Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.
It is a great honour and privilege for me to be here speaking to members today about the people of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia whom I am here to represent.
As I am sure is the case with everyone present, there were burning issues which compelled me to run for office and to take my place here. I will try to spell out some of those issues.
Before becoming a member of Parliament I made my living as an Atlantic playwright and film writer. I will become a cultural worker again when the time comes for me to leave here. Until that time I will use whatever communication skills I have to fight for the interests of the people of Dartmouth as their member of Parliament.
Dartmouth is a community of 70,000-plus souls on the Atlantic coast, which is now part of a larger amalgamated region including Halifax, Bedford, Sackville and surrounding regions. It is a community proud of its maritime traditions, its military contributions, its rich culture, its deep harbour and its 21 lakes.
The M'kmaq were the first people to come to its shores. My riding is also home to some of the oldest African-Canadian communities in Canada.
It is a community filled with hard working, straight ahead people who are proud of their contributions to Canadian society.
In the last four years the people of Dartmouth have been beaten up by the heavy handed cuts to the civil service in this country. Massive increases in unemployment, and they have been massive in Atlantic Canada, have left thousands of families affected.
No less an authority than the former premier of Nova Scotia in his speech to the Empire Club last winter said that 16 percent of all federal spending cuts had fallen on Nova Scotia, a province with about 3 percent of the country's population.
Marine biologists, scientists, librarians, teachers, health care workers, radio and film producers, thousands and thousands of important community strengthening jobs have disappeared in the interests of balancing the budget.
Every home I visited during the federal campaign has somehow been hurt by the cuts to the public sector. Is this progress? The workers of Dartmouth, and they are hard workers, have been rocked by another grim reality.
Thousands of civilians military workers have been affected by the government's policies to shove anything that moves into the private sector. Somehow the private sector is by definition more effective and more efficient.
Through a process called ASD, alternate service delivery, every function which now exists in the civilian military workforce is earmarked for privatization. Thousands of good paying, important community strengthening jobs again are being put on the chopping block and then put out to tender to the lowest bidder.
Presto, the jobs are reincarnated only with lower wages, no security and twice the workload. Since my election, dozens of civilian workers have approached me and asked that I fight for their rights for a decent salary, for job security in the face of privatization.
I am not sure whether Canadians are aware that the military of this country has made a decision to privatize all its functions. I do not know whether they know the same thing is happening in the national parks, their hospitals, their health care system.
Is this what Canadians want? Have we really thought about these things carefully? I do not believe so. Everywhere I look in my community I see people much poorer and more insecure than they were five years ago.
I see struggling families dealing with unemployment or waiting for the axe to fall. Is it not time that we started to talk about the sad state of work in this country?
In the Speech from the Throne we talked about the surplus which now exists in the treasury but we did not hear about how it was brought about. It was brought about by cutting the legs out from under the workers who were doing important jobs in their communities.
It was brought about by decimating longstanding meaningful community infrastructures which have given us pride and a sense of ourselves and where we come from.
I was at an event in my riding not long ago, the Dartmouth North community centre activity day. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. There were hundreds of children running around with face paint and hotdogs screaming with glee as they knocked someone off the chair into the dunk tank. It was a perfect picture.
There are a lot of children in North Dartmouth and I think 99 percent of them were there that day, but the lives of many of the Dartmouth children and families are far from perfect. In fact, 25 percent of child protection cases in Nova Scotia are in Dartmouth.
Why is that? Why are so many of our young people at risk? Instead of trusting wholly in the vision put forward by the business section of the Globe and Mail I sometimes seek out other sources such as the National Anti-Poverty Organization.
This is what it says about what is happening in this country. From the latest statistics I learned that an estimated 4.941 million, almost one Canadian in six, were living below the poverty line. About 40 percent of the people being served by Canada's food banks are children under the age of 18.
More than 25 percent of Canada's homeless are children and, despite cheerful words to the contrary in the Speech from the Throne, it is not getting any better.
The impact of the Canada health and social transfer is just starting to take effect like a slow release time bomb. The poor, the disabled, the children, the aged and the ill are all bearing the brunt of less money, less commitment to such things as public health, public education and the whole concept of community.
Where I come from there is an angry and demoralized group of crossing guards working for $5.50 an hour because the amalgamated city, which was supposed to be a money saver, has no money to pay them a decent wage. Imagine, the crossing guards, the people who are entrusted to protect our most precious loved ones, our children, are not being paid a living wage. Is that progress?
There are fewer police on the streets, fewer teachers in the classrooms and fewer nurses in the hospitals but there are a whole lot more people being pensioned off who still want to be working and contributing to their communities.
It is moribund and shameful to see the latest statistics on arts funding and realize that the only area of growth this year was in public broadcasting due to an increase in the area of severance pay. Is this progress? I would say not.
We are having a crisis of work in this country. We now have thousands of people in my community who are unemployed or underemployed and undervalued. We now have thousands of Nova Scotia university graduates carrying debtloads of up to $20,000 without any hope of getting work or if they do they are cobbling together a living on a string of minimum wage jobs. We have a crisis of work in this country.
There are desperate young people coming into my office who are being hounded by collection agencies to pay off their student loans. One young woman was fired from a good job and a job that she loved because she was being harassed by a loan agency that did not think she was coming up with the goods fast enough. Her employer let her go because he did not want to have to field phone calls from thugs any longer.
If I had the time and the genius of a playwright like Arthur Miller I would write a play about this incredible scenario. The theme of it would be right up there with “Death of a Salesman” in terms of human tragedy. Yet we are being told that the good times are back.
In the Speech from the Throne we hear that we have a surplus and the next big debate for us to concern ourselves with is how to spend it. Should we cut taxes here or there or should we drop a little into our programs? There is no talk whatsoever about the horrible human and social deficits which have been created in communities like mine by the policies of the government.
Perhaps that is not surprising. In the Speech from the Throne, as we all stood in the Senate Chamber listening to the governor general present the flowery words of the government, I was struck by the different realities within these walls and without.
There in the Senate Chamber there was no sense of need or desperation, no sense that so many people out there are stretched to the limit. This was a warm, rich and prosperous place, a place of plenty. At meetings we are supplied with tables filled with fruits and croissants, melons, grapes and strawberries. Raise your hand in the House of Commons and a page immediately brings you a glass of water.
My esteemed Metis colleague and seatmate from Saskatchewan said something with regard to the incredible discord that we see in the House of Commons on a daily basis. He suggested the whole structure of the place is wrong, that maybe we should be moving across to the Library of Parliament which is round. Perhaps we should all sit in a circle and try to move this group of warring factions into some unity. Perhaps we should use the methods of the First Nations people to try to fix the disunity of this country and this Parliament.
I would like to work with all members of the House of Commons to fix the deep and widening gaps in our society. I make that pledge. I offer this challenge to all of you. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.