Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to rise and make my first speech in the House of Commons. I would like to say from the outset how honoured I am to represent the people of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. I would like to thank my constituents for the confidence they have placed in me as their member of Parliament.
Let me first add a voice of sympathy to those of our party leaders yesterday in offering condolences to the family of Lieutenant Saunders on his tragic passing.
As a member who represents a constituency with a large military population, I know the sacrifices and dedication of our military personnel and their families. This is truly a sad day for us all.
My riding has been represented over the years by individuals from many political parties including Michael Forrestall who served from 1963 to 1988 as a Progressive Conservative member, followed by my good friend Ron MacDonald, who many members here would remember fondly.
I would also like to recognize and pay tribute to Wendy Lill, my predecessor as member of Parliament for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. I can speak honestly in saying that Wendy was a tireless advocate for the people of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and Canada, and her efforts to help those in need is a standard that we can all be proud of.
I would like to take a few moments to speak about my riding and my community. Dartmouth is referred to as the city of lakes. It was founded in 1750 and is one of the most historic communities in Canada. I am glad that the member from Kingston is not with us today, and I know I will get some grief from my hon. colleague from Kings Hants, and without intending any offence to other members from perhaps Montreal or Kingston, Dartmouth can legitimately claim to be the birthplace of hockey as so ably chronicled by my friend Martin Jones in his book
Hockey's Home: Halifax-Dartmouth--The Origin of Canada's Game.
Likewise, the famous Starr manufacturing plant was world renowned as the largest manufacturer of ice skates, selling 11 million skates between 1863 and 1939.
The Shubenacadie Canal played a key role in creating trade links with the world by helping to sell hockey sticks produced by the Mi'kmag first nation. The Shubenacadie Canal was a marvel in innovation for its time and truly worthy of historic site designation.
Our hockey tradition continues today as Cole Harbour happens to be the home of Sidney Crosby, Canada's greatest young hockey player. My community respects and honours its great history and I intend to do so as its member of Parliament.
Dartmouth's recent history has been marked by leaders of all political stripes like Joseph Zatman, Rollie Thornhill, Danny Brownlow, Jim Smith and my father, John Savage. These leaders put people above politics and worked to make our corner of the world a better place. Their example will be my inspiration.
I am here today to speak to the throne speech and to congratulate the government and in particular our Prime Minister for outlining a vision for us, a vision that speaks to sound fiscal management and the need for government to play a significant role in social policy and to social economy.
Our quality of life, the ability to create good jobs, and to support and enhance social programs relies on our ability as a country to compete in the global economy. The people of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour will be pleased to hear our government's commitment to cities. Whether it be our commitment to affordable housing or to urban infrastructure, we can build on the over $12 billion invested by the Government of Canada to communities since 1994. I am happy to hear that the government will continue to work with the provinces to share a portion of the gas tax revenue.
I was pleased to hear that the government will continue to promote trade and investment to secure more opportunities and markets for Canadian goods and particularly in my case, Atlantic Canadian goods. Companies like Acadian Sea Plants is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Atlantic Canada. With an office in Dartmouth and plants throughout western Nova Scotia, it has marketed sea plants to the world. ACOA is an example of regional development that works with companies and organizations to improve the lives of our citizens.
Let us not forget that our economy has also resulted in seven consecutive budget surpluses and has made Canada the envy of the G-8 nations. This allows us to invest in the critical need for a national child care strategy.
Health care continues to be an area of concern to Canadians. I believe that the recent health agreement signed by the provinces and the federal government speaks to the vitality of our country and our ability to work together on an issue that need not and should not be a political issue but rather a value that we cherish.
We must ensure that all Canadians have access to universal health care. I believe the leadership of the Prime Minister at the recent first ministers' conference proved that he would go the extra mile to put people ahead of politics.
The new health agreement will have a positive impact on the people in Dartmouth--Cole Harbour and for all Nova Scotians. Our Conservative Premier, Dr. John Hamm, applauded the efforts of the Prime Minister when he said:
From a Nova Scotia perspective this was the most successful First Ministers meeting I have attended in more than five years as Premier.
I want to now focus briefly on two issues that are of personal interest to me and I believe national interest as well. As health care takes an increasingly large share of our government spending, we as a nation would do well to remember that a great deal of care, in fact a great deal of health, takes place far from the hospital rooms. The sustainability of our cherished health care system will increasingly rely on our ability to safeguard the health of Canadians before they get sick and our ability to allow people to recover from illness in their own homes.
Let me tell the House about health promotion Nova Scotia style. A recent study conducted by Dr. Sally Walker and Dr. Ronald Colman, on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Nova Scotia, indicated that increased physical activity would save the province of Nova Scotia millions of dollars. In my municipality alone, the inactive lifestyles of individuals costs the taxpayer more than $23 million. Some 200 residents of the Halifax Regional Municipality die prematurely each year because of physical inactivity.
I come from Atlantic Canada where we have the highest incidences of chronic disease. Poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, high levels of smoking and stress lead to intolerably high levels of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes which some people consider epidemic.
We need to understand the importance of a national wellness strategy that must include governments, medical professionals and non-profit organizations. It should include teachers. It should include us all.
This Speech from the Throne lays that groundwork. We need to empower Canadians to improve their own health, but we must recognize that poverty and a lack of education are the root cause of much ill health and not all Canadians have equal access to better health. A coordinated national approach that eliminates the barriers to systemic poor health and encourages individuals to improve their own health and promotes the benefits of healthier lifestyles would be the single best investment we could make in our health care system.
A national wellness strategy must incorporate all partners to encourage the use of public transit and to encourage governments to improve the physical design of workplaces so that people can choose to walk or take a bike.
I was delighted to campaign in June of this year as a Liberal under the leadership of our Prime Minister. One of the great issues that we addressed in our campaign was the key and growing issue of caregivers. Millions of Canadians provide care to loved ones. This has two advantages: for the loved ones it provides more comfort and dignity, and it reduces the burden on our health delivery system.
People who provide care to loved ones in their hour of need carry a heavy burden. There is a large emotional and physical toll that should not be compounded by financial stress. Families that struggle to make ends meet because of their full time dedication to a sick child, an injured adult or the elderly deserve our attention and our support.
In April this year I had the honour of speaking to the Family Caregivers' Association of Nova Scotia, following in the path of the member for Halifax who spoke last year. I spoke of my own experience as a caregiver to my parents while they were dying last year. Being from a large, close family made this difficult experience perhaps much less trying than for many others. The heroes in my case, aside from my parents who showed the same dignity in dying that they did in living, were my sisters, Brigit and Shelagh, who both left their jobs in Toronto, moved into the family home in Dartmouth and provided full time care to my parents from Christmas until their passing six weeks apart in April and May.
While it was a difficult time for our family, it was also a very special time as we came together and shared the amazingly graceful experience of helping our parents to prepare for death. Most important for all of us, they died at home surrounded by family and in familiar surroundings. I speak of my own experience, not because it is particularly significant, but because thousands of Canadians every year would prefer to die at home but simply cannot afford to do so and nor can their caregivers.
Our government has taken steps in concert with the provinces to address the role of caregivers. We have committed $1 billion over five years and I am proud that we will double the caregiver tax credit to $10,000. This tax credit will go a long way in helping families. There is more to do and we will do it.
Our health care system is perhaps the most important Canadian value we share as citizens. Let us invest in keeping Canadians healthy and increasing their dignity when they are sick.
In conclusion, I suspect that all members have fond memories of their first day on parliament hill as an MP. To me that day was July 8 of this year. It was a beautiful clear day in Ottawa. The buildings seemed even more grand than usual. The halls seemed to echo with the voices of leaders past. These grounds have a way of ensuring that one understands the great honour of representing one's community here in Parliament. It comes with a corresponding duty and commitment to serve the best interests of one's constituents.
This Speech from the Throne honours that commitment to the people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. I am proud to stand here today to indicate to the House my support for the work of the government.