Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne.
Please allow me first to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. I would also like to congratulate the member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock and the member for Victoria, who were also appointed, and of course congratulate our Speaker, who has been a long-standing icon in this Parliament and who has done such a good job in the House. We have a very good team of chair occupants this session. I give you my congratulations again. It is a great honour to serve in the House, and I am sure you will all do us very proud.
I would especially like to thank the residents of my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul, who have asked me to return to represent them for a third term here in Ottawa as their member of Parliament. I am honoured to serve them in what I believe is the greatest riding in Canada.
I also want to thank my family, who have supported me throughout my term in office and who continue to support me. They truly are my source of strength and energy.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful and dedicated team of volunteers who worked tirelessly to re-elect me in the last election. I am very grateful.
Kildonan—St. Paul is a diverse riding that encompasses both urban and rural populations. However, many issues unite the constituents of Kildonan—St. Paul, none more so than the current state of the economy.
As I went door to door during the election, constituents informed me that economic instability was the issue that weighed most heavily on most people's minds. I also heard from my constituents that they wanted Parliament to work. They were tired of the partisan wrangling across the floor, and their concern was for this Parliament to work across party lines to face the enormous economic challenges that confront our country and the global economy as a whole.
Our Prime Minister noted in his speech on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne that it was his wish that consensus be achieved here, so that we as parliamentarians can work productively and cooperatively in this Parliament of Canada.
This sentiment reflects the feelings of many of us as parliamentarians. During this time of economic duress, we parliamentarians must unite to meet the enormous economic challenges we face, not only as a nation but also as a global community.
Clearly our Prime Minister has taken strong leadership to protect our nation's future. The people of Canada have shown great confidence in the Prime Minister and in this government by electing a strong minority government with an enhanced mandate, even though the world is experiencing an unstable global economy.
Because our government has paid down $37 billion on the national debt, Canada now has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G-7. That is why I was pleased to hear, when listening to the throne speech, that Canada's government has a five-pronged plan to strengthen and assist Canada's economy.
The government will work to ensure that global finance is reformed. Canada delivers sound budgets, long-term jobs for families and communities, and expanded trade and investment, providing an efficient federal government for our nation.
Our government has cut sales taxes, income taxes and business taxes. Our government's early fiscal stimulus in the form of long-term reductions in consumer, personal and business taxes has bolstered domestic spending and improved our attractiveness for investment.
Our government created the universal child care benefit. It increased health care transfers to the provinces and enhanced the guaranteed income supplement. These initiatives help Canadian citizens all across this country to grow and prosper.
To ensure the real estate market here in Canada remained stable, our government acted quickly and decisively by limiting mortgage terms and by establishing minimum down payments. Through our commitment to purchase insured mortgages, CMHC has ensured that our financial institutions will continue to lend to individuals and businesses. Our new Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility created confidence to facilitate interbank lending.
Many things have been done ahead of this economic time that have really built a foundation for us here in Canada. These actions offer great hope to all Canadians, especially to those in my riding of Kildonan--St. Paul.
Confidence that our government, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, will steer Canada through this time of economic downturn, and hope that with this stable fiscal management. the depression will not impact on Canadians the way it has impacted on other countries.
Clearly, all departmental spending planned for the next four years is under review. The Canada health transfer and the Canada social transfer to the provinces, however, will grow as planned. Equalization payments also will grow at a sustainable rate tied to the overall growth of our economy.
I note that the Speech from the Throne states that our government will take measures to encourage skilled trades and apprenticeships. This is extremely important because as young people and other Canadian citizens take education in the skilled trades and apprenticeships, they will produce an economy within Manitoba and within Canada that will grow and will really enhance the foundation of Canada's economic development.
The speech goes on to state that our government will work with the provinces to make recognition of foreign credentials a priority and increase the uptake of immigrant settlement programs. This is important because many immigrants coming to Canada who are very well trained need to be put in jobs that they have been trained for outside our country.
These are measures that will be strongly welcomed by companies and small businesses in my riding of Kildonan--St. Paul. I have had many constituents share their frustrations trying to find skilled workers because there is a shortage of them here in our country.
I also believe it is crucial that our government continue to demonstrate sound and prudent budgeting. The current international economic crisis promises to be challenging, but I remain confident that under the strong leadership of our Prime Minister Canada will succeed in weathering this economic storm.
After all, I will remind the House that it was under our Conservative government that $37 billion of the national debt has been paid down. That is $37 billion that our children and our grandchildren will not have to pay interest on.
It is under our Conservative government that taxes have been cut for families, small businesses and seniors. This impacts on individual Canadians at their breakfast tables in the morning. More money is going into their pockets and that is building a foundation for more economic stability in our nation.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs in my riding were delighted to hear that our government would be increasing their access to parental and maternity leave benefits. That is what our Conservative government is doing. We are providing strong leadership.
Our government is known as one that is tough on crime. The youth criminal justice system will be addressed by our government to ensure that our youth understand that drug dealing, stealing cars, and violent crimes will require tough consequences for them. With that legislation will come the compassionate instigation of funding programs for at risk youth to keep them from falling into a criminal lifestyle.
It is noted that there are many young people who are tempted by what they consider easy money in a criminal lifestyle, and these at risk youth will be provided with programs to ensure that they can focus their energy in a different place.
Our government has already instituted numerous justice reforms to restore the rights of law-abiding citizens and to make our communities and our streets safer.
Our government will end house arrest for those convicted of serious crimes. This has been a very important issue in my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul because my constituents have often wondered why criminals who have committed serious violent crimes are allowed house arrest. It is very difficult to monitor their whereabouts. It is very hard to keep a finger on where these criminals are. We will also introduce legislation to target violent crimes committed by criminal gangs.
The issue of human trafficking is a crime that continues to grow in our nation. Our government is addressing this issue to ensure victims of this horrendous crime are sheltered and protected, and given the opportunity to recover and start a new life. Criminals who live off the suffering of innocent victims will be accountable for their actions.
Our nation, at this time, is becoming acutely aware of this horrendous crime and that education is one of our best weapons. Knowing how perpetrators and pedophiles work, and how youth can protect themselves, be aware and not be caught in the web is very important.
Our country is a very proud nation. It is very proud of our national sovereignty and security. As we know, generations before us have held our Canadian Forces in high regard throughout the world. Our government has provided a long-term strategy to ensure our brave men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our security on Canadian soil and to assist when other countries are threatened and oppressed.
Our Canadian Forces have made tremendous contributions to the Afghanistan mission and will continue to work for freedom, democracy and human rights around the world. We see businesses starting to flourish in Afghanistan, schools and hospitals being built, and young women being able to go to school without fear. These are some impacts that the Canadian Forces have made during the Afghanistan mission that have really made a difference in the country.
Our government is also committed to ensuring sovereignty over Canada's Arctic. Canada will not only control and protect our offshore waters but our government will protect our inland waters as well.
As we know, often the equipment has not existed up north to provide for easy access to waters in the Arctic, so we are now proceeding with a new polar class icebreaker named in honour of the late great prime minister, the right hon. John Diefenbaker. This icebreaker is very important because it will allow greater access to our Arctic waters.
Canada has elected a minority government that has an enhanced mandate. This is quite unusual because historically during times of economic duress often governments will fall. That did not happen in the last election. Canadians said, with a resounding voice, that they have confidence that the Prime Minister and the government can steer the ship through the troubled waters of this very serious economic global downturn.
Canadians have sent members of Parliament to Ottawa to work together, to bring Canada safely through these economic times. This is an opportunity for all members in Parliament to lay aside the partisan wrangling and problem solve together.
I have heard ministers say in question period they welcome our ideas. Of course these ideas can be formulated not only in question period, which, in my opinion, happens to be a lot of theatre in a very small window. That is my opinion from what I have seen. I must say that letters, meetings with ministers, and time spent at committee, when new problems arise, they can be solved by all members which will make this a very effective Parliament.
With this in mind, I am hoping that in the coming weeks and months all opposition parties will be willing to work with the Government of Canada in a spirit of bipartisanship and co-operation to ensure that our economy and our country remain strong. In doing so, we will diligently serve our constituents and offer them the hope of a better tomorrow.
Lastly, I must say that when I was going door-to-door during the election, what I heard over and over again was Canadian citizens telling me they were tired of turning on question period. They were tired of the catcalls across the House and they were tired of what parliamentarians felt were very cutting remarks. They were tired of that. What they wanted was a Parliament that worked together to problem solve, especially now in these very tough economic times. This is a very serious issue that we are all dealing with.
I know that members on all sides of the House have the best interests of our country at heart. I know I have many friends on all sides of the House. I believe they are very dedicated people who care very deeply for our country and for their constituents.
I must say that we are in a new era now. For the first time, we are in an era when we really have a demand from the Canadian public to work together in a non-partisan way to problem solve the issues that we are facing at this time.
I wish to thank the House for allowing me to put my comments on the record in Parliament. As I said, I am very honoured to be the member of Parliament for Kildonan—St. Paul. I always think that a member of Parliament is a servant of the people. I look forward to the coming months because, and I am going to be optimistic, I think we are going to have a very collaborative, problem-solving environment in the Parliament.
Why do I think that? It is because we are facing one of the most serious economic times that we have had in many years. We need the talents and the problem-solving skills of each and every member of Parliament in the House to work together to help get us through these troubled waters.