Mr. Speaker, I am most pleased to rise on this occasion and add my congratulations on your appointment to the Chair of this House.
First I would like to thank the electors of Brandon-Souris riding for allowing me the distinct pleasure to serve them in this Chamber. I would further add my congratulations to all the hon. members who were elected in the most recent election.
On a personal level, I wish to thank most sincerely my wife, Karen, in Virden, Manitoba, and my daughters Corleen, in Edmonton, Alberta, Richelle in Victoria, British Columbia, and Lindsey in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who have all shown unwavering support. As one can see, my family is well represented by the multi-party process in this House.
Like most of my colleagues, I would not be here without the presence of a strong and effective campaign team. To all of you, a team too numerous to mention individually, I salute you and I thank you.
I come from the riding of Brandon-Souris which is nestled in the extreme southwest corner of Manitoba. Most of my staunch supporters would never dream to have lived long enough to have seen the vanishing of the political support enjoyed by two of my predecessors, Mr. Walter Dinsdale, who served and represented the riding for over 30 years, followed by Dr. Lee Clark, a member for almost nine years up to and including the 34th Parliament.
My riding was colonized in the 1880s as the CPR spawned a string of towns across southern Manitoba. At approximately 16-mile intervals towns sprang up, roughly the same, along Brandon, Kemnay, Alexander, Oak Lake, Virden and Elkhorn on the northerly end and a second branch line of Crystal City, Killarney, Boissevain, Deloraine and Melita at the south.
As I mentioned earlier, the towns in general conformed to the CPR square mile survey system with 18 blocks to the mile. Grain elevators and lumber sheds were on one side of the track and the residential area on the other. Fairgrounds and stockyards were on the extremities of these hamlets and schools were located several blocks back so as not to disturb or endanger the children in attendance.
The colonists were largely French, Belgian, Scottish, Irish and English, with a predominance of the latter three. They were experienced farmers from Ontario who had capital and equipment and who were well educated and extremely self-confident. They soon came to dominate the province politically, economically and socially, a domination that some would argue has lasted to this day.
My riding is approximately 100 kilometres square in dimension. It has roughly 70,000 people, 45,000 of its citizens residing in the city of Brandon and 25,000 to 30,000 outside. We are not without unemployment, recession, high costs, low prices and a shrinking rural economy and population. Like most rural Canadians we are optimistic about our future with a new government in power, a government committed to rebuilding our economy and the revitalization of the elements that support our quality of life: jobs, roads, technology, education, personal integrity and social security.
The riding is home to numerous significant components, not the least of which is CFB Shilo, the home station of the Royal Regiment Canadian Artillery of Canada and the best artillery range in Canada. Shilo is the seventh largest community in the province of Manitoba and the fourth largest employer. To illustrate the breadth of activity in Shilo are the peacekeeping duties in Cyprus and the IRCHA and augmentation of the UN forces in former Yugoslavia. Shilo also serves as a training centre annually for 5,000 armoured troops of our NATO ally, the Federal Republic of Germany.
In Brandon-Souris we incorporate two aboriginal communities, Sioux Valley and Oak Lake, both of which are well positioned to assume greater responsibility under self-government.
At the most southerly end of this constituency is the International Peace Gardens located 10 miles south of Boissevain. This is a spacious park and a recreational centre dedicated to the peaceful relations between Canada and the United States and is part of the longest undefended border in the world.
Brandon University is another important component in the riding. It is an outstanding facility and I am proud to say it is my alma mater. It has a tradition of academic and social service spanning over 100 years and is well represented in this House by the Hon. Stanley Knowles, our chancellor emeritus.
Brandon University is home to the Bobcats, three times national university basketball champions, and is the producer of the Canadian Journal of Native Studies and a new innovative partnership program in education and business administration. Maclean's magazine called Brandon one of the ten best cities in which to live, an observation which I would extend to the other communities I mentioned earlier.
There are several issues of major concern to the Brandon-Souris constituents.
Agriculture is the most important industry in Manitoba. It has diversified greatly in the value added process. There are strong views about the intent to expand or diminish the role of the wheat board and allow more choices to market products on a niche basis.
Every town and city in Brandon-Souris has a list of infrastructure projects that are necessary in rejuvenating our rural economy. The city of Brandon is proposing bridge, water and flood protection projects that are desperately needed. Other specific infrastructure projects from the rural components of my riding are also being submitted.
Communication and transportation infrastructure will increase the job opportunities and ability of rural Canadians to compete internationally and be employed locally. Brandon-Souris is the only riding in Manitoba that has an oil resource. Oil has been a key player in our local economy, particularly in my home town of Virden, Manitoba.
Brandon-Souris also wants to develop a stronger tourism base aimed at its natural attractions and world class sporting events. I am honoured to say that Brandon-Souris will be playing host during the life of this Parliament to national and world curling competitions, Canada games and world junior baseball.
In the area of transportation, another concern we have is the absence of air service and VIA rail service. This is of major concern to all rural and city residents of Brandon-Souris. We must try to re-establish the ties that first brought our country together. Also the high cost of western grain transportation is an item of concern.
The state of our postal services and how they affect rural Canadians, specifically senior rural Canadians, is an area which should be investigated before any further cutbacks take place.
I come to this House after completing a 33-year teaching career mainly at the high school level and I have the greatest empathy and respect for the students in this country. I wish to pledge my efforts to them in creating a long term bursary and student loan program which currently is not addressed in government policy.
As a proud father of three wonderful daughters I am and will continue to be sensitive to women's issues relative to employment, health and equity.
As a former educator I still get involved in school visitations. I was at Virden Collegiate on January 6 and met with a wonderful grade nine class. I subsequently received a letter from a student of that class, Leslie Bunn. It somewhat shows how I feel about being an MP and working for the betterment of students:
Dear Mr. McKinnon:
When you came and spoke to my class last Thursday you answered a lot of my questions I had concerning your position as MP. You made me realize some important facts about your position.
I realize that being an MP isn't all that easy. You are away from your family and travelling lots. You are in early meetings and it isn't easy to keep it up. It made me think that if I ever did become involved in politics, it would be a rough road to hold.
You told us the amount of money you make and I thought it was a lot. Then as you explained the sacrifices you make and will have to make I realized it still may be a lot of money, but it didn't seem quite as bad as before. This also made me think that if I became a politician I would be well paid but it would not be too much out of reason.
I think it wouldn't be so bad living close to Ottawa, but it would be horrible living somewhere in British Columbia where I would be doing nothing but flying back and forth.
Even after all the sacrifices I heard you have to make, I don't think I would mind being an MP.
Leslie Bunn, Virden, Manitoba.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to represent the constituents of Brandon-Souris and to work toward bringing about dignity to rural Canada. My constituents have sent me, the first Liberal in 42 years, to represent Brandon-Souris in the House of Commons, to be part of the Liberal team, to help solve the problems caused by eight years of failed economic policy.
My constituents want to be part of the new vision of Canada, a vision which includes all of the wide and diverse mosaic which is Canada today, a vision which includes jobs for Canadians, a vision of equitable regional development, a vision of renewed integrity in government, a vision of economic renewal and social security and finally, a vision of a safe Canada. In short, it is a Liberal vision of Canada.