Canadian families.
We will also act within the federal jurisdiction to strengthen Canada's economic union, which is a fundamental responsibility for the national government, one that it must take in the interests of all Canadians.
When I say that Canada is not perfect, I think most Canadians recognize immediately that the Senate, as presently constituted, is one of its obvious imperfections.
I must admit to being rather disappointed that the Senate chose not to adopt the tenure bill, even after an excellent report on the subject prepared by the former Speaker of the Senate, Dan Hays. The government will reintroduce in the House, in a slightly amended form, the bill to shorten senators' tenure from a maximum of 45 years to eight years. I am tempted to say that such a reform should be a no-brainer, but I have been surprised before.
On the other hand, the government, while still supportive of allowing for the direct consultation of voters in the selection of senators, does recognize that this is a complex and controversial measure for some members. As such, the government will, upon reintroducing this bill, ask that it be sent to committee before second reading in order to get as wide-ranging a parliamentary input as possible.
Let me just say that I remain convinced the country deserves a reformed Senate, and an elected Senate for that matter, but the country needs the Senate to change, and if the Senate cannot be reformed, I think most Canadians will eventually conclude that it should be abolished.
In terms of reform, let us also hope that the opposition will see fit to stop delaying the adoption of the former Bill . In this country, we are long past the time when the rights of aboriginal people living on reserve should be fully protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I noted with great interest, of course, the leader of the Liberal Party talking about compassion and help for the less well off, but I do have to point out that ours is the government that signed the residential schools settlement and that is now implementing it and preparing the apology; that has cut the right of landing fee to people who have come to this country; that has increased funding for official languages communities across this country; that has redressed finally, after so many years, the Chinese head tax; that has established the Air-India inquiry which was so demanded; and that has concluded a settlement with the sufferers of hepatitis C. These are our proudest moments and they show the difference between talking and acting.
Last but not least, I would like to draw attention to the fifth part of our government’s long-term agenda for a better Canada, a point that affects many Canadians.
Canadians have always been proud of their safe streets and communities—something that long distinguished us from our friends across the border. Today, however, crime is erasing the promise of our Constitution, the promise of peace, order and good government.
Canadians want their safe streets and communities back. They want leadership that is tough on crime and reliable on national security and that is exactly what they are going to get from this government. Under our government, the protection of law-abiding citizens and their property is once again becoming the top priority of our criminal justice system and this will be the agenda we will pursue if Parliament adopts this throne speech. In short, the opposition cannot allow it to pass and then obstruct our core priorities.
That brings me to our first piece of legislation. Last year, our first bill was our historic anti-corruption law, the Accountability Act. This year, our first bill will be our comprehensive justice reform bill, the Tackling Violent Crime Act.
Just as the cleaned up corruption in government, the tackling violent crime act will be a first step in cleaning up crime in our streets and communities. And it will be a matter of confidence, because the time for talk has passed and the time for action has long since arrived.
Canadians are fed up with a criminal justice system that puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens, fed up with a revolving door bail system and soft sentences for serious offenders, and fed up with feeling unsafe in their homes and public places.
In the first session of Parliament, our government introduced 13 justice bills. Seven have been passed into law, but six, which included several key policy measures, were held up by the opposition.
Though we accommodated many opposition amendments, the bills were held up in opposition-controlled House committees or by the Liberal majority in the Senate for a grand total of 976 days. That is simply not acceptable.
Canadians are losing patience, so Bill C-2, our tackling violent crime act, to be spearheaded by the , will reintroduce the key elements of those bills. It will, for example, take action on sentencing for gun crimes. Too often, people convicted of violent crimes involving firearms do little or no time. That is unacceptable. Under our law, serious gun crime will mean serious mandatory prison time.
Furthermore, in too many cases bail has been granted to people charged with serious weapons offences, and while on bail some of them have committed appalling new crimes. That is also unacceptable. Our bill will make it tougher for accused gun criminals to get bail.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act will also crack down on sexual predators. For far too long now, these predators have gone after our children. That too is unacceptable. This legislation will protect our children by raising the age of protection.
Our legislation will also crack down on drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. Too many innocent people have died at the hands of drunk or stoned drivers. Again, that is unacceptable. The tackling violent crime bill will give police and prosecutors more tools to get impaired drivers off our roads and keep them off.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, too many of the most violent, repeat and dangerous offenders in this country wind up back on our streets where they can offend again, again and again. Each time they do, Canadians look at their records, their rap sheets, and ask, “Why on earth was this person ever let out of prison?” There is nothing more unacceptable than that.
Again, let us be clear. We are talking about a few dozen of the most violent, dangerous individuals in this country. Our bill will make sure they stay behind bars, where they belong.
I have no doubt that some people will say we are being too aggressive. From high up in their academic ivory towers or from the boardrooms of their law firms, they will look down on the streets they never set foot on and say things like, “Criminals are really just victims of injustice, oppression and social exclusion”.
Try telling that to their real victims. Tell it to women who do not feel safe walking in their neighbourhoods at night or having their children in those neighbourhoods during the day. Tell it to the innocent teenager killed in a gang shootout on the streets of Toronto.
Tell it to the young girl in Quebec who was out riding her bike when she was struck by a drunk driver.
Tell it to the two Prairie boys who were kidnapped and horribly abused by a serial pedophile.
Tell it to the police, the prosecutors and the elected politicians of all stripes at all levels of government, including municipal and provincial, who have been clamouring for these laws for years.
There is no good reason for the official opposition to oppose or to delay Bill C-2. In fact, the official opposition campaigned in favour of virtually all of these initiatives in the last election and has had enough days, weeks and months, and in some cases over a year, to delay their passage. That is why we are making the tackling violent crime act a matter of confidence. We will be seeking timely passage of this legislation and, as is the case with confidence measures, the government will not accept amendments to the substance of these initiatives.
An hon. member: What happened to democracy?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper: What happened to democracy is that the people of Canada voted for this and have waited for a year while the opposition tried to change its position on this legislation. Democracy will tolerate that no longer.
This Parliament must get done what it was elected to do.
This Parliament must get done in a reasonable period of time what it was elected to do. This government has been working, and this Parliament sometimes has been helping, to make our economy stronger, our system cleaner, our federation more united and our streets safer, to put families and taxpayers at the centre of our efforts, and to voice our values and interests effectively in the affairs of the world. These are the right priorities and our country is moving in the right direction.
I urge this Parliament to support the Speech from the Throne.
Mr. Speaker, in its throne speech, the government recalls historic events, such as the presence of the Queen on October 14, 1957.
I would like to remind the government of another historic event. When Canada was formed, there was a contract between the two founding peoples. That contract provided that, in the only province where it was in the majority—Quebec—the francophone people had sovereignty over areas such as health, education and social services.
That contract was violated by the central government in Ottawa by virtue of spending authority that it gave itself unilaterally. No Government of Quebec has ever recognized that authority. This is a critical issue for Quebec, and we have made it a priority.
We must also remember that, at this very moment, Quebeckers are in Afghanistan, fighting in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. We owe them our unswerving support. On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I want to tell them that we admire their courage and that they can count on our support.
However, the Bloc Québécois certainly will not support a militaristic policy and agree to have Canada's combat mission extended beyond February 2009.
The Bloc Québécois has long been the staunchest defender of the Kyoto accord in the House of Commons, and today I want to reiterate our determination to fight climate change.
This issue is a crucial one for Quebec, because implementing the Kyoto protocol would provide it with a unique opportunity to accelerate its economic growth.
For the Quebec nation, agriculture is more than a mere economic sector. Agriculture is also inextricably linked to the development of our land and to Quebeckers settling on it. As the song says, “our great-great-grandfathers cleared the land”. Let us also not forget that it is the supply management system that allows a large number of our agricultural producers to remain active, to develop and to use our national land.
In conclusion, I urge the government to remember that Quebec without its regions is no longer Quebec. And those regions are currently experiencing an unprecedented forestry crisis. Forestry workers, and their families and neighbours, are suffering from this crisis, and I want to tell them that we will not let them down.
The elimination of the federal spending power, the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan in February 2009, the implementation of the Kyoto protocol, fully maintaining the supply management system and supporting those regions affected by a major forestry crisis are the five main priorities of the Quebec nation.
With its Speech from the Throne, the government has clearly shown that it rejects Quebeckers' priorities. Consequently, the Bloc Québécois rejects this throne speech.
I am going to begin with the federal spending power.
In a speech delivered in Quebec City on December 19, 2005, the said this, in reference to the federal spending power:
|| This outrageous spending power gave rise to domineering and paternalistic federalism, which is a serious threat to the future of our federation--
The said those words exactly 668 days ago. He has had all the time necessary to act, but he has done nothing to eliminate this domineering and paternalistic federalism.
Not only has he not done anything, he has made things worse with new federal intrusions in Quebec's jurisdictions. He has created a federal mental health agency, which is something that falls under Quebec's jurisdiction. He has set up the Canadian agency for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials which, again, is something that comes under Quebec's jurisdiction.
For many months, its has been attempting to ram through the creation of a federal securities commission. That is another Quebec jurisdiction.
Yesterday, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion opposing the Conservative government's desire to establish a federal securities commission. The Quebec Minister of Finance was forced to escalate the rhetoric in order to head it off. Ms. Jérôme-Forget said, “The federal government should put into practice the open federalism that it espouses.”
The failed to keep his promise for 668 days. He claims that his government had to give a new throne speech because it had fulfilled its previous commitments. That is not true. The Prime Minister broke his main promise to Quebec.
In this new throne speech, the Conservative government promises to limit federal spending power in new programs. That is to say that all federal meddling in Quebec jurisdictions, all this meddling that makes this federalism of which he spoke domineering and paternalistic, will continue.
In addition, the government continues to want to impose conditions on Quebec, which is unacceptable because we are talking about exclusive areas of jurisdiction. By taking this stand, it is going against the Quebec National Assembly and the Government of Quebec which affirmed, yesterday again, through its Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, that Quebec does not recognize this so-called federal spending power. I will read an excerpt from the Throne Speech. In speaking of federal spending power for any new shared-cost programs, he says and I quote:
||—non-participating provinces will be compensated, provided they establish equivalent or comparable initiatives.
This is an excerpt from the 1996 Throne Speech of Jean Chrétien's government, which proposed the social union.
I will read another excerpt.
|| Our government will allow provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
These two excerpts are practically identical. The first is from Jean Chrétien's government and the second from the current Conservative government. In short, the Conservative government is now proposing the same thing as Jean Chrétien. I would like to point out that the social union was rejected by the National Assembly.
When he was still in the opposition, the wanted Canada to take part in the war in Iraq. On March 26, 2003, when talking about Iraq, he said: “We should be there with our allies”. He was in this House, seated on this side, a few seats away from me. That is what he said. It was very clear; just check. Lucky for us he was not Prime Minister of a majority government at the time.
We now know the militaristic inclinations of the Conservative leader. We saw him at work during the crisis in Lebanon, when he stirred the pot.
In his government's speech, he announced more exorbitant military spending. We know that his goal is for Canada to continue to fight the war in Afghanistan until 2011. We know that, but on the issue of Afghanistan, the Conservative leader is trying to buy time to make his wish come true.
Instead of immediately notifying NATO that we are withdrawing in February 2009 in order to focus as quickly as possible on humanitarian aid and reconstruction, he created a panel to deceive the public. We absolutely will not give our support on this issue to a Prime Minister who wanted to push us into the war in Iraq.
One of the government's five priorities is to strengthen Canada's place in the world. The said that the government is back as a credible player on the international stage, but the opposite is true. The Conservative government is losing all credibility in the world by wanting to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto protocol and join a group of countries led by George Bush, who rejects this international agreement.
By acting this way, Canada is going back on its word. By acting this way, it is going against the unanimous view of the National Assembly and Quebec's environment minister. Even the leader of the ADQ is disappointed.
By refusing to adopt the territorial approach, it is showing that its openness to Quebec is nothing more than a farce. The government talks about mandatory targets, but we know that it is firm in its position and that it is talking about intensity targets, which means more pollution.
The Conservative government announced that it will set up a carbon exchange. This exchange should be located in Montreal, which already has a carbon exchange, and not in Toronto or Winnipeg.
The only thing the government has to do is set up a regulatory framework with absolute targets. In this Speech from the Throne, the government simply showed its true priority and that is the well being of the oil industry, which it is carefully protecting.
The is siding with big oil, but we are siding with the values and interests of Quebeckers.
The government promised to support supply management. We will give the government the benefit of the doubt even though it has not told us what it intends to do. However, we know that some ministers would like to do away with it. I am warning the government that we will not cut it any slack on this issue.
Our fifth priority is support for regions undergoing crises in the forestry and manufacturing industries. The Speech from the Throne suggested that the government was prepared to take action because it praised Canadians who have worked hard their whole lives.
Personally, I know people who have worked hard for decades and who have just lost their jobs. These people are just as honourable as any member of this House. These people paid their taxes and their employment insurance premiums for decades, and after a few months, they get nothing. These people find themselves having to dip into their life savings to maintain their dignity.
This Conservative government is washing its hands of the whole thing. It abandoned them. It ignored the appeals of unions, the Premier of Quebec and the entire National Assembly.
The refused to create an assistance program for older workers who just need a little help bridging the gap to retirement. He refused to provide concrete measures to support the regions and the people affected by crises in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. The Conservative government has abandoned the regions.
There will come a day when we will all remember that the decided to help an oil industry that was swimming in cash rather than the regions of Quebec and workers struggling with a serious crisis in the forestry industry.
When it laid out its priorities, the Conservative leader's government went against Quebec's National Assembly on a number of issues. It announced that it will once again try to destroy the gun registry, a position that is contrary to the unanimous will of Quebec's National Assembly.
It also announced that it wants to make the Young Offenders Act tougher, in blatant disregard for the unanimous will of Quebec's National Assembly.
The would rather reform the Senate than abolish it, once again ignoring the Government of Quebec.
By expressing his desire to use the federal trade and commerce power to impose free trade between the provinces, a federal securities commission, he is using threats and once again breaking his promise to practice open federalism.
The government promises to invest in the Windsor-Detroit corridor and the Pacific gateway, but nothing is planned for the Montreal-New York corridor. This is proof of the powerlessness, and even insignificance, of Quebec ministers on this issue, since nothing was said about the St. Lawrence, the natural gateway to the Atlantic. It is also proof of their powerlessness when it comes to seasonal workers, since no employment insurance reforms were mentioned.
This government led an attack against groups defending women's rights, and we might have hoped for a change in direction. All we see is the government's complete insensitivity towards and disregard for women. These groups are not mentioned anywhere in the throne speech. The Bloc Québécois will continue to defend women's rights.
The only possible conclusion we can reach on this throne speech is that the 's Conservative government has run out of steam in its efforts to fool Quebec. This speech shows that the Prime Minister is not sincere in his openness to Quebec.
Indeed, on the federal spending power issue, the Conservative government is proposing the same kind of domineering and paternalistic federalism put forward by Jean Chrétien, which was rejected by the National Assembly. It comes in conflict with the will expressed by Quebec's National Assembly on issues such as securities, Kyoto, the forestry crisis, young offenders, the gun registry and the Senate. This is a lengthy list.
Just a few months after recognizing Quebec as a nation, the Conservative government is reneging on just about every one of its initial promises. Day in and day out, the Quebec caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada demonstrates its inability to stand up for Quebec's interests and values. By refusing to address Quebec priorities in its throne speech, the Conservative government has shown that its discourse about open federalism toward Quebec was really hot air. The Conservatives' so-called openness is nothing but a political marketing strategy which is looking more and more like a sting operation against the Quebec nation. As things currently stand, no Quebec representative worthy of the name could support this Speech from the Throne.
Consequently, I move, seconded by the hon. member for :
|| That the amendment be amended in paragraph 1 by replacing the words “of their decision to kill the previous government's innovative Project Green plan, followed by 18 months of inaction,” with the following: “of the inaction of the Liberal and Conservative governments”; and
||by replacing paragraphs 3 and 4 with the following: “to put forward tangible measures to help the workers, businesses and regions affected by the crisis in the forestry and manufacturing sectors”; and
||“to eliminate the federal spending power in areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces by ensuring the right to opt out with full financial compensation and with no strings attached from any federal program that encroaches on the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.”
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to take part in this debate. It is a privilege for me to rise in this House today to reply to the Conservative government's throne speech on behalf of the NDP caucus.
Our caucus is guided by principles. It is united and it is growing. I lead a party that knows what it believes. Like most hardworking Canadians, we believe that the government is taking this country in the wrong direction, and the agenda laid out in this throne speech continues to take Canada down the wrong path.
At a time when Canada is at war, our climate is in crisis and the middle class families are falling further and further behind, the government had an obligation to show leadership. It did not do it. It has proven once again that it cannot be counted on.
We did listen very carefully to the speech and I do want to say, in addition, that we listened to the today very carefully.
We are intrigued, for instance, to learn that the is now open to the NDP proposal of long-standing that the Senate should be abolished.
If he is serious, he should start by putting somebody who is elected by the people to be in charge of signing cheques with the people's money and not an unelected senator, Michael Fortier. We suggest he check out the voters in the riding in which he lives. Of course, he passed up on the opportunity to present himself to be elected on that occasion in Outremont.
If he is serious about abolishing the Senate, the should start by asking Michael Fortier to resign and get himself elected to the House of Commons.
We also welcome the proposed apology in the Speech from the Throne to Canada's first nations for the terrible injustices and abuses of the residential schools system.
Over the summer I travelled to communities across the country and I listened to countless stories from hardworking folks who are having real trouble making ends meet. Today, when more wealth is being created in our country than at any other time in its history, families are working longer just to make those ends meet.
In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago just to keep up. And yet, the income gap between those at the top and the rest is at a 30 year high. Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture and Canadians know it.
Nearly two-thirds of Canadians say they are not benefiting from the economic growth that is being generated in this country. It is wrong. It needs to change.
It is what the NDP has been calling the prosperity gap and it is growing in our country. It is putting working families and the middle class further and further behind. It is creating more homelessness and poverty. We now have two million seniors living in poverty in this country after they helped to build the basics that gave us the wealth that we have today.
While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant and falling for an awful lot of families. As a result of the government's agenda, the middle class in Canada is falling behind.
Last summer, people told me that they were expecting action from the government to help their families make ends meet, to make the necessities of life more affordable and to ensure them greater financial security.
The government could have chosen to reduce the gap between the rich and the rest of us. Reducing that gap could and should have been a priority for the present session. Instead, the Conservatives chose to do nothing. They just do not care.
Over the years vague promises for action have not alleviated the crisis in Canada's manufacturing and resource sectors. What is needed is real leadership in these key sectors of the economy, but the Conservative agenda fails to give hope to the families and the communities which are suffering massive job losses as a result of the government's devastating policies. It is also failing to provide leadership for families when it comes to health care.
Millions of families cannot find a doctor. Wait times are still far too high for too many and the cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket to points where people simply cannot pay for the medications they need. When I spoke to the Canadian Pharmacists Association, I told the story of how some people go to that counter with a prescription their doctor says they need and once it is provided and the cost is known, they have to walk away from that medication because they cannot afford it. The two women pharmacists I explained this to said, “This happens each and every day with all of our pharmacist members in the country”. This is a tragedy.
Out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs is now more than 70% higher than it was in 1992. Canadian households are spending $3 billion a year on prescription drugs. By ignoring these fundamental issues the Conservative agenda, as it was laid out in the throne speech, has turned its back on improving health care for today's families.
Despite the Conservative indifference to all this, the NDP is going to redouble its efforts in its campaign for universal drug coverage, so that the hardworking families of this country can get the drugs they need based on their doctor's advice and not on their accountant's advice.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to speak with many Canadians who work hard for their money. In particular, I spent a lot of time in Montreal, including in Outremont, obviously for good reasons. I noticed one thing: voters from Quebec, like voters from all of Canada, are no longer just concerned about climate change, they are now clearly worried.
Working Canadians are becoming fundamentally anxious about the crisis of climate change and about the future that will follow, the future of their children and their grandchildren. Working Canadians are becoming more and more anxious about it. They are angry that the current government and the preceding government failed to get Canada on the right track for tackling climate change and the crisis that goes along with it. The air we breathe is getting dirtier, not cleaner.
Under the Liberals, greenhouse gases, which are so harmful, increased by 23% beyond our Kyoto objectives. They increased faster in Canada under the Liberal Party, when the current leader of the Liberal Party was Minister of the Environment, than they did in the United States under the Bush administration.
We are facing an unprecedented global crisis, and it is simply unacceptable for the government to use Liberal failures as an excuse for inaction. We must act.
As we face an unprecedented global crisis, this is not the time to use past failures, as the is wont to do, as an excuse for future inaction. We have to work even harder to honour our international obligations to stop climate change.
That is why this is the time once and for all to take real action, not water down the clean air act and the climate change act as stated in the throne speech. That is not the path to follow for Canada to respond to the crisis. It is a course involving fundamentally inaction and indifference on climate change. This has a profound impact in every corner of this country and no more important than in Canada's north.
Unlike some other leaders, I successfully completed a visit to Canada's Arctic this summer. I had the opportunity to visit the north last year as well. I saw firsthand the huge impact that climate change is having on our Arctic. It is truly horrifying to see the rate of change: the rapidity of the retreating glaciers that the elders told me about, which only a few years before had come right down to bodies of water and have now disappeared back beyond the mountains; the melting permafrost; new vegetation appearing in areas where there had never been vegetation before, particularly around the national park near Pangnirtung; the all but disappeared caribou; the collapse of the multi-million dollar commercial ice fishery because of rising ocean temperatures in that region.
I spoke with the elders who are bearing witness to the greatest deterioration of their environment and therefore to their way of life that they have ever witnessed. Time is running out. I saw countless examples of the social and economic impacts of years of neglect.
As we mark this day, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the way to offer real opportunity and hope for the north is to begin to invest in the social and economic infrastructure, not just the military infrastructure, in the north. Only after we tackle illiteracy, disease, homelessness and provide hope to the peoples of Canada's north will we be truly exercising Arctic sovereignty.
While the government has moved in the right direction to address past wrongs to the aboriginal people, as I mentioned earlier, with the apology concerning residential schools, the government took a sad step back when it voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Once again in the Conservative agenda aboriginal people were treated as second-class citizens in this country. It is not right.
During my travels this summer I also heard folks tell me that the combat mission in Afghanistan is not the right mission for Canada. It is not the role that Canadians want to see their country play on the world stage.
The NDP has been a consistent voice for peace, reconstruction and aid. We speak on behalf of millions of everyday Canadians who want the government to change direction in Afghanistan, who want to help bring in real security and a peace process, a peace that is lasting. Only the NDP has always been clear and consistent on this issue. It is the wrong mission for Canada.
The Conservative Party successfully extended the mission in Afghanistan until 2009 with the support of the Liberal Party. The Conservatives and the Liberals want to participate in the war of aggression until at least 2009 and we know that the Bloc Québécois agrees with that.
Only the NDP is calling for the immediate withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. Our position in favour of peace has not changed, is consistent, and is based on the principles shared by most Canadians.
The has said that he is seeking a mandate to govern with this throne speech. The NDP has a mandate to oppose the direction of the government. The agenda laid out in the Conservative throne speech continues to take Canada in the wrong direction on key issues and therefore cannot be supported.
The NDP is a party of principles. We are not afraid of the consequences of our actions because we firmly believe in these principles. This is why we will oppose the Speech from the Throne. Unlike the leader of the Liberal Party, we will not pretend. We will not criticize, only to later sit back and hide behind excuses. We will not shirk our responsibility.
We will vote against this throne speech on behalf of the 2.5 million Canadians who voted for the NDP, but also on behalf of all Canadians who voted against this government and who cannot count on the Liberals.
The NDP will oppose this throne speech because our caucus has principles. We know what we believe. Our members will be in place for each and every vote, and we will rise when it is our turn to vote and demonstrate clearly our opposition to the wrong direction in which the government is taking Canada.
We will leave the revisionist history and games to others. If the wants to stop the government's agenda, then I invite him to join us in voting against this throne speech. That is what the NDP will be doing: showing leadership.