Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the throne speech, the basic outline the government put forward last week.
On my new capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have quite a task ahead of me in terms of my responsibilities, not only in working with the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, but also in dealing with the ever increasing number of Canadians who find themselves in difficulties around the world.
Many speeches have been made on this side in terms of the great work that has been done in a number of areas which I will touch on very briefly. I was particularly pleased to hear of the situation that relates to assisting communities in a very real, tangible financial way as well as the beginning of the process of enhancing the starter grant for low income families, the learning bond, as well as a real solid commitment to the country's first nations peoples.
I was interested in the government's approach with respect to the situation as it unfolds in Africa, particularly as it relates to the pandemic there. I have discussed with many colleagues over the years my concerns with respect to Canada's drug patent policies. This is one area where we can clearly demonstrate that notwithstanding the difficulties we see on either side of this great debate, the one thing Canadians have in common is the concern about what is unfolding in that part of the world, which dare I say we cannot afford under any circumstance to ignore.
The position taken by the Prime Minister to uphold the changes to international aid to ensure that cheap drugs are accessed to confront serious pandemics is very much in keeping with the Canadian way. There are concerns that will have to be met. Let there be no doubt that the situation is serious in that part of the world. It is serious elsewhere.
People certainly in my community of Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge do not need a reminder about the devastation that SARS brought upon our communities. We know that Canada is very much a part of the global village. The ease of transportation, the ease with which people can travel around the world, makes the problems of other parts of the world very much our own problems here in this country.
It is for that reason I would hope that the legislation which will ensue from the throne speech, the bill to provide cheaper generic drugs or anti-retroviral drugs, will contain no loopholes which might for instance allow a brand name manufacturer to have a first right of refusal where a generic might be able to substitute.
We already know that Brazil, India and other countries have a comparative advantage in terms of access to this problem. We also know that Canada, through its NGOs, through its work with Médecins sans frontières, an initiative which I led in my own caucus some two years ago pursuant to the good work of people like Stephen Lewis and others, was taken very seriously by the government. I want to make sure that we understand that this is not something where there is much margin for error. We have to respond and we have to respond effectively.
I spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months dealing not only with the normal domestic issues, but also dealing with issues where Canadians find themselves in some difficulty. The work with William Sampson was only a beginning. We have since seen that there is a very troubling situation developing with Canadians who find themselves in harm's way.
I want to point out that our consular affairs officials within foreign affairs are doing an excellent job. They have an extremely good track record in helping Canadians get out of difficult situations. This is a perspective which I think is not widely shared and certainly is not well discussed often in the cut and thrust of question period. I can say with some certainty, having been involved on both sides of the equation, one as a critic of what was going on as well as seeing what was going on, there is far more that does not meet the public eye, but for which there are some good stories out there.
I plan to do my best to ensure that where we have difficulties, they are properly expressed. I will work with colleagues from all corners of the House to ensure that these issues are resolved. No Canadian should face undue hardship that is inconsistent with the country's own behaviour of treatment, particularly if the country is a signatory to various conventions, whether they be conventions on torture or conventions on treatment of prisoners. As well, we must ensure that due process in other countries is respected.
We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot tell another country how to conduct its business. However we can ensure that Canada's role in connection with other nations on humanitarian grounds is well respected. Many other countries in the world have taken the same position as Canada with respect to the protection of human rights.
I look forward to working with other colleagues on this to bring amplitude to the concern that has been raised as it relates to the situation Canadians find themselves in all too often.
I should point that the number of Canadians who find themselves incarcerated around the world has tripled since 1990. We have a number of people who are travelling and who do find themselves from time to time in harm's way. It is for that reason that we must work that much harder to ensure that Canadians get the message that the way we do things in Canada is not necessarily the way the rest of the world does it. To use an adage that is trite, and as trendy as it may be, when in Rome do as the Romans do.
I am pleased with respect to the initiatives taken by the Prime Minister, the cabinet and the caucus. I hear hon. members making remarks about democratic deficits and suggesting that it somehow does not work. I want to let all those individuals and critics know, and of course we understand the rules in having to say these things, but what we see in terms of the need to restore and enhance the role of members of Parliament did not happen by accident. The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton, who is also the parliamentary secretary responsible with special emphasis on democratic reform initiatives, myself and others, as members will know in previous parliaments, tended to be on the outside of the conventions.
We have had an enormous amount of consideration given to be able to impact significant areas of public policy. It is not lost on the vast majority of people who know the reputations of many of the members of Parliament here who now find themselves in the position of some authority and trust with their positions having been enhanced. This enhancement is not shallow, nor is it window dressing. It is real and very much a tribute to the Prime Minister for ensuring that the role of members of Parliament is enhanced.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I ran for Speaker of the House in 2000. In many respects, although it was the early days, the issue of democratic reform was certainly right. The concern that Canadians had and, of course, the low turnout in the last election, prompted many members of Parliament to become involved in the process of trying to, as it were, wrestle the balance between the executive and legislative authorities.
I think we have come closer to finding a balance that is acceptable and modernizes the instruments by which we govern ourselves. Therefore, we are, accordingly, to our constituents to whom we owe our utmost responsibilities, able to discharge our functions effectively and appropriately with some confidence.
I must say that the process has not been easy but it is one that I believe Canadians in general support. They can see that the modernization by which we govern ourselves is very much at the heart of what has made our parliamentary system both unique and accessible to all Canadians.
It is in that context that I am pleased to see that so much more in the throne speech has been suggested as far as accountability is concerned. Canadians can therefore believe in their governments and believe that this Parliament and this House of Commons can achieve things.
I have said it before. I have been successful for a number of years with the help of so many colleagues in the House of Commons in passing meaningful legislation. I want to make sure that is not the exception but the rule. The circumstances enhancing the ability for every member of Parliament to have a bill brought before it, debated in the House and sent on to the other place to become law is an effective representation of what Canadians expect.
When Canadians go to the ballots and see the names of the candidates and then elect a candidate, they want to know that the individual can purposefully bring forth concerns and introduce legislation that will have an impact, which has, for many reasons and for a variety of other pitfalls in the system, been ignored in the past.
I think everyone in the House would agree that those kinds of amendments are necessary for the survival of the evolution of this great House. I would point out that Bill C-249, a bill which was passed some 10 months ago, has yet to receive royal assent. It seems to be caught in the other place. Of course, we hope there is also a spirit of reform that involves both Houses.
I look forward to the day when all members of Parliament can go back to their constituencies after a particular election and say that we have made a difference, that we are not nobodies, 50 feet away from the House of Commons, but that collectively, regardless of our differences of opinion and regardless of partisanship, we can still do the job for the Canadian public.
Mr. Speaker, I want to make sure that I do not exceed my 10 minutes. I will be pleased to answer the questions of hon. members opposite.
I am also taking this opportunity to say that, even though an election will soon be called, there is still work to do. We must immediately begin vigorous debates on the bills introduced by the government, this for the benefit of all Canadians.