Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise before this House for the first time and give my maiden speech.
I would like to also express my gratitude to the constituents of New Westminster-Burnaby for choosing me on October 25, 1993 to represent them in the House of Commons. Mr. McVey, a grade school teacher of mine, must be smiling today.
New Westminster was the former capital of British Columbia. In fact it was given its name specifically by the Queen. It is now proudly referred to as the royal city. The city of Burnaby is a large urban community and residential area lying between Vancouver and New Westminster.
Situated on the banks of the Fraser River, New Westminster has seen history pass its shore. There was the gold rush of 1858 and the massive town fire that unfortunately destroyed its downtown core. In more recent years it has been a centre for the processing of forestry products. With the prospect of urban sprawl New Westminster's geographical significance was eclipsed and now the revitalization of the waterfront and sky train connections brings a tremendous amount of growth to the city.
New Westminster is a city of proud history from the early days of the province to its re-emergence as a prominent place in British Columbia. Burnaby has seen a tremendous amount of growth in recent years primarily with the emergence of Metrotown along with a pleasant mix of parks, recreation centres and libraries.
I am pleased to say that while there is snow and freezing temperatures in Ottawa today, in my riding the lawns are green. The flowers are starting to come up. Although we have not seen snow in my riding this year let it be known that it does not rain every day in New Westminster-Burnaby.
Like other communities the issue of safer streets and the equitable performance of the justice system to properly balance the issues of the victims as opposed to that of offenders continues to fester.
To focus my remarks I wanted to comment on a paragraph in the throne speech referring to community safety and crime prevention. Listening to the throne speech my reaction was one of stunned disbelief for misplaced priorities. Across Canada one particular issue has been the Young Offenders Act, yet it did not rate a mention in the speech from the throne.
There was no outcry in New Westminster-Burnaby for changes to the human rights act or demands for the court challenges program to be restored. It took questioning of the minister from our side to hear any comment to do with the Young Offenders Act. I heard that in just the last few hours the justice minister did hint at a direction but not very precisely.
Let me say clearly that in my riding the folk are upset about deficits and the conspicuous consumption by government and the lack of fiscal leadership by example. However, if one wants to identify one particular statute that is in disrepute then it is the Young Offenders Act.
As a criminal justice professional I participated in the national consultations leading up to the act being passed in the late days of the previous Liberal administration. I recall that in 1984 the government of the day was quite verbose in promoting the efficacy of the compromise achieved with the provinces. However, I also recall other voices predicting that it was a flawed piece of legislation.
The verdict of my community is in. There is little community support. In fact I have never met one policeman who supports this legislation. We have now had about ten years of implementation and during that time the act has acquired very few defenders.
The flawed act was subject to a number of court appeals for clarification. It was also amended several times by the Conservatives. However, the Young Offenders Act remains today the single piece of legislation that is most vilified by the public.
The Young Offenders Act has a title which implies its application. I say to the government as a professional who has been left in the community to administer this act, let the Young Offenders Act truly deal with young offenders and not youthful adults.
If the justice minister does nothing else about this act and all its tangled provisions, it can do one thing to change the mood of this country concerning young offenders. Consider specifically section 2(1) under definitions of a "young person". What if we change the number 12 to 10 and the number 18 to 16? It is just two numbers.
The government needs to change just two numbers in the beginning of this statute and that would then fundamentally change the administration of justice across this nation. However, I doubt that the government has the courage. The throne speech indicates misplaced priorities. The answers of the minister so far outline a plan perhaps to tinker only with the internal technical points of the Young Offenders Act.
However, the thrust of this act has never achieved acceptance in my community. I am also getting calls on what the government really means by its throne speech reference to this: "Amendments will be proposed to the Canadian Human Rights Act". There are a few newspaper articles but not much else.
Where is the political mandate for that? I do not believe there is any specific reference to it in the infamous Liberal red book. Where does this come from, left field? Where is the political mandate to perhaps fundamentally alter how Canadians define themselves? If there is a sleeper time bomb in this throne speech then this is it.
I ask the government to be open now and test the marketplace for ideas on this one. The implications of this measure to policies, to Revenue Canada, the social safety net, insurance companies, pension plans and union contracts is sweeping.
If the government is hiding the intent until the last moment I challenge to issue intent now and if there is national-wide protests then so be it. It just seems that pursuing this agenda is a misplaced priority from what my community wants. It begs the question what special interest group has the ear of the government?
In our let the people speak phase of the election it was clear that my community wanted fiscal reform. Specifically in justice issues it was the Young Offenders Act that was of concern, not the human rights act and definitely not the court challenges program.
I remind the government to pay attention to what the people want rather than what it thinks the people need or should want. Specifically in the field of criminal justice, reform bring forward legislation on the Young Offenders Act first, especially in line with what I have mentioned rather than window dressing.
I also want to commend this government for permitting open debates on peacekeeping and on cruise missile testing. I am sure the varied moods of the communities were reflected by the members, much to the confusion of members of the media who all seemed to want the old style of being handed a set paragraph policy statement that is the formula set position of the day.
Now fiscal reform has been and is being dealt with at least at the talking level, albeit some ministers have not yet got the message with their use of government aircraft. There are indications that the Criminal Code matters will be heard.
That leaves parliamentary reform. I am encouraged as I have said about the open debates so far but I ask if the Prime Minister could go just one bit further and say to this House that the government will not consider the defeat of a government motion including a spending measure to constitute an expression of non-confidence in the government unless it is immediately followed by the passage of a formal non-confidence vote.
The genie is out of the bottle concerning the public's expectation to be heard on issues that fundamentally alter the way Canadians define themselves. The referendum was the watershed for that, but criminal law is part of it.
But more than appreciating the 199 new members of Parliament who have never been here before the fresh air that is needed is an attitude change by just one man, the Prime Minister, who can gather the courage to usher us into a new age of democracy. The Prime Minister is looking to make his mark in Canadian history. I believe that this is where he can do it.
It is not a strategic question of caucus support or insider concerns, all of which were the same arguments used by the British Prime Minister many years ago in his reluctance to abolish slavery. The main thrust, the change was right. Then as now the national mood was right but a consideration for a united caucus and parliamentary manoeuvring delayed too long what that nation wanted. I think the nation wants this measure from the Prime Minister to free us from the slavery of caucus solidarity. This one step could open the House to a new meaning in relevance to those who have sent us here.
In closing I pledge my co-operation and constructive advice on legislation. I will minimize my personal philosophies and emphasize what my constituents desire as I will attempt to represent the broadest of political views. For this House does not belong to parliamentarians. It is not our private club. It belongs to the people. I pledge to conduct myself accordingly for in the long run I trust that if the people are given the truth and the whole story more often than not consensus will emerge that is wiser than any technocrat can devise.
Finally, as the government brings forth its legislative program let the people speak and we will have fulfilled our duty. May the government hear what has been tested in the marketplace of ideas and it will not go wrong. Lead by example and sacrifice and the nation will support it.