Mr. Speaker, we also need to turn over a new leaf in the way the federal government helps families. The Canadian family is the foundation upon which our society is built and it still represents all that is best in all parts of this country. But the truth is that many families are under pressure as never before. To help them we will provide parents with real choice in child care, so they can do a better job of balancing workplace and home responsibilities. The idea here is to help parents pay for child care that makes the most sense to them, not to some bureaucrat or special interest group in Ottawa. We understand that every Canadian family is different. What works for one may not work for another.
To do this we will give each family with a child under six $1,200 per year per child, which they will be able to use as they see fit to pay for childcare. This might be for private or public childcare or care provided by a neighbour, or a relative or whatever other way that suits them best.
We are also going to provide financial incentives to help employers and community organizations create thousands of new child care places.
Taken together these measures should prove a concrete benefit for many Canadians by providing parents with real financial help rather than just shuffling money from one politician to another. These measures will create real, new, filled child care places rather than just the same old empty promises.
The previous government talked for 13 years about providing a readily available, easily accessible, free universal day care system, but that system and those child care places, free or otherwise, never actually arrived.
Our government is offering $1,200 per year for each preschool child. Let us not have this House listen to those who would provide families with nothing. Our government is developing a tax incentive plan to create 125,000 at-work day care spaces. Let us not listen to those who just want to create more studies.
The choice this House has is in fact not a choice at all. It is a choice between something and nothing. Our plan creates real child care spaces and benefits ordinary working Canadians.
In the last few years, academics, experts, lobbyists, researchers, advocates and other politicians got lots of money in the name of child care. They got their money out of the system, but we intend to bring forward legislation that will help parents, children and families immediately, and that is the choice in this Parliament. Members can vote against money for parents, children and families if they wish, but the government will be voting for them.
We also want to turn over a new leaf when it comes to health care. Canadians are worried about the availability of health care, and rightly so. They wonder why it takes so long to get life-saving procedures when so much money is being spent already on health care in this country.
In this country there is a deal between the state and its citizens. The citizens pay their taxes into a public insurance system. They are supposed to get necessary medical treatment when they need it. Canadians kept their end of the bargain. They paid their taxes. They paid and they paid. They have a right to timely medical treatment and they should not have to wait forever to get urgently needed treatment.
We are going to act right away to make things better and faster. We will work with the provincial governments, who have the primary responsibility for health care, not against them, to develop a patient wait times guarantee.
A good example of how this might work is the recent announcement by the Quebec government of a wait time guarantee. Under this plan, people who cannot get the treatment they need locally within a clinically acceptable period of time would be able to go to a private clinic or a publicly-funded facility in another region—at government expense. To my mind, this represents a new and positive approach to patient wait times—one that mirrors our thinking in many respects.
And to ensure that each level of government can pay for the services it must provide, we recognize that we must tackle the problem of fiscal imbalance.
Families and their various needs do not exist in isolation. They live in the country, villages, towns and cities. What happens in all of our communities does affect all of us, for better or for worse, so it is important that our communities be strong. It is important that they be good places to live and it is important that they be safe. Unfortunately, many Canadians do not feel safe, for good reason.
Canadians have told us they want to see real progress in the fight against crime. And they want an end to the violence associated with gangs, handguns and drugs. They do not want more flowery talk—they want action. And that is exactly what we are going to do.
On any given day, local newscasts across this country increasingly contain stories about guns, gun violence, gangs, and drug deals gone seriously wrong. And innocent Canadians have become victims of violent crime simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is not the Canadian way.
We have long taken pride in our safe and orderly streets, but we are discovering that we can no longer take our peaceful and orderly way of life for granted.
Canadians are tired of seeing gangs settle scores in broad daylight. They are tired of innocent people being killed by street racers in stolen vehicles.
They are tired of governments that seem more focused on the rights of violent criminals than the pain and suffering of their victims. They are tired of politicians who tie the hands of police and prosecutors so they cannot do their jobs.
They are tired of seeing their quality of life slip away as violent crime touches their communities, their neighbourhoods and even the schools their children attend.
Canadians are fed up and they want us to act, which means that it is also time for Ottawa to turn over a new leaf when it comes to ensuring public safety. That is what we intend to do by cracking down on crime.
To begin with, we will put an end to the previous government's practice of giving light sentences for heavy-duty crimes. This will mean mandatory minimum prison sentences for repeat, serious and violent offences, or if they involve the criminal use of firearms.
We will get tough on drug traffickers and sexual predators who prey on our children.
We will put more front line law enforcement officers on the streets of our communities.
From now on, parole will not be a right but a privilege that has to be earned.
We will, to the extent that we are able--and I hope other members of Parliament will think hard about their criminal justice priorities--stop shovelling money into an ineffective long gun registry and reinvest it into real crime control measures.
In addition, we will pump new federal money into criminal justice priorities—in particular, programs for youth at risk.
Finally, there are a number of other leaves that will have to be turned over if we are to build a better Canada, including securing the unity of our country and strengthening its influence in the world.
Canada is a great country and that is why we must do all in our power to make her more strong, more united and, above all, a leading example of freedom, democracy and shared human values.
The sponsorship scandal tarnished the reputation of federalism in Quebec. Righting this wrong is clearly a challenge that our new government must tackle. We will favour a new, more open approach to federalism that acknowledges the differences that exist among all of our provinces and territories, including Quebec's unique personality; and we will respect the powers granted to our partners under our constitution.
After all, one of Canada's greatest strengths is that it is a federation. We recognize that the provinces have an important role to play in international relations—particularly where their affairs are affected. We intend, for example, to invite the Government of Quebec to participate in UNESCO.
We also intend to strengthen the country at home by reforming our institutions. We have already increased the transparency of the nomination process for Supreme Court justices, as seen by the Commons committee hearing which examined the selection of Justice Rothstein, and we will bring forth measures to modernize the Senate, an institution long overdue for reform.
We will also strengthen our country's capacity to defend our sovereignty at home, to protect our citizens from external threats, and to provide leadership on the world stage.
We will pursue a “Canada first” defence policy, which will repair the damage done to our armed forces over 13 years of wilful neglect and allow us to protect our sovereignty from the Atlantic to the Pacific and to the Arctic as well.
But we all understand that Canada is not some island on which we can live in splendid and peaceful isolation. This was the hard lesson that this country learned in two world wars--we learned it before the United States--and it was driven home to us again with great force on 9/11.
More recently, I had a chance to see at first hand in Kandahar province in Afghanistan the tremendous job that Canadian troops, young men and women, are doing in standing up for Canadian values abroad, often at the risk of their lives.
Canadians there provide irrigation services to owners of family farms, education to children and microcredits to women.
This is the work of our development officers. It is coordinated by our diplomatic officers there and across the world. And it is all made possible by the risks and the sacrifices of our defence and security forces.
We want this country, at home and abroad, to be part of the great challenges and the great problems of the day, worldwide, and it will be.
So there we have it, a bold agenda for change that seeks to turn over a new leaf in Ottawa and start a whole new page in the history of our country.
We want to really change things by making the government more open and accountable, by cutting taxes, by addressing crime, by giving parents a child care allowance, by guaranteeing medically reasonable wait times, and by strengthening national unity and Canada's influence in the world.
That is what we promised. That is what we intend to do.
Still, this does represent an ambitious agenda. Implementing it will not be easy, but it will be well worth the effort.
When we are done, we will have built a better Canada and a surer future where Quebec will be stronger within our federation.
We will do these things. We will do them for ourselves and for the many generations of Canadians that will follow.