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House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

AgricultureRequests for Emergency DebatesRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

We cannot get into a debate on the merits of having an emergency debate. The point of order that I thought the hon. member was rising on was something connected with this, but a point of order nonetheless, and I am not sure that was.

In any event, the Chair is going to take this matter under advisement. I am conscious of the fact that during the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne debate members are free to debate any subject they want. In that sense, I think, while this and the other matter are matters of considerable interest, they are ones that are capable of being discussed during the course of the debate on the address in reply.

Having said that, I recognize that today there is a particularly important demonstration taking place here, and having a debate on this subject is one that we have had before and that I have allowed on previous occasions in respect of agricultural issues. I am going to take this under advisement and decide whether or not I should do so. In the course of that, I can have some consultations and see if there is another avenue for arranging for a particular debate of this kind, which I am happy to discuss. I will take this under advisement and get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed from April 4 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:25 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my contribution to this debate by thanking the voters in my riding of Toronto Centre for giving me the privilege of once again representing them in this our national Parliament. It is their support that has allowed me to continue over 12 years in my political career and today to stand before members in this House as leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition. It is an honour for me to act in that capacity to respond formally to the government's Speech from the Throne.

Before I do so perhaps I could offer one other set of thanks. All members of this House know how difficult political life is. We would not be here without the support of our spouses and our partners. I want to pay particular recognition today to my spouse of 42 years, who is here with us in the House today, and to my two children, Katherine and Patrick.

I remember when I was in Europe some years ago and a European politician, or it may have been a judge, said that the great advantage in North America is that important people go home at night and they say to their wives all the things they have done during the day and their wives say to them, “That's nice, dear. Now, could you take out the garbage”. Colleagues, it is our wives, our spouses and partners who often do those daily tasks for us because we are so often retained here. I want to thank my wife and my children, and perhaps in so doing I can share with all colleagues in the House this sentiment. I will hesitate to get into the exchange the Prime Minister had with his spouse during question period on other elements of family life.

However, I would certainly like to take this opportunity to commend the Prime Minister for two things. I would like to thank him, first, for his courteous words about my own appointment in this position, but I too would like to commend him. The Prime Minister mounted a spirited and professional campaign. We congratulate him and his party for their success in the election. Second, I would like to commend the Prime Minister for his recent trip to our Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

I have had the opportunity of visiting Afghanistan several times, once in fact when I was 20 years old, but most recently as the foreign affairs minister and subsequently as defence minister. I know that to understand this troubled country one has to see it on the ground and meet its people and its leaders. To understand the extraordinary contribution that our troops are making under challenging conditions there, one has to meet with them, talk with them and listen to them. To understand how much this is appreciated by the Afghan people trying to rebuild their lives after years of war and devastation, one must hear from them.

The Prime Minister took the time to do this and I know it was deeply appreciated by the men and women of our Canadian Forces as an important expression of support for their work and their mission; a support that our party firmly endorses.

That said, colleagues may recall that in his 2004 Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the then Leader of the Opposition stated, perhaps rather tongue-in-cheek, “I said yesterday that the Prime Minister was so excited about his government's agenda that his first act was to leave the country”. Now the Prime Minister has done very much the same thing.

While I freely admit it was an important thing to do, it may also be a revealing illustration of how his former rhetoric and his present acts may often differ, sometimes in ways commendable and sometimes in ways much less so.

Before I comment on the Government’s Speech from the Throne, I would like to make a few remarks about our Party’s approach to this minority Parliament. Historically, Canadians have not had a lot of experience with minority parliaments but as a participant, like many of you, certainly recent experience has been instructive, and has sometimes involved intense hours.

Electing a minority is an expression of the desire of Canadians for moderation and compromise. The fact that no party received an absolute majority not only means that the Conservatives lack a mandate to govern in isolation from the other parties, it denies the Opposition parties to some degree the luxury of opposing just for opposition’s sake. The bottom line is that the public expects all parties to make parliament work with a degree of co-operation, respect and even collaboration. As Liberals, we will abide by these principles.

For the government, this means consulting and striking compromises with the opposition parties, in an effort to forge a governing program that can command the support of the House and the Canadian public. In Hansard we find the principle perfectly expressed by a former leader of the opposition:

It is the government’s obligation to craft a working majority to advance its agenda by taking into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, these are the words of the Prime Minister himself less than two years ago. And members will recall that when the Liberals formed the minority government we did seek to work in ways that our agenda would command a majority in the House.

So, it’s understandable that we, the Opposition, are disappointed that the Prime Minister has begun by ignoring his own philosophy of minority government. Because even though the Prime Minister consulted with the three Opposition leaders, it is difficult—at least for us—to find any traces of such discussions in the Speech from the Throne.

The leader of the NDP remarked yesterday that his conversations with the Prime Minister were fruitful with regards to child care. This position is understandable, in light of his decision to bring down the Liberal government before we had the opportunity to implement such an important program. For our part, we are not as optimistic about the promise made in yesterday’s Throne Speech.

I must give the Prime Minister a friendly warning that when the leader of the NDP takes credit for the government's actions, as he did during the last Parliament, he is looking to topple the government. The Prime Minister should watch his back.

We willingly recognize that the government does not always need our support for its survival.That being said, we will commend and support the government when they put forward sensible policies that we judge to be good for the country. There are clearly elements of the Conservative election platform and the throne speech that are worthy of support -- and we will give it.

But we will vigorously oppose this government if it acts unilaterally to put forward legislation or adopts radical policies for which it lacks a mandate-- policies that do not reflect the balance Canadians voted for when they determined the composition of this House of Commons.

Many of us in the House have heard many throne speeches. For myself, I have observed that most of these throne speeches, particularly inaugural efforts, consist of lists of commitments from the government. They seldom capture the imagination of the public but they do reveal certain fundamental traits of their authors. One only has to look at the Conservative tax plan, one of the central pillars of both the Prime Minister's campaign and the throne speech, to see their limited vision and the simplistic approach of the government.

The government has made much of its proposed 1% tax cut to the GST. The Liberal Party recognizes that taxes can and should be reduced, but we believe this should be done in ways consistent with good economics and in the best interests of Canadians.

A little over five years ago a Liberal government brought in the largest tax cut in Canadian history, a combined $100 billion tax cut for individual Canadians and businesses that reduced federal personal income taxes by 21% on average and 27% for families with children. We removed about one million low income Canadians from the tax rolls. We significantly improved the tax system for students, persons with disabilities, charities and others.

Our balanced tax cut was a balanced tax agenda. It was economically and socially progressive. It was a tax cut agenda to propel Canada forward in the global competitive information age. It was a tax cut agenda designed to stimulate investment and savings to make the Canadian economy more productive and competitive.

Liberals remain steadfast in their belief that Canadians need continuing tax relief. That is why in November we advanced another major income tax cut that had similar objectives to our previous initiatives, providing a further $25 billion in tax relief over five years with most of the benefit going to Canadians with low and modest incomes.

The throne speech presents the Conservative economic agenda. It consists of only one element, a cut in the GST, and so far government spokespeople have indicated that this will be financed by increasing personal income taxes, in a way nullifying our previous measures.

In our view, this tax cut does not advance the economic interests of Canadians. It is a tax cut for the sake of a tax cut. It is a tax cut to keep a poorly thought out election promise. It is a tax cut with no economic or social purpose underlying it, a point that has been made universally by Canadian economic analysts. It was well summed up by my colleague the member from Markham when he said, “If ever there was an anti-growth tax policy, the Conservatives have clearly stumbled into it”.

It does nothing to encourage Canadians in businesses to invest in skills training and productivity enhancing equipment. It does nothing to induce savings to make the economy more productive, all of which any economist would tell us should be the central objective of any tax cut. I freely admit to being surprised that it comes from the Prime Minister who is an economist by training.

The freshly minted finance minister must be squirming in his seat as he reflects on this as he poured scorn on such a tax cut when he was in the Ontario government. I quote from the Minister of Finance of Ontario. I did not get this from the Toronto Star so he can relax. It comes from Hansard of the Ontario legislature. It states:

All you get is a short-term hit, quite frankly...It has no long-term positive gain for the economy.

What a different song we heard sung in question period here today colleagues.

The finance minister will now know that his current department emphatically agrees with what he said then. It has concluded that a GST tax cut is the least effective tax cut and that income tax relief is three times as effective at increasing the well-being and prosperity of all Canadians. The finance minister's original instinct was dead right and the direction from his current boss is dead wrong.

This GST tax cut is also small from the point of view of consumers. Canadians will barely notice it. If it has any effect at all on the economy, it will be to stimulate more consumption at a time when every economist in the country agrees that what the economy needs is more investment in savings, not more stimulus. At worse, the Conservatives have underestimated by hundreds of millions of dollars its cost to the treasury and quite frankly, to the businesses that will have to implement it.

The intention of the government to cancel the income tax cuts that the Liberal government put in place is even worse economics. Those tax cuts are progressive and they are needed to move this country forward. They made Canada more productive.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Gerald Keddy

Why did you not bring them in?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we did bring them in. They were part of the fiscal framework and they helped make Canada. They were brought in. The Conservatives are going to have to cut them in the budget if they do anything about them. Do not worry, they are there. They are a problem for the Conservatives.

They are a good thing because they helped make Canada more productive and competitive. They deliver significant tax relief to Canadians, particularly lower income Canadians who need it the most. They are good economics, and no economist has disputed this. Indeed, the Canadian Tax Foundation has calculated that those cuts will benefit middle income Canadians approximately twice as much as the GST cut, twice as much for middle and lower income Canadians.

I heard the finance minister musing on television this morning that because of the full treasury which the government today inherited because of the prudence of the Liberal government, the Conservatives may revisit their position. Today in question period the minister was much more reticent, but I can tell him and the Prime Minister that we sincerely hope they do. We hope that at the time of the budget we will be able to congratulate the finance minister on his conversion on the road to Ottawa.

Let us now turn to the Conservative justice agenda.

The Conservatives do not seem to accept the link between the ease of obtaining and keeping handguns and violent crime rates and the use of reasonable controls on the use and possession of long guns. They also do not believe in the usefulness of the current process of regulating the possession of firearms. As a result, the government has committed to dismantling or otherwise nullifying the gun registry, a critical tool to control and monitor that supply.

It is regarded by chiefs of police and the rank and file who shared their concerns with the Prime Minister Monday as an important initiative against violent crime and a valued policing tool.

Having criticized the costs that were incurred in setting it up, why would the Prime Minister now throw those costs away, particularly as we await the Auditor General’s report on how improvements may be made. Why do it now? Let us wait for the Auditor General's report. It should give us an indication of how to go about it.

Why not work to find ways that the registry can be improved? We will support you. But we will vigorously resist its dismantling.

We also expect the government to be transparent in its plans with regard to the gun registry. The Government has suggested in the past they will use regulatory means to get around Parliament to gut the gun registry, recognizing that they lack the votes in the House to repeal the legislation. This would have the effect of changing the very purpose of the registry. The Liberal opposition will resist any attempt by the government along these lines.

The government has also indicated in its Speech from the Throne that it intends to implement stricter criminal sentencing in the form of increased mandatory minimums.

All members of this Parliament want their communities to be more secure. Many voters in my own riding have told me so. All members of this House want something done in this regard. Therefore, we are in favour of measures that would increase the number of police officers in our communities. However, all amendments to our Criminal Code must be well thought out, balanced and must respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Prime Minister has put forward his accountability and ethics package in the throne speech. Of course we agree with elements of this package. We are all committed to finding ways to improve how we serve the Canadian people and earn their trust, but it must be said that all efforts by the government to persuade Canadians that its commitment to this issue might well be measured against its wilful disregard of its own rhetoric on this subject, not to mention its flouting of basic and long-established conventions on these matters.

This is a Prime Minister whose first act was to appoint his political organizer to the Senate while simultaneously informing Canadians that he will only appoint elected senators in the future. The newly appointed senator had already been made a cabinet minister, and not just any cabinet minister, but the Minister of Public Works, which is one of the most important portfolios in the government and the very department of government that is responsible for spending and overseeing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money each year.

What is our basic problem with this appointment? It is simple. This public works minister is not accountable to the House of Commons, Canada's elected chamber with the primary responsibility for the public purse. We find that unacceptable.

Colleagues, I am quite astonished as I look across the floor of the House and I look at the faces of so many colleagues who sat over here and spoke to us about accountability for so many days in the last Parliament that they would look there and be pleased about the fact. Think of it colleagues. You, the Conservative members of Parliament , will have the person responsible for overseeing $13 billion of spending per annum, billions of dollars, the most important spending portfolio in the government, sitting in the Senate. Are you not somewhat ill at ease with this? Do you really believe--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. The Leader of the Opposition I know is an experienced member. I know he intends to address his remarks to the Chair rather than to certain individuals elsewhere in the House.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

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.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. opposition leader for his comments in response to the throne speech delivered by our Prime Minister yesterday. The hon. member brought forward many things that I would like to question but I know my colleagues and others in the House want equal opportunity so I will just focus on one. The one that is certainly near and dear to my heart and to the heart of my constituents is, in my estimation, the unconscionable national gun registry which the party opposite seems to support with an unwaivering and unflagging level of support that seems to be completely unjustified.

I would like to focus on one comment my hon. friend opposite made when he said that the national gun registry prevented violent crime. Could the hon. member give me any examples from any police association or any advocacy group of one violent crime which quantitatively has been demonstrated was stopped because of this national gun registry, a gun registry that has cost taxpayers.

My other hon. friend, the one who also portends to be the next leader of the Liberal Party, asks me how there can be a violent crime that we do not know about. The fact of the matter is that the gun registry does nothing to stop violent crime in this country.

The national gun registry, which has cost Canadian taxpayers close to $2 billion and which I think will be verified by the Auditor General's report coming up very shortly, does nothing to stop violent crime. The fact that we do not seem to be able to get across to members opposite is that criminals and violent criminals do not register guns. Think about that. I just do not know if members opposite can grasp that very basic fact. People who are about to commit a violent crime simply do not register their guns.

I wonder if the member could please stand in the House and once again assure Canadians that the Liberals will forever support the national gun registry and admit once again that our party and most rational thinking Canadians oppose this unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is illogical to accept the question because one cannot prove a negative. We all know that. We cannot prove which violent crime was prevented because the violent crime did not happen.

However this is not some sort of “dada” by people. This is something that is supported by the police chiefs and, as the Prime Minister personally knows from his meeting with ordinary policemen the other day, they also support it. It gives them a useful tool to ascertain where guns are located. It is not the only answer to violent crime but it is a contribution to understanding and a tool to managing what is a serious problem in our society.

The House voted on a previous occasion to cap the cost of the gun registry. The Auditor General is studying what changes might be made in respect to it. We should let the Auditor General do her work. Let us look at this with a parliamentary committee that will have a real way to examine it, not make a knee-jerk reaction. Let us ensure that if the gun registry, which is enshrined in legislation, is to be done away with then let the government bring forward legislation in the House and give the opposition parties an opportunity to vote on that legislation. It should not be killed by stealth.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, let me congratulate the leader of the official opposition on his re-election. I am glad to see him back in the House. I thank him for the scope of his remarks today.

I would like to focus my question on a couple of things with regard to democratic and voter reform.

One of the real disappointments in the last minority Parliament was that when the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the government, his government reneged on the whole process of democratic reform. It was an area that the Liberals allowed to slide. Although it was something the NDP put forward very strongly, and Ed Broadbent did a lot of work on this, it was allowed to slide off the Liberal political agenda, maybe because they knew it was not in their political interest. Do the Liberals now have a renewed interest in ensuring that the House truly represents the way people are voting?

Second, are his members giving serious consideration to the bill, which we know will come forward, on crossing the floor? We know the member for Vancouver Kingsway was a Liberal and then became a Conservative. The people of Vancouver Kingsway are outraged, as are voters across the country. Will his members support a bill to be ethical and accountable to ensure that members cannot do what the member for Vancouver Kingsway did?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her kind remarks about myself. I look forward to working with her and other members of her party as we proceed in this Parliament.

On the issue of the vote on the question of democratic reform in the way in which we elect members to the House, I would like to remind the hon. member of the fact that we were looking at this issue in the previous government. However, you will recall that like child care and a lot of other issues you chose to pull the plug in November instead of allowing us to continue our work and do what we were trying to do.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. I know the hon. Leader of the Opposition is interested in answering the question from a particular member, but of course he must address the Chair, and he knows I do not pull plugs.

The hon. Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, you personally will recall the plug was pulled and even yourself went down the drain when we went to the election caused by the hon. members. I believe strongly we would have had an opportunity to deal with child care and other issues if we had been enabled to sit in the House longer and reflect on these very important issues. I think now we will have an opportunity.

I can assure the member my party will engage with her party. I am sure we will engage with all parties in the House on what proper reforms are to be made to our electoral system. It is an important issue and we will examine it seriously, as we will examine seriously any proposal that addresses the question as to what should be the consequences of an individual member leaving his or her party to cross the floor of the House or to sit as an independent.

Clearly in our parliamentary tradition, in a Westminster style democracy, this is something that has been handled differently than in other types of Parliaments. It is something we must look at seriously and we must look at how it would affect the manner in which we conduct our business in the House. We will take it in that manner and certainly approach it with a very serious intent.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank our leader for the presentation he has made today.

Also, with respect to the comments on the gun registry, it is evident in all the data that women are generally killed or attacked by male partners or people they know. The statistics show the fact that this has gone down. The Canadian Police Association supports it. It is time we deal with this issue properly.

I also want to congratulate my leader for addressing the issue of child care. Early education and care is not just about babysitting. It is about early development. As for the $1,200, I spoke with constituents in my riding just last week. They said that $100 a month did not make up $1,000. One family is spending $2,000 a month for their children. This does not create child care. It is like saying we are going to create elementary education by giving people $100 a month and then trying to build an elementary system. It does not work. It gives choice. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The cities agenda was also not mentioned at all in the Speech from the Throne. There was no mention of infrastructure of the urban centres in the country. What would the Leader of the Opposition say to us as far as this piece because I find it totally unacceptable that it was also missing?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated greatly the hon. member's comments in the introduction to her question and I subscribe to what she said. I think her observations were helpful to the House in understanding these issues.

Insofar as the cities and communities agenda, which was debated a great deal in the House at a previous time by the previous government, I would strongly urge the present government to look at what is happening in our cities and communities, particularly in the area of infrastructure. I was in Toronto when the President of the Treasury Board made a welcome announcement and we would welcome further engagement. We would encourage the government to engage with our communities to ensure that they have the infrastructure necessary so they can provide to their citizens everything they need for a modern society.

We had a tremendous agenda in the previous Parliament and the government had an excellent agenda for this. I highly commend it to future governments. I regret the fact that there is nothing in this Speech from the Throne which suggests that is how the present government intends to proceed.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne, delivered yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.

As this is my first speech in the House as Prime Minister, I would like to acknowledge and thank a number of people.

First, I would like to pay tribute to our head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose lifelong dedication to duty and self-sacrifice have been a source of inspiration and encouragement to the many countries that make up the Commonwealth and to the people of Canada.

Second, I would like to thank the people of Calgary, particularly those of Calgary Southwest, who have seen fit to send me to this House as their representative since 2002. While Ottawa may be where I work, Calgary is home and it is never far from my heart.

Finally, I would like to thank the people of Canada. I would like to thank them for taking part in the electoral process. I would like to thank them for reversing a trend of declining voter turnout. I thank them for the trust they have placed in my new colleagues and in our new government. We are deeply honoured by the mandate. We recognize in a minority the necessity of working with others. I note that the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois have already availed themselves of that opportunity and I will have a bit of time to speak about the Liberal Party in a moment.

On a personal note, I would like also to thank those who have contributed so much to get me this far in life, long-time friends too numerous to name, but I will name a couple who were here in the House this afternoon. One is a one-time employer of mine and a mutual friend, a long-time member of Parliament, Deborah Grey, who is doing wonderfully in private life. I would also like to thank the former leader of the opposition, a good friend to many in the House, the Hon. John Reynolds, who is also here today.

I would like to thank my brothers Grant and Robert, my mother who is here with us and my father who is no longer with us, but I am sure is enjoying the moment.

I would especially like to thank my wife Laureen, my son Benjamin and my daughter Rachel. As has been observed perhaps all too graphically today, to them I owe a great vast debt for the unconditional support and patience they have shown over the years when faced with the tight schedules and many out-of-town trips that are an all too frequent part of any parliamentarian's life.

On January 23 Canadians voted for change. They overwhelmingly rejected 13 years of scandal and inaction. They made it clear that business as usual was not good enough. They told politicians that it was time for the federal government to turn over a new leaf and to change the way it did things forever. They asked our party to take the lead in delivering that long overdue change.

Change is what this Speech from the Throne is truly about: change that cleans up Ottawa, change that delivers real results for ordinary working people and their families, change that keeps building a Canada that is strong, united, independent and free. And we are going to deliver on that call for change.

Still there are some who do not want to see change occur. For example, I watched the new Leader of the Opposition yesterday and I listened intently to his speech. I genuinely like the hon. member for Toronto Centre. He is an impressive man with a powerful intellect and a genuine love for his country. However, to hear him speak, we would think that January 23 had never occurred. While the hon. member spent considerable time critiquing the plans of this government, what he did not do was to publicly acknowledge and accept the message that Canadians sent to his party.

There was no recognition or apology for the waste, the mismanagement, the corruption.

Neither was there an apology for the campaign of fear waged by the hon. member's party, which I might add was the only party that ran solely on a platform of what it was against.

Worse yet, there was no indication as to when Canadians--including those in Quebec--can expect to get back the tens of millions in taxpayer dollars that were misappropriated over the course of the sponsorship scandal.

What the hon. member seems to have forgotten is that while the past 13 years may have been good ones for friends and insiders of the Liberal Party, life was not always so easy for ordinary people, many of whom found themselves working longer hours, paying more in taxes, saving less and unable to get ahead.

That is not good enough. It is not good enough for this government. It is not good enough for this House. It is not good enough for the ordinary people who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules. It is not good for this country.

So, I would suggest this to the members opposite: before you complain and before you criticize genuine attempts to clean up government, to help working families and to make our country strong and united, come clean with Canadians on the missing millions. Tell them where it went and, in the spirit of decency, pay it back.

I suggest this to members opposite. Before they carp, before they complain, before they criticize genuine attempts to clean up government, help working families and make our country strong and united, come clean with Canadians on the missing millions, tell them where it went and, in the spirit of decency, pay it back.

Our government will be one that is able to look forward rather than back. Our focus is set squarely on addressing the many challenges facing ordinary Canadians as they struggle to make ends meet, help their children get a good start in life and build a strong, prosperous and united country that is the envy of the world: challenges like replacing the culture of corruption and entitlement with a culture of accountability and achievement; challenges like cutting taxes so Canadians can have a bit more of their income left over to pay for the necessities of life; challenges like making our communities safe so people do not fall victim to violent crime on their way to school, to work or to shop; and challenges like helping families cope with the many demands facing them such as balancing the pressures of raising children with the necessity of earning income.

Other formidable challenges await us. We must restore the reputation of federalism in Quebec and rebuild Canada's influence in the world.

These are just some of the challenges facing us and we are ready to tackle them.

We have a plan and we have priorities. And Canadians are with us.

During the recent election, we laid out our priorities and a plan for change. Canadians have made it clear they support change and they want us to act.

Canadians are tired of directionless government, endless meetings and a political culture of entitlement. They want Ottawa to turn over a new leaf and focus on the needs of honest, ordinary Canadians, rather than allowing friends of the regime to feather their nest.

We have heard Canadians. We intend to deliver by turning over not just one new leaf but five of them, so we can build a Canada that works for all Canadians not just a favoured few.

Where do we start?

The first leaf we intend to turn over would involve ending the 13 years of waste, mismanagement, dithering and corruption that characterized the previous government.

To address this we will clean up the federal government, and make it more accountable and above board through the introduction of a new omnibus federal accountability act. This act would give more powers to the various independent officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General. They would be able to do a better job of holding the government accountable and ensuring that the $30 billion-plus in federal grants, contributions and contracts are awarded fairly and provide value for taxpayers money.

The Federal Accountability Act will also give real protection to public servants and other Canadians who want to come forward and report illegal or unethical behaviour they observe in the operations of the federal government.

And it will open up the workings of government to greater scrutiny by Canadians through improvements to access to information laws. We will also make sure that all appointments to public office are fair and based on merit and qualifications. To that end, we will create a public appointments commission.

Building on the work done by René Lévesque thirty years ago in Quebec, we will end the undue influence of big-money contributors in federal politics by banning all corporate and union donations to federal political parties, preventing MPs and candidates from setting up secret personal trust funds, and capping individual donations to federal political parties at a maximum of $1,000 per year. This will end those $5,000 a ticket cocktail parties where big donors were invited to lobby the Prime Minister.

We also intend to eliminate the insider lobbying culture that grew up under the previous regime by banning all former ministers, ministerial staffers and senior public officials from lobbying the federal government for five years; by requiring a full record of contacts between lobbyists and ministers or senior officials; and by putting real teeth in penalties in place to enforce the Lobbyists Registration Act.

We are going to clean up the federal government's contracting system by giving the Auditor General the power to review federal grants, contributions and contracts and to follow the money to those who received it.

Cleaning up Ottawa is just one of the leafs that must be turned. We have to turn over a new leaf when it comes to taxing Canadians. For the truth is that Ottawa, for some time now, has taxed Canadians far too much.

I am amused to listen once again to the Liberal Party become, in its own mind, the champion of some historic tax relief. It has taken far too much money out of the economy and out of people's pockets. Its spending has been out of control so much that it overtaxed Canadians.

Even after billions of dollars were wasted, mismanaged or vanished, still billions remain in the surpluses through overtaxation. Hard-working Canadians deserve a break. They are working longer, paying more and saving less. Canadians are fed up with being overtaxed. We agree with that.

That is why we need to deliver broad-based tax relief for all Canadians and we will do so by starting with the GST. We will cut the GST immediately, from 7% to 6%, and eventually to 5%, all of which makes good sense if we really want to cut people's taxes since the GST is the one tax that every Canadian must pay no matter how little they make.

A cut in the GST means that everyone wins, including those people who do not earn enough to pay income tax and so would not benefit at all from a decline in the personal tax rate. The idea here is to leave Canadians with a bit more money so they can pay for the necessities of life and save to cover family expenses.

Let me assure the House that when the government and the new Minister of Finance introduce this and other taxation measures, every single Canadian household in this country will be better off.

Before I leave the subject, we all need to remember that 13 years of mismanagement, scandal and inaction have left some segments of our society in particularly bad shape. It is especially true of those who work in our natural resource sectors, such as our hard working farmers, many of whom, as we know, are just getting by. These people deserve help and they will receive help. It will not be easy. There are no quick fixes, but we are determined to help them recover from the years of neglect by the previous government.

However, we are not finished. We also need to turn over a new leaf in the way the federal government helps families.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Those are cheap words. Let us see the money.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, did I just hear a Liberal member say, “Show us the money”?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Maybe those farmers out there today who need the money can find that stolen sponsorship money and give it to those--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. The right hon. Prime Minister.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

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.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the rural members on the other side are yelling, “Show me the money”. Yes, that is what they should do. They are probably ashamed to go home this weekend with the performance of the government so far.

I listened intently to the Prime Minister's speech. Like the throne speech itself it was very light and very short on substance. That party over there has come into government when the treasury and the fiscal balance are in surplus like never before, a surplus that it should be using to put programs in place for people.

The Prime Minister himself claimed that farmers deserve help. The only help his government has provided so far is the money that the Minister of Finance of the former government booked and put in place. The government has not put a dime toward farmers thus far.

Farmers are rallying on the Hill today because they are in trouble.The Prime Minister left the impression during the election that he would pay more money out to the farm community, yet his Minister of Agriculture in a press conference said today, “Don't talk to me. Talk to the provinces”.

The government has a responsibility to put cash into farmers' hands and to put it into their hands prior to spring planting. When is the Prime Minister going to live up to the intention he left with farmers during the election and put the cash in their hands prior to spring planting, and how is he going to do it?