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.

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Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

In Trois-Rivières.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

In Trois-Rivières. The minister is correcting me and I thank him. In that case, he was aware that help was needed for the economic development of the rural regions.

What does the minister have to say about the Speech from the Throne? Will the government take this direction, or will this fall on deaf ears and will absolutely nothing be done to help the rural communities of Canada that are going through rather difficult economic times right now?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my honourable colleague raises a good question. He knows that we, on our side, will always live up to our commitments. The member raises the very pertinent issue of small airports throughout the country, not just in his riding and his province, but elsewhere in the country.

Obviously, the throne speech will not be supported by my colleague because, at the outset, he said he would oppose it. However, I can reassure him. As mentioned in the throne speech, we will soon unveil our Building Canada Plan, and hopefully at that time we will give him what he wants.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple question for the minister.

Is the minister aware that, in Quebec, the vast majority of people, men and women alike, view the recognition of the Quebec nation and the so-called openness towards Quebec as bogus, as a smoke screen designed to lull them?

In that regard, he has stated that his government corrected the fiscal imbalance. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in Quebec are convinced that that is absolutely untrue; that is not the reality. Correcting the fiscal imbalance also means eliminating the federal spending power in Quebec's fields of jurisdiction.

Does the minister realize that the vast majority of Quebeckers are sharp, clear-headed people who are very critical of such speeches?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, whether it is in the Quebec National Assembly or the Parliament of Canada, I am always surprised to hear a sovereigntist rise and give a lecture on Canadian federalism. He is trying to discredit us by making it sound as though we are misleading the public. It is quite the opposite. The men and women here, obviously with the exception of the sovereigntists at the National Assembly, are people who are fully prepared to work for the well-being of the community and to reform Canadian federalism.

Neither my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie nor I can count on the support of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois to help Canada and Canadian federalism move forward. That is not in its mandate.

The Bloc should tell the truth: it wants to eliminate the federal spending power because it is sovereigntist and wants to have everything in Quebec. We on the other hand, will be able to tackle problems head on and move forward with Canadian federalism. Talking about limiting the federal spending power is something significant and positive.

There has been conflict for 40 years. Who has anything to gain from it? Which political party in this House benefits from conflict or problems in the Canadian federation, if not the Bloc Québécois?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to address the Speech from the Throne that was delivered by the minority government last week.

I would also like to let you know, Mr. Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Mount Royal.

There is no doubt that we live in interesting times. I dare say I think that characterizes the beginning of this second session of the 39th Parliament very well.

There are many people who cannot remember when they have seen the Canadian dollar as strong as it is, in relation to its U.S. counterpart, as it is performing today. But we have to recognize that sectors of our economy have lost a competitive advantage as a result of the strength of our dollar. In Waterloo region, which includes my riding of Kitchener Centre, there have been more than 8,000 jobs lost, well paying jobs, in the manufacturing sector. They are simply gone.

The Speech from the Throne conveys a vague reference to the hardships that exist in Canada's traditional industry, but clearly we see no plan.

The Conservative government recently announced a surplus that comes close to $14 billion. That is an amazing amount of money, yet at the same time we have reports from Canada's municipal leaders that communities need roughly $100 billion to rebuild aging infrastructure. That is a huge issue in municipalities right across Canada, including Kitchener Centre in Waterloo region.

The last federal budget included $33 billion over seven years for infrastructure, with only a small portion of that being specifically earmarked for municipalities. We need only think back to the tragic bridge collapse in the province of Quebec to recognize the ramifications of neglecting that kind of investment for communities and for Canadians.

Waterloo region is looking for the federal government to invest in infrastructure in a significant way, especially in a project that it has that is incredibly visionary. It is a transportation project as well as a planning tool, a transit system that is key to the management and promotion of the region's growth over the years to come. It is the rapid transit system which eventually will hook us up to the GO Train, which would allow commuters to get off the 401, which we all know is one of the most heavily travelled pieces of highway in North America.

I was looking forward to some kind of specific announcement like that in the Speech from the Throne, and sadly there was none.

I was looking to see more substantive suggestions than the vague notions that were referenced in the Speech from the Throne. Does the building Canada plan include making the gas tax permanent? We do not know. Does it include allocating a cent from every dollar collected through the GST to roads, bridges and essential infrastructure that form the backbone of our communities and cities? We do not know.

Canada depends on strong cities and communities. They are the drivers of our prosperity. The link between healthy communities and productivity, as well as competitiveness, has been well established.

The most recent Speech from the Throne produced by the Conservative minority government alludes to health care, as if it were a challenge that had been met years past and no longer warrants any kind of focus or consideration, no study, no action, no explicit strategy.

I am very proud of our previous Liberal government and the lengths that we went to to address this very important priority for Canadians. The health care crisis that was emerging in Canada was addressed by the historic 2004 health accord, otherwise known as the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. We had a plan. We had specific action and it was done after vast consultation.

However, today it is estimated that 50,000 residents are without a family doctor in my region. That is from an area that is probably one of the fastest growing, most thriving economies in Canada, and yet we still have over 50,000 residents that cannot get primary health care providers.

We were, at one point, officially designated as an underserviced area, but due to an awful lot of hard work by local people at all levels of government, including a great deal of leadership by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, we are now off that list.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels because we need to make sure that health care is there for the people of Waterloo region and the people of Canada right across this country.

Members of Parliament come to this House with a variety of philosophies and I am sure in the main, 308 members come to do what they think is in the best interests of Canadians. I actually had a fairly simple philosophy when I came to this place and I continue to maintain it. And that is quite simply for some, those who are strong and able and can find their own way and make their own success, government's best role is simply to get out of their way, remove red tape, and provide incentives to support a climate where they can continue to prosper fully and to contribute to the Canadian economy and to society.

For others who face challenges and struggles, government has a more personal role to empower this group to overcome barriers. No matter what the fiscal status of our nation, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind any more than we can afford to hold anyone back.

In times of prosperity, in times where we see almost embarrassing levels of federal surpluses, how can we outline a plan for our nation that makes no mention of the more than one million children who continue to live in poverty in Canada? Solving poverty is much more than cutting taxes. Canadians are working, our economy is strong, yet there are still families and children living in poverty. Clearly, what Canada lacks is a national strategy for poverty reduction.

The Conservative minority government identified crime reduction as a priority. If the government is serious about reducing crime and addressing the causes, it has to look at the root causes of crime and one of those is poverty. Solving poverty is essential in itself, but it is also a key to addressing issues such as health care and community safety.

I am astonished that the government continues to turn its back on families by refusing to honour its child care commitments. The government has failed to deliver the 125,000 child care spaces that it promised and has left families with little or no choice in child care.

The government's decision to cancel the child care funding agreements with the provinces and instead provide a small baby bonus for families with young children has simply not delivered the kind of support that families require. As the busy parent of any young child will say, $1,200 a year or $100 a month is bus fare, it is not child care.

Last week I joined many of my colleagues to mark the national Persons Day by celebrating the achievements of Canada's Famous Five. I am always inspired by this group of women, the victory that saw Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards having women declared persons under Canadian law in 1929. The victory of these women represents a significant milestone in the fight in this country for equal rights.

However, actions by the Conservative government remind me that the pursuit of equality is still important in Canada today. Women's groups have worked hard in order to obtain or work toward true social, political, economic, cultural and legal equality in Canada. What has the government done? It has silenced these groups by cutting funding.

It is ridiculous to silence those voices on those issues which are so important to Canadian women and Canadian society. Canadian women still make 71¢ for every dollar men earn in Canada and so many of them live with the threat of domestic violence. We must continue to strive for a better tomorrow for our daughters and our granddaughters.

We live in a complex, demanding, diverse nation and we must govern not just for today, but for tomorrow and beyond. The Speech from the Throne offers a range of ideas and mentions many important issues, but it lacks a cohesive vision to address the most important poignant needs in our community. In essence, it says very little about the Conservative government's agenda.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague opposite, who prides himself so much on his democratic principles.

I would like to talk about the province of Quebec, where I am from. For 40 years, the Liberals failed to recognize our rightful position, by virtue of our culture, within UNESCO. During the 40 years in which they were in power, they could not even recognize Quebec as a nation. However, during that same 40 years, they were able to invoke the War Measures Act. Now, that is serious.

I have a question for you here today. Since we are talking about democracy, are you willing to recognize an elected Senate, with senators elected for eight years?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the candour and the tenor of the question of my colleague opposite. I know it is a very sincere question.

I believe that government and all parties of the House should be honest with Canadians. If the Prime Minister and the government do not like the way the Senate is working then they should not come in the side door and attempt to do by stealth when they do not have the guts to go to Canadians and consult with them. If they do not like the Senate they should go to Canadians, open the Constitution and change the formula.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a question with regard to trade policy. She noted manufacturing concerns. We have lost 300,000 jobs in five years and one of the reasons has been because of trade policy practices.

Her former leader, the member for LaSalle—Émard, started negotiations on the Korea trade agreement. He gave the file to the member for Vancouver Kingsway who was part of her caucus at one point before he crossed the floor to the Conservatives and continues to work on that actual agreement today. It is of great concern to many Canadians in many different types of manufacturing industries.

I would like to know from the member whether her party still supports a trade deal with South Korea and under what terms and conditions it would support or not support that deal.

New Democrats have been calling for this to cease and desist, especially given the complexities of the auto industry in particular right now. I would like to know specifically what her party is doing to address this and what its policy is on either accepting or rejecting it. If it is going to be accepted, what are the conditions?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is a very troubling bilateral pact.

I have written on behalf of my constituents. One in seven jobs in Ontario has to do with the auto or auto related industry. I do not have the knowledge nor the authority at this point in time to definitively outline what our party's position would be on it. However, I have heard from the people in my riding that this is a very troubling agreement. I share the member's concerns on how we go forward to ensure that it is at least fair to Canadian manufacturers.

I believe that the proposed bilateral agreement is very much tipped in favour of Korea.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the member's comments earlier about the issue of the Senate, Senate reform, the Constitution and a referendum, I recall, in the context of Liberal Senator Dan Hays' remarks when he delivered a report in the Senate on the crucial need for Senate reform, that he talked about a long-standing sore point in Canadian national politics. He was quite adamant in insisting that Parliament needed to enact legislation on fixed terms for Senators. Am I to understand that the member opposite disagrees with the hon. long-serving Senator Dan Hays?

The Liberal Senate, of course, did go on to kill our bill in the Senate. However, does the member disagree with Liberal Senator Hays with respect to his view that we need to get right to the job of legislating eight year fixed term limits for senators in the upper House?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not have a problem with term limits, whether they are 8, 10 or 12 years, but I do believe that it is a debate that Canadians need to have. I personally do not support the idea of an elected Senate but that is the kind of engaged conversation we would need to have with Canadians.

The allocation formula as to how many senators are assigned to each region would be a very interesting discussion to have with the provinces and Canadians right across Canada. I feel passionate that one ought not to do by stealth what one does not have the stomach to do through the front door.

I would be all for comprehensive Senate reform but we need to engage Canadians. I do not believe in working around the edges. Term limits, in and of themselves, are not a particular issue for anyone. It is more the larger issue of representation. Canadians truly need an education as to what the Senate does.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I stand today on behalf of the great constituency of Mount Royal in response to the throne speech. I want to address the speech, not only in terms of what it says, but the importance of what it does not say, thereby undercutting its own stated priorities. I will address the missing priorities and the diminishing, thereby, the stated priorities on both the international and domestic levels.

First, the throne speech makes eloquent mention of our shared values: democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the need for international leadership to protect these values. We agree with that. However, it ignores the most compelling international concerns today and the corresponding assaults on these very fundamental values.

I am referring, for example, to the genocide by attrition in Darfur where 400,000 have already died, where four million are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, where the violence, including the indiscriminate bombing and burning of villages, sexual violence and assaults on humanitarian aid workers continues unabated, and both the Darfur peace process and the comprehensive peace process are in danger of unravelling, threatening, not only the stability of Sudan but its nine neighbouring countries.

I am not saying that the government is unaware of the Darfur tragedy or that the government has done nothing but it has not identified it as a priority. The best evidence of this is that the word Darfur, even the word Africa, is not even mentioned in the throne speech, let alone addressed in terms of the “commitment, focus, and action” of which the throne speech otherwise speaks.

This is not a partisan problem. To put it simply, while the international community hesitates, the people of Darfur continue to die. I would hope that this government will show the necessary moral, political and diplomatic leadership within the international community to ensure that the required concrete action is taken.

Nor is there any mention in the throne speech of the state sanctioned incitement to genocide whose epicentre is Ahmadinejad's Iran. I say Ahmadinejad's Iran because I am not referring to the Iranian people nor to the many publics in Iran who are themselves the object of a massive domestic repression of human rights.

This flagrant omission is particularly disconcerting. As mentioned during the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide, held last week at McGill University, the enduring lesson of the Holocaust—and the genocides that took place in the Balkans and in Rwanda—is that genocides happen not only because of the “machinery” of death, but also because of an ideology of hate propagated by the state.

This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, is where it all began. As our own courts have affirmed in upholding the constitutionality of our anti-hate legislation, “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words”. These, as the court put it, are the catastrophic effects of racism. These, as the court put it, are the chilling facts of history.

Tragically, Ahmadinejad's Iran, in violation of the prohibition against the direct and public incitement to genocide, in both the genocide conventions and the treaty for an international criminal court, exhibits all the precursors to genocide that have lead us down that road in the past.

Accordingly—and I repeat, this is not a partisan issue—the Canadian government should be a world leader in combating this culture of impunity, referring the matter to the United Nations and its agencies in order to ensure that the instigators of this genocide, promoted by the state, are held responsible for their actions.

On the domestic level, the omissions are again glaring. For example, the throne speech speaks eloquently of anniversaries we are commemorating, the 60th Anniversary of Canadian Citizenship and anniversaries we are about to commemorate, such as the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.

However, it makes no mention of the fact that we are commemorating now the 25th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Indeed, there is no mention at all in the throne speech of the Charter of Rights even though the charter has had a transformative impact not only on our laws but on our lives.

For we have moved from being a parliamentary democracy to a constitutional democracy; the courts have moved from being arbiters of legal federalism, which they still are, to being the guarantors of our rights, because we, Parliament, vested in them that power; and where individuals and groups now have a panoply of rights and remedies that were unthinkable prior to the charter, which is why the charter has emerged as a respected and indispensable centrepiece, not only of our legal culture but for our human relationships.

Indeed, the only justice priority that the throne speech identifies is violent crime. Now safe streets and safe communities are the shared aspirations of all Canadians and the common objective of all parliamentarians and parties.

The point is that five of the six pieces of proposed legislation in the tackling violent crime act were initiated by the government in which I served as Minister of Justice. We were not only prepared to support that legislation in the last parliamentary session but we were prepared to fast track it into law.

However, the more important point here is that the justice agenda is not only about combating violent crime, whose objective we share, but it should include as a priority the protection of the vulnerable: women, children, aboriginals, minorities and the poor. The test of a just society is how it treats the most vulnerable among us.

There is no mention of women's rights, thereby marginalizing, as principle and policy, the principle that women's rights are human rights and there are no human rights which do not include the rights of women, while marginalizing also the needs of veterans and students.

Moreover, not only is there no mention of women's right and the ignoring of the Charter of Rights as a whole, but the government has dismantled the court challenges program, which was a bulwark in the promotion of both equality rights and minority rights, and while we welcome the government's commitment to the promotion and protection of official languages in Canada, it again undermines its own stated objective by the abolition of the very instrument that promoted and protected minority language rights.

Nor is there any provision for an early learning and child care program of the kind set forth in our government's federal-provincial child care agreements, which were jettisoned by this government, thereby denying needed child care to thousands of children, while repudiating a federal-provincial agreement, thereby undermining the government's own stated commitment to open federalism.

There is only perfunctory mention of poverty and the plight of the poor, but no undertaking of making poverty history on the international level or poverty reduction on the domestic level as a government priority. This, notwithstanding the fact that one million children live in poverty; that 2.8 million families, or one in five, live below the low income cutoff ; and that the gap between rich and poor has reached a three decade high, an inequality gap usually associated with underdeveloped nations.

In the matter of aboriginal justice, while we welcome the government's apology to first nations as part of the residential school agreement that our government had negotiated with the Assembly of First Nations and the Conservative government is duly respecting, this is far from making aboriginal justice a priority on the justice agenda as recommended by federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers at the 2005 FPT conference. This includes the other framework agreements that were negotiated, as well as supporting the international declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Further, there is no reference in the throne speech as a matter of principle and policy, let alone a priority, for a comprehensive sustainable civil as well as criminal legal aid program, also identified unanimously as a priority on the justice agenda at the FPT conference in 2005. The lack of such a program also impacts adversely on the most vulnerable of our society: women, children, minorities, aboriginals, the elderly and refugees, thereby further exacerbating their plight.

Indeed, the government's throne speech is diminished by the absence of even reference to these priorities, while its own stated priorities are undercut and undermined by the priorities that are excluded to the detriment of all Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4:10 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I would note specifically the comments by the member for Mount Royal regarding the troubling developments in Iran. I share his concern on the impact of the statements being made by the leadership in Iran, the impact that it specifically has on the people in the state of Israel, as well as peace in the Middle East and beyond generally.

I am specifically concerned about the reports of the possible development of nuclear weapons by Iran and I respect the member's point of view in that regard. I would like to hear from him what Canada's role should be to ensure that the proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially in the hands of a country like Iran, can be addressed. I think he would share my concern in that respect as well.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I share the hon. member's concern. Indeed, the government of Iran is not only engaged at this point in the processing of enriched uranium and plutonium along the road to develop nuclear weapons, but it has defied UN Security Council resolutions calling upon it to cease and desist from doing so.

The government should take the lead in supporting enhanced sanctions at the Security Council where we can be supportive of those initiatives that are to be taken and work with governments like Russia and China, which have impeded such sanctions and resolutions being adopted.

As well, on the matter of state sanctioned incitement to genocide, we should not only refer the matter to the appropriate agencies of the United Nations, the Security Council and the like, but we should call upon the UN Security Council to refer this to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prospective prosecution, as we did with respect to the Darfuri in that regard, and ensure that all initiatives be taken to combat this culture of impunity with respect to Iran's incitement to genocide, including the Government of Canada initiating a state to state complaint before the International Court of Justice against Iran, which is also a state party to the genocide convention.

We can also call upon the secretary general of the United Nations, under article 99 of the United Nations charter, to refer this matter to the UN Security Council as threatening international peace and security as Iran continues to be a standing threat to the right of states to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force. These are some of the initiatives that I would hope the government might in fact initiate.