Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park for sharing her time with me.
I will begin by thanking the people of Vancouver Island North for the trust they have shown in me to be their representative. In the election campaign, I promised to make sure that Ottawa knows where Vancouver Island North is and what Vancouver Island North needs, a task I will take very seriously.
I am proud to say that I was born in the riding and have lived in a number of its communities. It is a very large area with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and contains many people who still exhibit that great pioneer spirit that created this country.
Vancouver Island North has the Pacific Ocean as its western boundary and the Strait of Georgia borders on the southeast. It is just over 52,000 square kilometres in size with 109,000 residents. That is two people per square kilometre. Some parts of it are only accessible by air or boat. Most people live in the towns and cities that have been built in and around the traditional industries of the area, which are forestry and fishing.
I listened carefully to the throne speech to hear what the government intends to do to address the serious concerns of people working in those industries. It said, “This Government recognizes the unique challenges faced by those who make their livelihood from our land and oceans in our vital natural resource and agriculture industries”.
Recognition is nice, but action is what is needed. The absence of action on major issues facing workers and their families in our forestry communities is a form of neglect that borders on abuse. We need concrete action to end the softwood lumber dispute and a comprehensive plan to ensure that the money, when it comes back to Canada, goes to the people in those communities who have been so dramatically affected by this trade dispute.
We need to end the practice of allowing raw logs to be exported from private land under federal jurisdiction. We need better stewardship of our forestry resources. We must ensure that it can provide jobs for this generation and many future generations while also respecting the environment.
Earning a living from the fishery is far too rapidly becoming a part of the history of Vancouver Island North. Our inability to be reasonable stewards of our ocean's resources is a sad testimony and a cruel indictment to the many people living in my riding.
Even when fish can be found, caught and landed, they, like the raw logs from our forests, are far too often trucked out of our communities to provide jobs for people in other places. It worries me not to see a single mention of our west coast fishery in the throne speech. We need leadership in Canada. We need to stop standing back and letting unsustainable practices threaten our wild fish stocks. We need to work with aquaculture companies to find a productive and sustainable way to farm fish. We need to shake off our complacent attitude, which in reality will only continue to pit people against each other in our coastal communities.
The pioneer spirit that I refer to shows up in the people who are working hard and investing their time and money in developing new sustainable energy sources. Whether working on common sense wind power or leading edge tidal power generators, people in my riding are looking for leadership from their federal government in moving us away from their reliance on fossil fuels. They are looking for substantive measures to achieve this goal. I look forward to working with these new pioneers to make real inroads in sustainable power generation and to ensure that vague promises made in the throne speech are turned into real and tangible results.
I want to shift gears just a little and mention the vital work done by the men and women in the armed forces based at CFB Comox. Like Canadian armed forces personnel everywhere, they are dedicated to the work they do to serve their country. They approach their dual tasks of defensive surveillance and search and rescue support with determination and professionalism, but they continue to work in outdated buildings that will not survive an earthquake and with planes and helicopters that have long passed their due dates.
The Conservatives made many promises in the election campaign with regard to our armed forces in general and CFB Comox in particular. The throne speech makes a mere reference to “a stronger military”. I will be vigilant in reminding the government of its promises and working with it to keep those promises.
In its throne speech, the government states that it “will not try to do all things at once”. One can argue that this is a prudent way to proceed, but it is my belief that some things cannot wait.
There are two more priorities that I want to outline. The first is the need for the federal government to work with communities across Canada to quickly and efficiently modernize and expand our infrastructure. I am told by elected municipal officials and first nations leaders throughout my riding that this cannot be left for another day. This must be done.
In the Comox valley, our cities and regional districts are struggling to come to terms with aging water and sewer systems. Growth caused by more and more people moving to this lovely area is putting a huge strain on infrastructure, which must be dealt with.
I recently met with Port Hardy mayor Hank Bood and members of his staff and council. They made it very clear that the federal government must share in the cost of upgrading and expanding their sewage treatment facilities to end the pollution of nearby Stories Beach.
I left Port Hardy and drove a short distance down the highway to Fort Rupert, where I was invited to have lunch with the elders of the Kwakiutl Band. In the course of our discussion, the members of the band described the hardship they faced because they could not harvest the seafood that should be readily available to them from the beach on their reserve. That beach, the same one the mayor had spoken of, is badly contaminated and has been closed by health officials.
That brings me to the last concern I want to raise. I was honoured to receive significant support from the almost 20 first nations who live in Vancouver Island North. I look forward to continuing to meet and work with them. I will work with the government to ensure that the commitment in the throne speech to improve opportunities for aboriginal people in Canada is not mere empty words and unkept promises.
In keeping with my objective to bring to Ottawa the voices of the people I represent, I want to close with this passage from a report by Am Johal on the residential school student gathering held in Alert Bay in August last year. It states:
In the small island community of Alert Bay near northern Vancouver Island, hundreds of survivors of St. Michael's Residential School stood on the idyllic shoreline near the U'mista Cultural Centre. It was misty as the fog rolled in and perched on the calm water.
It was an enchanting setting. Canoes carrying some of the former students arrived at the school for a bittersweet reunion. As they came closer, one of the chiefs stood up from the canoe and asked for permission to come to shore.
Chief Bill Cranmer from the Namgis First Nation welcomed them in. They paddled the canoe in backwards as a gesture of friendship, rather than one of aggression, as is symbolized by paddling in from the front.
St. Michael's Residential School was open from 1929 to 1975. Over the weekend, more than 250 First Nations from all over British Columbia representing some 18 bands came to attend the healing ceremony.
“We used to be beaten for speaking our own language. We were removed from our own communities...we need to remove the trauma, so we can develop in the way we want to,” said Chief Cranmer as he addressed the former students.
“We need to move forward and we hope you share with us the notion that this shouldn't have happened to us or our children. The future belongs to us. We need to rebuild our history.”
As the Coast Salish dancers began preparations for their healing dance, Chief Cranmer said, “We have come to look past what's happened to you. We have come here for our ancestors. We can find time to move to a better place”.
As a line formed inside the school, the hallways and classrooms brought back memories that had many people bent over and sobbing with tears. Some needed to be physically supported. Relatives and friends clung to one another.
Back at the Big House, another speaker said, “It is time for healing and reconciliation. The colonisers brought an oppression which made us oppress ourselves.”
Chief Cranmer once again addressed the gathering. “We used to line up to pray to a God we didn't believe in.
Our role models weren't positive.
We suffered from diseases brought in by colonisation, the residential school system which hurt our culture, and the potlatch prohibition.
They took away our humanity.”
The throne speech talks about building a stronger Canada. On behalf of the people of my riding, I will keep their concerns in the forefront as we work in this Parliament to achieve that goal.