Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne. It is also a privilege to have the opportunity to return to Ottawa once again to represent my constituents in Toronto—Danforth.
I will begin by thanking my constituents for the trust they have placed in me, in my team in Ottawa and in my team in the riding. I consider it a real privilege to be entrusted to bring the concerns and ideas of my community to the Chamber.
I have referred to this room many times before as the nation's boardroom. If we work constructively together in this room I believe we have nothing to worry about in terms of achieving a quality of life for Canada that will continue to rank us as the best country in the world in which to live.
In the last election my constituents brought a couple of issues to my attention. I feel I must bring them to the floor of the Chamber and tell my colleagues on both sides of the House that they will be an important preoccupation for me.
The first is affordable housing. Not a day passed during the last election campaign when my constituents did not urge me to spend time and energy to call attention to the fact that in the province of Ontario, and more specifically in the city of Toronto, there has not been a single affordable housing start in the last 10 years.
Regrettably in 1985 we devolved housing to the provinces. Ontario has had a very hard time meeting the needs of families who in many cases do not have access to affordable housing. In a city as rich as Toronto over 3,000 people live in motel rooms. It is unbelievable in a country as rich as Canada, in a city as economically vibrant as Toronto, that so many families live in motel rooms.
On November 1, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister announced that anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 affordable housing units would be built in Canada over the next five years.
On behalf of my constituents I will bring all my energy and focus to bear in ensuring that the ministers responsible for that government commitment, not only during the election, not only in the red book, but in the Speech from the Throne, will implement it as soon as possible.
There are a number of issues we have to face as a nation over the next while. As members of parliament we have to blend our time with the needs and desires of our constituents. We also have a responsibility to work on emerging issues that require preplanning. We should listen in committee to expert witnesses from our own country and around the world. We have to plan, lay out a design for the future.
One issue has emerged and another is about to emerge in a serious way. The first is food security. I believe parliamentarians have a responsibility to put the issue of food security on the front burner of the legislative agenda over the next year or two.
The food security issue was tabled in the throne speech and has been touched on by the Prime Minister. He has said quite categorically that it will be on the agenda in the next 72 hours or so during his meeting with President Bush. He is the first G7 leader to meet with the new president.
It is important not only for Canadians to recognize this but that we as the House of Commons reflect and create an environment where food security becomes the central issue of parliament.
It is not only an issue that concern rural members. Farmers from every region of the country have been visiting members of parliament. My seat mate, the member for Egmont from Prince Edward Island, is meeting with a group of potato farmers. How many Canadians realize that potatoes from Prince Edward Island do not have access to the United States market? It is hard to imagine such a state could exist today.
When we speak in the House we are not only speaking to each other. We are also speaking to our constituents. I would say humbly that many urban constituents do not fully appreciate or understand the challenges and difficulties that family farmers in Canada are going through today.
As an urban member of parliament responding to the Speech from the Throne, I state clearly and with no hesitation that one of the priority issues I will be speaking about in parliament in the next year and a half will be a commitment to food security. I hope to work with members on both sides of the House to ensure this issue becomes something that we as a parliament moves forward in a meaningful, constructive way for the benefit of all Canadians, both rural and urban.
There is another issue that I will personally be spending a lot of time on in parliament. I spoke about it in my first speech 12 years ago when I was first elected. We were debating in a very forceful way the free trade agreement which had seized every member of the House.
At that time I was in opposition. I had just completed my campaign. One of the reasons why I believe I was elected in that campaign, separate and apart from the fantastic leadership of the Right Hon. John Turner who was then leader of the party and did a magnificent job on the free trade debate, was that I sent out signals of alarm to my constituents that the whole issue of water was going to be something that we as Canadians and we as legislators must get our heads around.
In that very first speech, I asked the prime minister of the day, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, if he would consider asking President Reagan for a one page protocol letter that we could attach to the free trade agreement, wherein President Reagan would state that water was in no way, shape or form part of the free trade agreement. Needless to say, I did not get that protocol letter. However, over the last 12 years I have continued to be concerned and obsessed with this whole issue of water.
It is very important for us to realize that the first free trade negotiator for the United States of America was a gentleman by the name of Clayton Yeutter. Clayton Yeutter completed his doctoral thesis on North American water management at the University of Nebraska in 1961. He also, as a young assistant in congress, worked for Congressman Jim Wright, whose sole preoccupation was water and in fact wrote the book, The Coming Water Famine .
I am absolutely convinced that water is going to be a central issue in our relationship with the United States of America in the near future. I believe that we, as a parliament, in committee, in the House, must begin a very serious, focused campaign, a plan and a study of exactly where we as a nation stand on control of our fresh water in this country. We must look at the relationship of water in regard to the provinces, the municipalities and on an international basis.
I am happy to see that the Speech from the Throne states on page 13 that:
It is Canada's responsibility, as steward of one of the world's largest supplies of fresh water, to protect this critical resource. Safeguarding our water is a shared task among governments, industry and individual Canadians. The Government of Canada will fulfil its direct responsibilities for water, including the safety of water supplies on reserves and federal lands.
I was so delighted to see that last portion, wherein the safety of water supplies on reserves and federal lands is addressed. As we know, under the Indian Act the minister has a special constitutional prerogative to make sure that quality of water and standards of water on reserves are ultimately under the authority of the Government of Canada, this Chamber.
I believe that if we act soon on the particular authority that the minister and the House have, then we can set a bar for quality of fresh water that could affect every province and every municipality. I believe it is the duty of the House to make sure that we act on this file immediately.
I realize there are many other issues that have been dealt with in the Speech from the Throne, one in terms of the child poverty challenge that we as a House of Commons have to face.
There are also issues related to safety in our community and issues related to making sure that the anti-gang laws are reinforced. As one can imagine, in downtown Toronto this is a critical piece of legislation. It is not an issue just in the province of Quebec. Now that we have a merger of the Hell's Angels forces, it is very important that we seize the legislation and make sure that there are proper resources with which to enforce the legislation.
I highlight the fact that the legislation would give the customs and revenue department special authority. I have sought counsel on this matter from Mr. Yves Lavigne, who has spent most of his life working with the issue of the Hell's Angels. He is the author of Hell's Angels at War and has given me the direct advice that the best way to deal with these gangs is to make sure that the customs and revenue department has the proper resources with which to do its job.
That pretty well sums up my focus, but I want to repeat to my colleagues that I have always considered it a privilege to work with everyone in the House.
I say to my constituents that the issues of affordable housing, food security and making sure of Canada's trust in dealing with the precious resource of water will be my central focuses in the next year and a half.