Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in my place in reply to Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne.
I am pleased that the good people of Sydney—Victoria, from New Waterford to Iona to Pleasant Bay and all the communities in between, continue to provide me with support.
I have to echo the words of my colleagues and others. We just cannot trust the Prime Minister and the Conservative government. There is no better example than the Atlantic accord.
Prior to this sitting of Parliament, the Prime Minister summoned the Nova Scotia premier to Ottawa for a press conference to announce that a new deal had been reached. This was a new side deal that his finance minister said would never happen. Where is the finance minister these days? He is cross-border shopping.
Now we find there is no agreement after all. There is no memorandum of understanding, no signed deal. An editorial cartoon in the Cape Breton Post indicated that the so-called deal was written on the back of a napkin at Burger King.
The Prime Minister promised to honour the Atlantic accord, but instead he broke his word. Just like Brian Mulroney with the Canada pension plan, the Prime Minister broke a trust.
Another thing that most of my colleagues do not realize is my riding of Sydney—Victoria has the largest aboriginal population in Atlantic Canada. The Conservative government broke Canada's trust when it reneged on the Kelowna accord. I believe the government has an opportunity to regain that trust by implementing the Kelowna accord.
Today I will be given an opportunity to show the Conservative government that it can redeem itself. There are several commitments in the throne speech that could result in some significant progress being made on issues facing our country and my constituency.
Recently our leader charged me with the task of holding the government accountable on issues relating to small business and the tourist industry. Despite the fact that we have large oil projects and mineral deposits and large manufacturing companies, the reality is small businesses are the backbone of our nation's economy.
I will quote from page 11 of the throne speech, which states:
Key sectors including forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and tourism are facing challenges. Our Government has taken action to support workers as these industries adjust to global conditions and will continue to do so in the next session
Those are fine words. The Conservative government has a funny way of supporting tourism businesses in adjusting to the global economy. As our dollar went up, the government eliminated the GST visitor rebate program. This was a program that allowed visitors to receive a rebate when they paid the Canadian GST tax. This was not new. All G-8 countries do this, but the Conservative government has taken it away. When the dollar is going up and the tourist industry is facing a crisis, the Conservative government gives the industry another disadvantage. If the government truly wants to help our tourist sector adjust to global conditions, it should reinstate the GST visitor rebate program in this session.
Page 10 of the throne speech indicates:
By investing in our transport and trade hubs, including the Windsor–Detroit corridor and the Atlantic and Pacific gateways, our Government will help rebuild our fundamentals for continued growth.
The government has another opportunity to redeem some of the trust it has lost.
The port of Sydney in my riding is an important east coast port with enormous potential. During World War II, Sydney was second only to Halifax as an important convoy hub. Once again there is an opportunity for this port to regain its rightful place.
Recently our local businesses, the port authority and the government sponsored a port master plan. The private sector and the government are working together, but they need infrastructure commitments. Twenty-five million dollars would be enough to dredge part of Sydney Harbour and make it one of the best deepwater ports on the Atlantic coast. It would also open the harbour to a lucrative container trade.
It is very easy to dredge and the materials that they dredge could be used for supplying another ship berth for the cruise industry.
I would like to state in the House that this season alone Sydney received 45,000 visitors on cruise ships, exploring the many treasures on our island. Next year, the port of Sydney will see 80,000 passengers. The industry is growing, but it requires infrastructure support.
The bottom line is this. For a small investment from the government, Sydney will create thousands of jobs and provide a strategic gateway for goods shipped to Canada, which will go to the rest of North America.
I continue on through the throne speech. There are opportunities for those guys. On page 15 of the throne speech, it indicates that the “new infrastructure plan” of the government “will promote a cleaner environment by investing in public transport and water treatment”. However, very important, its says “that it will also clean up contaminated sites.”
Once again, there is an opportunity for the government to regain trust, an opportunity to act. Is this saying that it will act?
New Dawn Enterprises is in my riding. It is a non-profit grassroots operation. It has a serious problem with a contaminated site. It was formerly a DND site. It is called the radar base. New Dawn is providing affordable housing in this park. It has taken the site, which the government did not need, and turned it into affordable housing, a very good initiative. However, it has run into a brick wall because the Department of National Defence continues to drag its feet in cleaning up the site.
I strongly urge the Minister of National Defence, who is also the minister for the province of Nova Scotia, and we would think that would kind of click in, to instruct his department to clean up the site so New Dawn can continue with its good work in the community.
In combing through the throne speech, I have seen tourism only mentioned once. The government has no idea how important tourism is to our economy, both nationally and regionally. The government has done little to help the free flow of people coming across our borders from the U.S. It has done nothing. The least it could do is invest in some of these tourist projects and signature events.
I will allude to one event that is coming up. It is the 100th anniversary of the first flight in the British Commonwealth, and that happened in Baddeck, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1909. We will be celebrating that in 2009.
The Aerial Experimental Association was headed by Alexander Graham Bell. It was founded in Baddeck the year before. It has many innovative designs that we see today on a lot of our planes.
What I am getting at is this. For some reason, our governments, not only provincial but federal, have not committed to this number one signature event. This event has national significance and it could take place right in Cape Breton.
Local organizers are doing a great job, but there is no assistance from either levels of government. I therefore urge the Prime Minister to take an active role in making this great even into one of the best things that could happen in Canada in 2009, an event that should be celebrated not only in Cape Breton, but right across the country.
What we have is a government that talks a good game. For two years the government has harped about the need for infrastructure, for getting tough on crime, lowering taxes and making us more competitive. It has announced programs, but no one knows how to get an application. In short, the government has done nothing but spin stories. When it comes to actually doing something, it falls short.
Minority governments should be working for Canadians. However, the government has chosen not to work with the opposition parties. We know what happened in 1963 and 1965 with Lester Pearson's minority government. Health care, a pension plan and our flag came about. Unfortunately, the government does not see this.
I have one last example. I introduced a bill to help sick people on EI benefits. It was passed in the House, but it was blocked by the government. There is not an MP in the House who does not witness these cases in his or her riding. I urge the government to restore the compassion and implement the changes for the vulnerable and sick.
This, along with the previous initiatives I stated, should be acted on. The Conservatives have a great opportunity to show some leadership with the financial situation that the Liberals gave them. They should show some leadership and act now.