Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment. I look forward to your bringing honourable decorum to the House.
On January 23 the people of Kelowna—Lake Country confirmed that they, like Canadians across the country, wanted a change of government. I am proud to be standing in the House of Commons representing the citizens of Kelowna—Lake Country. I thank them for their support. I thank all the volunteers for making it happen. I am humbled and honoured to have been given the responsibility. I am proud to be a member of a party that recognizes it is time for a change in the way we deliver government to the people.
The 2006 election proved that Canadians are weary. They are weary of hearing about the misuse of funds, of insiders appointed to high levels of government who believe they are above the law, of watching the Auditor General struggle to bring to light wrongdoing only to have it ignored, or to watch it get caught up in the circus of political theatre only to be reminded that under the current system there will be no accountability and no relevant punishment meted out to those who have committed real crimes against Canadians. It must stop. Canadians will never regain confidence in government if we do not make it stop.
As members of Parliament, we should not be the enablers of scandal. We must be the defenders of the people's right to honest, good governance. Canadians expect every politician and public sector employee to conduct themselves according to the highest ethical standards. On this we must deliver.
We must deliver a government in which Canadians can once again be proud. We must give back to them a government that works for them, one that invests its resources not for the pursuit of power, but for the purpose of creating relevant and timely programs and services; for in truth, the biggest casualty of a lack of government accountability is the business of government itself. If the programs and services required are not in place, real solutions to longstanding problems are not carried out and confidence in doing business with the government wavers.
Many of my constituents should be excused if they believe federal accountability to be an oxymoron. I have many files on my desk already that express my community's frustrations with delays in non-existent funding from the previous government for important issues like Highway 97, a passport office, affordable housing, crime prevention strategies, health care and supportive social programs for seniors and youth. Many have had their attitudes hardened by the federal government's promises for assistance, only to have important programs delayed while being forced to read about misspending and inappropriate fund allocation.
Thousands of farmers are visiting Parliament Hill this week. Some of them represent orchardists from Kelowna—Lake Country. These growers were promised a farm income stabilization program that would be responsive to their needs, as well as being open, transparent and accountable. To the duress of all Canadians, this never happened.
The 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire was the most destructive natural disaster in the history of British Columbia. In total, over 30,000 of my constituents were evacuated from their homes and hundreds returned to find nothing but charred chimneys and the foundations upon which their homes formerly sat. Since then the City of Kelowna has had to undertake $2.6 million in drainage mitigation in order to prevent upwards of $10 million worth of fire related flooding damage. Despite assurances in 2004 that a national disaster mitigation strategy was being developed to help with such costs, the program still does not exist today.
Residents of Lake Country may not be used to the idea of an accountable government that would ensure that disaster mitigation is a priority, but I can assure everyone that they, like most Canadians, are very supportive and excited by the notion of it. They listen closely, too, when other issues are at stake.
Recently Kelowna—Lake Country has been at the head of the debate on the future of Canada's first nations and aboriginal people. Their livelihood is of tremendous importance to our community. The fact that Kelowna was chosen to host the recent meeting between first nations, aboriginal leaders, premiers and territorial leaders bears witness to this. While there was much goodwill, there was also a sense of unease about the accountability of the promises made. My constituents want the Kelowna accord to be successful, but are all too aware of the systemic problems that could hamper its effectiveness.
Accountability in Ottawa is imperative, but it must also extend to the government's agreements. For the previous nine years I was a councillor for the City of Kelowna and a member of the regional treaty advisory committee. I have a good working relationship with Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louis and the band councillors. Consequently, I am very concerned about the plight of Canada's aboriginal community. I believe that an independent auditor general would provide a very necessary and concrete measure to further foster aboriginals' unique and important role in Canadian society.
In previous federal governments, upwards of $9 billion was spent on Indian affairs. Strikingly, over 70% of that money did not find its way to the reserves. Instead it found its way into the pockets of lawyers and consultants.
Instead of contributing to the proliferation of cleaner water, safer streets and better schools, money has disproportionately been spent on those who work in the boardrooms. This industry needs to be overhauled. We need to ensure that first nations people directly receive the majority of the funds.
An independent auditor general would provide transparency and bring these discrepancies to the forefront. It would allow native communities to see where their money was going and initiate dialogue on how their federal funding could be more effectively and efficiently utilized.
Canadians need a government to ensure that there is accountability not only relevant to Ottawa and Parliament, but also relevant to all areas that involve the commitment of federal funding designed to help Canadians. Federal accountability is our commitment and our obligation. We are obliged to change government from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. When we do so I believe we will see a government that works better for all Canadians. We will move away from government which too often fails to deliver programs directly to those in need, to a culture of effective programs and services where the funding reaches the intended purpose.
This is the reason our first order of business is to table the federal accountability act and to put in place the foundation of good governance. The new federal accountability act, the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history, will change the way business is done in Ottawa. It will not be easy, but change must begin in our own backyard. That is why a large part of the federal accountability act will focus on cleaning up corruption in Ottawa. Accountability should be the engine that drives government, not a casualty of political warfare.
The federal accountability act builds on our platform commitments and takes into account our discussions with officers of Parliament such as the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner, public policy experts, imminent Canadians and unions. This act will address long-standing and difficult issues head on.
We will increase public confidence in the integrity of the political process by tightening the laws around political financing and lobbying, by eliminating the power and influence of money and the insider. It is time we made the work of independent officers of Parliament such as the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, and the Registrar of Lobbyists purposeful.
To accomplish such a reformation in Canadian politics, Canadians will require the cooperation of all parties in the House. If we are going to give Canadians the effective government they expect and deserve, then we must all come to the table with the intent of doing what is right for Canadians. We must ensure that our objective is clear, that there is a structure in place to provide for a political system of accountability.
Our number one priority is to restore Canadians' faith in government and provide them with a government that works for them, not in spite of them. This is not a partisan idea. This is the core value of democracy. Accountability is an objective upon which we all agree and one which we must achieve. That is what Canadians expect from us and it is what the constituents of Kelowna--Lake Country expect from me.
In closing, accountability is everyone's business. It requires that Parliament, the government and the public service work together to serve Canadians honestly and with integrity. I support the Speech from the Throne and look forward to working with all my colleagues in the pursuit of providing Canadians with a federal accountability act that will be deserving of their trust, their confidence and their respect. This is the broadest ethics reform this country has ever seen. The best is yet to come.