Madam Speaker, first of all, I want to thank the people of the riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie once again for giving me the mandate to represent them for the third time.
I must say that it is, I think, the title of which I am most proud. I am committed to working relentlessly for the social and economic development of that riding, which, through its diversity and its vigour, is a true reflection of Canada.
Just a few months ago, Canadians from coast to coast went to the polls. The result was a clear endorsement of the program set out by our government for the future of this country.
During the recent election campaign, we explained to Canadians the values that we believe in and for which we stand. Our platform was clear and our commitment, unequivocal.
Canadians embraced these values, the values of an open and receptive government that cares about the quality of life of people and communities across the country.
As we begin our third mandate, we will continue to build an even stronger and ever more inclusive Canada; a country full of opportunities where the quality of life is unparalleled; a supportive country that is respected throughout the world and cited as an example to show all the things people of various origins can do when they are bound together by common values and by a firm commitment to the welfare of the community.
In our two previous mandates, we were able to lay the foundation that will bring prosperity to Canadians. We must now protect what we have while continuing to build our future together.
In the new economy, success will come to those who concentrate on ingenuity, innovation and education. Canada remains a relatively young country within the international community. It is a young, vibrant and energetic country where ideas abound.
We need to encourage our scientists and our businesspeople to be daring. The government and the private and voluntary sectors have to work in partnership to provide the tools needed so that each of their projects can be carried out.
To improve the quality of life for Canadians, we have to move on several fronts. Each and every department and government agency has a role to play.
The Treasury Board Secretariat is no exception to that rule. Granted, my department is not well known to the public. More often than not, our fellow citizens just have a vague idea of its main purpose. But the Treasury Board Secretariat does play a crucial role in the government. It ensures sound fiscal management, acts as employer for all civil servants and even oversees management reform.
In the last few years, we have also assumed increasing responsibility regarding some Canada-wide initiatives, like government on line and Infrastructure Canada.
I would like to discuss some of these activities in the context of the Speech from the Throne. Infrastructure is one of the most concrete and tangible programs we administer. It is also a central part of our strategy for laying the foundation of Canada's economy in the 21st century.
We can all agree that a strong national infrastructure base is essential to Canada's competitiveness and long term growth. Investing in our infrastructure is a direct investment in improving the daily quality of life for citizens across the country.
The government set aside $2.65 billion for a new physical infrastructure program. The new program has two components: a municipal component that will account for $2 billion and a highways component that will account for $600 million.
Over the last few months we have signed agreements for municipal infrastructure with all provinces and Yukon. We have put together partnership programs where we share costs and decision making and work together to ensure that funding will go where it is needed most.
These agreements demonstrate the full potential of what can be accomplished when federal, provincial and municipal governments work together collaboratively for the common good. When we sat down with our partners we made it clear that we wanted to take a grassroots approach. We wanted the municipalities to be at the heart of the new program because they were in the best position to understand the needs of their communities and establish priorities.
We are already seeing positive results from our partnerships. As part of Infrastructure Canada we have set aside $2.5 million for an important national initiative identified by stakeholders involved in the construction and upgrading of municipal infrastructures.
We are working with our partners on the production of a national guide to sustainable municipal infrastructure. Municipalities have told us that this is something they desperately need. It is a compendium of best practices that will be a source of information for municipalities on infrastructure planning, construction, maintenance and repair.
We are projecting that the adoption of best practices and innovations will save municipalities across the country anywhere from $800 million to $1.5 billion a year on infrastructure maintenance costs.
When we factor in our $2 billion commitment with that of our provincial, territorial, municipal and private sector partners, we are looking at an investment total of approximately $6 billion over the next five years.
Another equally important commitment made by the government is to help Canadians to fully take advantage of the technological revolution. We have reiterated our commitment to put our services on line by 2004 so that Canadians can have quick and easy access to information and services provided by the Government of Canada.
To better use the technology, we have to make it more accessible and available. We have taken major steps to make Canada one of the most connected countries in the world. We have also promised to continue to help Canadians gain access to the Internet and to the world of new possibilities it has created for future generations.
There is an incredible potential for developing programs and services which are more open and more people-centered.
Our new website is an example of the kind of opportunities providing Canadians quicker and easier access to government information and services in the language of their choice.
Canadians want and deserve efficient, reliable and cost effective services from their government. They are also entitled to receive services in the official language of their choice, whether they are anglophones in Gaspé or francophones in Winnipeg.
I am particularly pleased about our government's firm and reaffirmed commitment to linguistic duality, a value that is fundamental to our Canadian identity.
Our government firmly believes that the official languages policy is a matter of mutual respect and that it shows our willingness to use our diversity as a driving force.
Building on the heritage of its predecessors, the government will revive efforts to promote and preserve this precious heritage and to allow Canadians of all ages to acquire a better knowledge of it, to contribute to it and to benefit from it.
Our government intends to develop an action plan in order to meet its objectives. Above all, we want our fellow citizens across the country to recognize linguistic duality as a value that is unique to us and that sets us apart, and to support our efforts in a concrete way.
We will see to it that government on line and other developments of this kind do not dilute support for both official languages, but rather that they result in increased services.
We will work actively to ensure that French has its place on the Internet so that the French language and the French culture can remain strong within a Canada where linguistic duality is considered an asset.
None of our initiatives, projects or objectives will be realized without the continued hard work and dedication of public service employees throughout Canada and abroad. After all, the best intentions and ideas amount to little without the talented and professional workforce to translate them into reality.
Canada is blessed to have an exceptional public service. The Public Service of Canada is a vital institution and the government is committed to ensuring its long term health and vitality.
The Speech from the Throne was clear. We will take the necessary measures to ensure that the public service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country, and that it is able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century.
There can be no doubt that the government faces some very serious challenges. Demographics are changing and the workforce is aging. Competition for the talent we need to meet future challenges is becoming more and more intense. We are focusing on building a more inclusive and supportive environment, a working culture where people feel like they can make a meaningful contribution.
We are striving to fashion a new, more productive and mutually beneficial relationship between unions and management. We have engaged several outside groups such as the Advisory Committee on Senior Level Retention and Compensation, the Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Public Service of Canada, and the Task Force on an Inclusive Public Service to identify areas where we can and should make improvements to our human resources management regime.
Much more work remains to be done but I am very confident that we have the will, the talent and the energy to effect the necessary positive changes. As President of the Treasury Board I have made this a personal commitment.
I have tried to quickly go over some of the elements of the throne speech that are more directly related to my department. I want to conclude however by saying that these are only a few elements of an ambitious program.
Canadians have once again put their trust in us, because they realize that our balanced approach, and dare I say our Liberal approach, has helped us to gingerly step into the 21st century. They also realized that in a world of quick technological and economic changes, we did not intend to leave anyone behind. We firmly believe in equal opportunity, and that is the vision we expressed in the throne speech.
This Speech from the Throne forces us to provide the people of Canada with good government. What does that entail? A government with ambitious goals that focuses on results. A government that listens to the people. A government that shares the values of the people it serves.
That is what Canadians want and they deserve no less. This is exactly want our government intends to do during this new term.