Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here before you and my fellow members to participate in the debate on our government's Speech from the Throne.
First, allow me to congratulate you on your re-election as Speaker, a well deserved recognition of your skills and talent.
Second, allow me to express my appreciation and gratitude to the fine folks of Edmonton Centre for giving me the opportunity to continue to represent them in this place. It is a responsibility and a privilege that I take very seriously.
I would also like to thank my wife of 40 years, Judy, and our children, Jennifer and Robb, for their love and support.
As we are all aware, the Speech from the Throne is a blueprint for our government's action to protect Canada's future. It contains a five-pronged plan to ensure that our economy remains resilient during and after this period of global economic uncertainty, but we should not forget that the Speech from the Throne also outlines how our government will help to ensure the safety of our families and the security of our country.
Safety and security are concepts that are broad in scope but speak most to the justice system, national security, and product and food safety in our great country. Addressing these areas is in the favour of all Canadians, not just a privileged few. By continuing to seek reform in these areas, we put the interests of all Canadians first.
During the last election, our government promised to act on a number of priorities to ensure a Canada that is strong and free. These priorities included defending Canada's sovereignty, rebuilding the Canadian Forces, improving food and product safety and environmental laws, and strengthening our justice system. With these actions, our government is striving to ensure a safe and secure Canada for all Canadian families.
Food, product and environmental safety, an effective justice system, and Canadian self-reliance and sovereignty are matters that most directly affect the health and well-being of all Canadians. In addition to safeguarding our economy, these matters should be top of mind for those who represent Canadians in this place.
Canada is a nation where children should be able to play safely in their own yards, where serious gun criminals should serve time in prison for their actions, where the food on the dinner table is safe to eat, and where we can assume our children will grow up to enjoy the Canada we know today, not a Canada without jurisdiction over its own Arctic lands or a Canada with weakened armed forces, unable to come to our aid in a time of real need.
In the 2007-08 United Nations human development index, Canada was ranked as the fourth most livable place in the world out of 192 countries. This is an indication that many countries in the world look up to Canada and strive to be like us. We must work together to protect the future of this truly great country, a country we all know and love.
When Canadians commute to work, eat dinner or tuck their kids in at night, they are not thinking about the government. When they elect a new government, Canadians rightly expect that government to be responsible and act in their best interests. We do this by ensuring the safety and security of our fellow Canadians, through actions such as being the first country in the world to take action on bisphenol A, by proposing to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and by cracking down on toxic chemicals with our chemicals management plan.
Improvements to the chemicals management plan will improve the degree of protection against hazardous chemicals. It includes a number of new proactive measures to make sure that chemical substances are managed properly and are not found in the toys of our children, the water we drink, or the baby bottles we feed our infants with on a daily basis.
Our government will bring in legislation providing better oversight of food, drug and consumer products. It will strengthen the power to recall products and increase penalties for violators. It will also move quickly to launch an independent investigation of this summer’s listeria outbreak and act quickly upon its findings
Protecting and promoting Canadians' health and safety is a top priority for the Government of Canada. Canadians need to know that the food on their dinner table, the toys they buy their children and the medicines they rely on are safe.
Budget 2008 allocated over $458 million over five years to the food and consumer safety action plan to support collaboration, strengthen safety programs, and replaced outdated laws with new ones.
In general, Canadians are well served by food and product safety measures, but we are facing new challenges as global commercial practices evolve.
Recent incidents involving hazardous food, health and consumer products have shown that we need to update our regulatory processes and the underlying legislation.
By taking action now, we will significantly reduce future costs associated with water treatment, clean-up of contaminated sites, and treating illness related to chemical exposure. We will improve our fellow Canadians' quality of life and better protect our environment.
This plan will build on Canada's position as a global leader in the safe management of chemical substances and products. It will marshal new and better science to improve the assessment and mitigation of risks, and it will provide Canadian families with better information about the safe use and disposal of a range of everyday products.
On April 8 of this year the Prime Minister announced that the government will boost protection for Canadian consumers with a tough and comprehensive overhaul of food and safety laws. The food and consumer safety action plan is a comprehensive set of new measures aimed at establishing tougher regulation of food, health and consumer products, and includes initiatives to update and redefine Canadian food content labels to better reflect the true origins of products in today's global marketplace.
In today's world, products make their way to our grocery store shelves from every corner of the earth. As a result, under the current guidelines, food marked, “Product of Canada“ or “Made in Canada” actually may not be very Canadian at all. We have tightened the definitions of these familiar labels so Canadians know exactly what they are getting, and getting exactly what they want. That way, when food contaminations happen in other areas the world, we are able to quickly identify the products that contain contaminated ingredients and isolate them.
Another example of the government placing Canadians' health and safety first is found in the many measures we have taken to ensure Canadians are protected from crime in their daily lives. In times of uncertainty, as in any other time, Canadians need to be assured that they are safe in their homes and communities. The government has and will continue to take tough action against crime and work with our law enforcement and judicial partners to ensure our law-abiding citizens are protected. Serious offences will be met with serious penalties.
We will work to strengthen the legal provisions that currently deal with youth crime, gang crime and organized crime. Additionally, we will act to end the cross-border gun smuggling and punish those who commit gun crimes, not the law-abiding long gun and general firearm owners.
The government's action on tackling crime has already responded to the collective desire of Canadians to put victims first and take a practical approach to law and order, one that is firm but fair.
We have introduced new ways to detect and investigate drug-impaired driving and are strengthening penalties for impaired driving.
We will introduce legislation to significantly strengthen the criminal law response to violence against pregnant women. Our new legislation would expand the list of aggravating factors to be considered by a sentencing judge to include the fact of a woman's pregnancy. It is important to note, however, that this bill will not open the door to fetal rights.
This legislative proposal is the next step in the government's commitment to make our streets and communities safer, particularly for women during pregnancy. The safety and security of Canadians is our utmost priority. As such, we will continue moving forward on our tackling crime agenda. Last year, after two long years of delay from the opposition parties in both this House and the other place, the government was able to see our tackling violent crime legislation become law.
This legislation brings to an end soft lenient penalities and assures dangerous criminals who threaten our communities will now get the jail time and penalties they so richly deserve.
We will protect young Canadians from sexual predators by raising the age of consent from 14 to 16.
We have also introduced new parole conditions that require individuals charged with a serious gun crime to justify their release pending trial.
Our first priority is the safety and security of Canadians. That is why we are tackling crime. Across Canada, trials are getting longer and longer, and court proceedings are being started later and later. In general, people believe that reform is needed. The government will work with its partners to ensure that justice is served swiftly and fairly.
This government will continue to take concrete action in areas that are important to Canadians because protecting society is a priority for us, not an afterthought. We are proud of the work we have done over the past two years to introduce these changes, and we will continue to tackle crime.
Now, families and communities across Canada can feel safer.
On a broader level, the government has also striven to protect Canada and its citizens as a whole. The Canada-first defence strategy is our government's comprehensive long-term plan to ensure the Canadian Forces have the people, equipment and support they need to protect our interests, to fulfill Canada's international commitments. and to keep our true north strong and free.
As the name implies, the first priority of our Canada-first defence strategy is to strengthen our ability to defend our country and to protect our people. It would improve surveillance of our land and coastal borders, and bolster our capacity to provide support for civilian authorities in the event of natural disasters or major international events.
We are also establishing a year-round arctic training station at Resolute Bay that would be an army facility, a deep-sea docking and refuelling facility, and a port in Nanisivik. We will be requiring replacements for various aircraft and also enhanced unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance of the north. By protecting our arctic sovereignty, we are protecting Canada's sovereignty.
Our government will continue to take our responsibilities on the world stage very seriously. Our men and women in uniform, and those who work alongside them, have given us all much to be proud of as they take a leading role in bringing stability in the future to Afghanistan. It is never easy and there is always sacrifice.
That is what Canada has stood for, for more than a century: being prepared to do the right thing, for the right reasons, on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves.
My three trips to Afghanistan and my continuous contact with the Canadian Forces have given me a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the Canadian soldier, sailor, airman and airwoman. We ask so much of them and they always respond.
We have an obligation to ensure that our military has all the necessary equipment and training at their disposal and that we look after them and their families when the mission is completed. We made incredible progress in that area in the last two and a half years, and we intend to keep at it.
Beyond strengthening our security at home and abroad, the Canada-first defence strategy would deliver significant economic benefits for Canadians. This unprecedented commitment of stable, long-term funding would provide good jobs and new opportunities for the thousands of Canadians who work in defence industries and benefit the dozens of communities across the country that provide support for military bases.
Canada's aerospace and defence industries in all parts of the country can compete with anyone and they will continue to earn their business the old-fashioned way: by being the best.
The real measure of success in politics is not the number of times our name is in the headlines or the number of speeches we make in this chamber; it is in whether we are delivering the real, tangible results for Canadians on issues that matter to them.
On keeping families safe, the related legislation may not make the pundits' hearts flutter, but knowing our efforts are protecting children, seniors and other vulnerable Canadians from becoming victims of crime is one of the most important results any of us could strive for.
On healthy families, it may not make the nightly news that parents have more peace of mind that their children's toys are safe. But guess what? The parents themselves certainly do care.
Families do not want to spend their time focusing on the government. Nor should they. They are right to expect that their government will spend its time focusing on them. They are right to expect a government that will work together to keep Canada safe and secure.
There are unquestionably some tough times ahead for Canada and all other countries around the world. What is required is sure and steady leadership. Our government has shown that leadership at home and our Prime Minister has shown that leadership abroad, on the foreign stage at recent meetings of the G-20 and APEC.
As only 2% of the world economy, we cannot go it alone and we cannot avoid the impact of the current global economic crisis. What we can avoid is panic and overheated rhetoric, which serves no one.
I look forward to working with all hon. members in this House to protect Canada's future for Canadians at home and to preserve Canada's place in the community of nations.