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House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

October 8th, 2004 / 12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been asked by the hon. member for Peterborough to present this petition from his constituents.

The petitioners are supporters of kidney research who believe that research into the cure and care of kidney disease will help hundreds of thousands of Canadians. They ask Parliament to explicitly recognize kidney disease by naming one of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research the institute of kidney and urinary tract diseases.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I suggest that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her Speech at the opening of the session; and of the amendment, as amended.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank your predecessor in the chair for having permitted me to give my maiden speech in its entirety so as not to be interrupted by question period. That makes it easier for me to break the ice uninterruptedly. I also thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for sharing his allotted time with me.

First, with your permission, I would like to say a few words of thanks to the people in the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska, who placed their trust in me on June 28. I have made a commitment to represent them proudly and diligently. I can state without boasting that several matters have already been settled and others are in progress. One of my priorities was to open offices in the three major centres of my constituency, which I did quickly.

Richmond—Arthabaska has nearly 98,000 inhabitants, working in fields as diverse as agriculture, business, health care, construction and mining. We also have major industries such as Cascades and Domtar.

Among the events that should not be missed are the Warwick cheese festival, Danville's festival of art in the streets, Victoriaville's new music festival, the Laurier Museum—a place that heard Laurier's voice ring out a number of times, la Poudrière de Windsor, the Asbestos mineralogy and historical museum and the cranberry interpretation centre at Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. These are only a few examples.

Now, of course, I am getting to the heart of the matter. First, I would like to say I am pleased with the adoption of the Bloc Quebecois amendment to the amendment to the throne speech by all parties in this House during the address in reply. Thus, thanks to the sensitivity of the Bloc Quebecois, which vigorously defends Quebec's interests, provincial jurisdictions will be thoroughly respected. I also hope that what some call financial pressures and Quebec calls the fiscal imbalance, will be alleviated.

Not just Quebec but all the provinces and all parties in this House, with the unfortunate exception of the Liberal Party recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance and the need to correct it. The minority government, in its throne speech, has remembered its commitment to review equalization. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to solve the problem of Quebec's treasury.

While Ottawa accumulates $166 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Conference Board, which is certainly not a sovereignist organization, Quebec and the provinces are being forced to reduce their services. For example, in Quebec, the government has increased day care service fees by 40%. The $70 million investment over five years planned for school libraries has been put off indefinitely.

In my riding, the fiscal imbalance represents a shortfall of some $28 million every year until 2007-08. Imagine the positive impact of the annual injection of that much additional money on health and education.

The federal government has almost three weeks to do something about it. The time has come to take action. At the October 26 meeting between the provinces and the federal government, we expect nothing less than concrete solutions, such as sharing tax fields.

As usual, as I said from the start, the Speech from the Throne is full of wishful thinking. Right now, the majority of MPs in my region are members of the Bloc Quebecois. We recently created an Estrie—Centre-du-Québec caucus, which the member for Drummond is part of. We presented the priorities of our respective constituents at a press conference just before the current session of Parliament began.

One of our priorities was the necessity of an independent employment insurance fund. Imagine our disappointment —although I cannot say we were surprised—to see this very terse commitment in the throne speech that the “Government will continue to review the Employment Insurance program to ensure that it remains well-suited to the needs of Canada's workforce”. Note the very non-committal term “review”. So the unemployed, who have already seen $45 billion looted from their employment insurance fund, have again been shunted aside.

What about the anticipated improvements? What about the loosening up of the eligibility criteria? The government owes many people answers, among them the seasonal workers, the victims of the discriminatory 910-hour rule, who are often young, female or elderly, all of whom have been let down.

We also have concerns about the agricultural producers, concerns the federal government does not share. Protecting supply management system is not even touched upon in the speech.

Nor does it propose any additional support to the dairy producers affected by the mad cow crisis, although the recent federal announcements are patently inadequate. There is no direct assistance to compensate for plummeting cattle prices, nor any program of interest-free loans, yet this is what producers have been asking for.

Some $141 million is needed in Quebec, while the federal measures total a mere $15 million or so.

My paternal grandfather, after whom I am named, was a dairy farmer. My area of Quebec, Centre-du-Québec, is a major dairy farming area with over 1,500 dairy operations. They contribute more than 16% of Quebec's milk production. The mad cow crisis affects dairy producers in particular, as we know that 25% of their cows each year become cull cattle, whereas the federal program compensates them for no more than 16% of their herd.

There is not a word in the throne speech on this, just as there is nothing about the American missile defence shield. The Bloc Quebecois is vehemently opposed to Canadian participation in the shield. The federal government needs to consult parliamentarians so that they may vote before any decision is reached. Any involvement in the missile defence shield would be just one more slap in the face to the Quebec people, who refuse to be associated with anything to do with the militarization of space.

Seniors have also been forgotten in this speech. It talks about increasing the guaranteed income supplement but there is nothing about full retroactivity for the seniors who have been denied it. Let me salute my colleague, the member for Champlain, for his work. Thanks to him and the Bloc Quebecois, many Quebec seniors are now receiving the guaranteed income supplement.

It would have been appropriate to deal with the issue of increasing gasoline prices. Anybody who owns a car—and I believe the majority of people in the House do—has been aware of the problem. We may be able to afford to put gas in our car, but others, who need to travel for their work, are having a much harder time of it.

Giving the Competition Act more teeth and creating an agency to monitor petroleum prices, as the Bloc Quebecois has been advocating, would have been tangible signs of the government's willingness to help drivers, especially truck drivers, taxi drivers and all those who need machinery for their daily work.

Finally, the Speech from the Throne does not address the issue of parental leave. The federal government must stop procrastinating regarding the agreement in principle it has with Quebec, it must put an end to proceedings in the Supreme Court and transfer the over $700 million a year to Quebec without delay.

The federal government might think its throne speech was poorly received only by the opposition parties here in Ottawa. It should know that it was also very poorly received by all the parties in the Quebec National Assembly. There is a real consensus. The following comments appeared in Le Devoir on Thursday, October 7, yesterday:

“It's a big nothing.” That is what the Liberal minister Benoît Pelletier said. “Multiple encroachments,” said PQ member Daniel Turp. “Very clearly, the speech was in the tradition of Trudeau and Chrétien and their centralist views,” said ADQ leader Mario Dumont.

Quebec's distinctiveness is obvious, once again. Of course it will be fully manifest when Quebec becomes a country in its own right.

The federal government ignored the people's will in this arrogant throne speech. However, as we saw yesterday when the Bloc Quebecois' amendment to the amendment was passed, the government's arrogance has fortunately been tempered by its minority situation.

For our part , we will continue fighting against centralization and encroachments.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:20 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to welcome the new hon. member to this House. Like him, I come from a region that produces a lot of milk, although much less than his region does, but it is nevertheless an important industry. It is true that milk producers are going through hard times because of the lack of markets for cows, particularly exports, following the problems created by mad cow disease.

Like a number of our colleagues, the hon. member spoke about the issues on which the throne speech is silent. The hon. member is a newcomer here. Let us hope that he will have the opportunity to hear other Speeches from the Throne, preferable from our party. We should recognize that the throne speech presents the main objectives and priorities of the government.

We have to look at what is actually mentioned in the speech. It talks about issues such as the health accord, which is very important to all Canadians. That agreement got the full support of the Quebec government. It recognizes the specific problems and solutions in each province and region.

The speech also talks about community development and support, the transfer of funds to communities, and a review of the equalization program, something that has not been done in a long time, along with the allocation of a lot of new money.

Does the hon. member whether he agrees that what is actually stated in the speech is in the best interests of all Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the hon. member for his words of welcome. I hope that we will have the opportunity to have many discussions. The problem is, we do not know how long this government will last. The French version of the Speech from the Throne is 16 and a half pages long, which is not very long. It is full of wishful thinking, although some measures do seem interesting. However, in real terms, where is it headed?

I was talking about some of the problems dairy producers are experiencing. Yesterday in this House, we had an emergency debate until midnight on the mad cow crisis. We are still arguing and talking about it. The federal government implemented a program for dealing with the mad cow crisis, but Quebec is being penalized by it.

Dairy producers are the first to complain about it, and for good reason. There are many dairy producers in my region and I have talked to some of them. The Arthabaska RCM is the largest dairy producer in all of Quebec. The people there are dissatisfied with the program.

We would have liked to have seen concrete measures set out in the Speech from the Throne on a number of things. Health is a whole other matter. They emphasize the fact that there was an agreement, but I hope it was just the beginning. We still have glaring problems in the provinces when it comes to health.

The problem will be solved when the fiscal imbalance is resolved—maybe not definitively, but at least it will correct the situation in Quebec and the provinces.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by commending my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska on his fine speech. I have a question for him.

We gather that the federal government is not prepared to address the issue of mad cow disease. It is not putting pressure on the United States to try to resolve the problem with the sale of beef. Our farm producers are obviously under financial pressure.

I want to ask my colleague a question. Does he not get the impression that the government is trying to placate the Americans by investing in the missile shield instead of providing assistance directly to the farming industry through subsidies to cover the damages suffered by the farms?

That is the impression we are getting from the Liberal government. It is trying to redeem itself indirectly. Investing in the missile shield involves spending billions of dollars, while the government should simply have put in place a real program designed to help and compensate farmers for the losses incurred because of mad cow.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I share his concerns, as do by many of our fellow citizens in Quebec.

Federal government representatives have had several meetings with American authorities in an attempt to get the borders reopened. We saw what happened. We know that the Americans are busy with the upcoming election anyway. I have a feeling that American lobbies will prevent the presidential candidates from taking any action whatsoever on this issue.

Knowing this, the federal government should have taken the necessary steps to help our farm producers. We have seen how it handled the softwood lumber issue, where something similar happened. The Americans show a little openness once in a while, but not a whole lot, and immediately, the federal government is ready to jump into any type of negotiations.

Clearly, that is not the way to deal with the Americans, not at all. We saw what happened on that issue. I do not see why we would go down the same road with the mad cow crisis.

I hope that we do not get into some kind of trade-off between the missile shield and our problems. It is vital that we have an effective aid plan in this country for our farm producers.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Like all members who have spoken before me, I would like to welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to your new position. I wish you well. It is very encouraging, I am sure, for you to start in the position with the unanimous support of the House.

I am humbled and honoured to be standing here today representing the good people of southwest Nova Scotia. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the voters for their continued support and I stress that I will do my utmost to represent my constituents in this government.

I was listening to the member for Charlottetown this morning, who reminded me in different words that although we form a minority government, Canadians expect us to keep not the majority of our promises but all our promises, and that will be the challenge in working with the cooperation of everybody in the House to respond to the needs and desires of Canadians.

Before I go any further, let me say that I would like to join all other members of the House who have expressed their solidarity with the Saunders family, which has experienced a great loss. I think it will bring renewed meaning to us November 11 this year in regard to all the people who make sacrifices and take great risks so we can enjoy the privileges and freedoms we have in this country. The in-laws of Lieutenant Saunders are residents of my district. I am looking forward to having a chat with them as soon as possible. I sent them a note this morning, but understandably, they are with their daughter.

On another note, I would like to thank the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for having responded so quickly and positively to concerns in my riding, where huge poaching operations have been operating under the guise of the aboriginal fisheries but where no aboriginals prosper. Only some organized commercial poachers are prospering. They are putting the whole economic base of that community at risk.

I met with some of the fishermen representatives on Saturday morning and I asked the Minister of Fisheries for some assistance. He dispatched senior officials to meet with the fishermen yesterday. They have come up with a joint plan on how to respond to make sure that this type of thing does not happen in the future. I know it will be a challenge. I thank the fishermen for their patience. They have been watching this situation all year and seeing the risk to their livelihoods. They have been so patient. I thank them very much.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to move Canada forward with the government's agenda. It is our responsibility to follow through on our commitments to Canadians. The throne speech speaks to the values and interests of the people of rural Nova Scotia and all Canadians. It reaffirms the government's commitment to strengthening the public health care system, encouraging regional economic development and addressing the issues that affect our rural communities.

The throne speech reiterates the government's commitment to address the number one issue of Canadians: health care. In cooperation with the provinces and territories, we identified the key challenges to effective and efficient public health care delivery and agreed on a 10 year action plan to strengthen our system.

Under the 10 year plan, Atlantic Canadians will receive an additional $2.5 billion in health funding from Ottawa, plus their respective shares of the $5.5 billion made available for the wait times reduction fund.

I am encouraged by the steps taken by the government to ensure openness and transparency in the decision making process. Hard-working Canadians deserve to know where and how their money is being spent.

I want to congratulate the Prime Minister, all premiers, all ministers of health, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Minister of Finance and all who participated in those great discussions. We came up with a new term in those discussions in looking at how we would deal between the federal government and the provincial government. It was referred to as asymmetrical federalism. I have no major problem with asymmetrical federalism as long as it is not bipolar. There cannot be a differentiation in the way that our nation deals with one of its provinces. I think it is very important that we recognize the specific needs--and we will--of all regions.

I recognize the specific nature and needs of the Atlantic, the North, the West, Ontario and, yes, certainly Quebec. I also recognize that agreements and action plans reflecting this can be reached. We also need to perceive the strengths of each region, each province, each culture as strengths of the entire country and to use them as building blocks rather than go at one another.

Canadians elected this government on a promise to make health care--that is, publicly funded and universally available health care--a priority. I am pleased by the cooperation with our provincial counterparts on this important issue and with the commitment to preserve and strengthen this pillar of Canadian society.

I am very pleased to see that, in locations where francophones or anglophones are in a minority situation, services in the minority language are a priority, and there is willingness to work in conjunction with the provincial governments to make progress in this area.

I particularly want to congratulate the province of Nova Scotia for having advanced a bill in the legislature last week to institutionalize the provision of the francophone language throughout Nova Scotia, where the situation warrants. The provincial governments have done a good job in Nova Scotia over the last 30 years of doing that, and now it is institutionalizing it. I think that will be to the benefit of all Nova Scotians.

Communities have a unique set of interests, and I am encouraged by the government's emphasis on forging partnerships between all three levels of government to most effectively address these concerns. Moreover, by making available a portion of the federal gas tax, municipalities can make much needed investments in sustainable infrastructure.

The declared importance of regional development is good news for Atlantic Canada. With federal support, our local entrepreneurs and businesses get the edge they need to compete and be successful in our modern economy.

I am encouraged by the government's plan to ensure venture capital for new businesses. We are committed to targeting the fundamentals of economic development such as support for skills upgrading, research and development and modern infrastructure.

In West Nova many of our families are dependent upon the agricultural sector and resource based industries. Farmers, fishermen and those involved in seasonal employment have heard that the government will do its part to ensure the success of these important sectors.

We have an opportunity to grow our communities and to grow our economy. We need to take the good ideas of local Canadians and make them a reality.

I have one concern, and I raise it here with my colleagues. I hope we will have debate on it. It is on the disposal of public assets. The government is thinking of disposing of federal buildings and going with the private sector. On principle I am not opposed, but on experience I have not seen where that has worked well. If we own the buildings and use them for public good, where do we save money by selling them to the private sector and then leasing them back? We certainly lose flexibility, and the private sector will have to make a profit. I have a hard time seeing where the win is for Canadians. We might say the win is that the private sector can be more effective in managing. That can be true in certain instances. We have to make the improvements in-house to become more effective or do some contractual work.

I have not seen those great experiences, those great examples where divestiture of federal assets has been good. However, if the minister believes it is, he certainly should put the case forward if he can show to us that disposing of Aldershot or disposing of the agricultural research station in Kemptville could be positive. I have a hard time seeing it. I have not seen it in the case of the Port of Digby where it has been divested to a community organization from another community. It has not been maintained. It has not given service or security to the community. It has not even had discussions with the community, which there should be.

I have not seen it in the case of the Port of Yarmouth. That is a new one and it is a better deal. At least it is managed by a local community organization. However, where do we go for the assets? We need a new terminal and facilities that represent Canada? The ministers have tried to help me. The Minister of Transport is coming to Digby to work with the community and give assistance. He loves to meet with the community of Yarmouth. However, the basic underpinnings of those deals have not proven to be all that good.

We see the same thing with the Yarmouth airport. It is difficult to see how it will continue in the future, and it has created some animosity within the community. In my mind it is an important public asset that must be maintained. Sometimes it would be better for those public assets to be held in public hands.

The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre would be another excellent idea. I am very pleased to welcome General Maurice Baril, who is now chairing the board of that organization that is seeking ways to make it more effective. However, the government has to look at what its commitment should be. I have received great support from the ministers, but now we have to turn that into money. We have to ensure that we have the commitments for the future and give the security to that organization. I am not sure that making it into a private entity was that valid or that good an idea. Maybe it should have been an agency of government, supported directly by government. It might have been the way to give security.

I see in our plans a lot of possibilities, and where we want to help peacekeeper training for Africa, there certainly is a role to play.

Before closing, I wish to recognize the family of Lieutenant Chris Saunders. With the utmost of respect, we pay tribute to Lieutenant Saunders for his courage and the ultimate sacrifice he made for the safety and security of his fellow Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate, being the reply to the Speech from the Throne.

As this is my first opportunity to rise in the House in the 38th Parliament, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people in my riding of Parkdale--High Park, which is located in the city of Toronto, for giving me the honour and the privilege of representing them in Parliament for a third term. As their member of Parliament, I vow to work with all of my colleagues in the House of Commons to address the challenges which we face today and which we will face in the future. As the Prime Minister said in his address to the reply to the Speech from the Throne:

...in a minority Commons, we all have a responsibility to make Parliament work for the people. And we will fulfill that responsibility--if we embrace and build on the democratic reforms initiated during the last session, if we are prepared to allow the partisan to give way to progress.

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. We look forward to hearing your rulings in this session.

On Tuesday, October 5, 2004, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, opened up the 38th session of Parliament with the Speech from the Throne. With the main themes of cooperation and fiscal discipline, the Speech from the Throne was also a commitment to follow through on the key promises made during the election campaign.

The speech focused on the Prime Minister's key priorities: building a prosperous and sustainable 21st century economy; strengthening social foundations; and securing for Canada a place of pride and influence in the world. The program laid out in the Speech from the Throne will see positive change in a number of areas critical to Canadians by, for example: strengthening health care; increasing support for children, caregivers and seniors; and continuing to build on the new deal for Canada's cities and communities.

It is important to acknowledge that the Speech from the Throne reiterates the government's commitment to create a new deal for Canada's cities and communities. As part of this new deal, the government has committed to fostering the cultural life that makes our communities vibrant and creative. In fact the Speech from the Throne was unequivocal in this regard. It clearly stated the following:

What makes our communities vibrant and creative is the quality of their cultural life. The Government will foster cultural institutions and policies that aspire to excellence, reflect a diverse and multicultural society, respond to the new challenges of globalization and the digital economy, and promote diversity of views in cultural expression at home and abroad.

In his reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister also spoke about our cities and communities as a place “where our cultural industries thrive”. I was especially delighted to see this specific reference to culture in the Speech from the Throne as a reaffirmation that culture continues to be part of our government's vision.

This is especially important to me, as the Prime Minister has given me the honour and privilege of appointing me as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the Prime Minister for that appointment. I look forward to working with our new and very dynamic Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Prime Minister to ensure that the commitments made during the election are fulfilled, especially with respect to updating and amending our copyright laws, strengthening our major cultural institutions and increasing investment in the Canada Council.

Immediately after my appointment, I began holding consultations with members of Toronto's artistic and cultural organizations to determine what their organizations needed and what the federal government could do to help them achieve and maintain greatness in their respective fields. I want to find out how I can best champion their needs and how I can help to ensure that the federal government can best enhance the creative environment in which our artists and our creators flourish. I have always stated that I see these consultations as being complimentary to our government's cities and communities agendas, as a dynamic cultural sector is a key ingredient to making cities thrive.

Just recently the Federation of Canadian Municipalities made a significant declaration in support of meaningful, long term investments in the arts. At its September 10, 2004 board of directors meeting, a resolution, which was put forth jointly by representatives of the cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver and Canmore, Alberta, was passed strongly urging the federal government to renew the multi-year tomorrow starts today funding initiative. According to Erin Murphy, policy analyst for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, support for arts, culture and heritage is a major component of the FCM policy.

In addition, on September 23, 2004, in a speech kicking off Toronto's arts week, Toronto Mayor David Miller also spoke passionately of the cultural sector's importance. He noted that there were too many people who considered the arts to be a luxury or worse, an afterthought. He went on to say, “If we do not support the city's arts scene, we fundamentally damage the whole city”.

In the Speech from the Throne the government specifically has committed to ensuring that our cultural institutions and the cultural sector in general have the capability to compete and thrive in our constantly changing environment. What does that mean? I believe it means, first and foremost, updating key legislation such as the Copyright Act. Second, creating the conditions for our public institutions to foster diversity and make the transition to the digital world. Third, assisting cultural entrepreneurs and arts organizations to seize the opportunities offered by the Internet and globalization.

Canada will also continue to play a leadership role in the creation of a new international convention on cultural diversity which will establish clear rules that will enable countries to promote cultural diversity. This instrument arose out of a report of the cultural industry SAGIT back in 1999 when Sergio Marchi was the minister of international trade. It recommended that we move forward on such an instrument. I was chair of the Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investments at that time. The year before that, then former minister of Canadian heritage, Sheila Copps, inaugurated the international network of cultural policy. It is great to finally see the work of the committee, SAGIT and previous minister finally come to fruition.

As an elected member of the UNESCO executive council, Canada will continue its leadership role to ensure that the goals of the convention are realized and that the convention is consistent with other international obligations.

I would like to point out that there are other references in the Speech from the Throne that will undoubtedly affect our artists and cultural institutions. While time does not permit me to highlight all of them, there are one or two which I would like to note.

The first is the government's commitment to continue to review the EI program to ensure that it remains well suited to the needs of Canada's workforce. I am currently working with the Minister of National Revenue and a member of the Canadian arts summit advocacy group to address the issue of the employment status of Canada's performing artists.

For the better part of a century, Canada's performing artists have provided services as independent contracts. This contractual relationship between producers, artists and governments stimulates a healthier cultural economy through a number of incentives. Unfortunately, this relationship has been eroded recently. In recent years Canada Revenue Agency auditors have increasingly challenged the independent contractor status of performing artists. This must be corrected as soon as possible because the implications for our artists and our arts organizations are huge.

I too would like to conclude with the words of our Prime Minister in his reply to the Speech from the Throne. He said:

On June 28, each of us earned the privilege of a seat in this chamber and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Canadians and the life of Canada. The message of the election is clear: Canadians want us to do better as a government. We have heard that message and we carry it with us. The demand going forward is equally clear: Our government and all parties must make this minority Parliament work for Canadians...The work of building an even better country begins today. Let’s get to it

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to learn all the rules here in the House, so please forgive me for any errors. I appreciate being given this opportunity to ask the member a question. I know that her passion for and commitment to the arts are quite strong, certainly in our caucus and of course across the country.

In the city of Toronto, where we both come from, there has been a great investment in cultural institutions. In fact, Toronto has seen a cultural renaissance, from the Royal Ontario Museum to the Art Gallery of Ontario. We also are going to get a new national ballet and an opera company. We are very excited about some of these government initiatives.

Would the member elaborate on some of those investments that the federal government is making in the arts, particularly in the city of Toronto?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Davenport on moving the motion and address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. I was given that opportunity in 1997 by the prime minister at that time. It was an honour. I congratulate him on his speech.

The city of Toronto is now finally seeing some of the renaissance projects, as they are called, of the Canada-Ontario infrastructure works program, which is part of the federal government's infrastructure program. I am delighted to see that our minister, the Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities, those two combined, and also for cities, is there to champion those continuous needs.

One of the programs brought in by the federal government in 2001 was the Tomorrow Starts Today program.The FCM recently put forward this program for renewal in its resolution. It is a program that looks through further investments into festivals, arts administration, sustainability, digitization and also infrastructure. It is a much smaller infrastructure pocket and it is for smaller projects. However, I have to say that this program has been so successful that across Canada it has helped communities build their cultural infrastructure and make the arts become alive and thrive.

The other thing we have to remember when we look at the arts is that not only are they essential to a vibrant community, but they also make communities safer. Let us look at our own city of Toronto and King Street. When the Mirvish family brought commercial theatre to the city of Toronto, it lit up the entire street. What has happened, as we all know, is that there are numerous restaurants, the street is always packed with people and a buzz is in the air. This is a way of making our city safer.

I see the same thing in the Dundas Street West area, which has undergone an incredible revitalization, again through moneys that were initially given by the federal government through Human Resources Development and the industrial revitalization programs. That area is now the home to art galleries and artists and the very successful Dundas Street West Junction Arts Festival, which is now in its 14th year. It just finished in September. It was terrific. Also, it attracted artists from all over the world.

I think there are many things that we can do for our cities and communities through the arts. I think it is important, as David Miller said, and actually as James Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, said, to say that we cannot look at art as a luxury. It is something too integral, too defining of who we are, and it is also essential to the vibrancy of our community.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was interested to hear what my colleague had to say at the end of his speech. Having only a minute left, I will get to my question right away.

In connection with the sponsorship program, has the federal government not in actual fact done much harm to the image of all those organizations in our communities in need of money to help them with their projects?

In my area, for example, there are two festivals, one for sea shanties, the Fête des chants des marins, and the other an accordion festival, the Festival mondial de l'accordéon. These two events saw their funding cut from the sponsorship program although they had not done a single thing wrong. They needed that money. As the result of the federal government's behaviour, has the baby not ended up getting thrown out with the bath water in the administration of this program?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member will remember that it was actually in 2001 when this federal government invested $560 million into the arts and cultural sector, which allowed programs such as festivals to benefit from that. I would encourage the member to also encourage the government and vote with us to ensure that the Tomorrow Starts Today funding is renewed so those festivals that are in his community and his riding get the moneys they need.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.

It is with a great sense of honour that I rise to offer my response to the throne speech on behalf of the people of Newmarket—Aurora. I was born, raised and went to high school in either one of those communities. I chose to stay and make my living and raise my children there.

There is great history in that part of Ontario, going back over 200 years, and both communities share the challenge of embracing growth while maintaining the unique heritage of the area. More than 50% of the population has moved from somewhere else, making Newmarket and Aurora very dynamic communities.

These are some of the reasons why I am so proud and I am humbled that my fellow citizens of Newmarket—Aurora put their trust in me to represent them and to protect their interests.

I listened carefully to the throne speech last Tuesday afternoon and felt the excitement of hearing it for the first time in Parliament itself. But there was nothing that I had not heard before and in fact several times before, over many years, in various forms.

If the throne speech was supposed to be a showcase of new vision, this government is flying blind. Also, if someone has to keep repeating a promise, that means it is not getting done. Where I come from, both in my family and in my former work experience, this would suggest that there was never any serious intention of doing it anyway.

I will not take the precious time of the House discussing grand words and promises that have been largely abandoned over the past decade by different generations of this government.

The key test will come with the spending estimates that have been delivered this morning. Now we will get a glimpse of the government's real priorities, and I use the verb “glimpse” on purpose, because even the allocation of moneys does not mean that they will be spent well or spent at all.

On the question of trade, the throne speech covered familiar ground and offered no new ideas. Of course we need to find solutions to softwood and BSE and pursue multilateral trade talks on agriculture, but the throne speech lacked recognition of the critical importance of trade to this country. Trade is not about abstract numbers. It is about sustaining our quality of life. Trade is our lifeblood. Canada is still the country most dependent on trade among our G-8 counterparts.

When the Canada-U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle, beef and other ruminants in May 2003 because of one case of BSE, it was an example of the collapse of the trading system with our largest trading partner.

The losses and hardship to the industry have been devastating, but the throne speech provides no direction about a strategic approach on how to reconstruct the trading relationship to prevent these problems in the future. After losing more than $2 billion since the border slammed shut, individual Canadian cattlemen and farmers received an honourable mention in the throne speech.

It is the Conservative Party that has called for two separate nights of debate on BSE, which started last night and will continue on Tuesday.

The throne speech talks about rebuilding our relationship with the United States. My question is, why would a Canadian government ever have to use such language in a throne speech? The answer, of course, is that the very same government in its different generations had already damaged, harmed and whittled away at that relationship. Usually governments claim to have to fix the sins of their opponents, not their own past.

That relationship with the United States is of such bedrock importance to Canada that I cannot understand the way it is treated, even by members of the government party. The first step is to understand the way Americans think and act, not the way we would like them to think and act. We need a more sophisticated understanding of the volatile domestic politics of trade in the United States, not to agree with them but to better advance our own interests. It takes political leadership to set aside the politically convenient rhetoric of anti-Americanism.

The throne speech painted too rosy a picture of Canadian economic performance. Exports are down and the border problems continue to drive up costs to Canadian businesses and drive away investment in Canada. The Conference Board of Canada classified our productivity performance among all OECD countries as mediocre.

Canada is under future pressure from emerging markets like China and India. A recent U.S. report suggested that China might surpass Canada as the largest trading partner of the United States within five years. If this came to pass it would be a historic economic realignment, the full implications of which we could not predict.

The role of government in providing the right environment for Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs to be the most competitive possible in a fierce global marketplace is at the centre of my interests and those of the Conservative Party. This environment includes tax structures and support for research and development, but more important, a fix for our education and training systems to ensure that we have the skilled and knowledgeable workforce the country needs to sustain our quality of life.

Ever mindful of federal and provincial jurisdictions and of the importance of quality health care, I believe that our post-secondary education system has long been neglected. It is the poor distant cousin of public policy, and we need to look at this. If we have to wait four throne speeches more to see significant progress on these issues, I am afraid the people of Newmarket--Aurora and the country will pay a huge price in the decline of our quality of life.

The reason I decided to enter public life was to do everything in my power to help sustain that quality of life, because the community where I live and this country have been good to me and good to my family.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Newmarket--Aurora for being in the House. I presume this is her first speech.

She talked about relations with China and the growing Chinese economy. There has been some speculation recently that a state-owned enterprise of the People's Republic of China, China Minmetals, might propose a takeover of Noranda Inc.

As she has worked in the corporate sector, she will know about backward integration and supply chain management. Is this not an attempt by the People's Republic of China to secure a supply of metals and minerals, which may not be in the best interest of the people of Canada? I wonder if she would comment on the proposed merger of Noranda and China Minmetals.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is the role and responsibility of the opposition to ask the appropriate questions. Is the government doing its proper due diligence to satisfy the people of Canada that the appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that this state-owned entity, which may purchase Noranda and Falconbridge, will abide by the laws that govern this country? It is the responsibility of the government to do so.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the opening remarks of the member for Newmarket--Aurora.

She identified population growth in the region. Is it a concern of hers? What are her constituents telling her about this population growth?

Because she talked about trade, I have another question. In her view, what are the trade priorities?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the York region, Newmarket—Aurora, the population has grown immensely and along with that come a number of issues. Infrastructure problems are of great concern in our area. The people in my riding are waiting to see what the government will do. Will it follow through on its commitments to provide another GO transit line to the people of Newmarket—Aurora so they can commute into the city. The lineups are long and the times of the GO trains are inconvenient for people. We need to invest in infrastructure to ensure the transportation systems are there to meet the needs of the citizens.

Some of the other issues are public safety and crime. While the community of Newmarket—Aurora is safe at this moment, we need to take steps to ensure it stays that way. Surrounding this community we have problems of grow ops, of youth violence and gangs, and we need to address that going forward.

A third issue in the riding of Newmarket—Aurora would be to have an adequate health care system. People right now are waiting approximately a year for orthopedic surgery. I have had conversations with many health care practitioners who deliver these services and they are not so optimistic at this point in time that the recent introduction of more funds to the provinces will actually go to our local hospital to be able to shorten wait times and bring the resources that are needed to this growing community.

Those are some of the issues that I have head about, but a big overriding issue is the fact that people are just having a hard time making ends meet. During the election when I knocked on doors I heard that while accountability was the number one overriding issue, I also heard that people just cannot make ends meet any more. They are looking for tax relief so they have enough money in their pockets.

The hon. member also asked about trade priorities. Rebuilding our relationship with the United States should be our number one priority. It is our big customer. An important point to focus on within that is the border. We must have an efficient flow of goods to and from the border. The U.S. has said that security trumps trade. I believe we need to focus on ensuring that there is a zone of confidence, both from a security standpoint to protect the citizens of Canada and the U.S., but also from an economic standpoint.

Foreign direct investment is on the decline in Canada and there are a number of reasons for that. One of the reasons is that we have not been able provide that zone of confidence that there will be a border that is dependable. John Manley started the smart border initiative but there is much work to be done.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Newmarket—Aurora. Her constituents chose wisely when they sent her to this place. I should give her a little warning that every now and then an innocent person truly is sent to the House of Commons. It has happened here and we appreciate what she brings to the table.

The essence of our democratic system is that elected people travel from their constituencies to this chamber, represent the views of their constituents and then when they go back home they report progress on how we are doing on the things important to them.

As a matter of fact, in the lexicon of modern political labels there are interesting definitions. The modern definition of a Liberal is somebody who believes that the people should be the servant of the government, whereas a Conservative believes that the government should be the servant of the people.

Reflecting on and listening to the Speech from the Throne, it was very clear that the government fits into the category of Liberal, believing that the people should be its servants. It forgot that almost two-thirds of the electorate did not even vote for it.

As I travelled through my constituency, not just during the election but day to day, before and after, it was clear that the government missed some of the big items. There were words, as my colleague just mentioned, but no steps of action.

One of the main items I heard about was the devastating effect, in terms of trust and confidence in government, related to the horrific scandals and government waste when it comes to spending. It gets a notion in the speech but no steps of action.

We have proposed things like quarterly reports and results based auditing but none of that happens. We have proposed that high level public servants should have to produce expense reports when they have expenses, not receive a quarter of a million dollars a year in after tax dollars and not be accountable for it. None of that is being done by the government.

Everywhere I go in my constituency I hear concerns about the national debt that is waiting to be imposed and in fact is being imposed on the backs of our grandchildren. There is again a notion of it. It gets a minor nod of assent, but where is the legislation this session, as we have suggested, that would require government to take a percentage of the surplus and pay down debt? It is not there. The government wants to take a huge chunk of the surplus and spend it on its own programs, call it sponsorship, political slush funds or whatever. That is irresponsible and we will expose that this session.

There were no clear steps of action. My colleague just mentioned issues of trade. The softwood lumber dispute has devastated many provinces, especially in British Columbia and in my own constituency. I have sympathy when I read about the employees at Bombardier. I heard on the news that perhaps dozens could lose jobs. I hope that does not happen.

We should also remember the hundreds and thousands who have lost jobs in the province of British Columbia alone, let alone other provinces. There have been no clear steps of action to build the relationships necessary to overcome these trade disputes, especially when we win them at the world trade court. There is plenty to lever on that but nobody from the government is willing to apply the levers.

On the BSE debate, one cow has caused an industry to crater, not just in my constituency but around the country. Some of the largest ranches in Canada are in the Douglas Lake area. This has devastated them, just as the lack of action in the softwood lumber area has devastated towns like Merritt. There were no specific plans of action in the Speech from the Throne.

Infrastructure gets mentioned. Our party has brought forward proposals on how a percentage of the gas tax should go to municipalities. Where are the specifics? The mayors of not just large cities but small jurisdictions are left wondering. There are needs out there. We are not looking for mammoth concert halls to be built. In Penticton we would like a water line that takes water to the community of Naramata. It is being devastated with the pressure on infrastructure dollars.

Summerland has real water needs and all that happens is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans goes to Summerland threatening the town council with legal action because it is trying to deal with a water preservation problem. The people in Westbank and Westside are facing the same issues and there are no specific plans of action.

What about lowering the GST? Why does the government increase its take on citizens? Every time consumers pump gas into their cars the government increases its take by refusing to remove the GST which it promised over 10 years ago to scrap, abolish and kill. It is killing consumers but no words on it.

What about the democratic deficit? We are dealing with one of the major debates of our time, the definition of marriage. What has the government done? It has given it to a court to decide. That decision should be made here on behalf of our constituents at home, not outsourced to another group.

It is the same on missile defence, which is a huge issue in my constituency. There are people on both sides of the issue. What do we hear from this supposed democratic government that says it will reduce the democratic deficit? We have heard there will not even be parliamentary debate. There are a lot of issues around missile defence but no discussions.

We will not let the Liberals forget that two-thirds of the people did not vote for them and the things they are talking about in the throne speech are just words on issues related to criminal justice issues. These are big factors in my constituency.

Where is the plan to deal with the devastating problem related to the $2 billion gun registry disaster? There is no plan at all. The government allows the dollars to keep flowing to a failed program, dollars that could be going to health care or to putting police officers in communities, such as Kaleden or Okanagan Falls, which are having real difficulties with youth crime. We all want to see the power of prevention or rehabilitation working in these particular areas but we also need policing.

As their MPs, people have asked us very specifically to come to the House and present these issues and present solutions, as our leader has and as we have. They want us to go back to the constituency to report progress. I am heading back to my constituency this weekend but I will not be able to report much progress. I will report that we and our leader have put some things on the table and that we have put amendments to the Speech from the Throne that will lighten the load for people if we can get the government to agree, like lowering taxes and the issue around the huge slush fund in the employment insurance fund that is constantly skimmed off by the government.

We are putting those things on the table, but in terms of reporting progress, in terms of the people in Okanagan—Coquihalla having a sense that the government is their servant, I will not even try to sell that one because the government is not the servant of the people. The government wants people to serve it. This opposition, our leader and this party, will not allow that to happen. We are here to represent the people and we will report progress. We will report their words, but our actions will improve the life of all Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla talked about some innocent people being returned to the House, himself, perhaps, being one of them.

After one has been through a number of throne speeches they become somewhat repetitive and tend to be very general in their orientation. However maybe the member opposite did not read or did not listen to the throne speech. I noticed a number of things that he probably missed. I just thought I would mention some of them.

The first one has to do with the debt. He talked about how the government was not committed to paying down the debt. I will read out one sentence from the throne speech. It says that it will continue to pay down debt. Its objective is to reduce the debt to GDP ratio to 25% within 10 years. In fact the Government of Canada is well ahead of many of the other G-8 countries and one of the few to have surpluses on a sustained basis.

He talked about the deal for the cities. Our government has been very clear about the deal for the cities. We have already eliminated the GST for municipalities. In a city like Toronto, where I come from, that is about $50 million a year that can be devoted to fighting crime and to put into public infrastructure. That is only the start.

Our government has been absolutely crystal clear that we will devote some of the gas tax back to the municipalities. When it is fully ramped up, that will equate to about $2 billion a year. That is laid out in all the government policies and pronouncements that have been made to date.

Softwood lumber is another issue that the member raised. I know it is a very important issue in the Okanagan and indeed across Canada, but because of the great efforts of the government and the industry, we have been winning all the debates in the WTO and NAFTA and we will prevail. I am hoping we do not cut a deal. I am hoping that we stay on track with the legal fight and we get all that money returned to the lumber companies in Canada.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hope the time that you allot me to respond will be commensurate to the time it took to get the revision of the Speech from the Throne out.

I respect what the member is trying to do in terms of propping up a sagging government, but he has missed some issues. I will touch on them quickly.

He has perfectly portrayed the image of the government which expects the people to be its servant. He said that the government wants the people to get some relief every time they pump gasoline into their cars, their trucks or whatever it might be, that they take to work, that it is time to help people.

The member talked about the federal government no longer collecting GST from municipalities. Why would the government ever do that in the first place? Why would a government have a tax upon a tax? Now the member expects the people to rush forward and say, “Thank you, wonderful government. You are giving back some of the money you should not have taken from us in the first place”.

The member talked about the debt. In case any of our new colleagues are not aware of it, when people get to this place, instead of their constituents' dreams being the driving force, their heads fill up with their own dreams. The only problem is the government wants to finance its dreams with my constituents' money. That is why when there is a surplus there must be the fiscal discipline in place, a law that requires a certain amount of payment on the debt. It is called a mortgage and most Canadians are familiar with it.

The problem is that as election time approaches, the present government--and other governments I will say in a non-partisan way, as the Liberals are not the only guilty ones--but as election time approaches, the government kind of forgets that it has a mortgage. The government forgets that it is mortgaging our children's future.

That does not work for my constituents. They cannot go to their banker and say, “I know I have a mortgage. I have no money left over each month to pay the mortgage, but I want to take a holiday instead. If that is okay with you, I am not going to pay my house mortgage for six months”. That does not work in real life, but it works in the Disneyland world of the government and it is hurting our kids. I want my kids and my grandkids to be able to go to Disneyland without that debt on their backs.

There is nothing in the Speech from the Throne to address that issue with the legislation required for that.

On the softwood lumber issue, as I mentioned in my remarks, we continue to win on that issue at the world trade court. About three years ago, it was one of our members who warned the government. He said that the softwood lumber agreement was coming to an end and to please get down to Washington and start negotiating for true free trade on this. He said that if the government did not, we would get slapped with countervails. The government said that would never happen, that it would not happen at all. It did happen, unfortunately exactly as we said.

There is no plan in place. I did not hear any plan on what the government is going to do. The only attack the Liberals have to fix the softwood lumber issue is to attack Americans with the most ridiculous language, hurling insults across the border. We are talking about protecting Canadian sovereignty. We do not maintain good relations with our neighbours by hurling insults at them across the fence.

The softwood lumber issue should have been fixed. If the government had been ready and prepared to do it, it would have happened. It was not ready and it is still not ready.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with another member.

It is an honour to rise today to give thanks first and foremost to the residents of the riding of Ajax—Pickering for the incredible opportunity to stand and serve in this House. I was born in the riding of Ajax--Pickering. I have lived there my entire life. Coming here and representing them, being their voice in Ottawa is indeed a humbling and most amazing opportunity.

When I walk the halls of these buildings and when I stand here and most particularly when I stood at the back of the Senate chamber and listened to the Speech from the Throne, I am reminded of why I ran, why my constituents sent me here and of my passion for this nation.

The throne speech indeed speaks directly to much of what I feel is great about this nation and much of what we need to continue to do to keep our nation strong. It reaffirms the priorities that my constituents have and the priorities that Canadians in general have. I shall speak to some of these points not just in terms of what was committed, but also in terms of what has been done to date because much has been accomplished.

Few things are more near and dear to my constituents and all the constituents that we represent than health care. The fundamental principle is that when we walk into a hospital, the health care professionals first and foremost ask how can they help us, not how much money is in our pockets. Having a full public health system that treats all individuals equally is of critical importance.

The new health accord that was struck at the first ministers meeting puts $41 billion into health care over the next 10 years. There are key measures and insurances to hold the provinces to account for the money that we have allocated. This will ensure a long term public health care system that we can all be proud of.

I was proud to be appointed to the cities and communities caucus committee. As a former city councillor I know the plight of cities. I respect the incredible intervention of the federal government in an area that typically is not its jurisdiction, to help cities and communities, and to recognize that they are indeed the engines of our economy. If we do not assist them, issues such as transit and infrastructure will not be solved. If those problems are not solved, our economy cannot continue to prosper.

As a member of that committee, let me assure all members that the commitment we have made on the gas tax will be carried through, just as our down payment to cities in the form of a GST rebate was followed through on.

I heard a lot of talk a few moments ago from the member opposite about the economy and of needing to pay down the debt. We remain the only G-7 nation that is in the black. For seven consecutive years we have paid down our debt. For seven consecutive years we have ensured that the monster of the deficit that plagued us for years has been killed.

Let us look at the state of our economy. I can only imagine sitting in this House 11 years ago with the state that Canada was in. At that point in time Canada was at the bottom of the G-7. Prior to the Liberal government coming into power we had an unemployment rate that exceeded 14%, interest rates that exceeded 12%. The Wall Street Journal mocked us, saying we were an honorary member of the third world.

Imagine if someone had stood up then and said that in 11 years' time our nation would be at the top of the G-7, that we would be in a position where we would have eliminated our deficit, where our unemployment rate would be at 7.2%, where our employment rate would exceed that of the United States. We have generated three million net new jobs. The federal tax on families is down 27%, for individuals, 21%. The CPP which I was told as a young person never to expect, that it would not be there for me, is now guaranteed for the next 75 years.

Despite blackouts, despite SARS, we now lead the G-7 across almost every single category. That is a remarkable achievement and not something that should be so easily brushed aside.

The opposition deals in utopia; everything must be absolutely perfect. The government has taken us from the bottom of the heap to the absolute top.

When we look at what we must do to continue forward, the throne speech talks about the course we must stay on. What the opposition calls padding, we call security. We make sure that we exceed our estimates, yet we are mocked. Imagine being mocked for not only meeting but exceeding what was promised. That is something we take exceptional pride in. When we make estimates, we make sure we not only hit them but that we exceed them.

When we continue forward we will not allow the beast of deficit to come again. Some suggest that we should spend to the brink, that we should make promises to the last cent that we have, but we will not do that. We will not allow the economy to be put into peril by that kind of dangerous activity. We will continue to review expenditures.

I was recently named to the public accounts committee. As a member of that committee I will be honoured to take part in ensuring that we continue to be as efficient as we can be, that we allocate government resources to the areas where we must spend, that we take away from the low priority areas and put resources into the high priority areas so that we have the money to achieve the things we need to achieve.

We will continue to invest in research and development. What the official opposition has often called corporate welfare we call an investment in our future. We will make sure that we continue to lead. In my riding there is a company, Messier Dowty, that receives grants to ensure that we are leaders in aerospace. We will keep the high paying jobs here. We will keep the research and development in this country. We will leverage it on things like the Beacon project at General Motors. We will make sure we are at the table and are part of that project to leverage $200 million of investment by the federal government for over $2 billion of worth to our economy.

I was exceptionally pleased to see in the throne speech the focus that was placed on the environment and on sustainability. The remarkably executed first offering of Petro-Canada will give us much needed dollars to put toward new sources of energy and new ways of conducting business. It recognizes the responsibility we have in service to our people. It also acknowledges, by saying that we must adopt the Kyoto accord, that each and everyone of us as members of Parliament and individual constituents has a responsibility to the Kyoto accord to make sure that we keep our air clean and that we are not looking out our windows through a dense haze of fog and smog.

I wish to address unity. The throne speech talked eloquently about the need for us to come together, to come together as members of different parties and to come together as a nation. We obviously know there is a threat particularly from one party. This nation that we love is built upon diversity, upon our differences, upon using our differences to strong effect, upon not pitting region against region, but putting region for region, and there is a party in the House that would tear apart that great experiment. It would rip apart that which we hold so dear so that its leader could become premier.

We must make sure that this noble idea of Canada, this place where people from all different ethnic cultural and linguistic backgrounds come together in one place for one cause is not destroyed. We are Canada's champions. I intend to be Canada's champion.

I love Quebec, I love Ontario, I love the Atlantic region, I love the North, I love the West. We all share the same interests.

As we are one, we must act as one. That is our challenge and it is something I intend to defend.