Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this issue, which ties into a much deeper issue of what we are doing here.
First, as a lifelong paddler, I am deeply concerned about the changes the Conservative Government has packaged into their budget on the NWPA.
Before we even get around to that, let us talk about the responsibilities we hold as parliamentarians to represent our constituents and to govern adequately and for the future of our families and our people.
The government and members of Parliament must respond to Canadians' needs. We have to be there for our fellow citizens, and we must always make responsible decisions. It is easy for the NDP and the Bloc to stand in the way, to oppose without ever having to propose, without ever having to make judgment calls and difficult decisions.
I recognize we had plenty of difficult decisions to take when faced with this budget. Throughout the fall, the Conservatives continued to say that there was no economic crisis, that they would be in surplus, that everything was well. We had to push them extremely hard to get them to admit it. We then had to get them to start spending, to start giving to Canadians some of the stimulus, some of the response that they desperately needed.
Was it enough? No, it probably will not be enough, but it is a damn site better than delaying, than putting off our interventions, than dragging Canadians through another expensive election, which would probably return a very similar result of a minority Parliament of some sort, while Canadians are losing their jobs, families are struggling to plan for the future, kids are anxious about what their parents are arguing about late into the night as the bills come in and the job prospects look less and less likely.
Canada is in a crisis. The NDP members announced even before the budget hit the table that they would in no way support it.
The Bloc Québécois proposed unrealistic, unacceptable amendments.
The Liberal Party took a good look at what the Conservatives have done. This is basically a Conservative budget; we understand that. However, the Liberal-NDP coalition, with the Bloc Québécois' support, was able to push the government to take positive steps for our economy, to propose measures we really need.
At the same time, the Conservatives have chosen to sneak some measures that will not be good for Canada into the budget. For example, it includes measures that are not good for pay equity for women, not to mention some real flaws when it comes to protecting navigable waters.
Even so, the Liberal Party decided that it was in Canadians' best interest to get the money flowing right away.
However, navigable waters is an issue, and it is an issue for me. The powers granted to the minister would allow the government to bypass some of the triggers for environmental assessment. It removes the words “dam”, “weir”, “log”, “bridge”, ”causeway” from the automatically triggering environmental assessment procedures. This is a strategy of bringing more power to the ministers. It is similar to the power brought to the minister in the Immigration Act, which the Conservatives adopted last year. This trend is absolutely troubling.
The rights of Canadians to explore their waterways is one that goes into our very identity as Canadians. Our ability to explore this great land, as generations before us have, which was allowed through our waterways, is one that predates Confederation. It goes all the way back to Roman times. To have free access to waterways is essential.
However, the NWPA is over 100 years old. It was brought in 1882. It does need a little reworking, which is why the Liberals worked hard in committee last year to bring about some positive impacts. However, the Conservative government slipped in these changes without any possibility of discussions, debate, back and forth for positive consensus. Then it said if we did not accept the package it put forward in its entirety, regardless of the fact that it is not all about stimulus, we would go into an election.
We are facing tough choices here. We can either try to protect our jobs and not protect the jobs of Canadians, or we can say that Canadians need help and they need help now. They need us to reach out to them. They need us to stimulate them economically to allow them to have safer jobs, to allow them to train for the future and to allow communities to spend on much needed infrastructure.
Are there faults in the budget? Absolutely.
It is wonderfully easy for the Bloc and the NDP to stand on their high horses and shout out that it is terrible this is going through. They do not have to make any of the tough decisions. They have absolved themselves of responsibility that way. They are happy to oppose. However, the Liberal Party intends to form the next government. Because of that, we need to be responsible. When Canadians turn to us and ask us why we do not support the budget or the money that will come from it, we will have no answer if we block it.
Pressure by the Liberal caucus and in committee allowed for a mandatory five year review clause in the NWPA, which means this implementation is not automatically forever. Indeed, the Liberal Party feels that it is time for a comprehensive overhaul of environmental assessment to ensure that we are properly protecting Canadians, that we are properly balancing economy and environment. There is no question that the economy and the environment need to be built together in the future. However, to jump and pull the trigger right now because this is not a Liberal budget would be irresponsible.
We have to give the Conservatives credit. They went a long way in acting against type by actually reaching out to help Canadians and spending on them. For that, we applaud them. However, the challenges we face mean that we need to work together. It would be wonderful if, for once, a party like the NDP would read something before it decided to vote against it. It gives the NDP members the idea that they can stand there and be defenders of the people, the way the Bloc members are defenders of Quebeckers.
We need to be actual defenders of the people. That means taking action. It means making compromises. Like it or not, Canadians voted a Conservative government in last time. What we have to do is make sure that Parliament works. That is what the Liberal Party is doing. It is making sure that this imperfect budget serves Canadians. It is making sure that the naysayers who want to trigger an election or an unstable coalition do not get their way and that Canadians get the help they need.