Mr. Speaker, when I was casting around for things to say about the throne speech, I found myself recalling a story about a famous writer. She was once asked what she thought about a certain American city, and she replied, “There is no there there.” It is what I feel about the speech from the throne: there is no there there.
The Prime Minister shut down Parliament to recalibrate the government's agenda, and so we had expectations. We thought there would be great visions, great plans for the people and the country, but of course there is none of that there.
Recalibration was a fiction. It was a flimsy excuse from a Prime Minister who gambled on the cynicism of the Canadian people and lost. Canadians saw through it and their response was clear: do not mess with Parliament; do not mess with democracy; get back to work.
Everyone in Canada knows why the Prime Minister shut down Parliament. It was to avoid difficult questions, probing questions about the Afghan detainee issue. Those questions will not go away now that Parliament is back in session. The government can try to cover up the truth. It has censored documents, intimidated witnesses and slandered whistle-blowers.
Now the government is trying to hide behind Justice Iacobucci, but the Conservatives have not asked him to get at the truth. They have asked him to decide which documents Parliament and the public can see, which is not the same thing at all. We still have not seen his written mandate. Justice Iacobucci, for whom everyone on this side of the House has the greatest respect, is the right man, but with the wrong job.
On this side of the House, we have been clear. Regarding the Afghan detainee scandal, Parliament will not be satisfied with anything less than the truth, because that is what Canadians deserve.
Because of prorogation, because of this government's contempt for Canada's institutions, we have a democratic deficit to go with our budget deficit
In terms of the economy, after over two months of prorogation, the government had promised a throne speech focused on innovation and the jobs of the future. The government did not keep its word in that regard either.
In fact, this throne speech will pass into forgetfulness. It will be ignored by history, but it will be remembered for one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of Canadian politics, one of the most remarkable flip-flops anyone in the House has ever seen: a promise to change O Canada that lasted for 48 hours.
When one then thinks about how that could have happened, one begins to imagine what the Prime Minister was thinking. He was thinking that we are in the worst economic downturn in half a century, 1.6 million Canadians are out of work, our pension systems are in crises, Canadian women are making 72¢ on the dollar, and what we really need now are new words to O Canada.
The real question is, having jettisoned one gimmick over the side, what is the next gimmick the government is going to throw away?
The throne speech is just chockablock with gimmicks. At a time when seniors need our help, what do they get? They get Seniors' Day. At a time when some of our veterans are struggling with serious, serious things like post-traumatic stress disorder, what do they get? They get Vimy Day. Do not misunderstand me; we support Vimy Day. My grandfather fought with the units that fought at Vimy Ridge. We support Vimy Day. We support Seniors' Day. But does the Prime Minister seriously believe that these are adequate responses to the problems and challenges faced by our veterans, seniors and families?
On jobs and innovation, the throne speech does not so much hold water as it treads water.
The Conservatives never did grasp the fact that profound changes were taking place in both the Canadian economy and the global economy.
Canada needs to be prepared for a new world. Energy will be more expensive. Pollution will have a price. The Canadian dollar will be worth as much as the American dollar. The expertise of Canadians will become our greatest resource, and the most dynamic markets will be India and China, not the United States.
This is the world our children will grow up in, and they will needs jobs to feed their families. The throne speech fails to address the challenges that await them.
Canadian workers understand the challenges of our times, but their government is not listening.
This throne speech leaves our shared destiny to chance, that is to say, to laissez-faire.
Look at the specific issue of health care about which there is a stunning silence throughout this throne speech. Our families depend on world-class medical care, diagnostics and treatment in every region of the country. Never forget that this is the government that twice left Canadians without a supply of nuclear diagnostics for cancer and heart treatment.
We still have not met the challenge that we face in the health care system in other areas. I want to focus on one issue in particular: access to health care in rural, remote and northern communities, where families have to cope with a lack of specialists, mental health services, pediatrics and care for the elderly. These are real issues and the federal government has a positive role to play here. We have to work with the provinces and territories and our rural communities to strengthen rural and remote health care and we have to start doing it now.
That is the message I got from a consultation that was held in the great city of Guelph last month. If we add on top of that the fact that our population is getting older and our workforce is shrinking, the government will have an increased burden of retired persons to fund and support. The passage of time will make the strain on our health care system more acute and widespread, but rather than meet the challenge, the government has run away.
Getting health care costs under control is crucial. There is a long-term solution; we have been saying this for more than a year. My hon. colleague from St. Paul's has made important contributions in this regard. The long-term solution has to be health promotion, prevention and education. Our goal has to be more health and less health care. However, there is nothing here on health promotion, illness prevention or community-based health, all of which hold a solution to making us both healthier and keeping health care costs under control.
Let us recall on this side of the House the important reputation of a great Canadian, Tommy Douglas. Tommy Douglas used to speak about the second stage of medicare, about keeping Canadians healthy and keeping them out of the health care system in the first place. After about four decades of Tommy Douglas saying that, it is about time we got started.
This is the kind of forward-looking policy that Canadian families expected after two months of what we were told was recalibration. We expected policy that would ease the pressure on Canadian lives, but what did the government offer? Nothing.
For millions of Canadian families, their immediate concern is taking care of an aging parent and paying for their children's education. The government has forsaken those families.
Turning to another issue, we are in the midst of a pension crisis that threatens millions of seniors and older workers. The government's response to this reality is to create “senior's day”. If the government were to establish a day dedicated to everyone they are forsaking, we would have a holiday every day of the year.
When can we expect to see “unemployed workers' day”, “deficit day” or “truth day”? We cannot build the future of our country on such nonsense.
The federal government is responsible for the ties that bind us together as one country, as one great people. The government is casually but also deliberately relinquishing that responsibility in pensions, in health care, in domain after domain after domain, and the country will be weaker as a result. We must do more to give life to the compassion that holds our country together. That is what we will always stand for on this side of the House.
If this throne speech is defined by unmet expectations, it is equally defined by missed opportunities. Nowhere is this more remarkable than in the field of clean energy. One cannot put forward a credible strategy for innovation in the jobs of tomorrow and then ignore clean energy and clean technology. The world is racing into the future and the Conservatives are racing to get into the present.
Nothing illustrates this government's lack of vision more clearly than its total inaction on clean energy. This ideological approach is isolating Canada. In the United States, President Obama is investing six times more per capita than our Prime Minister in clean energy research. As we speak, the jobs of tomorrow are being created elsewhere. We must either act now or spend the next decade wishing we had.
But the missed opportunity of clean energy has direct consequences for Canadian industry and for every Canadian family.
Right now oil is trading at $80 a barrel and the world economy is still fighting off recession. Recovery will spur demand and prices will rise. High energy prices are good for Canada's energy sector, for natural gas in B.C. and Atlantic Canada, for oil and natural gas in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But high energy costs will hurt other sectors of our economy, putting jobs at risk. They will hurt Canadian families, especially when they get that home heating bill at the end of the month.
This throne speech was an opportunity to meet those challenges head on, to assert federal leadership in making Canada the most energy efficient economy in the world powered by renewables tied together with clean energy infrastructure and smart grids. The government could have made renewable power a national priority with coordinated efforts from Ottawa and the provinces, but the Conservatives missed this opportunity too. Last fall the Conservatives actually cancelled Canada's flagship federal renewable energy program, eco-energy, at exactly the time when the United States renewed its comparable program until 2012.