Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to provide the reply of the official opposition, the Liberal Party, to the Speech from the Throne that opened the 40th Parliament.
Allow me to begin by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on your election to the speakership of the House of Commons. I would also like to congratulate all members on having been elected to this Parliament. Setting aside our partisan differences, we can all agree that it is an honour to represent and serve our fellow citizens in this House. I would like to thank the voters of for having placed their trust in me once again.
For the third time in as many elections, Canadians decided to elect a minority government. Once again, therefore, the government must work with the opposition for this Parliament to function.
Canada's Liberal Party is experiencing a period of renewal across the country, and it intends to act responsibly in its role as official opposition in a minority Parliament. Yes, we will be a responsible opposition, and we will devote our efforts to making sure that this Parliament works for the good of all Canadians during this period of economic instability.
I am disappointed to see that the NDP and the Bloc have wasted no time getting involved in one-upmanship and threatening to trigger yet another election mere weeks after Canadians went to the polls. That would be irresponsible. Canadians expect better from us. They want all of us to work together in the House to strengthen our health care system, to better protect Canadians, not just build more jails, to seize the economic potential of the fight against climate change, and to make our environment healthier.
What this Parliament does not need is a government written manual for committee chairs instructing them how to disrupt the work of vital parliamentary committees. What this Parliament does not need is a government that attempts to manufacture confidence votes on bills that simply are not matters of confidence.
What this Parliament does need, though, is a government that would finally offer Canadians a plan to see us through the economic challenges that we face.
Demanding strong action from the government on the economy will be our primary task. While reviewing every government action we will ask three key questions. First, will the government proposals protect and create jobs? Second, is the government doing all that it can to safeguard Canadians' pensions and savings? Third, of course, are the government proposals fiscally responsible? Government proposals for the economy that meet these three tests will be supported by the official opposition.
It is high time the government actually unveiled a plan that would protect jobs, that would safeguard Canadians' pensions and savings. It is high time the government showed an ounce of fiscal responsibility.
While there is no doubt that the global economic downturn has had a significant impact on Canada, that impact has been made worse by the government's previous economic mismanagement.
Our economic downturn did not start last month. It started nearly a year ago. Canada had the worst performing economy of the G-8 for the first half of 2008. In fact, so far this year, our economy has actually shrunk. It has been our worst economic growth since 1991.
Our country's labour productivity is falling further and further behind the United States. Our productivity has fallen for nine months straight, something that Canada has not seen since 1990. With the fundamentals of our economy already weakened, Canada entered the escalating economic crisis with one hand tied behind its back. The government spin does not match its record. It did not anticipate this and did nothing to prevent it. Look at the economic projections last fall when it cut the GST. The projections were rosy, they were optimistic, they were wrong.
Canadian workers are the ones who suffer the consequences of this government's failure to act. Over the course of the government’s time in office, we have seen a continual, steady, stream of jobs losses in many of our highest-paying industrial sectors, including manufacturing and forestry.
The government’s response has been a combination of indifference and ideology. And most importantly, no strategy to strengthen economic development in the various regions of the country.
To take a key example, the government refused to invest in the auto sector, saying it would not pick winners and losers. That was until it knew an election was only a few days away. Then it changed its mind. Now the is changing his mind again, saying that he is talking to people on the street who are telling him not to invest in the auto sector. As the government wrestles with its indecision, our economy continues to struggle and Canadian workers are losing their jobs.
At present, with no clear proposals, the government is simply unable to answer the question of what it will do to give Canadians confidence in their jobs. It is clear that the government has more work to do to protect Canadian savings and pensions. I can say, though, that I am pleased that the is expressing a new willingness to work with the G-20.
When this organization was proposed by the previous Liberal government, in fact championed by Paul Martin, the current called it a weak nation strategy. He was wrong then and he would still be wrong not to take full advantage of the G-20, this good Canadian idea, this Canadian success story.
I am also pleased to see that the Prime Minister now no longer believes that the Liberal economic plan for the first 30 days is a sign of panic, as he did during the election campaign.
We are happy on this side of the House that the government has adopted our proposal to accelerate already budgeted infrastructure spending, to meet with private sector experts, to bring forth a swift economic update, and to finally, after two years, meet with the premiers of the provinces and territories to coordinate economic strategies for the federation.
Unfortunately, the showed up at that first ministers meeting with nothing besides a new cap on equalization payments in a desperate attempt to get his flailing budget under control. By effectively renouncing his equalization formula as unsustainable, he is renouncing the centrepiece of his 2007 budget, a budget that will go down in history as one of Canada's greatest missed opportunities.
I hope that when the looks at the economy today, he demonstrates more sensitivity and vision, and sees more than simply buying opportunities, especially because, looking at the TSX, anyone that took his advice on October 7 would have lost around 10% of the market by now.
The credit crisis is affecting some of the biggest employers in Canada. This crisis comes at the worst possible moment, at a time when the decline of the stock markets has significantly reduced the value of many companies' retirement funds. Fortunately, thanks to good management by previous Liberal governments, our public pension plan is on solid financial footing. Fortunately, Canada did not listen to the current Prime Minister when he was the Reform Party's economic adviser and recommended ending the Canada pension plan.
In fact, the Conservative government inherited from the Liberal government a pension plan, a banking system, sound economic and financial fundamentals unprecedented in the history of Canada. It took three years of Conservative government to squander that legacy. This throne speech, like the two before it, falsely give credit to the Conservative government for Liberal achievements.
If only the government were at least offering new solutions for today's problems. This government has to move beyond generalities and explain precisely how it intends to provide businesses with the flexibility they need to both stay in business and deliver the pensions that they owe to Canadian workers.
The bottom line is that in less than three years the government has destroyed the $13 billion surplus that it inherited from the previous Liberal government. The government is now talking about a deficit. This deficit would not be the result of the global economic crisis. The Liberal government managed a surplus during the Asian financial crisis, after 9/11, and in the face of SARS. This deficit would be the responsibility of the Conservative government, of the , of the .
Who is responsible for this deficit? This Conservative government, this Minister of Finance, this Prime Minister.
It is the Conservative government that decided not to cut taxes in a way that would stimulate the economy and boost productivity. It is the Conservative government that became the highest spending government in Canadian history. The government earned that title in both 2007 and 2008. By the next fiscal year, the government is on track to have increased government spending by 25% from 2005-06. That is more than $40 billion in new spending every year. The government may be Conservative but it is certainly not fiscally conservative.
This government is ideologically very conservative, but it is certainly not conservative in its management of public finances.
The government has been imprudent to the point of eliminating the contingency reserve that acted as a buffer, thus helping to keep Canada out of deficit during challenging economic times.
The said repeatedly during the election that he anticipated an economic downturn. If he saw it coming, why did he spend the surplus? More important, if he saw it coming, why did he spend the contingency reserve?
The government made the decision to leave no buffer, no room to manoeuvre, to ensure that in an economic downturn the Government of Canada would spend more money than it was bringing in, to ensure that in an economic downturn Canada would be in deficit.
Last month, the said that he would never run a deficit and that talk of a deficit was ridiculous. It is actually the government that looks ridiculous today.
During the election, the government misled Canadians about the possibility of a deficit. Now, with this throne speech, the government is trying to mislead Canadians about the cause of a deficit. It is the government's responsibility. It is the government's record.
The official opposition has a strong caucus and we will continue to question the government about its choices and its record.
We will do everything we can to protect the jobs, the pensions and the savings of Canadians. We will do everything we can to ensure that discipline is once again a fundamental principle in the budget.
That is what we are asking of Canadians in these difficult economic times. And that is what the official opposition intends to offer.
The official opposition does not intend to use this occasion to bring the government down. However, we do want to offer some advice and test the government’s assurances of goodwill. To that end, using some of the Prime Minister’s own words spoken in the House of Commons on October 6, 2004, when he was the leader of the opposition in a minority government, I move:
That the motion now before the House be amended by changing the period to a comma, and adding the following:
and we urge Your Excellency’s advisors
to respect the results of the election in which more than 60 percent of voters supported members of Parliament in the opposition;
to bear in mind that people express their wishes as much through the opposition as through the government;
to recognize that Canadians rightfully expect the House of Commons they just elected to function in a less partisan, more constructive and collaborative manner, with the first responsibility for setting a better tone being that of the government which requires the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now;
to that end, given the crucial nature of the upcoming economic and fiscal update, to provide representatives of opposition parties with a detailed briefing by appropriate senior officials at least three hours in advance of the public presentation of the update, so all members of Parliament can be properly equipped to deal with the serious economic difficulties confronting Canadians.
Thank you Mr. Speaker for the opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne, delivered yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.
I would like to begin by congratulating you once again, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election as Speaker and, through you, I would like to also congratulate all members of the House of Commons on their re-election.
I would also, in particular, like to thank the people of Calgary for electing me to the House of Commons for the fifth time. I have now been returned for the riding of Calgary Southwest four times in just a little over six years. Calgary is, in so many ways, a remarkable community. Dare I say that there are few like it where a young man with neither roots nor connections could have been given the opportunities I have been given and I am deeply thankful for these. In particular, I thank the people of Calgary Southwest for the enormous latitude they have given me to travel around this country and others while remaining their local representative.
Of course we are all here because of the election of October 14. Nearly 15 million Canadians voted in our 40th general election. In doing so, they were performing their civic duty, expressing their hopes for the country and leaving their mark on our shared history and destiny.
I am honoured that Canadians chose to give our government another and strengthened mandate. It is often difficult for incumbent governments to receive strengthened mandates but it is rare, indeed, to receive a stronger mandate during difficult economic times. However, that is precisely what happened in the election.
Our Conservative government, while still a minority, now has one of the broadest and most balanced mandates from across the country of governments elected in the past generation. We have moved beyond the time where governments swept huge regions entirely while being virtually shut out in other huge parts of the country. This is reflected in the breadth and depth of talent in our new caucus and cabinet.
If you will indulge a hockey analogy, Mr. Speaker, the core of experienced veterans on our cabinet team has been strengthened by the addition of several impressive rookies. This has given our line-up balance, with ministers from 10 of the 13 provinces and territories and, as well, we have one of the largest proportions of female cabinet ministers in Canadian history.
This representative breadth of our government has also been bolstered by a marked increase in our support among new Canadians from our country's vast array of cultural communities. The government will continue to build a peaceful, prosperous and pluralistic country where everyone enjoys equal opportunities to get ahead, where healthy families flourish in safe communities, where reward for individual initiative is balanced with collective commitment to helping people in need and where different faiths, languages and traditions all contribute to our rich cultural heritage.
Just as Canadians are a people who have come from different and sometimes antagonistic backgrounds and yet have managed to create one of the most harmonious societies on earth, so we as their representatives should resolve to put aside clearly partisan considerations and try, wherever possible, to work cooperatively for the benefit of Canada. This would not only serve to reinvigorate this chamber, it would also help us deal with the enormous challenges that confront Canada as a part of the global economy; challenges that have only grown since our election concluded just five short weeks ago.
Indeed, if there has been a silver lining to the global economic crisis, it has been the desire of governments thus far to come together in pursuit of common solutions. I have seen this in my meetings with our premiers and the world witnessed it at the unprecedented G-20 leaders summit held in Washington this past weekend.
If we can come to some consensus among the diverse governments of the world, many of whom have had long-standing and intractable conflicts, surely we can work more productively and cooperatively here within a single Parliament.
The Government of Canada is very pleased with the positions taken at the G-20 summit. There is a common understanding of the macroeconomic measures necessary to respond to a slowing global economy. There is an action plan for better national regulation of financial institutions and markets with transparent international assessments of countries' financial sectors and there is an endorsement of free and open economic policies with an explicit rejection of the temptations of protectionism.
That these positions are so close to those of Canada is not surprising. First, they reflect Canada's economic values: open trade and free markets, governed by prudent policy and sound regulation. We have long avoided the extremes of either protectionist economics on the one hand or ungoverned markets on the other, that, whatever their appeal, invariably leads to heartbreak for businesses, consumers and workers alike.
Second, they reflect Canada's position in the world today, particularly our relative strength among developed economies.
I will just review some of those strengths and I will quote no less an authority than the world economic forum, the world's soundest banking system. We have, thanks to prudent financial management in recent years, the strongest fiscal position of any of the major industrialized countries.
In less than three years, our government has paid down $37 billion on the national debt. That has given us the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G-7, which means we have greater fiscal flexibility than most other nations.
Taxes have been cut across the board: sales taxes, income taxes, business taxes and further tax cuts are built into our fiscal framework. Furthermore, our public pensions are actuarially sound and our government has increased social benefits to bolster the financial security of Canadian households, such as through the creation of the universal child care benefit, bolstered transfers to provincial programs of health and post-secondary education, and enhancement of the guaranteed income supplement.
These measures have been helping Canadians live within their means instead of beyond their means, as has occurred in so many other countries.
Nevertheless, as I have said, Canada is in a position of only relative strength in the global economy, and the global economy is entering a period that world leaders have concluded is as dire as anything we have faced in many decades. We have been affected and we will be further affected, particularly given that our closest neighbour and largest trading partner is at the epicentre of the financial earthquake and global slowdown.
The collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the United States set off shockwaves around the world, paralyzed international credit markets, caused bank failures in New York and London and financial crises in countries like Iceland and Hungary, and resulted in extreme gyrations in stock and commodity markets, and plummeting consumer spending in the hardest-hit countries, including the U.S.
As a consequence, our investments have suffered, our property values have softened, and some of our export markets have already contracted, but ever since this crisis began over a year ago, we have been moving decisively to counteract its effects. Our early fiscal stimulus in the form of long-term reductions in consumer, personal, and business taxes has bolstered domestic spending and improved our attractiveness for investment. Our legislation strengthening the Bank of Canada's ability to provide liquidity for our domestic credit markets has been essential, and to guard against the U.S.-style real estate implosion, we acted to limit mortgage terms and to establish minimum down payments.
Due to these actions, when the global crisis deepened this fall, Canada has been able to avoid some of the riskier and more expensive actions other governments were forced to take.
For example, we have not had to spend billions of dollars to buy into or bail out crumbling financial institutions. Instead, in Canada we have maintained stability through carefully targeted commercial interventions designed to preserve the inherent strength of our banking sector and to help it maintain liquidity and provide credit.
Our commitment to purchase insured mortgages through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has ensured that our financial institutions would keep lending to individuals and businesses. Our new Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility created the confidence needed to facilitate continued interbank lending. These actions have been very helpful in the financial sector, as have the monitoring policy actions undertaken by the Bank of Canada, often in coordination with other countries.
At the same time, some of these actions are unprecedented; indeed, we would probably not have considered some of them even a short time ago.
And it become very clear at the G-20 summit that further actions, possibly including further unprecedented actions, may be necessary.
It is becoming apparent that financial and monetary actions may not be sufficient to deal with the present crisis. Already governments around the world have been responding with large budgetary actions, and we will see many more. China has announced a half-trillion dollar package to bolster domestic spending; the United Kingdom and the United States, though already deeply in deficit, are moving ahead with additional fiscal stimulus.
In short, world governments have resolved that they will undertake whatever financial, monetary and budgetary measures are necessary to cope with the crisis, and, let me be clear, this is also the position of the Government of Canada.
We will undertake whatever short-term fiscal measures are necessary to be part of a global economic solution to a global economic problem. We will do so while ensuring that our country's fundamental strengths and competitive advantages are still in place when the turmoil subsides.
To that end, it is critically important that we avoid returning to the structural deficits that so handicapped Canada during the middle and late 20th century. Twenty-seven consecutive years of annual federal deficits led our government to the brink of national insolvency. Fortunately, in the 1990s a bipartisan consensus developed here and in virtually all of our provincial governments that such structural deficits had to be eliminated. This strong fiscal framework has allowed us to act early in this crisis and to keep our economy stronger thus far than has been the case in other industrialized nations.
Once again, I think we can all agree that balancing the budget by raising taxes, by cutting essential government activity or by refusing necessary intervention in the midst of a global economic crisis would be a cure worse than the disease. We will have to act in the months to come while clearly ensuring that Canada does not return to ongoing or structural deficits.
Once again, I think we can all agree that balancing the budget by raising taxes, by cutting essential government activity, or by refusing necessary intervention in the midst of a global economic crisis would be a cure worse than the disease. We will have to act in the months to come to clearly ensure that Canada does not return to ongoing or structural deficits.
The will provide greater assessment and detail in his economic and fiscal statement next week during this debate on the Speech from the Throne, but I will mention the essential elements.
We will conduct a thorough strategic review of all departmental program spending plans for the next four years, and in fact the began this process a year and a half ago.
All grants, contributions and capital expenditures will be scrutinized carefully with a view to streamlining operations, making service delivery more efficient and saving taxpayers money.
All departments and agencies will be required to produce detailed quarterly financial statements accessible to parliamentarians and the public so that expenditures are subject to regular ongoing scrutiny.
All crown corporations and assets will also be subjected to strategic review to ensure they are still providing essential services to Canadians.
Public service compensation costs will be held in check.
In keeping with our commitment to fiscal balance, the Canada health transfer and Canada social transfer to the provinces will continue to grow as planned on a principled, sustainable basis. Equalization payments will also grow at a sustainable rate tied to the overall growth of our economy.
In addition to the budgetary measures we will take in the form of both long-term savings and short-term fiscal stimulus, our government is committed to actions that will stimulate investment, help workers and businesses adapt to rapidly changing markets at home and abroad, and create new and better job opportunities for Canadians. Some of these measures were laid out in our election platform and will be pursued over the course of our mandate.
To encourage investment specifically in our uranium mining and airline sectors, we will raise the threshold for foreign investment reviews. We will negotiate reciprocal treatment for Canadian businesses with our trading partners, while retaining the right to block foreign investment if it jeopardizes national security.
To stimulate investment and employment in the automotive and aerospace sectors, our government will increase funding for the automotive innovation fund and the strategic aerospace and defence initiative.
We are watching developments very carefully in the automotive sector, both here and south of the border. Any intervention by Canada will only be done if it is in the overall interest of the Canadian economy and if it is in sufficient regard for the interests of Canadian taxpayers.
To ensure that all our manufacturers continue to transform in a competitive global economy, we have already provided accelerated tax writeoffs for investments in machinery and equipment. We will also reduce tariffs on imported machinery and equipment.
We will also continue to support and encourage private sector research, development and commercialization of new products and innovations through our national science and technology strategy. For example, we will make further investments in Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing, an emerging world leader in the areas of computer, engineering, mathematical and physical sciences.
As well, while investing in the industries and jobs of tomorrow, our government is supporting the traditional industries that have long formed the sturdy foundation of Canada’s economy. In some sectors and regions, those industries have been buffeted by a perfect storm of currency fluctuation, declining demand and increased foreign competition. One-industry communities have been particularly hard hit, and our government has responded with funding that supports local economic diversification, employment retraining and assistance for older workers.
However, there is more we can do to support traditional industries.
For the mining sector, we will extend the mineral exploration tax credit.
For the forestry sector, we will extend support for international marketing efforts and provide incentives to create energy from biomass.
For agriculture, we will invest in slaughterhouse capacity across Canada, maintain support for supply-managed sectors, and continue to champion marketing freedom for western Canadian grain farmers.
In our globalized economy, no country can escape international downturns altogether.
During such periods, governments have a duty to help families and communities bridge the gap between downturn and recovery.
It is also our duty to ensure that when a downturn occurs, Canada is last in, least affected, and first out. Our government has already taken numerous measures to achieve the first two objectives. To achieve the third, we are investing in the national infrastructure and economic development that will carry us to recovery.
Our Building Canada plan is the most ambitious infrastructure renewal effort in half a century. It involves roads, bridges, ports, border crossings, water treatment facilities airports and much more, in communities large and small from coast to coast. The federal and provincial governments will be working to accelerate these investments over the coming year.
We are also working to complete Canada's broadband Internet network, so Canadians in rural communities will have equal access to cyberspace.
As well, to further ensure equal opportunities for all Canadians, our government will restore the funding to Canada's three major regional economic development agencies, funding that was cut by our predecessors.
We will also make federal regional development funding available for the first time to communities with high unemployment in southern Ontario. We will establish a new agency dedicated to the economic development of Canada's far north, our magnificent Arctic frontier that holds such incredible potential to fuel our future prosperity.
To be at the forefront of recovery, Canada needs a healthy small business sector and skilled labour force. Our government will unleash the entrepreneurial energy and creativity of our country by further raising their tax thresholds and by indexing their lifetime capital gains exemptions to inflation.
With the resumption of Parliament, we will continue to implement the federal paper burden reduction initiative for small and medium size businesses. We will establish a venture capital fund that will help entrepreneurs get new products off the drawing board and into the marketplace.
Furthermore, we will assist young entrepreneurs with families by increasing their access to maternity and parental leave benefits through the employment insurance system.
Skilled tradesmen and women are already in short supply in some sectors and regions, so our government is taking action to ensure that Canada has the workers we need to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. We have provided tax deductions and credits for apprentices and the companies that hire them. Next we will introduce cash bonuses for apprentices who complete their training programs.
We are also tackling the massive backlog in our immigration system by prioritizing applicants with the skills our economy needs immediately and by working with the provinces to ensure that the credentials of skilled immigrants are recognized across Canada.
There are other fronts on which we need to act with our provinces and territories. Our government will push forward a national effort to produce a strong agreement on internal economic union by 2010 in order to reduce interprovincial trade barriers, improve labour mobility and increase investment.
We also intend to press for a common securities regulator, as demanded by much of our business community. The Hockin report will be released no later than January, and we are pleased that virtually all provinces are open to examining its proposals.
The same principles, open and well regulated markets will guide our efforts to expand Canada's international trade relations. We are especially looking forward to working with the new administration in Washington, to strengthen the deep bonds of friendship and cooperation with our good neighbour and largest trading partner.
We will work closely to ensure our mutual protection while seeking to limit any obstacles to trade and travel undertaken in the name of U.S. national security. We will also emphasize that assured access of Canadian energy to U.S. markets is essential for the Americans' own security.
We have a real opportunity to work with the new American administration on an economically balanced North American strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
We will not put all of our eggs in one basket.
Our government will urge Parliament to quickly ratify trade agreements we have concluded with the European Free Trade Association, Peru, Colombia and Jordan. We will also actively pursue new trade and investment agreements in Asia, the Americas and Europe. And we will continue expanding our network of overseas trade offices in countries such as China, Mongolia, Mexico, Brazil and India, developing countries whose economies continue to have healthy levels of economic growth.
Throughout Canada's history our economic growth and prosperity has often been disproportionately driven by a handful of commodities. At various times fish, fur, timber and wheat were primary sources of our national wealth. Today for the foreseeable future energy is a major driver of our economy.
Globally, we are first in hydroelectricity production, first in uranium production, third in natural gas production and fifth in overall energy production, with the second largest oil reserves in the world.
We are poised to tap the enormous energy reserves in the Arctic and to build the pipelines that will deliver it to markets across this continent. We have the raw material and potential to join the worldwide renaissance in the production of clean, safe nuclear power.
We will also increase production of clean energy, including ensuring that we generate 90 percent of our electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020. We will invest billions of dollars in renewable energy sources, including biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power.
We will insist on upgrading raw bitumen in Canada before sending it for upgrading to countries with less stringent emission standards than our own.
To this point, my reply to the Speech from the Throne is focused on our plan to protect Canada and Canadians from the turmoil in the global economy.
But our government understands that Canadians also want us to take action on a broad range of other issues, and we intend to do so over the course of our new mandate.
Just as we are protecting Canada's economic security, we are taking action to protecting the health and safety of Canadians. This includes action on food and product safety, health care, safe streets and communities and protecting our national sovereignty and security. Canadians want assurance that the food, drugs and consumer products they buy are safe for their families.
Our government will reintroduce new food and consumer product safety measures that will provide for more inspection, testing and recall provisions for food, drugs, toys and other consumer products.
We will also launch an independent investigation of the listeriosis outbreak this past August and we will implement the food safety action plan, which will provide the Canada Food Inspection Agency with the necessary personnel and resources to improve safety systems.
Our government will also take further steps to improve Canada’s health care system, including initiatives that will help increase recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses. And we will launch national strategies within our federal jurisdiction to specifically tackle lung and neurological diseases.
Serious and violent crime is obviously a threat and growing concern to Canadian families and communities. Our government has already instituted numerous criminal justice reforms to restore the primacy of the rights of law-abiding citizens and to make our streets and communities safer. However, more must be done to deal with the intersection of guns, gangs and drugs, the main sources of violent crime.
Our government will end house arrest for those convicted of serious crimes such as robbery, arson, impaired driving causing death and kidnapping. We will introduce legislation to target violent crimes committed by criminal gangs. We will also deliver on our commitment to reform the youth criminal justice system.
Young people who are at risk of wandering off the path of law-abiding citizenship deserve our compassion and support. And our government will increase funding to help prevent at-risk youth from falling into the criminal lifestyle.
However, Canadians deserve protection from anyone who commits violent and repeat crimes and we will reform the young offenders legislation to achieve this objective.
We will also uphold our commitment to end the long gun registry, which is not only wasteful but has served to target law-abiding Canadians, especially rural Canadians, instead of dealing with gun crime.
The federal government has no greater duty than to protect our national sovereignty and security. For generations the Canadian Forces have proudly and honourably upheld this duty at home and abroad. Our government will continue to implement the Canada first defence strategy, our long-term plan to ensure our brave men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our security at home and to project our values abroad.
As it has been since 2001, the NATO-led UN sanctioned mission to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan will be our primary overseas deployment. We have made tremendous contributions at tremendous cost to the Afghanistan mission. As Parliament resolved earlier this year, we will continue to transform Canada's engagement in Afghanistan to focus on reconstruction and development in preparation for the end of the military mission in 2011.
Canada will also continue working for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. To that end, our government will establish an independent agency to promote international democratic governance. And we will proceed with our planned increases to foreign aid, including our commitment to double aid to Africa this year.
Our government is also committed to ensuring our sovereignty over Canada's Arctic. We will continue working to assert our jurisdiction over the lands and waters of our Arctic Archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We will also expand our jurisdiction over the region under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and require mandatory notification of any foreign vessels entering Canadian territorial waters.
As well, we will proceed with a new polar class icebreaker named in honour of our late Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker.
Further, by the same logic that we need to control and protect our offshore waters, our government will move to protect our precious inland fresh waters. Therefore, we will introduce legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports of water from Canada's freshwater basins.
We Canadians are blessed to live in a mature, time-tested democracy. But as I said at the outset of my remarks today, we need to work together as parliamentarians to ensure the effectiveness of our democratic process.
Our political institutions and rules should be modernized in order to be relevant and credible in today's world. Our government will once again give Parliament the opportunity to act on Senate reform by reintroducing legislation that will set fixed terms for senators and give voters a say in their selection.
Our government will also ensure that growing provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta receive representation in the House of Commons that more fairly reflects their increased populations.
Building on the sweeping initiatives of our first mandate to take corporations, unions and big money out of political party and candidate financing, we will also be reintroducing legislation to prevent candidates for federal political office from receiving large private loans on a non-commercial basis.
We will reduce the number of appointees to federal boards, agencies, commissions and crown corporations, in concert with reforming the selection process. Finally, we will continue to constrain the use of the federal spending power and focus our efforts on improving our own areas of jurisdiction.
Our government has received a mandate for the agenda it will place before this Parliament, but our most urgent and pressing task will be to act pragmatically, carefully and expeditiously in dealing with the global economic crisis and the risks it presents for our country. The evolving nature of the crisis will condition our response and I invite members of all parties to provide constructive input into shaping that response. However, whatever the situation, I have no doubt that Canada will rise to this challenge.
Throughout its long history, Canada has been tested many times by economic and political upheaval that erupted in other parts of the world. Each time, our country has faced those challenges and emerged stronger than before.
In the midst of today's global economic crisis we are looking at a future with unprecedented uncertainty, but we can say that few countries are better prepared or better endowed to deal with it. When the world comes to the Olympics here in Vancouver and Whistler in just a little over a year, it will see a remarkable country. Canada's economy, like Canada's people, is durable and resilient. We are blessed with an incomparable abundance of natural resources. We have a hard-working and highly educated labour force that can adapt to a modern economy and our country is strong, compassionate and outward looking.
Working together, Canadians will overcome the current economic challenges and our great country of compassion and openness will come through this period of global economic instability stronger than ever.
If we ourselves pledge to work together in the service of this country, I have no doubt that we will emerge from these troubled times stronger, better and more united than ever before.
Let us protect, all together, our families and our future.
God bless the true north strong and free.
Mr. Speaker, first of all I wish to congratulate each and every member on their victories in the last election. I would also like to thank the voters of who elected me for the seventh consecutive time.
We have all savoured the joy of victory and the time has now come to carry out to the fullest our very important responsibilities. These are times of crisis and our constituents are counting on us. There are times in political life, particularly in a minority Parliament, where ideology and a lack of openness are decidedly out of place. These are such times. The circumstances demand that we focus our efforts on the needs of the people.
Therefore, it is with a sense of urgency, and also a desire for openness, that the Bloc Québécois begins this Parliament. We announced in advance that we intend to take a constructive approach and we made certain proposals for the Speech from the Throne. The Bloc Québécois was quite prepared to compromise. It is possible to do so without renouncing the principles on which we were elected.
Unfortunately, this openness and feeling of urgency are missing from the Speech from the Throne the Conservatives have given us, as a result of three factors: first, the Prime Minister continues to be completely insensitive to the effects of the crisis on Canadians and on the economy; second, the Conservatives have learned nothing from the outcome of the last election in Quebec; and third, this throne speech looks like the last Conservative Party convention, that is, it is grounded in conservative ideology. The Bloc Québécois will therefore have no choice but to oppose passage of this throne speech.
As I said, we are going through some very serious crises. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs in recent months, particularly in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. Some people are very worried. I am thinking in particular of retirees who have seen their savings disappear, workers in the forestry industry who are seeing their plants close down, one by one, workers in the manufacturing industry who too are seeing their co-workers lose their jobs by the tens of thousands. We are in a crisis, and the federal government has a decisive role to play in supporting people and the economy, and it has the resources to do that.
This was not the case in the past. I was elected for the first time in 1990, a year marked by a major economic recession. The unemployment rate in Quebec climbed to 13% in 1993. People experienced a great deal of hardship at the time. In the early 1990s, public finances were in a deplorable state, and governments were left with less leeway. In 1993, the federal government generated a $39 billion deficit, representing 31% of budget revenue.
The government’s primary responsibility, as we enter this crisis, is to make sure that people do not suffer too badly from this economic situation. The government must do what it can with the resources available to it, and this time it has considerable resources. Since 1998, the government has generated surpluses of over $100 billion. Restoring public finances and achieving these huge surpluses came at the price of the considerable sacrifices people had to make. It is now time to put these vast financial resources to work for the people who created them, to use them in the service of the public.
I would point out that the government has financial assets—I am not talking about federal buildings—amounting to tens of billions of dollars. I would also point out that the government is in a position to achieve major savings in its spending on bureaucracy, without laying anyone off, and that it can and must eliminate the tax breaks granted to the big oil companies and tighten the rules that for too long have allowed the wealthiest people to take advantage of tax havens.
The federal government has tremendous financial means at its disposal; failing to use those means in a time of crisis would be crazy. The federal government has a critical role to play in supporting people and the economy in times of crisis.
The government has the financial and legislative means to act decisively. Unfortunately, the will to do so was not expressed in the throne speech. It is sad to see such a lack of leadership. In light of the tremendous determination of governments in Europe, the United States and China, and their will to act, it is sad to see this government's pathological timidity and blatant lack of sensitivity.
It was the government's job to be clear about its desire to provide a workable plan to support businesses in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. That is a priority for Quebec and its regions. Instead, we got vague promises.
Thousands of workers have already lost their jobs in the forestry sector, yet the government is bent on staying its disastrous course. That sends a terrible message to thousands of workers, communities and regions that rely on the forestry industry: “You are on your own.” That is unacceptable.
We are not asking the government to throw money out the window. We are asking it to do its part by introducing intelligent, substantive measures that will enhance our economy's productivity—measures that will enable Quebec's economy and Canada's economy to save and create jobs and to emerge stronger from this crisis.
Such measures include loans and loan guarantees for the purchase of new production equipment for the forestry and manufacturing sectors and refundable tax credits for research and development.
We will soon be making new, concrete, costed proposals. We are ready to debate our proposals in the House in good faith. There are millions of jobs at stake. This is about the lives of millions of people and entire regions. I want to make one thing clear: no government member will be able to look any Canadian in the eye if, having helped the banks and the oil companies, it refuses to help economic sectors that employ millions of people. There is no excuse for that kind of negligence, none whatsoever.
The also showed that he had learned nothing from the latest election results in Quebec, by upholding the decision to cut subsidies to economic development organizations. We expected this government to show some openness and to reverse this decision, to show its willingness to respect the Quebec nation's way of doing things. Reversing this decision would not have cost a cent. Instead, the decided to be stubborn and to impose a decision for no good reason. This is not acceptable.
I would also like to remind the that culture, one of the building blocks of the Quebec nation, represents 314,000 jobs in Quebec. We asked him to commit to reinstating cultural programs, as did the Government of Quebec, municipalities, regions and artists. This foolish decision to make unjustified cuts to culture was at the heart of the last election campaign. But no, the government chose to be stubborn once again, for no good reason. This is not acceptable to the Quebec nation.
The government announced that it was willing to accelerate investments in infrastructure through Building Canada, and that is good. But why not commit to accelerating the excise tax transfer to municipalities, or to creating a high-speed train link between Quebec City, Montreal and Windsor? The government also needs to inject money into the economy by investing in affordable housing. Members will remember that there is a huge surplus at the CMHC.
Government assistance for financial institutions must be contingent on banks offering credit under normal conditions to individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses. There was none about this in the throne speech. But how can we go along with the government rescuing banks but not imposing minimum conditions, which would simply require the banks to do their job?
Lastly, reducing Quebec's dependence on oil is also necessary. This economic crisis should not distract us from our environmental responsibilities.
With a bit of courage, this challenge could be used as a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate and modernize our economies and ensure the prosperity of future generations. We want the government to commit to a change in course by no longer supporting an oil economy and by applying the Kyoto principles, as unanimously voted for by Quebec's National Assembly. Yet, the word “Kyoto“ does not appear in the Speech from the Throne. There is nothing in the throne speech to indicate that the Prime Minister has finally abandoned his role as the main lobbyist for Canada's oil industry. In fact, the Prime Minister has promised to provide even more assistance to oil producers by relaxing regulations. And he is committing to supporting the nuclear industry with our taxes.
Economically, the Conservative government has shown an appalling lack of leadership. With respect to the environment, it has its head in the sand. The worst part is that the Prime Minister is once again showing his complete lack of sensitivity towards the public. The federal government was able to put its fiscal house in order thanks to the sacrifices of Quebeckers and Canadians. Workers were literally pillaged by Ottawa. A good portion of the federal surplus came from the surplus in the employment insurance fund. Again last year, the government siphoned $2.3 billion off the fund. This cannot be allowed to continue. It is the government's duty to help those who have lost their jobs.
For example, nothing is stopping the government from eliminating the two-week waiting period or from enhancing the system by expanding access to it and finally offering an income support program for older workers. Eliminating the waiting period would cost next to nothing and an income support program for older workers would only cost the federal government $45 million a year. Not a single word was mentioned about this in the Speech from the Throne.
The government also has a responsibility to help seniors and retirees who are being hit by the financial crisis. For example, the government could change the rules for RRSPs. There was nothing about this in the throne speech.
By embarking on a major program to build and renovate affordable housing, the government would stimulate economic recovery while helping low-income families. By creating incentive programs to reduce home energy use and encourage people to buy green cars, the government would stimulate recovery while helping families. We must support people.
We can stimulate economic recovery and, at the same time, reduce poverty and help families breathe a bit. But there is nothing about that in the throne speech. There is no vision, no ambition, no compassion. We were very disappointed, and I am certain that the people of Canada are as well.
In the 1990s, cuts to employment insurance forced many unemployed people onto welfare, adding to the financial burden on Quebec and the provinces. At the same time, Ottawa cut transfers to Quebec and the provinces, downloading its deficit onto them.
The results were disastrous. These cuts dealt a blow to the health and education systems across the country and seriously weakened the finances of the other levels of government. That is how the fiscal imbalance was created. This downloading by the federal government was a real catastrophe, and we would like to believe that no federal government will ever again do such a thing. Unfortunately, the current government has said it intends to reduce and cap equalization payments.
One of the first actions this government plans to take could reduce transfers to Quebec and the have-not provinces by hundreds of millions of dollars. This is completely unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and to Quebec, especially since the federal government still has not cleaned up its own act. Operating costs—bureaucratic expenditures—have gone up by 75% in the past nine years.
We expected the government to clearly state its intention to shoulder its responsibilities, without going back on its promises to Quebec and the provinces.
We also expected a clear commitment from the government that it would completely eliminate the fiscal imbalance. Instead, in the Speech from the Throne, the government reiterated its old formula based on the social union agreement, which the Government of Quebec has already rejected a number of times. The is again repeating another empty promise regarding a charter of open federalism.
In the throne speech, the government said it has increased transfers for post-secondary education, which is false. Yet, to ensure a sustainable economic future, nothing is more important than investing in education. To that end, the government must restore post-secondary education transfers to 1995 levels, that is, before the cuts imposed in the 1990s. For Quebec, this would mean $820 million.
We were willing to compromise and accept, for instance, that these transfers be restored gradually, over several years. Instead, the government decided to turn its back on the fiscal imbalance. This is unacceptable for Quebec and for the Bloc Québécois.
The has said nothing about this fundamental principle whereby the federal government must shoulder its financial and fiscal responsibilities. Instead, the wants to scale down the government's commitments to Quebec and the provinces, and ignore its promise to correct the fiscal imbalance, while refusing to clean up its own bureaucratic spending. This shows an appalling lack of leadership and we want no part of it.
During the recent election campaign, the declared his love for Quebec, pointing out that he had recognized the Quebec nation. Accordingly, the least one might have expected from the throne speech was that it contain a general principle to the effect that the federal government's policies and legislation should take the existence of the Quebec nation into account in some concrete fashion.
Quebec asked the federal government to begin negotiations to return jurisdiction for culture to Quebec, which would be entirely reasonable for a nation. There is no mention of this in the Speech from the Throne.
When you recognize a nation, you must also recognize in concrete terms its language, culture, way of doing things and values. Yet, the government is once again attempting to impose its will on Quebec by introducing repressive laws against young offenders, reducing the political clout of the Quebec nation and creating a federal securities commission to concentrate its powers in Toronto rather than helping Quebec.
The is promising new intrusions into health and education. And if he insists on proceeding with the dismantling of the gun registry, as he indicated in the throne speech, he could at least have proposed that this responsibility and the corresponding funds be transferred to the Government of Quebec.
The government was asked to not reopen the debate on abortion in the throne speech. Yet, this Speech from the Throne is the logical and ideological continuation of the last Conservative Party of Canada convention.
The Bloc Québécois cannot accept such indifference towards the Quebec nation, its aspirations, values and interests.
The 's throne speech demonstrates that he has written off Quebec, not learned a thing from the election and that his love for Quebec was just plain rhetoric.
Just two months ago, the called an early election, claiming that this House had become dysfunctional and that he wanted a strong mandate to face the economic crisis. The public decided to keep him in a minority government, particularly in Quebec. But the did not understand this message. He refused to be open and to make compromises in his throne speech, and preferred once again to focus on Conservative ideology.
The Conservative leader refuses to show leadership by providing strong support for the economy. The still shows the same lack of sensitivity towards the people who are affected by or very worried about the crisis.
Lastly, the showed that he learned nothing from what Quebeckers expressed in the last election.
This throne speech has no vision or direction, is offensive to Quebec, and lacks the sense of urgency or broad outlook that one would expect from a in a time of crisis.
This is why I move, seconded by the member for , that the amendment be amended by adding after the words “in the opposition” the following:
“that the House recognize that the Speech from the Throne is unanimously decried in Quebec because it reflects a Conservative ideology that was rejected by 78 percent of the Quebec nation on October 14 and that as a result the House denounce the fact that it does not respond to the consensus in Quebec respecting, for instance, the legislation on young offenders, the repatriation to Quebec of powers over culture and communications, the elimination of the federal spending power and the maintenance of the existing system of securities regulation.”
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you on behalf of New Democrats on your re-election. I trust we will see greater civility and decorum in this chamber.
We also extend our congratulations to the Prime Minister. Our well wishes to the leader of the official opposition in his continued service. And also to the leader of the Bloc Québécois.
On a personal note, I would like to thank the people of Toronto—Danforth for giving me the opportunity to represent them once again. Actually, a bus load of my constituents left Toronto bright and early this morning in the snow, on this occasion primarily from South Asian background, who are very active in the Pakistani community centre. They are to be arriving on the Hill shortly depending on the weather.
I certainly appreciate the support that so many in my constituency have shown me over the years and I look forward to doing my very best to carry their concerns, as we all do our best to do here in this chamber on the floor of the House of Commons.
I want to thank the people of Canada for electing the second largest New Democrat caucus in our history. Canadians, whom I have met in the past two months during the election period and since in fact over the last several years, are counting on this Parliament to have courage in the face of the adversity which is ever increasingly clear we are facing in the economy.
The economy is facing an unprecedented downturn. Millions of Canadian families are worried right now about their jobs, their pensions, their homes and their savings. They are counting on the federal government to take bold and strategic steps.
The words in yesterday's throne speech do not match the urgency or the depth of what is required to protect working families today. Canadians were hoping for more from the throne speech. New Democrats were expecting more.
As the effective opposition across this country from the farthest points north, south, east and west of this great country, New Democrats will be demanding more of the government.
We will not be supporting the throne speech. The speech that we are asked to endorse will not ease the sleepless nights of many Canadians. The throne speech spoke about a crisis but it took no bold action to deal with it. It spoke about renewal but it set no targets to revitalize the economy, and it set the same course that we have seen followed that brought us into this situation. It spoke of the inevitability of budget deficits while foolishly proceeding with additional unconditional corporate tax cuts that make no sense.
Parliament is faced with a great test. It could turn out to be a great test of our generation. While not asked to achieve independence or fight in the great wars, as our ancestors and veterans have done, nevertheless we are asked to take our nation through a global economic crisis, one that is already cutting deep into the real economy.
New Democrats have always believed that the economy must be judged on how well it serves the needs and aspirations of all our people. We believe markets can bring prosperity, but they cannot do it alone.
Sometimes governments have to get off the side lines, shore up a failing side and be part of the solution—not wait for an invisible hand to set things right.
We believe in strategic investment by government, not in unconditional corporate giveaways. We believe that productivity and enterprise drive the economy, not low corporate tax rates. We believe in fighting for Canadian workers, their jobs and their communities.
We believe that government should be about fairness and prosperity for all Canadians, for people like Jack Nijjer in Kamloops who is fearing for his small business; Jennifer Sanderson in St. John's, who is worried about her children's future; and people like the countless young Canadians with bright ideas for a greener tomorrow.
Around the world even Conservative governments are recognizing that government not only has a role to play but has a responsibility to act. Leaders everywhere are taking decisive action but the Conservative government has not shown the same courage.
It is a cause for great concern that most major world economies are in or very close to recession right now. World stock markets are down 40% and $7 trillion has been injected into the global capital supply.
But I am even more worried about auto sector job losses in Windsor, mills closing in Trois-Rivières and forecasts that put all of Canada on the edge of recession.
Consumer bankruptcies in September were 20% higher than August. Unemployment is projected to rise next year to 7%, but that is not the full story
I am reminded of the occasion during the election campaign when the and I visited Welland, Ontario. I saw our decaying industrial heartland. I spoke to workers who had lost their jobs when the 100-year-old John Deere plant closed. In fact, they were called to a meeting fully expecting that there would be an announcement of a major investment in the plant because it was remarkably productive and remarkably profitable.
John Deere had just declared an astounding quarterly profit on which it received a tax reduction as a part of the government's approach. Temporary workers had been brought in by the dozens in order to boost the production of its product. What were they told at that meeting? They were told that the plant was going to be shut down and hundreds of workers were going to be thrown into the streets. Those grim and determined faces I am never going to forget. The Prime Minister chose not to meet those workers and look them in their faces.
While the tinkers with the status quo, those families cannot put food on the table. They are counting on a government that will stand up for them and begin to take action to rebuild the real economy. Right now those people are spending their savings just to get by. In fact, some of them are reaching into their credit cards to pay for their mortgages. It is impossible to imagine a more desperate situation.
Good-paying, family-raising jobs are being replaced with low wage, insecure jobs without pensions.
This government is not looking out for the middle class who feel more pressure month by month, working harder and harder to keep up. Instead, this government is throwing money away on unconditional corporate tax cuts. This government is intent on giving to the sectors that need it least, rather than those that need it most. This makes no sense.
The productivity of our workforce is the engine of our prosperity, but for the first time in half a century a Canadian Prime Minister has let productivity fall under his watch. We now work more to produce less.
Now the crisis could be and should be an opportunity to get things right. It could be an opportunity to boost productivity and combine environmental protection with economic growth in exciting new ways. It could be an opportunity to ensure good public services and a robust infrastructure that would attract investment, improve the quality of life. It could be an opportunity to stabilize the economy, to foster enterprise and to really encourage small business.
We need bold and strategic measures to set our country on the right course. The 21st century is new and different. The tired old 20th century solutions will not work any more. Other countries are beginning to realize it. Our friends south of the border have begun to realize it and they are making those changes happen. We should be making those kinds of changes right here in Canada.
Let us build prosperity by investing in the inherent productivity that resides in the talent and the creativity, and the energy of our people in the real economy.
First, let us introduce financial regulations that protect consumers in this economy. Even though strong regulations have kept our banking sector somewhat more stable than others, the effects of the global market turmoil are unavoidable.
Stronger oversight is needed to track the $75 billion of Canadian taxpayers' money that has already been given to secure banks. If there is assistance to ailing sectors, taxpayers need a full account, and where appropriate an equity stake in return.
The federal government can protect consumers by ensuring that credit card companies stop hiking interest rates on cash strapped families that miss a payment. That is simply unfair.
Second, let us invest in the new energy economy of the 21st century. That is how we can create prosperity for the future, and a planet that will be sustainable and liveable for the next generation.
We do not have to choose between economic growth and fighting climate change. We can put a price on carbon with a real cap and trade program that makes that big polluters pay. Then we can harness the sun, the wind, the water, the biomass and energy efficiency in ways that will take us forward and be more productive.
Canadian innovation can make us leaders in renewable technology and create green collar jobs. We must begin by creating thousands of jobs right now, energy retro-fitting our homes and buildings.
Third, let us invest in enterprise and innovation in the private sector and in our research institutions. Canadian companies lead the world in information technology. Our small businesses produce original ideas.
Our universities and colleges should lead the world in practical innovation. Our young people can do it. Our academics are up to the job. They have proven it. However, we have to do more with incentives for job creation and better support for R and D and innovation funding.
Fourth, let us make strategic investments in infrastructure and the real economy. Let us commit to an ambitious plan to partner with our communities to repair our crumbling cities and invest in public transit. Let us start building affordable housing.
We have relied on raw log resource exports and raw material exports for far too long. We need credit guarantees for viable companies in the forestry sector that are otherwise perfectly profitable and productive but because of the credit crunch are looking at having to close their doors. We need that support now. It should have been in the Speech from the Throne.
We also need to take the opportunity to transform the auto sector, to develop low emission vehicles so Canada can be on the leading edge of providing the kind of transportation that Canadians want, transportation that pollutes less, costs them less and keeps jobs right here in Canada with the best auto-making workforce we can find. Canadians want these vehicles and it is also the right thing for the planet.
Fifth, but certainly not least, we must invest in our social infrastructure. Without a national skills training strategy, we are only going to compound the length and depth of the recession that we face. In the United States, pensions are guaranteed to $50,000. We need pension insurance and pension protection laws and plans to protect today’s seniors. They built this country. They deserve it.
Rule changes to employment insurance by recent governments mean that an unemployed person must exhaust her savings before her EI is even available. This is unfair. Let us fix EI so that the help is there when people need it.
And money will go right back into the local economy to create jobs, keep small businesses afloat, and put food on the table.
We can also create more jobs right away in child care and care for the aged, with more doctors and nurses and better employment opportunities for first nations. These are actions we could and should take right now in this economically critical time.
The government has to respect the 62% of Canadians who voted for change. That includes pursuing democratic reform with proportional representation. This Parliament has been asked to set aside its differences and to overcome the old politics of partisan battle. However, that does not mean giving the government the very majority that Canadians refused to give them. The government must compromise. It must work with other parties and opposition must be constructive. New Democrats are the effective opposition. We will challenge the government to do better and to deliver tangible results and real change. We oppose the throne speech because it lacks the bold action that working families need in this time of economic crisis.
I could say that history will judge us and judge us poorly if we fail the test that we face. However, it is not just history that matters. It is the families that are hurting right now. It is the jobs that are being lost today. It is the fears that Canadians have for their future and their children’s future that matter.
New Democrats have not forgotten who we are, where we came from, nor whom we represent and we are not about to start forgetting that now. In fact, we are going to bring their concerns to the table every day in the House of Commons. We will never waver from our belief that together we can build a fair and prosperous future for our country and our people.
Do not let anyone tell you, Mr. Speaker, that cannot be done.
Mr. Speaker, I must say how pleased I am to participate in the debate on the Speech from the Throne.
First, I will take this opportunity to thank all the constituents in my home riding of Cambridge North Dumfries for once again placing their trust in me for a third time as their member of Parliament.
I especially would like to thank my family for their support as I continue to serve the people of this great nation. Everyone in this chamber knows full well the burden of public office but it is not just borne by those of us who are fortunate enough to be elected. It is also borne by our families. On that note, I want to mention that I cannot thank my wife and two children enough for their support.
I also want to thank the volunteers who worked on my campaign who I have often called the best campaign team in the country. I want to tell them that I will be forever grateful.
I am very pleased to address the House here today as the new Minister of State (Science and Technology).
I consider it a great honour and privilege that the asked me to take on the role of Minister of State for Science and Technology in these uncertain times. I want to let everyone know that I look forward to serving Canadians with the same commitment and enthusiasm as I have been doing serving the constituents of the great riding of Cambridge North Dumfries.
I would also like to congratulate the hon. members for , and for having been chosen by their respective parties to be critics for the science and technology portfolio. I wish them all well. Although I recognize that we may not always agree on every issue, I know we will work well together on many files because we share a common goal and that is for the good of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your re-election as Speaker of the House and I look forward to working with you once again.
As the noted earlier, in this time of extraordinary global economic challenge and uncertainty, Canadians have entrusted this government with a renewed and strengthened mandate. We will devote all of our time and energy to addressing the challenges that families and businesses face both today and as we move forward.
The Speech from the Throne outlines our plan to help protect the economic security of Canadians and ensure our continued economic success. It also builds on the work that we began in our previous mandate by concentrating on the priorities that make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
As Canada's Minister of State for Science and Technology, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the commitments this government has made in the Speech from the Throne.
In the throne speech, our government made a commitment to work with industry, here at home to provide and apply our country's finest scientific and technological knowledge to create innovative business solutions and to invest in world-class research facilities. This builds on the commitment we made in our election platform to make additional investments in internationally recognized science and technology projects here in Canada.
We are proud of our country's success in developing new innovations. We want to add to that success by ensuring that we can take new technologies from the lab to the marketplace so that Canadians as well as people around the world can benefit.
Our government supports research and development because we know they create jobs. That improves Canadians' quality of life and the quality of their livelihood. It builds a strong economy for future generations. Our prosperity depends not just on meeting the challenges of today, but on building the dynamic economy that will create opportunities and better jobs for Canadians in the future.
Advances in science and technology are essential to strengthening the competitiveness of the economy. Those in the private sector who embrace innovation and continue to invest in R and D, especially during these difficult times, will gain significant rewards for their forethought and perseverance. That is why we will continue to support Canadian researchers and innovators.
In May 2007, the government, under the leadership of the , released mobilizing science and technology to Canada's advantage. This was a forward-thinking science and technology strategy aimed at positioning our nation for global economic leadership. Our goal is to attract the best researchers, equip them with the best facilities and ensure Canadians get the economic benefit from our collective innovations.
In advancing this strategy, we have made significant investments in scientific research setting in place many new policies and programs and articulating our priorities. Altogether, through the last three budgets, the government has announced $2.4 billion in new funding for science and technology.
Our science and technology strategy is charting a new direction, one that links the competitive energy of our entrepreneurs with the creative genius of our scientists. It is a bold plan, designed to build a national, sustainable, competitive advantage. It recognizes that Canada needs greater business investment in science and technology and in advanced technologies. It recognizes the need to ensure this new knowledge is applied in the marketplace and to make better use of a talented workforce. We need to make our innovations better and we need to market them further.
This multi-year framework seeks to build on three strategic advantages: first, an entrepreneurial advantage, through the creation of competitive and dynamic business environment that is conducive to greater private sector innovation and that makes Canada an irresistible magnet for investment; second, a knowledge advantage that targets resources to support world-class research excellence and that keeps Canadians at the forefront of research and discovery; and, third, a people advantage that provides Canadians with opportunities to acquire and use science and technology skills and knowledge to grow our base of knowledged workers so Canada has the talent it needs to compete in the changing world.
Taken together, those three advantages will translate knowledge into practical applications that improve the lives and the livelihood of Canadians. They will build on our country's research and engineering strengths to generate new ideas and innovations. They will develop, attract and retain the highly skilled people Canada needs to ensure our continued prosperity in the decades to come.
Our science and technology strategy is guided by four important principles and they are pivotal to achieving these objectives.
The first principle is promoting excellence. We need not look further than the government's past three budgets to find evidence of our strong commitment. Among the most important new vehicles we have created to promote superior innovation are the Canada excellence research chairs. This $21-million investment in science and technology will enable Canadian universities to recruit, retain and equip the most brilliant and promising researchers the world has to offer. Doing top-notch research in Canadian universities will help to maintain and advance Canada's leadership in the global economy.
Directly related to that and equally as valuable is the new Vanier Canada graduate scholarship program. This prestigious program will award 500 international and Canadian doctoral students with generous three-year scholarships in order to build a world-class research capacity in this country. Attracting top tier doctoral students both here at home and from around the world will contribute further to economic and social research-based growth for a more prosperous future. These investments reinforce that the government understands the importance of supporting the very best of ideas. We know that basic inquiry into big questions at the heart of academic disciplines may not yet yield quick results but can in fact yield crucial results in time.
For the same reason, we have targeted our investments to build world-class research infrastructure through our support of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and large-scale research centres, such as the TRIUMF subatomic physics research laboratory at the University of British Columbia, and the Canadian Light Source, a synchrotron research facility in Saskatchewan.
The second principle is ensuring that we target federal funding strategically to areas of national strength and opportunity. Now this does not mean abandoning basic research across a broad spectrum of disciplines. As we know, the Government of Canada supports research excellence through many research grants and scholarships, from our granting councils for peer reviewed research, ranging from basic research into fundamental biological processes to applied research that directly supports the development of products for our marketplace.
In total, the Government of Canada invests $9.7 billion annually to support science and technology. On top of that, there are tax incentives, as I mentioned earlier, valued at approximately $4 billion a year. These are available to Canadian businesses that invest in research and development.
However, this principle acknowledges that we must first be practical. We must maximize basic and applied research in areas where we are well positioned to make a difference in the world. That is why we are focusing our funding in areas where Canada excels. These include: environmental science and technology; natural resources and energy; health and related sciences and technologies; and information and communications technologies. By setting research priorities, we can target our funding, build partnerships and lever Canada's public research base to maximize our competitive advantage.
The science and tech strategy's third principle recognizes the necessity of fostering partnerships. While the federal government has a vital role to play in promoting excellence in science and tech and in supporting commercialization, we cannot achieve excellence in research and development alone. Provincial, territorial and local governments play a significant role in supporting and developing Canada's science and technology system. Likewise, our universities, teaching hospitals, colleges, even our high schools not only educate but inspire the researchers and business people of tomorrow. Through productive partnerships, the unique capabilities, interests and resources of all these players can be brought to deliver a better outcome for this nation.
I could cite any number of examples of outstanding partnerships that we are actively advancing in our science and technology strategy. For instance, we are creating 11 new centres of excellence for commercialization and research in areas ranging from advanced applied physics solutions to the pan-provincial vaccine enterprise. We have also established business-led networks for centres of excellence to fund large-scale collaborative networks that support private sector innovation. We have created the college and community innovation program to increase the capacity of colleges to support innovation in our communities.
Our fourth principle is to enhance accountability. Our government believes profoundly that those who are supported by public funds must be held accountable for these investments. They need to demonstrate to taxpayers that results are being achieved and achieved efficiently. Led by the policy research initiative, federal departments are in fact working together to improve the ability to measure the impact of our science and tech investments and to ensure value for the taxpayers' investments.
The science and tech strategy and its core principles underscore our government's commitment and determination to do our part and work with others to get the framework right for innovation and to achieve excellence for the benefit of all Canadians to meet the needs of the nation and our international partners.
Our continued commitment to science and tech reinforced in the Speech from the Throne makes it very clear that the future for innovation looks bright and exciting.
I am eager to work with my parliamentary colleagues and with all Canadians in order to realize this enormous potential.
Canadians can be proud of our country's history of innovation and technological advancements: the telephone, the Ski-Doo, insulin, the pacemaker, the electric wheelchair, Plexiglas, the Canadarm, the BlackBerry, and thousands and thousands more. We do not just need to innovate more; we need to get those products to the marketplace. We need to make it better and market it further.
As we have in the past, and even more so in this time of global economic uncertainty, we need to gather our minds and open our doors to the world around us creating, innovating and marketing. If we do so, we will not only take the lead but we will be the leaders of nations. We will inspire the future. We will have a high standard of living. We will attract and keep the best researchers.
In closing, I want to reiterate that Canadians have renewed their confidence in this government and we are committed to providing the strong leadership that Canadians expect and deserve. We will continue to establish effective policies that give a competitive advantage to this country. We will strengthen the institutions that keep Canadians safe, secure and prosperous. As history has continually shown, when Canada is challenged, we square our shoulders and face the challenge. I am sure we will emerge, as we always have, from this period stronger and more united than ever.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with another Atlantic Canadian, the member for .
As a new member of Parliament it is not only a privilege but an honour to have this opportunity today to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
I am able to be here to do so because of many people, especially my family, who have supported me unconditionally. I served for 11 years in provincial politics, both in government and opposition, so they know only too well how chaotic things can get. I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly on my behalf. I am sure we all recognize that without our volunteers none of us would be here.
The decision by the people of to elect me as their member of Parliament is something for which I will always be grateful. I represent one of the largest ridings in the country. There are 185 communities in the riding, eight of which are isolated, and to drive from one end of the riding to the other takes nine hours. The people of Random--Burin--St. George's have placed their confidence in me to not only represent their interests but to make sure their concerns will not be ignored.
I heard what was in the Speech from the Throne yesterday and today I am going to talk about, regrettably, what was not in the speech.
Canadians are in a state of turmoil and nowhere is this more evident than in the riding I represent. For many, trying to contend with the high cost of heating fuel and gasoline has become a burden, yet there was no acknowledgement in the Speech from the Throne that this situation has to be addressed.
When we see seniors congregating in shopping malls in order to keep warm, there is a problem in this country. When they have to choose between food and fuel in order to heat their homes, we are doing an injustice by our seniors who have contributed so much to our country.
The irony in this is that as the price of oil dropped, oil companies did not drop the prices they charged to consumers proportionately. Only when it became really obvious that consumers were being gouged did the companies act, and then reluctantly.
Our seniors need help and, as hard as it is to believe, the word “senior” does not even appear in the throne speech. The very people who built this great country were simply ignored.
It is obvious from the Speech from the Throne that despite the position taken by the on CTV's Question Period a little over a month ago when he said that we are not going into a deficit, that is exactly where we are heading. The throne speech makes that very clear.
Why would a government put the country in such a circumstance? Money was flowing like water prior to the election and now just a month later the government is singing a different tune using the global economic crisis as the explanation for what is to come.
The reality is that if the Conservative government had acted responsibly, spent wisely, and had continued with the buffer that previous Liberal governments had in place in the event of an economic crisis, we would be the envy of those countries that, through no fault of their own, are finding themselves in a difficult position.
We all know that it is a common practice, where possible, to put savings aside for a rainy day. Why is it such a difficult concept for the government to grasp?
The people from my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, like Canadians everywhere, are hard-working and when faced with adversity rise to the occasion. When the Speech from the Throne says, “In the face of this uncertainty, just as when faced with difficulties before, Canadians will prevail”, I agree. The question is: Why make it difficult for them? Why put them in that situation needlessly?
Nearly three years of irresponsible spending and economic mismanagement is what led us to this deficit and now Canadians will have to suffer as a result of it. In just two short years the government oversaw the disappearance of a $12 billion surplus. Again it begs the question: Why?
Those seniors who are on fixed incomes, who cannot tighten their belts any further, and who need a government to recognize their plight is but one group in our society who will be a casualty of the Conservative government's mismanagement, and that is a tragedy.
Another omission in the Speech from the Throne is the need to recognize those individuals who have worked tirelessly in industries that really take their toll on people and, if given the resources, would be able to retire with dignity and while doing so, create jobs for others.
While I am sure there are other industries where the work is extremely difficult, I am sure there is nothing that takes its toll on a body more than working day in and day out in a fish plant or as a crew member on a fishing boat. Those of us who represent rural communities where fishing is the main industry know only too well how hard people in the industry work.
The fishery is a major employer in the riding I represent, but measures need to be taken to ensure the industry continues to be viable, and one way of doing that is to bring young people into the industry. To do this, however, there has to be an opportunity for people to retire from the industry with dignity.
I know of men and women who have worked in a fish plant for 40 years, standing for hours on a concrete floor. They had no choice but to work under these conditions for years in order to provide for their families. In small rural communities opportunities for employment are limited.
The humane thing for a government to do would be to help fund a retirement program which would see the older workers retire and young workers enter the industry.
While governments cut taxes for businesses as a means of helping them compete and create jobs, this is another way to create employment for Canadians while recognizing the contribution made by others. As I said earlier, I am sure there are other industries in the country that would benefit from such an initiative.
Another omission in the throne speech was any kind of detailed mention of the need to provide for our children, especially those who live in poverty. Today is National Child Day and we are all wearing a ribbon to show the significance of that day. The government missed an opportunity to highlight the importance of providing for our children. One obvious way of doing so would be to initiate a plan to lift families out of poverty.
Our children are our future and so many of them fall through the cracks because there is no concerted effort to make sure that they receive every opportunity to not only survive, but excel. When I look at how and what the government will spend money on, it is obvious that the most vulnerable in our society are shortchanged.
One of the speakers yesterday, in responding to the Speech from the Throne and talking about our great country, made reference to “from coast to coast”. There is a third coast. When those of us in Newfoundland and Labrador hear commentary that refers to the country as, “from Victoria to Halifax” or “from coast to coast”, we like to give a friendly reminder that there is another coast and a province of which we are very proud.
I conclude my remarks today by congratulating, first, those who, like me, were elected for the first time on October 14. No matter what political party we represent, we will always have something in common. I am so grateful to those who have gone out of their way to share their knowledge and the benefit of their experience in the federal parliamentary system with me.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that the former member for , Bill Matthews, is watching today because he will see that the excellent tradition that he carried on while he was here is being continued by the new member for that riding. I am so glad that I mentioned the fact that he was also the member because otherwise I would be hearing from him for sure.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I would like to congratulate you on your re-election. I would also like to congratulate all members who, thanks to their election, hold a seat in the House of Commons. I would like to congratulate all new and returning members. It is an honour for us to sit in this place. It is a privilege and with it comes considerable responsibility.
I also want to thank my wife Kelly and my children, as well as my parents, for their support and guidance every day, and all those who supported me and worked for me in the last campaign, but it is of course my responsibility to serve all of my constituents.
Winston Churchill once said, “It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required”. The people of Halifax West sent me back here for a fifth time to do just that, to do what is required. I am grateful and deeply honoured to have this responsibility. We must do what is required for the future of our country.
Today is National Child Day, as has been mentioned. What we do in the next few weeks and the next few years will have a profound impact on the next generation. In these tough economic times, those children and all Canadians deserve a Parliament that will do what is required, that will put people ahead of petty partisan ideology. Yet it is our responsibility on this side of the House to hold the government to account and cause it to face up to reality, to face up to the facts before us.
Unfortunately, Canada has entered the escalating economic crisis that is gripping the globe with a lot fewer options than we should have. We are on the cusp of a deficit because of the actions, or lack of action, by the government over the past two years. Canadians know we have seen two years of mismanagement and that the government has put us in a very difficult position.
The and the have demonstrated gross incompetence over and over again. They squandered a $12 billion surplus that they inherited from the previous Liberal government. They abandoned the $3 billion contingency reserve, which was a hallmark of fiscal prudence, a cushion that made sure governments did not fall into deficit. They abandoned that idea entirely. They recklessly became the biggest spending government in this country's history.
Who is paying the price for this fiscal incompetence, this economic mismanagement? It is Canadians, Canadian families, Canadian seniors, Canadian forestry workers, Canadian auto workers, poor people and pensioners. What is the government's solution? Its solution is a broken promise on deficits.
A month ago the was saying it was a ridiculous notion to think that the government would go into deficit. Now he is talking about it as if it is an ordinary thing. We are talking about a garage sale of crown assets and a Speech from the Throne that has little new and much that has gone unmentioned.
It is time for the and his to own up to their fiscal incompetence and economic mismanagement.
Some in the country are opening the door. We are hearing some people saying that it is actually maybe not so bad having a deficit. They are letting the government off the hook. How soon they forget. They should ask Michael Wilson if it is easy to get rid of a deficit, as his boss Brian Mulroney promised back in 1984. What did he do? Instead he doubled the debt over that period and left the country with the highest deficit in history of $42 billion. How soon they forget.
Once deficits have started, it is obviously very hard to remove them. They could ask, if he were here, and unfortunately and regrettably John Savage is not here today to tell us, what it was like to deal with the debt that he inherited in my province of Nova Scotia from the Buchanan government, which started with a debt of less than half a billion dollars. In only 10 years it increased by 700%.
It is not easy for governments. Once they are in deficit, once that borrowing habit is started, it is a hard habit to kick and a very dangerous one.
The American philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The government was left with a $12 billion surplus. It cannot point the finger at the previous government because whatever investments were made by the previous government, it still left behind a $12 billion surplus.
The government arrived in government with the best fiscal conditions of any government in the country's history and it is trying to blame the world economy for the fact that it is already falling into deficit. Previous governments before this one would have given their eye teeth for such fiscal conditions, for such ability to spend and to keep the economy in good shape, but the government squandered it.
They ran a deficit for three months this year. The government is heading for a deficit, and current economic conditions will lead it further into deficit. They did not have to fall into such a serious deficit situation, but their choices created their current situation. And that is certainly a deficit.
As a country we will have much less ability to respond to what is happening in the world economy and in our country and its economy. As a result, the country will be left in a much worse situation than it would be otherwise because of the steps the government took over the past two years. It is really the result of reckless pride and profligacy. The government ignored the advice of economists on how to handle its finances. It ridiculed the opposition and its suggestions and its concerns about where the government was going, where it was heading into deficit. It even said the notion of going into deficit was ridiculous. Suddenly it has become reals; it is no longer ridiculous at all. The government frittered away the surplus with promises and programs targeted to gain votes.
This is not the time for more retail politics aimed at various groups with whom the government wants to curry favour. People who are anxious about their pensions or who have lost their jobs, whether they are in my riding of , or in Quebec City, or Windsor or Vancouver, do not care on what side of the aisle we sit in here. They want us to do what is required, which is to protect their homes and jobs, secure their pensions, support their families and, of course, help those who need it most. That does not mean executives with fat bonuses or large corporations.
Many are concerned about what has happened on Wall Street for the past few months and the fact that there was a system of compensation which encouraged short-term thinking, that there was this deregulation in the U.S., the kind of deregulation that we have seen that party advocate for so many years. Thank goodness the Conservatives did not have a majority. Thank goodness they did not have their way with our financial institutions. Imagine the mess we would be in today if they had.
I sat down a few days ago with people who provide services to those who are struggling with poverty, new immigrants facing barriers to employment, seniors, people with disabilities and people who are losing their jobs. This meeting of groups that are serving these people was organized by health workers because these things impact people's health. When the economy is strong as we have seen, as Statistics Canada showed a couple of years ago, between 1996 and 2005 poverty actually declined in the country and there was less domestic violence. With a strong economy, good things happen. However, when we have problems, the government has to respond.
I look forward to having the opportunity to continue with questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start today by thanking my constituents from the bottom of my heart for their support in the past election. More than 77% chose to support me and I sincerely thank them. I appreciate the great honour they have bestowed on me once again.
I also want to thank all of those who came out to vote for other political parties, because I am concerned, as are many of us in the House, with the declining voter turnout in our country. It is an important issue for all of us. I feel somewhat embarrassed that the electorate turnout percentage in the United States was higher than it was in Canada. I am sure it is not something Canadians are proud of, and I know they will change that in the next election. I am looking forward to that, certainly.
I am in the House of Commons not only because this is an exciting and interesting job, which it certainly is, but also because there are certain things I want to do.
I am a member of the Conservative Party because I believe it represents those things better than any other political party.
Many others in the House believe in a different agenda and in approaching things differently. I am sure every member of every party believes their party can best represent what is good for this country, and I respect that. I also respect the fact that voters chose to elect each of us in the House, and I congratulate all members of the House for winning their elections. It is truly a great honour, and we have important work to do.
I know there has been a lot of talk since the last Parliament about decorum in the House and about working together. The interesting thing is that in committees and in many areas we do work together quite well. Maybe the divisions and the undesirable comments that go back and forth are not as frequent as the general public believes. It is important for us to get that message out as well.
And it is important to work together. We have been given our third minority government, and Canadians expect us to work together to make this government work. I know that the and the Conservative members of Parliament understand that, and I know other members do too.
We are truly blessed to live in this wonderful country of Canada. It is important to remember that the freedoms we have exist because our fathers, mothers, grandparents, great-grandparents, and the generations before them sacrificed and took initiative beyond what we can only imagine to build and develop the country we have today. It is a truly remarkable country. As Canadians we share remarkable freedoms that are shared by very few other people on the face of the earth.
We are in a time when we have to show a level of leadership and a wisdom in leadership that we have needed at very few times in history. The situations we are facing, especially in the financial markets and the economy, are very serious and will require united action. I encourage every member of the House to be a part of that and to make things work.
In my constituency the two main industries are the oil and gas sector and the agriculture sector, and they are what I want to talk about in my remaining time today.
Both of these sectors are the sources of thousands of jobs in my constituency, and both of them create jobs for others right across the country as well.
The oil and gas industry has been a driving force in providing wealth for communities in my constituency and for workers in all provinces across this country. This industry is a vibrant one. It can, has, and will continue to meet and to exceed the environmental standards expected of it.
Agriculture is the most important long-term and renewable industry in my constituency and in Canada. No industry is more important.
I was raised on a mixed farm and I am still involved in a grain farm on a crop share basis. Many of my friends and neighbours are farmers.
Our party cares deeply about farmers because our party has deep roots in rural communities right across Canada. I am proud of that. I am proud of what our government has done to date on agriculture over the past two and a half years. I want to talk about that.
As the member of Parliament for , I have provided substantial input into many issues to do with agriculture. In our party and in our caucus we are free to do that, and many of my colleagues have provided a lot of input.
On the broader issues, of course, decisions are made by the in cooperation with some of our incredibly capable public servants in the department.
However, many members in the House take on particular issues. These are not large issues nationally, but they are very important to individual groups and to people in certain constituencies. I want to talk a little about some of these issues.
My colleagues and I have been successful in providing control for gophers, which are one of the most devastating pests to crops and pastures in the prairie provinces in particular. Returning 2% liquid strychnine to farmers probably saves them over $200 million a year. When we are talking about billions of dollars all the time, sometimes $200 million does not sound like a lot, but to my friends and my neighbours and my colleagues it is important. Our government has done that because a small group of us have taken it on as an issue and lobbied for it.
We have also lobbied to extend the own-use imports program for glyphosate and expanded it to a number of other products. Under the replacement program for own-use imports, the GROU program, farmers can now import these products from the United States in particular, again saving farmers tens of millions of dollars each and every year.
We have ensured that our cattlemen can continue to bring IVOMEC across the border from the United States, saving them tens of millions of dollars a year.
Why not talk about the billions of dollars all the time and about the tens of billions of dollars that we spend on other programs? We certainly do talk about that a lot, but it is important to look at these so-called smaller issues that are critically important to a particular group of people.
I want to talk a little about what we have done over the past two years in terms of larger programs. On June 29, 2007, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture agreed in principle on growing forward, the new policy framework for Canada's agriculture, agrifood and agri-based products industry. The vision of growing forward is a profitable and innovative agriculture, agrifood and agri-based products industry that seizes opportunities in responding to market demands and contributes to the health and well-being of Canadians.
On November 17, 2007, ministers agreed to seek the authorities to continue the APF programs for up to an additional year, starting April 1, 2008. This has made and will continue to make for a smooth transition to the growing forward program. It will provide certainty to farmers and enable them to have the voice they deserve in program design.
The first business risk management program under the new package is available under the growing forward program. It responds to farmers' demands for programs that are simple, responsive, predictable and bankable. We all know that too many of the farm programs in the past have been none of those things.
In December 2007 federal, provincial and territorial governments signed agreements to launch a new suite of business risk management programs to replace the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, the CAIS program. The CAIS program simply did not work well. The replacement programs will come into effect for 2009. They are much better programs in many ways.
Based on input from farmers, part of the growing forward program that sets the new policy framework for Canada's agriculture, agrifood and agri-based products industry includes the AgriInvest farmer accounts; AgriStability, an improved margin-based program; AgriInsurance, which includes crop insurance and production insurance and is being expanded to include more commodities; and AgriRecovery, which is a new disaster relief framework.
AgriInvest accounts began for the 2007 program year with a $600 million initiation program on the part of the federal government. That is being delivered as we speak today.
I want to talk about some of the other programs our government has put in place to help farmers build a stronger agriculture sector for the future.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced that 233 research projects across Canada would receive over $22 million in federal funding as a result of an external peer review of research proposals for 2007-08. Four review panels dealt with plant science, animal science, environment and ecology, and food science. The panels, composed of 38 expert scientists from organizations outside Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, used preliminary evaluations from 330 external experts.
These are some of the things our party has done in the first two and a half years.
When it comes to the livestock sector, in particular the cattle, hog, and elk industries, there are some serious problems today. Our government and our party have done a lot in these areas as well. I am not going to go through the list, because I can see that I am not going to have the time to do that, but these industries have certainly been affected in a very positive way by the programs we have put in place.
In spite of that, it has been a very difficult time. Since 2003, when the BSE problem led to closed borders, the cattle industry has been having serious problems. Other sectors as well have been having serious problems over a long period.
I want to talk about one program that is both an agricultural and an environmental program. That is the biofuels program.
Only six months ago people around the world were saying that we should not be investing money in the ethanol and biodiesel sectors. They were saying we should not be investing money in research to help these sectors develop because food is simply too expensive.
It is true that food is expensive at the supermarket, but the cost of the food supply in Canada is lower than the cost in any other country on earth. Only about 13% of what Canadians spend is on food.
That is a remarkable achievement, but we have seen food prices and commodity prices in agriculture drop quite dramatically over the past couple of months. They have been affected directly by the financial and economic crisis we are in today. Farmers have probably felt this crisis as much as, or more than, anybody else. For example, just six months ago farmers could have contracted canola for $17 a bushel. Right now they are lucky to get $9 a bushel, so we can understand the hit that farmers have taken because of the economic crisis. That is one example.
It spills over to every sector of the economy, and I recognize that. It has made things more difficult, although the grain sector is still very profitable in spite of that.
The high input cost is of great concern. One thing we have to watch in the House is that those input prices for fertilizer, pesticides, and that type of thing go down in response to the pressure on the economy, because they certainly should.
Those prices should drop along with the prices of natural gas and oil. They should drop, but we have not seen much of a drop yet. I am certainly hoping we will see further declines before spring. With declining prices and with those commodity prices at the level they have been this year, that is critical. Farmers simply are not going to make a go of it under those circumstances.
I will mention one final thing in relation to agriculture, the Canadian Wheat Board. I was delighted to see it mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
The agriculture industry has been a consistent driver of the economy. It has created jobs on the Prairies and elsewhere across this country. Our farmers have worked tirelessly to develop a truly remarkable industry that is competitive with agriculture industries anywhere in the world. They have done remarkable things to make it work.
However, governments of the past have put in place roadblocks that really hamper the ability of certain farmers to make a profit and to make the marketing decisions they expect to make.
The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly is one of those roadblocks. It was put in place during the war under the War Measures Act, not to get a better price for farmers, just the opposite, but to drive the price down so government could buy grain from farmers for the war effort. Farmers accepted it at that time. Some kind of restitution was to be made but it never was and a lot of farmers at the time were upset. However, this is 2008 and we still have that monopoly in place.
Our government has committed to give farmers choice. I want to make it clear that our government has always believed in a strong Canadian Wheat Board, and we still do, but we believe that farmers deserve the same type of choices in marketing that everyone else deserves and enjoys. We simply want to give farmers the choice to market through the Wheat Board, if they so choose, or to market without going through the Wheat Board monopoly.
I am looking forward to the day when I have that option. I sell wheat, barley, canola, peas, lentils and other types of commodities. Other farmers produce them for me because, as a member of Parliament, I certainly do not have time to do that. However, I pay my portion of the inputs and I get my portion of the returns. I am looking forward next year, hopefully, to being able to choose to market through the Wheat Board or not. I believe I will continue to market some of my wheat through the Wheat Board but I at least want the choice and I may well choose to market some outside of the Wheat Board monopoly as well. That is all we are talking about.
I want to mention one other thing that affects not only agriculture but a lot of other sectors as well, and that is internal trade. I want to talk about Alberta's premier, Ed Stelmach, who has done a remarkable job in getting together, first, with the premier of British Columbia, and most recently with Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan. They made great progress on eliminating those barriers to internal trade.
I want to mention that I probably was the only critic for internal trade in the history of the Canadian Parliament. I asked Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party back in 1996, to take on the role of dealing with internal trade. At the time, the Liberal government was putting legislation through the House that was supposed to remove the barriers to internal trade. It is very weak legislation but it did pass. It was a first step. However, not enough has happened since, I am so delighted that our government, with the provinces, has taken on removing the trade barriers, which is something that must be done primarily by the provinces.
However, good leadership from the federal government can help remarkably and that is what our government has provided, along with premiers like Brad Wall, Ed Stelmach and the premier of British Columbia. This will move across the country and we will all be better off for that.
When I was trade critic, I heard from more than half a dozen businesses that because of barriers to trade between provinces they were going to move their head offices to the United States because if they operated out of the United States they would have easier access to all of the Canadians provinces. That is a remarkable type of situation, unbelievable in a country that has signed up internationally to the free trade agreement and to NAFTA.
I again thank my constituents and the hundreds of volunteers who helped out during the campaign. Their contribution is a service to our country. They do a remarkable amount of work and are to be commended.
Finally, I want to thank my wife and my five children for helping me and for sticking with me through 15 years in federal politics. It has been a truly great honour but, as you know, Mr. Speaker, it is not a job that is easy on our families. From the bottom of my heart, I thank my wife Linda and our five children for the commitment they have made to my job as well. This is not only a commitment made by members of Parliament but our families as well.