Mr. Speaker, as this is the first time I have had a chance to rise in this Parliament, I want to take this opportunity to thank my lovely wife and two daughters for their continued support over five elections. I also thank the 91,000 constituents in the country’s number one riding, Sackville—Eastern Shore for their undying support of the work they have asked me to do.
The people have entrusted me once again, for the fifth time since 1997, to represent the issues of the riding and of Nova Scotia in Ottawa. They have asked me to bring their concerns to Ottawa and not necessarily Ottawa’s concerns to Nova Scotia. I also thank the many people on our campaign team who volunteered and assisted us in the last federal election.
Politics is made up of human beings, whether they are right wing, left wing, in the centre, Conservative, Liberal, Bloc, NDP, Green or whatever they may be. However, there is one person in the House of Commons who in many ways rises above all the partisanship games we now play.
There is a wonderful article, on page 28 of today’s Hill Times, about the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia. At three o’clock, a book about his life will be released. Every time I see the hon. member from the Winnipeg area, I am inspired by his enthusiasm, tenacity and desire to overcome hurdles that befell him at such a young age. For a quadriplegic man to rise as a parliamentary secretary in the House of Commons, regardless of the party he represents, is a testimony to not only he and his family, but to his heart, his love and his faith in God. I congratulate him and everyone else who has suffered through adversity and overcome it in order to become a great Canadian citizen. I congratulate and salute the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia.
Getting back to why we are here, On Thursday, we had the economic statement or so-called fiscal update. To call it an economic statement or fiscal update was stretching the boundaries of what I would call the truth. In fact, if truth were an island, it would be uninhabited right now. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance had many options on what they could have done and what they should have done.
I personally believe the time for statesmanship and leadership was at hand. One does not get many opportunities in life to stand in the House of Commons and take a bipartisan approach to address a very serious problem, our economy. In many ways, the situation was not caused by our own doing, although the Parliamentary Budget Officer did say, independently of any political party, that many of the concerns we faced now were brought on by political decisions of the previous mandate of 2006-08.
We asked repeated questions in the House of Commons on the economy and were told to wait until Thursday to get our answers. We were told to wait until Thursday and we would be told what the government would do to help. We were led to believe that if we waited until Thursday, the sun would shine once again. Thursday came along and what did we get? We did get some good things such as the change to the RRIFs to help seniors with their pension availability and their investments, a very good thing for which I applaud the government. However, one or two items out of a speech of that size is not good enough. The Conservatives attacked women and public servants for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
During the campaign, I did not hear from any side that public servants were the problem of our economic situation. I did not hear that to take away the right to strike would solve our economic problems. It was a rather bizarre moment for me to sit in seat 308, one of my favourite seats in the House, wondering where the government was going with the statement. The day of that announcement, we had layoffs in southern Ontario. We had layoffs on Sunday in northern Vancouver Island. We had layoffs in Nova Scotia. Across the country, people are hurting. Instead of addressing that issue, the Minister of Finance addressed the public servants and the issue on political party funding.
To be completely honest, on a personal level and not from a party point of view, I do not really care about the public funding we get. If the government wants to scrap it, it can scrap it. The reality is that the economic statement was not the place to make that announcement. An all-party committee could have discussed it and moved it forward, as was done when it was brought in initially.
It was brought in so that we could stop the big money influence that directs us. If somebody donates $50,000 to a person's campaign and someone else donates zero dollars and the two of them phone that person, we know which one the person would respond to first. It is only understandable that the person would respond first to the person who donated $50,000, because money talks. The purpose of that legislation was to get rid of that influence from big corporations and big unions.
We had that debate in 2004, but if it was the wish of the government of the day to remove that funding, there were many other opportunities for it to do so. It was an ideological and political statement, not an economic statement. That is why we are here today discussing this very serious issue.
The Prime Minister and the finance minister could have and should have recognized the seriousness of the situation and said very openly, as president-elect Obama has done, that they would reach across the aisle to meet with the leaders of the other parties and their economic advisers and that they would meet with economic advisers throughout the country, including labour, the provinces, and the municipalities, to set up a summit to deal with this issue internally as quickly as possible.
We did not get that type of leadership. If the government had said it within that framework, we would not be talking about this today.
We have a serious situation. Regardless of who forms the government, some tough choices have to be made. Leadership and statesmanship come only so often, and unfortunately the current Prime Minister dropped the ball severely on this one.
I am not the only one saying this. The chambers of commerce of Canada, representing 175,000 businesses, were “disappointed” with the so-called economic statement. I just had a meeting with the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce. They were disappointed with what was going on. They were looking for leadership and did not get it.
Only the Prime Minister and the small group of people around him can actually explain why they did what they did. I have a lot of good friends on the other side, not only in the NDP but also among my Conservative colleagues. I understand that they want to know what is going on, what is happening and why this is all going on.
They do not have to look farther than the front bench to know exactly what happened. Because of the style of the Prime Minister, he has decided, for whatever reasons, to approach politics in that particular manner. It is most unfortunate. All of us who have been here a little while know this is not how it should be, regardless of whether it is under the former Liberal government or the current Conservative government. The reality is that we could have done much better.
On my desk here, in my office on the Hill and in my office in Nova Scotia I have stacks of emails, faxes and letters. I will respond to each one in my riding personally and explain why we have come to this point. Most of the letters, even the ones I get from across the country, are saying there should be a pox upon all of us.
What are we doing now? We are standing up in the House of Commons, the people's place, and talking about ourselves, not about the issues facing this country. That is a missed opportunity. How many times, Mr. Speaker, have you been here and ended up listening to conversations between elected officials just about themselves?
I cannot say how disappointed I am personally in the whole process through which it happened. It did not have to happen this way.
I can assure everyone that the comments made on Thursday by my friend the Minister of National Defence, whose riding is next door to mine, were completely and utterly irresponsible for a cabinet minister of any government. He said after the statement that when the opposition acts like chickens, they start to look like chickens. What was the defence minister thinking when he said that?
What did he expect the reaction from the opposition would be? Did he think the opposition would just lie down and take it? Did he expect thanks for his wise counsel and for advising us on the proper language and protocol of parliamentary democracy?
We have had enough of that defence minister and his wisecrack comments. We have had enough of the Prime Minister and his dictatorial ways. We have offered the olive branch on many occasions, only to have it cut away.
Members of the opposition, regardless of whether they are Liberal, Bloc or NDP, have said enough is enough. We understand the anxiety of the Canadian people throughout the country who wonder what is going on, what is it going to lead to and what it will mean in the future.
To be honest, I do not have all the answers yet. I do not think the current government has all the answers either, but collectively we could have done it. Collectively the House could have stood for something much greater. Collectively we could have shown the spirit of the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia. Collectively we could have had the chutzpah of the great Bill Blaikie of Winnipeg, the knowledge of a Stanley Knowles, the foresight of a Tommy Douglas or even the compassion of a Joe Clark.
However, we lost it. Now we are going to have to work doubly hard to get all that back. I can give the assurance that no matter what happens here in the future, on a personal level I and many other MPs are going to try to repair the damage caused by the Prime Minister and his finance minister.
The reality is that we have people in the country who have been laid off. We have Canada Post workers on strike to prevent Canada Post from using EI as a sick leave payment. We have fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia who are getting only $3 a pound for lobster. I hope you are a fan of seafood, Mr. Speaker, but the reality is that fishermen cannot make a living catching lobsters at $3 a pound. We should be talking in the House about how to deal with that specific issue.
Last year, Air Canada gave $43 million to one man, Robert Milton. This year, what did it do? It shut down the flight attendant bases in Winnipeg and Halifax. That resulted in 200 jobs being taken out of Nova Scotia because Air Canada said it was in a tight fiscal situation.
What are those workers and their families expected to do? They voted for us to come here and deal with that issue. What do we end up doing? We end up talking about ourselves.
The reality is that our health care systems in this country are nowhere near what they should be. Our first nations are in desperate straits and require serious infrastructure, and they need it now.
My colleague from northern Ontario has said repeatedly that they need a school in one of his northern ridings. He has asked for it repeatedly and he keeps getting “No” as the answer. Why do they have to keep begging for what we in the south already have? It is simply unacceptable. Those are the issues we should be working on.
The environment was not even mentioned during Thursday's debate. The one issue that links us all together is the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat. Because of selfish interests, that issue is now being completely disregarded. Those are the issues we should be talking about.
What about jobs? What about retraining for young people, unemployment insurance for those who are laid off, and bridging pensions to allow older workers in the forestry sector to retire with some dignity, not just in Quebec but across the country?
There should be a proper buyout by the Government of Canada if it wishes to reduce the number of fishermen in the country. If it buys into the idea that there are too many fishermen and not enough fish, why not offer a proper buyout and let them leave with dignity?
Everybody knows that we recently attended a Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11 for veterans and for those who died to give us the democracy we have today. Is our democracy perfect? Absolutely not, but it is the one we have to live with, and there are certain rules by which we all need to abide. If those rules need to change, we can look at them in the future, but 117,000 veterans buried in 72 countries around the world never got a chance to wear their medals, and they sacrificed and died so that we can sit in the House of Commons and debate these issues.
Veterans and their widows need support programs and systems. They should not be put through a Cirque du Soleil act to get the benefits they require. Those are some of the issues the House should be tackling and dealing with, and I know that in a cooperative manner we could do that.
There are many other issues, from education to infrastructure to water and sewer systems and beyond. For example, what happens to the men and women of our military when they come back from the mission in Afghanistan? Will they receive the immediate help they and their families require? These are some of the important issues we need to speak about.
Why is it that over 4,000 men and women medically released from the military have their disability payments clawed back from their pensions? That is a debate we should have in this House of Commons.
Why is it that Agent Orange victims, Chalk River victims and others have to go to court to seek redress from not just this government, but any government? These veterans served us so proudly, and now in their hour of need we let them down.
Those are the issues we should be talking about, but again the economic statement, if we can call it that, mostly goes after the women of the public service in terms of their pay equity battles. Again I am completely flabbergasted, after eleven and a half years here, as to where that came from. I have absolutely no idea.
As well, why would the Prime Minister provoke, and literally attack, the official opposition party, when it was already in dire straits in terms of the election?
Now we see the members of the Liberal Party saying they are not going to accept it. We in the NDP and the Bloc are not going to accept that type of attitude.
This country has many problems. Collectively, we on this side are going to solve those problems. If the Conservatives' unwillingness or inability or ineptitude does not allow them to see the problem and to deal with the issues, then we on this side will do just that, because that is what Canadians have asked us to do. That is what workers and their families have asked us to do. That is what small businesses have asked us to do.
Recently credit card companies have been jacking up the rates they charge restaurants and small businesses when credit cards are used for those services. Why are they jacking up those rates? Why is it that a person who is going through difficult times and misses a credit card payment has his or her credit card rate jacked up by an additional five per cent as a penalty for missing the payment? Why would they do that to people?
These are some of the issues we should be dealing with and fixing, but again I go back to the fact that we end up talking about ourselves. The Canadian people, regardless of which side of the fence they stand on, are going to look seriously at all of us.
We wanted to know why voting was down to 59%. It was because the Conservatives started the last election on a broken promise. They had a promise of a fixed election date. Nobody brought the government down. There was no confidence vote in this House of Commons, yet the Prime Minister went to see the Governor General and had, I assume, a nice cup of tea. Then he said, “This is it. We are shutting it down”. There was no reason at all. They just shut it down and went into a $300 million election. True, they came back with a few more seats, but they did not get a majority and they did not get the popular vote.
That should have told them very clearly that they had to work with the opposition leaders and the opposition parties to move the situations of this country forward. We offered the olive branch, and it was cut off. My question to them is, why? Why did they do this?
Only one man, or maybe two, can answer that question. I do not think anyone here right now could answer it. The Prime Minister should really tell the Canadian people why they did what they did last Thursday.
If we collectively work together, we can solve the problems of this country. I have been on the committees for fisheries and oceans and for veterans affairs for a long time. Those committees work very well together, regardless of the committee members' party affiliations. That is how this House should work, but leadership is required. We were looking for leadership on Thursday, but it did not materialize, and that is most unfortunate.