Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here before you and my fellow members to participate in the debate on our government's Speech from the Throne.
First, allow me to congratulate you on your re-election as Speaker, a well deserved recognition of your skills and talent.
Second, allow me to express my appreciation and gratitude to the fine folks of for giving me the opportunity to continue to represent them in this place. It is a responsibility and a privilege that I take very seriously.
I would also like to thank my wife of 40 years, Judy, and our children, Jennifer and Robb, for their love and support.
As we are all aware, the Speech from the Throne is a blueprint for our government's action to protect Canada's future. It contains a five-pronged plan to ensure that our economy remains resilient during and after this period of global economic uncertainty, but we should not forget that the Speech from the Throne also outlines how our government will help to ensure the safety of our families and the security of our country.
Safety and security are concepts that are broad in scope but speak most to the justice system, national security, and product and food safety in our great country. Addressing these areas is in the favour of all Canadians, not just a privileged few. By continuing to seek reform in these areas, we put the interests of all Canadians first.
During the last election, our government promised to act on a number of priorities to ensure a Canada that is strong and free. These priorities included defending Canada's sovereignty, rebuilding the Canadian Forces, improving food and product safety and environmental laws, and strengthening our justice system. With these actions, our government is striving to ensure a safe and secure Canada for all Canadian families.
Food, product and environmental safety, an effective justice system, and Canadian self-reliance and sovereignty are matters that most directly affect the health and well-being of all Canadians. In addition to safeguarding our economy, these matters should be top of mind for those who represent Canadians in this place.
Canada is a nation where children should be able to play safely in their own yards, where serious gun criminals should serve time in prison for their actions, where the food on the dinner table is safe to eat, and where we can assume our children will grow up to enjoy the Canada we know today, not a Canada without jurisdiction over its own Arctic lands or a Canada with weakened armed forces, unable to come to our aid in a time of real need.
In the 2007-08 United Nations human development index, Canada was ranked as the fourth most livable place in the world out of 192 countries. This is an indication that many countries in the world look up to Canada and strive to be like us. We must work together to protect the future of this truly great country, a country we all know and love.
When Canadians commute to work, eat dinner or tuck their kids in at night, they are not thinking about the government. When they elect a new government, Canadians rightly expect that government to be responsible and act in their best interests. We do this by ensuring the safety and security of our fellow Canadians, through actions such as being the first country in the world to take action on bisphenol A, by proposing to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and by cracking down on toxic chemicals with our chemicals management plan.
Improvements to the chemicals management plan will improve the degree of protection against hazardous chemicals. It includes a number of new proactive measures to make sure that chemical substances are managed properly and are not found in the toys of our children, the water we drink, or the baby bottles we feed our infants with on a daily basis.
Our government will bring in legislation providing better oversight of food, drug and consumer products. It will strengthen the power to recall products and increase penalties for violators. It will also move quickly to launch an independent investigation of this summer’s listeria outbreak and act quickly upon its findings
Protecting and promoting Canadians' health and safety is a top priority for the Government of Canada. Canadians need to know that the food on their dinner table, the toys they buy their children and the medicines they rely on are safe.
Budget 2008 allocated over $458 million over five years to the food and consumer safety action plan to support collaboration, strengthen safety programs, and replaced outdated laws with new ones.
In general, Canadians are well served by food and product safety measures, but we are facing new challenges as global commercial practices evolve.
Recent incidents involving hazardous food, health and consumer products have shown that we need to update our regulatory processes and the underlying legislation.
By taking action now, we will significantly reduce future costs associated with water treatment, clean-up of contaminated sites, and treating illness related to chemical exposure. We will improve our fellow Canadians' quality of life and better protect our environment.
This plan will build on Canada's position as a global leader in the safe management of chemical substances and products. It will marshal new and better science to improve the assessment and mitigation of risks, and it will provide Canadian families with better information about the safe use and disposal of a range of everyday products.
On April 8 of this year the announced that the government will boost protection for Canadian consumers with a tough and comprehensive overhaul of food and safety laws. The food and consumer safety action plan is a comprehensive set of new measures aimed at establishing tougher regulation of food, health and consumer products, and includes initiatives to update and redefine Canadian food content labels to better reflect the true origins of products in today's global marketplace.
In today's world, products make their way to our grocery store shelves from every corner of the earth. As a result, under the current guidelines, food marked, “Product of Canada“ or “Made in Canada” actually may not be very Canadian at all. We have tightened the definitions of these familiar labels so Canadians know exactly what they are getting, and getting exactly what they want. That way, when food contaminations happen in other areas the world, we are able to quickly identify the products that contain contaminated ingredients and isolate them.
Another example of the government placing Canadians' health and safety first is found in the many measures we have taken to ensure Canadians are protected from crime in their daily lives. In times of uncertainty, as in any other time, Canadians need to be assured that they are safe in their homes and communities. The government has and will continue to take tough action against crime and work with our law enforcement and judicial partners to ensure our law-abiding citizens are protected. Serious offences will be met with serious penalties.
We will work to strengthen the legal provisions that currently deal with youth crime, gang crime and organized crime. Additionally, we will act to end the cross-border gun smuggling and punish those who commit gun crimes, not the law-abiding long gun and general firearm owners.
The government's action on tackling crime has already responded to the collective desire of Canadians to put victims first and take a practical approach to law and order, one that is firm but fair.
We have introduced new ways to detect and investigate drug-impaired driving and are strengthening penalties for impaired driving.
We will introduce legislation to significantly strengthen the criminal law response to violence against pregnant women. Our new legislation would expand the list of aggravating factors to be considered by a sentencing judge to include the fact of a woman's pregnancy. It is important to note, however, that this bill will not open the door to fetal rights.
This legislative proposal is the next step in the government's commitment to make our streets and communities safer, particularly for women during pregnancy. The safety and security of Canadians is our utmost priority. As such, we will continue moving forward on our tackling crime agenda. Last year, after two long years of delay from the opposition parties in both this House and the other place, the government was able to see our tackling violent crime legislation become law.
This legislation brings to an end soft lenient penalities and assures dangerous criminals who threaten our communities will now get the jail time and penalties they so richly deserve.
We will protect young Canadians from sexual predators by raising the age of consent from 14 to 16.
We have also introduced new parole conditions that require individuals charged with a serious gun crime to justify their release pending trial.
Our first priority is the safety and security of Canadians. That is why we are tackling crime. Across Canada, trials are getting longer and longer, and court proceedings are being started later and later. In general, people believe that reform is needed. The government will work with its partners to ensure that justice is served swiftly and fairly.
This government will continue to take concrete action in areas that are important to Canadians because protecting society is a priority for us, not an afterthought. We are proud of the work we have done over the past two years to introduce these changes, and we will continue to tackle crime.
Now, families and communities across Canada can feel safer.
On a broader level, the government has also striven to protect Canada and its citizens as a whole. The Canada-first defence strategy is our government's comprehensive long-term plan to ensure the Canadian Forces have the people, equipment and support they need to protect our interests, to fulfill Canada's international commitments. and to keep our true north strong and free.
As the name implies, the first priority of our Canada-first defence strategy is to strengthen our ability to defend our country and to protect our people. It would improve surveillance of our land and coastal borders, and bolster our capacity to provide support for civilian authorities in the event of natural disasters or major international events.
We are also establishing a year-round arctic training station at Resolute Bay that would be an army facility, a deep-sea docking and refuelling facility, and a port in Nanisivik. We will be requiring replacements for various aircraft and also enhanced unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance of the north. By protecting our arctic sovereignty, we are protecting Canada's sovereignty.
Our government will continue to take our responsibilities on the world stage very seriously. Our men and women in uniform, and those who work alongside them, have given us all much to be proud of as they take a leading role in bringing stability in the future to Afghanistan. It is never easy and there is always sacrifice.
That is what Canada has stood for, for more than a century: being prepared to do the right thing, for the right reasons, on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves.
My three trips to Afghanistan and my continuous contact with the Canadian Forces have given me a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the Canadian soldier, sailor, airman and airwoman. We ask so much of them and they always respond.
We have an obligation to ensure that our military has all the necessary equipment and training at their disposal and that we look after them and their families when the mission is completed. We made incredible progress in that area in the last two and a half years, and we intend to keep at it.
Beyond strengthening our security at home and abroad, the Canada-first defence strategy would deliver significant economic benefits for Canadians. This unprecedented commitment of stable, long-term funding would provide good jobs and new opportunities for the thousands of Canadians who work in defence industries and benefit the dozens of communities across the country that provide support for military bases.
Canada's aerospace and defence industries in all parts of the country can compete with anyone and they will continue to earn their business the old-fashioned way: by being the best.
The real measure of success in politics is not the number of times our name is in the headlines or the number of speeches we make in this chamber; it is in whether we are delivering the real, tangible results for Canadians on issues that matter to them.
On keeping families safe, the related legislation may not make the pundits' hearts flutter, but knowing our efforts are protecting children, seniors and other vulnerable Canadians from becoming victims of crime is one of the most important results any of us could strive for.
On healthy families, it may not make the nightly news that parents have more peace of mind that their children's toys are safe. But guess what? The parents themselves certainly do care.
Families do not want to spend their time focusing on the government. Nor should they. They are right to expect that their government will spend its time focusing on them. They are right to expect a government that will work together to keep Canada safe and secure.
There are unquestionably some tough times ahead for Canada and all other countries around the world. What is required is sure and steady leadership. Our government has shown that leadership at home and our has shown that leadership abroad, on the foreign stage at recent meetings of the G-20 and APEC.
As only 2% of the world economy, we cannot go it alone and we cannot avoid the impact of the current global economic crisis. What we can avoid is panic and overheated rhetoric, which serves no one.
I look forward to working with all hon. members in this House to protect Canada's future for Canadians at home and to preserve Canada's place in the community of nations.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
There are a number of things that can be said about the throne speech. However, the most important thing is that this throne speech is extremely disappointing, in the opinion of the Bloc Québécois. It is disappointing because it does not acknowledge Quebeckers' interests and core values.
In my opinion, the has remained completely insensitive to how the crisis is affecting the people of Quebec and the economy. Paradoxically, during the election campaign, the downplayed the crisis and its impact on the economy in general. Now that the election is over, we realize that the crisis, which is extremely serious, is having a negative effect on the whole economy of Canada and Quebec. The throne speech is therefore very disappointing in that respect.
In addition, the does not seem to have learned anything from the election results in Quebec. On voting day, 78% of Quebeckers said that they disagreed with the Conservative government's methods and economic policies. Moreover, these are not true economic policies, because all the government has ever done--and the only answer it ever gives us--is to introduce business tax cuts, which are its way of stimulating the economy.
Now we are in a difficult situation, yet the throne speech does not deviate one bit from what has been said in the past two and a half years. It is also very disappointing in that respect.
Before the throne speech, I had high expectations, but I also felt very positive about the announcements made by the , the Conservative Party and the government that the throne speech would focus on the economy. However, the throne speech is nothing but a series of broad statements, with no real substance. We had hoped for measures that would help and support the manufacturing and forestry industries, especially in Quebec, but that is not what we got.
We were told there would be some degree of openness, but did not see any. It is therefore very difficult to vote for a throne speech that does not meet the expectations that were told we could hope for. Furthermore, we also noted that this Speech from the Throne really reflects the last Conservative convention; in other words, it is very ideological. Yet we know that Quebeckers do not espouse this ideology and the Bloc Québécois therefore cannot go along with it. On the contrary, I think Quebeckers made it very clear to us through their votes that they are completely against it.
We are definitely disappointed and we do not believe that the has risen to the challenge. Naturally, we hoped that this throne speech would not have the usual irritants. On the contrary, the Speech from the Throne remains vague about any desire to truly support Quebec's economy or that of Canada in general. What measures did it contain, rather than just sweeping principles? There are no real targets. It says nothing about how the government will intervene or at what level. It is therefore extremely disappointing. It leaves too much to the imagination to allow us to support it and believe that this government really will support the economy.
As we all know, the forestry and manufacturing sectors are facing disastrous situations, especially the forestry sector in Quebec. There is no end to the number of jobs being lost, and the temporary stoppages in pulp and paper mills and in sawmills. We all know that a very large part of Quebec's economy is based entirely on the logging industry.
There was nothing about this. All summer I visited my riding, which is very large. I was in Shawinigan and in the Chenaux region—Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Saint-Tite, La Tuque and Parent. All of these municipalities depend on the forestry industry. Everyone, the entire population, is saying the same thing, no matter where they live: why is the federal government not doing anything to help us? The people are saying that the government has done nothing to help them so far and that it is standing idly by.
People need help. They need a government that helps them. That is what they are expecting, but absolutely nothing has been done. The results can hardly be surprising. The people know that the Conservative government has never had a plan to truly help struggling industries, particularly in Quebec. By increasing the number of irritants, the has decidedly demonstrated that he does not seem to understand what is happening in Quebec.
Arts cuts were announced last August and they were discussed at length during the election campaign. Many people feel that these cuts are very significant for Quebec. We saw this from the outcome of the election and we saw it during the election campaign: people were not willing to accept such cuts.
The Speech from the Throne would have been a wonderful opportunity for the government to put an end to the cuts and state that culture is important in Quebec and not only in terms of cultural development. Obviously, that is also an important component because it is the basis of Quebec society and of the Quebec nation, as it relates to language. And also as it relates to economic development. When a government invests in culture, it too reaps the benefits. We do not understand why the government refuses to sufficiently support cultural businesses in Quebec when they are a major economic engine.
It is also evident from the throne speech that once again there is a desire to continue imposing repressive young offender legislation, as well as to dismantle the Canadian firearms registry. Earlier I spoke of the election campaign. These were important issues in Quebec in the last election. People are very upset by the suggestion that the Canadian firearms registry be eliminated. That is not the approach in Quebec. Most people believe it is important. The majority of Quebeckers wanted more control and this tool was the result. Serious events led Quebeckers to decide that firearms control was necessary and would help not only the police but society in general.
With regard to the repressive young offender legislation, Quebec has known for many years that it is not the best model. Quebec has really focused on prevention and services to help troubled youth, an approach which has resulted in the lowest crime rate in North America. Quebec has the lowest rates of recidivism and crime and the fewest acts of violence. Our approach has been successful.
Nevertheless, once again, the throne speech indicates that they will continue to go in that direction. We do not understand. We do not see how we can support such a throne speech.
There is another important issue, the federal government's insistence on creating a federal securities commission. Quebec's National Assembly is united on this issue. All three parties unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to not proceed with its creation. At present, Quebec has levers that it controls and absolutely wishes to continue controlling. This desire to impose a commission goes against the will of the National Assembly as well as of a vast majority of financial players who say that Quebec should continue to retain these levers.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the throne speech. I will no doubt be repeating the Bloc Québécois' arguments, but I am going to try to make them very clear. The Bloc has a number of comments to make about the throne speech.
We saw the government's insensitivity to the impact of the economic crisis on the people of this country. The government is ignoring the concerns of Canadians, while the United States was already taking action during the election campaign triggered by the Conservative government. The government was oblivious to what was happening, because, according to the , there was no crisis and no cause for concern.
Today, he has changed his tune somewhat, but he seems to be using the throne speech to put off decision making that would be happening if the election had not taken place. We would already have looked at real measures to help people through the economic crisis, and we would be adopting them.
There is a lot of talk about the manufacturing industry, but it has been in crisis since 2003. Moreover, the most recent budget brought down by the Conservative gave very little support to the manufacturing sector. The throne speech is therefore extremely disappointing, especially to Quebec. My colleague mentioned that 78% of Quebeckers had voted against the Conservative Party, sending a clear message to the Conservative government. Yet it is not deviating from the position it took during the election campaign.
The government learned nothing from the most recent election or the message sent by the people of Quebec. The throne speech is an ideological construct. The issue of young offenders was raised earlier. The throne speech is very clear about the direction the Conservative Party intends to take on youth crime.
I would like to quote a paragraph from the section of the throne speech entitled Expanding Investment and Trade.
|| Canada’s 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. As one of our greatest hockey legends has observed, we need “to skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”
It is more like a game of snakes and ladders, but without the ladders, just snakes. This illustrates the government's lack of commitment to taking action and implementing concrete measures to control this economic crisis.
The United States is in the middle of an economic crisis. Americans will be buying less. Consequently, since Canada sells its products to the United States, we will not be protected from the economic crisis.
As I said earlier, the Conservative government does not seem to have a real plan for the manufacturing sector. We would have liked to have seen some concrete measures put forward in the Speech from the Throne, or at least have seen the Conservative government take a stance. For example, we would have been pleased if the throne speech had outlined plans to set up a loan and loan guarantee program to allow the manufacturing and forestry industries to purchase new production equipment or if it had announced the creation of a refundable tax credit for research and development.
The throne speech is not very inspiring in terms of genuine help for the research and development sector or a genuine desire to end tax privileges for oil companies. In fact, the Speech from the Throne does not mention that topic.
The employment insurance fund was another component that we found to be disappointing.
We know very well that we must help manufacturing companies get back on their feet, when plants are being closed right in the middle of an economic crisis. As I was saying earlier, the manufacturing crisis started in 2003, and there have been many layoffs. The federal employment insurance fund has a surplus, and it could have helped some workers through the difficult periods of indiscriminate layoffs.
The Bloc Québécois would like to see some clear direction concerning the abolition of the two-week waiting period, so that individuals can have immediate access to employment insurance. Now, when a person loses their job, there is a so-called waiting period. That person must wait two weeks before seeing their first cheque.
This has absolutely no regard for the difficulties experienced by those who have lost, are losing or will lose their jobs. Even though the crisis will not deal as hard a blow as in the United States, there will still be some very serious consequences for our businesses and industries in the manufacturing sector, for example. In this case, the government should immediately do away with the two-week waiting period, so that individuals can begin collecting EI immediately.
We would also like to see the system improved so that more people are eligible. Since 1993, access to the system has been drastically cut. Now, very few people are eligible for EI. The criteria have been tightened, and it is very difficult to receive employment insurance benefits. But we know that there are billions of dollars sitting in the fund. If we had kept this money and not put it into the consolidated revenue fund, it would still be available to those who are without jobs. We have always said that this is employment insurance, and it should be available to people who contribute to the employment insurance fund.
We also need to create an income support program for older workers. These measures would cost about $45 million. It is no secret that a person aged 50 or 55 who loses his or her job has a harder time finding a new job, particularly in the manufacturing sector. It is also hard to go back to school to learn another trade. In situations like that, when people lose their income, how can they even consider going back to school to learn a new trade? At that age, it is more difficult to find another job, even with other skills. It is well known that, these days, employers often prefer younger workers. Older workers may find that they are discriminated against in some situations.
We are very disappointed.
I would now like to touch on another issue. The former minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the member for , was roundly criticized for making deep cuts to Economic Development Canada. In the Quebec City region, for example, Pôle Québec Chaudière-Appalaches had its funding cut. Quebec as a whole—the chambers of commerce, the Union des municipalités du Québec, the Alliance des Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, the Government of Quebec, the National Assembly, the Parti québécois and the Bloc Québécois—was against cuts to the funding that helped industries. In Quebec City, for example, the National Optics Institute, a high-tech and photonics research facility, is a major industry. The government made cuts that affect businesses that patent inventions, and that will hurt the high-tech research industry.
Now the government wants to do the same thing with culture. Here again, the newly-appointed ministers do not seem to have stated their true intentions in the throne speech.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois cannot support a throne speech that virtually ignores the economic crisis and its impact on Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, today I graciously stand in the House of Commons in support of the Speech from the Throne. However, before I begin, I would like to take just a few moments to speak to my friends in the chamber.
First, to you, Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer my congratulations on being appointed as the Deputy Speaker. I know we have all talked a lot about decorum in the House. Certainly we had great discussion about it last week. I know you will do your utmost to ensure the decorum improves in the House. I also know government members will abide by the rules of the House and behave in a manner that is honourable and worthy of this historic chamber.
I would also like to congratulate all the newly elected members. Their desire to serve the community and the country has brought them to the nation's capital. I trust that they will serve with honour and goodwill toward one another.
As well, I wish to congratulate all the incumbents who have returned to the House of Commons to represent their various ridings. Let us work together in the time ahead so we can mitigate the many obstacles that our great nation faces, for united we can overcome even the greatest of obstacles. Let us place partisan rhetoric aside so we can accomplish the great things that Canadians historically have expected from this chamber. That is our duty and we must answer the calls of all Canadians to stop the partisanship and to steer this nation forward.
On a personal level, I must take this moment to thank the many constituents from my riding of Sarnia—Lambton. I graciously thank them for their support in the recent election. It was overwhelming to see the amount of support from the community and I promise all my constituents, regardless of their ideological preferences, that I will serve them faithfully and truthfully and will honour my commitments to make Sarnia—Lambton a better place for all our families. Thanks, Sarnia—Lambton. It can count on staff and myself to work extremely hard for its interests in this, the 40th Parliament of the Government of Canada.
Last but certainly not least, I would like to thank my husband, Bill, and our son, Will, and Tina and Josh for all of their support and love. Family is very important to all of us and a career in politics can definitely take its toll on family life, of which as all of us in the chamber today are aware.
Let us all be reminded of the strength we find in our families and always be aware that the decisions we make in this chamber will affect each and every Canadian family as much as our own. We should never lose sight of the honour we have had bestowed upon us to be here, working daily to better Canada, our communities and ourselves. Thank you for letting me speak on these matters, Mr. Speaker.
On November 19, the Governor General delivered what will come to be regarded as nothing less than a historic throne speech, despite extreme partisan rhetoric speaking out against the measures contained within that speech. The government, led by the right hon. , has appropriately determined that at this critical juncture of our nation's history, it will take bold leadership to brave the coming economic storm that threatens every nation across the globe.
Recently the and the attended an emergency session of the G-20. At this summit, every leader of the G-20 group of industrialized nations spoke about the fact that we faced a global crisis, not just a domestic crisis. This is the most unique and potentially damaging economic crisis we have faced in years and only defined leadership and strong co-operation in this chamber will ensure that Canada will emerge from these difficult times a stronger nation, a more united nation and a nation that will realize more of its potential than we had ever dreamed of in the history of our Confederation.
I strongly feel that these difficult times call for bold measures and strong leadership and I have faith in the abilities of our and this government to guide Canada through the turbulent waters ahead. This is why I want to speak about what I feel are some of the most important aspects of the throne speech, what they mean to our families, our communities and our very nation and why we need to finally come together to put our ideological differences aside for our great nation.
Currently, economic stimulus is important for industry across Canada. For starters, the construction industry needs a kick-start and the Government of Canada acknowledged this in the 2007-08 budgets and more recently with announcements that infrastructure negotiations will take place with an understanding that money needs to flow as soon as possible to municipalities.
Canada has invested $100 a million a year in the apprenticeship incentive grant to encourage Canadians seeking a career to consider pursuing various apprenticeship opportunities. This is vital at this point in time. By providing tax credits up $2,000 for each individual apprentice, all those involved in skilled trades can rest assured that the government will continue to fight for job creation for our young Canadians interested in pursuing careers in the skilled trades. This is why the Canadian government is committing $3 billion over six years for new labour market agreements with provinces to address existing gaps in labour market programming.
When the investment into skilled trades is parallelled with vital infrastructure investment, it becomes clear that the government understands the path forward in this difficult period for our economy. The government understands that the infrastructure issue is vital in every community, not just for gainful employment and economic reasons but for the very safety of the people who cross the bridges, drive on our roads and drink from our water systems.
By 2014, the government will have invested a record $33 billion into infrastructure. Various large scale projects have already been announced as priority projects and more will be identified in the coming weeks and months. Canadians, especially our men and women in the skilled labour workforce, can rest assured that there will be shovels in the ground for construction projects and money will flow for vital infrastructure interests.
In order to provide for these various projects and as a form of stimulus, the Government of Canada has and will work constructively with our municipal and provincial partners to approve key projects moving forward.
There is another key segment of our workforce who I refer to as our unsung heroes. These men and women always put their communities and Canadians before themselves. I am speaking about our farming community.
As Canadians discuss who should receive funding assistance from government coffers at a time when fiscal accountability is at an all-time high, the chamber must recognize the contribution that farmers make to our nation. They put food on our tables, often at much pain to their own families in the trying times our agriculture sector has faced in recent years. However one thing is for certain. When we invest money in Canadian farms, Canadian farmers reinvest that money into our communities. Whether on inputs like seeds, livestock or on new equipment that farmers needs, Canadians can rest assured that agriculture programs like Growing Forward will not just stem the flow of losses from Canadian farms. Rather, this investment will grow the fiscal coffers of our farmers and their communities.
The Government of Canada understands the sacrifices endured over the last several years by farmers and has responded by creating programs like AgriInvest, AgriStability and AgriInsurance. Those programs are the first programs established under Growing Forward and serve to ensure farmers that opportunities in the agriculture sector will be built up in the new economy of this great nation.
We will stand up for farmers where past governments have failed. In addition to this, the Government of Canada will fight for Canadian farmers' freedom of choice for grain marketing in western Canada and will strongly support our supply managed sectors both domestically and internationally.
As we shift from the old economy into new opportunities in science and research, it becomes evident that Canada's new economy will be at the forefront of global research and capability. Funding for projects like the Sarnia-Lambton Research Park in my riding will lead to an estimated 1,000 new jobs in my community. I have already seen this beginning to occur with multiple upstart companies taking formation in Sarnia—Lambton, all with so much promise and potential going forward.
What makes this more remarkable is that investments into new energy projects and research organizations exist alongside the strong petrochemical industry in my riding. What is even more positive is to note that classic energy industries, like oil, gas and coal, are undergoing a renaissance, even in Sarnia—Lambton. Innovation is rampant and has led to clean coal technologies, expansion in existing facilities in my riding and, indeed, across Canada for biofuel production, and even commercial wind and solar farms have sprung up in a region once known strictly for its petrochemical industry.
Let me say loud and clear for the chamber, to the business community and all Canadians that innovation has paid off with huge dividends for Sarnia—Lambton and we will be known as the green valley in due time thanks to the leadership of local industry and other stakeholders and thanks to the investments made by the government.
Indeed, the time has come to realize that cities like Sarnia are home to new and innovative opportunities and investments into science and research, and new energy initiatives have the capacity to completely alter the status quo of our industrial communities.
It is possible to develop new sustainable energy opportunities alongside existing industrial players that have invested into cleaner technologies for the oil and gas sectors and coal. In fact, these investments are absolutely vital going forward and will ensure that as the global economy evolves our industries will be sustainable, profitable and will employ millions of Canadians.
With that in mind, the Government of Canada has set an objective that aims to ensure that 90% of Canada's electricity will be provided by non-emitting sources by 2020. This is a bold initiative that will require partnership with the provinces and territories and will also develop fruitful fiscal rewards for Canadians moving forward with the new economy.
We have world-leading technology in regard to nuclear power and we will capitalize on this. We also have vast reserves of natural gas and petroleum resources. Our great nation is situated to become a true global energy superpower, and the government will guide us to that plateau above all other nations.
Not only will Canada become a true energy superpower, but we must understand that this grants us superb leverage in international negotiations as countries meet to discuss matters of the economy, energy and the environment. Canada will be a global leader in all three of those categories and will achieve prosperity for Canadians in accordance with this reality while providing true and tangible leadership to the rest of the world.
The time has come to shrug off the conditioned response that Canada is a meddling middle power and recognize that this country can shape global affairs for the first time in decades thanks to the leadership of the Canadian government and the tenacity of the Canadian people.
Also of importance I want to take this opportunity to draw attention to a very important declaration in the throne speech that will ensure protection of our most vital natural resource. The Government of Canada will bring forward legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins. I commend the and the for taking this bold initiative and for recognizing the importance of this resource. We will protect this resource for Canadians at all costs.
I personally have a major interest in the announcement that the Government of Canada will take measures to tackle heart, lung and neurological diseases. Many of our lives have been affected by these diseases and, hopefully, further investment into these areas of research will ensure a healthier future for all Canadians.
Furthermore, the government has pledged that we will defeat the stigma attached to mental health issues. Investments by the government intend to build on the work of the mental health commission. Already we have seen monumental investments to mental health issues. I wish to commend the government on prioritizing this matter and on defeating the stigma attached to mental health conditions. The $110 million investment to the Mental Health Commission for pilot projects is an extraordinary attempt to address this issue head on.
I realize I have covered many areas of importance to Canadians in this speech. I sincerely feel that this government is embarking on a process of change and innovation that is bold and essential for our nation to survive the many obstacles we face. Some of these obstacles are, strangely enough, internalized. However, the foresight of the Government of Canada will ensure that going forward, barriers to internal trade investment and labour mobility will be removed by 2010. This will require innovation. However, we have already seen the right hon. meet with his provincial counterparts in the first of what promises to be many fruitful meetings. There is a broad understanding of the internal limitations being placed on the Canadian economy by such barriers to trade.
The mutual recognition of occupational credentials between all provinces and territories will benefit Canada's labour market and will also assist qualified foreign trade workers who will finally enjoy the same mobility rights as Canadian workers. In an era of skilled labour shortages faced across Canada, this could very well be the difference between overcoming the economic troubles we face or succumbing to the pressures facing our great nation as we shape our new economy.
Yet another trade-related matter of importance that the Government of Canada has shown true leadership toward is the establishment of new trade agreements within the Americas and also in Asia and the European Union. Canada's global commerce strategy will secure competitive terms of access into international markets that will provide incredible potential for Canadian firms and workers and the products they manufacture as we expand our international commerce horizons beyond the current status quo.
In another time of global transition, American president and general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both”.
I like to think of that quote as very applicable to our current timeframe. We have been blessed in our way of life and yet the privileges Canada enjoys are so bountiful that perhaps we are tempted to lose sight of our principles that have guided us to this prosperity. It is our principles that guided us through the last century to ensure that we fought for the freedom of others while providing a safe, secure nation for Canadians. It is these very same principles that lead our economy to go strong and to ensure we are at the apex of nations across the globe regarding the opportunities we could afford our people. For generations, Canada has stood proudly atop this apex of nations as a beacon of hope to others. Other nations see our principles and our privileges and they yearn for the same blessings that at times perhaps we as Canadians take for granted. It is these same principles now that we must ensure we protect and enshrine for all Canadians as we move forward in these darkening times.
Despite the troubled times that we perceive across the globe, we are united in the position that our government will do everything necessary to ensure the prosperity, security and future of all Canadians.
This is why I urge all members in the chamber today to heed my words and to accept the task we have in this 40th parliament which is nothing less than to provide a bastion of hope, a safe haven and voices of reason to all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. I challenge everyone to put aside their partisan gamesmanship and join the cause in ensuring that our nation emerges from this time of economic despair as one of the strongest nations in the world. We can accomplish this objective together.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I want to begin by expressing my thanks to the voters of for allowing me the privilege of representing them in Ottawa again. It is certainly an honour to do so. I appreciated very much hearing their concerns during the election and I will continue to put their concerns forward in this place.
I also want to thank those on my campaign team and volunteers for their tremendous effort and the confidence they placed in me to represent the riding once more.
The Speech from the Throne is the government’s first opportunity in a new Parliament to outline the direction in which it wishes to take the country. It should be a statement of substance given that from it will flow the kinds of legislation the government believes will be in the best interest of our country. However, this throne speech is different, for it is based upon government actions that have greatly diminished its ability to perform the tasks that governments should be able to perform in tough economic times.
There is one party responsible for destroying the ability of our country to face these difficult economic times, and that is the government sitting across the way. The member for just talked about sound budgeting. That would really be a novel idea for that government. If we had sound budgeting, the country would not be facing the difficulty that it is facing right now from coast to coast to coast. The government took a surplus given to it and basically squandered it away.
Governments have an obligation to, at a minimum, ensure that Canada’s financial house is in order. Previous Liberal governments did that. We took the $41 billion deficit left by the Mulroney Conservatives and not only eliminated it, but left the current government with a $12 billion surplus, the contingency fund, to be called upon in tough economic times. What did the current Conservative government do? It squandered it.
In two short years, the government has moved from being the economic envy of the western industrialized world to putting Canada on the brink of deficit. I believe the was talking about deficit over the weekend, a word he would not utter and be honest about during the election campaign. In two years it moved from a strong, central government holding financial reserves to assist in troubled times to a weakened centre with the financial cupboards practically bare.
No longer do we have the prudent planning with financial resources to partner with provinces and industries in time of need. The government has squandered that away and that is a sad commentary at a time when Canadians really need the central government in our country to assist them in their time of need. The government has squandered the cupboard bare.
Clearly, the is now admitting that the country is on the brink of deficit, something he denied during the election. However, he still fails to accept responsibility and any government should be accountable and responsible. The Prime Minister should admit that his was wrong in terms of how he budgeted the country. The Prime Minister should admit that he was misinforming Canadians during the election process.
As I said, he fails to accept responsibility. Let us look for a moment at the report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a position established by the Conservative government. On page 16, it states:
|| The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions...Tax revenues are down $353 million year to date compared to a year earlier, due in large part to recent policy measures, such as the second one-percentage point reduction in Goods and Services Tax and reductions in corporate income taxes.
How bad could this situation become? According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the deficit could reach $3.9 billion next year and $14 billion the year after. I hope he is wrong, but the government has to accept responsibility for the position our country is now in. If nothing else, these kinds of numbers are a confirmation of economic mismanagement at a level unseen in Canada since Brian Mulroney and the Conservative government of that time.
On the deficit issue, the was absolutely convinced that the measures the government had taken last February were sound. However, this is the same finance minister who drove the Ontario government into deficit when he was minister of finance for that province. It is no wonder we are seeing the concerns on finances in this nation today. In fact, he is the same finance minister who said, “Do not do business in Ontario”. What a shame. His advice was taken and that is a problem.
If the title of the throne speech, “Protecting Canada's Future” means anything, it will mean the government taking a substantially different direction in this Parliament than it did in the last.
Let me speak for a moment on the issue of agriculture spending. There were some questions and responses in the House today. We know for a fact, from members' speeches on the government side, that the government is claiming it put more money into agriculture. The facts do not bear that out. The fact of the matter is the government spent $1.1 billion less in program spending than the previous Liberal government did at the end of its term.
What about spending on agriculture on Prince Edward Island? These are the facts. In 2005 the Liberal government provided to Prince Edward Island farmers, through program spending, $45.9 million. According to the numbers provided by Agriculture Canada, Island farmers lost $15.3 million in the first two years of the Conservative government. So much for good economic planning on its part.
The throne speech stated that the Conservative government will “review all program spending”. That worries me a lot. The question is, what will that mean for our farmers on Prince Edward Island? What will that mean for seniors across this country? What will it mean in terms of program cuts already in place when we still have some industries struggling in this country.
In my own province we have had serious crop losses in potatoes and field crops this fall. The announced 1¢ per pound for those crops lost in the field, which farmers in Prince Edward Island deem an insult.
The government has to do better than that. Cuts and further cuts in program spending will not be the answer. We need additions to program spending for certain industries in this country.
On the environmental issue, which was an issue during the election there was no question about it, while the speech talks about tackling climate change, it says little of the costs of the approach that the government will be taking.
We do know that the government's “Turning the Corner” document, published and distributed in March 2008, stated with respect to estimated economic impacts the following:
That is the Conservative government's modelling.
||--suggests that Canadians can expect to bear real costs under the Regulatory Framework...these costs will be most evident in the form of higher energy prices, particularly with respect to electricity and natural gas.
|| However, these changes will come at a cost for Canadians. Negative impacts from the Regulatory Framework on Canada's real GDP level will be small over the next 5 years but will gradually increase,--
That is another burden that the government failed to admit during the election, that it will impose upon Canadians. I am worried about a lot that is in the throne speech in terms of cuts to program spending, cuts in the federal public service, and the way the federal government has operated during the last election. We need more support under infrastructure, under regional spending, under program spending for agriculture and for fisheries, for improvements in small crafts and harbours. That is what we need as we go into this downturn in the economy that, in part, was caused by the Conservative government.
I look forward to the government coming forward with a positive economic agenda, not a negative one.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the residents of Ajax—Pickering for the profound honour of returning to the House and having the opportunity to once again represent them. It is indeed very humbling and I could not be happier to be back.
When I was knocking on doors and talking to people, I could not help but notice this was a very different election. It was different because the issues are so large and the challenges that people are facing are so difficult. I have been in elected office now for 11 years, seven municipally and over four as a member of Parliament. Never before have I seen such anxiousness in people's eyes when talking about issues that are in front of them. People are worried about their jobs. People are worried about how they are going to be able to pay for their mortgages.
I have talked to people who have been laid off, who had planned their entire lives being with one company and having a pension, only to be laid off from that company, have their pensions become non-existent and be given payouts that they cannot use for their future. They have no idea how they are going to fund their retirements. It was clear that being re-elected this time carried with it an additional weight, a weight that perhaps members have not seen for a long time because people, more than ever, are turning to their government and members of Parliament to find solutions and are requiring bold action.
There could be no greater imperative in a time of challenge like the one we are in to start off by being honest, by ensuring that we tell people the real goods about where we are at, and the challenges we are facing. In that regard, it is deeply frustrating to have the government continue to not tell the truth, frankly, when it comes to where exactly we are.
It was only a couple of weeks ago, during the election campaign, when the adamantly said there was no deficit, that the government was not going to run a deficit and, in fact, it would be stupid to do so. Yet now, mere weeks later, we are being told a deficit is inevitable, that we have to accept it, and it is going to be a part of our reality for the coming days and years.
Those who are facing problems with respect to their pensions, earnings, and watching billions of dollars disappear from capital markets were told it was a good buying opportunity during the election. Since then, we have seen markets come down over 20%. The reality is we are not getting the fundamental truth about our fiscal situation. It is being downplayed or sloughed off. We are using expressions like “technical recession” when people are facing real challenges and need real leadership.
Perhaps the area of greatest concern at this particular moment is in the auto sector. The big three have gone to Washington and so far have been unsuccessful in finding a way out of their very difficult path. The reality is that the new administration in Washington is not going to come until late January and it is going to be too late by then certainly for some of the companies that need assistance right now, that need a plan.
If we do not do anything, if we continue sort of a laissez-faire attitude that has been so pervasive from the government over the last three-plus years, we are going to be in a situation where the Americans are going to come forward with a plan and they are going to demand the repatriation of American jobs. We are going to watch Canadian jobs move from Canada to the United States and watch one of the most vital industries to Canada, certainly a vital industry to Durham, be eroded piece by piece until we are left with something that is a shadow of what it was.
People demand action on that and they demand answers. Simply waiting for Congress to take a position, which is obviously going to only predominantly benefit the Americans, is something we cannot afford to do.
The second thing that I think is deeply troubling from the government is that it is only recently that it has even begun to acknowledge that there is in fact a crisis when it comes to climate change. Now it is to the point where it is saying there is a problem and it is using some language. It has introduced a couple of vacuous plans to pretend that it cares, to feign interest, but we have to do so much more than that.
It was one thing when the Americans were so far behind us in dealing with the environment, but now that a new administration is coming in and it recognizes that the new economy is going to be driven by post-carbon technology, it is imperative that we get on board this train and do it in an awful hurry. With Europe far ahead of us and the United States soon to overtake us, if we are without a plan and continue the attitude of doing nothing and crossing our fingers, we are in enormous trouble.
If we thought the Internet was a boom, if we thought that new technologies around bandwidth and using the Internet was something that was spectacular in terms of its growth and the number of jobs it created, it is a garage sale compared to the technologies that will drive the post-carbon technologies.
If we are not involved, if we are not at the heart of developing those technologies and making sure there are Canadian success stories, we are going to watch as those jobs are created in Europe and the United States. We are going to continue to lose ground. We are going to continue to be in a difficult place.
Let us think about where our nation was in terms of its ability to meet a challenge only three and a half years ago. We had a $13 billion surplus, an economy that was strong, and an unemployment rate that was low. We were leading the G-7 across most economic indicators. Let us think about where we are today. All that has been blown bare.
We are now having to look at strategies that are infinitely more creative because we have blown our fiscal capacity. Our ability to meet the challenges that now face us in a period of global turmoil has been gravely reduced because of the government's mismanagement of the public funds and its refusal to ensure, at the bare minimum, that we have a contingency fund. Instead, the government has tried to frame this as if a surplus were a bad thing, as if having a contingency fund were a negative thing.
Without that, there is but one option, and that is a deficit, which is where we are. It means that when difficult times hit, we lack the capacity to take action, and we have to begin to do some of the things the Conservatives are now talking about, such as potentially selling off assets or cutting programs. What worse time could there be to sell into a firestorm, to get rid of government assets at the worst possible time, to cut back programs when people need them the most which affects those who are most vulnerable?
We should take a look at some of those who are the most vulnerable and in most need of action, at some of the areas where the government is most silent.
We talk about crime. The government talks about its focus on getting tough on crime. The truth is it could not be softer on the sources of crime.
We take a look at youth at risk and the money the Conservatives are cutting from those programs, and the refusal to go aggressively after those early indications that people are going down a dark path, the refusal to engage those who have so little hope. We recognize that if we really care about getting rid of crime, we have to go after what causes it. We have to look at communities that feel they do not have a future. We have to look at individuals who are growing up with very little hope. We have to deal with that, and the government is refusing to do it.
With respect to poverty, there has to be an acknowledgement by the government that there are people without opportunity. There are people who are working hard to make ends meet yet they are unable to afford even the basics such as groceries, electricity or their monthly rent. Even after working many hours, there are people who are left in such a precarious position and they are wondering about their future. If they lose their jobs they could be over the edge in a moment. There is no plan to deal with that. There is no plan to help those people, to lift them out of their situations.
As if that were not bad enough, from a position of compassion, the impact on the economy is devastating. The more people who are pulled out of the system, the more individuals who are not spending locally, are not driving the local economy, and are not able to make a meaningful contribution to society. That deepens the spiral and makes the situation much worse.
Those quiet voices that we should be most listening to as government, those people who need our help in the greatest way are the ones who are being most ignored by the government.
For cities and communities, we talk about municipalities facing grave challenges with the massive infrastructure deficit. The government has spoken very little about the need for infrastructure. This should have been a central piece of the Speech from the Throne. There is a need to drive infrastructure in a way that shows bold vision and recognizes that if we do not spend on infrastructure, we are not going to have a strong economy, that recognizes that cities and communities are not to be scolded, put down or talked about in dismissive terms, as has been done, but that they are the engines of our economy and if they are allowed to suffer and erode, then we do not have a future as a country.
The reality of the throne speech is that it fails to be anything more than a collection of rhetoric. It is more spin and gloss without any substance.
Members of this House have an obligation to take real action on these issues, to work together and to be honest about the challenges that we have in front of us.
Madam Speaker, since you are presiding this evening, let me offer my congratulations to you on joining the Speaker's team and being appointed to assist members of the House not just in this important debate but in managing our House affairs. It is great to see members from Vancouver Island playing a bigger role in the House.
It is a great privilege to take part in the debate in response to the Speech from the Throne, the first debate in Canada's 40th Parliament.
I begin by thanking the voters of the great riding of Nanaimo—Alberni for returning me as their MP for the fourth consecutive term. I am very mindful of the great honour and of the great responsibility that I have to them and so I would begin by thanking them.
I would like to acknowledge my supporters and campaign team who put a lot of effort into our re-election effort. I acknowledge the leadership of my campaign manager, Paula Peterson, who co-ordinated a great effort and ensured that we had a great time working together, and my financial agent, John Ward, who ensured we not only got the job done but given the complexities of financial obligations, that we did it right.
I know the families of every member here make a sacrifice so that we can come from our ridings across this great diverse country to participate in this House. I certainly have to acknowledge the great encouragement, and constant never ending support above and beyond the call that my wife Helen makes in order to make it possible for me to serve as the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.
The Speaker, the member for , has done a remarkable job of not only being re-elected but for the fourth time being elected as the Speaker of the House. I certainly want to extend my congratulations to him. I think one of our members made reference to this today. It is certainly a historic event, being elected as Speaker for the fourth time and with the different sides of the House it is quite a remarkable achievement that is worthy of recognition.
It falls to each and every member, to our respective parties, to our leaders, to participate in this 40th Parliament at a time when our country is facing the challenges of a very troubled world economy and uncertainties unprecedented in modern times.
My riding is one of the most beautiful in the country. It covers both the east and west coasts of mid-Vancouver Island. From the rugged majestic heights of Mount Moriarty or Mount Arrowsmith in the Beaufort Range, one can look down across the oceanside communities to the east with their shallow, sandy warm water beaches, or west to Port Alberni and beyond to the world renowned Pacific Rim National Park with its famous Long Beach, favoured by surfers, and surf and storm watchers. This majestic place we call home is recognized by being the only federal riding to encompass not one but two federally recognized and UNESCO recognized biospheres, the Clayoquot Sound reserve on the west and Mount Arrowsmith biosphere reserve on the east, where we live.
That said, like other regions, the west coast is caught in a time of transition that has engulfed the forest sector, the fishing industry and greatly impacted our resource based economy.
The Speech from the Throne delivered in this chamber just a few days ago, on November 19, is very different from any I have heard or debated in the past four parliaments. The government has laid out its intentions to manage the economy in this challenging time.
The Speech from the Throne is entitled, “Protecting Canada's Future”. The government is committed to ensuring Canada's continued economic success at this time of global economic instability. Under the leadership of the , the Government of Canada has laid out a five-pronged plan to protect Canada's economic security. I shall briefly summarize those points.
First, there is reform of global finance by working with our allies and trading partners to re-examine and renew the rules that underpin the global financial system. This process has already begun with Canada's participation in the G-20 meetings on November 15 and the recently concluded APEC meetings in Lima, Peru.
It is probably appropriate at this time to mention that the World Economic Forum rated Canada's banking system as the best in the world.
I hear someone applauding. That is worthy of note and applause. I appreciate that enthusiastic response.
However, at a time when the world itself is reeling, it is good to know that while we face challenges we have some strong attributes to bring into these unstable times.
Measures taken to allow the Bank of Canada greater latitude in responding to world shifts and economic shifts allowed the Bank of Canada to respond quickly with nearly $20 billion to improve liquidity at a time when the credit crunch was having a devastating effect elsewhere and certainly challenging our economy here at home.
Further measures to protect our mortgage system, with shorter terms and mandatory down payments, helped to prevent the type of meltdown that precipitated the current U.S. and worldwide financial crises.
We want to ensure sound budgeting so that Canada does not return to ongoing unsustainable structural deficits while putting all federal expenditures under the microscope of responsible spending.
I think the operative word there is “all” government spending. It is a time when we need to examine how we are spending. As any family would when times get tough, we need to look at how we are managing our finances and determine that we are making the best investments and strategic investments at a time when times are leaner.
We need to secure jobs for families and communities by encouraging the skilled trades and apprenticeships, supporting workers facing transition and providing further support to the automotive and aerospace industries.
On that point, I was asked to respond to criticisms from the forestry CEOs in my own community objecting to this commitment. Of course they are facing a crisis of their own with an industry in transition. I will return to this point shortly to address their concerns.
Further, we need to expand investment in trade by modernizing investment, competition and copyright laws while working with the United States to address shared challenges and pursing trade agreements in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Canada just recently signed a trade agreement with Colombia that will need to be ratified. Negotiations continue with other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, but we must expand our markets beyond our dependence on one large market south of the border. About 85% of our trade is currently going south and, as we know, at a time when our largest trading partner is in big trouble. It is a good time to be looking to other markets to diversify, stabilize and share our financial opportunities with other nations and to reduce our dependence on one factor. It seems a very appropriate thing to do and I think it is absolutely essential that we do this.
Further, we need to make government more effective by reducing red tape, fixing procurement, improving program and service delivery and improving the management of federal agencies, boards, commissions and crown corporations.
Again, I think “efficiency” is the key word in tough economic times. It will be appropriate for all levels of the Canadian economy to examine their efficiency in delivering services and ensure we are doing so without waste.
Returning to the issue of assistance to industry, I think it is fair to say that while details of any assistance to the auto and aerospace sectors are in the process of being worked out, it is important to mention that many steps have already been taken to help all sectors of industry and business. It is a very competitive and challenging time, which is why, in addition to measures to help all taxpayers, measures were brought in to help students, seniors and, indeed, to lower taxes for every Canadian.
However, the government acted in the previous budget and in the previous economic update to lower small business and corporate taxes.
We acted earlier to resolve the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., bringing more than $4 billion back to Canadian forest companies. I think it is a very good thing we did that. Given the challenge that we face now with the U.S. caught up in its own challenges, it is a very good thing that we had that resolved when we did. Even though it is not perfect and there are still challenges for sectors in transition, the fact that we made those provisions beforehand was very helpful to the current economic status of those industries going through transition.
We provided a billion dollar community development trust to help communities with economies in transition and incentives for companies to purchase new machinery and to upgrade equipment.
For the mining industry, the government will extend the mineral exploration tax credit. Further, for the forest and fishing sectors the government has o acted to extend support for international marketing efforts and to provide incentives for creating energy from biomass.
I can assure persons concerned from the coast, particularly those in the forest industry, that there will be no blank cheque to any industrial sector. I am sure that any support offered by taxpayers through the government to the aerospace or the auto sector will only come after all stakeholders also contribute in the transition to a sustainable future. I think an example of that might be the $82 million commitment to Ford to develop an energy efficient engine.
This is not about helping industries that are not producing something that will be of value in a competitive and changing market. It is about creating sustainable opportunities for the future and creating a sustainable auto industry.
An example in my own riding of a company that has made heroic efforts in transition to a cost effective and sustainable future is the Nanaimo Forest Products Ltd. that took over the Harmac pulp mill in south Nanaimo. This company bid on a court ordered sale of the mill. It as an ownership structure that is quite unique in the industry. It has 200-plus employees, each of whom made significant personal investments in the mill to the tune of $25,000 each for a 25% stake in the business, partnering with other business interests. Pioneer Log Homes is a tremendous corporate citizen. Totzauer Holdings and the Sampson Group are successful private companies. They each took 25% shares in the company.
With both employees and management having a stake in the success of the business has led to a very collaborative approach to labour relations. No labour contracts will need to be renegotiated until well into the future.
This mill is in a great location. It has a deep sea port, water resources and water treatment facilities. It has the potential to diversify into energy production. I use this as an example of all the stakeholders collaborating in a tough competitive market to make something happen and to sustain an industry that was in big trouble. We might have lost the mill. I think the community is extremely proud of its effort and we certainly want to see heroic efforts like these rewarded with success.
In a time of transition, we do need to collaborate and work together to ensure opportunities for success emerge from challenging times.
The Speech from the Throne addresses a whole range of other issues. We have a commitment to Canada's environment. We will continue with our process to reduce greenhouse emissions 20% by 2020. I am pleased to see that we are working toward continuing with alternative energy incentives to develop alternative energies.
We will be recommitting the ban on bulk water exports, which I know is an important issue to many people in my riding, and I am glad to see that mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
Further, our government will be helping all Canadians participate by improving the universal child care benefit, increasing access to maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance and helping Canadians who care for loved ones with disabilities. That is a very important step the government can make, even in difficult times, to help those families who are working with a disabled child or a disabled adult at home and who are giving up other economic opportunities to look after a loved one in challenging circumstances.
We will be continuing to work on keeping Canadians safe by strengthening the sentences for serious criminal offences. We will be putting in place new rules for food and product safety and we will be introducing a new national security statement. We are also continuing to contribute to global security.
I will come back and talk about food and product safety in just a moment but perhaps I will go on to talk a little bit about sovereignty in the Arctic.
I am personally very pleased to see Canada's commitment to the Arctic moving ahead. It is a time when there are unprecedented not only changes in the Arctic but also challenges to our sovereignty and to the wealth and economic opportunities that northern Canada represents.
I am glad to see the commitment to assert our jurisdiction over lands and waters in the Arctic archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to further expand our jurisdiction over the region under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act requiring mandatory notification of any foreign vessels entering Canadian territorial waters. That will be asserting our control over a 200 mile limit into the Arctic.
I am glad to see that we are also proceeding with a new polar class icebreaker named in honour of the late great Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.
I have already mentioned the bulk water exports and that is important.
I will now return to efficiencies. It will be important for us to visit every sector of the economy to ensure we are actually producing the best product in the most efficient manner. One of my big concerns is in the area of health care. If we look back to the 1990s, British Columbia's budget for health was about 30% of its expenditures. When I first ran for office it was 40% of the provincial budget. It is currently about 44% or 45% of the provincial budget. Even though we are spending more and more of the provincial budgets on health care, it seems the demand is unceasing and the perception is that somehow the government is not delivering on health care.
We have been encouraging innovation in every sector but health care has been slow to embrace innovation. About 30% of our health care is already delivered outside of the public system. I am not talking necessarily about parallel systems. I am talking about efficiencies. I am talking about services that are currently available but perhaps underutilized and not funded by provincial plans under section 2 of the Canada Health Act, extended services.
There are tremendous opportunities. However, in our zeal to regulate I hope we do not become overzealous to the point where we take opportunities away from advancing health care opportunities for Canadians. I would suggest that perhaps status quo forces have been slow to pick up advances in low cost alternatives like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and the way we regulate our natural health products. I think we need to take a very good look at that.
I know a lot of concerns have been expressed in the House not only in the last Parliament but going back to the 37th Parliament when I introduced Bill addressing issues on how we regulate natural health products. Those concerns were discussed early in the 38th Parliament with the aid of the member for and I know there were lots of discussions in the last Parliament under Bill about how we regulate these products.
I am concerned that opportunities for Canadians to purchase low cost, low risk, non-patentable products are currently being restricted by regulatory practices. I imagine legislation will be coming forward to address a whole range of health product safety issues. I hope that in this Parliament, when we review these issues, that we will get this right and that we will deliver an outcome that will ensure Canadians have access to low cost, low risk and non-patentable forms of medicines that promote wellness and address the prevention of illness and disease in the first place.
Those are some of my concerns and they are in the Speech from the Throne. I know members have been debating issues for several days now and a lot of ideas have come forward. I am pleased with the Speech from the Throne. It gives us the opportunity to move ahead on a whole range of issues that are of concern to Canadians. We will have efficient spending in our government. We will be addressing safety concerns and crime issues. We want ensure we create safe communities so Canadians can live safely.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. First, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. I am sure you will do well and that you will have the cooperation of all the MPs in this chamber. Before I begin, I would also like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
First, I would like to thank the citizens of my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, who elected me for a third time as their representative here in Ottawa.
The Speech from the Throne is an important exercise for the Canadian parliamentary system. It lays out the path that the government will take in the following months and it identifies its priorities.
Yet, there was nothing in the throne speech about various issues that are a priority for a good number of Quebeckers. Even worse, the Conservative government tabled an ideological throne speech, without giving a thought to the fact that it is in a minority position.
On October 14, Quebeckers sent a clear message to the Conservatives by electing a strong majority of Bloc Québécois members. Quebeckers asked us to continue our work and to represent their interests and values in Ottawa.
Citizens have much to be concerned about in the throne speech given the situation uppermost in the minds of the residents of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. The Conservative government has completely missed the boat. The throne speech does not address the needs that Quebec considers to have priority.
There is no commitment to improving the employment insurance plan or establishing a support program for older workers. Above all, there is nothing new in the way of assistance to the forestry sector, which has been in crisis for a few years.
I would like to take this opportunity to give a brief overview of the situation in the forestry sector in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is one of the largest forested areas in Quebec. It covers 85,688 km2, which represents 17% of Quebec's forests. In this region, 23 of 49 municipalities are dependent on the forestry economy and are deemed to be one-industry towns. Essentially, more than one-third of jobs in the manufacturing sector are related to forestry.
For the past few months, the sawmills in Saint-Fulgence and Laterrière in my riding are only operating in order to produce wood chips for paper mills. Meanwhile, another sawmill in my riding, in Petit-Saguenay, is down to one shift. A number of sawmills in the riding of the new , the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, have also halted production. That is the case for Louisiana-Pacifique Canada Ltée in Chambord, which closed its doors for two years. And the Arbec sawmill, which closed. And the sawmill in Girardville, which is down to one shift.
We are not strangers to bad news. A number of communities in my area and in my riding have already been hard hit by the forestry crisis in recent years.
The situation in my riding is no worse than elsewhere in Quebec, but it is representative of a number of ridings which are home to many seasonal workers from the agriculture and forestry industries, among others.
For example, the Speech from the Throne could have been an excellent opportunity for the to propose measures to improve employment insurance. The Bloc Québécois has long been proposing the elimination of the two-week waiting period before people can quality for employment insurance benefits. This would cost next to nothing.
Benefit rates need to be increased and the qualification period must be reduced to 360 hours. But unfortunately, the Speech from the Throne does nothing to improve the employment insurance system.
As for measures to help the forestry sector, the Bloc Québécois proposed concrete action, but the Conservatives decided once again to ignore those workers. When I heard the throne speech last Wednesday, I was very disappointed because it did not contain any measures to help the forestry sector. The logging crisis that is affecting my region, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, and many other regions in Quebec is far from being resolved. Many expect 2009 and the years to come to be even more difficult.
Given the growing supply of wood from China and the real estate crisis in the United States, many businesses have had to resort to massive layoffs or have shut down altogether. As a result, if the Conservative government does not do something about it, the situation will become even more devastating.
Since 2006, the Conservative government has left the forestry sector to fend for itself, thereby jeopardizing thousands of jobs. Yet the Bloc Québécois has proposed real solutions to help the industry.
First, the government has to bring back the fund to diversity forest economies. When the former Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec cut diversification funding for the regions hit by the forestry crisis by $50 million dollars, he caused a major setback for the industry. One of the things that program did was provide assistance to communities and workers affected by the crisis. It was a mistake to slash that kind of assistance. The government could have used the throne speech as an opportunity to announce that it would bring back such a program, but with even greater financial support.
Second, the Bloc Québécois has proposed that a loan and loan guarantee program be created to help finance investments in production equipment. This would provide support for businesses that wish to update their production equipment or simply enable their businesses to expand.
Third, the Bloc has suggested that taxes be reduced for businesses in the manufacturing and forestry sector to help them develop new technologies, or that tax credits be given to encourage hiring. Once again, the Speech from the Throne offers no such measures.
And fourth, the Bloc has for several years been calling for an income support program for older workers. These workers are in a state of despair because there has been no assistance for them. Entire communities are being affected by these lost earnings. The Government of Quebec has made efforts to help older workers, but those efforts will be inadequate as long as Ottawa does not do its part.
These four measures are aimed at helping the forest industry to make the transition toward secondary and tertiary processing and promoting the use of wood in commercial and public buildings. This transition will lead to high value added manufacturing, increase the demand for wood on the domestic market in Canada and Quebec and reduce wood exports.
In conclusion, I call on the two Conservative members from my region, the members for and , to follow my lead, get involved and defend the forest industry in my region, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, which is bearing the full brunt of the forestry crisis, in order to make an improvement in the situation. It is their duty to convince the to take steps to help my region, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.