Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House on behalf of the people of Beauharnois—Salaberry. First of all, I want to thank the people of my riding for the confidence they showed in me. I will defend their interests every day. I also want to thank my family, my friends, my precious volunteers, the staff of Baie-Saint-François school and my dear students, who encouraged me throughout the election campaign.
Communities like mine did not just choose a new member of Parliament. I humbly accept, of course, the mandate they have given me to work constructively for the NDP and with all the members of this House to achieve tangible results.
I have talked with people who cannot get to sleep because they are so worried about their retirement income. Our seniors cannot make ends meet any more because their income has stopped rising. Beauharnois—Salaberry is in the Montérégie region, which holds the North American record for the greatest increase in the number of seniors. Some of them want the guaranteed income supplement increased and they want it made automatic. Many did not know they were entitled to it until they heard about it from friends.
The government should therefore be fairer and more transparent in its delivery of guaranteed income supplement benefits and it should ensure that our seniors no longer live under the poverty line. All socio-economic areas will feel the effects of our aging population, including health. According to figures from Quebec's health department, hospital visits in Quebec have increased by 3.5% since 2010 and the number of patients aged 75 or older has increased by nearly 6%. In case the government has not noticed yet, there is a shortage of medical care all across the country.
I have spoken with people in my riding who cannot find a family physician, who wait in emergency rooms for more than 17 hours, on average, or who wait months to see a specialist. Specialists are very hard to find in Beauharnois—Salaberry and it is hard to attract them there.
Finally, has the government ever taken an interest in the tough lives of nurses? When will it make the necessary investments to deal with the shortage that forces them to work overtime in order to ensure that patients have continuity of care? This is very worrisome. The Conservatives should strength the public health care system instead of trying to privatize it, which not only widens the gap between rich and poor but also leaves our health care professionals overburdened. Increasing the number of doctors and nurses in the system, as proposed by the NDP, is a social investment that absolutely must be made.
The people of Beauharnois—Salaberry are also very critical of the government’s lack of leadership on social housing. There has been a housing crisis in Quebec since 2000, and the situation has hardly improved at all for large and low-income families. The vacancy rate in several municipalities in my riding was around 2% in 2010. The government knows very well that this rate should be at least 3% in order to have a balanced rental market. Otherwise, there is a housing shortage.
There is a need for hundreds of new units for the riding, which is one of the poorest in the region. Access to affordable, safe, clean housing is an important factor in someone's level of health and it has a direct impact on the reality of homelessness. However, the government seems completely indifferent to this reality, since the latest budget does not include any investments in social housing. This is the first time in 10 years that the federal government has not allocated any money to this area. For Quebec, that is a loss of $85.6 million compared to the last two years, which is the equivalent of 1,200 affordable housing units.
Furthermore, the Minister of Finance has once again refused to increase the budget allocated to fighting homelessness, which has not been indexed in eight years. Yesterday, I spoke to representatives of the PACT de rue organization. They told me that the government needs to create a homelessness policy in order to develop an overall vision of the phenomenon and take concrete action. The fight against homelessness must be considered a collective responsibility. The Réseau solidarité itinérance du Québec has developed a platform to advocate for and defend the rights of the homeless who are excluded from society and marginalized. This year, the Nuit des sans-abri will focus on the right to a decent income, which includes improved access to employment insurance. It will also focus on five other rights, including the right to occupy public spaces.
Our community organizations are very proactive in the fight against homelessness.
For example, over 30 local organizations implemented a housing service for youth between the ages of 14 and 21 who run away from home or are forced to leave home, in order to help them reintegrate into an environment that has been deemed acceptable.
Since April 1, 2008, the number of youth who have benefited from the program has doubled from 14 to 30 per year. It would be to the government's advantage to focus on prevention measures for youth rather than focusing on its tough on crime agenda and investing in prisons.
I have spoken with other people who have lost their full-time jobs and now have to deal with unstable part-time jobs with no benefits. The Conservatives' lack of action in this regard is exasperating to many families in my riding. In just seven years, over 2,200 jobs were lost in Beauharnois—Salaberry. Yesterday, the Rio Tinto Alcan recasting centre in Beauharnois contacted me to tell me that 10 more jobs may be lost in the coming months.
The number continues to grow since the government decided to close the border crossing in Franklin in April.
In so doing, not only has the government eliminated jobs and decreased civil security, it has also negatively affected tourism in the region and thus the region's economy, since visitors will no longer come to this area, which is well known for its magnificent orchards.
People in the community have not yet managed to wrap their heads around this decision, particularly since the American government is planning to add more border crossings. The government should talk to the Americans before hurting the economy of its own people.
Here is an example of a third situation in which the Conservatives' choices leave something to be desired. Last Saturday, I met with one of the employees responsible for visitor activities at the Lake St. Francis National Wildlife Area. She indignantly explained that the Canadian Wildlife Service, which falls under Environment Canada, cut over 60% of their budget. Rather than receiving the $24,000 it usually receives every year, the park is expected to provide the same visitor services and educational services, do the same monitoring and maintenance and produce the same outcomes with only $10,000 over the coming years. It borders on the ridiculous.
Is the government aware that the team that works at this national wildlife area provides environmental education through water activities that do not leave an environmental footprint, creates good jobs, develops positive and lasting relations with the Mohawk people on the Akwesasne reserve, and helps to promote tourism in the region? If so, how can it choose to take funds away from a environmental protection organization that does so much good for our region? The government's attitude is unacceptable and disrespectful.
Finally, in my riding many people are disappointed that Ottawa is subsidizing major polluters instead of standing up for the environment.
People who live near the U.S. border along New York State have been waiting for three years for the government to intervene in the Westville dump issue. People are worried because the landfill site is being expanded to six times its current surface area, which could end up depriving 100,000 people of drinking water in the event of an environmental mishap.
The dump is just above a water table that supplies the Upper St. Lawrence area. It is easy to see how the project might have disastrous consequences for people in terms of health, property value and contamination of farmland and ranchland.
In 2008, a coalition against this landfill project was formed and more than 6,000 people signed a petition. The government still has not taken charge of the situation or defended the interests of the people of my riding.
We are an official opposition that has its priorities in the right place and does not hesitate to defend them. We will propose practical solutions for families and we will oppose the government whenever it makes bad decisions. We will work together to achieve tangible results that will put the country on the right path. I will stand up for the well-being of all my constituents.