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House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.

Topics

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House this morning, after two long months of being shut out. The doors were locked. While Canadians were being inspired by their Olympic heroes, they were being abandoned by their government.

Members of Parliament could not hold this government accountable for its actions, accountable to the quarter-million seniors who are living in poverty; accountable to the 1.5 million Canadians who are looking for jobs that do not exist; accountable to the 34 million people who deserve to know the truth about the accusations of torture and cover-ups; accountable to a whole new generation, a generation that is calling on us to combat climate change.

While we were shut out of this place, Parliament could not do its work. However, while the doors were locked, something positive did happen. Suddenly millions of Canadians were talking about their democracy. They were talking about taking back their democracy. One might say that the camel's back finally broke on this question.

After all, people have been shut out, not just from their Parliament, but from a quarter century of prosperity that has flowed only to the wealthy. They have been shut out from 15 budgets in a row that put big business first. They have been shut out from an economic recovery that somehow comes along without good jobs. They have been shut out from the old way of doing politics.

That sound that has been rising from those big grassroots rallies is people calling for something new, a new way of governing that invites people in instead of shutting them out.

It was a very long throne speech and a voluminous budget followed along after it. If we look hard we can find some positive moments, such as a commitment to Quebeckers on the language of work. There are some new commitments to skills training. But overwhelmingly, the government has answered the call for something new by serving up more of the same. That is the problem. There are more unconditional giveaways to big banks and oil companies, and there is no hope at all for the victims of the recession. That is not an approach the New Democrats can support.

The stories that Canadians tell really put it in pretty clear relief. I met one fellow who worked in an auto parts plant for 18 years. It closed down. He was earning a decent middle-class wage and had a health plan. He had to go into a job competition which it turns out was with his daughter for a part-time position at Tim Hortons. His daughter got the job. He was glad for her, but he did not know how he was going to pay the mortgage on the family home.

When his EI runs out this spring, his family could be headed for the welfare rolls. Of course, before he does that, he will have to cash in all his retirement savings. To qualify for social assistance the family will have to divest many of its assets that have been built up after all those years of working hard and playing by the rules. That family is going to risk falling into the poverty trap. His daughter, who dreams of becoming an engineer, may be working at Tim Hortons for an awfully long time to come because her dad has no money to put into any education fund that might give him a tax break. Meanwhile, tuition fees are rising rapidly out of reach for families like that one.

That is how the poverty trap works. There are 1.5 million jobless Canadians who know firsthand what that family is facing because they are facing the same kind of situation. Economists say that 800,000 of those people could exhaust their employment insurance this year and literally have nowhere to go.

Eight hundred thousand Canadians are looking for jobs that this government has been unable to create.

What hope does this throne speech offer? Instead of offering hope, the government is promising the same old thing, the same old thing with a weak economic recovery plan. This plan focuses more on photo ops for the ministers than on the creation of full-time jobs for Canadians. This plan allows for even more deregulation. This plan opens the door even wider to speculators, the ones who started this economic crisis we are still dealing with. This plan has even more gifts for the country's most profitable major companies.

What the throne speech offers is not hope. It offers barely a hope and a prayer that big business will somehow use its handouts to build the kind of country that we want, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The scale of the government's corporate giveaways is quite startling. Fifteen billion dollars each and every year, fully phased in is what the corporate tax rates for big corporations are going to cost us; $15 billion taken away from Canadians' real priorities, and for what?

Why? The Conservatives will say it is to increase our competiveness. After 10 years of consecutive tax cuts, corporate tax rates are much lower than those in the United States and other G8 countries. The Conservatives will say it is to stimulate the economy. After 10 years of tax breaks, we know that investing in infrastructure yields 10 times more in terms of economic stimulus and job creation. The Conservatives will say it is to improve innovation, that it is to improve productivity. Despite 10 years of tax breaks, large corporations are investing less in research, technology and equipment. The Conservatives will say it is to save jobs, even though 100 years of tax cuts will not help employers in the manufacturing or forestry sector, sectors in which businesses are not generating any taxable profits.

It is not economic sense that keeps these corporate handouts flowing; it is ideology. They are flowing into the bottom lines of Canada's most profitable corporations, an increasing percentage of which are foreign owned, like the oil companies mining the tar sands that the government wants to deregulate, like Canada's five biggest banks and their $15.9 billion of profits last year, built on the backs of families who are literally heaving under household debt averaging $96,000. And to whom are they paying interest most of the time? Those same banks, the same banks that doled out more than $8 billion in executive bonuses alone so soon after Canadians came to their assistance to backstop all of their interbank loans to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

It is time for something new. Markets can create wealth and prosperity, but they cannot do it alone. Sometimes the government needs to get off the sidelines and be part of the solution. We cannot wait for the invisible hand of the market to solve things.

The NDP believes that productivity and an enterprising spirit are what drive our economy, and not almost non-existent tax rates. We believe we must fight for workers, their jobs and their communities. We believe we need to make this Parliament work for them.

I want to emphasize a few pragmatic measures that this government would have to take before the NDP could even begin to think about supporting it.

Earning our support starts with closing the doors on corporate giveaways, so let us shelve the next two planned corporate rate cuts, which would alone as a measure save $6 billion every year. That is $6 billion to invest in better priorities. It is time to make those better choices. What are those priorities?

First, let us get Canadians working again. Instead of renewing a failing stimulus, retool it with a razor-sharp focus on job creation, creating good full-time jobs. Instead of criticizing provincial red tape, let us share another cent of the gas tax with municipalities for green public transit.

For a government that is ready to foster enterprise and small business that does most of the job creation, there is no shortage of ideas to spark employment. As we develop those, instead of watching thousands fall out of the productive workforce, let us extend their employment insurance. That money would go right back into the local economy to create local jobs, support small business, put food on the table. Those are the choices we could support.

Second, let us build a greener economy for our future prosperity.

The throne speech resurrected the long-discredited idea that environmental assessments slow economic development. We do not have to choose between the economy and the planet. Instead, we can choose a new, sustainable economy, a productive economy based on solar, wind and hydraulic power, along with biomass. Canadian innovations can make us leaders in job creation in the renewable technology sector. We can get started today. We can extend the tax credit for home renovations with emphasis on making Canadians' homes more energy efficient. That will promote energy efficiency while stimulating the economy. It will support job creation. That is a choice the NDP can support.

Third, let us shore up Canada's retirement savings system and help those who built this country to live in dignity in their retirement. Its vulnerabilities were certainly laid bare by the recession. One just had to talk to any senior.

The throne speech did voice concern for workers hurt by bankruptcies, but why did we not see action on that issue in the budget? We need action to put workers first, not just words. So let us put workers' pensions first, as we have proposed, ahead of the banks when it comes to creditors.

Let us take action to strengthen public pensions too, like empowering families to save more through the very best tools available, the Canada and Quebec pension plans. Before we hand one more dollar to the banks, let us bring dignity and respect to the quarter of a million Canadian seniors who are living below the poverty line and lift them out of poverty in one step. We could do that with a $700 million investment through the guaranteed income supplement. That is one-twentieth of what the government would hand to corporations each year. That is a choice that I think Canadians would feel very good about making.

Fourth, let us build our social infrastructure. We can create jobs in child care and in aged care. We can build affordable housing and create opportunities for first nations, the Métis and Inuit. We can improve services that help the vulnerable, that make life more livable for the struggling middle class and that attracts business investments much more reliably than tax cuts do, which is why the throne speech's silence on health care is, frankly, deafening.

With our aging population, we have reached a tipping point. We need to fight for the health care system that we want, public, modern, accessible, and that means leadership on drug therapy, prevention, human resources and seniors care. Simply promising not to cut transfers on health care does not a health care policy make for the future of our country.

Lastly, let us keep the doors of democracy open. Rather than fill the Senate with party cronies, the government should put an end to all questionable and partisan appointments, whether to commissions, boards or Rights & Democracy.

Rather than complicating the access to information process, it is time for government to be more open and transparent to Canadians. That means coming clean about the harm done in the torture cases in Afghanistan, not defying the legal opinions that recommend making the information available. By refusing to release the information, the government is closing the door on democracy.

We also recommend taking steps to keep the doors of the House open by limiting a prime minister's power to prorogue Parliament.

This Parliament has been asked to overcome the old partisan battles. We would do well to honour that call each time we pass through these doors, but that does not mean giving the government the majority that Canadians refuse to. The government needs to compromise. The opposition must be constructive.

New Democrats are challenging the government to make better choices and we are advancing new ideas that will make this Parliament work for Canadians, such as our Nortel bill, a bill that would protect workers' pensions in bankruptcies; our employment insurance bill to make EI accessible to workers again; our language of work bill to respect the rights of Quebeckers; our climate change bill to build hope for a new generation; our early learning bill that would finally create child care spaces; and our affordable housing bill, because having a roof over one's head should be a right in this country. We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent and what we are here to do.

We have not forgotten who we are or who we represent. We must always keep people and families in mind because they are the reason we are here.

We hold firm to our conviction that together we can achieve a green and prosperous future and a better world, with doors wide open to all Canadians.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, at the very least, we hear in the comments of the leader of the New Democratic Party some specific and concrete ideas around the economy, which is something we failed to hear from the official opposition.

Nonetheless, I do have a question and a concern with regard to the ideas around corporate taxes. This is a refrain that we continue to hear from the New Democratic Party. Perhaps the leader of the NDP can comment on the concern I have. At a time in the world when capital is so fluid and when businesses can make decisions as they must, we need a vibrant and competitive economy. We need to attract investment here in Canada. If we simply put off important tax relief for corporations, we would lose jobs. We would see a loss or a vacuum.

Would we not see an evaporation of our corporate tax revenue, not from the tax rate itself, but from the very fact that business investment would be lost?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the debate that is often raised. I think it is important that we look at the facts here. The fact is that we already have a corporate tax rate that is below our major competitors. The problem is that lowering it further would deprive us of the ability to invest in a way that would actually bring more business here with no benefit.

We and others did a very careful study on the impact of these corporate tax cuts, which have been going on every year, year after year, for 10 years under two successive political parties in government. What we are not seeing, which should worry us all and cause us all to reflect on whether this very expensive strategy is working, are increases in productivity and investments in innovation. I have talked to some of these corporate leaders and have asked them what is going on here.

The problem is that quite often they were talking about global corporations that are investing the tax savings we are giving them in businesses far away. In fact, half the time they turn around and close the very businesses that they have bought here in Canada because of our tax rates. Then they shut down the plants and leave thousands of workers in the streets who then must make up the difference for the tax cuts that these companies have taken off to another part of the world.

That is not right and that is why other countries are not making this kind of a mistake. We should not be making it either.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, as the NDP leader can see, the government states very clearly in the throne speech that it is going to remove long guns—unrestricted weapons—from the gun registry.

I believe that my colleague agrees with me that this registry is very important in crime prevention and to the police. Moreover, everyone—the police, women's groups, the National Assembly of Quebec and the Premier of Quebec—is calling for the registry to be maintained.

Will the NDP leader see to it that all the members of his party vote against Bill C-391 or any other measure this government tries to introduce to gut the gun registry?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, we know that the Conservative government is trying to divide Canadians and set rural residents against urban dwellers. That is why the NDP has proposed a detailed policy to reduce violence in our communities and violence against women. We have proposed a whole series of measures that we will continue to pursue, for example, to enable municipalities to abolish handguns in their jurisdictions. We want to control the guns crossing our borders, and we are calling for a meeting of all levels of government on both sides of the United States border in order to address this problem. We have all sorts of other measures. The NDP will not stop trying to reduce such violence and gun violence, because it is a priority for us.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, on page 5 of the English version of the throne speech, it states:

Balancing the nation's books will not come at the expense of pensioners. ...or by raising taxes on hard-working Canadians. These are simply excuses for a federal government to avoid controlling spending.

I believe that misleads the House since the member will know that on January 1 there will be a punitive 31.5% tax on the distributions on income trusts. We also have a significant 9% increase in EI premiums to employers and employees, job killing, as the member knows, that will commence during the first year of the budget. Another example would be the transport taxes that the government is proposing.

It appears, notwithstanding what the government says that it will not be raising taxes on hard-working Canadians and pensioners, that its actions say that in fact it is. I wonder if the member would like to comment.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, those would have been very good reasons to ensure that the budget was defeated but that did not happen, which is hardly a surprise given that the whole process of rapid and unconditional corporate tax cuts was initiated by the Liberal Party in government. Therefore, it is not a big surprise that the Liberals have been supporting it ever since.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Madam Speaker, it is refreshing to hear a speech that talks about making Parliament work for Canadians. It is refreshing to hear a speech that is about protecting Canadian families.

What we do not see in the budget is enough protection for Canadian consumers when it comes to credit cards. The government talks about wanting to introduce a code of conduct for the credit card companies but only if necessary. The gouging that Canadian families are receiving right now is atrocious. With 25% and 19% interest rates, they cannot even make payments because the credit card companies keep upping the interest rates.

The government is refusing to do anything to protect Canadians. I would like to hear what the member opposite has to say about the government's inaction in protecting Canadian consumers.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, due to the configuration of the House, I may be physically opposite but I can assure members that I stand in solidarity with the previous speaker and I thank him for his question.

I noted in the Speech from the Throne that the word “solidarity” was mentioned two or three times in the first several paragraphs. I found myself scratching my head on that one because I do not think the Prime Minister and the government have a clue about solidarity when it comes to standing up for working Canadians.

I am sure the banks and the credit card companies would never say this but probably one of their most favoured things to hear is when someone says, “My credit card is maxed out”. What the people who say that are having to do is expose themselves to these terrible fees, charges and punishing interest rates that are buried in the two point font fine print in their bills.

I know the government has committed itself to increasing the size of the font so that Canadians can know when they are being gouged. That is real leadership in standing up for Canadians. Boy, they must be laughing in those executive suites at the corner of King and Bay, right up at the top of the bank towers. When they look down they do not see people because they are too small to see. All they see is the potential for squeezing out of people billions and billions of dollars in profits. It really is unjust.

I want to commend that member in particular for having taken on the challenge of putting forward concrete proposals to stop the terrible exploitation of hard-working Canadians by those who extract from them such terrible interest rates on their credit cards.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:20 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to share my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I am also very pleased to rise today to share my thoughts, as Minister of Labour, regarding the Speech from the Throne.

I will highlight how my portfolio, the labour program, will play a vital role in helping government deliver on the commitments it has made to Canadians in this important speech.

Canadians want leadership to address a changing world. Through this Speech from the Throne, our government is demonstrating our leadership in addressing Canada's recovery and sustaining our economic advantage now and in the future. The speech sets out an ambitious agenda focused on creating jobs, growing the economy and exercising fiscal discipline.

Over the past three months, in my riding of Halton, I hosted numerous round tables with community leaders, business owners and concerned citizens who gave important feedback on the next steps that this government must take to strengthen Canada's economy. As Minister of Labour, I am pleased to have the opportunity to highlight how my portfolio is called upon to help achieve a better Canada for us all.

The first area concerns returning Canada to fiscal balance. As noted in the Speech from the Throne, Canadians have learned to live within their means and expect their governments to do the same. Along with other departments, the labour program undertook an extensive strategic review to ensure that its programs and activities align well with the government's priorities and address the concerns of Canadians.

One of our government's key priorities is responsible spending and sound management of tax dollars. These tax dollars come from hard-working Canadians. Our government takes this responsibility seriously and feels that its sound stewardship of public funds is a solemn obligation that it has made to all Canadians.

To do this, we embraced three broad objectives: eliminate red tape and streamline service delivery; ensure that planned expenditures are better aligned with needs; and focus on the core mandate of government. With this in mind, the outcome will be a sharper, more focused government than ever, focused on delivering services that are valued by Canadian businesses and workers alike.

The second area of the Speech from the Throne that the labour program directly supports is building the jobs in industries of the future. Building the economy of tomorrow hinges upon creating good jobs and fostering growth. That is how this government will support the economic recovery under way and sustain Canada's economic advantage now and for the future.

Canadian businesses and workers are the driving force behind Canadian prosperity. Accordingly, our government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that Canada's labour force remains strong and healthy and that our businesses remain productive and competitive. This includes removing barriers or unnecessary regulatory burdens. That is why, in my portfolio, we are examining federal labour standards to ensure that they meet the needs of employers and workers for flexible and modern workplace practices.

Our government will introduce additional measures to ensure workers, especially youth entering the workforce for the first time, can effectively transition into the workplace as the economy recovers. We have consulted with stakeholders on part III of the Canada Labour Code, and we are examining options to ensure we create the best opportunities for Canadians in today's workplace.

The Speech from the Throne also indicates that our government intends to explore ways to better protect workers when their employers go bankrupt.

The labour program's wage earner protection program is an initiative of which we are very proud. This program provides timely compensation to eligible workers whose employers go bankrupt or who are subject to a receivership.

Since its implementation in 2008 and the expansion in the 2009 economic action plan, this program has been a tremendous success. For this fiscal year alone, 15,000 Canadians have benefited from the program. That represents approximately $33 million in compensation paid to these vulnerable workers, $33 million that goes directly to workers who are in need through no fault of their own. Our government is committed to helping those in need.

We will continue to ensure that those employees faced with a bankrupt employer are supported, and we will examine how we can better protect workers who are faced with these difficult circumstances.

Trade is another important component of Canada's economic future. We are a country that takes pride in the way we do business with our partners around the world. That is why, in parallel with free trade agreements, the labour program is at the table negotiating labour co-operation agreements.

The government has signified its intent to implement new labour co-operation agreements with Colombia, Jordan and with Panama. These efforts are complemented by ongoing negotiations on additional trade agreements with partners around the world, including the European Union, India, the Republic of Korea, the Caribbean community and other countries of the Americas. All of these will require parallel labour co-operation agreements.

We continue to believe in the importance of these agreements. They benefit Canada and its trade partners and they help level the playing field. They help Canadian businesses and workers prosper.

There is one more area of Speech from the Throne activity that the labour program directly supports. That is the commitment to making Canada the best place for families.

Responding to the needs of families includes ensuring that workplaces provide the flexibility that hard-working Canadians need to meet both their work and their family responsibilities. In addition to that, we want Canadians to have peace of mind in knowing that they can care fully for their family members in cases where one is victimized by crime.

Therefore, we will be seeking to put measures into place giving workers the right to unpaid leave in those circumstances. This will entail making amendments to part III of the Canada Labour Code with respect to workplaces in the federal domain.

I have outlined how our government, and specifically in my capacity as the Minister of Labour, will continue to play a vital role in helping to deliver on the commitments in the Speech from the Throne. I am very proud of the work that has been done to date by my portfolio. Together we are eager to embrace the challenges of delivering on these ambitious commitments for this new session of Parliament.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister came to Toronto a few weeks ago and announced that the G20 would be at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in my riding. Unfortunately, the government made no effort to consult with the local member of Parliament.

Will the minister ensure that there will be quick and fair compensation to small businesses downtown and to organizers of various tourism events that will be impacted, whether it is the Tall Ships Festival, the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival or Gay Pride Week?

The budget mentioned there would be financial support on the security side, but there is not really much with respect to local residents and local businesses to assure them that there will be fair, quick and effective compensation so they will not suffer through the G20 meetings.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Madam Speaker, making the announcement in Toronto was of great pleasure for me on a personal basis.

This year Canada has such a great opportunity to host the world in a number of different ways. The Olympics were a great success, and now we have two very important international gatherings, the G8 and the G20. I am pleased that Toronto was chosen as the city and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as the location.

With regard to the specifics, I have been assured by officials, who I consulted on the day of the announcement, that they are working with the community. In fact, the mayor of Toronto has indicated his support for the G20 being hosted in Toronto, and why would he not?

As one of the officials indicated to me, an enormous amount of media will be at Exhibition Place to discuss and to monitor what happens at the two meetings. The shot will be of the great city of Toronto in the background and the world can see just what a world-class city Toronto is. We will have the ability to lever off that in the future, just like the economic action plan is about helping communities not only now but building for the future.

Hosting something like the G20 in Toronto builds and highlights it now. However, for the future, it promotes tourism, hotel associations and so many good things of which we should be proud, such as the city of Toronto, where I worked for 10 years and I enjoyed it very much. I have many dear friends there. Having the G20 there, with such a high level of attention, working with the community, is incredibly important in terms of safety, security and logistics. We are committed to continuing to do that.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, the word “solidarity” is used in the throne speech and it is an important word in the labour movement right across Canada. We have a strike in Sudbury in my riding of Nickel Belt, which has gone on now for eight months. The foreign company, Vale Inco, is trying to implement its Third World mentality on those workers.

Could the member across show leadership? She probably will tell me it is a provincial issue and the Conservative government will not get involved. However, as an elected official and as the new labour minister, I would like her to show leadership and ask the company to get back to the bargaining table and accept arbitration.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Madam Speaker. I appreciate the question. I come from a labour background. I grew up in Cape Breton Island. I fully understand the meaning of the word “solidarity”. The member knows the answer. Although it is a provincial jurisdiction, I have spoken with the minister responsible in the province of Ontario. He assures me that he is involved in the matter and that the desire is to have the parties come to the best collective agreement they can.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to speak in response to the Speech from the Throne.

It is an honour to rise and discuss the speech particularly from the perspective of Canada's international cooperation. I was very interested to hear our Governor General read the various themes of the speech, especially the elements relevant to Canada's foreign aid and cooperation.

In a time of great need, Canada has been presented with a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of people in the world. I would like to pause for a few moments to praise both the people of Canada for the overwhelming support toward the people of Haiti but also make obvious mention of our Governor General for her role in representing hope and a new dawn for Haiti.

Our Governor General has exhibited deep human emotion and shown a robust mixture of personal and governmental reaction to these basic human needs. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people of Haiti, and of course also to Chile.

As was also stated so clearly in the speech, we are a country whose story is still being written. The story is not just here in Canada but it is across the world. Canada continues to build a solid reputation. We are working diligently ensuring that it is a brilliant story and it continues to show our sterling reputation.

Canada is a country of refuge. Over the last few months Canada has brought some much needed hope and inspiration to the people of Haiti. The reason for our quick action in Haiti is simple, as citizens of the world we recognize we are all in this together. When a catastrophe of this magnitude strikes, it is our moral obligation to assist and let those less fortunate know Canada cares, Canadians care.

For many years Canada has been a beacon across the world. Yesterday in this House our defence minister said:

--within 20 hours, members of the Canadian Forces were on the ground in the wake of the earthquake, assessing needs and delivering help to Haiti.

Thanks to this government's purchase of the C-17 aircraft, load after load of equipment and disaster relief was brought to Haiti. Then over 4,000 Canadians were brought home. We built runways, cleared roads, rescued people trapped in buildings, produced over two million litres of water and delivered almost one and a half million meals. Canadian Forces medics treated over 22,000 patients, delivered babies and performed surgeries.

All Canadians can be proud of our military, our aid workers and our diplomats who responded so compassionately in Haiti.

As a result of the foresight and the action of our Conservative government now more than ever Canada is equipped to make remarkable contributions to all of humanity. Our government has increased our foreign aid budget at a rate of 8% every year, compounded annually since we assumed power.

For this coming year our budget specifies a further $364 million increase. Our international aid is going to reach $5 billion, the highest in Canadian history.

The Speech from the Throne also stated that we are a country and a government that stands up for what is right in the world. We do not pursue the easiest path. What we do is we do what is right. With respect to foreign aid, it is easy to throw some money at every possible project. Regrettably, I must say this was the history of the Liberal Party for 13 long years when it was in government.

However, under the Conservative government we took steps to make our aid more effective and more targeted. Instead of taking the bilateral programs funding and throwing it to the wind, allowing the funding to land wherever the wind blows, we have brought aid, we have brought focus to bilateral aid.

We initiated our 20 countries focus. These 20 regions were chosen by CIDA based on their deep need and our capacity to effectively address those needs. This will make Canada's foreign aid more focused, effective and accountable. Without a doubt, our foreign aid needs to be focused, effective and accountable. Our government has made some difficult decisions, but they were the right decisions.

We have further defined specific priorities: children and youth, food security and sustainable economic development. This is called focus. Canadians want a government that will step up and do the right thing. They do not want a government that just talks about it. They do not want a government that makes decisions based on the trend of the day. Our government has walked the walk and it has stepped up to our commitments.

We have doubled aid to Africa. We are doubling foreign aid. We are bringing our international aid envelope total to $5 billion. Moreover, we will maintain our foreign aid at that new high level.

I would say to the members across the way in the opposition, we have to remember, our story is still being written. If attempts are made to try to score cheap political points by muddying the water or by using misinformed statistics, then that will be written into Canada's reputation.

I look forward to the vote on the Speech from the Throne, which will indicate the cooperation and support in the House. We are accomplishing remarkable things, and we are planning to do much more. If the opposition rises in support of the government's agenda, then this will be Canada's time. This will be Canada's opportunity to turn to the world and show what we have to offer.

If we can put aside our differences and come together in this minority Parliament, allowing the entire nation to see the Parliament of Canada that is in support of the highest level of foreign aid in Canadian history, that is what we will be showing the world. The people of the world will see a Canada that led the relief efforts in Haiti, that is willing to keep on giving.

Last, but certainly not least, Canadians will see politicians of all stripes putting aside partisan games and misinformation, working together for the best interests of Canada.

I will be supporting the Speech from the Throne, and I invite the opposition members to recognize that the government is on the right track, especially with respect to our aid agenda.

Madam Speaker, I would like to digress for just a second and make a couple of personal comments. I have informed the Prime Minister that I will not be running again in the upcoming election. It is with great regret that I make that decision because I enjoy this place, I enjoy the people, and I think that we, as a democracy, are getting things done in spite of some of the things with which we end up fooling around, regrettably, from time to time.

Living in British Columbia and travelling back and forth across the country 26 times a year, you would know, Madam Speaker, coming from Victoria yourself, how much time we spend on an aircraft, which is time that we are not spending with our families.

I have had the privilege of going through six elections, winning a majority in all six elections, so I have had the continued support of the people of Kootenay—Columbia, all of whom I cherish greatly. I do cherish this job, but I cherish my family more.

After 17 years in this place at 68 years of age, I am told that I still have a degree of mental capacity to continue on. I know that I have a physical capacity to carry on, but I came to the conclusion that it was past time that I gave myself back to my family. It is with mixed emotions that I made that decision. This is in the public domain, but I did want to make a statement in the House to that effect and to thank the people of Kootenay—Columbia for their continued confidence that they have shown by their votes in the last six elections.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague on a very long and I am sure dedicated career to his constituents.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question, though. He was speaking about the Speech from the Throne. He talked about the benefits of the Speech from the Throne. Yet, I note that the Speech from the Throne does not contain once sentence, one word, on poverty. Millions in our country live in poverty. How could the Speech from the Throne not address the concerns, the issues, around this very serious problem? I would like my hon. colleague to give his perspective on that.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her very kind comments and respond directly to her question.

If she looks at the Speech from the Throne, it was all about the economy. It was all about making the economy stronger. It was a report of how we as a country have worked our way through these very difficult economic times.

The money the hon. member would have us use to work through the solutions she would have us work toward, vis-à-vis poverty, comes from the tax base. The tax base comes from the economy that is healthy, robust and moving forward.

If the hon. member were to reflect not only on the Speech from the Throne but on the budget as well, she would realize that our government is taking every step possible it can to continue to build a strong economy, so that we can deal with the issues she has stated are very important to her.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for all that he has given to Parliament and I wish him well in his future endeavours or retirement, whichever he decides.

He mentioned Haiti, which was mentioned in the throne speech, and I certainly want to thank the government for putting forth the resources that were needed to assist the Haitian people.

I particularly want to thank my colleague, the NDP MP for Sudbury, with respect to the call that he put out regarding credit card donations being made, 100% of which should be donated. We in the NDP want that to be a permanent thing to ensure that charitable organizations actually benefit from every penny provided through the generosity of Canadians.

I want to ask the member a question with respect to the stimulus dollars. The 2009 budget promised $6.4 billion. In the 2010 budget, and I know it was mentioned in the throne speech, the government said it was committed to the stimulus dollars but in the amount of only $5.9 billion. That is a cut of $500 million.

Had those dollars been invested in the gas tax, municipalities would have had better access to them. I am wondering if the member is in agreement with that. This would have stimulated the economy. I can say that the Gore Bay airport and the city of Elliot Lake would have benefited from that a lot more.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, as you would know and I am sure the member knows, there are many different programs, plans and ways for a government to be accountable. We have everything in place to be accountable to the people of Canada. A government can find about four, five, six or even seven different ways of getting money into the economy at a time that stimulus is required.

I regret that I am not completely familiar with the specific figures that my friend was referring to, but she will note that the level of stimulus money coming from the federal government last year has only been reduced very marginally. It is not until the following year that it drops so that we are no longer continuing to mortgage the future of my grandchildren's grandchildren. We have to be very careful that when we spend money, we are spending it wisely and well, in an accountable way and, above all, that we can afford to do it so that we are not taking money from the economy 10, 20 or 30 years hence.

I would have to take a look at the numbers that she is specifically referring to. I am sure we could have a good dialogue on that.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Speech from the Throne.

I want to acknowledge the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation who just spoke. In the time I have been a member of Parliament since 2004, he has been a distinguished and productive member of Parliament for his constituents. I wish him well as he moves along.

I am going to split my time with the very distinguished and capable hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl. In a second I am going to address a question she just asked, but first, I hope members will indulge me.

We are all very proud of the Olympics. First of all, in my province of Nova Scotia, we have two winter Olympians who are both from my riding. Members may have heard of one of them, Mr. Sidney Crosby, the world's greatest hockey player.

I would suggest that if anyone is looking for role models, we have some great young athletes from Nova Scotia, people like the young Brad Cuzner, who played last night for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who won in overtime against the Saint John Sea Dogs. Brad Cuzner stood up for his teammates.

It is guys like him who look up to someone like Sidney Crosby. People could not pick a better role model than Sidney Crosby. Last year he brought the Stanley Cup to Cole Harbour. Tens of thousands of people lined up to see him, and he took so much time with them.

I also want to mention our other Olympian from Dartmouth, Sarah Conrad, a freestyle snowboarder. The people in Dartmouth are so proud of Sarah. They have followed her progress. The night she competed, which I think was February 19, a crowd gathered at Dave Doolittle's pub in Dartmouth, people like Andrew Younger, the MLA for Dartmouth East; and Darren Fisher, the councillor and a big supporter of Sarah; and many of her friends.

Sarah did not win a medal that day, but she did exemplify the spirit of the Olympics. She blogged that night, and I am going to read a little of what she wrote. After competing in the Olympics and not doing as well as she had wanted, she wrote:

It just wasn't my night, sorry folks. I wasn't quite comfortable in practice and it showed in my runs. Luckily I squeaked through to semis, but fell both runs so no finals for me. I'm disappointed in my riding, but overall we had great night.

She went on to write:

It didn't really matter to me who made it through, I was just relieved that the amazing crowd had a Canadian to cheer for in the finals.

She added:

The support from across the country has been amazing, it means so much. I hope you enjoyed the show, I know I did.

I can say on behalf of the people of Dartmouth and Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, and across the country, that Sarah did great and we are all very proud of her. She came first last year at the Canadian nationals in Mont-Tremblant.

Now I want to talk a little bit about the Speech from the Throne in the time I have left. I want to talk about a few things that in my view were missing from the Speech from the Throne.

The hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl has mentioned the issue of poverty. This is an issue that matters deeply to many Canadians. We in Canada are coming out of a very difficult time. We have been in a recession. Perhaps the biggest problem and one of the great paradoxes of coming out of this recession is that the stimulus program the government put forward did not, by and large, benefit people who needed help the most. The real problem is that the cuts being made to pay for the stimulus program may target the people who need help the most. I think that is a real problem.

The human resources committee of the House of Commons is undertaking a poverty study now. It had been under the distinguished chairmanship of the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, and is now being chaired by the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar. I am sure she will be a fine chair.

The committee has looked at the issue of poverty for some time now, for close to two years. We have a housing crisis in Canada. It is not solved by a little burst of money coming from infrastructure; it needs a long-term, sustained national housing policy. We have not seen that yet.

There is child poverty in Canada. As I am sure members would know that last year, on the 20th anniversary of the pledge of parliamentarians to eliminate child poverty by 2000, Campaign 2000 put out some information that should be a real wake-up call and challenge to Canadians that we need to do something about child poverty and poverty in general.

Yes, we have made strides, and some areas have improved. The guaranteed income supplement, the OAS, and the previous Liberal government's successful focus on and success in ensuring the Canada pension plan have done a lot to reduce seniors' poverty, but there is still seniors' poverty that is really very problematic.

Single people in poverty, particularly women, is a huge issue. We should be putting more into the guaranteed income supplement. We should be doing more to secure pensions. We need to focus on health care, palliative care, home care, and all those things that would help with seniors' poverty. Moreover, children's poverty is still a huge problem for a country as wealthy as Canada. We need to do more.

As a country, we need to embrace an anti-poverty strategy. Six provinces have now committed to an anti-poverty strategy, with varying degrees of robustness. In my province of Nova Scotia, the strategy is not very strong, but I am hoping it will become stronger. The provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba all have a strategy. However, they all say the same thing: they need the feds to step up.

The issue of child care continues to be one on which Canada does embarrassingly poorly. Just over a year ago, the United Nations published a report on the OECD nations that measured how different countries fared on 10 different benchmarks of early childhood services. Those included subsidies for regulated child care services and subsidies for accredited early education services and the training of child care staff. In that survey, Canada came last out of 25 nations.

As one would expect, we were well behind the Scandinavian countries who have invested in early learning and child care in a variety of ways. However, we were also behind Hungary, Slovenia, the U.K., the U.S., Korea, Portugal and many other countries. For a country of Canada's relative wealth and one that I would suggest is going be more dependent than ever on educating our children, we have been a very fortunate nation.

We have been very wealthy. We are a large country with a population strewn largely across our southern border. We are a country that is rich in natural resources. We have not had world wars fought on our land. We do not have the kinds of natural disasters that some other countries do, as seen recently in Haiti and Chile. We have done well, in some cases more by accident than design.

However, we are now facing competition. Countries that used to send their students to us are now educating their own children. Countries that did not invest in innovation and research or child care are doing better than we are. That is a real danger to this country, because the most important resources we have are not the natural resources of our land, but the resources in our classrooms. It is the kids, and it is the adults who need help with literacy.

Our literacy rates in Canada are not good at all. We have some nine million adult Canadians who do not have the literacy skills they need. Four out of ten adult Canadians, representing nine million Canadians, struggle with low literacy. They fall below level three on the literacy scale. These figures are from ABC Canada. We need to invest in literacy for adults who do not have the skills they need to upgrade their own jobs.

A gentleman came to see me a while back. We all meet with people in our constituencies whose stories quite often touch us. This man came to see me and told me that he had worked really hard to get where he was. He did not have a great job, but he could raise his children. He now had an opportunity to improve himself and apply for another job. The problem was that he had to do a test. He could not pass the test and he was worried that he would lose the job he had.

It is people like that, Canadians who want to make themselves better and stronger and more able to provide for their families, who are the kind of people the Government of Canada should be working with. Yet when the government was elected, we saw cuts to our literacy programs. That just does not make any sense. That is not in keeping with a country that is looking forward and saying that it wants to invest in its people. If we are going to invest in our people, it means investing in early learning and child care.

I would suggest as a parent, and I think everybody in the House knows, that children do not start learning at the age of six. Children start learning as soon as they are born, and perhaps even before that. They start learning right away and those first years are really important. Yet there are people across the country who do not have access to child care. The universal child care benefit is not enough; it does not pay for early learning and child care and it does not produce child care spaces.

I would suggest that if any one of us heard of a child in second grade who could not find a public school to go to, who was turned away from a public school and told there were no spaces, there would be an outcry. Any one of us would be offended by that, yet every day in every part of this country kids under the age of six are turned away or put on long waiting lists and do not get the early learning and child care they need.

If we are going to invest in our children, we have to invest in early learning and child care. It is so important. That does not diminish the role of parents in any way, shape or form. I think all of us would say that the best teachers of our children are ourselves, our wives and perhaps a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle. However, many people simply do not have that. We are saying to them that there is nothing for them. In many parts of this country, there are no spaces and if there are spaces, people cannot afford them. We have to do better if we are going to make a serious difference.

I will quote part of the Speech from the Throne that I thought was interesting. It spoke about Canadian families balancing work and family life and said:

our Government introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit....

It went on to say:

Our government will strengthen this benefit for sole-support, single-parent families.

I thought last week when I saw that in the Speech from the Throne that the UCCB was not the right way to look at child care in the country. However, no one thinks there are no parents who need the money, so I thought, okay, maybe the government is going to look at the universal child care benefit and strengthen it, and maybe go to $200, $300, $400, or $500 a month for those parents who actually need help the most. The very next day in the budget the government talked about changing the taxation part of the UCCB. I want to read what it said:

It is estimated that this change will reduce federal revenues by a small amount in 2009-10, $5 million in 2010-11 and $5 million in 2011-12.

Hence, $5 million dollars is the total contribution and the maximum anybody can get is $168 a year. That is hardly anything. We just have $5 million for single parent families versus $100 million for the government's advertising expenses for its economic action plan. There are many other things that we could juxtapose with that $5 million. By any measure, $5 million is a very small amount, particularly when one looks at the need across this country. We need to address those issues.

I also want to speak to international development. Canada has made commitments in international development. I would personally like to see us get to 0.7%, which has been the target that some countries have achieved for international development assistance. In the last number of years, we have seen the government change the way that international development is done. It has pretty much completely moved away from the continent of Africa, where many people need help the most. In this budget it is proposing a freeze on international development.

It is no surprise that when people were asked about that, their response was that it was a real shame, that it is a real problem for the people who need our help the most. Our aid should not be tied directly and only to trade; our aid should be tied to poverty.

In 2007-08, we had Bill C-293 proposed by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood. The purpose of that bill was to make poverty the focus of our international aid. It seems very self-evident and obvious. The bill was passed, I believe by all parties, in this House, and yet we have seen no indication that it is the focus the government is adopting for its international aid.

Like other members of this House, I have had the opportunity to travel internationally. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya with Results Canada, and we saw amazing poverty. This does not diminish the fact we have poverty in Canada in our own communities, and certainly on reserves among our aboriginal populations, and both need to be attacked.

When somebody says to me to think globally and act locally, we can do both. We can make the world better here and around the world.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Madam Speaker, I certainly appreciate the comments of my hon. colleague across the road. I will agree with him on one point, in particular his accolades for our athletes who, though they did not win, participated in a manner that really did us all proud. Their grace, their comportment and pride in their communities was outstanding and certainly a credit to the representatives from his riding and that area of Canada and, quite frankly, all of our country.

The one point I would like to make though is this. He mentioned housing, and I am wondering if the hon. member would be comfortable with the fact that, over the past couple of years, this government has now spent the most money ever in the history of this country on affordable housing, both for seniors and low-income people.

As well, he is talking about so many wonderful programs. We all agree and would love to have a cradle to grave system for each and every person, but there is a cost to everything. The member mentioned the $100 a month for child care that we are putting out, which costs somewhere in the range of $4 billion to $5 billion, and he is suggesting 10, 15, 20 times that. Where is he going to come up with that money?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I do not think the cost of UCCB is $4 billion to $5 billion. I think it is the realm of $2.5 billion, of which, I think, somewhere in the range of half to three-quarters of a billion dollars are taxed back, so the net cost is $2 billion or less.

On housing, what we need is a national housing strategy. There was some stimulus money for it in the budget last year, which some people said was a good first step, but then the minister could not get out of the way fast enough and come running out to say, “Wait a second, this is not a strategy. This is not a long-term policy. This is a one-time thing”.

What we need is not just one-time investments in the physical infrastructure of the country, but long-term investment in the human infrastructure of Canada. Housing could be one of the things that bridges both of those areas, but we need a national strategy for housing, which I think could be part of a national strategy to combat poverty in Canada. We need a long-term strategy that commits money over a long period of time so people can plan and develop initiatives to take advantage of it.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, on February 27, 2010, four days before the throne speech on March 3, there was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in southern Chile. There was tsunami coastal flooding. Two million people were affected by it and 800 people died. There are 138 Canadians, I believe, still missing as a result of the earthquake.

People who are supporting the local Chilean communities in Canada, for example in Winnipeg $10,000 was raised last Saturday night, are asking the Canadian government to match dollar for dollar the personal donations of Canadians for the victims of the Chilean earthquake as was done for Haiti.

We applaud the government's establishing the pattern. I would like to ask the member, would he and the Liberal Party join the call for matching funds for the Chilean earthquake?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, a number of times in the last few years we have seen disasters happen in countries that do not have the wealth that we do and the government on occasion has said it would match the dollars. I certainly support that, as long as it comes from new dollars. We cannot just recycle money that is already in a budget and say that we are going to match donations because that money would come out of some other project that is equally worthy.

After the budget last week we heard Gerry Barr, the president and CEO of CCIC say:

What we got was a turning of our backs on the poorest and most vulnerable in developing countries.

Dennis Howlett from Make Poverty History said:

Now is not the time to cap aid when the economic crisis and climate change are reversing global progress on poverty reduction.

What always happens in Canada and around the world is that when things get tough, the people who are hurt the most are those who are already suffering the most. Those are the people that we need to help the most.

Our development aid has to be consistent. It has to be going on, increasing over a period of time as began under the Liberal government of which I am proud. We should do more. We have a responsibility to developing nations because every crisis that comes along, such as the environment and what is happening in the world, hits the poor a lot more than it hits those who are well off. We have a responsibility to help them.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Madam Speaker, I rise today to address the Speech from the Throne.

The Prime Minister closed Parliament for months as he said he needed to recalibrate. Having read the Speech from the Throne, the government clearly needed more time. Canadians had a right to be disappointed about its lack of direction, the lack of understanding, the lack of a vision in the speech. Seriously, I was very disappointed. But then again, perhaps the Conservative government really needed to calibrate instead of begin the recalibration process. That would mean it would have to plan carefully to have precise use or appeal.

The Speech from the Throne was long on words and short on substance. It was more of the same at a time when the country is looking for a vision. Canadians were captivated by pride during the Olympics at our success. As Canadians, we stood cheering on our athletes, basking in their triumphs. We yearn for a better Canada. We yearn for a stronger Canada, yet the Speech from the Throne did not deliver. As a country we now face the letdown of a lost opportunity.

In a speech that uses the word “continue” 26 times, we were left with more of the same having just come through one of the worst economic downturns in our history. The Speech from the Throne lacks vision and ambition when it comes to dealing with the issues facing the people of our country. It is hard to see how it would make Canada more competitive, more prosperous or better prepared to create the jobs that we need in the future or to protect the pensions that we need for our aging population.

What I did see in the speech disappointed me. Jobs and growth were spoken of on page two of the speech, yet the Conservatives are planning a payroll tax hike which, according to the CFIB, will kill more than 200,000 jobs.

On page five it speaks of balancing the books and freezing departmental operating budgets, yet the amount of money budgeted this year over last year for the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers support and advice is increasing almost $14 million.

It speaks of restoring fiscal balance by eliminating unnecessary appointments to federal boards and crown corporations, yet of the 245 announced cuts, 90% were positions that had not been filled in quite some time. Now how is this helping to restore fiscal balance?

It speaks of aggressively reviewing all departmental spending to ensure valuable and tangible results, yet instead of the value that we should be looking for, the government has cut along ideological lines. At the same time there is record spending on advertising and on consultants.

One of the cuts the government is making is to faith-based groups such as KAIROS that do international development work. KAIROS is a church-based non-governmental organization that represents seven of Canada's largest church denominations. It works on a range of social justice issues, including human rights in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. This organization has received funding from CIDA for the past 35 years and embodies the core Canadian values that we are proud of. It works on poverty reduction, human rights and environmental sustainability. It has done educational and advocacy work in Canada to help citizens become more aware of how they can support Canada's international development efforts.

I have met with people from the St. John's and area council of churches and they are very concerned about these cuts and how they will negatively impact the work being done on social justice issues. I have asked questions on this issue in the House and I intend to do whatever work I can do to make sure that this funding is restored. I do not see this as something that does not have value. When Conservatives cancel overseas developmental assistance to groups like KAIROS and freeze all governmental operating budgets across the board, and at the same time waste money on partisan advertising and hiring more consultants, how is this good fiscal prudence stewardship?

Another concern is that the Speech from the Throne barely addresses seniors and pensions. I held a town hall meeting recently in my riding on seniors and pensions. Approximately 100 individuals and representatives of various organizations attended the meeting and gave their views on a variety of issues. The need for a national summit on pensions was raised. Concerns over the need for adequate increases in old age security and the Canada pension plan were discussed. Immediate necessary changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act were raised.

What did the Speech from the Throne say? It said that the government will establish a seniors' day and continue to work on options to further strengthen the retirement income system. It is simply not adequate.

In another round table I held in my riding on health care, groups and individuals spoke of the changes they would like to see. They spoke of things like a national pharmacare program, the need for home care supports, funding for supports around health care, national standards and accountability, public health, access to doctors. They spoke of how we are going to pay for all the things that we need out of a health care system with an aging demographic and where are the efficiencies that can be found. They do think they can be found in the system.

The Speech from the Throne did not adequately speak to health care. It only said that it would not cut transfers. There is no need to close Parliament for two months to think of that.

Bold action is also needed on poverty reduction in this country. While we live in a rich country, there are many who do not participate and cannot participate in its wealth. In my riding I have met with the Religious Social Action Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, a non-partisan group from a broad array of religions, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others, united in their religious commitment to call on society to eliminate poverty at home and abroad.

The coalition has held a number of public forums in Newfoundland and Labrador, and met with political leaders including our leader, Michael Ignatieff. I apologize for using a name, Madam Speaker.

In the last federal and provincial elections, they called on a candidate to make a pledge to move our society toward greater economic fairness. They point to a growing gap between the richest and poorest in society. What does the Speech from the Throne say about poverty? Absolutely nothing.

I could go on and on about the inadequacies of the Speech from the Throne. Very little is said on the environment. The Northeast Avalon Atlantic Coastal Action Program is a group in my riding that represents community stakeholders on this very important issue. That group is looking to have its funding renewed by Environment Canada. It has been ongoing for a number of years.

That group does advanced projects in an open and transparent form. Unless there is a renewal in Environment Canada's Atlantic priority ecosystem initiative, it will not be able to continue. NAACAP has been very active in the community, raising awareness and changing the views on environmental matters. It has played an important role, for example, in creating awareness about the importance of environmental issues and about the need to clean up St. John's harbour and the challenges facing coastal areas.

I have written to the minister and I hope that the group's funding will be renewed. There is no direction in this Speech from the Throne that really speaks to this kind of mechanism.

In the Speech from the Throne, the government has not taken the bold actions needed to address poverty. There is no action to address the concerns of the environment. There has been little done to assist small business owners. The government has not dealt decisively with the issues facing veterans. When it comes to dealing with health care issues, the throne speech is sorely lacking. There is little in the throne speech about seniors and about pensions. Post-secondary education is all but ignored. Even the national housing strategy is not spoken of.

It is clear this Speech from the Throne lacks vision and ambition when it comes to dealing with the issues facing people in this country.

It is not an own the podium kind of Speech from the Throne. We really need to focus on being a responsible and caring kind of future-oriented government.