Mr. Speaker, allow me to congratulate you on your new position. It is a significant position for a new member of the House. In the short time we have had to chat, I am sure you will fill it admirably and with respect for this institution and its members.
I also want to congratulate the new government and its members, as well as all members who have been elected to this important place.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the people of my constituency, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who have once again placed their trust in me as their member of Parliament. I am honoured to represent them and I am privileged to work on their behalf in the House of Commons and, more particular, back home.
I would also like to thank my family, which I am sure is not watching, my wife Darlene and my children Emma and Conor, whose support, patience and love are the biggest part of my life.
I would also like to talk about the election that I just went through in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. It was a positive election, a fair election, in contrast perhaps to the rest of the country. We debated issues and people made their decision. I am deeply grateful to the people who put so much time into my campaign and those who believed that I stood for values in which they believe.
I also want to acknowledge my opponents in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and recognize them. First, is Peter Mancini who, as people here may recall, was a member of Parliament from 1997 to 2000. Peter was my opponent, but he was not my enemy. I value the contribution he has made to his community and I respect his commitment to principles and party.
Likewise, my Conservative challenger was a decent man by the name of Robert Campbell, a former RCMP officer, very dedicated and committed. Elizabeth Perry from the Green Party spoke passionately on a lot of issues, not the least of which were the national day care program which she supported as well as the issues of the environment.
I enjoyed getting to know all these people, those whom I did not know and those whom I did, and I am proud of the race that we fought.
This place means an awful lot to me. I do not take it for granted and I do not take for granted the privilege of being here. One need only consider the great debates that have taken place in this chamber. We recall the contributions that members of all parties made, people who brought distinction to the House.
Like all members, it is my hope that I can continue to make a contribution to debate and put forward ideas because that is what this is about. We should exchange ideas and debate their merits, and we should do so with respect and with openness, willing to acknowledge that no one person or party has the monopoly on what is right. It is through debate we sometimes find compromise and solutions.
My comments today will be consistent with things I have said before, since my election in 2004. The things in which I believe do not change as I find myself on a different side of the House.
Yesterday the new Conservative government put forth a plan that will be the source of some of these debates. As the government, it is their right and their responsibility to set an agenda, to place it before Parliament and to make a case for it.
None of us here were surprised by the content of the throne speech. We all understood the Conservatives would bring forth five key areas that they believed were important for them and for the country. There will be issues I hope on which we can all find some areas of compromise, the main issues like justice, national defence and accountability. We can work through those and hopefully can find some common ground. It is my intention to make Parliament work.
Today I would like to address the throne speech, both for what was included and what was not included.
First, I will address what was included. I want to comment on two of the issues with which I take exception.
The first is the issue of the goods and service tax. In a column on March 18, 2006, Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail referred to the Conservative commitment to cut the GST as:
--a $5 billion political bribe.... Cutting the GST mildly stimulates an economy that doesn't need it. As politics, it's great; as economics, it stinks.
I happen to agree with him on that issue, as do a great many economists. I would also suggest that not only was the GST promise made to score political points, it does nothing to assist low income Canadians. The primary beneficiaries will be those who are wealthy.
What would really help is to have the government help working and low income Canadians and for the government to do the right thing and maintain the commitment made and implemented by the previous Liberal government to lower personal income taxes for low and middle income Canadians, building on a record of one million Canadians who have come off the tax rolls altogether since 2000.
Since being elected I have met regularly with anti-poverty groups in my area. They know that reducing consumption taxes is no way to help those most in need and it is inherently unfair, and I think that is right.
Another issue, and one that has been talked about before and emerged in this House, is the issue of child care. I remember getting a call from the Growing Place: Early Education Centre Ltd. in my riding. People who had never been involved in politics and in most cases people whom I had never met were very concerned about the Conservative plan. They believed it would unravel 18 months of hard work by the Liberal government and the social development minister who, because of his efforts, had signed child care agreements with all 10 provinces. These people were not political activists. They were parents who know the burdens that we all feel and the hopes that we all have for our children.
In Canada we value social programs. We value the common citizenship that they invoke. Child care could be one of those.
Now the new government will disregard the hard work of the provinces and the federal government and replace it with a $100 a month taxable allowance. The government plan does nothing to address the real issue of child care spaces. The Conservative program does not do anything to support training, or new equipment for child care facilities, or wage enhancements for workers.
Let me be clear. The government proposal is not about child care. It is more about a view that government has no role to play in ensuring equality of access and opportunity. It is that rugged individualistic vision that we often see from our neighbours to the south. I believe the government is wrong on the issue of child care and I will argue that.
Let me talk about what I think is missing most notably from the speech.
Notwithstanding the substantive disagreements I have with some of the five proposals, what is most alarming is the absolute lack of mention of education, environment, international development.
How can the government suggest to Canadians that it is serious about moving Canada forward when one of the most critical issues facing Canada is our need to develop human capital through skills education and training, yet this was not even mentioned in the speech? While most G-8 countries and emerging economies, China, India and Brazil, continue to invest resources and focus on improving skills development, the Speech from the Throne does not mention education. It is inward looking and is the wrong approach for Canadians.
How will the government follow up on the brilliant record of the previous government in investing in research and innovation, putting Canada at the top of the G-7 in publically funded research, reversing the brain drain and helping to build a strong economy, the one that the government has now inherited for a while?
Today the challenge is student access, a challenge that was being addressed through direct investments in students, especially those in need, those most marginalized, aboriginal Canadians, Canadians with disabilities, low income families. There are those who suggest that skills training is the single most important issue facing Canadians, but it was not in the throne speech. The Speech from the Throne is supposedly designed to help families, but how can it ignore one of the biggest concerns that families have: educating their children?
As well, what are we to think of the absence of any mention of regional development? This is an area that is very important in Atlantic Canada.
Already we have seen this government treat Atlantic Canada poorly. For the first time in modern history there is no cabinet representation from the province of P.E.I., yet the Prime Minister found it fit to appoint his chief fundraiser from Quebec to the Senate to be the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.
We see continued neglect shown to Atlantic Canada. The Prime Minister appointed a part time minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, but there are parliamentary secretaries from Toronto and Calgary. The fact that this new government would downgrade ACOA to a minor portfolio led by a part time minister perhaps speaks volumes about this government's view of Atlantic Canadians in general. Perhaps we do not count. Perhaps it is time we were saying that Atlantic Canada wants in, at least in this government.
Further, what are we to think of there being no mention in the Speech from the Throne of the Kelowna accord, an accord that is so important to our aboriginal communities?
What about our place in the world, specifically international development and assistance?
The Speech from the Throne is really not a speech from the throne but a brochure from the throne. It is a tiny document because the ideas are small. There is no vision that will make a real difference for Canada. The agenda of the government is narrow and inward looking and disappointing.
I want Parliament to work and I think all parties need to make it work. I came here to discuss these issues, to debate legislation, to forge a better country, and I will do my part. But I believe the throne speech misses more than it hits. I do not believe that we can address the future of a country without suggesting how we will educate its citizens, how we will develop its regions, how we will care for its children or how we will ensure greater equality for those most marginalized. Those are the issues that I came here to discuss and the issues for which I stand with my colleagues.