Madam Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to rise today to respond to the Speech from the Throne. I would like to thank the voters in Nanaimo—Ladysmith for giving me their support to stand here today. I would also like to thank my family, volunteers and team that supported me as well.
My electoral district of Nanaimo—Ladysmith faces many serious challenges that are not unique to our area, but are very acute and much more challenging than in other parts of the country.
I am very pleased to see a number of key initiatives and promises in the Speech from the Throne and the mandate letters to ministers that will help address some of the challenges my constituents face. I am committed to working across party lines in a positive and collaborative way for legislation that will benefit all Canadians, and where I see a need for improvement, I will speak up about it.
Nanaimo—Ladysmith has one of the largest homeless populations per capita in Canada. I am glad to see the government step up with the creation of a national housing strategy. However, I do not think the targets outlined will be enough to deal with the crisis that communities face. We have vulnerable and marginalized people who are struggling with affordable housing and homelessness. They need safe and affordable places to live.
It is encouraging to see the inclusion of national standards for mental health support. Mental health care should be part of our universal health care system, so the cost of treatment is not a barrier to people seeking support, especially when they are in a crisis. Many of the people who are homeless in Nanaimo—Ladysmith are struggling with serious mental health issues. The mayor of Nanaimo has gone so far as to call for new institutions for people who are clearly suffering and unable to cope with their mental illness.
Like many other regions of the country, Nanaimo—Ladysmith is deeply affected by the opioid crisis. We have young men, with good jobs and families, who have become addicted to opioids after work-related injuries. They are dying because the stigma of drug addiction has made them fearful to seek help. The war on drugs is a failure. Let us study what other countries have done to deal with this health and social issue and create a made-in-Canada solution.
Alleviating homelessness and improving access to mental health care and addiction treatment services will reduce the criminality associated with these social issues and allow our justice system to focus on violent and repeat offenders.
I am also very pleased to see that the government is committed to strengthening medicare and renewing its health agreement with the provinces and that mandate letters call for a universal national pharmacare program. We need to add a national dental care program to that as well.
Nanaimo—Ladysmith has a serious shortage of doctors in a rapidly growing population. Vancouver Island is a retirement destination for many Canadians.
The Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, which was built in the 1960s, serves the oldest per capita population in Canada. This hospital is overdue for an upgrade to create a tertiary hospital that will provide cancer care, cardiac care and expanded psychiatric services.
HealthCareCAN is calling on the government to green our health care infrastructure and ensure that it is energy efficient as part of the efforts to combat climate change. I hope the government will heed that call and provide major funding to help the provinces upgrade aging health care infrastructure.
It is very important for my community to see an increase in the funding for home care and palliative care, but we also need to see major changes in how senior care residences are operated. The Investment Canada Act needs to be changed to exclude seniors homes from foreign ownership. Seniors homes should be viewed as part of our health care system.
The recent experience with the purchase of Retirement Concepts by Anbang Insurance in China, which is now a state-owned corporation, must not be repeated. The Vancouver Island Health authority recently had to take over administration of three Retirement Concepts facilities due to unsafe conditions. Foreign corporations have no connection to our community and should not be profiting from providing poor-quality seniors care. The non-profit model of community-centred care is a far better way of ensuring that our seniors get the quality care they deserve.
Small and medium-sized businesses are major economic drivers and employ the vast majority of Canadians. I am glad to see in the mandate letters that there will be improved support for start-ups, but what I have heard from the small and medium-sized enterprises in my community is that there is a need for additional support for businesses that want to take the next step in their growth, whether that is innovation for a new product line, creating efficiencies that reduce waste and lower their carbon footprint, or expanding their markets.
Canada has been a great incubator for new businesses, but often these businesses are lured away to other jurisdictions by incentives, tax breaks and programs that help them grow to the next level. We need to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises stay in Canada and continue to provide well-paying jobs for Canadian workers.
I know the language of tax cuts has been a popular mantra, but tax cuts inevitably lead to austerity and either cuts to services or to the addition of user fees for the services that middle- and lower-income Canadians rely on. I support having services that our taxes provide, such as universal health care, and infrastructure such as public transit, roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and recreation facilities.
What we need is fairness. We need to ensure that wealthy Canadians are paying their fair share. Large corporations benefit from the social services provided to their employees and the infrastructure they use as part of their businesses. The government needs to close tax loopholes, crack down on tax evasions and shut down tax avoidance schemes and the offshoring of wealth by corporations and individuals.
There are four first nations in the Nanaimo—Ladysmith riding, and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian legislation is very important to them and to creating economic certainty in our region. Building a new relationship with indigenous people in Canada requires more than just words; it requires a commitment to respect the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions. In too many cases, especially when large extraction projects are at stake, the intent of UNDRIP is not being followed.
In addition to the climate crisis, we are facing a crash in biodiversity. The commitments to protect 25% of the land base and 25% of the marine base in conservation by 2025 is very important. The riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith has very little conservation land put aside because the whole southeast portion of Vancouver Island was privatized as part of the deal for B.C. to enter Confederation. The Nanaimo River watershed is 750 square kilometres in aarea, but only 10 square kilometres are in a conservation area and less than two square kilometres are designated as parkland. The Nanaimo River is very important ecologically and needs greater conservation, and 25% would be a welcomed inclusion.
Like my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands, I see a great Speech from the Throne, but it is hard to be optimistic. The previous Speech from the Throne from the Liberal government promised that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election. It was not.
There are a couple of other things my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands has highlighted that were promises that were not kept. Canadians were also promised concrete action to combat climate change, but the targets for reducing emissions have not changed from the ones put in place by the previous Conservative government before the Paris accord. We are not even on target to meet those commitments. Instead, the government has approved environmentally destructive projects, has bought a pipeline that guarantees an increase in emissions and has continued to provide subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It is for those reasons that I will vote against the Speech from the Throne. I am ready to work with the government to establish new targets, because until we commit to do our part and follow through on our commitments, all of the other issues I have mentioned will not matter. Climate change will impact every area of our lives, overwhelm our health care system and destroy our economy.
I was elected on a promise to continue pressing the government for real and substantive action on climate change, and that is a promise I intend to keep.