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.