Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the honourable member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis.
Our government has a reason to be proud of its record over the past 28 months. During that time we have focused on the government's jobs and growth agenda and there are now half a million more new jobs in the country. Canada has the highest growth rate in the G-7. Those are very important accomplishments and they are something to be proud of.
At the same time, we still have problems. We still have unemployment. People in my riding come to me looking for ideas. They ask me where they can find jobs. They still need jobs. We are lucky in the Halifax area that we have a relatively low unemployment rate compared to the rest of Atlantic Canada, but we still have our problems and so does the rest of the country.
We have more work to do as a government, but we must focus. We cannot do everything. That is the idea here of the throne speech. The idea of the throne speech is to set out the priorities and the focus of the government.
The government has set out three main priorities in the throne speech. The first is to maintain its efforts on jobs and growth and even to strengthen those efforts.
The second is to pursue security for Canadians in a number of areas.
A very important third is to modernize our federation to ensure the unity of our country.
Let me talk first about the issue of jobs and growth. It is very important that the government continue to pursue deficit reduction. It has met its deficit targets and is going to continue to meet them. It is very important that it do so. It is important to support a healthy economic climate. The government has to meet those targets but it can also do more.
For example, there is the problem of sales taxes across the country: the GST and provincial sales taxes. In the province of Nova Scotia there is a tax on a tax and we are paying very high levels of tax. A lot of people in my area have complained about the way it works. They are constantly hit with that tax which they see all the time, especially when the goods have one price on the shelf and then they are hit with another price. It is difficult to accept.
The government is now saying, let us harmonize these taxes. Let us work together with the provinces and have one system of sales tax. Then there would be one form for people in small business to report on and a simpler system for Canadians. It is very important to support a healthy economic climate for Canada and also create jobs and growth.
However, growth alone is not enough. There has been growth over the past two years, the highest rate in the G-7 as I mentioned. However it is not creating enough new jobs. That is the concern of my constituents.
The Prime Minister is right to challenge the private sector. It is time to challenge them to do more to create new jobs. What are the big companies and the big banks doing for Canada? They receive tremendous profits from Canada, in some cases bigger profits than ever before. What are they giving back? Big layoffs. Large numbers of people are being cut from these companies.
I heard yesterday on television that the big banks are having a study done to determine whether they have a moral obligation to not lay off people, but to employ them. It is remarkable that someone should have a study done in order to decide whether they have a moral obligation.
I could pick almost anyone in my riding to do the study and answer the question and it would probably be a lot cheaper than they are going to pay for this fancy study about their moral obligation to give people jobs when they are making such incredible profits. Or can they continue to make these huge profits and continue to cut jobs at a tremendous rate?
The answer should be obvious to the big banks and corporations. I hope they will join what the Prime Minister proposed as a Team Canada partnership to create jobs, especially for young Canadians. Young Canadians are our greatest resource and are so important to our future. At the present time the rate of unemployment among young Canadians is 16 per cent. That is an atrocious rate. The government has a responsibility to deal with that. However, we must also challenge the private sector which has the main job of creating jobs for people, especially our young people.
Yes, the private sector must be challenged but the government also has a role here. It is good that the government is going to double the number of summer jobs for students this year. That is very important because students and their families in my area and across the country are concerned about their futures, the cost of education and other problems they are facing. They need help from the government and I am glad to hear it is coming.
Another area that the government is focusing on is trade. Trade has been the single most important factor in creating jobs and growth over the last two years. It is interesting to note that 20 per cent of the jobs in my riding of Halifax West depend on trade. It is not surprising considering the fact that Halifax is a port city. There is also manufacturing in Halifax that must be sold around the world. Trade is very important to us and that is why it important to continue the Team Canada trade missions the Prime Minister has attended around the world. Those missions have brought $20 billion in new deals over the past 14 months. That is not singing in the dark. Those are important numbers. They are important because they mean jobs for Canadians, including those jobs in my riding.
A moment ago I mentioned the port of Halifax. The port of Halifax is a key national entry point for trade. It has grown tremendously in the past few years. It has great potential for the future but it has to compete with American ports. Those are its main competitors especially for container traffic.
I have a great concern about the issue of marine service fees. I have expressed my concerns very strongly to the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, his department and the commissioner of the coast guard about the need to ensure that whatever fee structure for marine services is brought in, it must be fair and must allow eastern Atlantic ports such as the port of Halifax to compete with its main competitors in the U.S. That is very important for the economic future in our region. It is very important for trade for this country too.
I was pleased to see that the government plans to focus also on rural areas because rural areas have special challenges. I come from an urban-rural riding. I have a mix of mostly suburban but also quite a large rural area.
In those areas some of the things that are important, as they are across Atlantic Canada, are things like access to capital, human resources development, infrastructure and access to the information highway. These are all things the government is going to pursue over the next year. Those rural areas need a special focus and we are going to give that focus.
The throne speech also talked about security for Canadians. That is very important in many ways. The throne speech is really about values and that is what it should be about. We should be talking about the shared values of Canadians because those shared values are what make us Canadian. Values such as freedom, peace, tolerance, sharing and generosity are what set us apart from other countries and peoples in the world,
Those are values that are very strongly shared across this country by all Canadians no matter what background, no matter what province, no matter what language. Those values make us Canadians.
The throne speech set out those values and why they are important to us. Economic growth is important to pursue, but it is not enough by itself. It is not an end in itself as the Prime Minister has said.
The government must pursue it for jobs and wealth creation for our country. At the same time the government must create opportunity. That is very important. We have been trying to do that over the past years and we must focus on that more. We must ensure that all Canadians can benefit when there is growth in our country, not just the big companies, big banks, for example. All Canadians have to take part.
An important part of the distribution of the success of our country is that a secure social safety net is maintained. It is very important to Canadians. It is a very important value.
Canadians are worried, in my riding and I am sure in other ridings, about the future of medicare. The government is committed to maintaining the five principles of the Canada Health Act. That is a very important commitment, and one that I endorse heartily.
I was very pleased to hear that the government will put a floor under the cash component of the Canada health and social transfer. That is an important guarantee of continuing federal cash transfers to the provinces which, especially in Atlantic Canada, is very important. It is important for a strong nation. It is important for strong national standards. It is important for our future and for our values as Canadians.
I have had many calls on the issue of pensions over the past while. With all the talk in the media about the future of the Canada pension system, the OAS and the GIS, Canadians are worried about this. While I am glad the Prime Minister has reaffirmed his commitment that we must protect current seniors and the pensions they receive, at the same time the system has to be examined to find ways to make the pension system sustainable for the long run for younger Canadians. For instance, when those our age retire the system should be there for us and others across this country.
One of the things I was delighted to hear in the speech from the throne is the traditional Liberal and Canadian value of equality of opportunity. This value is very dear to the hearts of Canadians. It is a basic Canadian value.
Equality of opportunity begins with children. The government has said it will make children a priority. That is no empty statement. It is a very important commitment that members in this party have been working on for a long time. We have worked hard to see that the government does more on the issue of child poverty.
I am delighted to hear the government say that it wants to move in that direction and I am looking forward to hearing more about that.
The government says that it will improve the child support system to help single parents and low income working families, the working poor who have always been a big concern of mine especially when I was involved with food banks in the Halifax area. We found people coming to us who had jobs but who were working on minimum wage, for example, and could not put enough money together to feed their families for the whole month. They had to end up going through the degradation of standing in line at food banks. It is an awful thing to have to do.
Food banks are certainly not the answer for our country. I am glad that the government is going to focus on this issue. I look forward to seeing measures in the budget in relation to poor children and young working families.
Equal opportunity is also important for small communities and rural communities. For example, it is important for the black communities. In my riding are several small black communities that just finished celebrating Black History Month, which was a great success.
It is important to recognize the black Canadians who have made an important contribution to making the road a little easier for others who followed them. Dr. Pearleen Oliver has recently written the book called The Song of the Spirit . It is a history of the Beachville United Baptist Church. In it she gives a record of people who have worked to build their community and to overcome prejudice and disadvantages in those kinds of communities. It is very important that she has recorded this kind of work and paid tribute to those people.
It is also important that we implement the new employment insurance system but that we not do it hastily. The minister has committed us to review it. This plan has to be adjusted. He has to do that to make it fairer for all workers.
We know that the system has not been fair enough in the past. It has to be made fairer for all workers across the country. At the same time we must ensure that we do not hurt unfairly those people who cannot afford it, those who need the system the very most. I am glad to see that it is in the throne speech and that we are going to see more of it. These are very important messages in the throne speech.