Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to take part in this debate and to air my views on the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to begin my remarks this afternoon by thanking the people of Nipissing--Timiskaming for their overwhelming support during the recent election campaign. It was a very long and many times challenging campaign; however, thanks to the outstanding efforts of countless volunteers I have the great honour and privilege of representing Nipissing--Timiskaming for a second term.
Since I was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004, I have consulted with literally thousands of constituents to discuss the issues that matter most to them. These issues include: productivity, the environment, aboriginal Canadians, education, agriculture, and infrastructure funding for cities and communities.
When the Prime Minister laid out his agenda for the 39th Parliament in the Speech from the Throne, he reiterated his five campaign promises, but he offered no comprehensive vision for the future of Canada. What struck me most about the Speech from the Throne was not so much what was included in it but rather what was left out. None of the issues that I cited moments ago, as being priorities for my constituents, were addressed by the Conservative plan.
Canada, as most countries, faces complex and wide-ranging issues, both nationally and internationally. We need a government that is prepared to face these challenges head on, not ignore them for the sake of the Prime Minister's partisan desire to control the message. The hope, of course, is that by working cooperatively with the Liberals and the other opposition parties, the Conservatives will acknowledge the need to develop a truly national vision that reflects the priorities of all Canadians.
The Liberal opposition was recently successful in amending the throne speech to stop the Conservatives from raising taxes. We did this by including an amendment that recognized that the Conservative government inherited one of the strongest economies and by far the best fiscal position of all the G-7 countries. Therefore, there should be no reason for Conservatives to raise income taxes and reduce child care spaces to accommodate their GST cut and payments to parents.
We were also successful in including aboriginal Canadians, seniors, farm families and new Canadians, all of whom were left out of the Prime Minister's five point vision. These amendments illustrate how we can work cooperatively to ensure that the policies and actions of the government better reflect Canadian values. We must note however that there is still much work to be done.
Given that the Liberals have handed the Conservatives the strongest economy and best fiscal position in the G-7, why is the government not implementing the historic Kelowna accord which will raise the standards of living for Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis people? Why is the government cancelling the child care funding agreements with the provinces? Why is it reneging on Canada's Kyoto commitments to deal with climate change and the environmental degradation to Canada's air, land and water? Why is the government rolling back investment in research and development that would help Canada better compete in the 21st century's knowledge-based global economy? Why is the government ignoring the infrastructure and environmental needs of Canada's cities and communities?
As the member of Parliament for Nipissing--Timiskaming, I must ensure that the needs of my constituents are being properly assessed. As the FedNor critic I also have a responsibility to make certain that the Conservative government remains committed to all of northern Ontario. Prior to the most recent election campaign, the current Prime Minister made countless comments making it very clear that he did not believe in the effectiveness of regional development programs such as FedNor and COMRIF, among others.
During the campaign itself however the Conservative leader had a sudden about-face on the issue and tried to assure voters that a Conservative government would in fact remain committed to regional development. He even went so far as to dismiss claims to the contrary as nothing more than Liberal propaganda.
Since then, the Prime Minister and his Conservative government have done very little to demonstrate their so-called commitment to regional development or the people of northern Ontario for that matter. This is just one of several promises that seem to have been conveniently shelved, forgotten or broken since the Conservatives assumed power.
When I was first elected as MP for Nipissing--Timiskaming, I made it clear to my constituents that my goal was to work with them in order to revitalize our economy, promote growth through job creation, and to do so within the context of a sound environmental framework. During the past session of Parliament, I worked very hard in partnership with community leaders, businesses, organizations and individuals throughout the riding to help realize these goals together.
To that end, I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish together. Northern Ontario benefited greatly from the previous Prime Minister's leadership and Nipissing—Timiskaming in particular benefited from the Liberal government's commitment to regional development.
My concern is that much of the successes we achieved under the previous government will now be lost or severely hindered under the current regime. Quite frankly, there is no good reason why we cannot build and maintain a strong, vibrant economy in my riding and throughout northern Ontario, and all of Canada for that matter. Whether it is domestic or international business, it can be done from anywhere in the world and that includes Nipissing—Timiskaming.
In this case, our ability to succeed depends largely on the federal government's ability to identify the priorities and meet the needs of the people who live and do business in northern Ontario. This begins with investment in infrastructure through programs such as COMRIF. COMRIF is a partnership between the Government of Canada and the government of Ontario, designed to help improve and renew public infrastructure in municipalities all across the province.
Last year, the Government of Canada and Ontario announced over $249 million in projects funded under COMRIF intake one, including over $16 million for municipalities throughout Nipissing—Timiskaming. At that time, the city of North Bay in my riding received the single largest COMRIF investment of $15 million from each of the two levels of government toward a new water filtration plant.
This past week the minister responsible for FedNor released a list of infrastructure projects for COMRIF intake two. I was pleased to learn that two projects from Nipissing—Timiskaming received funding, but I was very disappointed that more applications from my riding and throughout northern Ontario were not even considered.
Without the necessary infrastructure investment in northern Ontario, building and sustaining a vibrant economy is made increasingly difficult. Add to this the rising cost of fuel, the ongoing softwood lumber dispute, inadequate funding for farmers and producers, and many other issues in northern Ontario communities, it is easy to understand why my constituents feel abandoned by the Conservative government.
In the weeks and months ahead, I intend to continue to work very hard alongside my caucus colleagues and members of other opposition parties to ensure that the people of northern Ontario are treated fairly. Furthermore, I also remain committed to working hand in hand with the people I represent to ensure that their needs are being put front and centre. They voted for integrity and determination, and I intend to deliver.