Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to note that I am splitting my time with the member from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
I also wish to mark the passing of a colleague of ours, a former member of the House, Mr. David Iftody, who died suddenly last night. He will be missed.
As this is the first time I have had an opportunity to speak in the House since the election, I will begin by thanking my constituents who have demonstrated their faith in me for the third time. I am honoured by their support and I pledge, as I have always done, my efforts to serve them to the best of my ability.
I also want to thank my wife and family. I am blessed with three wonderful children and a wife who takes on a lot of extra responsibilities so that I may be here. She gives up a lot and I really appreciate her efforts.
I also want to thank my many friends and volunteers who worked so hard for my re-election and worked with me throughout the intervening years to serve the people of Winnipeg South.
Finally, I want to thank my staff who I believe are among the best in Canada and who work very hard for very poor pay, very limited remuneration and do an excellent job.
I want to welcome the new members. I also want to welcome you, Mr. Speaker, as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole. We have a new Clerk but I think we have the same table officers returning.
I also want to thank all of the people around the Hill who work unseen by us to make our lives so much easier, whether it is the drivers, the security guards who are always so friendly and helpful, the people who clean our offices, the Hansard staff and an enormous number of people who toil day in and day out so that we may do the work that we are here to do. They do not often get the recognition they deserve.
Since I have very limited time, I want to simply highlight a few things. I was very disappointed in the way this campaign evolved in the last election.
I hold the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party responsible for starting it. We all launched into what was a very bitter and personal campaign. As a result, I think the Canadian people lost an opportunity through that process to hear us debate some of the things we debate all the time around here. They lost an opportunity to hear some discussion of ideas to improve the country. We lost a lot in that.
There were a few things our party put forward that were exceptional. As a person who represents a suburban riding in the south end of Winnipeg and a university, there were a couple of things that went entirely unnoticed in the Speech from the Throne that are enormously exciting and important for our country.
We made a commitment, and it was repeated by the Prime Minister, to make Canada among the top five countries in the world in investments in R and D by the year 2010. That is a staggeringly important announcement, not just for the research community but for our entire quality of life. The government made that commitment and I am enormously proud of it.
We also made a commitment to bring broadband access to all homes by 2004. I am sure a lot of people do not know what that means. It is an enormously important commitment, one that says we will all have high speed broadband, wideband access to our homes.
Everyone talks about getting television on their computers. That is a very small part of what it means. It means having the power to drive the kind of interfaces needed in order to have user friendly access so we can take advantage of the services which can be made available with the new information and technologies. It means we can literally talk to our television sets and order whatever we want by voice. It means my mother and grandmother can interact with the technology. It is shatteringly important and I am surprised we made it. It will take a lot of effort to get there.
I represent the University of Manitoba, one of the best universities in the world and certainly an important resource in my community. There are commitments around research and development, broadband access and registered learning accounts.
We talked about this as being the knowledge economy and the need for lifelong learning. The government has now put its resources behind that. We are giving people an opportunity to retrain, build their skills and invest in their own futures. It is an incredibly important initiative and one that I am sorry was not debated more wholesomely during the election.
I will focus on one set of issues because I have such limited time. Each time I run for election I come back here and set my own agenda in addition to the ones that I have committed to with my constituents during the campaign. We have some local infrastructure, an underpass and urban transit that we are going to work on. I see that reflected in the Speech from the Throne.
My big passion is the whole business of what is euphemistically called e-government, the adaptation by government of the information and communications technologies that have become so pervasive in the private sector. Either Gates or Michael Dell said that the Internet changes everything. We are just beginning to realize how true that is and what a profound change is going on.
If we look back at what has happened in the private sector with large corporations and all the talk about downsizing, rightsizing, flattening, speeding up and the customer is king, all the stuff that has taken place in the last decade and a half, there have been enormous and profound changes in the way businesses do business. The world has speeded up. Bill Gates calls this decade the decade of velocity. The skill necessary now is how to deal in a world that is moving faster and faster. Government will have to get there and learn how to live in that world.
Whether we want to or not, we are going to evolve from a structure of government that is hierarchical and based on traditional methods of accountability and department structure into a more network form of government. We are interacting on a very immediate basis with the levels of government and citizens in ways that are just unprecedented. We have to get our heads around that and start thinking about what this means for our role.
If we change the structure and operations of government we cannot help but affect the accountability mechanisms, the governance. We cannot change the way in which information flows in a government and not affect the way that decisions are made.
I do not have a particular passion for parliamentary reform. It is not the thing that drives me. However I see some portions of parliamentary reform as being critically important to advance the rate at which we adapt new technologies and the way in which our government will change.
It is important that Canada lead that change. We go back and forth in that leadership position around the world, but other governments in the industrialized world such as Japan and Australia are making some important strides right now.
I want to sound a note of caution. There is a commitment in the Speech from the Throne to bring forward a review and a redrafting of the existing privacy legislation. This will be a critically important debate, one to which we need to pay a lot of attention and one that I am concerned about.
Privacy is a right. It is not just a right in the charter but it is a right that the supreme court has read into the charter. It is a right that we all exercise. I am a little tired of people talking about customers, that we will move to a customer style of government. This is nonsense.
It has been tried around the world. It has failed all over the place because it fails to recognize the fact that I may be a customer of government in a few transactions but I am a citizen of Canada all the time and as a citizen I have rights. The government is accountable to me as a citizen. One of the ways I exercise that right is in the way it respects me and the way it treats the information that it has about me.
At the same time there are huge values to be gained as a citizen by allowing the government to accumulate information to better serve me and to better understand how government functions and how society functions.
At the heart of that is privacy legislation. Currently it is being worked on by a committee of bureaucrats. I am sure they are bright and beautiful people. However this is a bill that must be crafted on the floor of the Chamber by all of us. This is a bill that concerns the rights of all of us. It is something that we must be very involved in. We cannot let it go through the House simply because it has received the stamp of approval of the executive.
In conclusion, I wish all members well. I think it will be an extremely interesting few years in which we can make some major improvements.