Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be back here in the House for the 43rd Parliament and to have an opportunity to speak to the Speech from the Throne.
Between July and December, I missed being able to deliver speeches in the House, though I must say I got plenty of speech-giving opportunities during the election campaign.
It gives me enormous pleasure to return to the House for the 43rd Parliament. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Speech from the Throne. It is a very important speech to share with Canadians because it is a road map, the vision of our government. I kind of missed being in the House between June and now because of the election. I like to share what is happening in my constituency of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook and to continue to advocate on behalf of my constituents.
I have to thank the people of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook for putting their confidence in me once again to continue to work with them and for them. That is exactly what I shall continue to do as we move forward. I also want to thank the many volunteers in my riding and outside of my riding. A large number of volunteers participated throughout the campaign, from day one right through to October 21. That is really what democracy is all about when we think about it. These individuals want to be engaged in the electoral process and they want their words to be heard. The support that I received from them is much appreciated and I thank them for that.
As well, I want to thank my family. As members know, being parliamentarians is not a task that allows us to be home as much as we might like to be. The real work is in the community for our people, but members have to be here in the House to make laws and to work together to make life better for Canadians in general but also for the people in our ridings.
I have to say that I felt throughout the campaign that there were two elections happening. I would like to share a few words concerning the election and how my constituents and I were able to see how things were happening at the national level and at the local level. To be quite honest, at the national level, it was a different campaign that Canadians had not experienced. By that I mean there were insults and misinformation and there was even some fearmongering. All kinds of things were happening throughout the campaign at the national level on television that many Canadians did not feel very comfortable with because that is not the way we do business. We work together. We trust each other to get things done for Canadians.
At the end of the day, I ended up putting my head down and concentrating on the work at hand, working closely with my constituents, listening to them. That allowed me to articulate some of the great things our government was able to do in the last four years, talking with seniors and how we were able to support them, investing in bringing many seniors above the poverty line, and moving the age of retirement from 67 to 65. The Conservatives raised it from 65 to 67, but we stopped that quickly.
The conversation around climate change is important. Climate change is a very important file. It is probably the greatest challenge of our time. Many people in my constituency have many suggestions to make. They welcome some of the great things we did, such as increasing environmental protection of water and land from 1% to 14%, and they understand that we will move it up to 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. Those are very important discussions to be having.
I had the opportunity as well to speak with many veterans. Nova Scotia has the highest number of veterans and military personnel in Canada by ratio. Let me add that my riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook has the most in Nova Scotia, so it is extremely important that I continue to have a dialogue with veterans and individuals in the military.
Colleagues are probably aware of this, but I have been honoured and privileged by the Prime Minister to take on the role of parliamentary secretary for veterans affairs and defence. That is a privilege because I have been working closely with veterans and individuals in the military. I have also been working at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for the last two years.
We have had some great conversations locally, but not such great conversations, I believe, nationally. At the end of the day, Canadians made the right decision and brought us back here to form government. However, we have been handed a new, important task of a minority government. I believe that this government is the best government to lead Canada for the future of this country.
We know that we need to do more on pharmacare. That is extremely important. We have to do more on social enterprises. We have to do more on housing.
We also know that we have to move forward aggressively on trade deals. We did so in the past. We had 14 trade deals signed in one mandate. I do not want to go too deep into that, but the three important ones are NAFTA, which we did extremely well, and of course, the Asia-Pacific one and the one with the European Union. Both of the last two brought to the table 500 million people we can trade with. That is a billion people.
We have the challenge of how we are going to work together. I was very pleased to listen to some, not all, leaders of the opposition in the House last week who clearly stated that they understood the challenge. The challenge is that Canadians want us to work together. Canadians want us to collaborate. Canadians know that we are the party to do so and we shall do that because it is extremely important. We are going to have to stop pointing fingers, I guess, and stop blaming people. A good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from in this chamber. It is extremely important to remember that.
I now want to talk about minority governments. We have had some fabulous minority governments that have been very successful in making major changes for Canadians. I think right away of the Lester B. Pearson minority government. It was known as the golden age. It was given that title because it was a very important time. I will share some of the key successes during those years.
An extremely important one is the Official Languages Act. It is funny because here we are 50 years later modernizing the bilingualism act. It recognized both founding fathers or peoples. Today we are much richer not only with respect to understanding each other, but also in allowing us to trade with many countries, because of the two official languages we have in Canada.
Another is the Canada pension plan. Only last year, this government was able to work closely with the provinces and territories to bring forward a much needed updated Canada pension plan that Canadians can be proud of. Canadians will benefit more and more as we move forward.
Medicare is another success that came from a minority government. It is extremely important. I have to share this. One of the key individuals who led the Liberal government through that minority government was Allan J. MacEachen from Cape Breton Island. He became the deputy prime minister of the country and sat next to Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
We brought forward the new student loans program. We had a question today about it. Our government has made major changes to that in the last two or three years which will make life better for young students who are trying to get ahead.
We also ended capital punishment during those years.
Let us talk about the Martin minority government. I can think of two major improvements for Canadians. The first is same sex marriage. That is extremely important. Our government led the charge on that one. The second is the gas tax, which was a new program incentive to support municipal governments and invest in new infrastructure. It is so important that last year, for one year, we doubled the investments from the gas tax.
Those are some of the great changes that were made through minority governments.
Am I happy? I would rather have a majority government, but I will say this. I know that with a minority government and the people in this important chamber, we will get the job done in many areas. Canadians want us to do it and I know we can and shall do it.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about national unity. That is a very important topic. National unity did not start yesterday, last week or last year. We have a great nation because we have challenges. When we have challenges, they become opportunities, and we take advantage of those opportunities to make life better.
I have to share this with members of the House. In the very early eighties, my dad, George A. Samson, a plumber and electrician from Cape Breton Island, to be more specific Isle Madame, who had a grade 6 education, was a councillor in the municipal government. He enjoyed speaking and representing the people. In 1980, he was invited by the Davis government in Ontario to an assembly of many Canadians to talk about the Constitution and national unity. It was quite a pleasure and exciting for him to be part of that. He contributed to those discussions. I know that allowed many great things to happen as we moved forward in the eighties.
We have to stop this division and stop focusing on our differences. We need to focus on our strengths. What we are asking for today is something that Canadians have done so well in the past.
When I hear about prominent politicians running around saying there are differences and creating regional insecurity, it hurts, I have to be honest, because I know we can do much better.
I want to share a quote from the first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald:
If I had influence over the minds of the people of Canada, any power over their intellects, I would leave them this legacy—“whatever you do, adhere to the Union—we are a great country and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”
I could not say it any better.
That is what this is all about. It is about working together. How great is this country? It is one of the greatest countries in the world. We have been rated number one on quality of life four years in a row. That is not bad. We are number three in education, number four in freedom, number six among the best countries to do business with and number nine in happiness. What a great country. Let us continue working together to make life better for all Canadians.
To do what we are doing, we need to continue to get support from members of all parties. We have to help and work closely with the business community to make sure it has the tools to connect and take advantage of the international trade deals we sign. We have to work together on climate change, because it is the greatest challenge of our time. We have to work together to make sure we have what we promised on pharmacare for all Canadians. It is extremely important. We must continue to work together for housing, creating more housing for seniors. That is the next challenge.
We are focused on these challenges, and that is important. We have to focus on families, youth, veterans and seniors. These are important issues and we need to work together to make this happen. I believe we will. We need to make this work.
Let me focus on Wexit. Westerners are anxious. We will work with them, because when times are hard in one part of this nation we come together and find ways to connect and support. That is what we will do.
I have already seen movement in Alberta on climate change. The premier said he is now open to that. That is what I call making a great effort to work together to continue building on this great country.
What about the pipeline? We already have 2,200 people working on the pipeline and by summer we will have 4,200 working on it. We are now moving forward on the pipeline, as we committed and promised.
I am also hearing about Bill C-69 in Wexit. I believe the Prime Minister said the other day that we are open to listening if we need to tweak it somewhat. He even asked the premiers to get together and work at it to see if they had some suggestions. That is the third thing.
The fourth issue I am hearing a lot about is equalization payments or the fiscal stability program. That is what it is for. We have been trying to support westerners and will continue to support them. One way to do it is by making adjustments. When we make adjustments because there are hard times, we are supporting those provinces, and when times are good, we expect them to support the rest of Canada.
It is a pleasure to be back in the House of Commons to speak on behalf of the residents of my riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook.