Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Canadians should be suspicious of this government and of the Prime Minister. They should know that this Speech from the Throne is nothing more than a new Liberal red book. It is yet another misleading document.
This opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne is indeed a pleasure. It is, however, challenging when one looks at the litany of promises that have been made over the years by not only the Prime Minister himself but by his own government.
It was more than a little ironic that it did arrive on the Canadian political scene on Groundhog Day. It is very reminiscent of that Bill Murray movie where we kept seeing the same thing happen time and time again. The mythology that surrounds Groundhog Day itself is where the little animal comes out of its hole and looks for some sign of what is going to happen. Yet, as we know, in the case of Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie this year, like the throne speech, Canadians saw nothing. They saw lots of promise and lots of indication that there would be something substantial there, but nothing at all revealed.
Canadians need to question the intention of the Prime Minister. Was it really to set out a vision of a bold, new plan for the country or was it really just to bait them? Was it really simply to set out what this election plan might be all about and what was going to be promised, as we have seen promised now in three successive elections of what the Liberal government would do? What Canadians need to do most of all is connect those previous promises with the reality of what happened during this 10 years.
Then they have to look a little further as to who was the centrepiece, who was the number two minister in that government, the minister of finance, while those promises were being made.
I need not go into great detail about the red-faced red book reversals that we have seen on GST, free trade and the exorbitant promises that were made about what we would do or what we would see in terms of funding for our Canadian military. All of that is awash.
The Hansard s of this place are littered with those particular promises that were made and subsequently broken. The work of this government is there. The record has been laid bare before Canadians when one starts to scratch a bit below the surface of much of the rhetoric, the pontification, and pompous promises that were made in yesterday's throne speech.
The Prime Minister himself has spent much of his energies and much of his political career, often to the detriment of his own colleagues, advancing his own cause. The direction that the Prime Minister is about to embark on right now is about as predictable as perhaps some of the financial logs of his steamships.
What wasn't included in the throne speech is almost as telling as what was included. Nowhere did we see any mention whatsoever of the fisheries and the plight of fishers in this country today on all coasts and all bodies of water in between. There is nothing of the role of Canada's future participation, if there will be participation, in the missile defence program. There is no real commitment to clean up some of the indiscretions and massive waste of taxpayers' money that we saw under his guidance as finance minister.
There is no contrition or humility whatsoever about his own role in the record of the Liberal government and in all those offences. He was there. He was a part of those decisions sitting at the cabinet table. Some of those decisions, we now know, impacted directly on business holdings that he has in Canada.
The complete absence in the throne speech of the fishery is one of the most glaring omissions and is most offensive. The issue is not only of importance to the coastal communities on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but it remains a huge priority for all Canadians. Every body of water, every stream, and every lake in this entire nation is affected by the lack of insight, the lack of foresight and the lack of having a fisheries plan.
Fishing communities throughout the country are in dire straits because of the mismanagement of the Liberal government in the last 10 years. The Prime Minister has forgotten that fisheries are not limited to any one region. Clearly, this is something that is impacting the resource sector across the country, as we have seen with agriculture, and our mining and forestry industry. These are the areas of the economy that most affect rural Canada.
While there was much emphasis placed on a new deal for cities, which I would suggest is really coming out of a decade of a raw deal for cities, there was very little mention of a strategy, an approach, or a compassionate word to encourage our rural communities.
Clearly, the Prime Minister's own offshore investments in shipping also betray the fact that there have been a lot of environmental violations by his own company. In fact, one of the most recent criminal prosecutions involved a CSL ship off the coast of Atlantic Canada.
In light of that, I would suggest to look a little deeper and ask the question, why should Canadians accept the word of the Prime Minister now? Why trust him this time? There has been a long record of indiscretions, words given, and promises made and little delivered.
In light of recent events, I also found it startling that there was no mention whatsoever of civil liberties. The reference comes in the wake of what surely has to be of great concern to Canadians today in the home invasion of a reporter here in Ottawa as a result of an article written last November. Yet there was this lengthy lag time before any action was taken whatsoever, and no connection as yet that reflects on this fear of there being a national security breach. I find that most disturbing.
The government has really relegated to the backbenches of the speech itself any connection to what I would consider to be one of the most serious violations of the freedom of the press in this country's history.
At a time when terrorism certainly remains a world threat, the government is deliberately diverting attention away from its plan on how it will co-operate with international efforts, North American efforts, to secure our borders and coastal communities. This is clearly a sleight of hand.
We need to remember that it was this government that disbanded the ports police. In fact, it put the safety of all Canadians at risk. We are a coastal country. The government disbanded the ports police, a specialized police force that was tasked specifically with the training, the expansive knowledge and authority to enforce the Criminal Code and the Customs and Immigrations Act, and to stand guard on our Canadian coastal waters.
This is underscored as well by the declining Canadian navy, the lack of ability we have now to patrol our waters. Dare I mention the cancellation of the Sea King helicopter program, which has again left, not only the coastal communities, but the country itself at risk in terms of not solely the protection of our citizens, but those in the waters off the coast of Canada and the perils that can clearly result from the challenges that lie on the open waters.
There was reference made already today in the throne speech by my colleague from Saint John and the deputy leader of the Conservative Party about the submarines and the money that will be entailed in upgrading these submarines to make them operational. There was the deception in initially saying what great savings and great benefit would come to Canada with the purchase of these submarines, knowing that the Australians and other countries had looked at these submarines.
The British themselves found them wanting. Why could we not, as has been suggested, have built those submarines in Saint John? Why could we not, as part of a national shipbuilding program, have embarked upon a plan that would have employed Canadians and used Canadian technology as we have seen in the past, when a Conservative government granted those programs to Saint John to build navy frigates? We were to see the component parts built in Langley and Abbotsford for helicopters that were to be purchased, the EH-101, which, if we take the partisanship and the political football away from the Liberal government, no doubt will be purchased. Those were the best for the money and the best purchase. The long term benefits of development, research and technology was to be done right here in Canada.
It is obvious that much of what has happened under this particular finance minister, now Prime Minister of the government, is being whitewashed. It is being put aside.
The Liberals are trying to purge the memories of Canadians of the record of failing to deliver on what was promised in the past. Budget cuts and the restricted mandate that have been given to some of our policing forces in the country today have also jeopardized our national security.
Canadians are left to wonder why they should accept the man now responsible for the delivery of Canada's first throne speech from this supposedly new government that contained no less than 30 odd references to new. Why would they accept this as anything more than a pre-election, pre-planned bag of tricks and bag of promises once again?
For 10 years the current Prime Minister has held the most powerful and influential portfolio in the government. He was called upon to serve the country in a manner fitting to this great nation and to use sound fiscal policy that would benefit Canadians.
Yet when one examines some of those decisions and some of that use of money that I have referenced already, such as the cancellation of the helicopter programs, I cannot rise in this chamber and talk about fiscal management without referencing the massive distortion of the truth as well as the waste of money surrounding the long gun registration. There has been an outcry from Canadians, from the police and from those individuals who recognize the one simple truth: that no matter how much money and resources and energy are put into this boondoggle, criminals are not going to register their guns. It is simply not going to happen.
And so it is perpetuated, just as we have seen with the helicopters. It is a simultaneous face-saving and rear-end covering exercise that is going on in this country. The decisions that have been made are highly questionable. When one puts that in the context of the pronouncements made yesterday in the throne speech, one really has to wonder why Canadians would accept the word of this Prime Minister and this government.
In addition to the loss of life and the loss of money that have resulted from some of these decisions, after 10 years of being in government the Prime Minister is now asking people to simply take him at his word. The previous decisions that he made--and that his government made--as part of the caucus and the cabinet have left another sector of the country reeling. I am referring here, of course, to students in this country. Although there was great pomp and ceremony surrounding the commitment to students, one again has to look at the actual facts here. For many students, student debt now is equivalent to a mortgage, the difference being that after graduation they have no house, not to mention a car to get to work if they can find a job.
At St. FX University, which was recognized as the number one undergraduate university in the country, I deal regularly with students. I spoke as recently as two days ago with a father whose daughter has now embarked on another program. She is being chased by debt collectors because of missing a single payment on her student debt, which was turned over to a collection agency. This is the reality of what is happening to many students.
Many students are faced with the fact that they have to leave the country in order to get employment in their chosen field. Almost the entire graduating class of nurses in some undergraduate programs such as St. FX's is leaving the country to find work, yet there is a shortage of nurses in the country. It is perverse when we look at the facts and the promises and the failure to deliver.
Opposition members of Parliament in both the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance Party have put forward previous attempts to address the situation of student debt. The current Prime Minister in his previous incarnation voted against the ability of students to write off some of that student debt when they stayed and paid taxes in this country. Now, while he waxes eloquent in platitudes such as “investing in people...Canada's most important economic investment”, we see the facts unfolding. Students are still suffering, feeling the effects of crushing accumulated student debt.
I also could not help but laugh when I saw the reference that children are in fact Canada's future. What a vacuous, inane statement to put in the throne speech. If that is the case, why have we seen children in this country still living in abject poverty? Why have we seen children who are in school still unable to access things like the breakfast program that is provided by the province of New Brunswick?
All of this leads to some of the bigger economic decisions about transfer payments. While much was made of the promised and re-promised $2 billion that was going to be allotted to the provincial governments to divvy up for health care, what is not told and is not spoken about is the clawback in transfer payments. The net loss to most provinces will actually leave them with a lower operating budget for the coming fiscal year.
Again health care, education and infrastructure take the hit while the government continues to laud its Prime Minister for such sound fiscal management for the country and while the downloading and the trickle-down effect continues, an effect that is felt not only by the provinces and municipalities but clearly by the individuals who should be in receipt of programs and infrastructure that meet their needs and allow them to prosper, get to work and do the important things that do generate growth in the country's economy.
The stories I hear from my own riding on these big issues are echoed across the country. While not every specific example in different communities is the same, the plot is the same. The students, the children, the people of this country, are burdened with much of the debt we see in Canada today.
There have been numerous studies done by very eminent individuals and those with economic prowess and know-how, like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. They have pointed out that Canadian productivity continues to lag behind that of the United States by about 16% and that our own standard of living in Canada is 15% lower than that of our North American counterparts in the United States. Canada's tax system remains significantly less competitive than that of the Americans. That study went on to talk about how the government has now abandoned all pretence of spending discipline and about how fiscal program spending has jumped by more than 30% in the past four fiscal years, part of which was shepherded through Parliament by the current Prime Minister.
The last budget that we saw in this country, last February, launched a new scattergun of spending commitments. The Prime Minister at that time, coupled with the able assistance of the recently retired John Manley, talked about the theme of getting back to providing Canadians with more access to their own money. What it really should have been deemed as was a “return to spender” approach.
Now, I would suggest, we are seeing much of the same approach outlined in this throne speech, the difference being that there will be no follow-up. There will be no hard cash. This is very much a “cheque is in the mail” type of approach, but there is one step that has to happen first. The Liberal government has to be re-elected, of course, and that is where this official opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada, intends to be very diligent in proposing to the country alternatives that make good sense, alternatives that will affect people's backyards and back pockets, giving them access to their own hard-earned money to make those spending decisions for themselves. I know it is an often repeated and trite truism, but I dare say that Canadians know how to spend their money better than the government does, and they will generate the wealth. They will generate the activity and the productivity in their communities, in the cities, towns and small rural areas throughout Canada.
Here is where the answer lies when it comes to the issue of democratic deficit. Again I would suggest, not to sound too flippant, that there is really a credibility deficit in hearing the Prime Minister talk about how he is going to rejuvenate and renew the democracy of this place and throughout this country. This is a Prime Minister who was part of the government that used closure on debate in the chamber of the House of Commons more than 80 times, going far beyond any previous administration. This is a Prime Minister who as finance minister himself invoked the use of closure no less than 13 times.
We know, as I referenced already, that he had his hand all over the initial 1993 red book, but let us look a little deeper at his own record. He stood up and opposed numerous attempts, including an attempt by this opposition party, to have an independent ethics counsellor reporting directly to members of Parliament. The words were taken directly from the 1993 red book. Those words were served up in such a way that there was no denying them and no room for anyone to suggest that this was simply an attempt by the opposition to put one over on the government. These were simply words offered back, saying, “Agree to your own commitment. Embrace what you promised to do over 10 years ago”. The Prime Minister voted against it.
There is ample factual evidence to suggest that there is no credibility whatsoever when we hear about empowering the opposition--