Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin with some words of thanks as this is the first opportunity I have had to address the House aside from a brief statement in members' statements earlier today. I want to begin by thanking the great people of the riding of Simcoe North who have given me the privilege to serve a second time in the House.
I also want to thank my family members, particularly my wife Heather, and our two daughters, Valerie and Lauren. By the way, in the middle of this past election we had to move. Heather and the girls had to do a lot of that work while I was out on the campaign trail, and I thank them for that. I also thank my two older children and their families: Stephanie and Chris, Jason and Amanda, whose families are working in our riding and starting their lives at home. I am tremendously proud to see how they are doing and living in our communities.
My parents, brothers and sisters, and I come from a family business, and they had to carry on that work without me after being in the business for 30 years. My parents, Ron and Rene, and my sisters, Dianne and Sandra, have picked up the slack and are doing a tremendous job. My brother Doug, while he is not in the business, is out in the wonderful city of Thunder Bay, represented by the two members to my right. Thunder Bay is a great city, he has come to know, and he is still a great support for me.
I wish to thank my campaign team, a tremendous group of volunteers who helped me get elected under the tutelage of Rod Williams. Finally, Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you on not only running for the premiere Speaker’s chair on Tuesday but also for the appointment you have received. I am proud to be in a riding that is just next door to the great riding of Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.
To all hon. members who have been re-elected, and those who have been elected for the first time to the House, I know they will find this experience engaging and important for all of their constituents and indeed for all of Canada.
It has been a privilege for me as a member of Parliament to learn Canada’s other official language. As a member of Parliament, we are given the opportunity to do that.
It has been a privilege to learn the language of Canada's founders. Now, I can talk with the proud people of Penetanguishene and Lafontaine and all the francophones in my riding.
I have been able to learn this beautiful language because of the support of the people in my riding, and I thank them.
Today I would like to address the House on why I support the Speech from the Throne and why all hon. members should do the same. After listening to Her Excellency deliver this address just two days ago in the other place, I am more confident than ever that our government has taken the right path.
For the benefit of viewers at home, I think it is important to understand what the Speech from the Throne is for. The speech outlines, in general terms, the direction and priorities of the government, and an indication of the legislation or bills it plans to introduce in the coming Parliament. It is also an occasion for the government to describe the current situation being faced by the country. The speech then takes the form of a motion, the one we are currently debating, that comes before parliamentarians for their consideration.
The detailed laws on which the government plans to implement the agenda laid out in the Speech from the Throne will come before the House in the months ahead, assuming the motion passes. All parliamentarians will have the opportunity to consider those measures in detail.
With this in mind, and considering that we have just finished a federal general election, and considering the urgent global financial crisis, it is remarkable to me that members from the Bloc and NDP are voting against the throne speech, the first step forward for a government that Canadians just chose over a month ago. It flies in the face of what I heard from constituents this fall. They want their parliamentarians back to work, putting our shoulder to the wheel to do the very best we can to protect Canada’s economic strength through this difficult time.
On top of that, we heard eloquent statements from members from all sides of the House during the election of the Speaker about the need for more co-operation, more civility in dealing with the important issues facing Canadians. I urge the members of the Bloc and NDP to consider their constituents. Their expectations are what we are here to do. This is not a time for posturing and games. Let us get to work, pass this motion and get on with the business at hand.
Now, I would like to draw members' attention to the motion that is before us.
The backdrop for the commencement of this 40th Parliament is, for most of us, an unprecedented time for the world economy. How we got here will most certainly be the subject of intense debate here and around the world, and that debate will undoubtedly continue for some time.
What we have learned is instructive. The current situation with which we are confronted was not caused by anything Canada or its government did or failed to do. In fact, Canada, and in particular our banking, credit and mortgage system, is the strongest in the world. Other countries would do well to follow our lead.
Our economy is the strongest of the G-8, but because more than 40% of our economy relies on exports, the economic slowdown around the world will see orders for Canadian goods and services slowed, and with it, our economic output also. The slower output will have government receiving less tax dollars in the foreseeable future, so we, as a government, indeed, we, as a Parliament, are now tasked to take the very best course that we can to protect the livelihood and economic fortunes of Canadian families and businesses under these rare and exceptional conditions.
The motion before us today, the priorities set out in the Speech from the Throne, sets that course for us. It musters the best of what we have, the lessons that we have learned and it will, if passed and implemented, get us through these extraordinary times to emerge as strong and as determined as ever.
I would like to highlight some of the commitments our government has pledged in the Speech from the Throne that may be of particular interest to the people of Simcoe North.
First, we will use our leadership position in successful financial systems to help the world financing system put that financing system on a better footing. The problems started outside our borders, so we will work with our international partners to correct the problems. Though these reforms may be too late to help the current credit crisis, they will certainly prevent disruptions in the future, further disruptions that could impact Canada's interests negatively.
We will continue to press for broader trade opportunities around the world to open new markets for Canadian producers, manufacturers and service providers. Even here at home we contend with trade barriers between provinces that restrain Canadian businesses and jobs, so we will work with our provincial counterparts to ease those barriers to get investment and labour moving to wherever those opportunities lie.
We know that our long-term prosperity relies on a healthy environment. We ignore nature at our peril, since after all, we are a part of it, but we know that progress will not be made on the environment without a healthy economy. It is the only way to fund the important environmental investments that must be made.
I know my constituents will be encouraged to know that our government is committed to reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2020, and our plan to legislate a ban on all bulk water exports will be welcomed in my riding.
My riding, a region that pioneered the use of hydro-electric power, will be keen to know of the government's pledge to have 90% of our electricity produced from non-emitting sources by the year 2020, and that is from hydro, nuclear, wind, et cetera. This is the right way and we need to recognize that.
Our prosperity also depends on safety at home in our communities. I am pleased that our government is continuing to take action to keep our communities safe. There are far too many examples of criminality and violence, gangs, drugs, impaired driving, youth crime, all of which has torn at the fabric of our communities, tearing at families, tearing them apart, eating at the foundation of civility in our communities.
Uncertain economic times or not, families expect their government to act. Serious crimes must be met with serious penalties. We began that journey in the last Parliament with the passing of the Tackling Violent Crime Act. I look forward to advancing our government's agenda to get tough on crime and to strengthen our justice system.
So far I have touched briefly on three commitments from the Speech from the Throne: international trade, the environment and on keeping Canadians safe.
I would now like to turn my attention to three other commitments in the speech that, for me, stand out, partly because they are of direct relevance to the region that I represent, but mostly because they represent what I believe to be the greatest challenge in these economic times.
The first major hurdle will be keeping job opportunities for Canadians. On that part, our government has already built a sound footing, having lowered taxes and begun investments in infrastructure, science and technology, but part of that challenge involves giving the people the tools they need to secure well paying employment.
The new measures outlined in the throne speech will keep Canada's workforce up to task. We are expanding financial assistance for students, encouraging more skilled trades through support for apprenticeships and taking action to get quicker recognition of foreign credentials. We will help workers who are facing transition, work with our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that workers can get the kind of training and skills they need to stay in the workforce, and support their families and the livelihood of their communities.
Keeping jobs in Canada also involves keeping Canada a great place to do business. In a world where businesses can locate wherever in the world they wish, Canada must continue to keep a competitive business climate that will attract investment and job opportunities, so it will come as a great relief to businesses in my riding that our government will stay on course to encourage investment in the manufacturing sector, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries. They will welcome our government's pledge to keep enabling capital purchases that make our producers more competitive in the global marketplace.
Staying on this jobs theme, our investments in infrastructure through the building Canada plan are already having a tremendous impact in the communities in my riding. The full GST refund, the gas tax transfer, and investments we have made through the municipal-rural infrastructure fund have made a tangible difference in our municipalities.
Now that the Canada building fund is engaged and being expedited, our communities can help position themselves for greater economic growth. An example of that is the township of Oro-Medonte right in my riding, partnering with the city of Barrie, represented by my colleague, the member for Barrie, that have come together to invest and strengthen their regional airport to ensure that they can attract business expansion in the auto and aerospace sectors, among others. They are stepping up to the plate and putting economic advantage as their first priority during these times, and that is exactly the kind of partners our government needs to bolster Canada's economic advantage. That is why the government's building Canada plan will help protect jobs in the short-term and strengthen Canada's future prosperity in the long-term.
The second key theme that will help Canadians through this period is our commitment to helping Canadians participate. Canada is built on a promise of opportunity, the chance to work hard, raise a family and make a better life. To that end, we are working to break down barriers that prevent Canadians from reaching their full potential, improving the universal child care benefit that will see improved benefits for families that have children under six, broadening access to maternity and paternity benefits under the EI program, assisting Canadians looking to buy their first homes, and extending the homelessness partnering strategy to help more Canadians find affordable housing.
Recognizing that health issues can be a significant barrier to employment and quality of life, the government is continuing its efforts to tackle major heart, lung and neurological diseases, and build on the work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Just as an aside, on the Mental Health Commission, I know that mental health continues to be stigmatized in Canada, even though it claims countless lives, lost opportunities and heartbreak for families.
The province of Ontario's Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene in my riding has a history of leadership in this field of health care with 800 employees and hundreds of volunteers. Penetanguishene is doing its part and it gives me great pride to know that our government has committed some $110 million in this year's budget to bolster Canada's Mental Health Commission so it can keep doing its good work. This is a great benefit to persons with mental illness, and our partners in that journey to address this illness, like those in my community of Penetanguishene.
We need to continue to make these important investments so that access to employment and a quality of life that we seek for all Canadians can be realized. However, during these difficult economic circumstances and the prospect of slowing government revenues, it is also imperative that Canada do its part to trim spending.
We do not want to raise taxes or navigate our way into the kind of structural deficits we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. This would only prolong our recovery and/or push irresponsible spending off onto the shoulders of our children.
It would also be fair to say that maintaining a balanced budget at all costs may put too much of the burden of this economic downturn, a condition that arose elsewhere in the world, squarely onto the shoulders of Canadians. That, too, is not acceptable.
Our government, just as families do when they are faced with unexpected shortfalls in revenue, has committed to trimming expenses where it can. This is, in my view, the third critical path that the throne speech has set out for the consideration of Parliament. It is sensible and I believe it is expected by Canadians who will, undoubtedly, be doing the very same in their households as they are faced with shifting economic circumstance.
We have the capacity to rein in spending because we have taken steps in this past year that have bolstered the Canadian economy. We got ahead of the curve last fall, with almost 1.5% of GDP in economic stimulus, that has put us in the enviable position before heading into an economic slowdown.
The Minister of Finance will have more to say on this subject next week when he releases the economic and fiscal statement. What we do know is that grants, contributions and capital expenditures will be placed under a microscope of responsible spending and departments will have the funding they need to deliver essential programs and services, but no more. We will table legislation to ensure sustainable compensation growth in the federal public service. We also will seek the engagement of Parliament to act in an active role in scrutinizing spending and suggesting areas of restraint.
On this last part, I was really surprised to hear the comments on Mike Duffy Live I think just yesterday evening or perhaps the night before. The member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, expressing his outright dismissal of any notion of parliamentarians helping the cause, said that only the government could do this. With that, what he is essentially saying is that MPs in opposition parties want to reserve the position of only criticizing.
I must say that position is 180° from what I heard on the campaign trail this fall. We are faced with unprecedented economic challenges for our times but all the Liberals seem to want to do is put their political priorities in front of us. I say that is a shame. However, I remain hopeful that some parliamentarians will set their partisan interests aside and work with the government to engage in this exercise.
In conclusion, our government has mapped a way forward for our Parliament's consideration in the days ahead. I hope hon. members will support this agenda with the full knowledge that they will all have an opportunity to debate the details of these measures during the 40th Parliament before us. It is the right path. It combines important measures and investments in our environment, in expanding trade opportunities and in keeping our communities safe. It challenges us in ways we have not undertaken in recent memory to bolster Canada's workforce and help Canadians participate in our economy.
It sets a course that will require partnership with our allies, the provinces and territories, municipalities and the private sector, and with all hon. members in this chamber and in the other place to get to work on behalf of all Canadians and see our way through this uncertain global landscape.
Canada and Canadians have faced adversity in the past and it appears we will do so again. The experience we have gained is, in effect, Canada's story. It is one of patience, cooperation and determination. Let us tap that collective will again so we can emerge stronger and more united than ever.