The House proceeded to the consideration of the speech delivered by Her Excellency the Governor General at the opening of the session.
Mr. Speaker, I bring greetings from the wonderful people of Miramichi, a community as beautiful and unstoppable as that great river which runs through our riding.
While I was home it was wonderful to be able to renew my grounding of the issues facing our remarkable riding. I am grateful to be back in the House so we can all get down to the action that our constituents are trusting us to accomplish for them.
To all my fellow MPs, I offer a heartfelt welcome back. I am quite sure they share my sentiments. I especially want to thank Her Excellency for her eloquent speech. I want to thank the for asking me to move the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
As a teacher, I am in the habit of paying particular attention to both the spoken and the written word, but I am sure I was not the only one who noticed that the throne speech was quite succinct compared to its precedents, but this is an unprecedented time. It is well known that the world economy and by extension Canada's economy are facing a time of unprecedented challenge. The question that we and governments and legislatures around the world face is, what are we going to do about it? How will we answer this challenge?
I know how we will not answer this challenge. This is not a time for words, for empty promises or for sitting idle on the orthodoxies of the past. This is certainly not a time for backroom partisan games, particularly as hardly three months have passed since Canadians made their wishes very clear about the government they wanted.
This is a time for action, a time for putting people first. The Governor General's remarks cut to the heart of the serious challenges facing all Canadians. We are caught in a serious global recession. Markets are in turmoil. Jobs are being lost. Pensions are at risk. Individuals and businesses are finding it harder to get credit.
It is true that Canada has a stronger foundation and is better prepared to weather this global storm than almost any other country, yet we are not immune. These are troubling times for all Canadians.
Brief news flashes or abstract facts and figures rehashed in 10 second sound bites do not tell the real story. For my part, having just returned from my riding of Miramichi, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the worry my constituents feel about the jobs they have and the jobs they are looking for is palpable. We are a tourism and resource rich riding. Mining, forestry and fishing are ways of life for many of my constituents. This is a trying time for Canada's resource industries.
Job losses are not about statistics. They are about real people who are worried about their pensions, who are worried about their bills, who are worried about the future. Uncertainty and turmoil in the markets does not hurt just the rich and affluent, it hurts the savings and pensions of Canadian seniors, those who have worked hard and saved diligently for peace of mind in retirement.
I know that seniors in my own riding, many of whom are already struggling with issues such as affordable housing, are very concerned about what will happen to their quality of life in this unprecedented time. Access to credit is not an abstract concept. It is about young families trying to get mortgages or car loans. It is about small businesses trying to obtain the capital they need to expand, to stay in business, and to create and protect jobs. Hard-working Canadian families, seniors, small business owners: these are the people who are hurting. These are the people who are worried. These are the people to whom all of us in the House are responsible.
In addition to the hurt and the worry, these Canadians share another commonality: they have no use for partisan bluster. They do not care whether or not elite academics and special interest groups have bestowed their blessings on backroom political games. They just want to see that the man or the woman to whom they entrusted their vote is working to represent their interests and to deal with these problems, problems like the economy.
It is not a lot to ask that politicians actually follow through and search for common grounds on this huge challenge that our country is facing today. We have a window of opportunity to do just that, and for our government's part we are reaching out in good faith. Tomorrow the will present us with a budget, an action plan for the coming year and beyond. This will be our test, a test for all MPs and all parties, a test that will clearly demonstrate who is prepared to put national interests ahead of partisan interests and who is not.
Like other Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I look forward to hearing the explain our action plan in full detail, but we already know the broad strokes of what to expect. Our action plan will contain significant new investments to stimulate the economy and create jobs, to take immediate action to build roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure that Canadians see and use every day, and to help protect those hardest hit by the recession. In short, this will be an unprecedented action plan for an unprecedented time.
Canadians will be watching parliamentarians to see how we react. Will politicians once again angle for partisan advantage with the public interest coming a distant second? Or will MPs work to ensure that the action plan is quickly passed so support goes to those who need it most?
This government has made its intent clear in words and in deeds. We are putting Canada first. We are inviting all MPs in all other parties to do likewise. Over the past few months we have conducted an unprecedented consultation with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, a consultation on which my colleague from will elaborate in a moment.
We also reached out for ideas from other parties. We offered, and we still offer, the path of consensus. Different parties may not agree on everything, but especially at a time like this, Canadians deserve to see their representatives working together for the greater good of the country.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those members of the opposition who did reach out and offer suggestions and ideas that they felt would be of benefit. I want to thank those members who made a sincere effort to publicly demonstrate, even if they do not particularly love our government, that they do love our country enough to set aside petty partisanship and do what they can to give everyday Canadian families the peace of mind they deserve.
For those who have not yet publicly demonstrated this big national spirit, there is still time. Yes, the budget has been sent to the printer, but the action our economy needs will go far beyond one budget or any one bill. The challenges we face are many and they will not disappear overnight.
In the last election Canadians gave our government a much stronger mandate, but it was still a minority mandate. They told all MPs to work together. They told us to get things done.
There is still time for big ideas that span political ideologies and different regions. There is still time to present constructive solutions for the future. There is still time to share concrete ideas on how to ensure individuals and businesses have access to the credit they need, time to identify building projects and get shovels in the ground, and time to help protect jobs today and create jobs for the future.
There is still time to prove that the system works, not just for politicians and special interests but for everyday Canadian workers, families and businessmen. I ask everyone to consider this and to come forward to ensure that we can all succeed together.
Canada is on a strong financial footing today. Canada is prepared to face a global recession because the big national parties, the parties that have formed credible national governments, both the Conservatives and Liberals alike, were able to make these big national decisions. This is particularly true on the economy.
For our part, the government introduced corporate, personal and sales taxes, including the GST. This was and remains early stimulus. We acted to provide stability in mortgages and real estate markets, and to ensure essential credit remains available to families and businesses. We partnered with the provinces to provide targeted support to industries and communities in need and we paid down billions on the federal debt, which is precisely the kind of move that allows us to enter a short-term deficit without putting our long-term economic security at risk.
At the same time, let me say, in that big national spirit that our country needs, that the Liberal governments of the 1990s also deserve their share of the credit for laying this foundation. Not many of those Liberals are left in the House these days and I do not presume to speak for those who are, but my guess is that they took very little pride or pleasure in cutting funding for health, education and other social programs. However, they made the tough choices they felt were necessary.
This government too, also a big national government, is doing what it thinks is necessary. Our government takes no pleasure in running a deficit. As Conservatives that is not normally in our DNA, but we are prepared to do what is necessary to improve access to credit, stabilize our economy, and protect and create jobs.
Tomorrow, my colleague, the , will explain our next steps, additional action that we think is necessary. Our actions will be targeted. They will inject stimulus into the economy. They will promote long-term growth and avoid long-term or permanent deficits. This is the kind of plan Canadians expect. This is the kind of action Canadians deserve.
We are prepared to deliver the plan, the leadership and the action that Canadians need. No action plan can satisfy everybody, but I hope that all Canadians will look at our plan and find items that they can support and get behind.
To that end, it is my honour to move the following motion, seconded by the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. I move:
|| That the following Address be presented to Her Excellency the Governor General of Canada:
|| To Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
|| MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY:
|| We, Her Majesty's most loyal and dutiful subjects, the House of Commons of Canada in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the Governor General for her gracious remarks. I also thank the for offering me the opportunity to second the motion in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
I want to thank my colleague from for her eloquent opening address and I am delighted and honoured to second her motion. She and I represent very different parts of the country. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are miles apart geographically: different places, different traditions, different ways of life. However, I am confident that if we compared the constituents of with the good people I have the privilege of representing in , we would find many similarities. We would find hard workers and people who believe in personal responsibilities but are also generous and kind. We would find people who want to raise their families in safe communities, free from crime and intimidation. We would find people who are proud of Canada and believe in the limitless possibilities of our country. We would find people who disagree on many issues. Indeed, just as we would find many people within a given community, a given province or a given party who disagree but still share values. They would agree on the things that matter: health, happiness, security, peace of mind, a stable livelihood, a bright future. I believe we could take Canadians from any province or region of Canada and find these shared values.
It does not matter whether we live in B.C., in Newfoundland, in southern Ontario's wine country or the beautiful reaches of Canada's north or whether we live on a farm or in an urban centre, people still want to have peace of mind in their jobs, incomes and livelihood. It does not matter on which side of Canada's traditional linguistic divide one lies. A farming family in Quebec and a farming family in Saskatchewan may not speak the same language but they share many of the same values, hopes and dreams: a chance to make an honest living doing what they love.
What unites us all also transcends cultural divides. We are a large, diverse country filled with Canadians of every conceivable background but across different cultures and regions people still want to build a better future for their children and they are proud to call Canada home.
In my own riding, my constituents are divided into those in the urban community of west Saskatoon and those rural communities that spread out across our beautiful prairie province. However, urban or rural, I know that my constituents want their children to grow up and raise their families in their own communities. This is no different from anywhere else in our great country.
I believe what unites us also crosses the partisan divide. Good people and optimistic people vote Conservative just as they vote Liberal, Bloc and NDP. While Canadian voters may disagree on the given issue, there is more that unites us than divides us.
Tonight, somewhere in this great country, a Liberal will be having a Conservative over for dinner. A Conservative is helping his or her NDP neighbour and a Bloc supporter is having a lively debate with a New Democrat.
The point I am making is that throughout Canada good people might disagree on their politics but still manage to successfully live, work and enjoy time together and they will stand together when it counts. If Canadians of different political persuasions can disagree on politics and still work together when it really counts, why can their representatives not? Why can we not?
The most disheartening thing about this point is not that MPs of different persuasions are more divided than everyday Canadians. It is that if we are not careful we will increasingly become divided from Canadians. This risk does not just extend to MPs. It extends to staff members, lobbyists, journalists, academics, interest groups and even public servants. MPs must work hard to ensure that the concerns of their constituents come first.
For all of the Governor General's eloquence, her real gift to this Parliament was allowing us the opportunity to return to our constituencies and be reminded of what is really important to all Canadians.
Beginning in December, I took the winter break as an opportunity to conduct community consultations in my riding of Saskatoon--Rosetown--Biggar. These consultations provided an opportunity for me to learn more about each community, as well as listen to their concerns. A number of individuals, as well as members representing various organizations, took the opportunity to call my office and meet with me. In total, I held meetings in or visited more than 15 communities within my riding.
If any of my hon. colleagues' experiences were like mine, they know what is on people's minds. People are worried about the economy, and rightfully so. Canada, like every other country around the world, is being buffeted by the global recession. Unlike other countries around the world, we are well prepared to weather it. Our real estate market is well regulated. Our banking system is strong. Our debt to GDP ratio is low. We entered the recession late. We are not plunging as deep as other countries and we are expected to come out of the recession early.
Relatively speaking, that is very good news, but for many Canadians there are still plenty of reasons to worry and we must not forget them: workers who have lost or are in danger of losing their jobs; Canadians living in single industry towns who are wondering what is next; pensioners worried about their income and savings; and small business owners concerned about the tight credit market and whether they can stay afloat.
The worries of Canadians cannot penetrate the bubble of Ottawa unless their representatives listen. Canadians' priorities cannot shape our policies and actions unless we are prepared to hear what they have to say. We need to reach out and we need to consult across regional lines and party lines to anyone who has a good idea that they are willing to share.
Tomorrow the will introduce an action plan that addresses the priorities of Canadians. We know this because our government has made an unprecedented effort to consult far and wide and to give all Canadians the opportunity to have their say.
Here is what we have been doing. The and ministers have personally made 88 separate visits to cities, both large and small, from Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to Fort McMurray, Saskatoon and Kenora, to listen to Canadians. Ministers have held 74 round tables to solicit the views of business and community leaders.
Our government has met with 836 organizations, big and small. Our government has solicited online submissions from the public and received more than 7,400 responses from interested and concerned citizens and organizations who wanted to get involved, while another 5,400 wrote to our government directly with their ideas and thoughts.
Our government has had 102 discussions and face-to-face meetings with representatives from our provinces and territories and has met with representatives from 76 Canadian cities, counties and towns. These numbers do not even begin to include the number of Canadians, organizations and businesses that took the time and effort to contact their individual members of Parliament.
Furthermore, we have consistently reached out to the opposition parties as well. Those opposition parties that took up our offer in good faith and made suggestions, however broad, will hopefully see an action plan that at least, in part, respects their ideas and their priorities.
Tomorrow, members of Parliament and all Canadians will hear our Conservative government's action plan, which is what Canadians elected us to provide, but it will not be an exclusively Conservative plan. It will reflect the input we received from Canadians from all political persuasions and it will reflect the extraordinary character of these times. Rather than be a Conservative plan or a Liberal plan or so forth, it will be first and foremost a Canadian plan.
It will be a plan for protecting and creating jobs today and for helping Canada to create jobs for the future, a plan that provides strong fiscal leadership and delivers a meaningful action in a very uncertain time, a plan that will help to preserve the quality of life enjoyed across this country in both urban and rural communities, a quality of life that is worth preserving.
No plan can satisfy all the demands of all the people, but this action plan will get the big things right. It will be Canada's action plan for uncertain times. I invite all my colleagues to use their very best judgment when reviewing it.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and pleasure to second this motion.