Madam Speaker, since you are presiding this evening, let me offer my congratulations to you on joining the Speaker's team and being appointed to assist members of the House not just in this important debate but in managing our House affairs. It is great to see members from Vancouver Island playing a bigger role in the House.
It is a great privilege to take part in the debate in response to the Speech from the Throne, the first debate in Canada's 40th Parliament.
I begin by thanking the voters of the great riding of Nanaimo—Alberni for returning me as their MP for the fourth consecutive term. I am very mindful of the great honour and of the great responsibility that I have to them and so I would begin by thanking them.
I would like to acknowledge my supporters and campaign team who put a lot of effort into our re-election effort. I acknowledge the leadership of my campaign manager, Paula Peterson, who co-ordinated a great effort and ensured that we had a great time working together, and my financial agent, John Ward, who ensured we not only got the job done but given the complexities of financial obligations, that we did it right.
I know the families of every member here make a sacrifice so that we can come from our ridings across this great diverse country to participate in this House. I certainly have to acknowledge the great encouragement, and constant never ending support above and beyond the call that my wife Helen makes in order to make it possible for me to serve as the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.
The Speaker, the member for Kingston and the Islands, has done a remarkable job of not only being re-elected but for the fourth time being elected as the Speaker of the House. I certainly want to extend my congratulations to him. I think one of our members made reference to this today. It is certainly a historic event, being elected as Speaker for the fourth time and with the different sides of the House it is quite a remarkable achievement that is worthy of recognition.
It falls to each and every member, to our respective parties, to our leaders, to participate in this 40th Parliament at a time when our country is facing the challenges of a very troubled world economy and uncertainties unprecedented in modern times.
My riding is one of the most beautiful in the country. It covers both the east and west coasts of mid-Vancouver Island. From the rugged majestic heights of Mount Moriarty or Mount Arrowsmith in the Beaufort Range, one can look down across the oceanside communities to the east with their shallow, sandy warm water beaches, or west to Port Alberni and beyond to the world renowned Pacific Rim National Park with its famous Long Beach, favoured by surfers, and surf and storm watchers. This majestic place we call home is recognized by being the only federal riding to encompass not one but two federally recognized and UNESCO recognized biospheres, the Clayoquot Sound reserve on the west and Mount Arrowsmith biosphere reserve on the east, where we live.
That said, like other regions, the west coast is caught in a time of transition that has engulfed the forest sector, the fishing industry and greatly impacted our resource based economy.
The Speech from the Throne delivered in this chamber just a few days ago, on November 19, is very different from any I have heard or debated in the past four parliaments. The government has laid out its intentions to manage the economy in this challenging time.
The Speech from the Throne is entitled, “Protecting Canada's Future”. The government is committed to ensuring Canada's continued economic success at this time of global economic instability. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the Government of Canada has laid out a five-pronged plan to protect Canada's economic security. I shall briefly summarize those points.
First, there is reform of global finance by working with our allies and trading partners to re-examine and renew the rules that underpin the global financial system. This process has already begun with Canada's participation in the G-20 meetings on November 15 and the recently concluded APEC meetings in Lima, Peru.
It is probably appropriate at this time to mention that the World Economic Forum rated Canada's banking system as the best in the world.
I hear someone applauding. That is worthy of note and applause. I appreciate that enthusiastic response.
However, at a time when the world itself is reeling, it is good to know that while we face challenges we have some strong attributes to bring into these unstable times.
Measures taken to allow the Bank of Canada greater latitude in responding to world shifts and economic shifts allowed the Bank of Canada to respond quickly with nearly $20 billion to improve liquidity at a time when the credit crunch was having a devastating effect elsewhere and certainly challenging our economy here at home.
Further measures to protect our mortgage system, with shorter terms and mandatory down payments, helped to prevent the type of meltdown that precipitated the current U.S. and worldwide financial crises.
We want to ensure sound budgeting so that Canada does not return to ongoing unsustainable structural deficits while putting all federal expenditures under the microscope of responsible spending.
I think the operative word there is “all” government spending. It is a time when we need to examine how we are spending. As any family would when times get tough, we need to look at how we are managing our finances and determine that we are making the best investments and strategic investments at a time when times are leaner.
We need to secure jobs for families and communities by encouraging the skilled trades and apprenticeships, supporting workers facing transition and providing further support to the automotive and aerospace industries.
On that point, I was asked to respond to criticisms from the forestry CEOs in my own community objecting to this commitment. Of course they are facing a crisis of their own with an industry in transition. I will return to this point shortly to address their concerns.
Further, we need to expand investment in trade by modernizing investment, competition and copyright laws while working with the United States to address shared challenges and pursing trade agreements in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Canada just recently signed a trade agreement with Colombia that will need to be ratified. Negotiations continue with other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, but we must expand our markets beyond our dependence on one large market south of the border. About 85% of our trade is currently going south and, as we know, at a time when our largest trading partner is in big trouble. It is a good time to be looking to other markets to diversify, stabilize and share our financial opportunities with other nations and to reduce our dependence on one factor. It seems a very appropriate thing to do and I think it is absolutely essential that we do this.
Further, we need to make government more effective by reducing red tape, fixing procurement, improving program and service delivery and improving the management of federal agencies, boards, commissions and crown corporations.
Again, I think “efficiency” is the key word in tough economic times. It will be appropriate for all levels of the Canadian economy to examine their efficiency in delivering services and ensure we are doing so without waste.
Returning to the issue of assistance to industry, I think it is fair to say that while details of any assistance to the auto and aerospace sectors are in the process of being worked out, it is important to mention that many steps have already been taken to help all sectors of industry and business. It is a very competitive and challenging time, which is why, in addition to measures to help all taxpayers, measures were brought in to help students, seniors and, indeed, to lower taxes for every Canadian.
However, the government acted in the previous budget and in the previous economic update to lower small business and corporate taxes.
We acted earlier to resolve the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., bringing more than $4 billion back to Canadian forest companies. I think it is a very good thing we did that. Given the challenge that we face now with the U.S. caught up in its own challenges, it is a very good thing that we had that resolved when we did. Even though it is not perfect and there are still challenges for sectors in transition, the fact that we made those provisions beforehand was very helpful to the current economic status of those industries going through transition.
We provided a billion dollar community development trust to help communities with economies in transition and incentives for companies to purchase new machinery and to upgrade equipment.
For the mining industry, the government will extend the mineral exploration tax credit. Further, for the forest and fishing sectors the government has o acted to extend support for international marketing efforts and to provide incentives for creating energy from biomass.
I can assure persons concerned from the coast, particularly those in the forest industry, that there will be no blank cheque to any industrial sector. I am sure that any support offered by taxpayers through the government to the aerospace or the auto sector will only come after all stakeholders also contribute in the transition to a sustainable future. I think an example of that might be the $82 million commitment to Ford to develop an energy efficient engine.
This is not about helping industries that are not producing something that will be of value in a competitive and changing market. It is about creating sustainable opportunities for the future and creating a sustainable auto industry.
An example in my own riding of a company that has made heroic efforts in transition to a cost effective and sustainable future is the Nanaimo Forest Products Ltd. that took over the Harmac pulp mill in south Nanaimo. This company bid on a court ordered sale of the mill. It as an ownership structure that is quite unique in the industry. It has 200-plus employees, each of whom made significant personal investments in the mill to the tune of $25,000 each for a 25% stake in the business, partnering with other business interests. Pioneer Log Homes is a tremendous corporate citizen. Totzauer Holdings and the Sampson Group are successful private companies. They each took 25% shares in the company.
With both employees and management having a stake in the success of the business has led to a very collaborative approach to labour relations. No labour contracts will need to be renegotiated until well into the future.
This mill is in a great location. It has a deep sea port, water resources and water treatment facilities. It has the potential to diversify into energy production. I use this as an example of all the stakeholders collaborating in a tough competitive market to make something happen and to sustain an industry that was in big trouble. We might have lost the mill. I think the community is extremely proud of its effort and we certainly want to see heroic efforts like these rewarded with success.
In a time of transition, we do need to collaborate and work together to ensure opportunities for success emerge from challenging times.
The Speech from the Throne addresses a whole range of other issues. We have a commitment to Canada's environment. We will continue with our process to reduce greenhouse emissions 20% by 2020. I am pleased to see that we are working toward continuing with alternative energy incentives to develop alternative energies.
We will be recommitting the ban on bulk water exports, which I know is an important issue to many people in my riding, and I am glad to see that mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
Further, our government will be helping all Canadians participate by improving the universal child care benefit, increasing access to maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance and helping Canadians who care for loved ones with disabilities. That is a very important step the government can make, even in difficult times, to help those families who are working with a disabled child or a disabled adult at home and who are giving up other economic opportunities to look after a loved one in challenging circumstances.
We will be continuing to work on keeping Canadians safe by strengthening the sentences for serious criminal offences. We will be putting in place new rules for food and product safety and we will be introducing a new national security statement. We are also continuing to contribute to global security.
I will come back and talk about food and product safety in just a moment but perhaps I will go on to talk a little bit about sovereignty in the Arctic.
I am personally very pleased to see Canada's commitment to the Arctic moving ahead. It is a time when there are unprecedented not only changes in the Arctic but also challenges to our sovereignty and to the wealth and economic opportunities that northern Canada represents.
I am glad to see the commitment to assert our jurisdiction over lands and waters in the Arctic archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to further expand our jurisdiction over the region under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act requiring mandatory notification of any foreign vessels entering Canadian territorial waters. That will be asserting our control over a 200 mile limit into the Arctic.
I am glad to see that we are also proceeding with a new polar class icebreaker named in honour of the late great Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.
I have already mentioned the bulk water exports and that is important.
I will now return to efficiencies. It will be important for us to visit every sector of the economy to ensure we are actually producing the best product in the most efficient manner. One of my big concerns is in the area of health care. If we look back to the 1990s, British Columbia's budget for health was about 30% of its expenditures. When I first ran for office it was 40% of the provincial budget. It is currently about 44% or 45% of the provincial budget. Even though we are spending more and more of the provincial budgets on health care, it seems the demand is unceasing and the perception is that somehow the government is not delivering on health care.
We have been encouraging innovation in every sector but health care has been slow to embrace innovation. About 30% of our health care is already delivered outside of the public system. I am not talking necessarily about parallel systems. I am talking about efficiencies. I am talking about services that are currently available but perhaps underutilized and not funded by provincial plans under section 2 of the Canada Health Act, extended services.
There are tremendous opportunities. However, in our zeal to regulate I hope we do not become overzealous to the point where we take opportunities away from advancing health care opportunities for Canadians. I would suggest that perhaps status quo forces have been slow to pick up advances in low cost alternatives like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and the way we regulate our natural health products. I think we need to take a very good look at that.
I know a lot of concerns have been expressed in the House not only in the last Parliament but going back to the 37th Parliament when I introduced Bill C-420 addressing issues on how we regulate natural health products. Those concerns were discussed early in the 38th Parliament with the aid of the member for Oshawa and I know there were lots of discussions in the last Parliament under Bill C-51 about how we regulate these products.
I am concerned that opportunities for Canadians to purchase low cost, low risk, non-patentable products are currently being restricted by regulatory practices. I imagine legislation will be coming forward to address a whole range of health product safety issues. I hope that in this Parliament, when we review these issues, that we will get this right and that we will deliver an outcome that will ensure Canadians have access to low cost, low risk and non-patentable forms of medicines that promote wellness and address the prevention of illness and disease in the first place.
Those are some of my concerns and they are in the Speech from the Throne. I know members have been debating issues for several days now and a lot of ideas have come forward. I am pleased with the Speech from the Throne. It gives us the opportunity to move ahead on a whole range of issues that are of concern to Canadians. We will have efficient spending in our government. We will be addressing safety concerns and crime issues. We want ensure we create safe communities so Canadians can live safely.