House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was speech.

Topics

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's remarks about our work together on the industry committee in the last Parliament. Indeed, we worked together very well and he was an excellent member of that committee.

For the viewers, the capital cost allowance allows a company to write off over a period of time its capital investment in equipment as an expense, a little bit each year. That allows that company to plan for replacing equipment. If the capital cost allowance write-off period is too long, it hampers that industry relative to another.

With the rapid change in technology in our society and in the world, we need to give companies a better ability to respond rapidly. Therefore, an accelerated rate of capital cost allowances can help industry, especially when it comes to climate change technology, auto technology, mining technology and forestry technology. We need to give our industries a leg up when it comes to preparing for the future. It requires a mix of corporate initiatives but that is a very important one.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with my colleague from Hamilton Mountain.

I am proud to stand in solidarity with my NDP colleagues and millions of Canadians who oppose the Conservative government's wrong-headed direction. The throne speech should be an articulation of the government's fundamental principles and yet in this document the government has reached a new level of cynical doublespeak. While claiming to be concerned about poverty, homelessness, climate change and rising costs in post-secondary education, the government has outlined steps that will make the problems worse.

The government has turned its back on communities. Our local governments are left with heavy lifting, forced to face today's complex challenges on their own while a federal seat sits vacant.

I would like to start by talking specifically about Victoria. There is a growing consensus in my community that all levels of government should focus on housing. As of this April, 953 families and 406 seniors were on the wait list for social housing. The city of Victoria's homelessness task force report released last week speaks to the urgency of acting now. Even the Victoria Downtown Business Association is asking the federal government to allocate some of the surplus to housing.

I also consistently hear about Victoria's need for affordable, quality child care. Last week the Prime Minister gave a misleading answer in response to my question. Contrary to his assertion, his failed policies have not created one child care space, in my riding at least. On the contrary, day care centres are closing and desperate parents are on mile-long wait lists. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has called for a national child care system. The business community has lamented the domino effect of federal child care cuts on its province's workforce.

To address these and other crucial issues, I have long advocated for the federal government to adopt a community focused approach. This means having the federal government act as a collaborative partner with the provinces to help municipalities implement their own local solutions. What a community approach would not do is impose unnecessary policy barriers that prevent communities from solving their local problems, like the Conservatives' resistance to the harm reduction approach and other strategies identified in communities.

For example, despite best efforts, the Conservatives still have not found their way to supplying the $150,000 in capital funding that are needed for Victoria's access health centre. This is an innovative project that provides one stop access to services needed by homeless people. It would prevent illness and save health care dollars. However, the Conservatives' shortsighted, narrow view of the federal role stands in the way of communities moving forward.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a prebudget town hall in my riding and the messages I collected to bring back to Ottawa are unequivocal. They are to invest in our citizens, communities, housing, child care, learning and training, the environment and to build a green economy, but Victoria has been let down by a government that chooses to prioritize tax cuts over investments in our collective well-being.

The surplus and tax cuts will be important issues in this session of Parliament. The Minister of Finance says that he does not want to leave a debt for our children. I would say that the Conservative government is in the process of racking up an enormous debt that our children will have a hard time repaying. We must not forget that this massive surplus came about because of the major cuts to social programs by the Liberals in the 1990s. The national housing program was cut; tuition costs and student debt have tripled in 10 years; child poverty is worse than when Parliament promised to eradicate it; our municipalities are struggling with a $60 billion infrastructure deficit. Furthermore, the federal government refuses to commit to making our economy respectful of the environment, in order to address the imminent dangers of climate change.

The majority of Canadian families have stagnating or falling incomes and are forced to work longer hours and spend less time with their children. They need better transit and home care, more affordable housing and child care, and better protection from toxic products on the market but the government does not believe in social policy. In fact, it reduces everything to economic terms and perpetuates the myth that profits from deregulated markets will trickle down. The trickle seems to be stuck.

There is much talk about the tax burden, but what about the burden on low- and middle-income families who no longer have access to affordable housing or child care? What about the burden on people who are on long waiting lists for major surgery? What about the people struggling to repay staggering student debts? What about the burden on women who earn on average 71¢ for every dollar earned by a man? There was nothing about pay equity in the throne speech. And what about the burden on the environment?

I think that as long as these burdens continue to enlarge the hole in the social and environmental fabric, the answer for how to use the surplus will be clear.

As the NDP's literacy advocate, I have been appalled at the disinterest of the government to the needs of adult learners. A lack of functional literacy impedes an individual's ability to lead a full life and secure a better job. It also impedes Canada's ability to stay competitive. Leading economists have joined the chorus of voices critical of the government's shortsightedness on adult literacy which costs the economy tens of billions of dollars every year.

The NDP has been calling for a comprehensive, pan-Canadian strategy on literacy and lifelong learning. Tax cuts do not educate anyone, another reason that I oppose the government's direction.

In addition to tax cuts, the Conservatives are pursuing their quest to gut the capacity of the federal government through a radical agenda of privatization. The government is intent on selling out the public interest to deliver the greatest possible profit to a small minority, regardless of the cost to the rest.

From following through on the ridiculous Liberal scheme to sell federal buildings and lease them back, to the proliferation of public-private partnerships, the name of the game is spending public money for private profit.

On a similar but much broader front, the Conservatives are implementing the Liberals so-called security and prosperity partnership. Behind closed doors and away from the eyes of citizens and their elected representatives in Parliament, the government is hollowing out our country as it pursues its agenda of deep integration with U.S. corporate interests.

I take this opportunity to call on the government to bring the SPP agenda to the public scrutiny of Parliament.

Because the Conservative agenda does not reflect Victoria's priorities, I oppose the Speech from the Throne. Because these policies will incrementally convert Canada into a neo-Conservative country that we will not recognize, I stand opposed to the government's direction. It would be unconscionable not to.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, when I said that it was a shame that during National Poverty Week there was nothing in the throne speech about poverty, the government suggested that there was a lot on page 10. I did not find very much there. I wonder if the member thinks there was a lot of anti-poverty initiatives in the throne speech?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the Speech from the Throne, the government made a reference to parents' concerns about rising costs in education and made references to poverty but offered no plan at all or no steps that would help us reduce this prosperity gap.

It seems that when the government acknowledges that there is a prosperity gap it still keeps going in the wrong direction.

As the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said with reference to the increasing gap municipalities are facing in dealing with the challenges that the former Liberal government and the present government have downloaded to them, the government may have recognized the challenges but provided no additional resources to address them.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite may want to note that there has been considerable economic advances and success in this country, which everybody is gaining from. Admittedly, much needs to be done on the poverty side and our government is serious about this issue too.

In our throne speech we talk in terms of some of the steps to improve the lives of Canadian aboriginal people. I offer to the House the final settlement in respect of the Indian residential schools and the upcoming apology in respect to that. I am grateful that our government is taking care of those needs and addressing some of those issues in our country.

The throne speech mentioned strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. I would hope the member would agree that unless we have strength in our country and in our institutions some of these other things can take a beating. We need to ensure that we are on top in the modern era with our democratic institutions.

I have a question for the member who is from British Columbia. In the last session, the Conservative government introduced a democratic representation bill, Bill C-56, which would have amended the formula for the allocation of seats in the House and would have ensured representation by population, particularly for the growing population in the province of British Columbia.

Could the hon. member assure the House that she as an individual and her New Democratic colleagues would support the legislation when it is reintroduced in the House? I heard no mention in her speech and I would be very interested in getting a response on that now.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member forgot to mention that his government cancelled the Kelowna accord. If the Conservatives recognize the prosperity gap, the throne speech did not suggest any ways for addressing it. Not only that, but it confirmed a cut of the GST by 1% and corporate tax cuts. These cuts will only continue to shrink the government's ability to invest in measures that would address the prosperity gap.

With respect to the member's question on democratic reform, my first answer would be to reference a member who sits in the Prime Minister's cabinet but does not actually sit in the House. If there is anything that betray's the government's real agenda and shows it is not interested in democratic reform, it would be the appointment of that individual to a position of responsibility in cabinet when he is not an elected member. It is difficult to take the Conservatives proposals of democratic reform very seriously at this point.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents on Hamilton Mountain.

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to be back in Hamilton and to listen to the concerns that are top of mind for families in our community. Without a doubt, the single biggest issue is Canada's growing prosperity gap.

Seniors and working families are increasingly finding it difficult just to make ends meet. At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Hamilton are working longer and harder, not to get ahead, but simply to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago.

While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure, we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant or falling. The middle class in Canada is falling behind. That is what we have been calling the prosperity gap, and nowhere is that issue more relevant than in Hamilton.

Our manufacturing sector is in crisis, but the government's agenda for this Parliament did not even mention it. There was no mention of an industrial strategy for either the automotive or manufacturing sectors. There was no mention of wage and pension protection for workers affected by commercial bankruptcies. There was no mention of using the $3.3 billion EI surplus to retrain displaced workers. There was no mention of beefing up the Investment Canada Act to protect key industries from foreign takeovers.

With a $14 billion surplus, it simply did not need to be that way. There is a better choice and I will continue to advocate for those alternatives until working families on the mountain get the positive change they deserve.

I know that my time here today is limited, but let me just speak to four such alternatives that represent missed opportunities in the throne speech. They relate to seniors, youth, our city and the environment.

In the summer I had the privilege of organizing and hosting an environmental forum for businesses on Hamilton Mountain. The panellists included representatives from Green Venture and TABIA in an interactive discussion on saving both money and the environment through energy conservation.

Business leaders understood the benefits immediately. Whether they represented the retail, manufacturing or service sectors, they understood that far from having to choose between helping the environment and helping their bottom line, energy conservation will achieve both. In fact research has proven that ignoring climate change will ultimately damage economic growth.

Why then is the Prime Minister not seizing all opportunities to link economic growth with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Here is but one small example of how that could be done.

At the urging of the NDP, the Canadian government has put into effect a ban on incandescent light bulbs effective in 2010, but as Hamilton business leaders learned during the environmental forum, almost none of the alternative CFL or LED bulbs are actually being manufactured in Canada.

Here the government is creating a huge market for new products without recognizing and supporting the equally huge domestic manufacturing opportunity that its policy has created. Instead of importing almost all of the more energy efficient light bulbs from China, why are we not supporting Canadian manufacturing and Canadian jobs by encouraging the production of the alternative light bulbs in Canada?

It would be good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the environment, but apparently such a win-win situation is still not good enough for our Prime Minister. Go figure. That kind of inaction speaks volumes about the disconnect between the government's directions and the priorities of the Canadian people.

Let us look at seniors next. The Conservative government is quick to talk the talk when it comes to seniors, but it is loath to walk the talk.

The government supported my seniors charter which created a road map to ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. Indeed it was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 231 to 52. Instead of implementing the charter's priorities to enhance the quality of life for seniors, government inaction has made it increasingly difficult for seniors to make ends meet.

One of the reasons, of course, is tied to what is happening in the economy. Every time a plant closes its doors in Hamilton, the pension and benefits of its workers are threatened. It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked.

That is why, upon being elected, I was proud to introduce Bill C-270, the workers first bill, in the House of Commons as my very first legislative initiative. Once it becomes law, this bill will ensure that workers' wages, pensions and benefits receive superpriority in case of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity and respect, then we must ensure that they have an adequate retirement income.

Because so many jobs do not have adequate or indeed any benefits, it is essential that we finally act on universal drug coverage. Not only can millions of Canadians not find a family doctor, but the cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket to points where people simply cannot pay for the medications that are prescribed. Out of pocket spending on prescription drugs is now more than 70% higher than it was in 1992. Canadian households are spending $3 billion a year on prescription drugs. We must ensure that people can get the drugs they need based on the advice of their doctors, not on the advice of their accountants.

Speaking of health care, we must protect public medicare. This is Canada's hallmark social program. In Hamilton the health care sector is now the largest employer. Just a few years ago no one would have believed that about steel town. One of the best ways to protect our medical system is to ensure that we have an economy that generates the kind of revenues needed to allow our system to flourish. Minimum wage jobs do not do that. We need the decent paying jobs that our industrial sector provided for our hospitals, for our community centres and therefore, for our seniors.

That brings me to the needs of our cities. Working families in Hamilton pay a lot of money in taxes and the more their jobs pay, the more they pay in taxes. But it is not fair that the lion's share of those tax dollars goes to the federal and provincial governments. In spite of calls from Hamilton citizens, the big city mayors, the chamber of commerce and many others, the federal government refuses to recognize that Canada is the world's second most urban country with 80% of our population living in cities.

With an estimated infrastructure deficit of over $100 billion, our cities are in dire straits. Our federal government is rolling in cash but it is refusing to invest in our cities. Investments in infrastructure and housing would create jobs. Investments in public transit would create jobs. Investments in environmental initiatives like the cleanup of Randle Reef would create jobs. The list goes on and on. Our city desperately needs this kind of investment, but property taxpayers can no longer shoulder the burden alone. It is time for the federal government to pick up its fair share and with a $14 billion surplus, do not tell us it cannot be done.

That brings me to the last issue I want to raise on the throne speech, and that is the issue of youth. When the government set out its agenda for this session of Parliament, it mentioned youth exactly three times. Appallingly, all three were in the context of tackling crime.

I was proud to support bills in the House which imposed mandatory minimum penalties for firearms crimes, raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years, and placed the onus on those accused of firearms offences to prove why they should receive bail, but I would never describe these initiatives as an agenda for Canada's youth. To stereotype all youth as criminals is to abdicate our responsibility to the vast majority of teens whose parents are working hard to afford them every opportunity to become law-abiding contributing members of our society.

An agenda for youth needs to be an agenda of hope. It needs to include sports, recreation, education, training, and opportunities for employment. Instead of helping our students to excel in today's knowledge based economy, the government is refusing to deal with unaffordable tuition fees and unreasonable interest rates on student loans that have become major roadblocks to post-secondary education. We need to restore needs based grants, lower tuition fees and overhaul the Canada student loans program to make it more flexible, fair and responsive. We need to invest in apprenticeship programs. We need to raise the minimum wage.

Students are not asking for a free ride. They are simply asking for fairness and a chance to succeed.

In fact, that is what all working families have been asking from the government. They are asking for some basic fairness, but this throne speech misses the mark. I have a mandate to represent the goals of my community in this House and since those aspirations are not reflected in the throne speech, I will be forced to oppose it on Wednesday.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, my comment will be on infrastructure and my question will be on human rights.

The government is putting in new infrastructure programs and replacing all the old ones. I want to go on record as saying it is absolutely essential that in the new program the municipalities get at least the same percentage they are getting now. It is very important that municipalities get infrastructure money. I am sure the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association of Yukon Communities and all municipalities in the country would agree.

Regarding human rights, the throne speech said that the government was a champion of human rights. Does the member find it surprising that there was nothing on the largest human rights tragedy in the world right now, Darfur; that there was not one dollar for the court challenges program so people who otherwise could not afford it could fight for their rights and freedoms; and finally, that the government is still not supporting aboriginal human rights at the UN?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually agree with my hon. opponent that indeed the government throne speech is silent on Darfur. It is silent on court challenges. It does not do anything to move toward the implementation of the Kelowna accord. One issue that the member did not mention is that the throne speech is absolutely silent on issues affecting women.

While I share those same sentiments and concerns about the direction of the throne speech, I would like to know why the member opposite feels compelled to support the throne speech when in fact it has these very serious deficiencies. One wonders, if we are elected to represent our constituents in the House and to stand up for principles, why the member having so eloquently pointed out its deficiencies would then go ahead and vote for the throne speech.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the seniors charter of rights, something which, for a number of years, the NDP has pushed to have passed in the House of Commons. We have not seen real action on that.

I would like the hon. member to talk about how we can improve those elements which will actually assist seniors not only in terms of income supports but more important, in terms of their quality of life. I would like her to explain why that charter is so important, not only in terms of its being passed as a figurative motion in the House of Commons but more important, in terms of real action for seniors who are living in poverty today.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising the issue about the seniors charter and I want to thank him also because it was his leg work that created the basis upon which the seniors charter was built.

The member is right. The charter passed in this very House of Commons. We made a collective commitment to seniors across the country that we would guarantee them the right to retire with dignity and respect. The charter called for a minimum standard of income security. As I pointed out in my speech, income security just is not there for today's seniors. That income security will lead to our being able to talk about other issues related to quality of life, whether they be health care issues, issues of lifelong learning, a whole basket of issues that have not been raised in the House, except in our caucus and through the debate we have initiated in the House. We have been advocating on behalf of seniors.

The government's agenda for this Parliament is completely silent on that. The official opposition party is voting for that silence. I am appalled that members of the House are so complicit in giving up on standing up for our seniors.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague on her excellent speech.

In terms of failure to live up to the expectations that were created in the last Parliament, I stood here with the member when the Prime Minister agreed to send the clean air act to committee so that we as a group could consider the important issue of climate change and put it in perspective.

In the throne speech he has come back and said that only the positions that the Conservative Party agreed to in the committee are going to be the ones that the government supports. What kind of action toward this institution did the Prime Minister make with that declaration? I ask the hon. member, has the Prime Minister completely lost the point of government and representation that is so fundamental to our system?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course I would concur with my colleague that the Prime Minister has indeed lost his way, if he had ever been on the right way toward dealing with the climate change crisis.

I find it absolutely ironic that earlier in the debate, a member from the government caucus had asked about how we reform our democratic institutions. It seems to me one of the best ways to deal with democracy in the country is to act on the will of Parliament. Bill C-30 was that kind of opportunity. All parties had collaborated. We had a comprehensive bill that would tackle climate change in a meaningful way and the government decided to let that bill fall by the wayside and to introduce a watered down version that has all the right words but will not do anything to address this very serious problem that is top of mind for most Canadians.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the past weekend, members of four bands on Vancouver Island ratified a historic treaty. The Toquaht, Uchucklesaht, Ucluelet and Kyuquot joined the Huu-ay-aht in voting for an overwhelming endorsement, making this the second treaty approved under the B.C. treaty process.

Inasmuch as four of the five bands are situated in my riding of Nanaimo—Alberni, I take great pleasure in offering congratulations to the chiefs, counsellors and the treaty ratification committees. Perhaps Tom Happynook of the Huu-ay-aht said it best, “As of today, I am proud to be a Huu-ay-aht. I am proud to be a Maa-Nulth. I am proud to be a British Columbian and I'm proud to be a Canadian”.

Congratulations are also due to Premier Gordon Campbell and our own Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. This historic agreement will now be presented in the B.C. legislature and eventually here in the Canadian Parliament for ratification.

This treaty offers great potential to launch a whole new future for these first nations. It is hoped that the spirit of collaboration and goodwill that has infused the treaty process will spearhead a whole new chapter for all of British Columbia.

Polish Canadians
Statements By Members

October 22nd, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the discourse of Canada's political history, the roles played by our first nations, and the French and the British components regularly overshadow the important roles played by Canadians of other origins.

In fact, for over a century we viewed our country as bicultural. It was not until Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau that for the first time we formally acknowledged that Canada was in fact a multicultural nation. For this reason, it is important and proper that we acknowledge and pay tribute to those communities that helped to build Canada's foundations.

To underscore this point, this year marks the 140th anniversary of the election of the first Polish Canadian, Alexandre Édouard Kierzkowski, to Canada's first House of Commons in 1867. Kierzkowski was a Polish officer who came to Canada in 1842. In the year of Canada's Confederation, he was elected the Liberal member of Parliament for Saint-Hyacinthe.

For 140 years Polish Canadians have contributed in building our great multicultural nation and, as such, they should be considered one of Canada's founding peoples.