House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

National Defence
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The Chair has notice for two applications for emergency debates that I will now deal with. The first is from the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam. She will now wish to address the House.

National Defence
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, in accordance with Standing Order 52, I seek leave to adjourn the House to discuss the agreement signed during dissolution by the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Afghan military. I have reviewed this document and strongly believe it raises very serious concerns about the issue of transference of detainees and Canadian compliance with Geneva conventions.

Your predecessors have granted emergency debates during consideration of the Speech from the Throne. You may well remember Speaker Fraser granting an emergency debate to discuss the Exxon Valdez oil spill on April 4, 1989. He cited the caution by Speaker Lamoureux, from February 18, 1972, that for a matter to be considered for an emergency, there must not be “the possibility of the matter being brought to the House within a reasonable time by other means”.

The agreement with the Afghan government is an unclassified document, the full contents of which are kept from the public by the government. It has not been mentioned in the throne speech. I therefore believe that this matter meets the test of Standing Order 52(6).

Speaker's Ruling
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair received a letter from the hon. member some time ago now, early last week, and has certainly considered the matter with some care. While I appreciate the fact that this matter is of considerable importance, in the view of the Chair it does not meet the exigencies of the standing order in terms of urgency, and accordingly I am going to decline the hon. member's request at this time.

The Chair has a second request, from the hon. member for Malpeque. I will now hear from him.

Agriculture
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order 52, I am seeking to call for an emergency debate in order to discuss the growing farm crisis across this country. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada itself has confirmed a further decline in farm incomes of 16% this year.

The uncertainty in the farming community is only increased by the government's announced intention of scrapping the CAIS program in spite of provincial government support and by the government's failure to provide the necessary resources for this spring.

The matter of the collapse of farm incomes and the need for federal government action is urgent. Farmers on the Hill today are further evidence of the serious crisis facing the farm community. I am therefore seeking under Standing Order 52 to call for an emergency debate to discuss this farm income crisis and the government's position on it.

Agriculture
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On this issue that is now before the House, I would suggest to the hon. member that the whole question of agriculture and some of the problems associated with it have certainly been well addressed in question period, and as we know, the whole question of agriculture was addressed in the Speech from the Throne. All hon. members have had the opportunity to raise any matter they want with respect to agriculture and indeed any other issue.

In terms of whether there is adequate time or whether a forum has been presented, I would suggest to hon. members that they use their time during debate on the Speech from the Throne. They can make whatever points they want. I can tell hon. members as well that we can take under consideration and schedule at some time in the future, of course, a take note debate. That can also be a part of it.

We try to accommodate those requests within the government, so I would suggest to hon. members that within the debate today on the Speech from the Throne they can raise these issues. Of course these issues are important. The Minister of Agriculture said that. Everything to do with agriculture is important to all members of the new government. We want to get on and help the farmers of this country.

Agriculture
Requests for Emergency Debates
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

We cannot get into a debate on the merits of having an emergency debate. The point of order that I thought the hon. member was rising on was something connected with this, but a point of order nonetheless, and I am not sure that was.

In any event, the Chair is going to take this matter under advisement. I am conscious of the fact that during the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne debate members are free to debate any subject they want. In that sense, I think, while this and the other matter are matters of considerable interest, they are ones that are capable of being discussed during the course of the debate on the address in reply.

Having said that, I recognize that today there is a particularly important demonstration taking place here, and having a debate on this subject is one that we have had before and that I have allowed on previous occasions in respect of agricultural issues. I am going to take this under advisement and decide whether or not I should do so. In the course of that, I can have some consultations and see if there is another avenue for arranging for a particular debate of this kind, which I am happy to discuss. I will take this under advisement and get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed from April 4 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:25 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my contribution to this debate by thanking the voters in my riding of Toronto Centre for giving me the privilege of once again representing them in this our national Parliament. It is their support that has allowed me to continue over 12 years in my political career and today to stand before members in this House as leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition. It is an honour for me to act in that capacity to respond formally to the government's Speech from the Throne.

Before I do so perhaps I could offer one other set of thanks. All members of this House know how difficult political life is. We would not be here without the support of our spouses and our partners. I want to pay particular recognition today to my spouse of 42 years, who is here with us in the House today, and to my two children, Katherine and Patrick.

I remember when I was in Europe some years ago and a European politician, or it may have been a judge, said that the great advantage in North America is that important people go home at night and they say to their wives all the things they have done during the day and their wives say to them, “That's nice, dear. Now, could you take out the garbage”. Colleagues, it is our wives, our spouses and partners who often do those daily tasks for us because we are so often retained here. I want to thank my wife and my children, and perhaps in so doing I can share with all colleagues in the House this sentiment. I will hesitate to get into the exchange the Prime Minister had with his spouse during question period on other elements of family life.

However, I would certainly like to take this opportunity to commend the Prime Minister for two things. I would like to thank him, first, for his courteous words about my own appointment in this position, but I too would like to commend him. The Prime Minister mounted a spirited and professional campaign. We congratulate him and his party for their success in the election. Second, I would like to commend the Prime Minister for his recent trip to our Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

I have had the opportunity of visiting Afghanistan several times, once in fact when I was 20 years old, but most recently as the foreign affairs minister and subsequently as defence minister. I know that to understand this troubled country one has to see it on the ground and meet its people and its leaders. To understand the extraordinary contribution that our troops are making under challenging conditions there, one has to meet with them, talk with them and listen to them. To understand how much this is appreciated by the Afghan people trying to rebuild their lives after years of war and devastation, one must hear from them.

The Prime Minister took the time to do this and I know it was deeply appreciated by the men and women of our Canadian Forces as an important expression of support for their work and their mission; a support that our party firmly endorses.

That said, colleagues may recall that in his 2004 Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the then Leader of the Opposition stated, perhaps rather tongue-in-cheek, “I said yesterday that the Prime Minister was so excited about his government's agenda that his first act was to leave the country”. Now the Prime Minister has done very much the same thing.

While I freely admit it was an important thing to do, it may also be a revealing illustration of how his former rhetoric and his present acts may often differ, sometimes in ways commendable and sometimes in ways much less so.

Before I comment on the Government’s Speech from the Throne, I would like to make a few remarks about our Party’s approach to this minority Parliament. Historically, Canadians have not had a lot of experience with minority parliaments but as a participant, like many of you, certainly recent experience has been instructive, and has sometimes involved intense hours.

Electing a minority is an expression of the desire of Canadians for moderation and compromise. The fact that no party received an absolute majority not only means that the Conservatives lack a mandate to govern in isolation from the other parties, it denies the Opposition parties to some degree the luxury of opposing just for opposition’s sake. The bottom line is that the public expects all parties to make parliament work with a degree of co-operation, respect and even collaboration. As Liberals, we will abide by these principles.

For the government, this means consulting and striking compromises with the opposition parties, in an effort to forge a governing program that can command the support of the House and the Canadian public. In Hansard we find the principle perfectly expressed by a former leader of the opposition:

It is the government’s obligation to craft a working majority to advance its agenda by taking into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, these are the words of the Prime Minister himself less than two years ago. And members will recall that when the Liberals formed the minority government we did seek to work in ways that our agenda would command a majority in the House.

So, it’s understandable that we, the Opposition, are disappointed that the Prime Minister has begun by ignoring his own philosophy of minority government. Because even though the Prime Minister consulted with the three Opposition leaders, it is difficult—at least for us—to find any traces of such discussions in the Speech from the Throne.

The leader of the NDP remarked yesterday that his conversations with the Prime Minister were fruitful with regards to child care. This position is understandable, in light of his decision to bring down the Liberal government before we had the opportunity to implement such an important program. For our part, we are not as optimistic about the promise made in yesterday’s Throne Speech.

I must give the Prime Minister a friendly warning that when the leader of the NDP takes credit for the government's actions, as he did during the last Parliament, he is looking to topple the government. The Prime Minister should watch his back.

We willingly recognize that the government does not always need our support for its survival.That being said, we will commend and support the government when they put forward sensible policies that we judge to be good for the country. There are clearly elements of the Conservative election platform and the throne speech that are worthy of support -- and we will give it.

But we will vigorously oppose this government if it acts unilaterally to put forward legislation or adopts radical policies for which it lacks a mandate-- policies that do not reflect the balance Canadians voted for when they determined the composition of this House of Commons.

Many of us in the House have heard many throne speeches. For myself, I have observed that most of these throne speeches, particularly inaugural efforts, consist of lists of commitments from the government. They seldom capture the imagination of the public but they do reveal certain fundamental traits of their authors. One only has to look at the Conservative tax plan, one of the central pillars of both the Prime Minister's campaign and the throne speech, to see their limited vision and the simplistic approach of the government.

The government has made much of its proposed 1% tax cut to the GST. The Liberal Party recognizes that taxes can and should be reduced, but we believe this should be done in ways consistent with good economics and in the best interests of Canadians.

A little over five years ago a Liberal government brought in the largest tax cut in Canadian history, a combined $100 billion tax cut for individual Canadians and businesses that reduced federal personal income taxes by 21% on average and 27% for families with children. We removed about one million low income Canadians from the tax rolls. We significantly improved the tax system for students, persons with disabilities, charities and others.

Our balanced tax cut was a balanced tax agenda. It was economically and socially progressive. It was a tax cut agenda to propel Canada forward in the global competitive information age. It was a tax cut agenda designed to stimulate investment and savings to make the Canadian economy more productive and competitive.

Liberals remain steadfast in their belief that Canadians need continuing tax relief. That is why in November we advanced another major income tax cut that had similar objectives to our previous initiatives, providing a further $25 billion in tax relief over five years with most of the benefit going to Canadians with low and modest incomes.

The throne speech presents the Conservative economic agenda. It consists of only one element, a cut in the GST, and so far government spokespeople have indicated that this will be financed by increasing personal income taxes, in a way nullifying our previous measures.

In our view, this tax cut does not advance the economic interests of Canadians. It is a tax cut for the sake of a tax cut. It is a tax cut to keep a poorly thought out election promise. It is a tax cut with no economic or social purpose underlying it, a point that has been made universally by Canadian economic analysts. It was well summed up by my colleague the member from Markham when he said, “If ever there was an anti-growth tax policy, the Conservatives have clearly stumbled into it”.

It does nothing to encourage Canadians in businesses to invest in skills training and productivity enhancing equipment. It does nothing to induce savings to make the economy more productive, all of which any economist would tell us should be the central objective of any tax cut. I freely admit to being surprised that it comes from the Prime Minister who is an economist by training.

The freshly minted finance minister must be squirming in his seat as he reflects on this as he poured scorn on such a tax cut when he was in the Ontario government. I quote from the Minister of Finance of Ontario. I did not get this from the Toronto Star so he can relax. It comes from Hansard of the Ontario legislature. It states:

All you get is a short-term hit, quite frankly...It has no long-term positive gain for the economy.

What a different song we heard sung in question period here today colleagues.

The finance minister will now know that his current department emphatically agrees with what he said then. It has concluded that a GST tax cut is the least effective tax cut and that income tax relief is three times as effective at increasing the well-being and prosperity of all Canadians. The finance minister's original instinct was dead right and the direction from his current boss is dead wrong.

This GST tax cut is also small from the point of view of consumers. Canadians will barely notice it. If it has any effect at all on the economy, it will be to stimulate more consumption at a time when every economist in the country agrees that what the economy needs is more investment in savings, not more stimulus. At worse, the Conservatives have underestimated by hundreds of millions of dollars its cost to the treasury and quite frankly, to the businesses that will have to implement it.

The intention of the government to cancel the income tax cuts that the Liberal government put in place is even worse economics. Those tax cuts are progressive and they are needed to move this country forward. They made Canada more productive.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Gerald Keddy

Why did you not bring them in?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we did bring them in. They were part of the fiscal framework and they helped make Canada. They were brought in. The Conservatives are going to have to cut them in the budget if they do anything about them. Do not worry, they are there. They are a problem for the Conservatives.

They are a good thing because they helped make Canada more productive and competitive. They deliver significant tax relief to Canadians, particularly lower income Canadians who need it the most. They are good economics, and no economist has disputed this. Indeed, the Canadian Tax Foundation has calculated that those cuts will benefit middle income Canadians approximately twice as much as the GST cut, twice as much for middle and lower income Canadians.

I heard the finance minister musing on television this morning that because of the full treasury which the government today inherited because of the prudence of the Liberal government, the Conservatives may revisit their position. Today in question period the minister was much more reticent, but I can tell him and the Prime Minister that we sincerely hope they do. We hope that at the time of the budget we will be able to congratulate the finance minister on his conversion on the road to Ottawa.

Let us now turn to the Conservative justice agenda.

The Conservatives do not seem to accept the link between the ease of obtaining and keeping handguns and violent crime rates and the use of reasonable controls on the use and possession of long guns. They also do not believe in the usefulness of the current process of regulating the possession of firearms. As a result, the government has committed to dismantling or otherwise nullifying the gun registry, a critical tool to control and monitor that supply.

It is regarded by chiefs of police and the rank and file who shared their concerns with the Prime Minister Monday as an important initiative against violent crime and a valued policing tool.

Having criticized the costs that were incurred in setting it up, why would the Prime Minister now throw those costs away, particularly as we await the Auditor General’s report on how improvements may be made. Why do it now? Let us wait for the Auditor General's report. It should give us an indication of how to go about it.

Why not work to find ways that the registry can be improved? We will support you. But we will vigorously resist its dismantling.

We also expect the government to be transparent in its plans with regard to the gun registry. The Government has suggested in the past they will use regulatory means to get around Parliament to gut the gun registry, recognizing that they lack the votes in the House to repeal the legislation. This would have the effect of changing the very purpose of the registry. The Liberal opposition will resist any attempt by the government along these lines.

The government has also indicated in its Speech from the Throne that it intends to implement stricter criminal sentencing in the form of increased mandatory minimums.

All members of this Parliament want their communities to be more secure. Many voters in my own riding have told me so. All members of this House want something done in this regard. Therefore, we are in favour of measures that would increase the number of police officers in our communities. However, all amendments to our Criminal Code must be well thought out, balanced and must respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Prime Minister has put forward his accountability and ethics package in the throne speech. Of course we agree with elements of this package. We are all committed to finding ways to improve how we serve the Canadian people and earn their trust, but it must be said that all efforts by the government to persuade Canadians that its commitment to this issue might well be measured against its wilful disregard of its own rhetoric on this subject, not to mention its flouting of basic and long-established conventions on these matters.

This is a Prime Minister whose first act was to appoint his political organizer to the Senate while simultaneously informing Canadians that he will only appoint elected senators in the future. The newly appointed senator had already been made a cabinet minister, and not just any cabinet minister, but the Minister of Public Works, which is one of the most important portfolios in the government and the very department of government that is responsible for spending and overseeing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money each year.

What is our basic problem with this appointment? It is simple. This public works minister is not accountable to the House of Commons, Canada's elected chamber with the primary responsibility for the public purse. We find that unacceptable.

Colleagues, I am quite astonished as I look across the floor of the House and I look at the faces of so many colleagues who sat over here and spoke to us about accountability for so many days in the last Parliament that they would look there and be pleased about the fact. Think of it colleagues. You, the Conservative members of Parliament , will have the person responsible for overseeing $13 billion of spending per annum, billions of dollars, the most important spending portfolio in the government, sitting in the Senate. Are you not somewhat ill at ease with this? Do you really believe--

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. The Leader of the Opposition I know is an experienced member. I know he intends to address his remarks to the Chair rather than to certain individuals elsewhere in the House.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was thinking as I spoke that you yourself must be extremely ill at ease with this. You personally must be squirming in your place when you think that during question period day after day there will be nobody in this House to respond to this House about the spending of money, which is the charge and the obligation under the Constitution of Canada to the deputies that sit in this place. You must be very ill at ease.

The Prime Minister has also put into his cabinet a Minister of National Defence who less than two years ago was a defence industry lobbyist with a client list that is a who's who of defence contractors. When the minister was asked whether he would recuse himself from procurements that involved his former clients, he summarily dismissed the question.

The Prime Minister enticed into his cabinet a member of Parliament who was elected as a Liberal only two weeks prior. Not only is that inconsistent with the Prime Minister's rhetoric on ethics and accountability, but it is totally inconsistent with any usage known in the House. In fact, because of its timing and the cynical way in which it was handled, it has, in the words of Mr. Shapiro himself, given many citizens a sense that their vote, the cornerstone of our democratic system, was somehow devalued.

As I said the name of Mr. Shapiro, I heard from the other side “who” and “say who louder”. Do those members not know that he is the Ethics Commissioner whom they voted for and approved of in the previous Parliament? Do they not recall? This is perhaps why the government has mounted a public campaign to discredit the Ethics Commissioner, an officer of Parliament whose appointment they advocated and approved.

In short, in its first month in office the government has compromised any credibility it had on the subject of ethics and accountability. These are early days for the government and Canadians are asking themselves where it is going, and it is perfectly natural. There has been considerable speculation in the press and elsewhere about the Prime Minister's other priorities.

The Prime Minister made clear his desire to see senators elected, apart from Mr. Fortier of course. He now has mused about constitutional reform. I must say that on constitutional reform, much as we are hesitant on engaging in divisive constitutional debate, it certainly would be preferable to introduce the concept of an elected Senate as a part of a comprehensive constitutional package. Members are fully aware that elected senators will effectively change the relationship between this House and the other place. The Prime Minister fully well knows that. This will involve constitutional ramifications, both from a parliamentary and a provincial perspective.

Whatever the Prime Minister's intentions may be, one thing many commentators have observed is that his style to date has been decidedly centralizing and authoritarian. As one journalist observed recently, the “bunker mentality” and the increasing centralization of power in the PMO already criticized for being too centralized is an awkward fit with his promises of a new era of accountability.

Colleagues, while the direction of this government is not yet clear, and the press cannot get sufficient access to enlighten the public, I think that we can, on the basis of its actions to date, establish one guiding principle for the future. Colleagues, examine the words used by the Prime Minister when he was in opposition and we can then assume that the acts of his government will contradict them in most respects.

However, as I have said, there are measures in the Speech from the Throne that we will support. The government's patient wait times guarantee commitment is an initiative we support and congratulate the government on. In fact, we commend the Conservatives for adopting our former policy.

It was a Liberal government that committed in the 2004 election to work with the provinces to establish wait time guarantees and benchmarks to measure progress toward these goals. Following the 2004 election, in partnership with the provinces, our government succeeded in moving substantially toward that goal, committing $5 billion to the initiative.

We also commend the commitment to provide a care guarantee for Canadians. It is a good idea that Liberals have long advocated and we fully support it.

The Liberal opposition remains seriously concerned about the government's commitment to universal public health care. Its failure to respond substantively to the stated intentions of the Alberta government on reforming health care in that province is deeply troubling, especially when most of the country's health care experts judge the Alberta reforms to be in contravention of the Canada Health Act. Here the country expects all parties in this House to be highly vigilant, and we will be.

I would now like to turn to the subject of child care, a policy where the Liberal opposition fundamentally disagrees with the government. The Conservative position on child care brings into stark reality the difference between its party's views and those of the majority of Canadians across the country. Surely all colleagues agree that early learning is absolutely critical to human development and ultimately the success of the individual. It is the modern equivalent of universal primary education. A child's early years literally set the course of his or her life. This is one of the few areas where agreement exists between such disparate groups of people as social scientists, social activists, scientists and even economists.

Many advanced countries in Europe and elsewhere have recognized the importance of early learning and have had the foresight to establish national child care programs. These governments have been commended for doing so by organizations like the OECD that see child care as a critical element of an advanced and progressive economic policy.

The Province of Quebec has been at the leading edge in Canada in developing a child care system. However the lack of a national system in Canada has been a major shortcoming in our social policy framework.

During the 2004 election, the Liberal government committed to working with the provinces to establish such a program. We then successfully negotiated child care agreements with the provinces. Now the Conservative government has come along and it has portrayed this national child care program as more unwelcome government intervention in family life, a restriction of choice. This totally ignores the reality of modern society, particularly the reality, often the necessity, of two parents working. Surely we must recognize their needs and desires to see their children develop to their full potential with reliable, accessible, affordable, quality day care if we are to have a fair society for all.

The Liberal child care plan was not about government telling parents how to raise their children, as the Conservatives would have Canadians believe. It is about giving parents real choices to enable them to balance work and family. It is also about equality of opportunity to ensure that low and modest income Canadians have similar choices to those of higher income earners in our society.

The Conservatives committed in the election to scrap the agreements we have reached with the provinces and abandon the objective of a national child care program. Now they are launched on this destructive mission. They are set to dismantle added child care spaces that were actually being set up in many provinces. They are replacing a bold initiative that was up and running with a $100 per month pre-tax payment to families, plus a small tax credit to employers intended to encourage them to create child care centres in the workplace. The latter, frankly, is really an illusion as the vast majority of businesses have no desire to be in the day care business.

The Conservatives claim, with this minor taxable contribution to family income, that their approach is a better way to ensure that children of working families will receive the care they need and will add to the supply of spaces. We just do not understand how that could possibly be.

We believe and continue to believe that Canada must build a national day care system and that the federal government has an important catalytic role to play, as it did in the creation of medicare 40 years ago. This is far too important an issue for the future of our children and our country to abandon. I sincerely hope we can count on the other opposition parties to work with us to ensure its preservation.

I also want to address the issue of the aboriginal agenda of the government or, more accurately, the lack of such an agenda in the throne speech. As members of the House know, the previous Liberal government negotiated an historic agreement with Canada's aboriginal leaders and provincial governments in Kelowna.

The Kelowna accords form a comprehensive, long term strategy to improve significantly the social and economic conditions on reserves and for aboriginal people generally. They are targeted to improve the education levels and health of our aboriginal people and, in particular, the well-being of aboriginal children. They also provide for more and better housing and infrastructure on reserves and economic development initiatives so that aboriginal communities can overcome barriers to their prosperity.

Aboriginal leaders, provincial governments and the Government of Canada came together to sign the historic Kelowna accords and the government of the previous prime minister committed $5 billion to the initiative.

We believe that the Kelowna accords are a signal achievement for the country. They are aimed at closing the prosperity gap between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. They are welcomed by provincial governments that wish to see their aboriginal citizens as participating partners in their development rather than marginalized peoples forced to resort to constant litigation to assert their rights. In short, they are progressive social and economic policy, and we believe that any national government should honour those commitments that have been made to our first nations and the first residents of this country.

As I said in my opening remarks, there are positive elements in the throne speech that are sensible and we will support them. However the throne speech says little about the modern realities of a highly competitive, global information intensive economy in which Canadian businesses and individuals must be equipped to compete. It does not recognize the realities of the modern workforce and the dual income household. It does not recognize the need to advance a progressive and fair society. It fails to recognize that the government inherited one of the most healthy economies and revenues in memory. It has today the fiscal capacity to address these important concerns of Canadians.

It is a privilege for me to serve as Leader of the Opposition at this time. I also believe that all members of the House would agree with me that there is no greater privilege than that to be elected by our fellow citizens and to serve them in this our national Parliament.

On Monday, when we elected you, Mr. Speaker, several members pointed out that there was a reason to be concerned about the way our fellow citizens regard how we go about performing our duties here. The esteem, or perhaps more accurately the lack of it, the public has for politicians today is, to some degree, a reflection of how we approach our responsibilities here. Some behaviour in the last Parliament did not, and I think we can all agree, contribute to that esteem.

I can assure all members of the House that our party will work with all parties in the House to make it work for Canadians in an atmosphere that is appropriate to our responsibilities. We will not seek to be partisan when it is not in the interest of Canada and Canadians. We will cooperate with the government to enable it to do the work it has been charged to do by the Canadian people. We will cooperate with the other opposition parties as well so that both in the House and in committee business will be conducted to improve government and legislation for the benefit of all Canadians.

We will seek to oppose in the most constructive way possible and we have no intention of seeking to frustrate by obstruction tactics that all too frequently marked the last Parliament. We will, of course, oppose but where appropriate and we will propose constructive alternative solutions as well.

As I said in my introduction, we recognize that we were elected to oppose government measures that are not in the interest of Canadians and that do not reflect the will they expressed in the last election in voting for a minority government. We will exercise that responsibility as opposition to the best of our abilities.

The old French maxim goes as follows.

« En politique comme en amour, il n'y a point de traités de paix, ce ne sont que des trêves. »

In that spirit I hereby move:

That the motion be amended by deleting the period at the end and adding the following:

and, while this House acknowledges the broader agenda mentioned en passant in the Speech, it particularly looks forward to early and meaningful action on such promises as those respecting aboriginal Canadians, new immigrants, greater security for seniors, improvements in the environment, and increased supports for farm families; and, given the strong economic and fiscal situation which the Government inherited, this House sees no reason for tax increases or a decrease in anticipated early learning and child cares spaces in Canada.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. opposition leader for his comments in response to the throne speech delivered by our Prime Minister yesterday. The hon. member brought forward many things that I would like to question but I know my colleagues and others in the House want equal opportunity so I will just focus on one. The one that is certainly near and dear to my heart and to the heart of my constituents is, in my estimation, the unconscionable national gun registry which the party opposite seems to support with an unwaivering and unflagging level of support that seems to be completely unjustified.

I would like to focus on one comment my hon. friend opposite made when he said that the national gun registry prevented violent crime. Could the hon. member give me any examples from any police association or any advocacy group of one violent crime which quantitatively has been demonstrated was stopped because of this national gun registry, a gun registry that has cost taxpayers.

My other hon. friend, the one who also portends to be the next leader of the Liberal Party, asks me how there can be a violent crime that we do not know about. The fact of the matter is that the gun registry does nothing to stop violent crime in this country.

The national gun registry, which has cost Canadian taxpayers close to $2 billion and which I think will be verified by the Auditor General's report coming up very shortly, does nothing to stop violent crime. The fact that we do not seem to be able to get across to members opposite is that criminals and violent criminals do not register guns. Think about that. I just do not know if members opposite can grasp that very basic fact. People who are about to commit a violent crime simply do not register their guns.

I wonder if the member could please stand in the House and once again assure Canadians that the Liberals will forever support the national gun registry and admit once again that our party and most rational thinking Canadians oppose this unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is illogical to accept the question because one cannot prove a negative. We all know that. We cannot prove which violent crime was prevented because the violent crime did not happen.

However this is not some sort of “dada” by people. This is something that is supported by the police chiefs and, as the Prime Minister personally knows from his meeting with ordinary policemen the other day, they also support it. It gives them a useful tool to ascertain where guns are located. It is not the only answer to violent crime but it is a contribution to understanding and a tool to managing what is a serious problem in our society.

The House voted on a previous occasion to cap the cost of the gun registry. The Auditor General is studying what changes might be made in respect to it. We should let the Auditor General do her work. Let us look at this with a parliamentary committee that will have a real way to examine it, not make a knee-jerk reaction. Let us ensure that if the gun registry, which is enshrined in legislation, is to be done away with then let the government bring forward legislation in the House and give the opposition parties an opportunity to vote on that legislation. It should not be killed by stealth.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, let me congratulate the leader of the official opposition on his re-election. I am glad to see him back in the House. I thank him for the scope of his remarks today.

I would like to focus my question on a couple of things with regard to democratic and voter reform.

One of the real disappointments in the last minority Parliament was that when the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the government, his government reneged on the whole process of democratic reform. It was an area that the Liberals allowed to slide. Although it was something the NDP put forward very strongly, and Ed Broadbent did a lot of work on this, it was allowed to slide off the Liberal political agenda, maybe because they knew it was not in their political interest. Do the Liberals now have a renewed interest in ensuring that the House truly represents the way people are voting?

Second, are his members giving serious consideration to the bill, which we know will come forward, on crossing the floor? We know the member for Vancouver Kingsway was a Liberal and then became a Conservative. The people of Vancouver Kingsway are outraged, as are voters across the country. Will his members support a bill to be ethical and accountable to ensure that members cannot do what the member for Vancouver Kingsway did?