Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne. I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge.
I am very supportive of this Speech from the Throne. It gives great direction to Canadians, great direction from the government. Why are we now in a position where we can make these substantial new investments and take these new directions? It is because of the hard work of Canadians over the past 10 years. We have put ourselves in a situation where we have control of our finances. The government can govern, can look forward, and can create partnerships with communities because we have the resources, and we have the confidence that we will have the resources in the future.
We have been reducing our debt to the extent that the first $3 billion in new funding was from reduced payments abroad on debt servicing charges. With continued fiscal prudence--and I am confident we will have that under this government--we will be able to improve that even further.
We are talking about a new era of achievement and we are talking about communities. I am pleased that we have stopped using the word “cities” because too often we were hearing about the agenda of cities. My colleagues on this side of the House have made sure to remind the Prime Minister and his ministers that we must talk about communities. We need strong communities in this country and strong communities will give us a strong country.
Rural areas are not asking for charity. They want proper investment and proper support. We want to release the potential that we have everywhere in this country. I know my friends across the way often speak of western alienation. Down home we do also. It is West Nova alienation. In my riding, which is a three hour drive away from an urban centre, we often feel that we are under-represented in the bureaucracy and in the affairs of government. We want to ensure that we are full partners.
In Nova Scotia rural areas contribute 70% of the wealth of the province, including the resource sectors and other sectors that are in the rural areas. So it is right that we have those proper investments and those proper supports to release further potential from those areas, as in all rural areas and small communities across the country.
West Nova, which I am very pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to represent, is a microcosm of this nation. We have people from many cultures. We have native people, English people, French people, les Acadiens. We have people who have immigrated from all over the world and their descendants live in that riding. Our industries are wide and varied, from agriculture, forestry, fishing, the military, high technology, tourism, educational institutions, manufacturing and others. All of these face challenges and all of these have opportunities. I look forward to continue working with members of Parliament and with members of the government to help improve the situation.
Agriculture has received a lot of attention lately. It might be difficult for people from other parts of the country to realize the importance that agriculture has in Nova Scotia, but it is important. It is important in my riding and it maintains a lot of small communities and family businesses. It keeps them in place; however, they face significant challenges such as BSE, pork prices, and I will mention a few others later.
West Nova is the site of the first European settlement in North America. Next year, we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Port-Royal. We invite all Canadians, the Speaker of the House and all hon. members to travel to West Nova this summer to attend the Congrès mondial acadien, which will be a happy reunion. The celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary will go on all summer.
Some specific activities will take place on set dates. I will be pleased to indicate those dates of interest to hon. members. They should come to my riding to sample good food, meet with people, exchange views and, above all, spend their money.
The people of West Nova are entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are self-reliant. They like to take matters into their own hands and meet their challenges.
There are areas like Cornwallis, which is a fantastic story, a community that was almost wholly dependent upon the military training base. That base was closed because of budget restrictions and program review. We lost that facility. The community created an economic development agency and worked with the assistance of the federal government of the day to give it new life. Currently there are more jobs at that base than there were when the military was there. The jobs are in manufacturing, high technology and education.
There is the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, which unfortunately is having some challenges now which it should not be, and that is why we talk sometimes about the alienation of rural areas. There are bureaucrats who would like to see that centre moved to Ottawa. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre is in western Nova Scotia because of the hard work of my predecessor, Harry Verran, in working with the community to make sure that all the potential was released from that area. People from all over the world get excellent training in a very relaxed and good atmosphere and then return to work all over the world. I want to thank the current Minister of National Defence, as well as his predecessor, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for their support for the Pearson centre, in terms of funding and their continued work to ensure its presence in West Nova.
Yarmouth a few short years ago, about 10 years ago, lost the two major employers. We lost a cotton mill that had been there for over 100 years. We lost a tin mine that had been generating 40% of the tax revenue in the municipality where I used to be the administrator. The community created an agency, locally based and working as in Cornwallis with the municipalities, with the provincial and federal governments and with the local entrepreneurs. The old cotton mill has become an industrial mall and there now are more jobs than there were at the time, or just about as many. There has been a rebirth in Yarmouth.
Those are two great examples for all Canadians of releasing the potential of rural Nova Scotia. Those two communities could have been abandoned, saying that it was the natural course of action, but they refused to do that and now they are keeping young people in those communities and encouraging people to move in. There is lots more work to do in those communities and all others in my riding. The communities will meet those challenges, given the support of the federal and provincial governments.
There was a small grain operation which bought feed and grain in the Annapolis Valley and that moved away. Local farmers created a cooperative approximately five years ago with a little bit of assistance from the federal and provincial governments. They now are financially stable, helping to create a market for those small operations, providing feed for the ranchers or farmers who need it. It is a very good example of a community working with the proper assistance.
I keep repeating that. It is very important that we have agencies like Western Economic Diversification, FedNor, CED in Quebec, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. It is important that they be on the ground, that they be present, that they understand what the potential is in those communities.
We have further work to do with those organizations. We can use as a base the “Rising Tides” document prepared by the Atlantic caucus of the Liberal Party to improve those agencies, give them a little more flexibility and give them the proper resources. Great work has been done but there is much more potential.
The regional development agencies in those rural communities, such as Western Valley Development Authority and the South West Shore Development Authority, have done fantastic work in accessing and bringing together all the resources necessary to maximize the potential.
While they are rural areas, these people as I mentioned are very entrepreneurial. They make sure that they take advantage of all the technologies that are out there. There are companies like King's Produce and den Haan's Greenhouses. There is AF Theriault & Son, a boat shop started by a woman and family operated, one of the 10 largest in the country, using new materials such as carbon fibre and preparing those.
They have challenges. For those small and medium size operations to submit tenders to the federal government is very difficult because of the rules in our tendering process and the bonding requirements, so I think we can work further.
BioVision is a new company that started in the Annapolis Valley. It wants to take wood byproducts with cellulose and create ethanol and all the derivatives that can be used by others in manufacturing everywhere where petroleum products are used now.
They need some assistance. The rules need to recognize that they exist. It is very difficult for those who are not in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Halifax to have access to government officials.
I am halfway through what I wanted to cover and I realize that I am running out of time. I want to congratulate the government for the Speech from the Throne, for the directions it is putting forward, for the assistance to communities and highways in my province. It is very important that we have the proper highway infrastructure. It is important that the port of Digby be returned to the community and that we maintain the airport.
I look forward to working very closely with all members of Parliament and ministers to ensure that the resources are brought there. This framing document from which we will get the budget and from which we will get the process is a great initiative and gives great direction to all Canadian communities.