Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Etobicoke—Lakeshore.
I congratulate Her Excellency the Governor General on both her appointment and inspirational address which she delivered on the occasion of her installation. Those of use who were privileged to witness that event were, I believe without exception, moved by her thoughtful and powerful address.
I compliment the hon. members for Windsor—St. Clair and Laval West on their eloquent remarks in moving and seconding the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
It is traditional that participants in this debate describe and praise the unique character of their constituencies. I have always felt particularly fortunate to represent Lanark—Carleton in the House of Commons. It encompasses one of Canada's major high technology clusters centred in but not restricted to the city of Kanata. It has a large rural area which includes much of Kanata and extends through West Carleton township in the county of Lanark, officially the maple syrup capital of Ontario.
In its towns and dotted throughout its landscape are numerous substantial and handsome stone homes and public buildings, a legacy of the Scottish stonemasons who were among the settlers who arrived in the last century. The people of Lanark—Carleton are very aware and proud of their heritage. At the same time, explosive growth of Kanata driven by successful high tech companies and entrepreneurs has added a dynamic sense of energy, pride and optimism to that historic and beautiful part of Canada.
Coupled with pride in its heritage is a sincere and energetic concern for the environment. One does not have to travel far to be close to nature. The increased pressure on water resources for industrial and recreational use has led to real concern in particular within the farming community.
The spirit of co-operation that exists among those seeking solutions in an era of diminished financial resources is reason to be hopeful. However, I believe there is widespread public support for moving environmental issues back near the top of the agenda for all levels of government. I was pleased that the Speech from the Throne committed the federal government to addressing the management of toxic substances, increasing protection for endangered species and strengthening our capacity to perform environmental research.
I have mentioned the contribution of high technology to my riding. Its importance cannot be overstated. I was pleased therefore to see that the government recognizes the interrelated role of so many factors that allow high tech companies to flourish.
There has been an ongoing debate about the brain drain. Despite the clash of statistical and anecdotal evidence, I am on the side of those who see this as a serious issue. The success or failure of any business depends on the quality of its management and the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm of its employees. Very simple rules of human behaviour govern the response of individuals and therefore companies to both threats and opportunities.
We live in a era when changes to global trade rules and patterns have subjected business to unprecedented competition. Companies that once hid behind high tariff walls disappeared as those walls crumbled.
The ability and willingness of governments to prop up or bail out non-competitive firms has eroded. There is also little public appetite for government grants to business. Governments do though have the ability to create the conditions and environment that will encourage companies to take risks and encourage individuals to be entrepreneurs.
One aspect of that is the burden of taxation, both personal and corporate. Taxes in Canada are high both historically and in comparison with our neighbour and major trading partner, the United States. However, the relatively recent and sustained campaign in favour of major tax cuts demonstrates just how short term some people's memories can be.
This government inherited a $42 billion deficit when it took office in 1993. Canadians enthusiastically supported the Minister of Finance as he brought in budget after budget that moved us steadily toward the surplus position we now enjoy. Prudence was the watchword. There was always the recognition that economic growth could stall. We were not prepared to achieve a budgetary surplus only to be thrown into a deficit situation by a future economic downturn.
Tax cutting has begun. Measures from the last three budgets will mean 600,000 low income Canadians will no longer pay federal income tax. The current clamour for tax cuts comes from those in the top tax bracket. That is understandable and the fact is one does not have to earn an enormous salary to be in that bracket, which brings me back to the brain drain.
Canada depends on successful business people to create jobs for other Canadians. We cannot afford to lose highly educated, highly skilled and highly mobile people. The disparity in income tax levels between Canada and the United States has been a significant factor for high tech companies in my riding that need to attract and keep skilled employees.
My message to both employers and employees is simple: your patience is about to be rewarded. I will quote from the throne speech:
Tax reduction is a key component of a strategy to increase individual incomes and to ensure an economy that produces the growth and wealth which enable those public and private investments necessary for a high quality of life. In its next budget the government will set out a multi-year plan for further tax reduction.
I included that quotation because many media reports suggested the speech gave little importance to lower taxes. The message is clear and the details will be spelled out in the February budget.
This session of parliament appears to be built around the theme of “Canada, the place to be in the 21st century”. I applaud the idea. It reminds me of a suggestion made by Dr. Howard Alper, vice-rector of research at the University of Ottawa. While considering the Canadian scientific diaspora, those top scientists and academics who are now abroad, Dr. Alper suggested a rediscover Canada program. Canada can only benefit by having many of its finest researchers available to, in particular, graduate students.
I was excited therefore to hear of the government's decision to fund a program known as the 21st century chairs for research excellence. The federal granting councils already play a very significant role in funding university research. They will now be responsible for enabling the establishment of 1,200 new chairs for research excellence in universities across the country. The objective is to have a total of 2,000 chairs as soon as possible.
That is the kind of bold leadership required if Canada is to be known as the country that celebrates excellence. I would extend that idea, though not the model, to other areas of human endeavour.
There has been a recent and overdue recognition of the need to celebrate our national heroes. Fellow Canadians who are successful on the world stage make us feel good about ourselves and serve as role models for others.
An obvious area is amateur athletics. In this era of multimillionaire professional athletes, to whom few of us can relate, we should remember the pride we always feel when our Olympic athletes perform well. At a time when study after study raises the alarm about how physically inactive our children are, we should look for ways to encourage amateur athletics. That will also require an investment in developing top quality coaches.
Along with celebrating excellence we should be known as a country that welcomes and supports creative minds. That means Canada is the place to be for artists, among others. One has only to look at the excitement created by Pinchas Zucherman becoming music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Often relatively small incremental costs mean the difference between experiencing the merely competent and the truly outstanding.
Many small steps can lead to a better country. One example is the annual Prime Minister's awards for teaching excellence. Another is the Governor General's award for caring Canadians. It is important to recognize and highlight the achievements of unsung heroes.
One group of heroes we can never properly thank is our war veterans. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to never experience war can have no real idea of what it was like. The reality that over 100,000 very young Canadians died on foreign soil in defence of their country can be acknowledged every November 11. But the enormity of the sacrifice and the loss and grief experienced by so many families rarely invades our own consciousness.
We became a country in the eyes of the world thanks to battles like Vimy Ridge. To recognize and celebrate the lives of those who died for Canada is not to celebrate war. It is a fundamental overarching responsibility we have to make succeeding generations know the price that was paid for our freedom.
I mention this in the course of this debate because another debate has been going on for far too long about building a new Canadian war museum. I believe the government should release from their commitment those who offered to raise money for the museum. Just build it.
I have seen much of the museum's collection that is unavailable to the public because of space restrictions and I can assure everyone that it deserves to be on display. I am aware of no other national institution that depended on private fundraising to be built. I hope there will be an early announcement that construction will soon begin on the new museum.
The Speech from the Throne addressed the need for an infrastructure for the 21st century. The most visible is the physical infrastructure we require as a trading nation to enable the free flow of goods and services. In addition to transport, the five year plan will focus on tourism, telecommunications, culture, health and safety and the environment. That is an ambitious objective but one which I believe Canadians will support.
The government has set a goal to be known around the world as a government most connected to its citizens. It will also take steps to accelerate our adoption of electronic commerce and encourage its use throughout the economy. There are challenges associated with electronic commerce.
In the last session of parliament we worked on legislation to protect personal and business information and to recognize electronic signatures. It is important that Canadians recognize and seize the opportunity we enjoy, because of our leadership in communications technology, to be a world leader in the control and use of electronic commerce.
I want to acknowledge and support the government's commitment to building stronger communities. In much of the industrialized world we have seen a growing gulf between rich and poor. There are almost daily media reports of newly minted high tech millionaires and corporate executives enjoying incomes that are many multiples of those earned by their rank and file employees.
Globalization has led many to question the importance of national boundaries. Every new round of trade negotiations appears to lessen the ability of governments to act on behalf of their citizens.
When Canadians are asked what separates them from Americans, we often point to our system of health care. A search for the defining idea of what makes Canada unique remains elusive. I suggest however that the answer may lie in embracing the idea of community. It is not a weakness to be seen around the world as a country that supports the less fortunate. It is not a weakness to be known as a country that embraces cultural diversity and welcomes new immigrants with their skills, energy and ambition to build a better life for themselves and their children. The danger would be in a retreat toward isolation as provinces, as communities and as individuals.
We as members of parliament have an ambitious agenda before us. The challenges set out in the Speech from the Throne are many and real. The goals are clear and within our grasp. Canada deserves nothing less than our best effort.