Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join the debate in the response to the Speech from the Throne.
I commend our leader on the position he has taken in not voting down the government on the throne speech. I think it is wise, because there really was nothing in the speech overall. It was pretty much innocuous. If we were to change 25 words it could be a past Liberal Speech from the Throne.
For the most part, throne speeches try to be positive. They try to set out a bit of a template. This one sort of did it from about 35,000 feet. Nonetheless, I think where we are going to run into trouble is where we drill down into the specific issues, where we look at the details of some of the actions and some of the legislation being put forward by the government.
It is always contended that the devil is in the details and I think that is what we are going to find. As long as this Parliament lasts, as long as the session goes forward, I think what we will find is that the people on this side will stand and fight on an issue by issue basis. That has been our contention, to make Parliament work and to make it work for Canadians, but when we see that the better needs and the best needs of Canadians are being compromised, that is when we will call the government to task.
There are certainly a number of issues like this in the throne speech. When I look at the statement that the government is going to review aspects of the EI system, I personally am greatly concerned. I think a number of Canadians somewhat suspect actions taken by the government in the way it has addressed employment insurance. As the government brings this forward, we are certainly going to try to represent what is best in regard to the needs of workers.
I should state from the outset that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
Let us think back to the last time that a Conservative government had control of EI. We can look back to the late 1980s. We know that the EI fund of that time had been exhausted. It was from there, from the Auditor General's report, when we did have a stand-alone EI system, that once that program had been decimated through the late 1980s because of high unemployment rates and the draw on that fund at the time, the Auditor General said we had to take that program and put it back into the general accounts. That is what was done.
We know that through the mid-1990s the unemployment rate came down. More Canadians got back to work. There was less of a draw on the EI fund. There were changes made to the unemployment insurance act back in the mid-1990s. Over time, the premium rates paid by workers and employees went down. The economy took hold and grew. As a country we began to prosper and more money was paid into the fund.
I shared some time with my colleague from on an all party committee in the last Parliament. We put forward some recommendations on changes to EI. Some very worthwhile things came out of those consultations and that committee. Certainly the dropping of the divisor rule and going to the best 14 weeks are things that I think better serve the workers in this country.
We saw the response of the Conservatives at that time. They wanted no part of that. They wanted an in-out, stand-alone system, like an insurance policy. Canadians have come to expect more from that system. A great piece of EI legislation came forward in the last session. As a matter of fact, it was put forward by my colleague from . It would extend sick benefits to those who are undergoing cancer treatment or perhaps are debilitated from heart and stroke illnesses. These are devastating illnesses to experience. They sometimes yield catastrophic outcomes for a family.
I thought the legislation made sense, but we saw that the government had no use for it. The government saw no purpose in it and voted against it, which was very disappointing. I am sure it was disappointing not just to the other three parties in this House, but to working Canadians, because all they are trying to do is provide for their families.
I think it is telling about the Conservative government as well when we read through the throne speech but do not see the words “student”, “university” or “post-secondary”. Those words are nowhere to be found in the Speech from the Throne. Our young students can draw no kind of hope or optimism from this throne speech.
Certainly we saw the government show a total disregard for the students of this country when it decimated and gutted the student employment program last year. It was the opposition parties in the House that fought to have at least a bit more money put back into that program. Community groups from coast to coast supported that program and had offered summer employment opportunities to students for many years. It was a great program, well served, and was subscribed to by many businesses and not for profit groups from coast to coast. Yet it was decimated by the Conservative government.
This showed a total lack of caring and understanding by the government about the needs of students in this country and a lack of understanding of the needs of not for profit groups in this country. Giving extra money to students is necessary to help them pay their way through university, but for many of these students this program is their first opportunity for a summer job to build skills and to start developing a resumé. I do not think there is anything better that we can give our youth. That was torn away from them by the government last spring.
While on the topic of universities, I note that I come from the province of Nova Scotia, which has a great reputation for having some of the top post-secondary institutions in this country, such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Mary's and Dalhousie. The post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia are at the forefront of a lot of research. These post-secondary institutions have pretty much been pillaged by the Conservative government. That is what concerns me about the throne speech.
The government is changing the way it supports these institutions in transfers from the federal government to provincial governments. It did put in a bit more money, and I commend the government for doing so, but when it changes the system from an equity based system to a per capita based system, it is the small Atlantic provinces that are going to be hurt. In this change alone, Nova Scotia will receive $28 million less under the new system that was adopted by the Conservative government. Over the 10 year term of this change, Nova Scotians will receive $65 million. The province of Alberta will receive $3.5 billion. The minister's own province is doing okay, but where is the equity? Where is the fairness? Why should Nova Scotia be left behind? That is the unfairness that I see. That is pitting one region against another. We have seen this time and again from the government. There is a true unfairness there.
I can assure the government that we on this side of the House, on an issue by issue basis when that legislation comes forward, will stand and defend the rights of Nova Scotians. We will defend fairness. We will make sure that whatever the Conservatives bring forward will be scrutinized. If it is going to hurt Nova Scotians and if it is going to hurt Canadians, we will stand here and we will defeat it.
Mr. Speaker, there is an ancient Chinese proverb that states, “we are cursed to live in interesting times”, and these are certainly interesting times. The Speech from the Throne is a general statement of the government's objectives. These speeches are often remembered more for what they do not address as opposed to the issues they actual raise.
Notwithstanding all of this bluster, what of the content in the Speech from the Throne? What about the issues of importance to Canadians? We hear a great deal of chatter in the speech with respect to our national sovereignty and yet in practice the government action leaves a great deal to be desired.
For example, where is the government in regard to the recent outrageous proposal from the United States administration with respect to airline passenger lists? What could be more important to our sovereignty than protecting the privacy and personal rights of our nation's citizens? We hear no challenge from the government to the Bush administration's demand that Canadian airlines provide names, dates of birth, gender, travel itinerary and track information for passengers originating in Canada even though they do not even land in the United States.
If the wants to protect our sovereignty, I suggest he start by refusing to provide this information to the Bush administration. This is clearly an issue of sovereignty and the rights of Canadians need to be protected by their own government. Speaking of sovereignty, we need only to look at the issue of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples to see the issue of the actual level of commitment to the basic rights of our first nations peoples.
While I commend the government for some of the statements made in the throne speech with respect to aboriginal issues, there is so much more of substance that needs to be done.
We all remember the Kelowna accord. It was a landmark agreement between the previous Liberal government, provincial leaders and first nations peoples.
When the members of the New Democratic Party joined with the Conservative Party to defeat the Liberal government in 2005, the fate of this historic accord was sealed along, I might add, with so many other progressive initiatives. It was a tragedy that the NDP would so easily cast its soul on the altar of political expediency but that is a debate for another day.
The did indeed withdraw from the Kelowna accord and effectively ended an historic opportunity to deal fairly with first nations peoples.
This past September, the United Nations General Assembly voted on whether to adopt the United declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Only four countries voted against the declaration and Canada was one of them.
The Conservative government reversed the previous Liberal government's commitment and voted against the measure. We need only listen to the words of Mr. Gary Highland, the national director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation to know why. He speaks of the role of his country's prime minister, John Howard, a good friend of our .
It's common knowledge in Australia that Howard was responsible or had a major influence in changing the Canadian government's position.
Where is the leadership from Canada's government when foreign heads of government direct our government on how to vote at the United Nations?
I have met with various labour leaders in recent months to hear their increasing concerns about the need to protect manufacturing jobs in this country, among them, Gus Goncalves and Maria Pinto of the Canadian Auto Workers at the Bombardier Aerospace plant in Downsview, Ontario, who know that these jobs are threatened.
Manufacturing jobs in Canada are being lost at an alarming rate and urgent action needs to be taken. However, the message of these labour leaders and that of millions of Canadians is falling upon the deaf ears of the government. We had hoped there would be a real commitment in the throne speech to address this issue but again there were only platitudes and lack of substance.
Our environment is under siege. Climate change and greenhouse gases are real issues to be addressed, not political headaches to be shuffled aside as the government continually does.
It is truly disheartening that Canada, under the Conservative government, will be the only major signing nation to the Kyoto accord that is to withdraw from the commitment we made. The government needs to implement our Kyoto commitments and not spend so much energy finding ways to avoid them.
What about our role as a peacekeeping nation, one that the world looks to for leadership? We need to take action where action is so desperately needed. What about Darfur? Why does the government not take a role in helping to alleviate the suffering of so many millions of people in this region of the world? This is the most pressing humanitarian crisis facing the world community and yet the government continues its policy of inaction.
I commend the government's decision to bestow honorary citizenship upon Aung San Suu Kyi whose courage, perseverance and commitment to freedom is beyond exemplary. However, Canada should also be taking substantive steps to hold the military leadership in Burma to account for the terrible abuses taking place in that country.
Where in the speech is the commitment to students who are increasingly leaving school with enormous student debt? The previous Liberal government was putting in place the help they needed but the present government has done nothing of substance to assist Canada's students.
Many of our country's senior citizens are finding it increasingly more difficult to manage and yet there is no real help for them either. Where is the help for these great Canadians who have built our nation?
Families across the country continue to struggle. What about the national child care program that the previous Liberal government was implementing? Again, nothing.
In essence, we are speaking about the basic human rights of all Canadians, whether they are travelling abroad, are first nations peoples, older Canadians, students, parents and the list goes on.
I would note, speaking of human rights, that the government made reference to several anniversaries to be celebrated this year in Canada. While those noted in the throne speech are of significance, what about the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why was there no mention of one of Canada's greatest achievements? Would this be inconvenient for the government?
Those are but a few of the issues that the Speech from the Throne simply fails to deliver upon. There is no passion for the values of Canadians in this speech and no vision of what Canadians want to aspire to. It is really the remonstrations of managers when what we need is leaders.
I am reminded of a comment by the former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. He was asked by a young member of the British Parliament how he could put more fire into his speech. Churchill replied, “What you should have done is put the speech into the fire”.
I have spoken today on many issues of importance to Canadians. We can only hope in the months to come that these real concerns of Canadians will be addressed by the government.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open the debate on today's theme from the throne speech: strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions.
We have a great, united country whose foundation is a solid federation and a living democracy. In fact, federalism and democracy have gone hand and hand throughout Canada's history.
Our country's history is one of people joining together to achieve great dreams thought impossible by the pessimists, but it is also a history of people who, through accommodation and respect, build practical, workable approaches allowing remarkable progress to unfold.
The project of Confederation was about bringing together the different regions into a strong and united country based on democratic practices and the rule of law. Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation, through strong leadership united Canadians in a federal union which would deliver a future of security and prosperity for the country as a whole. Their vision was strong and enduring, a firm foundation on which successive generations have built.
Our government is continuing this nation building project today with our commitments for strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. Strong leadership and a better Canada: that is our objective.
I would like to spend my time today discussing the progress we have already made in this area and highlighting our plans for this new session of Parliament.
Our government made a commitment to practise open federalism, and it is taking steps to ensure that our country is prosperous and united.
Our approach is not new, but it is based on the very principles underlying Confederation.
The union was based on a simple concept: the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. The objective was not to have a weak, passive federal government, but a government that would respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction.
Provincial governments are closer to their citizens and are well positioned to determine local needs and aspirations. In contrast, the federal government is well placed to protect the national interest in pursuit of the common good of the country as a whole. As the project of our Confederation first became committed to paper in the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, this approach was clear:
In the Federation of the British North American Provinces, the system of Government best adapted under existing circumstances to protect the diversified interest of the several Provinces, and secure efficiency, harmony and permanency in the working of the Union, would be a general Government, charged with matters of a common interest to the whole country; and Local Governments...charged with the control of local matters in their respective sections.
The steps we have taken recently and the measures we plan to take to create a federalism of openness will produce unprecedented efficiency, harmony and stability in the union, as the Fathers of Confederation envisioned many years ago.
Our federalism of openness means respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction, and that, in turn, means two things. First, a federal government that shows leadership in its areas of jurisdiction. Second, a federal government that unites the country by introducing fair, respectful intergovernmental policies.
We have shown strong leadership in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as strengthening our economy by cutting taxes and helping families, in the process paying down billions on the debt and achieving the lowest national unemployment rate since I was a child; in international trade with the resolution of the softwood lumber dispute; in defence with our leadership in international aid efforts in Afghanistan; and in public safety and security with our agenda for making communities safer by tackling crime.
In the new session this leadership will continue with measures to strengthen Canada's economic union through internal free trade among the provinces; a commitment to action in protecting Canada's sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic; continued pursuit of a safer Canada beginning with the comprehensive criminal justice reforms in our the tackling violent crime act.
We have treated the provincial and territorial governments with respect, which has strengthened national unity. To restore the fiscal balance within the Canadian federation, we have increased the main federal transfers and introduced a new stable, reliable, fair funding formula. We have helped build a better Canada with our historic recognition that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.
Our 2007 budget contained an unprecedented long term commitment to rebuild Canada's infrastructure, amounting to a total of $33 billion over the next seven years, the largest federal investment in Canadian infrastructure in over half a century.
During this session, we will introduce a bill to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This bill will formalize the commitments our government made in the 2006 and 2007 budgets, because it will specify the limits on federal power.
In keeping with how we see open federalism, our bill will also allow the provinces and territories to opt out of new shared-cost programs with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs. In addition to recognizing the provinces' and territories' ability to provide programs in their specific areas of responsibility, our bill will enable Canadians, wherever they live, to receive services comparable to those available under national programs.
Our diversity as a country serves as a source both of strength and innovation. Through our actions in open federalism, including equitable and predictable funding and clarified roles and responsibilities in our federation, we are offering a principles based approach on which all orders of government can continue to work into the future.
The vision of Macdonald and Cartier of a country united from east to west, of new Canadians and old, French and English, country and city, together dreaming great dreams and building a brighter future is alive and well and has a place deep in the heart of our government in 2007.
However, our Confederation must be more than the sum of its parts. The federal government must act as a leader in keeping the country strong and united and as a model for democratic values. To perform this leadership role, the democratic underpinnings of our government must be solid in order to continue to meet the expectations of the Canadians we serve. Our initiatives in the area of democratic reform demonstrate our government's leadership in this area. Nowhere is this more evident than our efforts to modernize our central democratic institution, a federal Parliament where the representation of both popular and provincial interests are united within the federal legislative process.
Since Confederation, Canada's Parliament has served the democratic interests of Canadians well, but the government must take action to ensure that this institution, which is the cornerstone of our representative democracy, remains strong, vibrant and adapted to the needs of Canadians in the 21st century.
Our bicameral Parliament includes two houses, the lower house here which is comprised of elected representatives of the citizens of this great country originally founded on the fundamental principle of representation by population, and the upper house which was designed to represent the regions of the country to act as a chamber of sober second thought.
However, in the contemporary era, the Senate has been unable to credibly fulfill its role as an effective representative of the regions in the federal legislative process due to fundamental concerns with legitimacy and effectiveness of that appointed and unaccountable chamber. As for the other chamber, this one, the distribution of seats in the House of Commons has shifted too far away from the principle of representation by population, resulting in the unfair under-representation of the fast growing provinces.
Our government has already taken measures to address this situation as we promised during the last election with Bill introduced in the last session to enhance the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons and give fast growing provinces the representation that their population merits, and by Bills and introduced in the last session to begin the long overdue project of Senate reform.
I would like to spend a few moments discussing Senate reform. It is a priority of our government that is urgently needed to modernize our federal Parliament. We put forward an agenda for the Senate reforms that is practical and achievable. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will continue to pursue this agenda with the reintroduction of two important bills.
The Senate tenure bill proposed a uniform fixed term for senators of eight years. Rather than leave the length of tenure as long as 45 years, as it is currently, our bill proposed that senators be appointed to a fixed term of eight years. This is a change that would bring renewal and relevance to the Senate. This change would improve the effectiveness of the Senate. It would ensure that senators' terms were long enough for them to gain the expertise and independence necessary to act as a chamber of sober second thought, but at the same time it would ensure that the terms would not be so long as to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Senate as a modern institution in what we seek to declare to be a democratic country.
Unfortunately, the current unelected unaccountable Liberal senators spent over a year delaying this legislation before they finally took a decision to not take a decision. This action alone, or inaction more accurately, demonstrates clearly that the Senate must change. Its current form does not function well on this issue, or at all.
As I stated, our government intends to reintroduce the Senate term limits bill this session. I hope that the summer recess gave opposition senators some time for that sober second thought in relation to their position of inaction on this bill where they have refused to exercise their constitutional obligation to vote on the bill.
Our second Senate reform, Bill , offered a means for democratizing the Senate by providing Canadians an opportunity to choose and advise who they want representing them in the Senate. It would provide for the first time an opportunity for voters across this country to have a democratic say in who sits in their Senate. This should hardly be a difficult principle to embrace in a 21st century western democracy. It would provide greater legitimacy and credibility to the work of the Senate as a democratic institution.
I was extremely pleased to attend the swearing in of Senator Bert Brown last week. He of course was popularly elected by the people of his province. I hope that we can look forward to the day when the Senate appointment consultations bill becomes law and all senators arrive in Ottawa with a democratic mandate.
As the has indicated, when the Senate consultations bill is reintroduced, we will be sending it to committee before second reading so that collaboration can begin on this important step toward a democratic Senate.
There are some who have suggested that governing parties of the past could maintain the status quo in the Senate out of self-interest, that we could benefit from the patronage appointments to be made and stack the chamber with partisans who would serve for decades. Our government believes that the Senate should be a democratically elected body that represents Canadians. So far, we have taken concrete steps toward that vision and they are steps that are achievable in the short term. What is more, surveys show that our agenda for term limits in a democratized Senate is strongly supported by Canadians. Surely in a democracy this above all should be a key indicator of what constitutes a good democratic reform.
The Senate must change. If it cannot be changed, it should be abolished. In its current illegitimate form the Senate does nothing to enhance our democracy, even as we aim at the same time to promote democratic values abroad.
I would now like to address a second element of the democratic reform program that we will continue to implement during this new session of Parliament: strengthening the electoral system.
A strong democracy requires both modern democratic institutions and an electoral process with integrity that inspires confidence among voters.
We have already introduced a number of measures that were passed in the last session to improve elections, which were broadly supported.
For example, Bill —the first legislative measure we introduced—fulfilled our campaign commitment to clean up political funding. We levelled the playing field by banning donations from companies and unions, as well as large and secret donations, so that ordinary Canadians can contribute to the political process knowing that their donations will really count.
Bill was the first bill passed in the last session. We acted quickly to ensure that the party registration rules would not sunset and that those registration rules would remain in effect at all times.
With Bill , setting dates for elections, we have established a four year electoral cycle, preventing snap elections from being called solely for the partisan advantage of the governing party.
As a result, after this House provides a mandate to govern when it approves the throne speech on Wednesday, we can look forward to the next election, now set in law to take place October 19, 2009.
In Bill , we implemented wide-ranging recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee for improving the electoral process, including important measures for reducing the opportunity for voter fraud, such as a voter identification procedure for federal elections.
In addition to these bills, which are now law, we introduced additional election reforms that did not have an opportunity to pass before we prorogued.
Building on our political financing reforms in the Federal Accountability Act, Bill , our new bill to clean up campaign financing, proposed bringing accountability to political loans by eliminating loans as a means for circumventing contribution limits and establishing a transparent reporting regime for campaign finance.
Building on a number of measures for improving voter accessibility, Bill , our expanded voting opportunities bill, proposed additional advanced polling days to enhance opportunities and encourage higher voter turnout.
During the second session of Parliament, our government will continue to strengthen the electoral process.
As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will introduce measures that will enable us to confirm the identity of voters by requiring them to uncover their faces before voting. Like our other reforms, this concrete measure will improve the electoral process for all Canadians.
Public concerns raised about this issue during the September 17 byelections made it clear that we must act.
During meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in September, all parties approved the decision to prioritize resolving this issue.
Our government will act quickly to resolve this issue, and I hope that I can count on the support of all members of Parliament to give Canadians the strong, fair electoral process they expect.
There is so much that makes Canada great. We are mindful of the valuable legacy bestowed upon us by the visionary leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation when they rendered the blueprint for what has proven to be the best country in the world. But it is our strong foundations that enable us to continue building a better Canada that is a leader in the world.
Those foundations are our federal state and our democratic spirit, but we also know, as did those Fathers of Confederation, that as the world modernizes, so must Canada. That is in fact the spirit of Confederation. It is that spirit that leads us to seek ways to strengthen our democracy and improve accountability to Canadians. We must be a democracy worthy of that name in a 21st century world.
Our government has already put forward a full agenda to fortify and modernize our federation and democracy, and we will continue to do so this session. We invite all parties in the House to join us as we build a stronger Canada with a brighter future for the generations that will follow.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the topic of the Speech from the Throne.
I will be splitting my time with the member for .
We said that we would listen with care to the Speech from the Throne and we did. Certainly Canadians expect speeches like this to be full of promises and this one certainly did not disappoint. However, governing is not about making speeches or even promises. It is rather about what governments do.
One of the police forces north of Toronto says it well on the side of its cruisers. It has written the words “Deeds Speak”, and they certainly do speak when it comes to the Conservative government: the Atlantic accord, Kyoto, Kelowna, income trusts, tax increases, lost jobs, exported jobs, court challenges, literacy programs, stacking the judiciary, reckless spending, disappointment, broken promises. Indeed these deeds do speak.
The has said that MPs in the House have to, as he eloquently put it, fish or cut bait. He said: vote in support of the throne speech or Canada would get an election; support all the legislative initiatives that would be coming, whether we agreed with them or not, or Canada would get an election; and let his minority government function as a majority, even when the people of Canada did not grant him a majority, or Canada would get an election.
As a result, some people have called the a bully. Bullies like taking advantage. They look for situations they can dominate, one-sided battles.
The 's brain trust may be telling him right now that he can afford to bully us. The Prime Minister's advisers say that the opposition is weak, that we do not have as much money as the Conservatives do, that our leader is not as experienced, that we are not as organized and that we even have some MPs who are too independent.
If the truth be told, there may be something to that, and trust me, we are working on it, However, at the end of the day, it does not matter. Canadians did not send us here to play games of brinkmanship or hurl dares. In fact, too much of what goes on in this chamber is considered by most people watching it to be a national joke.
What does matter is that all voices be heard, that all citizens be represented and not just the Conservative demographic.
Someone needs to stand up more often in this chamber and speak for the two million income trust investors who lost tens of billions of dollars in savings after the government broke a solemn promise.
Someone needs to challenge the people from the maritime provinces after the government ripped up the Atlantic accord.
Somebody must lead the way for those Canadians angry and upset that after yet another two years we have done nothing about climate change.
Somebody has to give more hope to our first nations people and the disadvantaged that the fight for equality and progress will in fact continue.
Somebody needs to give voice to those families who have seen income taxes and mortgage rates increase at the same time, who know record government spending means they will never see a tax decrease as long as the government is in place.
Somebody needs to get up and fight for all those workers who are losing their jobs as the dollars soars. Export sales are shattered and our finance minister smirks.
Millions of Canadians are not impressed with speeches and promises, and neither am I. Millions of citizens want fairness and justice and hope. They want their Canada back.
Maybe on this side of the House we are not ready. We may not have enough money. We might not be as organized as those guys, but I we have never been more determined. They may be richer over there. They may have more pollsters. They may have a longer campaign plane, more square feet in their headquarters and a bigger election machine. However, as Winston Churchill said, “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog”.
The governing party has spent many months and many millions of dollars organizing for an election. It has been tearing down its political opponents daily instead of governing. It has reached new levels of negative messaging in the country and, unfortunately, it has confused the public service with the naked quest for continued power since it seeks a majority government at all costs.
The 's fish or cut bait dare is an obvious attempt to goad other parties into entering an election on the Prime Minister's terms, by seeking to nullify the role of opposition members of Parliament who represent, after all, a majority of Canadians. The Prime Minister is hoping he will get that election he so badly wants.
I would like quote Jim Travers from the Toronto Star who said quite eloquently:
[The Prime Minister's] "fish or cut bait" ultimatum is one test of Parliament's growing irrelevance. Those no-name representatives of the people are essentially being told to stand-down from their elected task. Under threat of an imminent campaign, public policies tightly scripted by an inner circle that only occasionally intersects with ministers or the civil service are to be approved without amendment or improvement.
Let me admit something, I would love to give the an election. I certainly do not fear the voters in my riding. I think they would enjoy the chance of having a clear voice right now between our vision of the future, our quest for social and economic justice and that of a programmed and muted automaton Conservative candidate.
Fortunately, I am not the leader. Wisely, the leader has picked his moment rather than allow the bully to call the shots. He has chosen to fight on issues Canadians are passionate about rather than the thin and tasteless gruel of a throne speech written by the milquetoasts in the PMO.
Fortunately, the leader of the Liberal Party has clarity and vision and above all, the wisdom to understand there is no point having an election when the governing party has already spent millions trying to precipitate it. That is not to say there will not be a vote soon. We know there will be and the results of it will shock a number of hon. members opposite who will be lining up for cardboard boxes. However, it will not be this week.
We will not be pushed. We will not be prodded. We will not be goaded. We will not be intimidated. We will be resolute and we will get the results Canadians want, like those brave people in my riding, who were not cowed by the when I was thrown out of his party, who stood with me. Or those brave people today in the riding of , who are standing beside that brave member who stuck up for his constituents and suffered the results at the hands of the .
We will all fight for those who grieve for the environment. We will fight for those who cannot abide to see our government steal from investors. We will fight for the families whose taxes have risen, for the first nations that have been ignored, for the manufacturers and exporters and retailers that are shedding jobs and sales because of the government, for homeowners worried about what rising mortgage rates are going to do to the value of their homes in the real estate market, for the people of Atlantic Canada who have been slapped once again by the and for all those who hoped the new government would give them hope and promise and change, but who have seen more arrogance and narrow focus, exclusion and incompetence than any of us feared.
Our leader was right. There will be no election this week, no giving in to the bully. Instead, soon, we will feel the winds of change, the force of millions of people who the government does not stand up for, does not represent, does not respect. Then they will be blown back and the country will be restored.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share this time with my colleague.
First off, let me say that disappointment is the word that comes to mind. Every year and a half or two years, government presents Canadians with a throne speech. If nothing else, that throne speech is supposed to be visionary. It is not intended to be just an agenda for an election that might occur in the weeks or months following a throne speech. It should be a document that lays out for Canadians where the government of the day intends to take the country because, in spite of the great inertia in regard to the elements needed for change in our society or in any society, governments have a huge role to play when it comes to making changes for the betterment of its citizens.
This throne speech lacked any vision whatsoever. It is very unfortunate and very sad that the government missed an opportunity to lay before Canadians its real vision, instead leaving many Canadians, including myself, to wonder what the hidden agenda is. I will list a few of the many things that were missing. There certainly were a lot of words, but no vision, no reference to substance and no context were attached to them. It was simply the mention of many words.
Where was the real substance on climate change?
Where was the real substance and the real plan on Canada's mission in Afghanistan?
Where was the vision when it comes to post-secondary education and the need to support research and development and the scientific community in this country?
Really, where was the mention of a vision for our first nations, for aboriginal Canadians, many of whom have come to suspect that really and truly they are not on the agenda of the government?
What about poverty?
What about municipalities?
I would like to quote the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who said:
By simply re-branding existing infrastructure programs, the Government fails to invest the additional resources needed to meet the challenges it acknowledges in the Speech from the Throne.
It is okay to acknowledge challenges, as the president of the FCM says, but it is another thing to have a vision and to have a specific set of ideas to put any vision into effect.
My northern Ontario riding of is blessed with some 55 communities. There are roughly 24 first nations and the rest are small and large townships, villages, small cities and towns. When I meet with mayors and chiefs, they ask me to bring the message forward that the federal government needs to continue to be involved with local government at the municipal level and with our first nations. Their message for the federal government is that it needs to improve its participation, to up the ante and to recognize the challenges faced at the local level in our communities when it comes to dealing with infrastructure, poverty and local economies.
In the case of northern Ontario, we are really struggling, with a forestry sector that, like manufacturing, generally is being hit very hard. Added to the manufacturing woes in forestry, of course, there are the specific problems facing Canada because of the very terrible softwood lumber deal that this country has with the U.S., a deal, by the way, in which we threw away years of progress in the courts and before various trade panels, years of progress that we were about to reap the benefits of had the deal that was accepted by the government not been accepted. That deal, by the way, was rejected by the previous government in the late fall of 2005, and within a few days of taking office the current adopted it, rejecting our deal, and called it his own. Quite frankly, it is a deal that has not done anything. If anything, it has hurt our forestry sector.
What about child care? I agree that if families are able to and decide to keep their children at home from birth right through to first year of kindergarten it is perfectly fine. In my case, a couple of my children went to child care and a couple of them stayed home with one of their parents.
I think it is important that there be a real choice and an infrastructure of child care in this country that allows families who choose to participate fully in the workforce to have access to a network of child care centres and early learning facilities across this country, a network that is consistent and properly funded, with workers who are properly paid, a network, indeed, that allows our families to help build our local economies and the country.
The program that the government put in place with its so-called $100 a month really does not do it, I do not believe, and statistics will demonstrate it. That program has not created a single new day care space. One hundred dollars a month taxable puts barely $50, $60 or $70 a month in the hands of families to provide day care. In most locations, that would provide barely a couple of days of day care.
To move on, I mentioned forestry but there is also manufacturing in general. Yes, there are certain things happening in the world that are difficult for any government to deal with, but it is the government's responsibility to respond. Where are some specifics on the capital cost allowance measures that can help our companies take advantage of the situation as it exists now to upgrade their technology so that indeed as the next cycle comes along they can be ahead of that cycle? There are other things the government can do to make sure our manufacturing sector does not go further into decline.
It is well and good to have strong economies in Alberta and perhaps in St. John's, Newfoundland and other specific locations across the country. That is fine. It makes the overall numbers look good, but there are pockets and regions, and I point to many communities in my riding and throughout northern Ontario, that are definitely suffering. They need the opportunity to participate fully in the national economy.
I will speak a little about northern Ontario. I mentioned that there are a great number of first nations there and a great number of communities that depend on forestry. It is very sad for me to relate to this chamber that just this past Friday the Weyerhaeuser plant in Wawa shut down for an “indefinite” period. There does not appear to be any real prospect of a reopening in the near or mid term.
I do not want to create any false hope for the workers in this plant. One hundred and thirty jobs have been lost. The workers are being told, sadly, that they should make arrangements for their lives and for their families. I wish them well. I will be there at the first opportunity in the next week or so to do what I can to help. Along with the provincial member, we will work with the community, the workers and whoever else will come to the table to make sure that the consequences of that closure can be minimized.
Let me speak a little about our first nations. The leaders of the communities in my riding have worked very hard. They are excellent leaders. They have worked hard to make sure the communities can do the best they can in the current situation, but they fail to see in this government any real exhibition of a willingness to see them as true partners even though they are their own level of government. They are not municipalities. They have a relationship with the Government of Canada and it is important that we recognize that.
The current government cancelled the Kelowna accord adopted by the premiers, the territories and provinces, the aboriginal leadership and the Government of Canada in the fall of 2005. There was every hope that the expenditures to flow from that agreement, in excess of $5 billion, would do a great amount of good work in terms of housing and education, in social services and for supports in terms of health. For example, diabetes rates are far too high in our first nations communities.
There are a lot of things we can do better. It is time that we learned the lessons from the past. There is no past government that can pat itself on the back entirely and say that it did a great job. We all have lessons to learn. It is the responsibility of the government to build on those lessons and move forward. Sadly, we are not seeing that. What I hear instead is this: how quickly can we have a change in government so that we can have a change in attitude and a change in approach?
Let me talk about poverty. Last week for a short while I was able to attend and participate in the rally on poverty that was held out front here. The fact that any child in this country lives in poverty is sad. This will not be eliminated overnight, but as is noted in the Liberal amendment to the throne speech, which will be voted on tonight, we call upon the government to end its “18 months of inaction” on poverty. We need to make poverty history. We must build on the good work of past Liberal governments on such initiatives as the Canada child tax benefit, affordable housing, literacy, the supporting communities partnership initiative, and the working income tax benefit.
The work was being done. Progress was being made. We call upon the government to turn that corner and recognize that something needs to be done in all the areas I have outlined.
Mr. Speaker, I see that you are indicating the end of my time. Thank you for your indulgence.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with my colleague from .
I am proud to stand in solidarity with my NDP colleagues and millions of Canadians who oppose the Conservative government's wrong-headed direction. The throne speech should be an articulation of the government's fundamental principles and yet in this document the government has reached a new level of cynical doublespeak. While claiming to be concerned about poverty, homelessness, climate change and rising costs in post-secondary education, the government has outlined steps that will make the problems worse.
The government has turned its back on communities. Our local governments are left with heavy lifting, forced to face today's complex challenges on their own while a federal seat sits vacant.
I would like to start by talking specifically about Victoria. There is a growing consensus in my community that all levels of government should focus on housing. As of this April, 953 families and 406 seniors were on the wait list for social housing. The city of Victoria's homelessness task force report released last week speaks to the urgency of acting now. Even the Victoria Downtown Business Association is asking the federal government to allocate some of the surplus to housing.
I also consistently hear about Victoria's need for affordable, quality child care. Last week the gave a misleading answer in response to my question. Contrary to his assertion, his failed policies have not created one child care space, in my riding at least. On the contrary, day care centres are closing and desperate parents are on mile-long wait lists. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has called for a national child care system. The business community has lamented the domino effect of federal child care cuts on its province's workforce.
To address these and other crucial issues, I have long advocated for the federal government to adopt a community focused approach. This means having the federal government act as a collaborative partner with the provinces to help municipalities implement their own local solutions. What a community approach would not do is impose unnecessary policy barriers that prevent communities from solving their local problems, like the Conservatives' resistance to the harm reduction approach and other strategies identified in communities.
For example, despite best efforts, the Conservatives still have not found their way to supplying the $150,000 in capital funding that are needed for Victoria's access health centre. This is an innovative project that provides one stop access to services needed by homeless people. It would prevent illness and save health care dollars. However, the Conservatives' shortsighted, narrow view of the federal role stands in the way of communities moving forward.
A couple of weeks ago I hosted a prebudget town hall in my riding and the messages I collected to bring back to Ottawa are unequivocal. They are to invest in our citizens, communities, housing, child care, learning and training, the environment and to build a green economy, but Victoria has been let down by a government that chooses to prioritize tax cuts over investments in our collective well-being.
The surplus and tax cuts will be important issues in this session of Parliament. The says that he does not want to leave a debt for our children. I would say that the Conservative government is in the process of racking up an enormous debt that our children will have a hard time repaying. We must not forget that this massive surplus came about because of the major cuts to social programs by the Liberals in the 1990s. The national housing program was cut; tuition costs and student debt have tripled in 10 years; child poverty is worse than when Parliament promised to eradicate it; our municipalities are struggling with a $60 billion infrastructure deficit. Furthermore, the federal government refuses to commit to making our economy respectful of the environment, in order to address the imminent dangers of climate change.
The majority of Canadian families have stagnating or falling incomes and are forced to work longer hours and spend less time with their children. They need better transit and home care, more affordable housing and child care, and better protection from toxic products on the market but the government does not believe in social policy. In fact, it reduces everything to economic terms and perpetuates the myth that profits from deregulated markets will trickle down. The trickle seems to be stuck.
There is much talk about the tax burden, but what about the burden on low- and middle-income families who no longer have access to affordable housing or child care? What about the burden on people who are on long waiting lists for major surgery? What about the people struggling to repay staggering student debts? What about the burden on women who earn on average 71¢ for every dollar earned by a man? There was nothing about pay equity in the throne speech. And what about the burden on the environment?
I think that as long as these burdens continue to enlarge the hole in the social and environmental fabric, the answer for how to use the surplus will be clear.
As the NDP's literacy advocate, I have been appalled at the disinterest of the government to the needs of adult learners. A lack of functional literacy impedes an individual's ability to lead a full life and secure a better job. It also impedes Canada's ability to stay competitive. Leading economists have joined the chorus of voices critical of the government's shortsightedness on adult literacy which costs the economy tens of billions of dollars every year.
The NDP has been calling for a comprehensive, pan-Canadian strategy on literacy and lifelong learning. Tax cuts do not educate anyone, another reason that I oppose the government's direction.
In addition to tax cuts, the Conservatives are pursuing their quest to gut the capacity of the federal government through a radical agenda of privatization. The government is intent on selling out the public interest to deliver the greatest possible profit to a small minority, regardless of the cost to the rest.
From following through on the ridiculous Liberal scheme to sell federal buildings and lease them back, to the proliferation of public-private partnerships, the name of the game is spending public money for private profit.
On a similar but much broader front, the Conservatives are implementing the Liberals so-called security and prosperity partnership. Behind closed doors and away from the eyes of citizens and their elected representatives in Parliament, the government is hollowing out our country as it pursues its agenda of deep integration with U.S. corporate interests.
I take this opportunity to call on the government to bring the SPP agenda to the public scrutiny of Parliament.
Because the Conservative agenda does not reflect priorities, I oppose the Speech from the Throne. Because these policies will incrementally convert Canada into a neo-Conservative country that we will not recognize, I stand opposed to the government's direction. It would be unconscionable not to.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents on Hamilton Mountain.
Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to be back in Hamilton and to listen to the concerns that are top of mind for families in our community. Without a doubt, the single biggest issue is Canada's growing prosperity gap.
Seniors and working families are increasingly finding it difficult just to make ends meet. At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Hamilton are working longer and harder, not to get ahead, but simply to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago.
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 or falling. The middle class in Canada is falling behind. That is what we have been calling the prosperity gap, and nowhere is that issue more relevant than in Hamilton.
Our manufacturing sector is in crisis, but the government's agenda for this Parliament did not even mention it. There was no mention of an industrial strategy for either the automotive or manufacturing sectors. There was no mention of wage and pension protection for workers affected by commercial bankruptcies. There was no mention of using the $3.3 billion EI surplus to retrain displaced workers. There was no mention of beefing up the Investment Canada Act to protect key industries from foreign takeovers.
With a $14 billion surplus, it simply did not need to be that way. There is a better choice and I will continue to advocate for those alternatives until working families on the mountain get the positive change they deserve.
I know that my time here today is limited, but let me just speak to four such alternatives that represent missed opportunities in the throne speech. They relate to seniors, youth, our city and the environment.
In the summer I had the privilege of organizing and hosting an environmental forum for businesses on Hamilton Mountain. The panellists included representatives from Green Venture and TABIA in an interactive discussion on saving both money and the environment through energy conservation.
Business leaders understood the benefits immediately. Whether they represented the retail, manufacturing or service sectors, they understood that far from having to choose between helping the environment and helping their bottom line, energy conservation will achieve both. In fact research has proven that ignoring climate change will ultimately damage economic growth.
Why then is the not seizing all opportunities to link economic growth with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Here is but one small example of how that could be done.
At the urging of the NDP, the Canadian government has put into effect a ban on incandescent light bulbs effective in 2010, but as Hamilton business leaders learned during the environmental forum, almost none of the alternative CFL or LED bulbs are actually being manufactured in Canada.
Here the government is creating a huge market for new products without recognizing and supporting the equally huge domestic manufacturing opportunity that its policy has created. Instead of importing almost all of the more energy efficient light bulbs from China, why are we not supporting Canadian manufacturing and Canadian jobs by encouraging the production of the alternative light bulbs in Canada?
It would be good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the environment, but apparently such a win-win situation is still not good enough for our . Go figure. That kind of inaction speaks volumes about the disconnect between the government's directions and the priorities of the Canadian people.
Let us look at seniors next. The Conservative government is quick to talk the talk when it comes to seniors, but it is loath to walk the talk.
The government supported my seniors charter which created a road map to ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. Indeed it was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 231 to 52. Instead of implementing the charter's priorities to enhance the quality of life for seniors, government inaction has made it increasingly difficult for seniors to make ends meet.
One of the reasons, of course, is tied to what is happening in the economy. Every time a plant closes its doors in Hamilton, the pension and benefits of its workers are threatened. It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked.
That is why, upon being elected, I was proud to introduce Bill , the workers first bill, in the House of Commons as my very first legislative initiative. Once it becomes law, this bill will ensure that workers' wages, pensions and benefits receive superpriority in case of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity and respect, then we must ensure that they have an adequate retirement income.
Because so many jobs do not have adequate or indeed any benefits, it is essential that we finally act on universal drug coverage. Not only can millions of Canadians not find a family doctor, but the cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket to points where people simply cannot pay for the medications that are prescribed. 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. We must ensure that people can get the drugs they need based on the advice of their doctors, not on the advice of their accountants.
Speaking of health care, we must protect public medicare. This is Canada's hallmark social program. In Hamilton the health care sector is now the largest employer. Just a few years ago no one would have believed that about steel town. One of the best ways to protect our medical system is to ensure that we have an economy that generates the kind of revenues needed to allow our system to flourish. Minimum wage jobs do not do that. We need the decent paying jobs that our industrial sector provided for our hospitals, for our community centres and therefore, for our seniors.
That brings me to the needs of our cities. Working families in Hamilton pay a lot of money in taxes and the more their jobs pay, the more they pay in taxes. But it is not fair that the lion's share of those tax dollars goes to the federal and provincial governments. In spite of calls from Hamilton citizens, the big city mayors, the chamber of commerce and many others, the federal government refuses to recognize that Canada is the world's second most urban country with 80% of our population living in cities.
With an estimated infrastructure deficit of over $100 billion, our cities are in dire straits. Our federal government is rolling in cash but it is refusing to invest in our cities. Investments in infrastructure and housing would create jobs. Investments in public transit would create jobs. Investments in environmental initiatives like the cleanup of Randle Reef would create jobs. The list goes on and on. Our city desperately needs this kind of investment, but property taxpayers can no longer shoulder the burden alone. It is time for the federal government to pick up its fair share and with a $14 billion surplus, do not tell us it cannot be done.
That brings me to the last issue I want to raise on the throne speech, and that is the issue of youth. When the government set out its agenda for this session of Parliament, it mentioned youth exactly three times. Appallingly, all three were in the context of tackling crime.
I was proud to support bills in the House which imposed mandatory minimum penalties for firearms crimes, raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years, and placed the onus on those accused of firearms offences to prove why they should receive bail, but I would never describe these initiatives as an agenda for Canada's youth. To stereotype all youth as criminals is to abdicate our responsibility to the vast majority of teens whose parents are working hard to afford them every opportunity to become law-abiding contributing members of our society.
An agenda for youth needs to be an agenda of hope. It needs to include sports, recreation, education, training, and opportunities for employment. Instead of helping our students to excel in today's knowledge based economy, the government is refusing to deal with unaffordable tuition fees and unreasonable interest rates on student loans that have become major roadblocks to post-secondary education. We need to restore needs based grants, lower tuition fees and overhaul the Canada student loans program to make it more flexible, fair and responsive. We need to invest in apprenticeship programs. We need to raise the minimum wage.
Students are not asking for a free ride. They are simply asking for fairness and a chance to succeed.
In fact, that is what all working families have been asking from the government. They are asking for some basic fairness, but this throne speech misses the mark. I have a mandate to represent the goals of my community in this House and since those aspirations are not reflected in the throne speech, I will be forced to oppose it on Wednesday.