Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Québec.
I am very pleased today to be finally taking the time to properly thank the voters of Honoré-Mercier and my family. I especially would like to congratulate them for their courage and explain to the members of this House what I mean by courage.
It is true that a wave of hope and enthusiasm swept across Quebec and Canada during the election. There was a true desire for change that benefited the NDP candidates, the bearers of modern, fair and effective ideas and solutions.
It is also true that this wave was created by the hard work of our leader, supporters and MPs who, in the past 50 years, have built the reputation of the NDP. This wave was fuelled the work of supporters, candidates and volunteers in the ridings, who increased their efforts during the campaign.
For me, this election has an additional meaning. The fact that I am here before you today says a great deal about the evolution of Canadian society. Although some people's right to vote is still an issue elsewhere in the world, here, many women from visible minorities were elected under the banner of the NDP.
When the voters of Honoré-Mercier put an X on their ballots beside the name of Paulina Ayala, they knew very well that they were voting for a Latin-American woman. I salute their courage; they were not afraid. That is the state of Canadian society, a society that is no longer afraid to accept differences, to choose representatives from minorities, and to share the benefits of Canadian democracy equitably.
Fear could have been enough to stop the wave or diminish its force. Naturally, some were counting on this fear of change which, at the last minute, can paralyze the collective imagination and maintain the status quo. But fear did not grip Quebec voters. On the contrary, attempts to frighten the population led to a backlash. Voters were united in their rejection of politics that would deny the modernity of Canadian society—a society that is complex, diversified and unique and does not settle for imitating its neighbours or isolating itself from part of the world.
Therefore, I thank and congratulate the voters of Honoré-Mercier for their courage and for overcoming the intimidation, prejudice and tactics. They did their part in the election of young people, women, immigrants and aboriginal people, who will greatly enrich Canadian democracy. I am proud to have been carried here by this wave of modernity.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say hello to my dear friends, the students at Henri-Bourassa secondary school in north Montreal. They have always inspired me with their curiosity, their pertinent and sometimes incisive questions, and their ability to debate and to express their often well-informed opinions.
I was very passionate about my career as a history teacher, because it was for them, my students, whether in Chile or Canada, that I threw myself into this new calling. I taught history to young people because I wanted to help them understand that the past sheds light on the present. This will help them take control of their future and find their place in tomorrow's society. Young people are optimistic about their future. They are aware of the challenges that lie ahead regarding the environment, social equality, protecting democracy, respect for diversity and promoting distinctness. They want to help us overcome these challenges, but we have to listen to them.
I have talked about these issues many times and at great length with young people. They inspired me to be the best teacher I could be. They also inspired me to get into politics. They were among the first to believe in me. Since I often told them the importance of getting involved in society, they are the ones who said to me, “You talk to us about democracy and social involvement. We agree, and we think you should also get involved. You should go into politics.” So then I went back and told them I was running. The pride I felt from having lived up to their expectations and ambitions is what kept me going during the campaign.
Young people expect us to make wise decisions on their behalf. I accept that responsibility. That is my real mission here. I would say to all my colleagues that the choices we make today will mainly affect young people, who will be quick to judge our actions.
As the first Chilean woman to be elected to the House of Commons, I feel it is my duty to remind the members of a bit of history and highlight the important ties that bind Chile and Canada.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every Canadian who supported the rebuilding of democracy in my country without the use of force or military intervention. By supporting civil organizations, Canadians allowed my people to stand up by themselves, to take democracy into their own hands, to organize themselves nationally and internationally and, finally, to reach their goal. That is how today's Chile was built, with the pride of a job well done. If not for international support that was respectful of the people's values and goals, Chile might still be a dictatorship today.
Canada's foreign policy should be guided by this type of example as the government chooses where and how it will intervene. Supporting civil society, not using military force to intervene, will ensure success for democracy and international peace.
The battles that I fought in my country have shown me the true value of democracy and respect for human rights. I will do anything to protect these fundamental values for all Canadians and to remind everyone that torture is shameful, that peace is not built with weapons, and that support and assistance for civil society will allow a country to evolve.
I would like to remind the hon. members that the American continent, including the Caribbean, is made up of 51 countries. It includes more than 800 million people as well as countless cultures and languages that share a history as well as geography. This physical reality links the destinies of all the peoples who live here. A continent such as ours cannot develop only on the basis of trade and the movement of goods and services. That is a short-term view. Ideas and ambitions must also move freely. Individuals must enjoy their neighbours' respect and welcome as they move about.
Thus, people who want to contribute to the evolution of our Canadian culture ought to be welcome. Unfortunately, the reality is that temporary visa applicants are often perceived as opportunists, liars who claim to want to visit our country, but secretly plan to stay in Canada without satisfying the eligibility criteria. Canadians can travel, visit and discover, but Latin Americans have to prove their attachment to their country of origin. They have to pay for their visa application, which is often denied and never refunded.
While it is true that bureaucracy complicates the visa granting process, the primary problem is that there is a certain culture of doubt, which, for the applicants, is seen as contempt. This culture hurts people and responds to them with uncertainty and far too often with rejection. For all proud and well-meaning individuals, this experience tarnishes their image of Canada.
As soon as the government determines that the visa applicant's situation is technically less than advantageous in his country of origin, an official can decide that the visa application is misleading, a Trojan horse meant to infiltrate Canadian society and take advantage of all the benefits it has to offer.
There is the recent example of the ballet theatre troupe from Haiti, a group of artists who were applying for a visa to tour in Quebec and Canada. Not only was this a good opportunity for a cultural exchange, but this culturally-based initiative was meant to be a fundraiser for Haiti. Like many artists, the members of this troupe did not have an economic profile that was deemed satisfactory and their visas were denied. There are many examples like that one.
It is time for this to change. It is time to build relationships based on respect and trust. It is time to build one America from north to south. It is time to live up to our standards as a society based on the right of law. It is time to see the good in people, especially our neighbours.