Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. I look forward to working closely with you.
As this is my first speech in the House of Commons, I would like to begin by thanking the people of the great constituency of Wetaskiwin for the resounding endorsement they gave me on January 23. I would like to invite you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues to come to Wetaskiwin to experience our renowned western hospitality.
On the July 1 weekend, the town of Ponoka will host the 70th annual Ponoka stampede, the largest six day professional rodeo in Canada.
History abounds at the old Wetaskiwin Courthouse, which was built in 1907, and the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, which dates back to 1799. In Lacombe, visitors are welcome at the flat iron building, one of the few buildings in Canada with this unique and distinctive architecture that has been recently transformed into a visitor interpretive centre.
At this time, I would also like to thank those who were so instrumental in getting me here today. I would like to thank my wife, Barbara, and our children, Eryk, Kasandra and Krystian, who have supported me so much and provide me with the strength I need to work so very far from home; my parents, Gordon and Beverly, and my brother and sister for the strong family ties they have provided for me; and my campaign team and all those who have supported me and the Conservative Party in this most recent election and all past elections.
I would also like to thank Dale Johnston, the former member for Wetaskiwin, for his nearly 13 years of tireless and dedicated service to the constituents of Wetaskiwin. I hope he and his wife, Dianne, enjoy a well earned retirement.
I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister for bringing forward a focused agenda that aligns the government's priorities with the priorities of Canadians.
The five priorities that we campaigned on will be implemented by the government. Canadians voted for change because they were tired of empty promises. They wanted accountability. They wanted a government that lived up to its billing and politicians who worked for them, not for themselves. The government will do that and more.
Despite the fact that agriculture accounts for roughly one in eight jobs and 8.3% of the total gross domestic product, it was virtually neglected during 13 years of Liberal governments.
Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector is a key contributor to our quality of life. In the constituency of Wetaskiwin, agriculture is at the heart of our local economy. Our farming roots run long and deep.
Last week, my father, who has farmed in the Lacombe area for over 40 years, celebrated a birthday. While he is younger than many of today's farmers, it is not an occupation that can be pursued forever.
Even though we have the best, most fertile soil in Alberta, young people are leaving the family farm in droves. Like me, they have found employment and careers away from the uncertainties and struggles that are part and parcel of the business of farming.
Drought, BSE, grasshoppers, subsidies and trade irritants have contributed to the loss of many family farms and have left the farm industry struggling to cope. Farmers and cattle producers are a resilient lot, but when they are in dire straits they, and all the communities that rely on their success, should be able to count on their government to help them fight for their livelihoods.
No one works harder than our agricultural producers, something the new government knows well. Rural Canada is important to the government and we will work hard to help them retain their livelihoods.
The Conservative government believes that agriculture is a key strategic economic sector, so the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food acted immediately after his first cabinet meeting and announced payment of the $755 million, under the grains and oil seeds payment program, would be sent out immediately. Already, more than 73,000 cheques totalling nearly $400 million have been distributed to producers. Then, he travelled across the country and listened to hundreds of producers tell him about the difficult financial situation they are facing and their desire to continue farming.
The government also recognizes that the CAIS program does not meet the needs of producers. Changes will be made to the program to make it simpler and more responsive to the needs of producers. We are urging the provinces to get on board and help us develop a program that really works for farmers.
During the last election campaign the Conservative Party promised an extra $2.5 billion investment in agriculture over five years. We will demonstrate our commitment to farmers by creating an economic climate that rewards hard work and innovation.
It is hard work and innovation that characterizes the people of the Wetaskiwin constituency. They have invested in technology that allows them to diversify and branch out into new value added products. An example of this is the proposed environmental gasification plant in Rimbey, which would use agricultural byproducts as the key feedstock component. This innovative plant would allow the community to continue to diversify, create jobs, and still maintain its strong agricultural base and complement our thriving oil and gas sector.
We have always been innovators in central Alberta and we have not looked back since the discovery of oil in 1947. The petrochemical industry has added a new and exciting dimension to life in Alberta. Thanks to black gold, new industries are locating throughout the constituency of Wetaskiwin in towns like Lacombe, Rocky Mountain House, Blackfalds, Ponoka and Calmar. Thanks to the spirit of the local people, this remains a great place to live, raise a family and conduct business.
Ours is a family oriented society, home to independent parents who want their government to treat them fairly. They want to feel safe and secure in their communities. They want our government to stand up for safe streets by tackling gun, gang and drug violence and keeping criminals off the streets. They want choice in child care. The one size fits all approach pursued by previous governments does not work in areas like Wetaskiwin. By providing parents with $1,200 a year for each child under six, it allows them to find the best solution for their family, be it public or private day care, a relative or a neighbour.
Families in the constituency of Wetaskiwin work hard to pay their taxes and they want to see the hard-earned dollars they send to Ottawa used prudently. They want to keep more of their income to pay for the necessities of life. The government believes that Canadians pay too much tax and so the Prime Minister developed a tax plan that over time will reduce the tax burden on all Canadian families.
The reduction in GST will bring a tangible savings to young families, so they can buy their first house or perhaps move to a larger one. It will make big ticket items like a new car or appliance a little more affordable and it will leave more money in parents' pockets to save for their children's education and for everyday goods and services they acquire from their local businesses.
Lower taxes will encourage job growth and give parents secure, steady employment. We value our way of life and look forward to real change and results. We in Wetaskiwin finally have a government that will deliver real change as outlined in the throne speech.