Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cambridge.
In rising to give my address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, I am giving my maiden speech in this hallowed House. I want to thank the people of Wellington—Halton Hills for giving me the privilege of representing them here, as well as thank my wife Carrie for all she has given. I will do my best and work my hardest for my constituents.
I also join with other members in congratulating the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker on their elevation to the Chair.
I hail from the great riding of Wellington—Halton Hills. My predecessors include Alf Hales, Perrin Beatty, Otto Jelinek and Garth Turner. I am proud to serve along with my provincial counterparts, Ted Arnott and Ted Chudleigh, as well as their predecessor, Jack Johnson. I want to recognize all of them for their dedication to public service. I will strive to do the same for the people of Wellington—Halton Hills.
Wellington—Halton Hills is made up of Wellington county and Halton region. Halton region recently received recognition as one of Canada's top 100 employers. I wish to congratulate Chairman Joyce Savoline, Halton Region Council and all of Halton Region's 1,700 staff for this recognition. This award recognizes that Halton has attracted and retained skilled employees to the public sector, employees who are a big part of the reason that Halton is such a great place to live.
As we embark on this 38th Parliament since Confederation, I hope that all my colleagues will join me in congratulating Halton region on this award.
Like many new Canadians who come today and those who came before, my late mother and father came to this country with nothing but dreams and hopes. Through perseverance and hard work they blazed a path so that their children could pursue opportunities unbounded in this vast and inchoate land. We owe much to these pioneers who came before and began to build this country. Their project is not yet finished and we must carry on.
I believe in one Canadian people and in one Canada. To be sure, there are a myriad of ethnic groups, there are the different regions, there are the two founding cultures and languages, and before all of these there were and are the native peoples. Each in their own unique and important way has contributed to the fabric and diversity of this country. However, above all of these, there is one Canadian identity, fragile as it sometimes may be. An identity forged out of war, out of history and out of tribulation, but above all, an identity forged out of an encounter with a vast and inchoate land.
It was this vision of a common Canadian identity that moved Sir John A. Macdonald to forge the mergers necessary for Confederation. He united the French Catholics of Canada east with the English Protestants of Canada west to form what would become the Conservative Party of Canada. He joined with his most hated nemesis, George Brown, to make this happen. It was in this spirit of nation building that our leader, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, and our deputy leader, the hon. member for Central Nova, forged a coalition for the betterment of Canada.
As it was once said by a great member of this House, political capital is not meant to be hoarded but spent on great causes for one's country. It is in this spirit of bettering my country that I criticize the throne speech on two issues: agriculture and funding for municipalities.
Agriculture is important to Wellington—Halton Hills. It was to my riding, into Puslinch township, that the first Hereford cattle were imported into Canada by Frederick Stone in the 1850s. It is in my riding that part of the world renowned Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph is located. Wellington county and Halton region together have 3,200 farms generating $570 million in farm gate sales.
However the Speech from the Throne does little to address the problems facing these farmers, especially for those farmers devastated by BSE in non-managed markets. It is ironic that 46 years after Alf Hales rose in this very House to speak up on behalf of beleaguered farmers, I now do the same with one big difference: the plight of today's farmer is far, far worse than it was in 1958.
Speaking in January 1958 on a farm bill introduced by the Diefenbaker government, Alf Hales stated in Hansard that the average selling price of steers for the 10 year period was $21.80 a hundredweight. That was in 1958 dollars. Today that would be $150 per hundredweight.
The base support price set by the government for farmers in 1958 was $17.44 per hundredweight. Even then farmers struggled. Today that would be a base support price of $120 per hundredweight.
The government's agricultural policy does not even come close to that kind of support.
Because of the government's farm policy in non-managed markets, the average family farm is no longer economically viable. The average farmer can no longer make ends meet and must rent hundreds if not thousands of acres to achieve the economies of scale necessary for a very modest profit.
We are creating a new kind of feudalism in this country where landowners rent their farmland out to impoverished tenant farmers. This is a shame in a country like Canada. We should and we can do better.
The throne speech also fails to deliver on money for municipalities. While I realize that a throne speech is the broad strokes of a government's plan, this one is so vague as to be meaningless.
It is possible the government will announce funding details by the end of the year but municipalities need details now so they can start budgeting for 2005. The municipalities face huge infrastructure costs. I will give two examples to illustrate my point.
The township of Centre Wellington, with a population of 22,000, has over 100 bridges. In that township alone we are currently facing bridge repair costs of $15 million, is a huge number for a township with an annual operating budget of only $15 million.
In Halton Hills I have been told there is a backlog of $57 million in road work and other infrastructure, an equally big number for a community with only 50,000 people and an annual operating budget of $20 million.
While these numbers may seem small to some, if one were to extrapolate them to a city the size of Toronto with a population of 2.5 million, one would get an infrastructure backlog of $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion. All of which is to say that rural communities, with their more scattered populations and large infrastructure, face the same kinds of challenges on a per capita basis that larger, more densely populated communities do.
We should not forget these rural communities, the lifeblood of our nation across its vast geographic expanse. However I worry that smaller communities will get less of the money on a per capita basis in favour of more densely populated areas.
I am also concerned that the government has moved from a specific to a vague commitment. During the election, 5¢ per litre of the gas tax was promised. In the most recent throne speech we now hear a promise of a portion of the gas tax. I hope the government is not backing away from its commitment to cities and municipalities.
Municipalities desperately need the money. The lack of detail and the lack of action means more closed bridges, more deteriorating roads and ultimately higher property taxes because the money must come from somewhere.
It means that seniors, like Maria Kurath in Erin, may have to sell their homes because they cannot afford the property taxes. These are the real life stories of what happens when a government fails to act.
The gas tax promise was made before the election, during the election and after the election. It has been mentioned in two throne speeches. There is a $9.1 billion surplus. The time for vague talk is over. It is time for action.
In closing I wish to indicate my support for the loyal opposition's amendment to the Speech from the Throne.