Mr. Speaker, last evening, when I set out the main thrust of the Speech from the Throne delivered Monday by the Governor General, along with a summary of the government's action plan, on which the Prime Minister had spoken the day before, the 400 people present in this assembly of which I am a member warmly applauded this clear and dynamic speech.
They had a number of reasons to be pleased with the speech. They were pleased to hear the Prime Minister, via the throne speech, affirm and confirm in the most convincing way our desire to build a Canada on solid social foundations, where people will be treated with respect and no one will be left out. They were happy to hear this objective mentioned, particularly as the number one priority.
We have been hearing a lot from the opposition parties about the new Prime MInister and his policy direction, which they claim to know. There is no point in seeking to find that direction in all sorts of allegations and statements that are meaningless. It must be looked for where it really is, that is in the top priority of the throne speech: building a country on solid social foundations.
The second priority mentioned by the Prime Minister is to have a strong and open economy to help us meet the challenges of the 21st century and take advantage of meaningful jobs.
That economy will also allow us to remain or become leaders in such areas as information technology and biotechnologies, where we are already well established, and in as yet lesser known areas such as nanotechnologies, with great promise for the future, as well as in an area very close to my heart, and I think the hearts of the people of Canada and Quebec: the development of environmental technologies, ecotechnologies.
The Prime Minister made himself very clear about these aspects, these pillars which will ensure that the Canadian economy in all regions will be strong, healthy, competitive and productive in the years to come.
Third in our priorities and goals—and people around me were quite proud to hear this—is our commitment to give Canada, our country, a role and influence in the international community. We will be proud because our country will have an independent voice, like it did in the talks about the war against Iraq.
Inquiries have been launched in the United States and in Great Britain into the role played by intelligence services. We do not have this kind of problem here.
Canada wants to have an independent voice. The public is proud of the direction taken by our country last year. That is what they tell us whenever they get a chance.
We will also be proud to see more and more forward looking initiatives in Canada, and leading edge projects in international cooperation. These projects promote Canadian values internationally.
I want to thank for its attention the audience I had in my riding of Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies last night. Approximately half were members of our party, but the others had no political allegiance. We had people from the provincial and municipal level, from school boards, volunteer agencies, ethnic communities, and economic agencies. These people had no political allegiance, but were interested in knowing what was going on politically at the federal level and what the government had to say in the speech.
These people were very happy to hear the throne speech, whatever their political allegiance. We did not ask them about that. We know that about half of them were Liberal Party members. We did not ask questions or give a test at the door in order to find out the political affiliation of the other half. These people came because they were interested in what was happening, what was going on and what our main thrust was going to be. Therefore, people were happy to see that the throne speech and the Prime Minister's speech provided a fresh impetus and a new vision.
They greatly appreciated this new vision, a vision of partnerships to be created or developed, partnerships with the provinces and the municipalities. Here in the House there are some who do not like it when we talk about partnerships with the municipalities and the provinces. These people are not happy unless everyone is fighting all the time. We are also talking about partnerships with business and new partnerships with organizations in the social economy. That is something new; that is a refreshing change. There also are partnerships with our American neighbour, based on mutual respect, reciprocity and transparency.
These people were happy to hear about this government's commitments to ethics, transparency and accountability. They were also happy to see that we would be working together as members of Parliament in order to take on more responsibilities and work in an atmosphere that will be more stimulating for our ideas and our work here, and that will enable us and those of our opposition colleagues who would like to take part in this reform and renewal, to get things moving.
Obviously not everyone is ready for that and in that frame of mind. Some are ready and some are less ready.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
Hon. Yvon Charbonneau: There are some who do not even listen when someone is talking. That shows just how much they prefer making noise to listening to what we say on this side.
The House of Commons should be a place where there is an ongoing public debate, a thorough and calm examination of the great issues we face in this country, and not a place where people who are not equipped to take power or do not even aspire to it take pot shots at one another and indulge in petty politics. Some parties act like lobby groups.
People watching us last night were also very impressed because our government has decided to not only make promises, but to put its words into action. For instance, the government provided $2 billion last week for health care and agreed to meet with the premiers this summer to come up with viable solutions to our health care problems.
Politicians, whether at the provincial or the federal level, all realize that money alone is not the solution in the area of health care. We need to find new ways to work together and further promote cooperation. A lot of work remains to be done. This summer, the first ministers will review the situation and try to come to an agreement on new ways to make our health system viable in the long term. The goal is to avoid any more emergency infusions of billions of dollars.
Another example is the government's commitment to immediately provide municipalities with full relief from the portion of the goods and services tax they now pay. The government is also prepared to work with the provinces to find a way to help finance some of their most critical needs, which have to do with municipal infrastructures throughout the country.
The people were impressed to see that we were not willing to wait two months, until the next budget or the next election, to make good on our promises. The Prime Minister said, “Start counting now, the money has started to come in as of February 1”. These are not merely promises, they are commitments already being acted on. The people were very impressed with how our Prime Minister and our government were working.
Also, they were thrilled with some of the measures affecting young people, including the increased access to registered education savings plan, particularly for poorer Canadians, and also the modernized Canada Student Loans program for the less fortunate students.
Companies that are part of the social economy were a special focus of the Speech from the Throne. This is the first time, I think, in the history of Canada or one of its provinces, that the emerging social economy sector has received so much attention.
Aide domestique in northeast Montreal is an agency that employs dozens of people. In the Montreal east area, services are offered to seniors and people who sometimes rely on not-for-profit agencies. There are 11 similar agencies in Montreal that employ some 500 people. There are 103 of them in Quebec in the social economy field, in several sectors.
This is very important for the harmonious functioning of our society and our community. They work with seniors, young children and families. They work for NPOs or cooperatives, and, according to the Speech from the Throne, they can benefit from measures comparable to those available to small businesses. This represents considerable progress and much-deserved recognition of all those who are continually working hard for the well-being of our society.
We welcome our Prime Minister's commitments with respect to sustainable development and the environment. All these commitments cannot be listed in a few short minutes. However, we must highlight those that, in our view, are key to the future; we are talking about sustainable development and the environment.
In the Speech from the Throne, an entire series of measures was announced. We will go beyond Kyoto—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
Hon. Yvon Charbonneau: For the eternal skeptics in the recesses of this House who say that the government hesitates when it comes to respecting its commitments to the Kyoto protocol, the Prime Minister said we will go beyond Kyoto. These are firm measures.
The Prime Minister also said we would not just hold forth on the international stage and participate in protocols and major agreements; we will start by putting our own house in order. That is a sincere promise, not just a general statement.
We are going to undertake a 10-year, $3.5 billion program to clean up contaminated sites. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has been recommending for years that the government take the initiative; now it has. Firm commitments have been made.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
Hon. André Harvey: The Bloc is not included in that. The Bloc will be taken care of in the election.
The hon. Yvon Charbonneau: As my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord says, there are two kinds of contaminated sites; those for which there are environmental solutions and those that require an election.
There are thousands of contaminated federal sites in Canada and numerous studies have been done over the years. We are now ready to go forward and to deal with the problems that have been identified. This will also affect sites like the Sydney tar ponds that have been widely explored and analysed for years. Millions of dollars have been set aside for that purpose.
The situation is the same for abandoned mines like the one in Yellowknife and many others in Canada's far north. These are important measures because we are dealing with fragile ecological environments that deserve our attention.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
The hon. Yvon Charbonneau: Some people are not really interested of course, because these are measures that they themselves had asked for and that have suddenly become unacceptable when the government took the lead. These people are not serious. They like to play politics.
Also with respect to the environment, the Prime Minister made a commitment that he had already put forward when he was critic for the Liberal opposition, 12 or 13 years ago, and that he reiterated as Minister of Finance, which had to do with using environmental indicators in major government decisions.
These were environmental indicators for the air, for emissions and for the quality of our water.
Our government is not guided strictly by financial criteria. Environmental criteria are also now part of the decision-making process, following the national round table on the environment and the economy. These are major steps forward.
The throne speech includes other commitments on the marketing of innovative and environmentally friendly technologies. Such technologies exist all across the country. There is a huge potential. The marketing process was undertaken a few years ago. It will be more sustained in the coming months and years.
I should also tell the House how pleased we are to see the commitments made by the government to develop our skills, our human resources. For the past number of years, the government has been focusing on this area. This commitment is firmly renewed in the throne speech. We are talking about our human resources. In particular, there is a very specific commitment by the government to better integrate new immigrants into our economy and our communities. Immigrants are not a problem in Canada. They should not be. On the contrary, they are the solution to a number of our problems in the future, provided some changes are made. We must recognize the skills of those who come to Canada.
There are people who were trained abroad and who have Ph.D.s and masters degrees. They come here, but the professional corporations, the provinces and the administrations do not recognize their degrees. They end up driving taxis. We need cab drivers, but not to the point of relying on people who have Ph.D.s and masters degrees, and who are trained to be doctors to do the job.
We must recognize the skills of these people. We must also, in other cases, facilitate the updating or upgrading of their skills. In my view, these are very concrete commitments that were well understood and appreciated by people like the residents of Montreal, particularly in the eastern part of Montreal, in my riding of Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies.
The people who were there included many who were of Hispanic, Arab, Haitian or Asian origin. They saw in these words a message of hope, a policy of open arms and humanity that truly warmed their heart. Such was the effect of the throne speech on people.
I would also like to applaud two other initiatives of the government. There is the creation of an organization that will be called Canada Corps and that will allow our young graduates to acquire valuable international experience when they are 20, 22, 23 or 25 years old. Not only will they acquire meaningful experience, but, at the same time, they will get first-hand experience in international cooperation by participating in projects that will help countries targeted by this organization.
I think this is one of the most promising projects. Indeed, when these young people will have participated in these projects overseas for six months, 18 months or two years and will come back in this country, they will be better Canadians and also better citizens on the international level. They will be people who are more aware of the realities and of the need to get involved to contribute to a better world on the international level.
Everyone is talking about globalization. We should humanize it, give it a human face. As soon as they come back, these young Canadians who are 20, 22 or 25 years old, who will have acquired this experience, will contribute to Canadian politics and to our society in a more humane, social and fair manner. This proposal is extremely promising.
I also saw the government's commitment to work more with unions, with major Canadian unions that are particularly involved in the skill development sector. This work with unions is considered an essential component of our training and skill development system. This kind of commitment is quite something. We heard our Prime Minister make this commitment.
There are so many reasons to applaud this Speech from the Throne that some people would inevitably blame me for not saying enough. However, they are so inspiring and meaningful that they got enthusiastic support from all the people who took part in the meeting last night and from all the people who expressed their satisfaction.
Through their attitudes, their applause and their welcome, they expressed their confidence in the government, in our new Prime minister and also, I must admit, in your humble servant, who was seeking a nomination to represent their riding in the next federal election.