Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to address the Speech from the Throne that was delivered by the minority government last week.
I would also like to let you know, Mr. Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Mount Royal.
There is no doubt that we live in interesting times. I dare say I think that characterizes the beginning of this second session of the 39th Parliament very well.
There are many people who cannot remember when they have seen the Canadian dollar as strong as it is, in relation to its U.S. counterpart, as it is performing today. But we have to recognize that sectors of our economy have lost a competitive advantage as a result of the strength of our dollar. In Waterloo region, which includes my riding of Kitchener Centre, there have been more than 8,000 jobs lost, well paying jobs, in the manufacturing sector. They are simply gone.
The Speech from the Throne conveys a vague reference to the hardships that exist in Canada's traditional industry, but clearly we see no plan.
The Conservative government recently announced a surplus that comes close to $14 billion. That is an amazing amount of money, yet at the same time we have reports from Canada's municipal leaders that communities need roughly $100 billion to rebuild aging infrastructure. That is a huge issue in municipalities right across Canada, including Kitchener Centre in Waterloo region.
The last federal budget included $33 billion over seven years for infrastructure, with only a small portion of that being specifically earmarked for municipalities. We need only think back to the tragic bridge collapse in the province of Quebec to recognize the ramifications of neglecting that kind of investment for communities and for Canadians.
Waterloo region is looking for the federal government to invest in infrastructure in a significant way, especially in a project that it has that is incredibly visionary. It is a transportation project as well as a planning tool, a transit system that is key to the management and promotion of the region's growth over the years to come. It is the rapid transit system which eventually will hook us up to the GO Train, which would allow commuters to get off the 401, which we all know is one of the most heavily travelled pieces of highway in North America.
I was looking forward to some kind of specific announcement like that in the Speech from the Throne, and sadly there was none.
I was looking to see more substantive suggestions than the vague notions that were referenced in the Speech from the Throne. Does the building Canada plan include making the gas tax permanent? We do not know. Does it include allocating a cent from every dollar collected through the GST to roads, bridges and essential infrastructure that form the backbone of our communities and cities? We do not know.
Canada depends on strong cities and communities. They are the drivers of our prosperity. The link between healthy communities and productivity, as well as competitiveness, has been well established.
The most recent Speech from the Throne produced by the Conservative minority government alludes to health care, as if it were a challenge that had been met years past and no longer warrants any kind of focus or consideration, no study, no action, no explicit strategy.
I am very proud of our previous Liberal government and the lengths that we went to to address this very important priority for Canadians. The health care crisis that was emerging in Canada was addressed by the historic 2004 health accord, otherwise known as the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. We had a plan. We had specific action and it was done after vast consultation.
However, today it is estimated that 50,000 residents are without a family doctor in my region. That is from an area that is probably one of the fastest growing, most thriving economies in Canada, and yet we still have over 50,000 residents that cannot get primary health care providers.
We were, at one point, officially designated as an underserviced area, but due to an awful lot of hard work by local people at all levels of government, including a great deal of leadership by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, we are now off that list.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels because we need to make sure that health care is there for the people of Waterloo region and the people of Canada right across this country.
Members of Parliament come to this House with a variety of philosophies and I am sure in the main, 308 members come to do what they think is in the best interests of Canadians. I actually had a fairly simple philosophy when I came to this place and I continue to maintain it. And that is quite simply for some, those who are strong and able and can find their own way and make their own success, government's best role is simply to get out of their way, remove red tape, and provide incentives to support a climate where they can continue to prosper fully and to contribute to the Canadian economy and to society.
For others who face challenges and struggles, government has a more personal role to empower this group to overcome barriers. No matter what the fiscal status of our nation, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind any more than we can afford to hold anyone back.
In times of prosperity, in times where we see almost embarrassing levels of federal surpluses, how can we outline a plan for our nation that makes no mention of the more than one million children who continue to live in poverty in Canada? Solving poverty is much more than cutting taxes. Canadians are working, our economy is strong, yet there are still families and children living in poverty. Clearly, what Canada lacks is a national strategy for poverty reduction.
The Conservative minority government identified crime reduction as a priority. If the government is serious about reducing crime and addressing the causes, it has to look at the root causes of crime and one of those is poverty. Solving poverty is essential in itself, but it is also a key to addressing issues such as health care and community safety.
I am astonished that the government continues to turn its back on families by refusing to honour its child care commitments. The government has failed to deliver the 125,000 child care spaces that it promised and has left families with little or no choice in child care.
The government's decision to cancel the child care funding agreements with the provinces and instead provide a small baby bonus for families with young children has simply not delivered the kind of support that families require. As the busy parent of any young child will say, $1,200 a year or $100 a month is bus fare, it is not child care.
Last week I joined many of my colleagues to mark the national Persons Day by celebrating the achievements of Canada's Famous Five. I am always inspired by this group of women, the victory that saw Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards having women declared persons under Canadian law in 1929. The victory of these women represents a significant milestone in the fight in this country for equal rights.
However, actions by the Conservative government remind me that the pursuit of equality is still important in Canada today. Women's groups have worked hard in order to obtain or work toward true social, political, economic, cultural and legal equality in Canada. What has the government done? It has silenced these groups by cutting funding.
It is ridiculous to silence those voices on those issues which are so important to Canadian women and Canadian society. Canadian women still make 71¢ for every dollar men earn in Canada and so many of them live with the threat of domestic violence. We must continue to strive for a better tomorrow for our daughters and our granddaughters.
We live in a complex, demanding, diverse nation and we must govern not just for today, but for tomorrow and beyond. The Speech from the Throne offers a range of ideas and mentions many important issues, but it lacks a cohesive vision to address the most important poignant needs in our community. In essence, it says very little about the Conservative government's agenda.