Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and address the throne speech.
I wish to thank the constituents of Medicine Hat for putting their faith in me again. We are starting a new session of Parliament. I would like to acknowledge the faith my constituents have placed in me over the years. It is a pleasure to represent them and stand up for them. My constituents are great people. It is a privilege and an honour to be their representative in the House of Commons.
The first thing that came to mind when I listened to the Speech from the Throne and then read through it later was that it reminded me of one of those ads for a furniture store where it is stated, “Buy now and pay later”. In this case it will be, “Buy now and pay sometime perhaps in June”.
The government is delivering a throne speech with very few numbers attached, but all kinds of promises. The idea is to convince Canadians that the government will fulfill this wonderful shopping list of ideas. However, the government is not telling Canadians what the cost will be. The cost will be very substantial in a number of ways.
What I will do today is run through a number of the different commitments that the government is making in the throne speech and then talk a little bit about each one of them. It is important to address some of the specific commitments the government is making, especially when we have a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet who are endeavouring to fulfill these commitments.
I will start on page 3 of the Speech from the Throne. There the government talks about changing the way things work in Ottawa. In the document, the first very line of that section says:
The path to achievement begins with making sure that Canadians believe their government, so that they can believe in government.
We all agree with that. We want Canadians to believe their government. To some degree we want them to believe in government. We do not want them to place all their faith in government. We all know that government too often lets people down. Rather obviously, some things are the sorts of things that we should rely on our family and ourselves to achieve.
Having said that, generally speaking and those caveats attached, we all agree with that statement. However, I want to argue that the government is doing a terrible job already of fulfilling that commitment. The path to achievement begins with making sure that Canadians believe their government.
Today in the House of Commons, during question period, my colleague and I from Edmonton Southwest, and my colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, asked questions about how transparent the government is and how forthcoming it is with details surrounding the Prime Minister's own company and its dealings with the government over the past 10 years.
We pointed out that the government had been far less than forthcoming when it came to giving information about contracts and grants that the company had received from the government. We pointed out that it had been about a year and a half before we received a remotely accurately picture of the actual amount of business that the company, CSL, had done with the Government of Canada over the last 10 years.
The initial figure was $137,000. It took roughly 18 months to get the real figure. The real figure is $161 million. However, even that is not the total picture. There is more to it than that. We pointed that out in question period. We pointed to the fact that there was a discrepancy between the figures that the government House leader had given us and what we had found ourselves respecting at least one contract. I think there were 528 contracts. We found one right away with a $20,000 discrepancy. That caused us to question again this commitment that we find in the throne speech.
We then noted that in the letter that the House leader had prepared for my colleague from Edmonton Southwest that it did not actually include numbers, for instance, from the Canadian Wheat Board. It claimed that the Canadian Wheat Board said that it wanted to protect its competitive advantage and did not want to release all the numbers.
I argue that when the Prime Minister prepares a throne speech saying that transparency has to be paramount, then the concerns of the Canadian Wheat Board come second, because the public's right to know has to be supreme. In this case we are protecting the Canadian Wheat Board, and that is a whole other issue that I would like to talk about, but we cannot get into today. We just do not have time.
Right away, I think the government is failing its own standards that it set on page 3 of the throne speech. It is not producing all the information. In fact we will have more to say about this in the next number of days in the House of Commons.
I want to address another issue that is raised shortly thereafter, on page 4 of the throne speech, where the government talks about an action plan for democratic reform.
The government is already failing its own standards when it comes to the issue of democratic reform because very recently the Prime Minister talked about the fact that he would refuse to acknowledge that the people of Alberta had chosen elected senators. He basically stated that he refused to put them into the Senate, and he came up with some reason.
My point is that the Prime Minister has talked at length about the democratic deficit. The most important democratic deficit to the people of Alberta right now is to ensure that their democratically elected senators find their way into the Senate, ultimately. The Prime Minister has said that he will not respect that.
When it comes to dealing with his very first test to fulfill the so-called democratic deficit he has talked about, he has failed his own standard. He is refusing to do what he should do in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of Albertans who have voted for these people to go into the Senate of Canada. Two were chosen by the people of Alberta, and in a couple of days, we will have two Alberta vacancies in the Senate, but the Prime Minister refuses to address them.
I want to go on. There are so many issues we could talk about, but I have limited time.
One of the issues I am concerned about is that on page 5 of the throne speech the Prime Minister talks about an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament and an ethics officer for the Senate. We know that when he talks about an independent ethics commissioner, he is not talking about the same sort of independent officer that we have in the Auditor General.
For the information of the House, the Auditor General is selected through the Treasury Board by a committee that contains, for instance, chartered accountants, CGAs and auditors of Canada. They get together and select someone from among the possible candidates, and ultimately that person is appointed to become the Auditor General of Canada. That happened the last time around, and the person is an officer of Parliament.
The Prime Minister is talking about someone he would ultimately choose, and I cannot accept that. That is too much like the system as it is today.
Even the Prime Minister obviously does not have faith in the ethics counsellor today or else he would not be proposing the change the system. The very same ethics counsellor, by the way, has whitewashed scandal after scandal on the government side, and there have been dozens in the last 10 years that I have been here. I cannot count them all, but they are well known to Canadians who have seen this place in action.
That ethics counsellor is not acceptable. We do not want the same system, but with a different name for the independent ethics commissioner. Again we feel that the government is failing to meet its own standards that it lays out in the throne speech.
Here is one that really sticks in my craw. This is the respect for the tax dollars reference in the throne speech. Now this really boils me, Mr. Speaker.
The Prime Minister has made a point of saying that the government will not scrap the firearms registry. The government will review it to find ways to make it more efficient. We know that government members will sit on this committee and they have already said they would prefer to see it scrapped. However, the finance minister has ruled out the one thing that would get rid of the inefficiency of the firearms system, which is to scrap it . By its very nature, it is bureaucratic. It is a money sucking hole, by its very nature. We have to get rid of it.
Already we have wasted a billion on this. In 1994, when we asked the justice minister about it, it was going to cost $2 million. I have a videotape of myself asking a question of Allan Rock, the justice minister at the time. It had been pointed out that some experts at the time were saying that the firearms registry could cost $500 million or perhaps even a billion. Allan Rock, the justice minister, said that there was no way that would happen. They were forecasting $2 million. It is now headed for $1 billion, the Auditor General says it could go to $2 billion and the government will not do the one thing that will get rid of that huge expenditure and waste. How committed are the Liberals to respecting tax dollars? Clearly they are not committed to it.
For those people who say that it is a way to protect us from crime, I say if they do not believe me then they should listen to people like the chief of police in the City of Toronto, Julian Fantino, who used to be a believer in the firearms registry. He used to buy into it. He now says that it is a waste of money and that money could be used to put cops on the beat in Toronto to stop the gun crime there. That is where that money should go. It could go to 100 things that would be more useful than pouring it into a large bureaucracy that basically registers the shotguns of duck hunters across Canada. What a complete waste. Again, the government fails to meet its own standards.
There are so many things we could talk about. I know I will not get through the document, but I turn to page 6, where the heading is “Strengthening Canada's Social Foundations”. In the second line of the second paragraph it states:
It means removing barriers to opportunity.It means building on the fundamental fairness of Canadians. Because ourenormous good fortune demands nothing less.
Right away I note that one of the ways the government again fails to meet its own standard is that it is the protector of one of the most fundamental injustices that it could possibly defend. It defends the fact that in Canada today a two-income family pays less tax than a one-income family making the same amount of money. We are talking about social programs.
One of the best social programs is a strong family. What if people make the decision to stay home with their children and make a financial sacrifice? Then they discover that their income is taxed at a higher rate as a single-income family than a two-income family making the same income. How is that fair? How does that help families? How does it repair the social fabric of the nation? It does not.
I would argue that if the government wanted to change something to really help Canada's social infrastructure, it would change that one thing so single-income families making that kind of sacrifice would not be penalized for it. If they are not rewarded, at least they would not be penalized for it. I argue again that the government is not meeting its own standards when it comes to the issue of being fair to Canadians.
I also want to argue that when it comes to social programs, I think the best social program of all is a good job. If people have good jobs, they do not have to rely on social programs. They do not have to rely on employment insurance and all those things. Sometimes it is necessary and that safety net must be there. We must always have a safety net for people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, but if the economy does not move at anywhere near capacity, we will never produce the types of jobs to help Canadians.
This year the economy in Canada will grow about 1.6%, which is frankly pathetic. I know there were issues over the course of the year. We had the SARS problem and we have had BSE. If our economy had been more robust in the beginning and if we had put in place all those policies that would ensure that Canada was truly a magnet for investment, then we would have rebounded much more quickly. We would have produced many more jobs in the first place and we would have recaptured those jobs much more quickly after we had gone through the problems with SARS and BSE and some of the other problems, such as on the east coast with the fishery.