Mr. Speaker, I was thinking as I spoke that you yourself must be extremely ill at ease with this. You personally must be squirming in your place when you think that during question period day after day there will be nobody in this House to respond to this House about the spending of money, which is the charge and the obligation under the Constitution of Canada to the deputies that sit in this place. You must be very ill at ease.
The Prime Minister has also put into his cabinet a Minister of National Defence who less than two years ago was a defence industry lobbyist with a client list that is a who's who of defence contractors. When the minister was asked whether he would recuse himself from procurements that involved his former clients, he summarily dismissed the question.
The Prime Minister enticed into his cabinet a member of Parliament who was elected as a Liberal only two weeks prior. Not only is that inconsistent with the Prime Minister's rhetoric on ethics and accountability, but it is totally inconsistent with any usage known in the House. In fact, because of its timing and the cynical way in which it was handled, it has, in the words of Mr. Shapiro himself, given many citizens a sense that their vote, the cornerstone of our democratic system, was somehow devalued.
As I said the name of Mr. Shapiro, I heard from the other side “who” and “say who louder”. Do those members not know that he is the Ethics Commissioner whom they voted for and approved of in the previous Parliament? Do they not recall? This is perhaps why the government has mounted a public campaign to discredit the Ethics Commissioner, an officer of Parliament whose appointment they advocated and approved.
In short, in its first month in office the government has compromised any credibility it had on the subject of ethics and accountability. These are early days for the government and Canadians are asking themselves where it is going, and it is perfectly natural. There has been considerable speculation in the press and elsewhere about the Prime Minister's other priorities.
The Prime Minister made clear his desire to see senators elected, apart from Mr. Fortier of course. He now has mused about constitutional reform. I must say that on constitutional reform, much as we are hesitant on engaging in divisive constitutional debate, it certainly would be preferable to introduce the concept of an elected Senate as a part of a comprehensive constitutional package. Members are fully aware that elected senators will effectively change the relationship between this House and the other place. The Prime Minister fully well knows that. This will involve constitutional ramifications, both from a parliamentary and a provincial perspective.
Whatever the Prime Minister's intentions may be, one thing many commentators have observed is that his style to date has been decidedly centralizing and authoritarian. As one journalist observed recently, the “bunker mentality” and the increasing centralization of power in the PMO already criticized for being too centralized is an awkward fit with his promises of a new era of accountability.
Colleagues, while the direction of this government is not yet clear, and the press cannot get sufficient access to enlighten the public, I think that we can, on the basis of its actions to date, establish one guiding principle for the future. Colleagues, examine the words used by the Prime Minister when he was in opposition and we can then assume that the acts of his government will contradict them in most respects.
However, as I have said, there are measures in the Speech from the Throne that we will support. The government's patient wait times guarantee commitment is an initiative we support and congratulate the government on. In fact, we commend the Conservatives for adopting our former policy.
It was a Liberal government that committed in the 2004 election to work with the provinces to establish wait time guarantees and benchmarks to measure progress toward these goals. Following the 2004 election, in partnership with the provinces, our government succeeded in moving substantially toward that goal, committing $5 billion to the initiative.
We also commend the commitment to provide a care guarantee for Canadians. It is a good idea that Liberals have long advocated and we fully support it.
The Liberal opposition remains seriously concerned about the government's commitment to universal public health care. Its failure to respond substantively to the stated intentions of the Alberta government on reforming health care in that province is deeply troubling, especially when most of the country's health care experts judge the Alberta reforms to be in contravention of the Canada Health Act. Here the country expects all parties in this House to be highly vigilant, and we will be.
I would now like to turn to the subject of child care, a policy where the Liberal opposition fundamentally disagrees with the government. The Conservative position on child care brings into stark reality the difference between its party's views and those of the majority of Canadians across the country. Surely all colleagues agree that early learning is absolutely critical to human development and ultimately the success of the individual. It is the modern equivalent of universal primary education. A child's early years literally set the course of his or her life. This is one of the few areas where agreement exists between such disparate groups of people as social scientists, social activists, scientists and even economists.
Many advanced countries in Europe and elsewhere have recognized the importance of early learning and have had the foresight to establish national child care programs. These governments have been commended for doing so by organizations like the OECD that see child care as a critical element of an advanced and progressive economic policy.
The Province of Quebec has been at the leading edge in Canada in developing a child care system. However the lack of a national system in Canada has been a major shortcoming in our social policy framework.
During the 2004 election, the Liberal government committed to working with the provinces to establish such a program. We then successfully negotiated child care agreements with the provinces. Now the Conservative government has come along and it has portrayed this national child care program as more unwelcome government intervention in family life, a restriction of choice. This totally ignores the reality of modern society, particularly the reality, often the necessity, of two parents working. Surely we must recognize their needs and desires to see their children develop to their full potential with reliable, accessible, affordable, quality day care if we are to have a fair society for all.
The Liberal child care plan was not about government telling parents how to raise their children, as the Conservatives would have Canadians believe. It is about giving parents real choices to enable them to balance work and family. It is also about equality of opportunity to ensure that low and modest income Canadians have similar choices to those of higher income earners in our society.
The Conservatives committed in the election to scrap the agreements we have reached with the provinces and abandon the objective of a national child care program. Now they are launched on this destructive mission. They are set to dismantle added child care spaces that were actually being set up in many provinces. They are replacing a bold initiative that was up and running with a $100 per month pre-tax payment to families, plus a small tax credit to employers intended to encourage them to create child care centres in the workplace. The latter, frankly, is really an illusion as the vast majority of businesses have no desire to be in the day care business.
The Conservatives claim, with this minor taxable contribution to family income, that their approach is a better way to ensure that children of working families will receive the care they need and will add to the supply of spaces. We just do not understand how that could possibly be.
We believe and continue to believe that Canada must build a national day care system and that the federal government has an important catalytic role to play, as it did in the creation of medicare 40 years ago. This is far too important an issue for the future of our children and our country to abandon. I sincerely hope we can count on the other opposition parties to work with us to ensure its preservation.
I also want to address the issue of the aboriginal agenda of the government or, more accurately, the lack of such an agenda in the throne speech. As members of the House know, the previous Liberal government negotiated an historic agreement with Canada's aboriginal leaders and provincial governments in Kelowna.
The Kelowna accords form a comprehensive, long term strategy to improve significantly the social and economic conditions on reserves and for aboriginal people generally. They are targeted to improve the education levels and health of our aboriginal people and, in particular, the well-being of aboriginal children. They also provide for more and better housing and infrastructure on reserves and economic development initiatives so that aboriginal communities can overcome barriers to their prosperity.
Aboriginal leaders, provincial governments and the Government of Canada came together to sign the historic Kelowna accords and the government of the previous prime minister committed $5 billion to the initiative.
We believe that the Kelowna accords are a signal achievement for the country. They are aimed at closing the prosperity gap between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. They are welcomed by provincial governments that wish to see their aboriginal citizens as participating partners in their development rather than marginalized peoples forced to resort to constant litigation to assert their rights. In short, they are progressive social and economic policy, and we believe that any national government should honour those commitments that have been made to our first nations and the first residents of this country.
As I said in my opening remarks, there are positive elements in the throne speech that are sensible and we will support them. However the throne speech says little about the modern realities of a highly competitive, global information intensive economy in which Canadian businesses and individuals must be equipped to compete. It does not recognize the realities of the modern workforce and the dual income household. It does not recognize the need to advance a progressive and fair society. It fails to recognize that the government inherited one of the most healthy economies and revenues in memory. It has today the fiscal capacity to address these important concerns of Canadians.
It is a privilege for me to serve as Leader of the Opposition at this time. I also believe that all members of the House would agree with me that there is no greater privilege than that to be elected by our fellow citizens and to serve them in this our national Parliament.
On Monday, when we elected you, Mr. Speaker, several members pointed out that there was a reason to be concerned about the way our fellow citizens regard how we go about performing our duties here. The esteem, or perhaps more accurately the lack of it, the public has for politicians today is, to some degree, a reflection of how we approach our responsibilities here. Some behaviour in the last Parliament did not, and I think we can all agree, contribute to that esteem.
I can assure all members of the House that our party will work with all parties in the House to make it work for Canadians in an atmosphere that is appropriate to our responsibilities. We will not seek to be partisan when it is not in the interest of Canada and Canadians. We will cooperate with the government to enable it to do the work it has been charged to do by the Canadian people. We will cooperate with the other opposition parties as well so that both in the House and in committee business will be conducted to improve government and legislation for the benefit of all Canadians.
We will seek to oppose in the most constructive way possible and we have no intention of seeking to frustrate by obstruction tactics that all too frequently marked the last Parliament. We will, of course, oppose but where appropriate and we will propose constructive alternative solutions as well.
As I said in my introduction, we recognize that we were elected to oppose government measures that are not in the interest of Canadians and that do not reflect the will they expressed in the last election in voting for a minority government. We will exercise that responsibility as opposition to the best of our abilities.
The old French maxim goes as follows.
« En politique comme en amour, il n'y a point de traités de paix, ce ne sont que des trêves. »
In that spirit I hereby move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the period at the end and adding the following:
and, while this House acknowledges the broader agenda mentioned en passant in the Speech, it particularly looks forward to early and meaningful action on such promises as those respecting aboriginal Canadians, new immigrants, greater security for seniors, improvements in the environment, and increased supports for farm families; and, given the strong economic and fiscal situation which the Government inherited, this House sees no reason for tax increases or a decrease in anticipated early learning and child cares spaces in Canada.