Mr. Speaker, congratulations upon your re-election. It must be quite pleasing to win re-election twice in three months.
I would also like to thank the constituents of Winnipeg South Centre, who have again shown their confidence in me and have given me the privilege of representing them for a third time.
I listened closely to the government's Speech from the Throne. I rise today to comment on those important elements that are missing. These missing elements concern me, because I believe the road map of the government of the country must reflect the diversity and complexity of the people of this nation and of the regions. A five priority list sounds good, but five easy pieces is not enough.
The government's position on child care is profoundly disappointing. In my home province of Manitoba, we are deeply disturbed that the government refuses to honour a true system of early learning and child care, a program that supports children and allows families the opportunities they deserve.
On April 29, 2005, the Government of Canada signed an agreement with the Government of Manitoba, the first in Canada, which provided new multi-year federal funding on child care and learning. I was there that day and I am confident in stating that no one who attended the signing would have predicted the sorry state we are in today. It was a profoundly moving event. As the signing of the agreement took place, those in the crowd spontaneously stood up and sang O Canada. What a moment.
It is important that members know what Manitoba is losing because of the government's approach to child care. Over the life of the five year plan, Manitoba would have obtained 1,650 new child care spaces in Winnipeg, 700 newly funded spaces in rural Manitoba communities, 68 new spaces in northern communities, funding for new facilities, for renovations, for the expansion of existing facilities, and for what I consider most important, new training spaces and wage increases for child care workers. This is all gone.
Let us be clear: a taxable $1,200 per child will simply not come even remotely close to achieving the objectives that I just laid out.
It is also important to note that I have not heard any discussion anywhere of the $100 million the previous government committed to child care in aboriginal communities.
I know that I speak for thousands of Manitobans who have asked the members on the opposite side to honour the agreements made in good faith. I want to remind members of a comment made by the premier of British Columbia. It was a comment following the signing of the Kelowna accord. He said that “the honour of the Crown depends on our meeting these commitments”. Indeed, that was a commitment made government to government.
What also concerns me is that the government is now speculating about withdrawing funds for those who advocate for early learning and child care. I hope this is not intimidation.
The Speech from the Throne was also silent on another agreement put in place by the former government. I am speaking of the Kelowna accord. It would seem that the current government has never heard of the Kelowna accord. There was hardly a word on aboriginal people in the speech. It was mentioned twice, and only in passing. But we know that the government is aware of the Kelowna accord. It simply does not want to honour it.
The new government must begin to listen more closely, especially to its own members. I want to congratulate the new Minister of Indian Affairs on his appointment. It appears that he cares, but what about his colleagues?
On January 10, at the height of the recent election campaign, he said on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network:
--I am the party spokesman on the Kelowna accord and let's be perfectly clear for the viewers of your network. We are supportive of Kelowna. We are supportive of the targets and objectives that were set at Kelowna.
He said they are supportive, but is anyone listening to him? Is his own Prime Minister? Is his Minister of Finance?
Why is the aboriginal community not in the five priority list? Kelowna speaks to hope and opportunity for aboriginal peoples. It speaks to dealing with the different circumstances in all regions and communities, in rural and urban areas, on reserves, on settlements in the north and Arctic regions. It speaks to working with first nations, with Inuit and with Métis, to women, to men and to children. It speaks to improving education, housing and health care. It speaks to partnership, collaboration and accountability, and accountability is more than financial audits. Accountability is to change the lives of Canada's first citizens. It speaks to transformation and it speaks to change.
Again, I would say to those opposite that they should honour the agreements reached by all the aboriginal leaders, by the provincial leaders, by the territorial leaders and by the Government of Canada. I repeat what Mr. Campbell said, “The honour of the Crown depends on meeting our commitments”.
The throne speech was silent on all matters relating to the aboriginal community, in particular, the Indian residential school resolution. We have asked the minister questions about honouring it. He is not silent but he says nothing.
According to Statistics Canada, it is estimated that there are 80,000 people alive today who attended residential schools. Many of the elderly survivors of the schools are dying daily. I do not believe the new Minister of Indian Affairs does not care. He knows that aboriginal people want the respect and recognition of what happened to them. He knows the residential school experience haunts many aboriginal people. He knows that the elderly and ill survivors of the residential schools look forward to the financial compensation to make their lives easier. He knows there was a good faith clause to immediately fast-track payments to the elderly and sick. He knows it is time to do something.
Again I say to the members opposite that they must honour the Indian residential schools agreement and bring some closure to the painful Canadian experience. The honour of the Crown depends on meeting our commitments.
There is only a passing reference to the environment in the Speech from the Throne.
It goes without saying that I love the province of Manitoba but there is a special place in Manitoba for me. Since childhood I have vacationed on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, a lake that is truly an inland sea. I know the communities around it. I have met the fishers from the aboriginal communities like Pine Dock and Bloodvein. I also know that Lake Winnipeg is the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world. It sustains a commercial fishery with an annual landed value of approximately $20 million. It is a key component of Manitoba's hydroelectric system. I also know that Lake Winnipeg is undergoing increasing stress and without action from all levels of government, Lake Winnipeg may be a lake in crisis. We can prevent this crisis from occurring but further action is needed. It is incumbent upon the government to take that action and to move forward.
I ask the members opposite to commit to Lake Winnipeg, to commit to the initiatives that the previous government implemented. It is important for the viability of those around the lake and it is important for Saskatchewan and Alberta as well.
I also want to briefly mention another missing aspect of the throne speech. There is no mention of cultural endeavours, of the arts, film, theatre and music. There is no mention of supporting the Canada Council in order to meet the needs of creators and performers. There is no reference to support for galleries and museums. There is no reference for the Museum of Human Rights. I urge the government to move forward there.
I am almost out of time but I do not want to leave without speaking about the fact that there is no mention, as my colleague referenced earlier, of post-secondary education, of the importance of innovation, of support, of skills development and of revising the student loan program. In a country like ours, this is critical and the previous government made many commitments.
There are many challenges ahead of us and I look forward to them but I want to repeat the phrase “honour the commitments made by the Crown”. The honour of the Crown depends on our meeting our commitments. We have many challenges ahead of us in this new Parliament and I look forward to working with my colleagues.