Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, when I was casting around for things to say about the throne speech, I found myself recalling a story about a famous writer. She was once asked what she thought about a certain American city, and she replied, “There is no there there.” It is what I feel about the speech from the throne: there is no there there.
The Prime Minister shut down Parliament to recalibrate the government's agenda, and so we had expectations. We thought there would be great visions, great plans for the people and the country, but of course there is none of that there.
Recalibration was a fiction. It was a flimsy excuse from a Prime Minister who gambled on the cynicism of the Canadian people and lost. Canadians saw through it and their response was clear: do not mess with Parliament; do not mess with democracy; get back to work.
Everyone in Canada knows why the Prime Minister shut down Parliament. It was to avoid difficult questions, probing questions about the Afghan detainee issue. Those questions will not go away now that Parliament is back in session. The government can try to cover up the truth. It has censored documents, intimidated witnesses and slandered whistle-blowers.
Now the government is trying to hide behind Justice Iacobucci, but the Conservatives have not asked him to get at the truth. They have asked him to decide which documents Parliament and the public can see, which is not the same thing at all. We still have not seen his written mandate. Justice Iacobucci, for whom everyone on this side of the House has the greatest respect, is the right man, but with the wrong job.
On this side of the House, we have been clear. Regarding the Afghan detainee scandal, Parliament will not be satisfied with anything less than the truth, because that is what Canadians deserve.
Because of prorogation, because of this government's contempt for Canada's institutions, we have a democratic deficit to go with our budget deficit
In terms of the economy, after over two months of prorogation, the government had promised a throne speech focused on innovation and the jobs of the future. The government did not keep its word in that regard either.
In fact, this throne speech will pass into forgetfulness. It will be ignored by history, but it will be remembered for one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of Canadian politics, one of the most remarkable flip-flops anyone in the House has ever seen: a promise to change O Canada that lasted for 48 hours.
When one then thinks about how that could have happened, one begins to imagine what the Prime Minister was thinking. He was thinking that we are in the worst economic downturn in half a century, 1.6 million Canadians are out of work, our pension systems are in crises, Canadian women are making 72¢ on the dollar, and what we really need now are new words to O Canada.
The real question is, having jettisoned one gimmick over the side, what is the next gimmick the government is going to throw away?
The throne speech is just chockablock with gimmicks. At a time when seniors need our help, what do they get? They get Seniors' Day. At a time when some of our veterans are struggling with serious, serious things like post-traumatic stress disorder, what do they get? They get Vimy Day. Do not misunderstand me; we support Vimy Day. My grandfather fought with the units that fought at Vimy Ridge. We support Vimy Day. We support Seniors' Day. But does the Prime Minister seriously believe that these are adequate responses to the problems and challenges faced by our veterans, seniors and families?
On jobs and innovation, the throne speech does not so much hold water as it treads water.
The Conservatives never did grasp the fact that profound changes were taking place in both the Canadian economy and the global economy.
Canada needs to be prepared for a new world. Energy will be more expensive. Pollution will have a price. The Canadian dollar will be worth as much as the American dollar. The expertise of Canadians will become our greatest resource, and the most dynamic markets will be India and China, not the United States.
This is the world our children will grow up in, and they will needs jobs to feed their families. The throne speech fails to address the challenges that await them.
Canadian workers understand the challenges of our times, but their government is not listening.
This throne speech leaves our shared destiny to chance, that is to say, to laissez-faire.
Look at the specific issue of health care about which there is a stunning silence throughout this throne speech. Our families depend on world-class medical care, diagnostics and treatment in every region of the country. Never forget that this is the government that twice left Canadians without a supply of nuclear diagnostics for cancer and heart treatment.
We still have not met the challenge that we face in the health care system in other areas. I want to focus on one issue in particular: access to health care in rural, remote and northern communities, where families have to cope with a lack of specialists, mental health services, pediatrics and care for the elderly. These are real issues and the federal government has a positive role to play here. We have to work with the provinces and territories and our rural communities to strengthen rural and remote health care and we have to start doing it now.
That is the message I got from a consultation that was held in the great city of Guelph last month. If we add on top of that the fact that our population is getting older and our workforce is shrinking, the government will have an increased burden of retired persons to fund and support. The passage of time will make the strain on our health care system more acute and widespread, but rather than meet the challenge, the government has run away.
Getting health care costs under control is crucial. There is a long-term solution; we have been saying this for more than a year. My hon. colleague from St. Paul's has made important contributions in this regard. The long-term solution has to be health promotion, prevention and education. Our goal has to be more health and less health care. However, there is nothing here on health promotion, illness prevention or community-based health, all of which hold a solution to making us both healthier and keeping health care costs under control.
Let us recall on this side of the House the important reputation of a great Canadian, Tommy Douglas. Tommy Douglas used to speak about the second stage of medicare, about keeping Canadians healthy and keeping them out of the health care system in the first place. After about four decades of Tommy Douglas saying that, it is about time we got started.
This is the kind of forward-looking policy that Canadian families expected after two months of what we were told was recalibration. We expected policy that would ease the pressure on Canadian lives, but what did the government offer? Nothing.
For millions of Canadian families, their immediate concern is taking care of an aging parent and paying for their children's education. The government has forsaken those families.
Turning to another issue, we are in the midst of a pension crisis that threatens millions of seniors and older workers. The government's response to this reality is to create “senior's day”. If the government were to establish a day dedicated to everyone they are forsaking, we would have a holiday every day of the year.
When can we expect to see “unemployed workers' day”, “deficit day” or “truth day”? We cannot build the future of our country on such nonsense.
The federal government is responsible for the ties that bind us together as one country, as one great people. The government is casually but also deliberately relinquishing that responsibility in pensions, in health care, in domain after domain after domain, and the country will be weaker as a result. We must do more to give life to the compassion that holds our country together. That is what we will always stand for on this side of the House.
If this throne speech is defined by unmet expectations, it is equally defined by missed opportunities. Nowhere is this more remarkable than in the field of clean energy. One cannot put forward a credible strategy for innovation in the jobs of tomorrow and then ignore clean energy and clean technology. The world is racing into the future and the Conservatives are racing to get into the present.
Nothing illustrates this government's lack of vision more clearly than its total inaction on clean energy. This ideological approach is isolating Canada. In the United States, President Obama is investing six times more per capita than our Prime Minister in clean energy research. As we speak, the jobs of tomorrow are being created elsewhere. We must either act now or spend the next decade wishing we had.
But the missed opportunity of clean energy has direct consequences for Canadian industry and for every Canadian family.
Right now oil is trading at $80 a barrel and the world economy is still fighting off recession. Recovery will spur demand and prices will rise. High energy prices are good for Canada's energy sector, for natural gas in B.C. and Atlantic Canada, for oil and natural gas in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But high energy costs will hurt other sectors of our economy, putting jobs at risk. They will hurt Canadian families, especially when they get that home heating bill at the end of the month.
This throne speech was an opportunity to meet those challenges head on, to assert federal leadership in making Canada the most energy efficient economy in the world powered by renewables tied together with clean energy infrastructure and smart grids. The government could have made renewable power a national priority with coordinated efforts from Ottawa and the provinces, but the Conservatives missed this opportunity too. Last fall the Conservatives actually cancelled Canada's flagship federal renewable energy program, eco-energy, at exactly the time when the United States renewed its comparable program until 2012.
An hon. member: Unbelievable.
Mr. Michael Ignatieff: Indeed it is unbelievable, as my colleague said so well.
The Conservatives' approach to innovation, education and research is another missed opportunity. This government slashed $140 million in funding for research councils last year. It cut $160 million from the Canadian Space Agency. It cut the National Research Council of Canada. It scrapped 50 years of Canadian leadership in nuclear medicine.
The Conservatives have been putting some money into bricks and mortar, but they have neglected the brains. They are renovating university and college buildings while cutting funding for the research that goes on inside. Rather than make a long-term commitment to build a national knowledge economy for Canada, the Conservatives giveth and the Conservatives taketh away, and their bluster cannot conceal the truth of that.
It is unclear how the government could have imagined that it could create a credible innovation agenda without a comprehensive commitment to learning, starting with world-class early learning and child care, through post-secondary education and research, working with provinces and territories to fight literacy, which holds millions of Canadians back from achieving their full potential, providing enhanced language training in both official languages for new immigrants coming to our country, and lifting the cap on aboriginal post-secondary education.
That is how we Liberals want to develop a workforce for the new world economy. That is how we would create opportunities for our kids. That is how we would invest in Canadians.
Instead of a future filled with promise, this government is saying that we are in for some lean years. The Conservatives have promised to freeze departmental spending, but what programs are they going to cut? We do not know. This year may be the year of small cuts, but next year promises to be the year of the axe. They are going to justify the cuts by talking about the recession, but our deficit is the result of their own incompetence.
The Conservatives promised cuts and freezes to the programs Canadians count on, but meanwhile the government is spending $570 million every year for management consultants. That is a 200% increase, and no Canadian can understand why that is justified.
Spending in the Prime Minister's own department is up 22%, more than $13 million. Meanwhile, the finance minister spent $3,000 on a photo-op and a cup of coffee. It was the most expensive double-double in the history of Canada.
The throne speech shows the choice facing Canadians. On the one hand is the laissez-faire approach, where everyone looks after themselves and the government has nothing for us but five years of austerity, cuts and freezes. On the other hand is the Liberal alternative. We believe that a good government can protect people today and plan a future of employment and hope. We believe in a government that unites Canadians instead of dividing them.
The choice for Canadians is becoming clearer by the day: on the one hand, laissez-faire and cuts; on the other hand, a government that believes in uniting Canadians around a shared national project of readying our great people for the opportunities of tomorrow.
The throne speech could have been an investment in Canadians' future, in health care and pensions, in clean energy and innovation. But the government did not choose that route. It chose gimmicks, a slash and burn approach and laissez-faire ideology.
This is not the Canada we stand for, and it is not a Canada where we stand united. A strong, united Canada, an educated, healthy Canada, a green Canada open to the world, a great Canada, rich with the greatest hopes and dreams of its youth, that is the Canada that we want to build with Canadians and that we want to celebrate.
In conclusion, this throne speech was not just disappointing, it was unnecessary. It was damage control after the Prime Minister had shut down Parliament. Every paragraph makes that clear.
Therefore, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting the period and adding the following:
||and offers our humble wish that Your Excellency is not burdened in future with frivolous requests for prorogation.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered last week by Her Excellency the Governor General. But before getting into the details, I would like to say a few words about Canada’s extraordinary results at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.
Of course, I want to talk about more than just the marvellous staging of the winter Olympics by the organizers and the warm embrace of the games by British Columbia. None of us who know our west coast were surprised by any of that, but as we all know, our Canadian athletes, our young men and women, set a new record for the number of gold medals ever won by any nation at a winter Olympic Games.
Fourteen golds, Mr. Speaker.
Fourteen golds and, of course, along with seven silvers and five bronze, it was 26 medals in total. That is the most ever won by our country at any winter Olympic Games.
Indeed, out of 80 countries, our athletes garnered 10 per cent of all the medals awarded. That is an extraordinary performance for Canada. There is no doubt that we are proud of our Canadian athletes.
As we all know, the streets of our great country were alive with red and white on the night following that final goal by Sidney Crosby, because when Canadians do something great in the name of our country, their fellow citizens know how to wave the flag as well as anyone, and that is a wonderful thing.
We need more of it, and I am sure we will see more at the Paralympic Games that start tomorrow. This summer I think we will see more again on the east coast, when there is another world class sporting event, the world junior championships in athletics being hosted in Moncton, New Brunswick. We will keep on repeating those magic words, I hope, throughout the year, “go Canada, go”.
I would go even further. I would say that our athletes had not just a tremendous performance. For a country of moderate size in terms of population, it was a magnificent performance.
I think we have to look beyond the gold medals, and even beyond medals in general, because they do not say everything about just how excellent Team Canada really was. Because at that level of competition, the placings are determined by fractions of seconds, a few millimetres, and sometimes by just a stroke of luck.
Among the roughly 200 young men and women we sent to Vancouver, we had 50 top 5 places and no other country had more than that. All except the United States and Germany had a lot less. When we realize that, we get a sense of the extraordinary level of excellence that ran right through the entire Canada games.
We were in the hunt in virtually every category. There are reasons we were able to reach out for so many golds.
It is all about attitude, which defined the goal and was supported by an action plan.
In Calgary, at the winter games a generation ago, we invested in the infrastructure necessary for world-class performance and then we got serious about winning. Canada's sports organizations came together, they set out the goal of owning the podium, they got private sector money and they received the financial and moral support of both the provinces and the Government of Canada. Then they found the best young athletes and they worked them and worked them and worked them. That is how we win, that is how we raise everybody's game.
We want to keep on winning, and keep on promoting that type of excellence. And that is why we made it clear in last week’s budget that we are going to keep on supporting our athletes.We will continue to support our athletes to help raise the Maple Leaf high over the podium.
We will continue raising that maple leaf in London in 2012 and for games well beyond that, because the Vancouver-Whistler games, Canada's games, as Premier Campbell called them, showed that when the challenge is understood and the goal is clearly defined, when Canadians are given the tools, Canada can get things done.
Getting things done is the trademark our country, Canada, is starting to be known for. For instance, just as we are getting things done in sports, we are getting things done in Afghanistan.
In Kandahar, Canada's best and bravest have prevented the Taliban from overrunning that critical province, and they are standing up for stability, development and justice in a country that has seldom known any of those things. This is a tremendous testament, one that has come at great cost and one that I know we would like to applaud. We would like to applaud the work of all of our diplomats, development officers and especially our defence personnel for making this happen.
We are getting things done in public health.
In mid-2009, the World Health Organization issued its first warning that a new fatal virus called H1N1 was probably going to quickly spread worldwide. If left uncontrolled, it had the potential to kill tens of thousands of Canadians, in particular young people and people weakened by other medical conditions.
We saw a problem and we acted quickly and effectively. We made the commitment so consistent with our basic values that every Canadian regardless of means who wanted to be vaccinated could be before Christmas. We then ordered enough vaccine to do just that.
Working with the provinces, which have the primary responsibility for health care in Canada, we rose to the challenge.
And it has been the largest and quickest mass immunization campaign in Canadian history. Thousands of lives have been saved. Happily we will never know exactly how many, but choking off a pandemic is no small thing and the fact that we were able to do that was a triumph of the dedication and commitment, particularly of the medical professionals involved. These are people we should also be enormously proud of, and I would like to take the opportunity to formally applaud their great work.
Then there is Haiti, where we are also getting things done. We all recall that January day when the devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. The number is staggering and hard to get our heads around.
In the hardest-hit regions, up to 90% of buildings were destroyed, injuring and trapping thousands of people in the rubble. A people that was already desperately poor lost what little it had. Everyday necessities like food, drinking water and medical assistance, which have never been abundant in Haiti, became even rarer. That is why we took immediate action. Just a few hours after the nightmare began, the first Canadian troops were on the ground: members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They were there to gauge the best way to deliver aid. Based on their recommendations, we deployed in force from Valcartier and other Canadian bases.
Ships of the Atlantic fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies. We used the new Air Force C-17s to quickly ferry more of life's necessities to the islands and to repatriate Canadian citizens and refugees on the return trips. Foreign Affairs and other government civilian personnel joined the effort on the ground and at command centres here in Ottawa.
By the time the mission peaked, in addition to the DART and Her Majesty's Canadian Ships Athabaskan and Halifax, we had deployed heavy-lift aircraft, search and rescue helicopters and a mobile field hospital. We had sent hundreds of tonnes of supplies and equipment to relieve the suffering. And over 2,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air personnel, along with a wide array of other public servants, were in theatre bringing real assistance and hope.
We brought home over 4,000 Canadians and permanent residents who were trapped in Haiti on the day of the earthquake, and over 200 orphans whose adoption applications were fast-tracked after the disaster. To date, the Emergency Operations Centre has answered over 50,000 calls, and liaison units between families and children will remain active for many months to come.
The mission to Haiti has been a massive effort, a huge achievement of Canada that has reflected the very highest levels of devotion and performance by every member of the Canadian Forces and every member of the Canadian public service who has been involved. Development officers, peace officers and diplomatic staff are still there, organizing what will be a long-term Canadian and international process and project to assist the government of Haiti with rebuilding its country.
Honourable members, all those great Canadians deserve our congratulations.
We saw a problem, we wanted to help and we acted quickly and effectively. Canada got things done. Hon. members, it is in this spirit of caring, of deciding and of acting that has animated our government and our country as we have taken up the formidable challenge of the economic times in which we are living.
As in other areas, when we saw a problem, when we understood the need, and in some cases the pain. We drew up a plan and we acted, Canada acted, quickly and effectively.
Let us talk about the economic times we find ourselves in.
Businesses may invest, governments may budget soundly, workers may toil, generations may perform the labours of Hercules, yet sometimes fortune is fickle. Just as the rain falls on the good and the bad alike, so the flood waters of recession have risen across the globe and that includes Canada, which does not, by the way for a minute, mean that our efforts have been for naught. Regulation and oversight of the financial system, the cause of the global crisis, was, in Canada, prudent and effective and it has made a difference.
According to the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund and numerous other experts, Canada has the soundest banking sector in the world.
Canada has avoided the failures of financial institutions and the vast bailouts of public money that have been so necessary in so many other countries. Availability and cost of credit, while they tightened over the recession, have begun to improve more significantly and more quickly in Canada than almost any other developed country. We have kept an eye on the mortgage industry.
We made prudent changes to the rules to avoid the real estate bubbles that caused so much damage elsewhere in the world.
And now in Canada our housing sector, where the recession was lightly felt, is well into recovery. Here also our fiscal fundamentals were sound.
Canada entered the recession with the lowest debt level of any country in the G7, and this level dropped as we were paying down the debt.
The strong fiscal fundamentals have allowed us to dramatically and permanently reduce business, personal and consumption taxes during the early stages of the recession. As a consequence, these actions delayed the onset of the recession in this country until after virtually every other developed country in the world.
It also enabled us to undertake recovery measures on an extraordinary basis, in lock-step with all our fellow G20 economies, but without imposing a needless burden on future generations.
In fact, it has allowed us to produce one of the largest, most comprehensive and most effective stimulus packages in the world, while keeping our deficit and debt levels in Canada to a fraction of what they are elsewhere in the world.
Today, we are emerging from the global recession. Our domestic demand is strong, but our export markets remain uncertain and so we are recovering slowly though with, I believe, a growing sense of optimism.
It is true that our unemployment rate remains too high. That is why this will remain our highest priority. But, thankfully, unemployment in Canada remains well below the levels seen in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s and well below what we see in the United States and elsewhere. Canada's economy, unlike most, is already beginning to create some net new jobs.
Hon. members will need no reminder that excessive government economic intervention is not a Conservative inclination. But, at the same time, blind adherence to ideology in a crisis is no more advisable than unprincipled expediency in the pursuit of short-term advantage. What is best for our country now and in the future must always be our guide.
We are pushing ahead with the second and final year of Canada’s economic action plan.
Our plan, which continues into its second year, continues to cut taxes. Our plan puts Canadians to work to build infrastructure, the bridges, roads, harbours, colleges, laboratories, everything Canadians need to live, work, innovate, travel and conduct trade.
In fact, nearly 16,000 projects, many of which are being coordinated with the provinces, municipalities and private sector, have been funded to date by Canada’s economic action plan. And we will be reaping the benefits for decades to come.
The same way the historic investments in the Olympics created a generation later of a superlative world-leading Canadian performance, these extraordinary investments we have been making in infrastructure across this country in the past year will serve us well for this generation.
By the way, I should mention that 16,000 number does not include the tens of thousands of household infrastructure projects undertaken during the past year under the home renovation tax credit.
Our plan continues to pump money into the economy, it puts wages into the pockets of workers, and it supports our fellow citizens, whose long-term jobs had been lost through no fault of their own, to transition to new opportunities.
We are helping those communities hardest hit by the recession. We are supporting industries that need help to overcome temporary difficulties.
In total, our economic action plan is mobilizing a $62 billion shot in the arm to the Canadian economy. Our plan is working. Exports are up significantly, retail trade has bounced back, growth has returned at 5% in the last quarter, and more people are working. Action, well intended, well informed and well executed, has made a big difference.
Shall we, therefore, declare success and relax? Of course, it is far too early to do anything like that. Indeed, I believe the lesson from the crumbling banks and budgets elsewhere is that it is never a time that a government can afford to take its hands completely off the wheel of the economy no matter how smoothly we are riding.
Today as well there are, of course, still too many possible potholes in the road ahead, particularly in our export markets, and at the present time our economy is not where it needs to be.
Too many men and women who want to work are still without work. Their financial distress is clear, but not having a real job is dispiriting as well. We take satisfaction in doing things that are useful and that serve a purpose. Not only does unemployment leave us in economic distress, it undermines our self-esteem.
We owe these, our fellow citizens, our continued concentrated efforts to restore to them all the rewards of employment and labour. That is why we have presented a budget that focuses on jobs and growth, that extends most of the extraordinary measures from last year, and introduces a few new ones.
We are eliminating tariffs on production inputs, making Canada the first G20 country to become a tariff-free zone for its manufacturers.
We are introducing new measures to support Canada's strong and competitive financial sector, and to give businesses access to the financing they need to support the recovery and longer-term growth.
We are taking other measures for the forestry sector. Budget 2010 calls for new measures, including the next generation renewable power initiative. This is in addition to other initiatives totalling $1.7 billion in direct support for the forestry sector since 2006. Export Development Canada has also provided the forestry sector with $30 billion in financial services since 2008.
We are establishing a red tape reduction commission and pursuing comprehensive regulatory reform to build on our 20% reduction in the federal paper burden, and to make sure we free entrepreneurs from needless, duplicative and inefficient bureaucratic weight.
Throughout this Parliament, this House will have some important, and sometimes difficult, decisions to make. Politics is about debating ideas, but government is about making choices.
Her Excellency's Speech from the Throne and the Minister of Finance's budget last week alluded to some of the most significant among them. They spoke of the tension in Canada's national life today.
On the one hand, there is the present requirement for deficit financing and unusual levels of government intervention to maintain economic activity and confidence, of course in coordination with the G20 and others across the world.
On the other hand, there is the widespread understanding among Canadians of the need to return to balanced budgets when the recession is over to ensure funds are freed for the private sector to create the sustainable long-term jobs and growth that we will need.
I spoke of choices.
Increasing the tax burden? Cutting spending? Maintaining deficits? There is no doubt that these strategies have their supporters in this House.
But on this side of the House we have made our choices. We have concluded that an economy cannot be taxed into prosperity. On this side we have concluded that the deficit must begin to come down, modestly now but quickly by next year. On this side we have concluded that if we proceed in this manner, spending growth will have to be moderated immediately and priorities selected.
But if we do these things we will be able to avoid the absolute levels of reduction and the kinds of devastating cuts to core services like health care, pensions and education that will occur if we delay, as past governments did after previous recessions.
Those are the choices we have made and the reasons why we have made them.
We must ensure our recovery and build our future. The word “recovery” is being bandied about by economists, investors and analysts, each assigning it their own specific technical meaning. But recovery is not an abstraction. Recovery has a different, but very real meaning for many Canadians.
Recovery can mean the dignity and peace of mind of a good job, one that will be around tomorrow. For some, recovery means being able to look after aging parents. For others, it means the pride in achieving home ownership. But whatever it means, it should never be thought of as a forgone conclusion. It will not just happen.
Bad choices now, unaffordable long-term spending commitments, ill-advised tax hikes, dithering on deficits and difficult decisions will doom those countries that choose them to years of debt, stagnation and unemployment.
A country of 33 million people, that can win the most golds ever at an Olympic Games, does not deserve that. On our watch Canada will not get it.
This country, Canada, is going to emerge from this recession in the strongest position of any first-tier economy.
That is our purpose; that is our plan. Canada will once again get it done.
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ):
Madam Speaker, what was most remarkable about the Speech from the Throne put together by the Prime Minister was the absence of Quebec, as though Quebec did not even exist. This government, this House and Canada would all like to ignore the fact that there is a nation within this country—the Quebec nation—living under a Constitution that it has always rejected. That is the reality and everyone seems to ignore it, as though it will just go away. That is wishful thinking; the issue of Quebec will not just go away. Ignoring Quebec in the throne speech and the budget is just further proof of Canada's inability to respond to the least of Quebec's aspirations.
Consider this excerpt from the throne speech:
|| Building on the recognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, ...our government will take steps to strengthen further Canada's francophone identity.
It would be difficult to imagine a more empty, absurd statement than that, especially when the Supreme Court has just once again struck down a piece of legislation—Bill 104—that aims to protect French in Quebec. Was it because of hypocrisy, arrogance, contempt, or simply indifference? It was probably a combination of those things. For those who might think the Conservative government is to blame, I have some bad news. The Liberals are just as bad: it is as though Quebec does not even exist. No one party or individual is to blame; it is simply Canada.
Ever since the Meech Lake failure 20 years ago, Quebec and Canadian federalists keep saying there simply was no fertile ground, that the fruit was just not ripe enough to try to meet Quebec's constitutional aspirations. It is not a matter of the fruit not ripening; it is the tree that is rotten.
There has been no political will for the past 20 years and one things is certain: we will never see a constitutional package from Canada that meets Quebec's needs.
It is true for constitutional matters and it is true for Quebec's economic, social, environmental and financial needs. The Canada so clearly depicted in the Speech from the Throne represents not the status quo but a step backward for Quebec. All the hon. members in this House know that in Canada, there no longer is any will to reform Canadian federalism to respond to the aspirations of our people.
The federalist MPs can no longer promise change to Quebeckers. They have nothing left to propose other than a step backward for Quebec and its inexorable erosion within Canada. The federalist MPs from Quebec are intellectually bankrupt.
In 1990, I became the first sovereignist elected to the House of Commons. Twenty years later, after watching Canada evolve, I still come to the same conclusion, but with a greater sense of urgency and deeper conviction: Quebec is getting weaker with each passing day, making the need for sovereignty all the more pressing.
Those who believe that none of this affects the daily lives of Quebeckers are sadly mistaken. The effects are very concrete. The Speech from the Throne reiterates once again this government's desire to reduce Quebec's political weight within Canada. With the upcoming bill, Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons will be 21.9%, which is less than its demographic weight.
When Canada was formed in 1867, Quebec was absorbed into a union that reduced our nation to a minority. Quebec's political weight in that new union was nonetheless 36%. The Canada Quebeckers knew, where Quebec carried some weight, is disappearing.
That was made very clear in the budget that was brought down the day after the Speech from the Throne.
A single table, on page 259 of the budget, is sufficient to illustrate the extent to which Quebec's needs are ignored. This table indicates that Ontario's automotive sector received $9.7 billion whereas the forestry sector has to settle for $170 million. And Quebec's share will be much less than $100 million. When all is said and done, American automobile companies in Ontario will have received 100 times the amount of federal assistance given to all of Quebec's forestry industry. That is not just words, that is cold, hard cash. That is unjustified and inexcusable.
The Maritimes, Ontario and British Columbia will have received billions in compensation for harmonizing their sales taxes. Quebec, which was the first to do so 18 years ago, in 1992, will not be given a single cent. What disdain for simple fairness. We would like to hear elected Liberal or Conservative federalists start protesting and defending the interests of the Quebeckers who elected them. But they cannot because they are intellectually bankrupt.
Last year, this government cut $1 billion in equalization payments to Quebec, despite promising not to change the formula.
This Prime Minister, who had promised Quebec that he would eliminate the federal spending power, never kept his promise. The throne speech states: “[The government] will also continue to respect provincial jurisdiction—”
In this same speech, the government again made it clear that it wants to trample on Quebec's authority over securities. Just think, there are Quebeckers elected by the Conservative or the Liberal Party who accept this. As I was saying earlier, this is a step backwards, not the status quo, for Quebec's position in Canada.That is very real.
In Quebec, hundreds of villages are dependent on the forestry industry. The economy of entire regions is based on forestry. The people and families of Lac-Saint-Jean, for example, who pay their taxes to Ottawa, sent millions of dollars in subsidies to support the Ontario automotive industry. Why should they not now receive assistance given that they have been going through a crisis for a number of years? That is also fundamentally unfair.
The government decided to adjust employment insurance for workers in Ontario and Alberta, workers who had almost never needed EI before. With the help of the NDP, the government excluded all forestry workers and seasonal workers who had been forced to claim EI in the past. In other words, these workers from Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, Gaspésie, the Lower St. Lawrence region, the Côte-Nord, Mauricie and Abitibi, who have been experiencing a crisis for years, were abandoned. The MPs from Quebec who supported this should be ashamed. They should be worried.
The federalists should worry, because for 20 years, the only reasons they have been giving to Quebeckers to remain in Canada have been economic ones. But this budget has shown yet again that Canadian federalism does not benefit Quebec.
After 20 years here debating with members from all over, I am very familiar with Canada and its strategic interests. I know that a country's policy is always based on its own interests. The most important strategic interest for Canada is oil. Its future is the oil sands.
A Liberal environment minister once said that no Canadian environment minister, Liberal or Conservative, was in a position to oppose the interests of the oil companies, which were much too powerful. Obviously, the current government is particularly close to the oil interests, so close that we sometimes wonder whether we are looking at a government or the board of directors of an oil company.
But make no mistake; whether we have a Liberal government or a Conservative one, it is the same thing: we are dealing with the strategic interests of Canada.
The Liberal leader made a passionate plea in support of the oil sands industry. He repeated it again today. He said that for him, it was a matter of Canadian unity. In Quebec, it is the opposite.
I do not blame Canadians for wanting to develop their oil resources.
The Bloc Québécois has never asked that the government put an end to the oil sands development. What we have always asked is that Canada respect its international commitments, which it has always refused to do after the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. We simply want what is fair and just.
It so happens that Quebec's strategic interests are completely opposed to Canada's on this issue. Canada is looking more and more like an oil state and has the requisite policies of one. This makes it awfully difficult for Quebec to reduce its dependence on oil. We cannot afford that in Quebec. By cutting our dependence on oil in half by 2020, we would have an additional $15 billion to $25 billion to invest in our province every year.
That is huge and highly strategic for Quebec. However, caught as it is in Canada's oil web, Quebec is struggling to make any progress on reducing its dependence on oil. In Canada, Quebec is like a seagull covered in tar after an oil spill. That is what Canadian federalism offers to Quebeckers.
When we stop and think about it, we realize that not only does federalism not benefit Quebec, but worse, Canadian federalism is costing Quebec far too much.
I do not need to speak at length about the Quebec nation. Everyone here knows that since the symbolic recognition by the House of Commons of the Quebec nation, the Bloc Québécois has made a number of proposals to make that recognition concrete. We have introduced bills and made concrete proposals with respect to language, culture and citizenship. We have made offers to Canada without asking for the impossible. Absolutely none of our proposals required constitutional changes. None took anything away from the rest of Canada. But every last one of our proposals to give some substance to the recognition of the Quebec nation were rejected.
What does that show? It shows that the recognition by the House of Commons, by Canada, of the nation of Quebec, was in fact nothing more than an act of pure hypocrisy. The reality is that, when it matters, Canada does not recognize the nation of Quebec. For our people, this means that the status of the French language in Quebec will continue to be eroded.
I understand that the Prime Minister is happy about this, because, as president of the National Citizens Coalition, he financed a legal attack on Bill 101. I am talking about the current Prime Minister. But once again, it makes no difference whether the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party is in charge. In fact, the Liberal leader stayed away from a vote on a bill that would make Bill 101 apply to federal undertakings.
Canada has always refused to allow the Quebec nation to control language issues in Quebec, and this is not about to change. For the Quebec nation, this hypocritical recognition means that Quebec culture is going to remain subject to the whims of a country that knows nothing about it. Moreover, there was ample evidence of this in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and in the throne and budget speeches. This means that Canada is going to keep on imposing Trudeau's ideology of multiculturalism on Quebec, depriving the Quebec nation of the power to define the basis of its own society.
What is true for language, culture and citizenship is true for justice, research, education and many other areas. In the field of justice, the Quebec nation takes the opposite approach to Canada's on young offenders and gun control.
The petro-state has stopped supporting research on the effects of climate change, which clearly goes against Quebec's priorities. Canada has decided to ramp up military spending, but freeze transfers for post-secondary education. In short, the noose is tightening around Quebec in all areas.
This year will mark 20 years that I have been sitting here. After 20 years, with the experience I have today, I have bad news for my adversaries: I have the feeling that the best is yet to come for Quebec. And the best thing for Quebec and for Quebeckers is a country, the country of Quebec.
I am convinced of this because it is very obvious to me that Canadian federalism has nothing more to offer Quebec. It has always been very clear that, on the level of language, culture and national identity, sovereignty was very much in Quebec’s interest. It was easy, though, for Quebec federalists to hold out some prospect of reform of Canadian federalism that would meet Quebec’s desires.
Now, 20 years after the Meech Lake accord and the definitive rejection of Quebec’s minimal aspirations, the federalists have no credibility left when they dangle promises that cannot possibly be kept.
In any event, the Prime Minister and the Liberal leader have clearly indicated their refusal to yield anything at all to Quebec, adhering closely in this to the prevailing sentiment in Canada.
So nothing can be expected in that regard anymore. All that remained for the federalists was the economic argument that Quebec benefits financially from federalism. But even that does not hold water any more, because federalism is not financially beneficial for Quebec. Worse than that, Canadian federalism is actually ruinous for the Quebec economy.
As part of Canada, it is as if Quebec were enclosed within four walls that are closing in. Quebec is caught in a vise that grows tighter and tighter. The future of the Quebec nation lies elsewhere, in political liberty, and political liberty means sovereignty.
I know that Canadians understand sovereignty. So far as I know, no people has ever willingly given up its sovereignty, its political liberty, once obtained.
Once liberty has been tasted, we always want more of it.
What applies to the nation of Canada applies to the nation of Quebec as well.
In a sovereign country, Quebeckers will have 100% of the political power. Quebec will be a francophone country with its own citizenship and it will be the master of its own culture. Our taxes will serve to develop our own economy, based on clean energy. There will be nothing to prevent Quebec from radically reducing its dependence on oil.
Sovereignty is where Quebec’s future lies, sovereignty for Quebec, not against Canada. As good neighbours, we will be on friendly terms on the basis of real equality. Real equality means equality between one country and another.
Until then, the Bloc Québécois will remain faithful to what it is and will continue to defend Quebec’s interests in Ottawa in a responsible way. We do so in good faith, but without any illusions about the answer Canada will give to Quebec’s proposals.
I therefore move this amendment to an amendment, reflecting some of Quebec’s wishes:
|| I move, seconded by the hon. member for Joliette,
|| That the amendment be amended by adding the following after the word “prorogation”:
||“that aim to prevent the opposition from asking legitimate questions on major issues such as Canada’s unacceptable position at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, the fate of Afghan detainees and the ineffective measures in the government’s economic action plan to help Quebec's economy weather this crisis”.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House this morning, after two long months of being shut out. The doors were locked. While Canadians were being inspired by their Olympic heroes, they were being abandoned by their government.
Members of Parliament could not hold this government accountable for its actions, accountable to the quarter-million seniors who are living in poverty; accountable to the 1.5 million Canadians who are looking for jobs that do not exist; accountable to the 34 million people who deserve to know the truth about the accusations of torture and cover-ups; accountable to a whole new generation, a generation that is calling on us to combat climate change.
While we were shut out of this place, Parliament could not do its work. However, while the doors were locked, something positive did happen. Suddenly millions of Canadians were talking about their democracy. They were talking about taking back their democracy. One might say that the camel's back finally broke on this question.
After all, people have been shut out, not just from their Parliament, but from a quarter century of prosperity that has flowed only to the wealthy. They have been shut out from 15 budgets in a row that put big business first. They have been shut out from an economic recovery that somehow comes along without good jobs. They have been shut out from the old way of doing politics.
That sound that has been rising from those big grassroots rallies is people calling for something new, a new way of governing that invites people in instead of shutting them out.
It was a very long throne speech and a voluminous budget followed along after it. If we look hard we can find some positive moments, such as a commitment to Quebeckers on the language of work. There are some new commitments to skills training. But overwhelmingly, the government has answered the call for something new by serving up more of the same. That is the problem. There are more unconditional giveaways to big banks and oil companies, and there is no hope at all for the victims of the recession. That is not an approach the New Democrats can support.
The stories that Canadians tell really put it in pretty clear relief. I met one fellow who worked in an auto parts plant for 18 years. It closed down. He was earning a decent middle-class wage and had a health plan. He had to go into a job competition which it turns out was with his daughter for a part-time position at Tim Hortons. His daughter got the job. He was glad for her, but he did not know how he was going to pay the mortgage on the family home.
When his EI runs out this spring, his family could be headed for the welfare rolls. Of course, before he does that, he will have to cash in all his retirement savings. To qualify for social assistance the family will have to divest many of its assets that have been built up after all those years of working hard and playing by the rules. That family is going to risk falling into the poverty trap. His daughter, who dreams of becoming an engineer, may be working at Tim Hortons for an awfully long time to come because her dad has no money to put into any education fund that might give him a tax break. Meanwhile, tuition fees are rising rapidly out of reach for families like that one.
That is how the poverty trap works. There are 1.5 million jobless Canadians who know firsthand what that family is facing because they are facing the same kind of situation. Economists say that 800,000 of those people could exhaust their employment insurance this year and literally have nowhere to go.
Eight hundred thousand Canadians are looking for jobs that this government has been unable to create.
What hope does this throne speech offer? Instead of offering hope, the government is promising the same old thing, the same old thing with a weak economic recovery plan. This plan focuses more on photo ops for the ministers than on the creation of full-time jobs for Canadians. This plan allows for even more deregulation. This plan opens the door even wider to speculators, the ones who started this economic crisis we are still dealing with. This plan has even more gifts for the country's most profitable major companies.
What the throne speech offers is not hope. It offers barely a hope and a prayer that big business will somehow use its handouts to build the kind of country that we want, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The scale of the government's corporate giveaways is quite startling. Fifteen billion dollars each and every year, fully phased in is what the corporate tax rates for big corporations are going to cost us; $15 billion taken away from Canadians' real priorities, and for what?
Why? The Conservatives will say it is to increase our competiveness. After 10 years of consecutive tax cuts, corporate tax rates are much lower than those in the United States and other G8 countries. The Conservatives will say it is to stimulate the economy. After 10 years of tax breaks, we know that investing in infrastructure yields 10 times more in terms of economic stimulus and job creation. The Conservatives will say it is to improve innovation, that it is to improve productivity. Despite 10 years of tax breaks, large corporations are investing less in research, technology and equipment. The Conservatives will say it is to save jobs, even though 100 years of tax cuts will not help employers in the manufacturing or forestry sector, sectors in which businesses are not generating any taxable profits.
It is not economic sense that keeps these corporate handouts flowing; it is ideology. They are flowing into the bottom lines of Canada's most profitable corporations, an increasing percentage of which are foreign owned, like the oil companies mining the tar sands that the government wants to deregulate, like Canada's five biggest banks and their $15.9 billion of profits last year, built on the backs of families who are literally heaving under household debt averaging $96,000. And to whom are they paying interest most of the time? Those same banks, the same banks that doled out more than $8 billion in executive bonuses alone so soon after Canadians came to their assistance to backstop all of their interbank loans to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.
It is time for something new. Markets can create wealth and prosperity, but they cannot do it alone. Sometimes the government needs to get off the sidelines and be part of the solution. We cannot wait for the invisible hand of the market to solve things.
The NDP believes that productivity and an enterprising spirit are what drive our economy, and not almost non-existent tax rates. We believe we must fight for workers, their jobs and their communities. We believe we need to make this Parliament work for them.
I want to emphasize a few pragmatic measures that this government would have to take before the NDP could even begin to think about supporting it.
Earning our support starts with closing the doors on corporate giveaways, so let us shelve the next two planned corporate rate cuts, which would alone as a measure save $6 billion every year. That is $6 billion to invest in better priorities. It is time to make those better choices. What are those priorities?
First, let us get Canadians working again. Instead of renewing a failing stimulus, retool it with a razor-sharp focus on job creation, creating good full-time jobs. Instead of criticizing provincial red tape, let us share another cent of the gas tax with municipalities for green public transit.
For a government that is ready to foster enterprise and small business that does most of the job creation, there is no shortage of ideas to spark employment. As we develop those, instead of watching thousands fall out of the productive workforce, let us extend their employment insurance. That money would go right back into the local economy to create local jobs, support small business, put food on the table. Those are the choices we could support.
Second, let us build a greener economy for our future prosperity.
The throne speech resurrected the long-discredited idea that environmental assessments slow economic development. We do not have to choose between the economy and the planet. Instead, we can choose a new, sustainable economy, a productive economy based on solar, wind and hydraulic power, along with biomass. Canadian innovations can make us leaders in job creation in the renewable technology sector. We can get started today. We can extend the tax credit for home renovations with emphasis on making Canadians' homes more energy efficient. That will promote energy efficiency while stimulating the economy. It will support job creation. That is a choice the NDP can support.
Third, let us shore up Canada's retirement savings system and help those who built this country to live in dignity in their retirement. Its vulnerabilities were certainly laid bare by the recession. One just had to talk to any senior.
The throne speech did voice concern for workers hurt by bankruptcies, but why did we not see action on that issue in the budget? We need action to put workers first, not just words. So let us put workers' pensions first, as we have proposed, ahead of the banks when it comes to creditors.
Let us take action to strengthen public pensions too, like empowering families to save more through the very best tools available, the Canada and Quebec pension plans. Before we hand one more dollar to the banks, let us bring dignity and respect to the quarter of a million Canadian seniors who are living below the poverty line and lift them out of poverty in one step. We could do that with a $700 million investment through the guaranteed income supplement. That is one-twentieth of what the government would hand to corporations each year. That is a choice that I think Canadians would feel very good about making.
Fourth, let us build our social infrastructure. We can create jobs in child care and in aged care. We can build affordable housing and create opportunities for first nations, the Métis and Inuit. We can improve services that help the vulnerable, that make life more livable for the struggling middle class and that attracts business investments much more reliably than tax cuts do, which is why the throne speech's silence on health care is, frankly, deafening.
With our aging population, we have reached a tipping point. We need to fight for the health care system that we want, public, modern, accessible, and that means leadership on drug therapy, prevention, human resources and seniors care. Simply promising not to cut transfers on health care does not a health care policy make for the future of our country.
Lastly, let us keep the doors of democracy open. Rather than fill the Senate with party cronies, the government should put an end to all questionable and partisan appointments, whether to commissions, boards or Rights & Democracy.
Rather than complicating the access to information process, it is time for government to be more open and transparent to Canadians. That means coming clean about the harm done in the torture cases in Afghanistan, not defying the legal opinions that recommend making the information available. By refusing to release the information, the government is closing the door on democracy.
We also recommend taking steps to keep the doors of the House open by limiting a prime minister's power to prorogue Parliament.
This Parliament has been asked to overcome the old partisan battles. We would do well to honour that call each time we pass through these doors, but that does not mean giving the government the majority that Canadians refuse to. The government needs to compromise. The opposition must be constructive.
New Democrats are challenging the government to make better choices and we are advancing new ideas that will make this Parliament work for Canadians, such as our Nortel bill, a bill that would protect workers' pensions in bankruptcies; our employment insurance bill to make EI accessible to workers again; our language of work bill to respect the rights of Quebeckers; our climate change bill to build hope for a new generation; our early learning bill that would finally create child care spaces; and our affordable housing bill, because having a roof over one's head should be a right in this country. We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent and what we are here to do.
We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent. We must always keep people and families in mind because they are the reason we are here.
We hold firm to our conviction that together we can achieve a green and prosperous future and a better world, with doors wide open to all Canadians.
Hon. Lisa Raitt (Minister of Labour, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to share my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I am also very pleased to rise today to share my thoughts, as Minister of Labour, regarding the Speech from the Throne.
I will highlight how my portfolio, the labour program, will play a vital role in helping government deliver on the commitments it has made to Canadians in this important speech.
Canadians want leadership to address a changing world. Through this Speech from the Throne, our government is demonstrating our leadership in addressing Canada's recovery and sustaining our economic advantage now and in the future. The speech sets out an ambitious agenda focused on creating jobs, growing the economy and exercising fiscal discipline.
Over the past three months, in my riding of Halton, I hosted numerous round tables with community leaders, business owners and concerned citizens who gave important feedback on the next steps that this government must take to strengthen Canada's economy. As Minister of Labour, I am pleased to have the opportunity to highlight how my portfolio is called upon to help achieve a better Canada for us all.
The first area concerns returning Canada to fiscal balance. As noted in the Speech from the Throne, Canadians have learned to live within their means and expect their governments to do the same. Along with other departments, the labour program undertook an extensive strategic review to ensure that its programs and activities align well with the government's priorities and address the concerns of Canadians.
One of our government's key priorities is responsible spending and sound management of tax dollars. These tax dollars come from hard-working Canadians. Our government takes this responsibility seriously and feels that its sound stewardship of public funds is a solemn obligation that it has made to all Canadians.
To do this, we embraced three broad objectives: eliminate red tape and streamline service delivery; ensure that planned expenditures are better aligned with needs; and focus on the core mandate of government. With this in mind, the outcome will be a sharper, more focused government than ever, focused on delivering services that are valued by Canadian businesses and workers alike.
The second area of the Speech from the Throne that the labour program directly supports is building the jobs in industries of the future. Building the economy of tomorrow hinges upon creating good jobs and fostering growth. That is how this government will support the economic recovery under way and sustain Canada's economic advantage now and for the future.
Canadian businesses and workers are the driving force behind Canadian prosperity. Accordingly, our government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that Canada's labour force remains strong and healthy and that our businesses remain productive and competitive. This includes removing barriers or unnecessary regulatory burdens. That is why, in my portfolio, we are examining federal labour standards to ensure that they meet the needs of employers and workers for flexible and modern workplace practices.
Our government will introduce additional measures to ensure workers, especially youth entering the workforce for the first time, can effectively transition into the workplace as the economy recovers. We have consulted with stakeholders on part III of the Canada Labour Code, and we are examining options to ensure we create the best opportunities for Canadians in today's workplace.
The Speech from the Throne also indicates that our government intends to explore ways to better protect workers when their employers go bankrupt.
The labour program's wage earner protection program is an initiative of which we are very proud. This program provides timely compensation to eligible workers whose employers go bankrupt or who are subject to a receivership.
Since its implementation in 2008 and the expansion in the 2009 economic action plan, this program has been a tremendous success. For this fiscal year alone, 15,000 Canadians have benefited from the program. That represents approximately $33 million in compensation paid to these vulnerable workers, $33 million that goes directly to workers who are in need through no fault of their own. Our government is committed to helping those in need.
We will continue to ensure that those employees faced with a bankrupt employer are supported, and we will examine how we can better protect workers who are faced with these difficult circumstances.
Trade is another important component of Canada's economic future. We are a country that takes pride in the way we do business with our partners around the world. That is why, in parallel with free trade agreements, the labour program is at the table negotiating labour co-operation agreements.
The government has signified its intent to implement new labour co-operation agreements with Colombia, Jordan and with Panama. These efforts are complemented by ongoing negotiations on additional trade agreements with partners around the world, including the European Union, India, the Republic of Korea, the Caribbean community and other countries of the Americas. All of these will require parallel labour co-operation agreements.
We continue to believe in the importance of these agreements. They benefit Canada and its trade partners and they help level the playing field. They help Canadian businesses and workers prosper.
There is one more area of Speech from the Throne activity that the labour program directly supports. That is the commitment to making Canada the best place for families.
Responding to the needs of families includes ensuring that workplaces provide the flexibility that hard-working Canadians need to meet both their work and their family responsibilities. In addition to that, we want Canadians to have peace of mind in knowing that they can care fully for their family members in cases where one is victimized by crime.
Therefore, we will be seeking to put measures into place giving workers the right to unpaid leave in those circumstances. This will entail making amendments to part III of the Canada Labour Code with respect to workplaces in the federal domain.
I have outlined how our government, and specifically in my capacity as the Minister of Labour, will continue to play a vital role in helping to deliver on the commitments in the Speech from the Throne. I am very proud of the work that has been done to date by my portfolio. Together we are eager to embrace the challenges of delivering on these ambitious commitments for this new session of Parliament.
Hon. Jim Abbott (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne.
It is an honour to rise and discuss the speech particularly from the perspective of Canada's international cooperation. I was very interested to hear our Governor General read the various themes of the speech, especially the elements relevant to Canada's foreign aid and cooperation.
In a time of great need, Canada has been presented with a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of people in the world. I would like to pause for a few moments to praise both the people of Canada for the overwhelming support toward the people of Haiti but also make obvious mention of our Governor General for her role in representing hope and a new dawn for Haiti.
Our Governor General has exhibited deep human emotion and shown a robust mixture of personal and governmental reaction to these basic human needs. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people of Haiti, and of course also to Chile.
As was also stated so clearly in the speech, we are a country whose story is still being written. The story is not just here in Canada but it is across the world. Canada continues to build a solid reputation. We are working diligently ensuring that it is a brilliant story and it continues to show our sterling reputation.
Canada is a country of refuge. Over the last few months Canada has brought some much needed hope and inspiration to the people of Haiti. The reason for our quick action in Haiti is simple, as citizens of the world we recognize we are all in this together. When a catastrophe of this magnitude strikes, it is our moral obligation to assist and let those less fortunate know Canada cares, Canadians care.
For many years Canada has been a beacon across the world. Yesterday in this House our defence minister said:
||--within 20 hours, members of the Canadian Forces were on the ground in the wake of the earthquake, assessing needs and delivering help to Haiti.
|| Thanks to this government's purchase of the C-17 aircraft, load after load of equipment and disaster relief was brought to Haiti. Then over 4,000 Canadians were brought home. We built runways, cleared roads, rescued people trapped in buildings, produced over two million litres of water and delivered almost one and a half million meals. Canadian Forces medics treated over 22,000 patients, delivered babies and performed surgeries.
|| All Canadians can be proud of our military, our aid workers and our diplomats who responded so compassionately in Haiti.
As a result of the foresight and the action of our Conservative government now more than ever Canada is equipped to make remarkable contributions to all of humanity. Our government has increased our foreign aid budget at a rate of 8% every year, compounded annually since we assumed power.
For this coming year our budget specifies a further $364 million increase. Our international aid is going to reach $5 billion, the highest in Canadian history.
The Speech from the Throne also stated that we are a country and a government that stands up for what is right in the world. We do not pursue the easiest path. What we do is we do what is right. With respect to foreign aid, it is easy to throw some money at every possible project. Regrettably, I must say this was the history of the Liberal Party for 13 long years when it was in government.
However, under the Conservative government we took steps to make our aid more effective and more targeted. Instead of taking the bilateral programs funding and throwing it to the wind, allowing the funding to land wherever the wind blows, we have brought aid, we have brought focus to bilateral aid.
We initiated our 20 countries focus. These 20 regions were chosen by CIDA based on their deep need and our capacity to effectively address those needs. This will make Canada's foreign aid more focused, effective and accountable. Without a doubt, our foreign aid needs to be focused, effective and accountable. Our government has made some difficult decisions, but they were the right decisions.
We have further defined specific priorities: children and youth, food security and sustainable economic development. This is called focus. Canadians want a government that will step up and do the right thing. They do not want a government that just talks about it. They do not want a government that makes decisions based on the trend of the day. Our government has walked the walk and it has stepped up to our commitments.
We have doubled aid to Africa. We are doubling foreign aid. We are bringing our international aid envelope total to $5 billion. Moreover, we will maintain our foreign aid at that new high level.
I would say to the members across the way in the opposition, we have to remember, our story is still being written. If attempts are made to try to score cheap political points by muddying the water or by using misinformed statistics, then that will be written into Canada's reputation.
I look forward to the vote on the Speech from the Throne, which will indicate the cooperation and support in the House. We are accomplishing remarkable things, and we are planning to do much more. If the opposition rises in support of the government's agenda, then this will be Canada's time. This will be Canada's opportunity to turn to the world and show what we have to offer.
If we can put aside our differences and come together in this minority Parliament, allowing the entire nation to see the Parliament of Canada that is in support of the highest level of foreign aid in Canadian history, that is what we will be showing the world. The people of the world will see a Canada that led the relief efforts in Haiti, that is willing to keep on giving.
Last, but certainly not least, Canadians will see politicians of all stripes putting aside partisan games and misinformation, working together for the best interests of Canada.
I will be supporting the Speech from the Throne, and I invite the opposition members to recognize that the government is on the right track, especially with respect to our aid agenda.
Madam Speaker, I would like to digress for just a second and make a couple of personal comments. I have informed the Prime Minister that I will not be running again in the upcoming election. It is with great regret that I make that decision because I enjoy this place, I enjoy the people, and I think that we, as a democracy, are getting things done in spite of some of the things with which we end up fooling around, regrettably, from time to time.
Living in British Columbia and travelling back and forth across the country 26 times a year, you would know, Madam Speaker, coming from Victoria yourself, how much time we spend on an aircraft, which is time that we are not spending with our families.
I have had the privilege of going through six elections, winning a majority in all six elections, so I have had the continued support of the people of Kootenay—Columbia, all of whom I cherish greatly. I do cherish this job, but I cherish my family more.
After 17 years in this place at 68 years of age, I am told that I still have a degree of mental capacity to continue on. I know that I have a physical capacity to carry on, but I came to the conclusion that it was past time that I gave myself back to my family. It is with mixed emotions that I made that decision. This is in the public domain, but I did want to make a statement in the House to that effect and to thank the people of Kootenay—Columbia for their continued confidence that they have shown by their votes in the last six elections.
Mr. Michael Savage (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Speech from the Throne.
I want to acknowledge the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation who just spoke. In the time I have been a member of Parliament since 2004, he has been a distinguished and productive member of Parliament for his constituents. I wish him well as he moves along.
I am going to split my time with the very distinguished and capable hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl. In a second I am going to address a question she just asked, but first, I hope members will indulge me.
We are all very proud of the Olympics. First of all, in my province of Nova Scotia, we have two winter Olympians who are both from my riding. Members may have heard of one of them, Mr. Sidney Crosby, the world's greatest hockey player.
I would suggest that if anyone is looking for role models, we have some great young athletes from Nova Scotia, people like the young Brad Cuzner, who played last night for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who won in overtime against the Saint John Sea Dogs. Brad Cuzner stood up for his teammates.
It is guys like him who look up to someone like Sidney Crosby. People could not pick a better role model than Sidney Crosby. Last year he brought the Stanley Cup to Cole Harbour. Tens of thousands of people lined up to see him, and he took so much time with them.
I also want to mention our other Olympian from Dartmouth, Sarah Conrad, a freestyle snowboarder. The people in Dartmouth are so proud of Sarah. They have followed her progress. The night she competed, which I think was February 19, a crowd gathered at Dave Doolittle's pub in Dartmouth, people like Andrew Younger, the MLA for Dartmouth East; and Darren Fisher, the councillor and a big supporter of Sarah; and many of her friends.
Sarah did not win a medal that day, but she did exemplify the spirit of the Olympics. She blogged that night, and I am going to read a little of what she wrote. After competing in the Olympics and not doing as well as she had wanted, she wrote:
|| It just wasn't my night, sorry folks. I wasn't quite comfortable in practice and it showed in my runs. Luckily I squeaked through to semis, but fell both runs so no finals for me. I'm disappointed in my riding, but overall we had great night.
She went on to write:
|| It didn't really matter to me who made it through, I was just relieved that the amazing crowd had a Canadian to cheer for in the finals.
|| The support from across the country has been amazing, it means so much. I hope you enjoyed the show, I know I did.
I can say on behalf of the people of Dartmouth and Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, and across the country, that Sarah did great and we are all very proud of her. She came first last year at the Canadian nationals in Mont-Tremblant.
Now I want to talk a little bit about the Speech from the Throne in the time I have left. I want to talk about a few things that in my view were missing from the Speech from the Throne.
The hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl has mentioned the issue of poverty. This is an issue that matters deeply to many Canadians. We in Canada are coming out of a very difficult time. We have been in a recession. Perhaps the biggest problem and one of the great paradoxes of coming out of this recession is that the stimulus program the government put forward did not, by and large, benefit people who needed help the most. The real problem is that the cuts being made to pay for the stimulus program may target the people who need help the most. I think that is a real problem.
The human resources committee of the House of Commons is undertaking a poverty study now. It had been under the distinguished chairmanship of the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, and is now being chaired by the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar. I am sure she will be a fine chair.
The committee has looked at the issue of poverty for some time now, for close to two years. We have a housing crisis in Canada. It is not solved by a little burst of money coming from infrastructure; it needs a long-term, sustained national housing policy. We have not seen that yet.
There is child poverty in Canada. As I am sure members would know that last year, on the 20th anniversary of the pledge of parliamentarians to eliminate child poverty by 2000, Campaign 2000 put out some information that should be a real wake-up call and challenge to Canadians that we need to do something about child poverty and poverty in general.
Yes, we have made strides, and some areas have improved. The guaranteed income supplement, the OAS, and the previous Liberal government's successful focus on and success in ensuring the Canada pension plan have done a lot to reduce seniors' poverty, but there is still seniors' poverty that is really very problematic.
Single people in poverty, particularly women, is a huge issue. We should be putting more into the guaranteed income supplement. We should be doing more to secure pensions. We need to focus on health care, palliative care, home care, and all those things that would help with seniors' poverty. Moreover, children's poverty is still a huge problem for a country as wealthy as Canada. We need to do more.
As a country, we need to embrace an anti-poverty strategy. Six provinces have now committed to an anti-poverty strategy, with varying degrees of robustness. In my province of Nova Scotia, the strategy is not very strong, but I am hoping it will become stronger. The provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba all have a strategy. However, they all say the same thing: they need the feds to step up.
The issue of child care continues to be one on which Canada does embarrassingly poorly. Just over a year ago, the United Nations published a report on the OECD nations that measured how different countries fared on 10 different benchmarks of early childhood services. Those included subsidies for regulated child care services and subsidies for accredited early education services and the training of child care staff. In that survey, Canada came last out of 25 nations.
As one would expect, we were well behind the Scandinavian countries who have invested in early learning and child care in a variety of ways. However, we were also behind Hungary, Slovenia, the U.K., the U.S., Korea, Portugal and many other countries. For a country of Canada's relative wealth and one that I would suggest is going be more dependent than ever on educating our children, we have been a very fortunate nation.
We have been very wealthy. We are a large country with a population strewn largely across our southern border. We are a country that is rich in natural resources. We have not had world wars fought on our land. We do not have the kinds of natural disasters that some other countries do, as seen recently in Haiti and Chile. We have done well, in some cases more by accident than design.
However, we are now facing competition. Countries that used to send their students to us are now educating their own children. Countries that did not invest in innovation and research or child care are doing better than we are. That is a real danger to this country, because the most important resources we have are not the natural resources of our land, but the resources in our classrooms. It is the kids, and it is the adults who need help with literacy.
Our literacy rates in Canada are not good at all. We have some nine million adult Canadians who do not have the literacy skills they need. Four out of ten adult Canadians, representing nine million Canadians, struggle with low literacy. They fall below level three on the literacy scale. These figures are from ABC Canada. We need to invest in literacy for adults who do not have the skills they need to upgrade their own jobs.
A gentleman came to see me a while back. We all meet with people in our constituencies whose stories quite often touch us. This man came to see me and told me that he had worked really hard to get where he was. He did not have a great job, but he could raise his children. He now had an opportunity to improve himself and apply for another job. The problem was that he had to do a test. He could not pass the test and he was worried that he would lose the job he had.
It is people like that, Canadians who want to make themselves better and stronger and more able to provide for their families, who are the kind of people the Government of Canada should be working with. Yet when the government was elected, we saw cuts to our literacy programs. That just does not make any sense. That is not in keeping with a country that is looking forward and saying that it wants to invest in its people. If we are going to invest in our people, it means investing in early learning and child care.
I would suggest as a parent, and I think everybody in the House knows, that children do not start learning at the age of six. Children start learning as soon as they are born, and perhaps even before that. They start learning right away and those first years are really important. Yet there are people across the country who do not have access to child care. The universal child care benefit is not enough; it does not pay for early learning and child care and it does not produce child care spaces.
I would suggest that if any one of us heard of a child in second grade who could not find a public school to go to, who was turned away from a public school and told there were no spaces, there would be an outcry. Any one of us would be offended by that, yet every day in every part of this country kids under the age of six are turned away or put on long waiting lists and do not get the early learning and child care they need.
If we are going to invest in our children, we have to invest in early learning and child care. It is so important. That does not diminish the role of parents in any way, shape or form. I think all of us would say that the best teachers of our children are ourselves, our wives and perhaps a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. However, many people simply do not have that. We are saying to them that there is nothing for them. In many parts of this country, there are no spaces and if there are spaces, people cannot afford them. We have to do better if we are going to make a serious difference.
I will quote part of the Speech from the Throne that I thought was interesting. It spoke about Canadian families balancing work and family life and said:
||our Government introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit....
It went on to say:
|| Our government will strengthen this benefit for sole-support, single-parent families.
I thought last week when I saw that in the Speech from the Throne that the UCCB was not the right way to look at child care in the country. However, no one thinks there are no parents who need the money, so I thought, okay, maybe the government is going to look at the universal child care benefit and strengthen it, and maybe go to $200, $300, $400, or $500 a month for those parents who actually need help the most. The very next day in the budget the government talked about changing the taxation part of the UCCB. I want to read what it said:
|| It is estimated that this change will reduce federal revenues by a small amount in 2009-10, $5 million in 2010-11 and $5 million in 2011-12.
Hence, $5 million dollars is the total contribution and the maximum anybody can get is $168 a year. That is hardly anything. We just have $5 million for single parent families versus $100 million for the government's advertising expenses for its economic action plan. There are many other things that we could juxtapose with that $5 million. By any measure, $5 million is a very small amount, particularly when one looks at the need across this country. We need to address those issues.
I also want to speak to international development. Canada has made commitments in international development. I would personally like to see us get to 0.7%, which has been the target that some countries have achieved for international development assistance. In the last number of years, we have seen the government change the way that international development is done. It has pretty much completely moved away from the continent of Africa, where many people need help the most. In this budget it is proposing a freeze on international development.
It is no surprise that when people were asked about that, their response was that it was a real shame, that it is a real problem for the people who need our help the most. Our aid should not be tied directly and only to trade; our aid should be tied to poverty.
In 2007-08, we had Bill C-293 proposed by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood. The purpose of that bill was to make poverty the focus of our international aid. It seems very self-evident and obvious. The bill was passed, I believe by all parties, in this House, and yet we have seen no indication that it is the focus the government is adopting for its international aid.
Like other members of this House, I have had the opportunity to travel internationally. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya with Results Canada, and we saw amazing poverty. This does not diminish the fact we have poverty in Canada in our own communities, and certainly on reserves among our aboriginal populations, and both need to be attacked.
When somebody says to me to think globally and act locally, we can do both. We can make the world better here and around the world.
Ms. Siobhan Coady (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise today to address the Speech from the Throne.
The Prime Minister closed Parliament for months as he said he needed to recalibrate. Having read the Speech from the Throne, the government clearly needed more time. Canadians had a right to be disappointed about its lack of direction, the lack of understanding, the lack of a vision in the speech. Seriously, I was very disappointed. But then again, perhaps the Conservative government really needed to calibrate instead of begin the recalibration process. That would mean it would have to plan carefully to have precise use or appeal.
The Speech from the Throne was long on words and short on substance. It was more of the same at a time when the country is looking for a vision. Canadians were captivated by pride during the Olympics at our success. As Canadians, we stood cheering on our athletes, basking in their triumphs. We yearn for a better Canada. We yearn for a stronger Canada, yet the Speech from the Throne did not deliver. As a country we now face the letdown of a lost opportunity.
In a speech that uses the word “continue” 26 times, we were left with more of the same having just come through one of the worst economic downturns in our history. The Speech from the Throne lacks vision and ambition when it comes to dealing with the issues facing the people of our country. It is hard to see how it would make Canada more competitive, more prosperous or better prepared to create the jobs that we need in the future or to protect the pensions that we need for our aging population.
What I did see in the speech disappointed me. Jobs and growth were spoken of on page two of the speech, yet the Conservatives are planning a payroll tax hike which, according to the CFIB, will kill more than 200,000 jobs.
On page five it speaks of balancing the books and freezing departmental operating budgets, yet the amount of money budgeted this year over last year for the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers support and advice is increasing almost $14 million.
It speaks of restoring fiscal balance by eliminating unnecessary appointments to federal boards and crown corporations, yet of the 245 announced cuts, 90% were positions that had not been filled in quite some time. Now how is this helping to restore fiscal balance?
It speaks of aggressively reviewing all departmental spending to ensure valuable and tangible results, yet instead of the value that we should be looking for, the government has cut along ideological lines. At the same time there is record spending on advertising and on consultants.
One of the cuts the government is making is to faith-based groups such as KAIROS that do international development work. KAIROS is a church-based non-governmental organization that represents seven of Canada's largest church denominations. It works on a range of social justice issues, including human rights in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. This organization has received funding from CIDA for the past 35 years and embodies the core Canadian values that we are proud of. It works on poverty reduction, human rights and environmental sustainability. It has done educational and advocacy work in Canada to help citizens become more aware of how they can support Canada's international development efforts.
I have met with people from the St. John's and area council of churches and they are very concerned about these cuts and how they will negatively impact the work being done on social justice issues. I have asked questions on this issue in the House and I intend to do whatever work I can do to make sure that this funding is restored. I do not see this as something that does not have value. When Conservatives cancel overseas developmental assistance to groups like KAIROS and freeze all governmental operating budgets across the board, and at the same time waste money on partisan advertising and hiring more consultants, how is this good fiscal prudence stewardship?
Another concern is that the Speech from the Throne barely addresses seniors and pensions. I held a town hall meeting recently in my riding on seniors and pensions. Approximately 100 individuals and representatives of various organizations attended the meeting and gave their views on a variety of issues. The need for a national summit on pensions was raised. Concerns over the need for adequate increases in old age security and the Canada pension plan were discussed. Immediate necessary changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act were raised.
What did the Speech from the Throne say? It said that the government will establish a seniors' day and continue to work on options to further strengthen the retirement income system. It is simply not adequate.
In another round table I held in my riding on health care, groups and individuals spoke of the changes they would like to see. They spoke of things like a national pharmacare program, the need for home care supports, funding for supports around health care, national standards and accountability, public health, access to doctors. They spoke of how we are going to pay for all the things that we need out of a health care system with an aging demographic and where are the efficiencies that can be found. They do think they can be found in the system.
The Speech from the Throne did not adequately speak to health care. It only said that it would not cut transfers. There is no need to close Parliament for two months to think of that.
Bold action is also needed on poverty reduction in this country. While we live in a rich country, there are many who do not participate and cannot participate in its wealth. In my riding I have met with the Religious Social Action Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, a non-partisan group from a broad array of religions, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others, united in their religious commitment to call on society to eliminate poverty at home and abroad.
The coalition has held a number of public forums in Newfoundland and Labrador, and met with political leaders including our leader, Michael Ignatieff. I apologize for using a name, Madam Speaker.
In the last federal and provincial elections, they called on a candidate to make a pledge to move our society toward greater economic fairness. They point to a growing gap between the richest and poorest in society. What does the Speech from the Throne say about poverty? Absolutely nothing.
I could go on and on about the inadequacies of the Speech from the Throne. Very little is said on the environment. The Northeast Avalon Atlantic Coastal Action Program is a group in my riding that represents community stakeholders on this very important issue. That group is looking to have its funding renewed by Environment Canada. It has been ongoing for a number of years.
That group does advanced projects in an open and transparent form. Unless there is a renewal in Environment Canada's Atlantic priority ecosystem initiative, it will not be able to continue. NAACAP has been very active in the community, raising awareness and changing the views on environmental matters. It has played an important role, for example, in creating awareness about the importance of environmental issues and about the need to clean up St. John's harbour and the challenges facing coastal areas.
I have written to the minister and I hope that the group's funding will be renewed. There is no direction in this Speech from the Throne that really speaks to this kind of mechanism.
In the Speech from the Throne, the government has not taken the bold actions needed to address poverty. There is no action to address the concerns of the environment. There has been little done to assist small business owners. The government has not dealt decisively with the issues facing veterans. When it comes to dealing with health care issues, the throne speech is sorely lacking. There is little in the throne speech about seniors and about pensions. Post-secondary education is all but ignored. Even the national housing strategy is not spoken of.
It is clear this Speech from the Throne lacks vision and ambition when it comes to dealing with the issues facing people in this country.
It is not an own the podium kind of Speech from the Throne. We really need to focus on being a responsible and caring kind of future-oriented government.
Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.
I rise today in the House to speak in support of the Speech from the Throne and to speak to the positive and lasting impact it will have on all Canadians.
This government has been clear. Our priorities are creating jobs, growing the economy and reducing the deficit when our recovery from the global recession is apparent. The Speech from the Throne shows that we know where we are going and we have a plan to get there.
Last year at this time, Canadians were faced with uncertainty. Businesses were struggling to make a profit, layoffs were increasing, investments were strained and credit was more difficult to get.
We spoke with our constituents, consulted the experts, rolled up our sleeves and went to work on our economic action plan, a plan that would include, among other things, a $62 billion shot in the arm for the economy to get our country back to work and protect those hardest hit by the downturn.
The mayors, reeves and councillors throughout my riding have continued to express their gratitude for our government's investment in many of their infrastructure projects. They have told me that we were right on the mark with our economic action plan.
The stimulus measures of our plan have made an enormous difference in their communities, communities such as: the village of Clearwater in my riding, where an infrastructure stimulus fund award is helping to build a new water treatment centre to supply clean water to residents who, ironically, have been living on a boil water advisory for the past several years; and in the village of Notre-Dame which received a RInC award to provide a new concrete surface and artificial ice plant system, ensuring that the local arena continues to be the heart of the community and to be a gathering place for children and for families.
I am very proud to serve the region of Portage--Lisgar. I am very proud of my constituents' determination and will and what communities have been accomplishing with our assistance project by project.
It is my firm belief that as this government continues with determination and commitment to return to balanced budgets, to cut spending and to promote a more innovative and competitive economy, this nation will come into a period of prosperity and growth that will make us the envy of our international neighbours. That is why I support this government's strategy outlined in the Speech from the Throne.
At the same time, the Speech from the Throne acknowledges and invites all Canadians to take their rightful place.
This plan respects women, their diverse viewpoints and their right to express them. Today, women in Canada are some of the most successful in the world. Canadian women are business owners, farmers, students, professionals, stay at home moms, teachers and leaders in every sector. They are diverse in interest and occupation, in background and belief, and they care about the economy, the deficit and the ability of Canada to compete on the world stage.
Canadian women do not see themselves as victims who need to be taken care of by government. They see themselves as strong and capable and with greater capacity to prosper and to succeed than ever before. These are the women of Canada and I am very proud to be one of them and to have a government that respects us.
I recently invited the chambers of commerce from my riding to consult with their members and then to meet with me and let me know the challenges that they are facing and what they thought was the right path toward a speedy economic recovery. I received a very clear and consistent message: the economy is certainly the top priority. While we are starting to see signs of a recovery in Canada's economy, it is still fragile. My community leaders and chambers of commerce encouraged us. They said that it was time to cut back but with caution.
Our government feels the same way. So many businesses right now are experiencing cutbacks and many Canadians are earning less than they did prior to the global economic recession. That is why this government is looking first in its own backyard to improve efficiency, to lower costs and reduce the size of government and the public service. We are leading by example, comprehensively reviewing government administrative functions and looking for ways to reduce overhead and cut costs.
Especially important in my riding and outlined in the Speech from the Throne is the government's new direction to eliminate tariffs. By eliminating tariffs on inputs and machinery, we are fundamentally improving Canadians businesses. We are allowing Canadian industry to lower production costs and invest in the equipment it needs. We are enabling Canadian businesses to reduce administration and customs cost, which will attract investors, create jobs and result in lower consumer prices. We are sending out a very clear message that Canada is an investment and trade friendly country and we are open for business.
I was also pleased to hear in the Speech from the Throne that we are continuing to work with international neighbours to open new doors between our countries and provide a gateway to the broader markets in place, like the Middle East, Europe, Asia and North Africa. This is helping create duty-free access to markets for Canadian exporters, like livestock producers, a sector that has been so hard hit by market challenges and the global economic downturn. Farmers can know that our government is working hard around the world for Canadian farm families so that they can sell more products to more customers.
I believe crime continues to be a serious issue for Canadians and it demands the full attention of citizens and legislators. Canadians deserve to live in safe communities. The government is unwavering in our pledge to champion public safety issues in order to make Canadians safer in their homes, in their communities and on their streets. We are continuing to target crime through new measures like strengthening the national DNA data bank, cracking down on white collar crime and taking further action to investigate the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women, including some in my own riding of Portage—Lisgar.
My private member's Bill C-391 to repeal the long gun registry is consistent with our government's approach to public safety and focusing resources where they can yield the most and the best results. I will continue to work hard to get the message out and to see my bill pass to end the long gun registry, which has been ineffective, irresponsible, expensive and wasteful, and it needs to end.
I also applaud the government for its decision to coordinate a new national strategy on childhood injury prevention. We work in partnership with non-government organizations, like the Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities located in my riding, and where people, like Jill Stafford and Neil Enns, work to make farms safer and provide support when injury occurs. That organization recently produced a new interactive farm safety DVD to help parents teach their children how to be safe on the farm. This government shares its concern in keeping Canadian children safe, and I commend that group for the excellent work it is doing in our region.
Our message is clear. The government will continue to help families and stand up for families. We will continue to stand up for taxpayers and for communities. We will continue to work hard for small businesses. We will continue to help the unemployed and those who need a job. We will keep focused on the future and where we want to be.
I encourage all members of the House to support the upcoming vote on the Speech from the Throne. Together this plan will help us build a stronger and a more united Canada.
Mr. John Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the Speech from the Throne, which reiterates our government's priorities for the future. My comments will focus on our country's role as a leader on the world stage.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier commented that “Canada has been modest in its history, although its history is heroic in many ways”. Canada continues to have a history that is heroic in many ways. Our involvement abroad in the 20th century led us to discover many of these skills and talents.
As Governor General Michaëlle Jean laid out last week in her address to us, Canada continues to be involved abroad, sharing our nation's gifts with the world. The gifts to which I will refer today are our economic leadership, our foreign aid and our defence of democratic rights, each of which has earned us a spotlight on the international stage.
I represent a west coast riding that welcomed the world recently for the Olympic Games. I am looking forward to attending the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games tomorrow. Like the Olympics, I am honoured that most of the Paralympic Games will take place in the riding I represent. Truly, the games and other events of the past few years suggest that this is the beginning of Canada's century in a greater way than Laurier could have ever known.
Canada's fiscal health is the envy of the world. The Minister of Finance delivered a budget last week that will help to ensure that Canada's financial initiatives are models to which other countries look for guidance. This government is wrapping up its timely, targeted and temporary economic stimulus package, while moving directly toward spending restraint. This combination will continue to keep Canada in the forefront as a model for the world.
The throne speech referred to our Conservative government's rolling out of year two of the economic action plan. Our Minister of Finance has, by virtue of the plan, been recognized as the world's leading minister in that portfolio and all of this at such a difficult time in the world's economic history.
The economic stimulus part of the plan resulted in 16,000 projects across Canada, with positive effects in every corner of the riding that I represent and in the ridings represented by my colleagues in the House. Over $205 million has come to the riding that I represent since 2009, money which has in many cases been matched, once by provincial funds and again by municipal funding.
Projects include small craft harbour funding in Powell River and the Sunshine Coast, highway improvements in Sechelt, recreational infrastructure and sewer upgrades in West Vancouver and Bowen Island, pulp and paper mill expansions in Gibsons and Powell River, the replacement of the old blue bridge and highway upgrades for West Vancouver and North Vancouver, sewer system improvements for Lions Bay and, in Squamish, investments in a brand new heritage railway park and convention centre. In addition to Whistler's legacy of sports facilities, the resort municipality received a fleet of cutting-edge hydrogen buses.
These are only a few examples from my riding that evidence the stimulus package, a big part of Canada's economic success on the international stage.
Most of these projects would not have materialized without close co-operation among various levels of government. I enjoyed working with my provincial counterparts, mayors, first nations leaders, regional district leaders and councillors. This great co-operation among different levels of government is another distinct factor in Canada's leading the industrialized world out of the recession.
The Olympics and Paralympics showed our country that we could succeed in sport when we follow a plan. The Speech from the Throne showed the world our plan, the plan by which our country will continue to win gold in economic performance.
I would like to highlight five economic legacies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, legacies that were referred to in the throne speech. For each of the five Olympic rings, we can identify an economic legacy that will provide lasting benefits for our country.
First, due to the games, the Olympics brought Canada a wealth of opportunities for Canada to sell our goods and services. The internationally renowned consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipates significant growth in the Canadian economy due to the games, especially in B.C. While we are still awaiting the final numbers, the consultants concluded that, due to the games, British Columbia's GDP had increased by almost $1 billion and 10,500 jobs had been created in B.C. alone by the end of 2008.
Second, we heard of investment benefits. With a record TV audience, these games made it possible for more people than ever to hear about reasons to invest in Canada. We have the world's number one banking system and soon we will have the lowest corporate tax rates in the G7. We Canadians are proud that our debt-to-GDP ratio of only 31% is lower than either the U.S. at 67% or the U.K. at 75%. Through freezing salaries for the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, our government is leading by example for Canadians and people around the world, ensuring that we once again move toward a balanced budget.
Meanwhile, our investment climate has attracted Tim Hortons and others to choose Canada as its headquarters.
Third, the Olympics brought Canada tourism benefits. People who came for the games decided to come back. On March 1, the Vancouver Sun noted, concerning the U.S. alone, that:
||—174 million Americans watched the Vancouver Games on NBC through the first 12 days, 24 per cent more than the entire last season of American Idol, while average viewership of 25.2 million was 20 per cent higher than the 2006 Winter Games.
Our tourism industry enjoyed the best advertising imaginable. This builds on the Prime Minister's great breakthrough in China last December when we achieved approved destination status for Canada, a status our government had sought for 12 years. The new status was a breakthrough, celebrated by people throughout my riding and around the country.
Fourth, we heard of foreign students, people who contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to our economy, while enriching our cultural and intellectual lives. We know that in 2008, students from South Korea alone spent over $750 million on goods and services in Canada. The tremendous showing of the Olympics and Paralympics will only bolster the number of students who come here from abroad.
Fifth, the games inspired Canadians to live healthier lives. Through healthier living, we will decrease ballooning health care costs, a double benefit for our country. Health and fitness benefits will also be promoted by my private member's bill, Bill C-475, tackling crystal meth and ecstasy drugs.
Canadians are proud of our reputation for helping other people around the world in their time of need. Let me therefore move from Canada's economic leadership to its role in providing aid to the neediest people around the world. With continued fiscal health, we will be able to ensure the success of its overseas commitments, and our government will, as mentioned in the throne speech, fulfill the promise that the previous government made in 2001 to double aid spending by 2010.
In terms of foreign aid, our Canadian Forces have demonstrated their capacity as agents of hope. Buoyed by their experiences through years of peacekeeping, and assisted by equipment furnished by this Conservative government, our forces were on the ground in Haiti within 20 hours of the devastating earthquake.
Our Prime Minister has visited Haiti twice since that earthquake, and Governor General Jean was there just yesterday. The Canadian public has, in a short period, contributed $130 million in donations, which our government matched. Canadians can be proud of our nation's response to this crisis.
I have discussed two important gifts that Canada is providing the world, its economic leadership and foreign aid, made possible by its resilient economy. The throne speech reflected in different ways upon a third gift, which rivals the first two in importance, and that is our robust democracy. Canada has always been a leader in promoting democracy at home and on the international stage.
As the Governor General outlined in the throne speech, our government has committed to increasing the number of seats in the chamber, particularly for underrepresented western Canada and Ontario. On the world stage, countries such as Iran have grown to expect a strong response from Canada when they deny their citizens basic human rights.
Canada's hosting of the G8 and G20 summits this coming summer will further highlight the Canadian democratic advantage. Our government has capitalized on our strong position and has invested time and effort in several free trade agreements. We will hear more about them in the upcoming session.
To sum up, this is indeed Canada's century. The Speech from the Throne offers an outline on how Canada will play an increasing role on the world stage, with strong economic leadership, effective foreign aid and an ongoing commitment to democratic rights. Through the commitments outlined in the speech, we are ensuring that in this Olympic year Canadians continue to compete and win gold on the world stage.
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I will start by saying that I will share my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.
I am particularly happy to speak today to criticize the throne speech, and I will try to use my 10 minutes to do so. It is clear that this throne speech has virtually no environmental commitments, but, quite the opposite, that it is setting us back considerably in a number of areas, which I will try to talk about today.
First, members should know that this government's plan is to multiply Canadian oil and gas projects while eliminating the environmental safety net that should be an essential part of a sustainable development strategy.
Let us take this example from page 21 of the throne speech, where the government said, “[the government] has pursued a balanced approach to emissions reduction—”.
But at the same time, it is saying that it plans:
||—to support responsible development of Canada’s energy and mineral resources, our Government will untangle the daunting maze of regulations that needlessly complicates project approvals, replacing it with simpler, clearer processes that offer improved environmental protection and greater certainty to industry.
What does that really mean? It became clear the following day, when the budget was presented. The government announced that oil projects, among other things, would no longer be assessed by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, but would be assessed by Canada's National Energy Board, which will have ramifications on the Department of Natural Resources and financial ramifications on the government. There is every indication that the government is preparing for some rapid, major development of oil and energy resources in the west, at the expense of an environmental safety net.
If the government plans on forgetting about this environmental protection, it must understand that it will have to deal with opposition from the Bloc Québécois. Quebec created the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. We believe that projects should be done in consultation with communities. We believe that projects should be assessed in accordance with certain environmental regulations. There is no question of weakening environmental regulations or assessments.
Second, the government is singing its own praises in the throne speech. It says it will “continue to take steps to fight climate change by leading the world in clean electricity generation”. That is a bare-faced lie. Not only has the government the gall to step out before the world and renege on its 1997 commitments with respect to the Kyoto accord, but it holds out to the world a throne speech that dares to call Canada a world leader in clean energy. That is totally unacceptable.
The government, on the contrary, intends to increase the production of oil from the tar sands, and, to do so, it will invest in nuclear energy. It announced $300 million in its budget for the development of nuclear power. We are not talking about $300 million to develop medical isotopes. It is for developing more energy in order to produce more oil from the tar sands. This does not come from us.
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited—AECL—has signed an agreement with Energy Alberta Corporation to develop ways to use Candu reactors to provide the steam needed to extract the oil from the tar sands and thus produce more. This is from AECL's website. So the opposition is not talking gibberish. Quite the contrary. The government's economic policy and strategy are focused in essence on the interests of the west, to the detriment of Quebec.
Third, this government tells us that it intends to protect the environment. And yet, what did we see in the budget? We saw a government that has refused to renew funding for research on climate. We must remember that, some 10 years ago, the federal government created the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which funded research centres at the University of Sherbrooke, in the riding of my colleague from Sherbrooke, and at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Should the government not know it, it is called the ESCER centre. Essentially, the foundation's budget funded young researchers working in the fight against climate change and developing a climate model so as to be better able to reach our greenhouse gas reduction objectives.
What did the government do? It decided to cut the project and not renew it. Why? Does it surprise us? No. The member for Beauce had said three weeks earlier in an open letter that he did not believe in climate change or in any scientific basis linking increased greenhouse gas emissions with human activity.
The member for Beauce thus paved the way for the government's announcement in its throne speech and budget statement as well. The effect of this will be very serious, because, at international conferences on climate change, Canada will be unable to present national reports making it possible to evaluate the impact of climate change on the various regions of Canada. This is tantamount to denying the existence of climate change.
If a government refuses to give researchers the means to develop scientific proof of the existence of climate change, we have to assume that it does not believe in climate change.
It is not surprising, because we heard the Prime Minister say at the Copenhagen conference that, basically, he did not believe in the Kyoto accord, that he did not believe 1990 should be the reference year, when developing countries, Europe and all those supporting the Kyoto accord believed that 1990 should be used as the reference year.
Our Prime Minister went to Copenhagen and refused, before the international community, to set out Canada's positions. Why? Because this government has always denied the existence of climate change. Since 1997, it has made economic choices favouring the west, its interests, its electoral base and the development of the oil industry in Canada. All that, when Quebec made a totally different choice. Since 1997, Quebec has opted for the Kyoto accord and renewable energy.
Once again, the throne speech and the budget show that Canada has two faces, but only one vision focused on the west.