Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today in support of Motion No. 177, which states:
That, in the opinion of this House, a special committee should be established to study the severe unemployment problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.
At the same time, I would add New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and, going even further afield, British Columbia, on the Pacific coast, with all its fisheries problems.
Before I proceed with my speech, I would like to make a few comments to my colleague in the Reform Party. He spoke about Frank McKenna and said we should listen to what Frank McKenna has said.
I will say this in his language to make sure he will not have to get the translation. For the 10 years Frank McKenna was in power in New Brunswick I never once heard him say that he did not need any programs. However, on the same week that he took his resignation he said he did not need those programs and now we have to break the tax. Maybe this was because he wanted the support of the Reform Party out west if he were ever to become the prime minister of the country. I can tell the House he never said that when he was in power.
When we talk about the reduction of taxes to health and how much the government is spending, the Reform Party is in the wrong place. If Reformers want to save money for the country, they should follow what their leader did before the election when he said he would not move into Stornoway or use a limousine. Now they are using taxpayers' money to live at Stornoway. As if Stornoway was not good enough, it needed over $100,000 for repairs.
Clearly, unemployment rates in Newfoundland and Labrador have reached critical levels, despite the government's promises to invest in manpower training and economic restructuring.
Like the Conservatives before them, the Liberals cut social services and deregulated industry. The result? The rich get richer, but the ordinary folks continue to suffer.
The Liberals were elected on a promise of hope. Instead they embraced the idea that we could no longer afford the things we value as Canadians. Unemployment and the economic insecurity that goes with it are facts of life that we have to accept.
Accepting the insecurity that goes along with unemployment is out of the question. Never will the NDP support the Liberal view, which ignores human suffering. Never will the NDP say that nothing more can be done for the workers in this country.
Recently, in his first speech in the Atlantic region since the election that saw the number of Liberal seats there drop from 31 to 11, the Prime Minister had the nerve to say that cuts were inevitable and that people in the Atlantic provinces were going to thank him. For what?
I doubt that the thousands of unemployed are ready to thank the Prime Minister for the cuts that have plunged them into terrible poverty.
In his speech, the Prime Minister also admitted that the Atlantic provinces had suffered the most from federal cuts. He said that, because we depended more on the federal government than other regions in the country, we had naturally, yes naturally, been at a disadvantage.
When is this government going to wake up and realize that entire communities are suffering because of the Liberals' failure to act? The problems in Newfoundland are problems that can also be found in my region of New Brunswick. People want to work but cannot find employment because the region's economy has not recovered from the fisheries crisis.
The TAGS program was supposed to eliminate this problem and make it possible to reinvest in manpower, to support communities financially, in order to diversify the economy and alleviate suffering. But, as with everything the Liberals have undertaken, it was just a knee-jerk reaction lacking long term vision.
This program was so badly managed that cheques were distributed to people who had been dead for some time. If a private company had been run like this, it would have gone belly up in no time.
Now the government comes to us and says “Sorry folks, but we have run out of money, and we have to close down the program”. Can a government give this kind of answer when these people have paid taxes for years and devoted their energy to the economic development of their community, particularly when the crisis they find themselves in is again due to the government's mismanagement?
Well, enough is enough. People do not just want to survive. All they are asking is to be able to work and earn a decent living.
The TAGS program did nothing to build on Atlantic Canada's strengths; on the fishermen's tenacity, determination and expertise; on the fishing culture and heritage; or on the community's determination to survive.
As elected representatives, we must offer constructive criticism of these types of government programs. We have a duty to tell the Prime Minister it is not enough to help his friends the bankers; he must also think about ordinary people.
What people from the Atlantic region need is a proactive approach that takes into account the structural problems of regional economies. This is why it is so important to establish a parliamentary committee to look at the unemployment crisis. It is the first step toward a proactive approach that will identify the region's fundamental problems, thus making us aware of the communities' real concerns, instead of applying a band-aid solution.
People in Newfoundland also need short term projects to fill the void left by the expiry of TAGS. They need an early retirement program for older workers who will probably not have an opportunity to re-enter the labour market. This is also true for people in New Brunswick, in the Gaspe Peninsula and in Nova Scotia.
The NDP believes we must tackle the serious issue of unemployment right now. It is possible to set up long term job creation policies that will ensure decent salaries for families. We believe a full employment policy must the government's top priority.
As we know, job creation remains Canadians' first concern. There must be a more balanced approach than the ones proposed by the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Reformers. These are irresponsible approaches, as they never take into account the impact of the policy on small Atlantic communities.
They always come up with proposals that serve Toronto bankers at the expense of fishers in Harbour Grace.
There is another way of acknowledging the suffering of people, which is to offer solutions to alleviate it. Newfoundland is not an isolated case. We must face the real problems that ail the Atlantic region. This government must have the courage to put forward proactive measures for the short and the long term.
The people of Newfoundland deserve to have a courageous government that is listening to them. Is this government able to fulfil their needs and meet their expectations?