The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to His Excellency the Governor General in reply to his speech at the opening of the session.
Mr. Speaker, today I will continue with my reply to the Speech from the Throne, which I began yesterday. I mentioned that the word “region” was missing from the speech. Unfortunately, when I mentioned the White Trail, which is a reality for thousands of people in my riding, I heard barely stifled laughter coming from the government ranks. In these circumstances, namely here in the House, that laughter could be considered obscene.
Perhaps I should redouble my efforts because that shows that people are uncomfortable with the word “region”, which does not seem to be popular. Should we be laughing about having to travel hundreds of kilometres by snowmobile over snow or ice for lack of a Trans-Canada highway? Should we be laughing about women who put up with violence because in the villages where they live, such as Fermont, there is not enough housing for them to live on their own, and therefore they have to have another spouse in order to have another house?
I would like to mention seasonal workers, because we will have to talk about them when we deal with employment insurance reform. A threshold of 360 hours is not enough for these workers, who live a different reality.
We must not forget the aboriginal children who were taken away by plane from the lower north shore and disappeared. I would like to remind members that there is no road, only the White Trail. I could also talk about rabbit snares or eating seal meat. Why not?
My region, the north shore of Quebec, is not something out of a fairy tale. It is a real place. Mocking an MP who is giving a speech is the same as mocking her voters, and that weakens democracy.
Now that I have dealt with the matter of this idle laughter that serves no purpose other than highlighting the division between rural and urban communities and, in my humble opinion, is a discredit to certain MPs, I respectfully submit that perhaps now we can act like members of Parliament and draw the government's attention to how the regions see certain aspects of the Speech from the Throne.
I used the word “region”, but I will also add the word “colony”. It is often said that we are in the 21st century. However, it seems to me that, although we are in a post-colonial era, the regions are still seen as colonies. We need to justify why we live in ridings that are the size of actual countries. We need to justify why we want to live there, and this goes beyond making a living from the land, sea, and forest. It also means ensuring the social, cultural and economic development, that is to say the human development, of the area.
The fact that the government is so out of touch with the regions shows its disregard for the people who choose to live there even though they have no movie theatres or fusion cuisine. If we really want to talk about economic development, then the government needs to stop thinking of the regions as nothing more than a huge store of resources that it can shamelessly plunder at any time. It needs to get out of its comfort zone, create, and take risks—
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this afternoon with the hon. member for .
It gives me great pleasure to speak for the first time in this place since my election in October. I want to personally thank my family, my wife of 38 years, Ann, my daughter Courtney, and my son Geoff. They all worked hard on my campaign. I should add that our daughter delivered our first grandchild, a girl called Avery, during the election, so we did have a bit of a hiccup. As all members know, we all need support from home, and I certainly received it during the 78-day campaign.
I would also like to thank my campaign team as it put in, like many others around this place, many hours to ensure that this moment could happen here today.
I have spent my entire life serving the public. I was a sports broadcaster in the city of Saskatoon for nearly 40 years. That has helped me in the transition to becoming an effective member of Parliament. I have spent many years on non-profit boards over the years, like KidSport and the YMCA, along with Sport Tourism. I have been involved in a number of fundraising agencies and also served on a number of provincial and national sports governing bodies in the country.
For the last nine and a half years I have served as trustee for the Saskatoon Board of Education. It is the largest school division in the province, serving over 25,000 students. I was also elected as the urban public representative on the Saskatchewan School Board's executive. That represents cities like Saskatoon, Regina and Lloydminster.
As we all know, education is changing. This past year our school division signed an historical partnership with the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Teachers from our school division are working on the reserve, following the Saskatchewan curriculum, which supports the academic growth of students. It was also sponsored in part by our federal government. While students stay on the reserve in the learning years, they will transfer to the city for the middle years to continue their education. In fact, a new school is currently being built in my riding and will welcome these students from the reserve in 2017.
My riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood is about 93% urban, which is the city of Saskatoon, and roughly 7% rural. The south portion of the riding is the R.M. of Corman Park. It is the home of diverse farming, businesses and acreages.
Saskatoon—Grasswood has experienced tremendous growth over a number of years, maybe the most in the province of Saskatchewan. Two new massive subdivisions, Stonebridge and Rosewood, have been built. The riding has become a strong economic engine for the city, with a population now of roughly 250,000.
Infrastructure for growing communities is always a top priority. The previous government met those challenges with the construction of the south bridge connecting our community east and west. Over $90 million of federal infrastructure money was provided for this project. The south bridge project was talked about in our city for nearly 100 years. When we have the South Saskatchewan River flowing through our city, bridges and roads are needed, and more roads and more bridges will be needed.
The previous federal government worked well with our city preparing for the future, a future that will commit over $57 million to the north commuter parkway bridge. I might also add that our previous government, through the P3 fund, committed another $43 million to the new civic operations centre, which is currently being built in the city of Saskatoon.
The federal gas tax fund has been a winner in the province of Saskatchewan and the city of Saskatoon. It has committed over $12 million to the city each and every year since 2011.
Saskatoon has been known as the “hub city”. It is roughly situated about halfway through the province. It is very important for the lucrative resource sector of potash, uranium, oil and gas, forestry, plus the agriculture community that surrounds the city of Saskatoon.
Manufacturing is a big part of employment, supplying the necessary equipment to the mines and the farming community. The throne speech, though, said nothing about agriculture.
I recently attended the crop production show at Prairieland Park. It is the largest winter agricultural event in the province of Saskatchewan. There was little optimism directed toward the federal government because of no mention of agriculture in the Speech from the Throne. Companies like PotashCorp, headquartered in Saskatoon, look for signals and directions from the federal government. Since there was no mention of agriculture, it came as no surprise whatsoever when the company announced the closure of its mine in New Brunswick earlier this month, putting over 400 people out of work.
Saskatoon—Grasswood has the highest number of seniors in the province. During the election we had many meetings with seniors groups. They were excited about the proposed increase in the tax-free savings account. Seniors enjoyed the benefit of income splitting, two very good innovations from the former government. Unfortunately, the Speech from the Throne offered very little to my constituents, the seniors of Saskatoon—Grasswood.
Our riding has welcomed immigrants, along with refugees, with open arms. Our neighbourhoods have certainly changed over the years. In fact, we have many Muslims in our riding. They provided huge support for myself and our campaign team, along with our party and the riding. Also, the Ahmadiyya Muslim group are currently building a new mosque right in the riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood.
I should add that our riding is also the home of the Western Development Museum. Every summer, we have what is called “Heritage Days” for the public to gain a better understanding of what our ancestors had to go through. I am honoured to be the deputy critic for Canadian Heritage.
We are anxious also to see how the Canada 150 fund is rolled out, as we celebrate Canada's 150th birthday in the year of 2017. Our government committed $500,000 for playground structure upgrades, and another $300,000 to help support the White Buffalo Youth Lodge. The previous government played a very important part in our heritage in the city and the province. In fact, we are currently building a new art gallery in Saskatoon in partnership with the province, the city and the community stakeholders; $13 million from the building Canada fund investments have gone into this project, which will open very soon.
Finally, we all want to live healthy lifestyles. Since I was in sports most of my life, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Saskatoon—Grasswood is the home of five golf courses. We are home to a curling rink, a swimming facility and also two privately run indoor skating facilities, including one that is almost fully dedicated to seniors 50 and over to play hockey when they wish. We, too, have many ball fields in the riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood. We hope that in the future a winter recreation site at Diefenbaker Park will adorn the banks of the South Saskatchewan in the city of Saskatoon.
Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.
I am honoured and privileged to rise in the House for my first time to speak and represent the great people of Edmonton West. The last election was a long and spirited one, with a tremendous slate of candidates in Edmonton West. Each candidate gave it his or her all and worked tirelessly to meet constituents and understand their concerns.
On behalf of the constituents of Edmonton West, I would like to congratulate both Heather MacKenzie and Karen Leibovicci on their campaigns and to thank them for putting their names forward for democracy.
I would like to take this time as well to thank my dedicated team of hard-working volunteers. Throughout the winter, spring, summer, and fall, from minus 35° to plus 35°, they joined me in going door to door in communities throughout the riding, speaking to constituents and building relationships.
Speaking of relationships, I would like to give thanks to my loving wife, Sasha, and my two amazing sons, Jensen and Parker. Their love and support guided me throughout this amazing journey. Without them I would not be standing here today. I give a special thanks to my son Jensen who, at just 16 years of age, knocked on over 3,000 doors by himself, often educating people of the benefits of Adam Smith's invisible hand for the economy.
They say that our role models are the ones who shape us, who help us become the people we are. I am one of the lucky few who have been able to meet with their role model and develop a friendship with him. That role model is a former member of the House and former colleague of many of us sitting here. That role model is none other than Laurie Hawn.
As the member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, part of which became Edmonton West with boundary redrawing, Mr. Hawn worked selflessly for the constituents he served. He never took them for granted and always went the extra mile to accommodate their needs and wants.
If there is one thing that Mr. Hawn taught me it is this: regardless of our political stripes we must always remember that the job of a member of Parliament is to serve constituents. It is not about political bickering, but about providing constituents with the service they deserve.
For the role of MP there is no better moral compass than Laurie Hawn. If we find ourselves saying that we have checked with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner who has said that it is okay, then we probably know it is not okay. I always say WWLD, what would Laurie do.
That is what I aim to do as a newly elected member of Parliament. I plan on serving the great people of Edmonton West because, after all, as a public servant, it is what we are expected to do.
I am most fortunate to have inherited part of the riding of Edmonton—Spruce Grove, served so ably by a mentor to me and so many Conservatives inside and outside the House, namely, the hon. .
The riding of Edmonton West is also famous for two great wonders of the world, West Edmonton Mall and my dear friend, Ted Byfield, godfather of the Conservative movement in Canada. I am proud to represent both.
Upon assuming the position of MP for Edmonton West, I took a look back at the history of this great riding. The individuals who represented Edmonton West have always put the public before themselves. The hon. Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Lambert, for example, served the constituents of Edmonton West with dignity and respect. Serving as a Conservative in the House for 27 years, including time as Speaker of the House, Mr. Lambert understood the importance of public service and never shied away from hard work.
As his title indicates, not only was he honourable in his capacity in the House, but also honourable and dedicated to serving his country on the battlefield. Mr. Lambert served as a tank commander in the 14th armoured regiment, the Calgary Regiment, during World War II, seeing action on the beaches of Dieppe, where he was captured, spending the next three years of his life as a prisoner of war. Mr. Lambert is an inspiration to me, and I proudly follow in his footsteps of serving the constituents of Edmonton West.
Mr. Speaker, if I may suggest, you should follow your predecessor, Lieutenant Colonel Lambert's lead, and maybe get a tank of your own to help with folks in the House.
I am truly humbled to serve the great people of Edmonton West as their member of Parliament. They are a hard-working and entrepreneurial group of Canadians from a diverse field of professional backgrounds. Not only do they come from different industries, they come from many different regions of the country and the world.
Edmonton West boasts not only West Edmonton Mall but also a thriving tourism sector with many great hotels, restaurants, and attractions, including the best part of the Edmonton River Valley, the largest urban park in Canada.
It is home to Finning Canada, and many companies big and small that are leaders in the energy services industry.
It is home to some of the hardest working people and entrepreneurs in Canada, giving it one of the highest average incomes in the country and allowing it to be the fastest growing city year after year.
It is home to a diverse group of places of worship, including Edmonton's largest synagogue, where Rabbi Daniel Friedman, a personal friend of mine and one of the leaders of Canada's National Holocaust Memorial, hails. There is a large mosque and many churches of Christian faith, including my own, the Annunciation Catholic church. I am proud to have friends at many of these institutions, and equally proud of the interfaith work they do together for the betterment of Edmontonians.
That is the beauty of Edmonton and Alberta. Canadians from coast to coast to coast look to it as a beacon of hope and the land of opportunity.
“Opportunity” is a word I would like to focus on. What exactly does opportunity mean? To me, opportunity means having the freedom to accomplish all that one has ever dreamed of. It means having options available for one to succeed. Opportunity means having a good-paying job, economic stability, and the hope that tomorrow will always bring better things. Unfortunately, the Speech from the Throne by the newly minted government lacks opportunity. At a time when the world economy is fragile and families are struggling, the government appears to have its priorities not on jobs and the economy but on rhetoric and the legalization of marijuana.
The energy sector has been the greatest source of wealth creation across Canada and yet does not merit a mention in the throne speech. It is the largest employer of first nation people in Canada and yet does not merit a mention in the throne speech. It is Canada's biggest export to the world's markets and yet—everyone is sensing a trend, I am sure—does not merit a mention in the throne speech. However, marijuana does. I know that pot has been a focus for the Liberal Party both during the election and beforehand, but it should not be the focus of the government's agenda. The throne speech offers empty platitudes, not opportunity for Canada.
The government agenda is in stark contrast to the one implemented by the Conservatives. Under their leadership, Canada had opportunity. As a nation, we saw massive growth in our output. We saw a strengthening of our middle class, which achieved the distinction of becoming the world's richest middle class. We saw record gains in our nation's production of goods and services produced for international markets, something that is key in today's world economy. We saw a number of historic free trade agreements. All of these things were accomplished under the Conservatives' time in government and provided Canada and Canadians with opportunity. That now has been snatched away by the Liberal government.
One indicator of this unfortunate turn of events can be seen in our own economic outlook. Conservatives left the government with a $1.9 billion surplus in October, $600 million in October alone, and now we are looking at a $3 billion deficit. Another alarming note with regard to opportunity can be seen in my own province of Alberta. We used to have a “we can make it happen” attitude and now we lack optimism, with opportunity seeping out.
Under the current government, the energy sector, the single largest job-creating sector in the province of Alberta, is looking elsewhere for opportunity. Because of the positions the government is taking, companies are feeling less confident of their future in Alberta. With vague language like “new environmental assessment processes”, companies are thinking twice about investing in Canada. The opposition to pipelines like energy east means that the days of a thriving energy sector in Canada are numbered. The investment dollars that have fled Alberta alone in the last six months dwarf infrastructure money planned for the entire country.
The new government, in its throne speech, stated that it wants to "encourage economic growth", but rather than encouraging such growth, it is doing the opposite. In fact, investment in Canada is falling at a dramatic rate and investments previously committed to this country are now fleeing our borders. All of this is to say that there is zero opportunity contained in the Speech from the Throne.
For these reasons I will not be able to support the Speech from the Throne. While I am disappointed with the government's agenda and vision for this country, as I am sure other members are as well, I know that the members of my party and I will work with it to get it right, not for the benefit of ourselves but for the benefit of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to offer sincere thanks to the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for generously ceding his time to me today and add that I will then be splitting my new found time with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo.
I am honoured to speak for the first time in this House as the member of Parliament for Halifax. As I rise today, I find that I am full of humility in the face of this profound honour, full of enthusiasm with the prospect of what this House will do on behalf of all Canadians, and full of gratitude for all of those who have helped me, and indeed all of us, get elected to this place.
Please indulge me, Mr. Speaker, as I thank my loving wife and daughter, indeed all of my family, and also my extended campaign family, for working so tirelessly and with such purpose. I thank the people of Halifax, who have entrusted me with the privilege of representing them in this government, for all of their trust and support, and I pledge to them that I will toil ceaselessly on their behalf.
There is one other pledge I would like to make. Earlier this week our colleague, the , astutely likened heckling in this House to common schoolyard bullying. She called upon each of us to show proper respect in this place, and to the Canadians who sent us here, and pledge not to heckle when our colleagues are speaking, and I so pledge. Further, I repeat the minister's invitation to all colleagues to also take this pledge.
I am proud to serve in a government that is committed to growing our economy through investments in public transit. I am proud to serve in a government committed to investing in green infrastructure, green tech, clean tech to create the jobs of tomorrow.
I am proud to serve in a government committed to investing in social infrastructure like housing, transitional shelters, and early childhood development facilities. I am proud to support a government that will offer more support for seniors.
I am proud to serve in a government committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, committed to making life better for Canadians by implementing a middle class tax cut, and by offering a hand up to Canadians working hard to improve their situation by implementing the new Canada child benefit.
I am so very proud to serve in a new government seeking to forge a new nation to nation partnership with indigenous peoples in urban and rural communities across this country.
These investments and programs will be transformational for our nation's cities and for the millions of Canadians that reside within them. These investments will also benefit our nation as a whole.
With the proportion of Canadians living in urbanized areas now at more than 80% and growing, we stand on the threshold of the urban century, so when our cities succeed our nation succeeds. That is why this House will grow accustomed to hearing me speak about and advocate for Halifax and other cities across this country.
I would like to share a story about what can happen when we begin to harness the power of cities.
It was only a few short years ago that downtown Halifax emerged from a decades-long period of stagnation. An entire generation grew up without ever seeing a construction crane on the horizon of our city. What growth we did have was happening on the edge of the city, eating up forests and farmland, sprawling ever outward while our urban core atrophied.
The cost of this low density dispersed growth was and remains tragically high: financially high with the capital and maintenance costs of vast new systems of infrastructure, environmentally high with ecological degradation and greenhouse gas emissions, and socially high with increased commuting times and poor health outcomes, to name a few, and all of this completely unsustainable.
In 2006, I became the city of Halifax's first manager of urban design. From that perch, I set out to put my city back on track toward sustainability. I had the pleasure of working with Halifax volunteer extraordinaire Dale Godsoe, fresh off her service on Prime Minister Paul Martin's external advisory committee on cities and communities. Together with a wonderful team of staff and volunteers, and an engaged council, we set in motion a broad, three-year program of community engagement to build a new plan for our city, and our new plan hit a gusher.
In a recent conversation with Halifax mayor Mike Savage, a former member of this House, and now a member of the FCM Big City Mayors' Caucus, and the meeting with our own , the mayor revealed to us that downtown Halifax's share of regional growth had ballooned from a mere 16% before our new plan took hold to a share of greater than 40% since the plan did take hold, a stunning public policy victory.
As a result of this plan, cranes now dot the skyline and development activity in the downtown core has increased by 40 times. We are seeing new office, retail, and mixed-use space, and we are on our way toward seeing 5,000 new residential units in the urban core which otherwise would have been built out on those farms and forests.
Because land use and transportation are always two sides of the same coin, the intensification of our downtown has implications for public transit and active transportation, as well. Our transit authority, Halifax Transit, is in the process of redesigning its service, possibly to include commuter rail for the first time, and more and more bike lanes are turning up due, in large part, to the advocacy of groups like the Halifax Cycling Coalition.
However, the jewel in the crown of our downtown renaissance is, surely, the new Halifax Central Library, a project which I am proud to have helped lead, among a cast of other civic leaders.
Our library recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and in the hands of its amazing CEO, Asa Kachan, the library has had nearly two million visitors since it has opened its doors, which is not bad in a province of only a million people. It has exceeded every single expectation we had set for it.
It has become the city's living room. It has become a nucleus of community in our downtown, a place where people come to learn languages, to meet friends, to do business, and even to start businesses. There is a place for every member of our community at the central library.
It has put our city on the world stage of architecture and culture, winning numerous national and international distinctions, and has become a point of deep pride for Halifax.
Although my city still has a tremendous amount of work to do, like many Canadian cities, I will recap some of the things that we have gotten right.
We have authentically engaged with community members, so that they themselves can craft a plan for their downtown, thereby including them in the decisions that impact their lives.
We created progressive public policy that eliminates red tape and allows the private sector to do its work. We are matching these land-use improvements with complementary and necessary improvements to transit and active transportation. In the case of the central library, we made a significant public investment in our community which has given the private sector confidence to initiate multiple and mixed-use projects nearby.
This is a story about the importance of smart public policy and public investment in community infrastructure, such as that referred to in the Speech from the Throne and of how it has helped position Halifax for success: success, with a tremendous opportunity and responsibility of a national shipbuilding contract, with the Irving shipyard already becoming a key economic driver in our city; success with the greatest concentration of ocean-related Ph.D.s of anywhere in the word in capitalizing on our potential of the oceans nearby for research, nutrition, energy, logistics, and even, in the case of the marine research station in Ketch Harbour in my riding, for cutting-edge algae biofuel; success in helping to support our local arts and culture scene with groups like Shakespeare by the Sea, Khyber Centre for the Arts, Neptune Theatre, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and festivals like Nocturne: Art at Night and North by Night Market, which are just a few examples of the vibrant culture found in our city; success with a rich diversity of food and food security initiatives in Halifax, like Hope Blooms, a modest community garden program empowering at-risk youth in the urban core, or like our urban farms, common roots urban farm, the Spryfield urban farm, and the John Umlah memorial community garden; and success in attracting and supporting diversity in our city.
Just last month, I visited the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in downtown Halifax to discuss with its director, Pamela Glode-Desrochers, how I could help advance its objective of improving the lives of aboriginal people in an urban environment through social and cultural programming.
I visited with Imam Dr. Tayebi and the Muslim community at the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre in Halifax, a group I am proud to call my friends and who have made themselves a pillar of generosity in our community.
Simply put, a smart urban agenda, a national urban agenda, with strategic investment leads to economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and cultural vibrancy.
This is why I am encouraged by the government's urban agenda, as articulated in its Speech from the Throne. These investments in our cities will be transformational. However, we must not stop there.
I implore my hon. colleagues to consider the power of Canadian cities and to work together with me, with the parliamentary secretary for intergovernmental affairs and other colleagues, and with urban groups across the country, such as the Council for Canadian Urbanism, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and, yes, the Big City Mayors' Caucus, to continue to advance a national urban agenda.
On the threshold of the urban century, I believe we have no other responsible choice.
Mr. Speaker, as this is the first occasion I have had to rise in this revered House, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the good citizens of Kitchener Centre for granting me the honour and privilege of representing them in this great place. I would especially like to thank all of the hard-working volunteers on my campaign who generously gave their time, energy, and talents. Without their efforts, I would not be standing here today.
Like many Canadians, and like many of my colleagues, I am a child of immigrants who moved to Canada with the hope of offering their children a better life. If I am standing here today, it is because of the courage my parents had and their deeply held belief that Canada would allow their children the opportunity to succeed.
It is so gratifying for so many Canadians, as I know it is for my own family—my parents, Hem Chand and Parakash Saini; my two sisters, Anju and Manju; my brother-in-law Sanjay; and my niece and nephew, Samria and Vikram—to see that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible in this great country, the land of opportunity.
As the is so fond of saying, Canada is strengthened because of our differences and not in spite of them. My own personal journey to this place underscores the truth behind these words.
As a first generation Canadian of Indian heritage, I moved to Kitchener as a young man to set up my business. I was welcomed by the people of Kitchener, a city settled early on by German immigrants, which still holds one of the largest and most well-attended Oktoberfest festivals in the world.
My success as a small-business owner could only have happened in a community that looked beyond my name and heritage and accepted me for who I was, not for where I was born. Our system in this country allows each one of us to rise based on merit and not on our place of birth.
Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy and the biggest job creators. As someone who has owned a small business for over 20 years, I understand the difficulties that small and medium businesses face on a daily basis. In a volatile economy, small businesses are often the first hit and the hardest hit. It is extremely important, therefore, that the government work as a partner with small and medium-sized businesses to help them expand, access international markets, and reinvest in the Canadian economy. This is something I am proud to champion as a member of Parliament.
As members may know, Kitchener is part of Canada's high-tech innovation hub. Kitchener is part of the quantum valley corridor that stretches from the Kitchener—Waterloo region through to Toronto. This unique, innovative, and collaborative high-tech hub is an economic driver, not only locally but for the entire country, and enjoys a global reputation for excellence.
To maintain leadership in this area and to compete in the global economy, we need to ensure that we continue to invest in this sector. We need the ability to attract top international talent. We need improved transit infrastructure along the quantum valley corridor, and we need to provide access to funding at all stages of research, start-up, manufacturing, and expansion.
Climate change is not a theory. It is not disputed. It is a fact. It is a shame that in 2016 there are still those who choose not to believe it. Thankfully, the government recognizes the reality of climate change and the need to address it now by boldly championing a green agenda. I am confident that the innovative and collaborative nature of the Kitchener—Waterloo high-tech ecosystem is well poised to help Canada become a world leader in the development of green technology and green innovation.
I am so proud that our government has committed to an ambitious infrastructure agenda that will fix our crumbling infrastructure while stimulating our economy with good-paying, high-quality jobs.
Infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. We can all agree that we all drive on the same roads, we all cross the same bridges, and we all visit the same hospitals. We know that investment in transit infrastructure is good for business, allowing goods and services to reach markets faster. It is good for the environment, by reducing the number of cars on the road. It is good for people, as it allows them to spend less time in transit and more quality time with friends and family.
The number one transit infrastructure priority for my community is two-way, all-day GO between Kitchener and Toronto. This priority is championed by all levels of government and is an essential ingredient to solidifying quantum valley, providing economic growth with good-paying jobs, and ensuring that Canada can continue to compete globally in the high-tech sector.
Affordable housing is also a huge concern for my community. The recent influx of refugees has helped raise awareness of our housing needs and has shone a light on this important issue. The region of Waterloo, which Kitchener is a part of, was chosen as a site for refugee resettlement because of the existing framework of collaborative services between community agencies, its strong regional and municipal leadership, and a broad base of dedicated individuals already engaged in finding permanent solutions to homelessness in our community. When it comes to affordable housing, whether it be for those experiencing homelessness or for refugees, long-term residents, or new Canadians, it is not a matter of one over the other. It is a matter of finding solutions for both. It is worth noting that housing is not the problem; it is the solution.
I am gratified that our social infrastructure proposals would contribute to ensuring that all members of our community would have a place to call home. The development of a national housing framework is not only good social policy and good health care policy but is also good economic policy.
People in my riding are also deeply concerned about the future of Canadian health care. One of the most troubling decisions the previous government made was the decision to not renew the Canada health accord. Predictable funding is necessary for provinces and territories to make the long-term investments needed in our health care system so it can continue to serve Canadians now and into the future. This is something I am very happy to see our government working to restore.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a proud small-business owner. That business is a pharmacy. I have spent a good portion of my adult life helping people of all ages access the medication they need to lead happy, productive, and healthy lives. This is a tremendous responsibility and one that I was proud to undertake for many years. As a pharmacist, however, I was all too often aware of the challenges facing people when trying to afford the medication they needed. This is unacceptable. No one should have to choose between eating and buying medication. No one should have to choose between paying rent and buying medication. This is why I am extremely pleased that our government has pledged to take steps toward bulk buying of pharmaceutical drugs. This is an important and necessary step in the right direction.
However, that is not the end. I will continue to advocate for policies that make prescription medication more affordable, more available, and more accessible for all Canadians.
We all come to the House filled with great hopes and desires. Each one of us wants to do the best for our communities and our country. These are all noble ideals, and they should be encouraged. However, sometimes political reality intersects with political expediency. All members of this 42nd Parliament should work hard to try to minimize political differences and to concentrate on those issues that make us stronger. I know that this will not be easy. I know that there will be stark differences, and I know that there will be great debate. However, I believe that a combination of mutual respect, striving for high ideals, and a desire to do one's best shall serve this Parliament and our country well.
We are all here for the same reason. We all want to serve our constituents as best we can. We are all here to improve the lives of Canadians. I would like to ask all members to keep this in mind over the next few weeks.
Again, I would like to thank the good people of Kitchener Centre for giving me this historic opportunity to represent them, and my campaign team and volunteers for their dedication and tireless work. I also would like to thank my parents for their great judgment in bringing me to Canada and my family for their support. I look forward to working with all members of the House going forward.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from .
Although this is not the first time I have spoken in the House in this session, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra for the trust and support they have shown in electing me as their member of Parliament. It is an honour to continue to serve such a beautiful and diverse area and community. I will continue to work hard to serve with integrity and respect.
I would also like to acknowledge my wife Lynda, my parents Val and Cy, my campaign team, and the hundreds of volunteers and staff who worked so tirelessly on my election campaign. To them I am indebted.
I was encouraged to hear the Speech from the Throne address some of the real concerns facing the people in my riding and across the country, but a throne speech is just words if it is not followed up with concrete actions.
Every day I hear from constituents who are struggling with the real-life consequences of growing economic inequality, degraded public services, and a changing climate.
In the last election, the Liberals promised quick, urgent, positive change, so it was disappointing to see such a thin Speech from the Throne, with few details and virtually no timelines, no details on key issues like climate change targets, funding to close the gap for first nations education and water, or reversing Conservative cuts to health care and pensions. Given the lack of details, I sincerely hope that this is not a sign that the Liberals are looking for an excuse to back away from the promises they made to Canadians during the election. Canadians are tired of broken promises and they are understandably suspicious of empty government rhetoric. After 10 years of Conservative rule, it is hard to blame them. Canadians want and deserve concrete action.
During the recent federal election, the Liberals promised to address income inequality and our stagnating middle class, and with good reason. Income inequality in Canada continues to rise and Canadian families are paying the price. Unfortunately, instead of helping Canadian families, the first thing they did when they arrived in Ottawa was make equality worse by implementing their so-called middle-class tax cut. The parliamentary budget office shows the benefits of the new Liberal tax cut plan would mainly go to the top 30% of income earners with the most money going to the richest 10%. My constituents in Port Moody—Coquitlam are feeling the financial pain from the exorbitant costs of housing, expensive child care, prescription drugs, and groceries. We can and must do better. The government needs to tackle income inequality head-on. It can start by asking the richest corporations to pay their fair share, cracking down on tax havens, and bringing back the federal minimum wage to drive up wages and salaries for all Canadian workers.
The Liberals promised investments in what they call social infrastructure. Depending on where one lives that could mean anything. I am hopeful that we will get details on infrastructure spending plans soon, because additional funds for affordable housing are imperative to help relieve the pressure on those struggling with high costs and personal debt.
The staggering cost of housing has many living in Metro Vancouver very concerned. The average cost of a home in the tri-cities jumped between 17% and 25% last year alone. For many young families, home ownership is unrealistic, forcing them to move further from their jobs, meaning more time in traffic and less time with their loved ones. Property tax increases have forced seniors living on fixed incomes to move and sell their homes at a time when there are no affordable options for them to move into. The last time the federal government invested in affordable housing was when the late NDP leader Jack Layton convinced the government to abandon corporate tax cuts in favour of social infrastructure investment. I encourage our new to remember this progressive example and take action now.
I am proud to be serving as NDP critic for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. On the west coast the Liberals' promise to open the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is welcome news and it cannot be opened soon enough.
The previous government's closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the cuts and closures to the marine communications and traffic services centres has been disastrous for B.C. These cuts threaten the lives of fishers and other mariners as well as putting the marine environment at risk. The government should reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station to its full complement and do it now. It should reopen the recently closed Ucluelet and Tofino MCTS station and halt the plans to close the Vancouver and Comox MCTS stations.
Together we can protect our coastal waters from environmental hazards and protect the people who navigate these waters on a daily basis. I am hopeful the government will fulfill its promise and implement the 75 recommendations of the Cohen Commission report. It has been three years since the Cohen report laid out a path of recovery for Fraser River wild salmon and the new government must not repeat the mistakes of the last government by dragging its feet.
Wild salmon are under threat on the west coast due to open net fish farms, industrialization of sensitive habitat, and a changing climate. After completing a two-year inquiry, the Cohen Commission report identified 75 recommendations to improve the future sustainability of Fraser River sockeye. The comprehensive report highlighted the impact of stressors on wild salmon such as climate change, aquaculture, habitat protection, and the lack of funding for research and science.
Fraser River sockeye salmon are integral to the economic, ecological, and cultural health of our province. We cannot afford to lose one of the world's last great salmon rivers and with it countless jobs in coastal communities. Now is the time for action. I encourage the new minister to implement the Cohen Commission recommendations and I look forward to working with him in this regard.
I know my time is running near, but before I conclude, I would like to talk briefly about pipelines, the environmental review process, and social licence. Inherent and treaty rights of first nations are enshrined in Canadian law. First nation, Inuit, and Métis have a nearly unbroken record of about 200 court case wins affirming their rights, so it is time to get serious on a nation-to-nation approach with first nations and make first nations true partners in natural resource development.
New Democrats believe that the social licence for natural resource projects will engage first nations communities, citizens, and the broader civil society to include their views and expertise in the sustainable development of our resources. I encourage the government to move in that direction. Fixing the environmental assessment process that was dismantled by the previous federal government should be a priority. We need to reinstate the Burrard Inlet environmental action program and the Fraser River estuary management program that were cut under the Conservatives. Increased industrial activities require that we look at the cumulative impacts of each major project and make science-based recommendations to all levels of government. Looking at each project in isolation without taking into account downstream effects is shortsighted for our coastal economy.
New Democrats want sustainable natural resource development that fosters value-added jobs in Canada and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. We do not have to compromise the health of our environment or our future children in the pursuit of these goals. We need federal leadership. We need strong leadership. We cannot continue with the “rip and ship” approach. We can develop a sustainable economy that will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and protect our environment for future generations.
In closing, Canada is facing some very tough environmental and economic challenges and the Liberals have made many promises to address them. Let us hope they will live up to their promises.
I promise that we in the NDP will hold the government to account. We will be right there to remind them and speak loud about the actions that are needed to move on these very serious concerns. Canadians deserve nothing less.
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased, as the recently elected member for the great riding of Windsor—Tecumseh, to be among all members. I am honoured and grateful to be here. However, for a brief moment, I will speak as the proud mother of my baby, celebrating her 23rd birthday today, Chevonne Hardcastle. I want to give her a shout out and wish her a great day today.
Windsor—Tecumseh is a fascinating place. It is comprised of a number of communities that have come together over time. They were, at one time, distinct communities. They provide a real, vibrant fabric in Windsor-Essex County. I am honoured to accept the trust that they have placed in me.
With the vibrant neighbourhoods of Windsor and Tecumseh, including Riverside, Walkerville, St. Clair Beach, Oldcastle, and Maidstone, we understand how crucial it is to address social, economic, and health equity. We eagerly await the new era we have been promised, a new era of co-operation among all levels of government, as well as a return to national leadership on health care, and the negotiation of a new health accord.
During the election campaign, I promised my constituents that when in Ottawa I would fight on behalf of them for the issues that matter the most to them, and I intend to honour this commitment.
In many ways, the riding of Windsor—Tecumseh is much like the rest of the country. Our people are deeply concerned about the condition of the health care system, opportunities for young people, jobs, security and dignity for people who are retiring, affordable housing, and the list goes on. However, my constituents are also rightly concerned about the environment, especially when it concerns stewardship of the Great Lakes, in which they are ensconced.
In Windsor—Tecumseh we champion the causes of social justice. Fortunately, my being a New Democrat means that the priorities of my constituents are the same as those of the party to which I belong, and this is no coincidence. The NDP exists to fight for these issues and values. The people of Windsor—Tecumseh champion the causes of social justice. We need look no further than the subamendment offered by the NDP to the government's Speech from the Throne to see that this is true. Here is what that says:
working in collaboration with opposition parties to present realistic, structured and concrete changes that benefit some of Canada's most vulnerable citizens, including: seniors through an increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, middle class families through reducing taxes on the first income tax bracket, low income workers with leadership by introducing a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, and supports to those struggling to enter the workforce with a robust and reliable Employment Insurance program.
Members are no doubt aware of the rich history of the city of Windsor and the county of Essex and the role it has historically played in North America's automotive industry. With innovation and research, much can be done to encourage further development of this sector within our region. In their election platform, the Liberals committed to investing in and growing our economy, strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it. The new government has also declared, and this is important, that it expects Canadians to hold it responsible for delivering on its commitments. The New Democrats are committed to supporting the government as it delivers on its promises and hold it accountable where it does not.
While the Liberal Party did not mention the auto sector in its election platform or in the throne speech, I nevertheless hope that the government will pursue policies that will rebuild this vital sector in our economy. The Americans are already ahead of us in this regard, having launched last year the investing in manufacturing communities partnership. This program encourages communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that will strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturing and supply chain investments. This is mandated with “coordinating federal aid to support communities' strong development plans and [with] synchronizing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies”.
This is something the New Democrats envision. We have a number of ideas about how Canada might achieve similar goals within our own automotive industry. We have been vocal about the need for national strategies in our manufacturing sectors, and especially a national auto strategy that is long awaited in Windsor—Tecumseh.
Like our American friends, we believe the Government of Canada should make it easier for automakers and investors to set up operations in Canada. We envision a program that we call “ICanada”. ICanada would be a one-stop shop to facilitate the federal government, automakers, and investors with various government programs and incentives that are in place, and we hope, soon, that these will be in place.
We believe the government should improve financial incentives for automakers and parts suppliers in exchange for firm commitments on jobs and investment in Canada. The government must support research and innovation in the auto sector, including immediate funding renewal for the University of Windsor's AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence in engineering.
While the Speech from the Throne makes no mention specifically of the Great Lakes, I did look at the Liberal Party platform to find a commitment to protect the Great Lakes and declared intent to work with provinces, as well as our American partners, to prevent the spread of invasive species, to undertake science-based initiatives, to better understand and manage water levels, and to clean up coastal contamination. These are all very important issues of sustainability for the people of Windsor—Tecumseh, and we have a heightened awareness of it because of where we live.
There is even a promise to restore the $1.5 million in federal funding for fresh water research. That had been cut by the previous federal Conservative government.
I will pause right here and salute our Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. The work it does is so important, not only regionally and nationally but globally.
As many members will recall from the many news reports, the shorelines around the Windsor—Essex area have been subject to massive toxic blue-green algae blooms. From the shore, these blooms seem to stretch out and cover the entirety of Lake Erie. They make our water supplies toxic. No boil water advisory can fix that. Boiling water does not work.
These toxic emissions in the water are starving the fish and aquatic wildlife of oxygen. We are all concerned with the safety of fresh water that has been taken for granted. This is a real clarion call for us that we need to do the research and take this seriously.
I applaud the work of the Citizens Environment Alliance and the Detroit River remedial action plan. Along with them, I will be following quite closely the new government's work in these areas, and will do whatever I can to assist it and hold it accountable for the promises made that I mentioned earlier.
On the subject of health care, the Liberals have likewise promised to negotiate a new health accord. The provinces and territories, including a new agreement on funding, are supposed to be included in the plan. So far, few details have been released.
As one might expect, the New Democrats have a few ideas on the subject of health care that our friends across the way will find helpful. On the doorstep in my riding, one issue I heard a great deal about was the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs. The New Democrats strongly believe that increased funding should go to a national prescription drug plan.
One in four Canadian households has someone who cannot afford the medications prescribed to he or she by the doctor. We therefore strongly urge the new government to move quickly to address the important matter. No one should have to choose between paying for food and getting the medications they need in order to stay alive.
We also urge the new government to cancel the former Conservative government's planned cuts to health care so we can work with provinces to improve health care services for Canadians. It is imperative that we support the hiring of new doctors and nurses to help the five million Canadians who do not have a family doctor. This shortage is of particular concern in my area.
As well, we should formulate a clear and detailed plan to help the one million Canadian children and youth who have a mental illness, but who do not have access to appropriate care and the early intervention they need for successful outcomes.
We require a strategy to provide care for seniors in need, at home, in hospitals, in long-term care facilities, and palliative care. So far, we have not heard anything from the new government on whether it intends to cancel the Conservatives' planned cuts to health care, and yet—
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with my hon. colleague from .
First of all, I would like to say that I cannot find the words to thank the members of my family. They are my strength. They gave me the courage to fight to be here today in this venerable institution. My entire life I have wanted to be an MP in order to represent the people of my riding, defend their rights, and help make Canada a better place.
I would also like to thank someone who has been like a guardian angel to me. I want to thank François L'Heureux from the bottom of my heart for believing in me and being one of the most generous people I know.
Once again, I would also like to thank from the bottom of my heart the people of Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle. Thanks to them, I am the very first person of South Asian origin to be elected in Quebec. Their support, suggestions, problems and presence drew me closer to my community and made me take even more seriously my responsibilities as their MP.
For the members of the House who are not familiar with this riding, it is located on the southwest end of the Island of Montreal and it is made up of Dorval, where most people are anglophone, Lachine, where most residents are francophone, and LaSalle, where the people speak hundreds of different dialects from every corner of the world.
This riding is truly a microcosm of Canada. It is home to industry, natural spaces, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, young people and not-so-young people. The first nations are still the backbone of this region, and the riding has also been welcoming immigrants for the past three and a half centuries.
As it does in the rest of the country, this multicultural mosaic strengthens and enriches our community. That is why I was so happy to hear the Speech from the Throne. His Excellency the Governor General presented an ambitious but achievable plan for the people in my riding and all Canadians.
Just like in Moose Jaw, Scarborough, and Cape Breton, too many people in my riding are having trouble making ends meet. In Lachine, most couples have children and a quarter of them are under the age of six. At the same time, 70% of the city's population earns an individual salary of less than $40,000 a year. Things are even worse for women because their average income is almost $900 less than that of men, and four out of five single parents are women.
Fortunately, help is on the way. The government is going to provide a child benefit that will help nine out of 10 families. A typical single-parent family with two children in Lachine can get over $1,000 a month, and I would like to remind members that that amount is tax-free. This measure will lift over 315,000 children out of poverty.
Our investment in infrastructure, the largest in Canadian history, is also intended to help the most vulnerable members of our society. One in four Canadians cannot afford housing. That is why a third of the money allocated will be used for social infrastructure. Our priority is to build affordable housing and residences for seniors. We are not only going to invest, but we are also going to work with the provinces and municipalities.
Every day, I think about my grandmother, who passed away last year. I learned a great deal from my grandmother. She made me a better person. She was very empathetic. My grandmother was a good woman, with strength of character and an indomitable spirit. She suffered strokes for eight years and was confined to her bed for the last four years of her life.
However, my grandmother never gave up the battle. She kept fighting. She suffered physically, but her spirit is what kept her going for so long. Thanks to my family's support, I was able to be her caregiver during the last four years of her life.
I know that not all seniors are that fortunate. That is why I am so happy and proud that our government has already extended compassionate care benefits from six weeks to 26 weeks. That is six extra months. We will continue to work on creating a more flexible and inclusive benefits program.
Also, let us be clear, we will protect pension income splitting for seniors.
Still on the topic of compassion, I want to recognize the excellent work this government is doing in terms of integrating 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. With some of my colleagues, I had the huge honour of welcoming some of the first Syrian refugees in Quebec. When they arrived, their happiness and relief were really moving.
My colleague from and I returned to welcome the first government-sponsored refugees. I was amazed by the improvements made by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and by how well the integration mechanisms are working. On that occasion, nearly half of the newcomers were young children, and instead of being afraid in their new, unfamiliar country, they were all smiles and drew many pictures for us.
When I think of those families, of our seniors, of the thousands of refugees and of our scientists who are no longer muzzled, I am astounded at what this government has accomplished in just 99 days, and every day I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.
I am especially looking forward to seeing in action our government's ambitious agenda for the status of women. Tomorrow will mark exactly 100 years since women first won the right to vote. Pioneers such as Nellie McClung fought to have the voice of women heard. It took considerable courage to go against established norms in society. She faced much opposition from both men and women who were frightened that women's rights would lead to the breakdown of families and homes.
However, seeing firsthand the suffering of women and children caused by poverty, neglect, overwork, and alcohol abuse, Mrs. McClung fought for almost a decade to win women the right to vote. She succeeded, and ultimately so did women, because she believed that “The real spirit of the suffrage movement is sympathy and interest in the other woman”.
On January 28, 1916, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to give women the vote. Nellie McClung continued to fight for women's suffrage in other provinces and society steadily progressed. There is still, however, much work to do. There is still a significant wage gap between men and women, exacerbated by the fact that it is women who are more likely to reduce their work hours to take care of their children, sick loved ones, or the elderly, and less likely to be properly represented in leadership positions. Some 50.4% of Canadians are women. Though we broke a record during the election with 26% of MPs in Parliament being female, we are only a little more than halfway to achieving gender parity in the House of Commons. At the speed we are currently going, it will take us another century.
An even more pressing issue is the sad reality that women are much more likely to be victims of sexual violence and harassment, thrice so when it comes to indigenous women.
Since the Speech from the Throne, our government has at last launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. The disappearances, violence, and death that indigenous women have faced and continue to face is a national tragedy. As per our commitment, we have taken action without delay on this issue.
Considering all of this, there is no question that the need for the Status of Women department is as pressing now as it was when Pierre Elliott Trudeau created it. I am incredibly privileged to have been given the responsibility of . I get to work with the government that considers gender equality to be a priority for all departments, not just Status of Women. I get to work with a minister who has worked all her life to help those in her community who need help. I get to work with a who truly believes in gender parity, with his cabinet composed equally of men and women because, as he so eloquently explained, it is 2015.
Now it is 2016, and considering what we have done in our first 99 days, imagine what we will accomplish together in the next 999. Though we all have different opinions on all of these different issues, gender equality and justice for women is something we can all agree on, whether we are Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Bloc, or Green. That is why I am so lucky to have been given this position now, because I get to work with all of my colleagues on this unique opportunity. Together let us make history by making gender inequality history.
Madam Speaker, as this is my first time rising in the House, I want to say that I am very honoured to be among my colleagues to represent the people of La Prairie.
I will remain true to my commitments and the ideologies of our party and our leader, the . I intend to work hard and with determination to be a spokesperson worthy of their trust. I want to thank my wife, Francine Gingras, for her unwavering support. Many thanks to my children, Carolanne and Jason, whom I love with all my heart, and to my wife's children, Michael and Jenny Mantha, for their encouragement.
Many thanks to the people of my riding and the hard-working team of volunteers who stood by me throughout the 78 days of the election campaign. Without their support, I would not be here in this place of democracy. Before getting into my speech, I also want to congratulate all my parliamentary colleagues on earning the trust of their constituents.
I would like to begin by painting a picture of the riding of La Prairie, which is one of three new ridings in Quebec. I could go on for hours, but I will stick to the basics. I know my riding like the back of my hand because I grew up there. Not only was I born there, but I watched it develop for 55 years. Located not far from Montreal on the banks of the majestic St. Lawrence, the riding of La Prairie is a study in contrasts. Within its roughly 295 square kilometres lies Quebec's most populous RCM, Roussillon, which has 99,815 inhabitants. The average age of the population is 38, which speaks to the many young families we have.
The riding is half urban and half rural. That is not surprising because it contains the best agricultural land in the St. Lawrence River valley. The Mohawk community of Kahnawake is in my riding too. La Prairie is blessed with favourable geographical features. Located on the shores of the St. Lawrence, it is close to metropolitan Montreal and major thoroughfares such as Highway 30 and the 15 south, as well as a major rail network and the U.S. border. This adds up to major economic potential, and we have so much going on in so many ways.
That brings me to our rich heritage and culture. La Prairie was established in 1667 and has held a very special place in Canadian history since 1975 because of its architecture and archeological finds. The Canadian Railway Museum in Saint-Constant, the largest of its kind in the country and the third-largest in the world, brings a major part of our history alive with its unique collection of railway rolling stock.
As for the city of Sainte-Catherine, it has a deepwater port with locks and all the development potential that goes along with that resource. Our rural municipalities with their fertile soil produce a wide variety of agricultural products, including vegetables, grains, and livestock.
The people I represent are proud of this unique heritage, and they care about their families' welfare. Throughout the election campaign, I promised to be their spokesperson in the House of Commons, to make the government aware of their needs, and to do everything in my power to contribute to their well-being.
I would like to thank the and his office for the trust they placed in me when they appointed me to be the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. As everyone will see during my term in office, agriculture is my life. I was born on my ancestors' farm. I grew up there and I raised my family there. This farm specializes in the production of milk, as well as vegetables and grains for processing, and was passed down to a fifth generation thanks to my son, who is taking over. During all the years I was an active farmer, I was always in tune with the agricultural community, sharing its joys and sorrows. Although with my new commitments I have had to take a step back from farming, I am still in touch with the agricultural community and what is going on there, and I am well positioned to understand farmers' everyday realities.
From the earth to Parliament, I will do everything I can to protect our agriculture. Farmers do not roll up their sleeves; they tear them off. This industry deserves to be seen for what it is, and that is a vital force. In Canada, agriculture and agrifood are the leading employment sector. They generate 2.3 million jobs and $108 billion a year, which represents 6.6% of our GDP. Every day, over 200,000 farms put food on our tables and provide us with grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and other food.
However, there is a threat hanging over this nice picture, namely that one day supply will not be able to meet demand. We have a duty to ensure that Canadians and their families can always count on having healthy, nutritious food produced sustainably and in a way that respects the environment. Meeting the public's basic needs also means ensuring the health of our farmers and our farms.
We cannot deny that in an ever-changing world, feeding our people has become an issue of national security. Agriculture and agri-food is our second-largest export sector. As borders collapse, our agriculture sector must redouble its efforts and find creative ways to adapt to the ever-changing effects of globalization, not to mention climate change.
Some producers are faring well, while others are not. Between 2001 and 2006, Canada lost more than 17,500 farm businesses. We must put a stop to this, because it is having a physical and psychological impact on our farming families. Throughout our election campaign, we saw how important it is for Canadians to have the tools to access healthy food every day. We need to develop a national food policy. In my riding alone, food bank use jumped by 28% in the last two years. It is estimated that two and a half million Canadians are struggling with food insecurity. The government defines that as the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.
I urge all of my colleagues to put ideology and politics aside and make a national food policy a top priority. Our food policy, as I see it, will aim to find a responsible way to meet the current and future needs of Canadians and their families, in terms of quantity and quality. It will also relieve our farmers of the massive burden they have taken on, as we continue to ask more of them.
Our farming families work tirelessly to defend everything they have worked so hard to acquire under conditions that are not always equitable. There are discrepancies in quality and production costs, climate, and the size of farms, which says a lot. This has been going on too long and is completely unacceptable. We have to address it and ensure that these key players are part of the solution.
I am ready to work hard and give the best of myself in order to implement such a policy. That is why I am here in Ottawa.
The regions will play a crucial role in achieving these objectives. Every region is unique. We must recognize what they have to contribute and carefully manage what they have to offer. Therefore, we must listen carefully to what they need and the signals they send us. For example, my riding has had to adapt to urban expansion into the countryside. Many people have chosen to live in rural areas near major cities in order to enjoy the best of both worlds. That leads to friction. We know from experience that tensions subside when local initiatives foster understanding and better communication. The Marché des jardiniers in La Prairie is a good example of that.
With our positive attitude, we also want to improve the living conditions of aboriginal communities and invest in their education. For too long, their education system was underfunded and their children paid the price. They are behind in reading, writing, and mathematics. In order to correct this deplorable situation, programs from kindergarten to grade 12 will receive increased annual core funding. The academic success of first nations children is one of our priorities.
The action we are taking reflects our view that we must invest today in the society of tomorrow.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on the Speech from the Throne.
On the first day of Parliament, I had the honour of acknowledging and thanking my family, the people who voted for me, and my organizers. Today I would like to take this opportunity to wish them a happy new year; much health and happiness to all these people who mean so much to me and whom I have had the honour of representing for 31 years.
Some members have asked me if I ever feel like I am running out of steam after spending so many years in the House. To the nearly 200 new members who arrived this year, I would say that one's passion for politics grows over the years. The longer they are here, the more passionate they will be about serving the public and about politics, and the more they will respect this great House, this place of democracy. It is truly a privilege to sit here. No one can enter here without wearing the mantle of democracy placed on their shoulders by the people of their riding. I always come back to work in this House with enthusiasm and passion. Often there are heated debates. It cannot be avoided because we cannot always see things the same way.
When people say that things are a bit crazy in the House of Commons, I tell them that we send our soldiers to fight all over the world to spread democracy so that people can have different opinions. Let us therefore make the most of our differing opinions here in the House of Commons. I am still very happy to speak here.
There is one thing I am not happy about. The throne speech was read on December 4, and because our party is considered to be made up of independents, we were 34th and 64th in line to speak. In any other democracy, we would have had a chance to speak sooner. The same kind of thing happened today. The hon. minister made an important statement on the environment, and the other parties got about as much speaking time as the minister. We asked for two minutes for our environment critic, but our request was refused.
The same thing happened with other ministers' statements, and we were also denied the opportunity to sit as members of a special committee. We could speak but not vote. When some members do not have the same privileges as others and the same resources to do their work in the House and in their ridings, that is not right. It is not right, and ours is the only democracy in the world where that happens. There is no provincial government, no democracy in the world that denies political parties the rights and privileges enjoyed by other members of the legislative body. Only here in Canada. There is no reason for it either, because there is no House of Commons standing order that says it has to be that way. It is the way it is because three whips from three parties arbitrarily decided that there must be 12 members.
The Bloc Québécois once held six seats and was denied rights and privileges. At one point, the NDP had nine seats and they were also denied rights and privileges. We have 10 seats and we are being denied rights and privileges, and we were also denied them when we held four seats. It is 2016, the 21st century, and there are many more schools of political thought than there were in the past. It is wrong that our party and the Green Party do not have the same privileges as the other parties. The Green Party has a presence throughout Quebec and Canada. It received over 500,000 votes and should have the same rights and privileges as the other parties, in proportion to the number of seats it holds.
I wanted to mention this in my speech. I am asking the members of the House to discuss this in caucus and to try to defend this way of doing things to their constituents by telling them that they have rights and privileges that other members of the House do not and asking them if they agree with that.
No legal expert or anyone with any judgment at all would agree with that. It is not the fault of the MPs. It is often because of the stubbornness of their whip, and the MPs should challenge that. It is not about giving us the same amount of time. We are 10 members out of 338. We should have the right to some time and a research and support budget, in proportion to our numbers, so that we can work in the House like all the other members.
I will now talk about the Speech from the Throne. During the election campaign, the Liberal Party created high expectations with its sometimes very specific promises regarding the environment, for example. Whether we liked it or not, the winds of change were blowing.
For 10 years, the former government had a very austere policy that Canadians did not agree with in the least. The government was tired, and people decided to listen to the winds of change and the very firm commitments made by the candidates and the .
However, in the throne speech, the first major official speech by the government, the speech that paves the way for all the bills to be introduced in this session and outlines how things will work in the coming months and what the government's priorities will be, many promises seem to have been forgotten.
In the throne speech, we do not see many of the commitments the Liberals made while they were the third party. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps this will come. However, at the end of the day, the throne speech is generally used to dictate the legislative agenda in the coming months.
My first comment is that we have heard a lot about nation-to-nation dialogue with the aboriginal peoples, and I think that respecting nations is a wonderful thing. However, I noticed that the Quebec nation was completely ignored in this throne speech.
When Mr. Chrétien was leading the Liberal Party, his party moved a motion in the House, which was unanimously adopted, that recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. When a government recognizes a nation, it also recognizes that this nation may make choices that are sometimes different from those of another nation, and there needs to be a special agreement when the central government introduces a particular bill or makes a particular expenditure.
The throne speech did not mention the Quebec nation a single time, which leads many to believe that the intent and the recognition itself were nothing but empty gestures.
In addition, this is the first time in over 50 years that the Prime Minister has not appointed a Quebec lieutenant. The first time in over 50 years. This suggests that they think Quebec is just like all the other provinces and that we can dispense with notions of founding people and distinct society. That says Quebec is a province like any other and that this government will seek to provincialize it. That will not work at all with all of the political parties in Quebec.
No Quebec premier ever signed the Canadian Constitution. Legally, we are Canadian, but regardless of the party in power in Quebec City, we never signed the 1982 Constitution because it does not recognize the Quebec nation.
That brings me to health care funding. During the election campaign, the Minister of Health made it clear that she wanted to reinstate the 25%.
I would remind the House that under Paul Martin's Liberal government, contributions to the provinces covered 50% of the provinces' total expenditures. In order to balance the budget, transfers were dropped to 25% under the Liberal government of the day, and the Conservatives followed suit, while collecting the same taxes. The money, then, stays in Ottawa, although the needs are in the provinces, and transfers continue to diminish. What is needed is a readjustment based on 1994-95. Transfers should be restored to at least 25%, and the principle that applied back then needs to be restored. This means that in the provinces, health care should be regarded as a whole, rather than per capita, because some provinces' populations are aging faster than others' and those provinces will therefore need more money to provide services to those individuals whose needs are greater. This will be very important in the negotiations this government should have with the provinces. Things got off to a good start with a meeting of the health ministers. Let us hope the government listens to their demands.
As far as the environment is concerned, there is a clear intention in the promises and the Speech from the Throne to reduce greenhouse gases. Something tangible needs to be done. We cannot ignore TransCanada's infamous energy east project. British Columbia also had a pipeline project. The premier of British Columbia, many elected officials, and the general public opposed the project. The Liberal Party, which was not in power at the time, immediately supported British Columbia, saying that it was opposed to the pipeline, as were the NDP members.
The Government of Quebec said that at least seven conditions had to be met before it would look at this pipeline that will go through Quebec. None of those conditions have been met. This project does not have the public's approval or the social licence, as the Prime Minister calls it. Eighty-two mayors in the Montreal area representing four million people are saying no to this project. It does not have social licence any more than the project in British Columbia did. The government has to respond accordingly. Eighty-two mayors and the Government of Quebec are against this project. There is a lot to think about. The members from Quebec, no matter what party they represent here, have a duty to stand up and defend Quebec's interests ahead of TransCanada's. It is only right to listen to the public.
Given that the Speech from the Throne spent a lot of time on the environment, I would like to remind members that there will be environmental risks for the 160 rivers that the pipeline will cross in Quebec. We are not talking about two rivers, but about 160 rivers in addition to the St. Lawrence. Do we have the means to cover this risk? The maximum amount of liability covered is $1 billion. An accident in one of these rivers or the St. Lawrence would cost much more than that. Thus, Quebec is taking the risk and has no financial gain, other than 33 jobs. Therefore, the Bloc's position is clear: we must defend Quebec's interests and oppose this pipeline.
In regard to employment insurance, I would like to reiterate the commitments made by the Bloc during the election campaign and the promises made by some Liberal members here in the House. We wanted to get rid of the infamous reform proposed by the former government that would force a worker to accept a job requiring a 100-kilometre round trip, among other things. There was a firm commitment to correct that.
Today, the minister told the House that she was listening and that she was working on addressing this issue. Good. If she addresses it, I will have nothing but praise for her. However, I would like the government to do more about employment insurance. I would like it to create an EI fund administered at arm's length from government. This money belongs to workers and business owners. The government cannot dip into the fund surplus as we have seen previous governments do.
I remind members that the last government claimed its budget was balanced. However, it took $3 billion from the EI fund to achieve that balance. That $3 billion was intended for the next two budgets. The government must put an end to that and create an independent EI fund. When there is a surplus, the government can increase access to EI, and when there is a deficit, it can increase premiums. The fund will remain independent and will not be used to help the government achieve its financial objectives.
There has also been talk about the revitalization of our regions. My colleague from gave an eloquent speech on this topic, but meanwhile, the government has hardly said a word. The government often forgets that Quebec is made up of many different regions. There are four million people in the greater Montreal area, but unlike Ontario, Quebec has many other regions. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to take that into account and does not adapt its infrastructure and other programs to the realities of those regions, particularly when it comes to forestry, tourism, and the fisheries.
I would also like to briefly mention the child benefit. It seems to me that there is a practical measure that needs to be taken before the government's proposed reform is implemented. Parents are required to report the amount they received for their children under the Conservatives' UCCB program on their 2016 income tax return. That could be corrected immediately so that those benefits are not taxable.
With regard to agriculture, and more specifically supply management, the government clearly promised to compensate dairy producers, who were overlooked in the Canada-Europe agreement and the trans-Pacific partnership. The government talked about it, but nothing tangible was done for dairy producers, particularly with regard to the importation of cheese under these agreements. We will be the watchdog for dairy producers on this matter.
A discussion is needed regarding political party financing. Mr. Chrétien's Liberal government rightly established that funding should be public and that only people with the right to vote could donate to political parties. They even quoted René Lévesque to back up this change. All corporate donations were banned. By way of compensation, every party was given $2 per vote in order to prevent government members from doing favours in return for slush fund money. It is high time to discuss this and restore the spirit of the bill introduced by the Hon. Jean Chrétien.
The Bloc Québécois will be very vigilant with respect to the promises in the throne speech. It will also be there to support deserving measures and propose real solutions to improve the lives of all Canadians and all Quebeckers.
Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today for my maiden speech in the House. Let me first thank the citizens of Edmonton Centre for placing their trust in me in electing me to represent them here in the House of Commons. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly through our campaign and in the days since.
Edmonton is truly an amazing place to live, work, and play. In our city, it does not matter where one comes from, what colour of skin one happens to have, or whom one chooses to love. People are welcome, and they should have the opportunity to succeed.
A dynamic technology sector, profitable businesses in a wide range of fields, some of Canada's leading post-secondary institutions, jewels in our nation's cultural crown, and successful sports teams call Edmonton home.
For first nations, Métis, and Inuit people, an increasing number of whom call Edmonton home, there is much work that our government must do, and we are committed to renewing our nation-to-nation relationship and improving the quality of life for all indigenous peoples.
In 2016, Edmonton is a vibrant city where residents can fulfill their dreams and where their family, community, business, or non-profit can be successful.
Our collaborative city owes a debt of gratitude to Edmontonians who have served in the House, very notably, my predecessors in this seat, the hon. Laurie Hawn, a devoted and tireless example of public service, and the hon. Anne McLellan, my mentor and dear friend and the former deputy prime minister of Canada.
In the early days of my nomination, people told me that electing a Liberal in Edmonton simply would not happen, yet, as an openly gay man, I have become used to people telling me what is not possible, what simply cannot happen, and then working really hard to prove otherwise. I am thrilled to be part of the largest Liberal caucus from Alberta since 1993. I am honoured to represent Alberta in the government alongside the hon. member for , the hon. , and the hon. . It is a privilege to chair this Alberta caucus. We may not be many, but we are mighty.
Right now Albertans need strong advocates such as our caucus because things are tough back home. Edmonton, like the rest of Alberta, has been hit hard by the slowdown in the economy and the energy sector. The effects are being felt across our nation: 100,000 lost jobs in Alberta; tens of thousands of jobs lost across the country; tragically, suicide rates are up 30%; food banks are barely able to meet demand; unemployment is on the rise; and hard-working men and women are at risk of running out of their EI benefits with no plan B in sight.
My caucus colleagues and I know the pain and suffering that this economy is causing. I heard clearly in 10 budget round tables how the previous government's policies ignored the advice from the energy sector and environmental experts for the need for a balanced approach. The sad irony is that after 10 years of misguided handling of Canada's environment, the previous government eroded the confidence of Canadians in our number one exporting sector and systematically failed to create access to new markets. Perhaps if there had been less cheer and more leadership, our economy would be in a better state of affairs today.
Edmontonians and Albertans are looking for leadership to grow our economy. I am proud to say that our government has a plan to deliver that leadership. Our government is committed to ensuring that the environmental assessment and regulatory review processes for pipelines and other natural resource projects have the confidence of Canadians. We understand that the natural resource sector is a critical component of the Canadian economy. That is why our Speech from the Throne outlines our balanced approach to creating a 21st century economy built on the fusion of energy and the environment. This new triple-E, energy, the environment, and the economy, is the way forward.
Edmontonians and Albertans have always been strong contributors to Confederation. We are once again more than ready to roll up our sleeves with Canadians from coast to coast to coast and get back to work.
Our government has already cut taxes for more than nine million Canadians.
Edmontonians also know that now is the time to invest in repairing and expanding our infrastructure and now is the time to build up our communities. We want to see our government pay our fair share for the new Valley Line LRT, the west leg of which will run right through my riding. We want to see federal leadership on building new social housing, seniors' housing, and affordable housing. We want to keep our city growing and our citizens working.
I am also proud to sit in the House as a franco-Albertan. Alberta's francophone community has been experiencing a boom as of late, fuelled by the arrival of francophones from across Canada, as well as the arrival of many immigrants from French-speaking countries. As a result, bilingualism is on the rise in my province, and we are seeing more and more interest in French and French culture in Alberta.
During the campaign and since, we have heard loudly from Edmontonians and from people around the world that we must fix a broken immigration system. That is exactly what our throne speech sets out and our government is already delivering on real change. Our commitment to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to our country has renewed our sense of community spirit and reminded us and our international partners of the special role that Canada can and must play in the world.
In conclusion, I want to share some words from His Excellency the Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier, former governor general of Canada, who had the following to say about public life and serving others:
We must approach our time here in that spirit of service. Our constituents elected us to serve them, but it is the entire country that demands our attention. It is our task to serve this great modern mosaic north of the 49th parallel that we all call home. Each of us, however long we may be called to serve, must bear this purpose in mind and act accordingly so that on our last day in this place, we might say that we leave a better, more prosperous, and more united nation than when we first rose to speak.