Mr. Speaker, we find ourselves in an interesting time, certainly in the global context, dealing with the unprecedented downturn in the global economy.
One word that has become much more common in our vocabulary, certainly in the political realm, is the word “hope”. This word was frequently used in the election campaign held by our neighbours to the south. It is a word that inspired not only millions of Americans but inspired people all around the world, as well as those here in Canada. As people face unprecedented job losses, the dangers to their savings and the threats to their well-being, they are desperately looking for hope.
Hope was something that we were all looking for in the budget. Our leader and our party talked about what we would like to see in the budget to deal with the hope Canadians were looking for.
I would like to begin my speech by speaking about Canadians in the area that I represent. We are actually feeling quite hopeless when it comes to the budget. I would like to paint a picture of some of the issues that my region is facing.
First, we are dealing with the loss of jobs in the forestry industry, following on a dynamic that crosses our country. People have lost well paying jobs, jobs that are at the root of the well-being of our communities.
While great effort was made by provincial and municipal governments, the federal government was not at the table. It was the softwood lumber deal, or the softwood sell out as we call it, that created the job losses in our area. These jobs have gone elsewhere because Canadians certainly are not benefiting from the softwood lumber sell out.
Jobs are also being lost in the mining sector. As the price of our mining resources goes down, hundreds of people in our area have either lost their jobs or are about to lose their jobs.
We also have in our area a number of first nations communities that have failed to see any kind of job creation and have certainly not benefited from any economic development on a national level. In terms of these areas, people were looking to the budget for some support.
With respect to regional development, I applaud the government for putting emphasis on southern Ontario, but it did not look at other regions. The federal government did not take a leadership role in partnering with the provincial or territorial governments in terms of truly creating broader regional development. We in northern Manitoba consider ourselves to be northern Canada. We would like to see the federal government come to the table and look at some of the economic development opportunities in our region. I can assure members of the House that there are many opportunities and some very promising ones.
Another disappointment was that the government did not address the challenges facing the mining community.While the government issued a press release in December indicating that it would be there for the forestry and mining communities, mining was almost entirely left out of the budget.
I am glad to see support for mining exploration but there is nothing in the budget to deal with the severe job losses that the mining industry is facing and there is nothing for these communities. Hundreds of jobs are being lost in our neighbouring province and many of us fear that it will continue to get worse in our region as well.
I have a great deal of concern with respect to first nations. I am glad to see a positive commitment to housing and education, but I am concerned as to how the money will become realized in terms of tangible changes in infrastructure and the quality of life for first nations. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on private housing. This is not a reality for first nations in Canada. The reality is that many first nations do not have the money to invest in private housing. In order to deal with the shameful third world conditions on many first nations, we need the government to step up and work along with band governments to ensure that first nations have adequate housing.
One of the biggest areas absent in the budget to deal with the challenges facing first nations is that of job creation. I think many of us recognize that job creation and economic development opportunities can help many of these communities become self-sufficient. They certainly stand to benefit from the resources in their areas and of their people, while partaking in the 21st century economy that the rest of Canada takes for granted.
This is an area where the federal government could play a much more substantial role. It would also serve to look at the future and how communities all across Canada can be part of moving ahead as the economy moves forward out of this downturn.
On EI reform, as hundreds of people lose their jobs in our area and across the country, there is a huge concern around the waiting times, with which the government has yet to be deal. The fact is many people, certainly in northern Canada, are not in positions to accumulate enough hours to access EI. There is a need to recognize that these injustices take place and are most often dealt to people who have, year after year, paid into a fund that they hope to access if they are in the unfortunate position of losing their jobs.
My hometown of Thompson, Manitoba has been calling for partnerships in housing for quite some time. We need affordable housing. We need housing for students who are attending University College of the North. We need housing for single parents who are raising their families. We need housing for professionals who are coming into our communities and participating in our industries. Those kinds of investments are not going to be a reality, given the significant lack of funding toward housing as a result of the budget.
We hope many of the commitments in infrastructure are realized in tangible projects and communities. With respect to some of the shovel ready projects, municipalities and the province will need to be at the table. In the case of some of our municipalities, they are unable to come up with some of the funds. There is also the need to look at building some projects that perhaps might be more long term than the two year parameter that has been set up.
On the more national level, and moving beyond the regional piece, there is a number of other areas where this budget poses a great deal of concern. Much has been said today about the rollback of rights, whether it is women's rights or the rights to collective bargaining. That speaks to a real failure to move away from dealing with the economic reality that people are facing. In fact, it brings Canada even further back in the quality of the tangible human rights that we all deserve to enjoy in a country such as ours.
On pay equity, much has been said about following the Manitoba model. Coming from Manitoba, it is important for me to point out that there are some significant differences in our model. Complaining to the Human Rights Commission is prevented as a result of these changes.
These are some of the areas that concern us. I will come back to the initial word that has brought us so much energy at a time of so much despair: hope. Unfortunately, it seems it has not been taken into consideration when looking at the long-term results and impacts of the budget. It seems Canada will be left a lot more hopeless than it began.