Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to take part in this debate. It is a privilege for me to rise in this House today to reply to the Conservative government's throne speech on behalf of the NDP caucus.
Our caucus is guided by principles. It is united and it is growing. I lead a party that knows what it believes. Like most hardworking Canadians, we believe that the government is taking this country in the wrong direction, and the agenda laid out in this throne speech continues to take Canada down the wrong path.
At a time when Canada is at war, our climate is in crisis and the middle class families are falling further and further behind, the government had an obligation to show leadership. It did not do it. It has proven once again that it cannot be counted on.
We did listen very carefully to the speech and I do want to say, in addition, that we listened to the Prime Minister today very carefully.
We are intrigued, for instance, to learn that the Prime Minister is now open to the NDP proposal of long-standing that the Senate should be abolished.
If he is serious, he should start by putting somebody who is elected by the people to be in charge of signing cheques with the people's money and not an unelected senator, Michael Fortier. We suggest he check out the voters in the riding in which he lives. Of course, he passed up on the opportunity to present himself to be elected on that occasion in Outremont.
If he is serious about abolishing the Senate, the Prime Minister should start by asking Michael Fortier to resign and get himself elected to the House of Commons.
We also welcome the proposed apology in the Speech from the Throne to Canada's first nations for the terrible injustices and abuses of the residential schools system.
Over the summer I travelled to communities across the country and I listened to countless stories from hardworking folks who are having real trouble making ends meet. Today, when more wealth is being created in our country than at any other time in its history, families are working longer just to make those ends meet.
In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago just to keep up. And yet, the income gap between those at the top and the rest is at a 30 year high. Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture and Canadians know it.
Nearly two-thirds of Canadians say they are not benefiting from the economic growth that is being generated in this country. It is wrong. It needs to change.
It is what the NDP has been calling the prosperity gap and it is growing in our country. It is putting working families and the middle class further and further behind. It is creating more homelessness and poverty. We now have two million seniors living in poverty in this country after they helped to build the basics that gave us the wealth that we have today.
While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant and falling for an awful lot of families. As a result of the government's agenda, the middle class in Canada is falling behind.
Last summer, people told me that they were expecting action from the government to help their families make ends meet, to make the necessities of life more affordable and to ensure them greater financial security.
The government could have chosen to reduce the gap between the rich and the rest of us. Reducing that gap could and should have been a priority for the present session. Instead, the Conservatives chose to do nothing. They just do not care.
Over the years vague promises for action have not alleviated the crisis in Canada's manufacturing and resource sectors. What is needed is real leadership in these key sectors of the economy, but the Conservative agenda fails to give hope to the families and the communities which are suffering massive job losses as a result of the government's devastating policies. It is also failing to provide leadership for families when it comes to health care.
Millions of families cannot find a doctor. Wait times are still far too high for too many and the cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket to points where people simply cannot pay for the medications they need. When I spoke to the Canadian Pharmacists Association, I told the story of how some people go to that counter with a prescription their doctor says they need and once it is provided and the cost is known, they have to walk away from that medication because they cannot afford it. The two women pharmacists I explained this to said, “This happens each and every day with all of our pharmacist members in the country”. This is a tragedy.
Out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs is now more than 70% higher than it was in 1992. Canadian households are spending $3 billion a year on prescription drugs. By ignoring these fundamental issues the Conservative agenda, as it was laid out in the throne speech, has turned its back on improving health care for today's families.
Despite the Conservative indifference to all this, the NDP is going to redouble its efforts in its campaign for universal drug coverage, so that the hardworking families of this country can get the drugs they need based on their doctor's advice and not on their accountant's advice.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to speak with many Canadians who work hard for their money. In particular, I spent a lot of time in Montreal, including in Outremont, obviously for good reasons. I noticed one thing: voters from Quebec, like voters from all of Canada, are no longer just concerned about climate change, they are now clearly worried.
Working Canadians are becoming fundamentally anxious about the crisis of climate change and about the future that will follow, the future of their children and their grandchildren. Working Canadians are becoming more and more anxious about it. They are angry that the current government and the preceding government failed to get Canada on the right track for tackling climate change and the crisis that goes along with it. The air we breathe is getting dirtier, not cleaner.
Under the Liberals, greenhouse gases, which are so harmful, increased by 23% beyond our Kyoto objectives. They increased faster in Canada under the Liberal Party, when the current leader of the Liberal Party was Minister of the Environment, than they did in the United States under the Bush administration.
We are facing an unprecedented global crisis, and it is simply unacceptable for the government to use Liberal failures as an excuse for inaction. We must act.
As we face an unprecedented global crisis, this is not the time to use past failures, as the Prime Minister is wont to do, as an excuse for future inaction. We have to work even harder to honour our international obligations to stop climate change.
That is why this is the time once and for all to take real action, not water down the clean air act and the climate change act as stated in the throne speech. That is not the path to follow for Canada to respond to the crisis. It is a course involving fundamentally inaction and indifference on climate change. This has a profound impact in every corner of this country and no more important than in Canada's north.
Unlike some other leaders, I successfully completed a visit to Canada's Arctic this summer. I had the opportunity to visit the north last year as well. I saw firsthand the huge impact that climate change is having on our Arctic. It is truly horrifying to see the rate of change: the rapidity of the retreating glaciers that the elders told me about, which only a few years before had come right down to bodies of water and have now disappeared back beyond the mountains; the melting permafrost; new vegetation appearing in areas where there had never been vegetation before, particularly around the national park near Pangnirtung; the all but disappeared caribou; the collapse of the multi-million dollar commercial ice fishery because of rising ocean temperatures in that region.
I spoke with the elders who are bearing witness to the greatest deterioration of their environment and therefore to their way of life that they have ever witnessed. Time is running out. I saw countless examples of the social and economic impacts of years of neglect.
As we mark this day, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the way to offer real opportunity and hope for the north is to begin to invest in the social and economic infrastructure, not just the military infrastructure, in the north. Only after we tackle illiteracy, disease, homelessness and provide hope to the peoples of Canada's north will we be truly exercising Arctic sovereignty.
While the government has moved in the right direction to address past wrongs to the aboriginal people, as I mentioned earlier, with the apology concerning residential schools, the government took a sad step back when it voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Once again in the Conservative agenda aboriginal people were treated as second-class citizens in this country. It is not right.
During my travels this summer I also heard folks tell me that the combat mission in Afghanistan is not the right mission for Canada. It is not the role that Canadians want to see their country play on the world stage.
The NDP has been a consistent voice for peace, reconstruction and aid. We speak on behalf of millions of everyday Canadians who want the government to change direction in Afghanistan, who want to help bring in real security and a peace process, a peace that is lasting. Only the NDP has always been clear and consistent on this issue. It is the wrong mission for Canada.
The Conservative Party successfully extended the mission in Afghanistan until 2009 with the support of the Liberal Party. The Conservatives and the Liberals want to participate in the war of aggression until at least 2009 and we know that the Bloc Québécois agrees with that.
Only the NDP is calling for the immediate withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. Our position in favour of peace has not changed, is consistent, and is based on the principles shared by most Canadians.
The Prime Minister has said that he is seeking a mandate to govern with this throne speech. The NDP has a mandate to oppose the direction of the government. The agenda laid out in the Conservative throne speech continues to take Canada in the wrong direction on key issues and therefore cannot be supported.
The NDP is a party of principles. We are not afraid of the consequences of our actions because we firmly believe in these principles. This is why we will oppose the Speech from the Throne. Unlike the leader of the Liberal Party, we will not pretend. We will not criticize, only to later sit back and hide behind excuses. We will not shirk our responsibility.
We will vote against this throne speech on behalf of the 2.5 million Canadians who voted for the NDP, but also on behalf of all Canadians who voted against this government and who cannot count on the Liberals.
The NDP will oppose this throne speech because our caucus has principles. We know what we believe. Our members will be in place for each and every vote, and we will rise when it is our turn to vote and demonstrate clearly our opposition to the wrong direction in which the government is taking Canada.
We will leave the revisionist history and games to others. If the leader of the official opposition wants to stop the government's agenda, then I invite him to join us in voting against this throne speech. That is what the NDP will be doing: showing leadership.