The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session.
Mr. Speaker, when we left off before question period, I was talking about one of the Bloc Québécois' suggestions, which was to implement a program of loans and loan guarantees to help fund investments in production equipment. During the lengthy softwood lumber crisis, the Bloc Québécois repeatedly asked the government to give loan guarantees. But the government never helped the softwood lumber companies. Today we can see the sad results.
Since April 1, 2005, 21,000 workers who depended on forestry for their livelihood—including plant workers, forestry workers, machinists and truckers—have lost their jobs and 156 plants have closed. Our regions in Quebec have been very hard hit. It is unbelievable.
During this time, many companies have not been able to invest the money they need to upgrade their machinery and perform on par with their competitors. The government must abandon its laissez-faire approach and help fund investments in production equipment.
We are also suggesting numerous labour-related measures. For example, we are proposing that the government provide incentives for skilled workers to settle in the regions by offering, as the Government of Quebec does, a refundable tax credit of up to $8,000 to any young graduate who settles in a resource region and takes a job in this field. Another measure promotes job creation in resource regions and gives secondary and tertiary processing companies in these regions a tax credit equivalent to 30% of the increase in their payroll.
Another measure promotes the development of SME manufacturers in resource regions by offering them a tax break equivalent to 50% of their income tax. It is essential that the government use tax measures to stimulate the creation and development of processing businesses in resource regions. Measures such as this would make it more attractive for skilled workers to settle in areas affected by the forestry crisis.
The federal government must follow the example of the Government of Quebec and promote the labour market to these future workers. Populations are dwindling in our regions and urgent action is needed. Federal corporate income tax is twice as high as the Quebec tax rate and there is no such measure at the federal level. Support from Quebec cannot achieve the maximum effect until Ottawa adapts its taxation to the needs of the forestry industry.
Yet, the government did not announce any specific tax measures in the throne speech. It simply repeats that tax cuts will solve everything. However, tax cuts for businesses that have no profits are completely useless. There is nothing concrete in the throne speech.
As a final point, I would like to talk about research and development. Tax credits for research and development must be improved by transferring them into refundable tax credits, which would be beneficial for all companies that engage in research and development activities, including those that are not earning any profits, as I was saying earlier.
The budget for the industrial research assistance program, or IRAP, must be increased significantly. IRAP is managed by the National Research Council Canada. It is receiving money, but not nearly enough. Through that program, Ottawa must invest in the development of new products, in order to later reap the benefits of the royalties when the product is put on the market.
We must also ensure that the future Canadian wood fibre centre, a new federal research centre announced during the last budget, is established in a forestry region in Quebec.
The government is responsible for stimulating the research and development of new products. Tax credits alone will not do it. There is not enough support for research and development within businesses. Quebec, in particular, is suffering.
We believe it is important for the government to make a commitment and to invest, and we saw no indication of this in the throne speech. It must bring back a fund to diversify the forestry economy, to be managed by local players. However, it must also adapt federal taxation in order to stimulate job creation.
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, I will focus on my new responsibilities as the official opposition's heritage and official languages critic.
I will share my time with the member for .
I believe that the Conservative government should offer a coherent vision of cultural life in Canada, a vision that does not neglect our cultural industries, our artistic institutions, our museums, our artists or our public broadcaster.
The Conservatives did not do that. In the throne speech there was mention of finally acting on copyright, but there were no details as to content or timing. Legislation had been promised before June 2006 on this matter and then before Christmas 2006. Now, 18 months later, we may get this legislation.
When the spoke yesterday, many were hoping to hear a few details on that and her thoughts on a number of other important dossiers in the matters of heritage. Yesterday there was not a word. There was not a word about our public broadcaster, not a word about reassuring Canadians as to whether or not the Reform dissenting opinion of the Lincoln report in 2003 still holds, which would have privatized CBC. There was not a word from the minister on that.
There was not a word about a museums policy. There was not a word about the museums assistance program. The Canadian Museums Association had been given a commitment that a policy would be forthcoming before Christmas 2006. Christmas came and went and it did not get that policy. Yesterday there was not a word.
The announced that the Government of Canada would finance the operational costs of the new human rights museum in Winnipeg, which is fine, but there is still a question mark as to whether or not the $22 million will be coming from an existing envelope or whether the envelope overall will be increased. My information is that it is from the existing envelope, therefore choking off the existing museums, so much so that they have to do fundraising, as has been reported, to make acquisitions. There was not a word about all of this.
There was also not a word about increasing the museums assistance program. In the last election the Conservatives promised to actually increase the funding to small museums across the country. Lo and behold, what they did instead was the opposite. They reduced the museums assistance program. There was not a word about that.
There was not a word about the exhibition transportation services for museums and galleries, which is very useful to the smaller galleries and museums. This will expire at the end of March 2008. There was not a word about that.
There was not a word about the portrait gallery. Many people have been asking about that. What is the policy framework within which the government will be making the decision as to where the portrait gallery should be located?
There was not a word about the television fund. Will it ever be A-based? Will it be indexed? What about funding for Telefilm and the National Film Board? Will they be increased? Will they be indexed? There was not a word.
There was not a word about festivals. There was not a word about where the minister is vis-à-vis the CRTC and Canadian content and foreign ownership restrictions.
Right now we have a situation where the government has, by executive fiat, which comes from the industry department and not from the heritage department, directed the CRTC essentially to let market forces dominate. Is the silence consent as to this direction for Canadian cultural industries, Canadian television and film content? If it is, perhaps she should have said so yesterday.
Canada's cultural and artistic communities have not been given enough information. They do not know what to expect from the Conservative government. This is not unlike what happened when the federal government copied the Liberal Party's promise during the last election campaign to double funding for the Council for the Arts. As it turns out, that is not at all what the government has done.
The minister talked exclusively about official languages earlier, and that is fine, but she could have mentioned her other portfolio: Canadian Heritage.
With respect to official languages, she congratulated herself on having signed service and education agreements with all of the provinces. I should hope so, because by the time the government came to power, those agreements had already been negotiated and confirmed. All she had to do was sign them. The Conservatives can go ahead and take all the credit, but they really should give credit where credit is due.
The minister said that she met with the ministers responsible for la Francophonie a month ago. However, she failed to mention that these very ministers issued a press release demanding that the federal government renew the action plan that was introduced by its predecessor in 2003.
Let us talk about this plan. This begs a fundamental question: does the Conservative government intend to renew the plan? It found all manner of ways to avoid this word, avoid this specific commitment. What the linguistic minority communities across the country are asking for, and what the ministers responsible for la Francophonie across the country asked for, is that the action plan be renewed. In the Speech from the Throne, there is not a single occurrence of the word “renewal”. The government has chosen its words carefully.
The minister wanted to focus on the issue of official languages; we were hoping she would, because it is not clear. Would the plan be renewed for one year, two years, five years? It is not clear. How much money would be allocated? Not a word. Are we talking about broadening this action plan? A promise was made after many consultations with the communities. It was a matter of broadening the plan to incorporate programs for young people, women, seniors, culture and international issues. Not a word.
She did not talk about the setbacks we have had under her government either; the cancellation of the court challenges program, for example. As for the Official Languages Secretariat, which was a branch of the Privy Council, the government decided to transfer it to Canadian Heritage, when we know full well that a secretariat located in a central agency has a lot more influence and a greater ability to take action.
Were it not for the existence of this secretariat at the Privy Council when I was minister responsible for official languages, we would not have succeeded in getting language clauses in the early childhood agreements with every province. What did this government do? It relieved the Privy Council of its role in official languages and gave that role to Canadian Heritage. The communities are having a hard time getting their bearings. The minister could have said a few words about this, but she chose not to say a word.
As for the new round of budget cuts just starting, which her department is subject to, would the action plan for official languages be protected from these cuts this time? Not a word.
As for the Department of National Defence in this struggle to promote linguistic duality, and we totally agree that it is the role of the Government of Canada to ensure that the Official Languages Act is respected across the country, there is not a word. National Defence has given up and there is not a word on this from the government.
Nor was anything said about one of the 's first actions when he came to power, informing us that he intended to cancel all early childhood agreements—the very agreements that had been negotiated and that communities were celebrating from one end of the country to the other. It is a major setback for these communities. The minister did not say one word about this.
There is not one word about the fact that, after they were elected, the Conservatives decided that the Commissioner of Official Languages, an officer of this House, would no longer report to the but would report to another minister. Previous governments had indicated the importance they attributed to the issue of linguistic duality and the official languages. They said that, in terms of the government, the Commissioner of Official Languages reported to the Prime Minister. In terms of his mandate, he obviously reports to the House of Commons, as he should.
However, even more disturbing, there is not a word about Bill . When in opposition, his government supported the bill, which dealt with the last amendments to the Official Languages Act made in November 2005, when everyone was celebrating.
Where are the plans that were to come out of the application of Bill ? Where is the regulatory framework? Where are the consultations that will result in the regulations? Where is the cabinet committee on official languages, the ad hoc committee that has not met, as far as I know, for 18 months? What is the minister doing about these matters?
All I can do, as did the Commissioner for Official Languages in his first report, is criticize the and his government for not having backed up these lovely words with concrete action.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to once again thank the constituents in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. They elected me on September 17 with a very clear mandate: defend their interests and demand that the government meet the five conditions of the Bloc Québécois.
We are against the Speech from the Throne. We think it represents another missed opportunity for the Conservative government to meet the repeated demands of Quebec, for which the Bloc Québécois set out five conditions. In other cases, the Conservative government is refusing to respond to demands based on unanimous motions from the Quebec National Assembly.
My colleagues who spoke earlier explained very well the reasons my party is against the Speech from the Throne. Nothing in this speech gives me a reason to tell my constituents in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot that their demands have been met and this is what I am going to speak about.
First, on the issue of Canada's current combat mission in Afghanistan, it is completely unacceptable for the government to extend the mission until 2011. More and more people are saying that resources that should be invested in humanitarian aid and reconstruction are being invested instead in combat forces and that rather than being considered as allies by the Afghans, our soldiers are making enemies of them. It is reported that poppy production has never been healthier in Afghanistan. This proves that the mission objectives have not been met.
I am tempted to draw a parallel with the problems associated with marijuana production in my region. When a population is faced with the consequences of drug trafficking, there is only one way to fight the problem, and that is to involve the people, as the Bloc Québécois members have succeeded in doing in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, with the help of law enforcement authorities. Have our soldiers in Afghanistan succeeded in making the Afghan people their allies? The answer is no.
I personally know some of the soldiers from my region who are serving on this mission. I believe that they deserve our admiration because they are bravely risking their lives to defend the lives of others. But at the same time, at the very least, our soldiers need to feel that they are taking part in a mission that is really helping the Afghan people. That is why we must tell NATO now that the current mission will end in February 2009.
Second, the Conservative government is proposing to limit federal spending power only for new shared-cost programs, with the right to opt out with “reasonable compensation”. This proposal calls to mind the proposed social union, which makes it unacceptable to Quebec for a number of reasons. I will mention only two.
The first reason is simply that the government is not proposing to eliminate federal spending power, but limit it. Quebeckers agree that federal spending power must be eliminated. Quebec has been challenging that power for over half a century. Even after his government was elected, the repeatedly stated that he and his party would oppose federal spending power. Our party asked that the federal government promise to stop spending altogether in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. The throne speech does not come anywhere near that.
The second reason is that the Conservative government claims that it is responding to our demands, but in reality, it is referring to non-existent spending.
Indeed, the government wants to limit use of the federal spending power only in the case of shared cost programs. The fact is, most federal spending in areas of Quebec jurisdiction is not for shared cost programs, and there are fewer and fewer programs of this nature.
What we have seen in recent months under the Conservative government have been transfers that are conditional on federal priorities and therefore constitute interference, pure and simple, such as the new Canadian Mental Health Commission or the cervical cancer vaccination program. The federal steamroller continues to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. Clearly, the recognition of Quebec as a nation within a united Canada has in no way changed the federal government's desire to interfere.
Let us now discuss the Bloc Québécois' third condition, which involved specific measures to support the workers, businesses and regions suffering from the manufacturing crisis and the forestry crisis. With the help of people from the field, the Bloc Québécois had proposed some measures to modernize and revive the forest economy, thereby supporting the workers affected by the crisis.
My colleagues have probably already mentioned this, but it is worth saying again: 21,000 of Quebec's forestry workers have lost their jobs since April 1, 2005, and no fewer than 156 mills have ceased operations. The rising Canadian dollar has not helped things at all.
People sometimes forget that the crisis in the forestry industry can affect regions whose economies are not resource-based. For example, in my riding, , a heavy machinery manufacturer that supplied the forestry sector had to close its doors in 2006, forcing a lot of people to look for new jobs.
The rising dollar also led to the closure of two pork processing plants in my riding. Once again, many jobs were lost.
I am sure that my colleagues know just how hard it can be for a worker in his or her fifties to find another job, especially when several workers lose their jobs at the same time. We were hoping that the Conservative government would help these workers by creating an income support program for workers aged 55 to 64 who cannot be retrained and who were victims of massive layoffs, a program that would have helped them bridge the gap between employment insurance and their pension fund, as proposed by the Bloc Québécois.
We were also hoping that the Conservative government would use this opportunity to restore everything the Liberals cut from the employment insurance program. This would have given most unemployed people the benefits they are due for having contributed, along with their employers, to a fund that belongs to them. After all, the , too, used to criticize the Liberal decision to dip into the employment insurance fund.
Instead, we got nothing. Too bad for older workers and for forestry regions in dire straits. The Bloc Québécois thinks that is unacceptable.
I would now like to address the Bloc Québécois' fourth condition: respecting Canada's commitments under the Kyoto accord by adopting a territorial approach that would recognize Quebec's compliance with the Kyoto targets.
The throne speech contained no surprises in that regard. There was nothing in it that would be good for Quebec or for sustainable development in general. My colleagues have already said a lot about this, so I will just add that the Conservative government is still trying to fool the public by choosing intensity targets over real results.
They have a lot of nerve, saying they want greenhouse gas emissions to increase at a slower rate.
The Bloc Québécois' fifth condition was that the government make a firm commitment to defending the supply-managed system for agriculture. We know how important this is to the producers of milk, poultry and eggs, products that supply a livelihood for many farm families in Quebec.
In the throne speech, the Conservatives only mention the “government's strong support” for supply management. This is a very half-hearted statement especially when we think of the statements by the . At a time when the concept of food sovereignty is increasingly taking hold of citizens in Quebec and elsewhere in the world, it is unacceptable that the Canadian government is not taking responsibility for defending supply management.
I could also have talked about the Conservative approach to justice, the creation of a single securities commission, proposals in the throne speech that run counter to the Quebec consensus or recognition of the primacy of the French language in Quebec, of which there is no mention in the throne speech, but I will stop there. I believe that there are enough reasons for us to vote against this throne speech.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the throne speech today. This is actually a great opportunity to respond to what the Conservative government has outlined for Canadians.
First, I do want to say that it is good to be back in the House of Commons. It is good to be back after so many Canadians have asked us: “Why was Parliament shut down for an additional month? Why were MPs not at their desks, in their offices, and in the chamber doing the work that Canadians expect them to do?”
I will be honest, during the summer I spoke with many of my constituents. I went door to door. I met with them at events, at my office and they all asked me this question. I really did not have any convincing response. I could not explain to them why the Conservatives decided to prorogue Parliament and delay the return of Parliament for an additional month.
If the Conservative government really wanted to do that, why did it not prorogue Parliament during the summer months? The House did not sit for over a month's time, so why did the government not prorogue Parliament during the summer months? No, the Conservatives wanted to delay Parliament. They wanted to lock out MPs from doing their work. They wanted to avoid answering questions about which Canadians expect to hear answers.
Many pundits gave us an answer about why this Conservative government is good at playing political games. It wanted to stop questions. It wanted to avoid questions. It wanted to appear that it had this new agenda. It wanted to create some hype and that is what it is good at: playing political games and posturing. But nothing serious for Canadians. The Conservatives are running on fumes. They have run out of ideas.
I would have expected the throne speech, after that delay, to come up with a new set of ideas, a new vision, an invigorated plan, and some kind of explanation for why the government prorogued Parliament. There was nothing. This was quite a disappointment. We would think that at least the throne speech would address the items that the Conservatives claimed were their priorities. We would think that at least they would have answered questions about their failed promises and their broken promises and unfulfilled promises. There was nothing.
An hon. member: Which ones?
Mr. Omar Alghabra: I am glad an hon. member asks me which ones. Let me begin.
By the way, I did not expect him to address the in and out scheme from Elections Canada. I did not expect that. I understand why the Conservatives would avoid explaining that in the throne speech. Never mind, we will be asking these questions and the Conservatives will have to answer these questions, not just to us and to Elections Canada, but to Canadians who want to know the answer.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Omar Alghabra: I do not mean to get on the nerves of the Conservatives. I am just doing my job here. I hope they can sit down and listen, and answer these questions.
Let us talk about the items that were priorities. The Conservatives falsely claim that they are the champions of accountability.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Mr. Omar Alghabra: Yes, that is right, falsely claim. I am glad they are applauding. What have they done so far? Where is the public appointment commissioner? They promised to appoint a public appointment commissioner. They have not appointed a public appointment commissioner.
So far the government has appointed more than 2,000 people. Many of them are their friends and supporters. Where is the public appointment commissioner? What did they do the other day? They struck out the word “accountability” from their manuals. Is this what they talk about when they say accountability? Is this what they mean when they say “we are accountable to Canadians”. It is very transparent. This was the number one priority for the Conservatives. I would hate to see what they would do if it were not one of their priorities.
We want a public appointment commissioner. We want to make sure that these appointments are held in check and the Conservatives are accountable to Canadians.
Number two, they made a promise, and this is again one of their priorities, on health wait time guarantees. Where is that promise? Constituents in my riding are asking me and saying that health care needs support from the federal government. The federal Conservatives are absent. They said nothing about it in the throne speech. They have done nothing about it so far and they have failed Canadians.
The Conservatives did not explain in the throne speech why they raised income taxes. Why did they not explain why they raised income taxes? They raised income taxes. They reversed decreases that the previous government had implemented in the fall of 2005. That is very shameful.
What is even more shameful is that the Conservatives claimed they were reducing taxes. They are misleading Canadians. They have raised income taxes. All Canadians need to do is look at their income tax return to see that the rates have been raised by .5% from 2005 to 2006. That is shameful.
The Conservatives talk about having safer communities as one of their priorities. They promised to put 2,500 extra police officers on the streets, yet in the last two budgets there has been no fulfillment of that promise. My constituents are asking: if the Conservatives are really serious about crime, why are they not fulfilling that promise, why are they not reforming the judicial process? The Conservatives are just posturing. They are just misleading Canadians.
Let us talk about another priority that the Conservatives had in the last campaign: early learning and childhood education. They promised the creation of 125,000 extra spaces. Where are these spaces? Not a single space has been created.
There have been two budgets and it has been close to two years and they have not only not fulfilled their promise but they are not even talking about it in the throne speech. It is completely absent from the throne speech.
In Mississauga, there are more than 2,000 kids on waiting lists for child care spaces. The government cares nothing about that and has done nothing about that.
Let us talk about the environment. The Conservative government pretends to care about the environment, but what has it done so far? Nothing. It has cancelled Liberal programs, it has misled the public, it has misled the international community, and it has done nothing.
Do members know what the Conservatives are all about? They are about pretend politics. I read a letter in The Globe and Mail the other day written by one Canadian who has them figured them out. He wrote that the Conservatives were all about pretend politics and that Canadians were going to pretend to vote for them in the next election.
The Conservatives are all about rhetoric but no action. With regard to the environment, they failed Canadians and they failed the international community while everybody else knows that this is the number one challenge that our planet is facing.
What have the Conservatives done about infrastructure spending? They have done nothing. Mississauga has already been promised by the an additional $80 million to help in the rapid bus transit project last March. The money has yet to come. Our provincial counterparts have made that pledge and the money is there.
However, the federal government, because there was a risk of an election last spring, has yet to send the money. Many people in Mississauga are waiting for that money. We need infrastructure money. The City of Mississauga has been let down by the Conservative government. Do members know why? Because the Conservatives know they are at odds with the people of Mississauga. They do not care about the people of Mississauga. They do not listen to the needs of the people of Mississauga.
What about immigration? There is not a single word in the throne speech about immigration. Everybody knows that immigration is essential to the success of the future of our country. What did the Conservatives do? They ignored it. They have been ignoring it for the last two years.
They made a promise, by the way, in the last campaign about creating an assessment office for foreign credentials. What have they done? They broke that promise. They looked straight into the face of the Canadian public and said, “Sorry, we can't fulfill that promise”. Yet, in last election campaign, they exploited the angst and frustrations of many new Canadians and told them, “Don't worry. We're going to fix it for you. Vote us in.” And once they became the government, they have broken that promise shamelessly.
Our economy is facing a huge labour shortage. What is the government doing about it? Nothing.
Since I only have one minute left, let me get down to the point. Let me talk about how difficult it was to decide what to do about the throne speech. I explained quite clearly how the Conservative government has neglected the needs of Canadians. However, we have a priority. We have a responsibility to Canadians.
It is very tempting to bring the government down today, and I want to go to Canadians and ask them to kick the Conservative government out of office. However, we cannot act irresponsibly like the Conservatives. We have to be responsible, we have to be deliberate in our decision-making process and we have to be thoughtful. We cannot go on a whim of emotions and political posturing.
Since the throne speech has nothing binding to Canadians, we will sit down and wait to see what the Conservatives will do. However, next time there is legislation that we feel is taking Canadians in the wrong direction, we will be sure to hold the government to account and ask Canadians to be the judge.
I wish my colleagues all the best—
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today. I will be splitting my time with the . Like most Canadians, I like to share with the minister at least once a year when he assesses my taxes. I am sure he will look at my file a little differently now that I am sharing with him.
I was really thrilled to be appointed by the to this role. It is a dream come true at some times. Other times it is more of a nightmare. There are a lot of thorny issues that percolate around the agricultural sector in our great country, Canada.
This is an agricultural day on the Hill. A lot of groups are around the Hill advocating and lobbying and so on. I started out my day at about 7 o'clock this morning with a breakfast with fertilizer groups from across the country. We talked about their future and the role they play in agriculture. It was a great discussion of issues pertinent to them, and I look forward to my next meeting with them as well.
Later today I will meet with the animal nutrition folks. They are working their way through a lot of the glitches that have arisen with respect to imported animal nutrition products and how we are going to come to grips with free and unfettered trade, but still ensuring that the food supply is safe and secure for our pets as well as people. We working toward that end.
Tonight a lot of us will end up with the CAFTA group that is here. At the same time the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is putting on another function as well. There is never any lack of things going on in the agricultural files.
There are a number of things I have been happy to pick up from my predecessor, now the , who did a fantastic job on this file. We have a saying in agricultural areas that I am basically harrowing the ground that he ploughed on a lot of these issues. I tried using that logic with a member of the media in Ottawa at one time and the person got it backward. The individual was harrowing before ploughing. Out in the real world we do it in the right order and a lot of it has to do with the environment and taking care of that in our charge.
A number of things in the throne speech have been decried by the Liberals. A lot of that may be alligator tears and a bit of an impression that they never really measured up.
There were a number of Liberal throne speeches. They prorogued a number of times and recessed and did all sorts of funny tricks. Most of their throne speeches ended up in the archives because nothing ever came out of them. I never found any mention of agriculture in any Liberal throne speeches. You have been here longer than I have, Mr. Speaker, and I would challenge you to try to remember back over the years any words of encouragement to the agricultural sector in a Liberal throne speech. I could not find any at all.
Then I started to think that maybe the Liberals put it all into their budgets. Maybe that was when they kept their powder dry in the throne speeches and rather than over promise, they would deliver something in their budgets. I started checking those too and other than a trail of tears leading to the vault from Canadian taxpayers, I could not find mention of agriculture in their budgets either.
There was a lot of neglect on the agricultural file over the 13 years the Liberals were in office. My colleague from Prince Edward Island, who is with us here today, is agreeing with me. He is nodding his head. Farmers on the emerald isle are telling him that as well. I am happy to have that support.
I had a great trip out to Prince Edward Island a couple of weeks ago. The member of the agriculture committee from Prince Edward Island followed me around and re-announced my announcements a day later. That is the greatest form of flattery. He is agreeing with everything we are doing. I am certain we will see a lot of support from the member.
I made a mistake in question period. I should have said the former minister, the agricultural brain child from Prince Edward Island. I want to apologize to the rest of the country for mistakenly calling him the minister. Everybody is going to have a late night trying to get to sleep after that one.
A number of great initiatives have been announced in the throne speech that pertain to agriculture. There is mention about interprovincial trade barriers. We all know the cost and the cause of those types of things as we have these little kingdoms across the country. Some of the provinces, specifically British Columbia and Alberta, have come forward with an agreement called TILMA, which gets rid of that boundary when it comes to agricultural products especially. We hear some discussions are happening between Ontario and Quebec. It is all great news.
We need free and unfettered trade among our provinces the same as we are seeking. My seatmate, the , was on his feet today a number of times. He talked about bilateral trade agreements, on which we are working. Those are requirements of a trading nation like our country, whether we get everything we are looking for at the WTO in Geneva this go around or not. We are still going to need bilateral trade agreements to build on that foundation or to take the place of that if a deal does not go through. It is not looking good at this point. There are a lot of different interests at play.
Our main trade negotiator, a fellow named Steve Verheul, has done yeoman service. I have a lot of time for Steve as do most farming operations across the country. He has done a tremendous service for Canadian agriculture in carrying that message and that load to the round tables at Geneva. Steve deserves our respect and certainly a bigger pay cheque than we could ever give him.
He does that job. He is the greatest cheerleader for Saskatchewan agriculture, Ontario agriculture, the Maritimes agriculture and Quebec agriculture. Every form of agriculture in the country is being represented equally and robustly by Mr. Verheul at those tables as we could ever imagine. I just cannot comment enough on the great job he has done.
There are a lot of other things in the throne speech. We reiterate our movement toward free and unfettered trade in the world. We are very close in negotiating some of the trade deals. Some of them we have signed.
I started to check back in history. I wanted to compare our action with what the Liberals did over 13 years and I could not find one action. The member who spoke before me went on and on about what is not in and what is in and how they would do a better job. I guess if we want to compare report cards, that is what the next election will be all about, whenever it comes.
I am happy doing my job. If it comes to pounding campaign signs tomorrow, next spring or next fall or October 2009, when we have actually stipulated the date, I am happy to do that.
However, I am here and I want to govern. I have enjoyed working with my provincial counterparts, teeing off on the great work that the former minister did in Whistler last June, moving forward with “Growing Forward”, getting past that old CAIS program, which even the Liberals have said we should have done earlier. We campaigned and made a promise on that. We are following through on this and we are replacing it.
We are coming forward with user friendly products. They are bankable, they are predictable and they are the best of which we can work.
We have had two rounds of discussions with the farm groups. We are looking forward to a third round. I had a conference call with my provincial counterparts last week. I am looking forward to a face to face meeting in mid-November to carry on with the great work the farm lobby has done in building this new generation of products.
Of course we cannot back stop everything we would like to. There are trade rules that curtail us in certain ways. However, we have been very innovative and appreciative of what the farmers have gone through sector by sector.
Talking about innovation, I came to this job with one concrete principle, having been a former producer. My one and only concrete principle is farmers first. Without a robust farm gate, a vibrant farm gate, none of the rest of my portfolio or a lot of other portfolios make any difference at all.
We are about ensuring that farmers can do what they do best, which is to plant those seeds, raise those livestocks, grow the vineyards, the orchards and so on, which make this great diverse agricultural sector.
I have stayed with that bedrock principle. I have had great discussions with some of the processing sector, which is also facing some anomalies at this point with the dollar rising as quickly as it has and as dramatically as it has. A lot of that speaks to the robust Canadian economy as a whole. Our American counterparts are slipping a little and they are our major trading partners. Some 85% of what we trade goes back and forth across the border on a daily basis.
We are all about free and unfettered trade, but it is easier to get a piece of steak into Montana than it is to get it from Lloydminster into Alberta. That is how crazy that interprovincial trade stuff is.
We are looking at a lot of those issues, working with our provincial counterparts, building a stronger economy around the farm gate. In the statement my parliamentary secretary made today in the House, his S. O. 31, he talked about the contribution of agriculture to the GDP of our great country. The third largest contributor, some 8% of our GDP, comes right out of that farm gate. If we do not stop and think about the great work the men and women in the farm families are doing across the country every time we sit down to a great meal or a great snack, then we are missing the boat.
There has been a disconnect over the years between the gate to plate analogy. I remember years ago being raised on the farm. There was not a Sunday that I can remember that the aunts, uncles and cousins did not come out from Saskatoon or the cities they lived in and enjoyed a great chicken or beef supper, or a trip to the pasture to check on the cows. Of course we had the good old wiener roast down there.
I do not remember ever losing that disconnect. They were all born in farm families, moved to the city to carry on with a career, but they never lost that analogy. They always came back and remembered that foundation, that anchor, which was what Canada was all about.
I have had a tremendous opportunity to look at the future of agriculture. In my mind it is all about science and technology and it is all about innovation.
I made a comment at the biotech summit a couple of weeks ago. I said that when my grandfather was homesteading, his hands were on the plow and he dressed accordingly. Today, the pioneers for agriculture are wearing lab coats. That has dramatically changed over the last 100 years. Over the next 10 years, I think we will see a paradigm shift in agriculture as we start to look at bigger and better things for our farmers and our farm gate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
As the Speech from the Throne states, Canada is the greatest country in the world. With a population of only 33 million, it has a gross national product of approximately $1,500 billion, and those are real Canadian dollars.
The success of this great economy is the result of hard work and innovation of millions of individual Canadians. Our government wants to build on this success by creating the conditions that encourage both individuals and companies to continue to prosper through strategic investments in the economy and tax relief.
The throne speech reinforces our government's overall approach to growing the Canadian economy. The Advantage Canada plan is at the centre of this sensible approach that ultimately means better paying jobs and solid growth for Canadians. I, like all of us, look forward to the fall economic and fiscal update from the which will outline the next steps in that plan.
While we have been in government for only a short time, we as Conservatives have done so much to provide the country with effective economic leadership. At the core of our economic philosophy is the belief that Canadians still pay too much tax. As a consequence, over the past year and a half our government has brought forward and implemented broad based tax relief for individuals, businesses and families. To be exact, we have enacted or announced $41.5 billion worth of tax cuts for hard-working Canadians since coming to office.
Members from the Conservative Party believe that Canadians should be able to rely on an income tax system that rewards those who work hard. As Minister of National Revenue, I am responsible for the CRA and its fiscal policy administration activities. That does not mean just collecting taxes. It also means giving money back to Canadians and their families through a number of sensible benefits programs the government has launched. This makes everyone happy, including the tax man.
The throne speech recognizes middle class Canadians and their families as the bedrock of our workforce. It reminded us that we must understand their priorities and address their concerns if we are to achieve our goal of a more prosperous Canada. As , I fully support this objective.
I would now like to describe how our government turns fiscal policy into monetary reality for Canadian families and the 25 million individual tax filers in this country. Let us look, for example, at the impact of our universal child care benefit. This benefit helps parents of young children balance their work and family lives. It means a family with two children under the age of six receives $2,400 a year which contributes to a choice in child care. In fact, our government has already distributed $3 billion in UCCB payments to about 1.5 million Canadian families.
Another good example of how the government is delivering valuable benefits to Canadians and their families is the child disability benefit. This program assists families in caring for children with severe and prolonged impairment in mental or physical functions. The program reported over 53,000 recipients in the last fiscal year, with a total of $155 million going directly into the hands of caregivers.
Budget 2007 introduced a non-refundable child tax credit for parents. In practical terms, this means that the government will issue a cheque to more than $3 million Canadian families for up to $310 for each child under 18.
The child fitness tax credit offers parents an annual tax credit of up to $500 to help offset fees paid to register their children in eligible physical fitness programs. For instance, a family that pays a total of $1,500 to register three kids in hockey programs will reduce their taxes owing by $232. Parents will get this tax credit when they file their 2007 income tax return. Besides helping the pocketbook, it will also help address other critical concerns like childhood obesity.
The list goes on. We are helping Canadians with the cost of post-secondary education through registered education savings plans, deductions for the cost of textbooks, tax exempt bursaries and scholarships.
Last year, countless Canadians applied for the public transit tax credit and we fully expect these numbers to significantly increase this year. Early indications have shown that it is having a positive impact on public transit ridership. Last year, the Toronto Transit Commission confirmed the credit had resulted in about a 5% increase in sales just months after coming into force.
We are now working with our partners in the provinces and territories to implement a new working income tax benefit. The goal of this benefit is to strengthen incentives for low income Canadians so that they can earn income from work without sacrificing needed social benefits. Once implemented, we estimate that this will help more than one million Canadians and their families to get over the so-called welfare wall.
Those are some examples of how we, the Conservatives, are working to improve the quality of life of Canadians.
The government has shown Canadians that filing their tax return does not necessarily mean they will have less money in their pockets. For many Canadians, it even means they will get money back.
As members of the Conservative Party, we also believe that the government has an important role in creating the appropriate conditions to help Canadian businesses and organizations prosper. We also believe that we can achieve this by using the income tax system to reward hard work, encourage investment and create jobs, and to help Canadian businesses be competitive internationally.
That is why our government has enacted or announced more than $3.5 billion in tax cuts for business since taking office, cuts that directly impact 1.6 million corporate tax filers throughout Canada. More specifically, our government has introduced the Canada employment tax credit, eliminated the corporate surtax, and increased the taxable income threshold for small businesses and reduced the rate.
We understand that small businesses are essential to economic competitiveness. To this end, we committed to reduce the administrative burden and red tape for business by 20%. In fact, we have already taken steps toward this goal. For instance, the CRA's small business action task force introduced measures to reduce the frequency of tax remittance and filing requirements.
This means the compliance burden for small businesses is being reduced substantially, on average by about one-third, and by up to 70% for some very small businesses. CRA estimates that 350,000 businesses stand to benefit from these changes.
Expanding online access to tax services is another way we are reducing the burden for businesses. Today, I am pleased to announce the addition of several new features to the CRA's My Business Account suite of electronic services for businesses. Our government continues to deliver on its goal to meet the needs of business taxpayers for faster, secure and expanded online access to tax services. The new My Business Account services are a significant improvement in service delivery and help to reduce red tape.
I should also mention another initiative we have undertaken to improve the situation of the business community. We have updated the Canada-U.S. tax convention to facilitate cross-border investment and commerce. This newly signed agreement protocol represents a major milestone in that its provisions will help facilitate cross-border investment and commerce.
We are modernizing our competition and investment policies to ensure they can attract the kinds of foreign investments that create jobs and opportunities for Canadians and let us compete against the best in the world.
One of the most effective ways for our government to improve the quality of life of our citizens is to reduce taxes.
I would be remiss if I did not mention our government's historically and economically important decision to reduce the GST. A lower GST helps families and businesses. It lets individuals and parents keep their money to meet their needs. It also leaves more money in their pockets for them to use to stimulate our economy, which is good for all businesses.
Overall, our throne speech is an ambitious agenda to make--
Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I heard the minister take credit again for things that were done long before the Conservatives were in office. Government members are very good at that. I want to make it very clear that we were the envy of the world long before the current government came in.
Today I would like to talk about the throne speech. I would like to talk about some of the things that are in it and some of the things that are not. I want to assure the House that I will be positive when I find positive things in it, but first I am going to talk about what is missing.
We know the Conservative Party is very big on symbolism. We looked at this speech very carefully and noticed that the cover of the throne speech booklet shows a small child waving a flag but the flag is very blurred, just like the vision the government has for this country. There is not much vision there. It is quite blurred.
I am going to talk about health care, which there is not much mention of in the throne speech, and I am going to talk about the lack of services in my riding. We hear about tax cuts for all Canadians, but we would rather have more services put into the underserviced areas of Canada.
The Kenora riding is one of the ridings that has the least amount of services. We have difficulty right in our southern communities of Dryden, Kenora, Ignace, Pickle Lake and Sioux Lookout. They all have their challenges, especially in health care. In many communities such as the community of Dryden, for example, with 8,000 people, people cannot get dialysis. They have to drive and they have to drive a long way. Therefore, a stronger recognition of health care in the throne speech would have been a strong sign to all Canadians, especially in the riding of Kenora.
As for major procedures and significant health care issues, people have to be sent out of their communities to Winnipeg or Thunder Bay. These are long distances, but in small communities we understand that. What we do not understand is a government that does not have a stronger commitment to health care and to making sure that service levels can be raised in all these ridings.
I will speak now about the northern 500 to 700 kilometres of my riding and I will talk about some of the health care issues for first nations that could have been addressed in the throne speech. Right now, many members of the House would not realize that of my 21 fly-in communities, five of them do not have proper health care to any degree. They have a nursing station or unit that basically runs five days a week. Due to weather, we average about three days a week when there is no nurse in the community at all. When these communities were very small, from 200 to 250 people, that was acceptable, but they have grown. Our populations in the north are increasing.
Let me talk about these communities: Poplar Hill, with Chief Elie Moose; Keewaywin, with Chief Joseph Meekis; Slate Falls, with Chief Glen Whiskeyjack; Muskrat Dam, with Chief Vernon Morris; and North Spirit Lake, with Chief Donald Campbell. All these chiefs fight constantly for health care. They would have taken it as a sign from the government in its throne speech if there were a commitment on a vision for Canada to make sure all Canadians can share some level of health care, but they have nothing. They have nurses who fly in, generally on Monday morning or at noon, and they leave Thursday night or Friday morning because of weather situations.
There is talk about providing tax cuts for Canadians and all these other issues, but let us talk about providing services for the residents in the areas of Canada that need it most. For these communities that do not have nurses from Friday morning to Sunday night, doctors' visits are very rare. Health care could have been addressed in a much broader agenda. I know that health care has slipped from number one on the radar screen for Canadians, but it is still number two, and it should have been identified in the throne speech.
In these fly-in communities in the north, all residents have to travel for even the most minor of procedures. There are issues. Thanks to the former government, we do have technology in the north that could have been used to make sure some services were brought into these isolated places. In fact, with the technology in place in communities such as Sandy Lake and Big Trout Lake we could actually train nurses if there were some support. The residents accept this burden, but they do not understand why we are cutting taxes for some of the most wealthy people in Canada when services are not being provided for them.
There is also the issue of residential schools, an issue inside the throne speech that I applauded. It is closure at last, but only maybe. The action initiated by the previous Liberal government led to this and delays after the election have brought us to this point. I am glad we are here at this point, but it is important that we get it done, that we start the healing process and move on with the apology, which is in this throne speech. We need this to make sure that we actually get