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View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, congratulations on your election to assist the Chair.
I want to start by thanking the constituents of Beaches—East York, everyone who supported me in the campaign and at the outset of my political career when nobody knew who I was. It is a humbling experience, being a candidate in politics, where hundreds of people come together, all acting on behalf of me and my party and helping us, as individuals, come to this place. I sincerely thank the hundreds of people who have contributed not only in this past election, but also over the years. Of course, I also thank my family and especially my wife Amy.
I am not sure whether it is because of the last four years in this place, or in spite of the last four years in this place but I continue to think that this role of being a parliamentarian, being in government, being in politics remains a pathway to making one of the most positive differences we can make in the lives of our neighbours and our fellow citizens. It remains, I think, a noble profession, and we have an opportunity to display that to our fellow Canadians over the next two, three or maybe four years as we seize the opportunity of this minority Parliament.
Minority parliaments hold the potential for greatness. Peter Russell is an academic and long-time political scientist who studied minority and majority parliaments around the world, including here at home. He has called minority parliaments here in Canada some of the most dynamic in our history.
Of course, the throne speech makes reference to Pearson. When we look to the Pearson years, we see co-operation that was able to deliver the Canada pension plan, Canada student loans, public health care and the flag. During those five years in Canadian history, Parliament accomplished more than most Parliaments we have seen before, so this minority situation holds potential for greatness. It is up to us, and how we conduct ourselves in this place, whether we seize the opportunity or whether we succumb to partisan politics.
One of the jobs in this place, as we hopefully seize the opportunity, is to work across the aisle. In the last Parliament, I had the good fortune to work across the aisle with Murray Rankin of the NDP on cannabis amnesty and with Fin Donnelly of the NDP on the shark fin trade. I had the opportunity to work across the aisle with current members in this House from the Conservatives and the NDP to tackle election interference, platform governance and privacy protections. I think if people watched our committee in the last Parliament, they would be hard pressed to determine who was the Liberal, who was the member from the NDP and who was the Conservative. That is how this place should operate, particularly at committee.
I hope we see more of those opportunities in this place going forward. I also worked really hard in the last Parliament to carve out some space, which is not always the easiest thing to do in this business, for principled independence. If I heard anything from my constituents in this last election, it is that they want me and the people in this place to work together as much as possible to accomplish big ideas for our country. They also want us to be less partisan and to carve out more of that principled independence and to carry that with us.
I want to echo the throne speech and the message that Canadians sent us here with a clear message, which is to work together, and I hope we all take that very seriously going forward.
Canadians were also clear about the need to tackle climate change in a much more serious way. I had the good fortune in early June to introduce a bill to require the government to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. I was incredibly happy to see that as a core commitment in our platform, and as a core and early commitment in the throne speech.
Our principal goal in this Parliament is to set Canada on a credible path to net zero while we ensure a just transition for affected workers and affected regions. That is our principal challenge in the coming years. We have come a long way over the last four years. In early 2016, Environment Canada told us that projected 2030 emissions were 815 megatonnes. After four years of policy-making that included methane rules to reduce methane emissions by 40%; phasing out coal-fired electricity; the price on pollution; massive investments in public transit, clean tech and energy efficiency; and the clean fuel standard, which, as an aside, all of us in this place need to keep an eye on because it is in the process of being watered down, that 815 megatonnes is now 592, a 25% reduction.
For the first time in my lifetime, we had a federal government that took climate change seriously and acted. It did not just set targets and blow past them, and that was the fault of the Conservatives and the Liberals I agree, but for the first time set targets and took action to meaningfully reduce emissions. Now our task is to build on that progress.
In our platform, we promised a number of important initiatives such as expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure and planting two billion trees. We promised to incentivize clean-tech businesses in a serious way. There will be continued investments in public transit and more, so none of those measures add up to where we need to be. Therefore, we will require more serious action to meet our international, our intergenerational and fundamentally our moral obligations in tackling climate change and doing our part. Doing our part: What does that mean?
We have a 2030 target right now that is 512 megatonnes, and that will be a challenge. However, if we take science seriously, the IPCC tells us that the world has to reduce emissions to 45% below 2010 levels by 2030. How many in this place have that number in their head? What does that number mean? It is 380 megatonnes. Our current target is 512 megatonnes. The minimum we ought to be doing our best to reach is 380 megatonnes, 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, and that is not an easy task, but if we are not sufficiently ambitious in our goals, we will not be forceful enough in our actions.
On the matter of co-operation and climate change, I fundamentally believe in the platform we put forward, strong action, but I also saw a promise from the NDP on an independent climate accountability office, and that is really important.
A Conservative creation, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, holds the government to account on our behalf as parliamentarians. It helps us hold the government to account when finance tables a budget. When we turn those long-term goals into a five-year carbon budget to ensure we have short-term practical climate action, so too do we need an independent mechanism to hold the government to account on its carbon budget process. Whether that is housed in a PBO or housed in the environmental commissioner or whether we adopt a different and independent framework, that promise of independent climate accountability is an important one. There is an opportunity to work across the aisle.
When we look at the promise in our platform on a just transition act, now we can say that the Bloc Québécois came back and that party represents a good portion of Quebec. However, if I am more honest about regional differences, and I see Alberta and Saskatchewan, I know, as a member from Toronto, that the Conservative Party best represents Alberta and Saskatchewan in this place. If I think about co-operation and working across the aisle, as we develop that just transition act, we absolutely must be learning from, listening to and heeding the advice of our Conservative colleagues.
The throne speech also talked about strengthening the middle class. Obviously, those of us in this place and those across the country have heard the Prime Minister and this government mention the middle class once or twice over the years.
Increasing the basic personal amount is an important step. It will affect many Canadians. These are big numbers. Twenty million Canadians will have their taxes reduced. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be taken off the tax roll. When we increase the basic personal amount from just over $12,000 to $15,000, it will mean that people who really ought not to be paying any taxes at all will not be paying them.
It will cost $6 billion, and there is a challenge here. It is not paid for. It is deficit finance. It is obviously going to be implemented as it is our platform promise. If I am to be somewhat critical and fair, budgets continue to be sustainable and I will believe that as long as the PBO tells me that, but value for money is a different proposition altogether.
We do need to ensure that there is fairness in spending as between generations. I do worry, from a fiscal sustainability standpoint, about a broad-based tax cut or even the increase to OAS when they are deficit financed. They should be properly paid for.
There is another area of both optimism, because of the success and progress over the last four years, and also some criticism. With regard to those working hard to join the middle class or low-income Canadians, those struggling with poverty, we have made incredible strides over the last four years with the national housing strategy, and housing benefits come online this year. Hundreds of thousands of people no longer live in poverty, almost 900,000 people, according to Statistics Canada numbers. That is incredible progress.
However, as chair of the anti-poverty caucus in the last Parliament, having taken over from Senator Eggleton, who continues to do incredible advocacy on a basic income, I would be remiss if I did not note not only the incredible progress, but also a lack of similar ambition in this place going forward.
We brought hundreds of thousands of Canadians out of poverty by increasing the Canada child benefit and the GIS. Going forward, I do not see similar promises from any party that will lift that same significant number of Canadians out of poverty.
However, there is good news with respect to another area of potential collaboration. I will provide a bit of history.
When Ralph Goodale was the minister of finance, he introduced a measure of basic income support, like the OAS, the GIS and the Canada child benefit, but for the working poor. It was not implemented. It was a good Liberal idea at the time, but it became a good Conservative idea when finance minister Jim Flaherty introduced it in this place and made it a reality.
In the namesake of his riding, Whitby, it was WITB, the working income tax benefit. In the last Parliament, we increased that significantly, and while I am not sure how many people were paying attention to the member for Timmins—James Bay and the leadership, he was calling for it to be increased, so we had a Liberal finance minister, a Conservative finance minister and an NDP troublemaker all calling for the same measure to be increased.
When we look at the total numbers, we see over $50 billion a year for seniors in OAS and GIS and over $20 billion a year for children through the Canada child benefit. However, even after the increases in the last Parliament, we only see $2 billion a year for basic income support for the working poor, the people who are working multiple jobs, who are struggling to get by and who need it the most. That is where the action should be in this place, on poverty reduction, when it is an idea that we have already agreed on.
The throne speech also talks about keeping Canadians safe. There are so many different ways we can talk about keeping Canadians safe. For those members who were not in this place in the last Parliament, a member of my local chapter of Young Liberals, Reese Fallon, was killed in the Danforth shooting. The hardest speech I have ever had to give was at her funeral. It was a great honour for our community and the family that the Prime Minister was so engaged that he was able to come to the funeral, but we need action, and in his platform, we saw action. The question then becomes this: How do we make that action as effective as possible? As a reminder to all of us in this place, defaults matter, so if we are to give cities the power to set their own rules, there ought to be a baseline set of rules that cities can opt out of if we truly want that policy to be effective.
With respect to keeping Canadians safe, I am happy to say that working across the aisle in the last Parliament on privacy issues, we saw a great deal of that work and those recommendations from our committee become promises in our platform. We are going to keep Canadians safe online. As my three-year-old grows up, he will live his entire life online, and we need rules to reflect his reality.
Thousands of Canadians continue to die because of a contaminated drug supply and our opioid crisis. To reference Statistics Canada numbers, for the first time in the last 40 years, life expectancy has stalled, attributed to the opioid crisis. Thousands of people have died. If it were not from substance use, I guarantee there would be more committed governmental responses from the provinces. As a federal government, we took significant action over the last four years, but we do not see that collective action across parties and provinces to address this real public health crisis.
The throne speech rightly says that we have done much, but there is more to do. I hope we all agree in this place with this simple premise: that we should treat drug use as a health issue. Yes, we must tackle traffickers and producers, but the very people who need our help, the patients, should be treated as patients and not criminals. If we do that for alcohol and gambling, we ought to do it for all substances. That is how we save lives. If we start with the premise that we treat drug use as a public health issue, and we all agree on that, then let us work together on what that means in legislation.
My constituents have also called for a faster strategy to tackle rare diseases, and they continue to call for a universal and national approach to pharmacare. I know that was referenced in the throne speech and in our platform, and there was a lot of good work done in the last Parliament.
I have a 13-year-old constituent, Helena Kirk, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of three and went through 841 days of chemotherapy. She met with the Prime Minister, the science minister and the former health minister. In our platform was a $30-million commitment to pediatric cancer research, largely because of Helena's advocacy. I want to thank Helena for her hard work and let her know that we will do as much as we can to save the lives of her friends.
It is not only about keeping Canadians safe; it is also about all living beings in Canadian society who think, feel and love. That includes animals in our society, and our pets and more. We made progress in the last Parliament on animal protections and we have to continue to build on that progress.
Importantly, the throne speech talked about moving forward on reconciliation.
I will first talk about the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case. I have heard the minister that say money is no object. At the end of January, we have to deliver submissions to the tribunal that properly set out a path for just compensation, saying money is no object, what it will cost and that we have a fair path forward. Having already spoken to the minister, I will be looking very closely at our submissions. We need to ensure that those in our society who have suffered discrimination by the government receive due compensation.
We have seen incredible progress on clean water, an issue I hear a lot about from the constituents in my community. Over the last four years, over 60% of long-term boil water advisories on reserve were lifted. We injected $2 billion into the system. When the PBO said more money was needed, more money was provided. We remain on track to lift all advisories within the five-year commitment.
There is another specific project, in Grassy Narrows, that needs to be made a priority. I was very pleased to hear the minister say that money was no object and that the facility would be built with federal support. Again, I will be looking at that very closely.
Then there is the implementation of UNDRIP. I ran into Romeo Saganash very briefly when he was here the other day. We spoke briefly about our promise in our platform that his bill would be a floor. I hope to see the amendments, which were not adopted in the last Parliament, made to his bill. I hope his bill will be a floor. We have a historic opportunity to implement UNDRIP and provide the rights to indigenous peoples that they fundamentally deserve.
On a final note on reconciliation, on our urban indigenous communities, I did not see enough in our platform or in the throne speech. We need a much stronger commitment to urban indigenous communities. In Ontario alone, some of the estimates I have seen are that over 80% of indigenous people do not live on reserve. We need to ensure that indigenous services understands that and is able to deliver services properly to urban indigenous communities.
On Canada's place in the world, there have been great successes over the last four years. We saw greater fairness in our immigration and refugee system. Just to be clear, we brought in more refugees last year than any other country in the world. We are doing our part, which is the right thing to do. My riding has a very strong Bangladeshi community. Those in that community called on me to be vocal on the Rohingya refugee crisis. I and this government were, on the recommendations of Bob Rae. I am very proud of the government's efforts on that issue in the last Parliament.
We need to continue to take that leadership on the global stage on human rights. We need to continue to defend and support our multilateral institutions. We are best at fundamentally supporting institutions. Whether it is training judges, election commissioners, parliamentary processes, we need to double down on what we are best at. We are doing it in some countries, but clearly, when we see what is going on around the world, other countries could use some of that stable support and democratic decision-making from the Canadian Parliament and the Canadian people.
On global climate action, we saw great leadership in the last Parliament on phasing out coal, not only domestically but also abroad. We were global leaders in helping the rest of the world chart this path. We need to continue to do that work, but we cannot do that if we do not do the strong work at home to meet our emission reduction targets. We have to help lead our country and the world on this defining issue of our time.
I will close by reiterating that we have in this minority Parliament a real opportunity to work together on these big ideas and issues that can make such a difference in the lives of Canadians and citizens of the world. Let us seize that opportunity and not waste it.
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