Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to inform you that I am splitting my time with my colleague from Essex.
As this is my first full speech in the House of Commons, I want to thank the great people of Courtenay—Alberni for electing me as their member of Parliament. It is truly an honour to represent this great riding, which includes a large section of central Vancouver Island.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you have ever been to my home riding, but I would like to take a moment to introduce you and the members of the House to the land and the people who live there. I will then discuss some of the challenges that they face, as well as the opportunities that we have in relation to the Speech from the Throne.
I know that many members here would champion their own riding as the most beautiful place in Canada. I am confident that the physical geography found in Courtenay—Alberni has no equal. It starts at the beginning in Comox Valley, the islands, and Mount Washington, which normally has the largest amount of snowfall in North America. It stretches down through Oceanside and includes Parksville, Qualicum, and Nanoose Bay. They are beautiful beaches that we all know and care deeply about. It stretches across to the east side, Denman Island, Hornby Island, and Lasqueti Island, and crosses over the Alberni Valley and Mount Arrowsmith to the Pacific Rim. It includes the Long Beach national park, the great beaches of Tofino, and ten Nuu-chah-nulth communities, the nation of Qualicum, and part of the traditional territory of the K'ómoks First Nation.
My story in my riding dates back over 100 years, when my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother in Cumberland. Through my family and my community, I have a deep understanding of this place. I have witnessed the changes, the hardships, and the victories that we have faced together and the challenges that we face today.
The realities of some of the challenges and issues in our riding include climate change, the effects of which are being felt right across my riding. The previous Conservative government refused to acknowledge those realities, but all it would have had to do was talk to the folks at home who were seeing the effects first-hand. Many people who live in rural communities will share the story. The effects of climate change are affecting them now. They include the historic melting of our glaciers and snowcaps. Bob Cole, a lifelong Port Alberni resident, was on CBC Radio in June, talking about how, for the first time in his life, the glacier had melted in June.
Increased flooding and boil water advisories are affecting municipal infrastructure. They are affecting our agriculture and our food security. Major droughts and forest fires are affecting our economy.
People in British Columbia and coastal British Columbia will always say that the health of our salmon is the health of our communities. It rained just in time in August this year, or we would have lost all of our salmon. That is our culture, our economy, and our lifeline.
The ocean acidification in Baynes Sound a couple of years ago killed our shellfish sector. We had Humboldt squid, a foreign species, showing up on our beaches in Tofino a couple of years ago.
This is real. Climate change is here. I am overjoyed that the Liberal government, as evidenced in the throne speech, is embracing a new tone when it comes to climate change, but my constituents need more than a tone of change from their government. They need real action, setting ambitious, accountable emissions reduction targets with annual progress reports for meeting targets enshrined in Canadian law. My colleague, the member for Edmonton Strathcona, presented an opportunity for us to do that just yesterday. It is an opportunity to strengthen Canada's environmental assessment process by including climate impact assessments so that new projects will not derail reduction targets.
We need to highlight the work of environmental protection and those who do it every day, including the Coast Guard. Marine traffic control is a very important issue in my riding. We closed the Tofino and Ucluelet station. That was the station that communicated right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to our American allies. It protected mariners in one of the fastest growing marine areas of the economy of North America.
We are looking at the closure of the Comox station in March. This station is very important to coastal British Columbians in terms of marine traffic safety, because it is it the only marine traffic control centre that is not in a tsunami subduction zone. We know that a tsunami is going to happen. It is not “if”, it is “when”. This is very important.
We saw during the Leviathan II boating incident in Tofino that it was local knowledge and local people that saved lives. Aboriginal people have been ill-equipped with training and equipment to save lives on the coast of British Columbia. The Ahousaht people saved lives in Tofino. People in the Haida Gwaii stopped the drifting Simushir from hitting the shore. People in Hartley Bay saved lives when a BC Ferries ferry went aground on the central B.C. coast. We need to better support these nations and coastal communities.
My community and the communities of coastal British Columbia rely heavily on dealing with derelict vessels and pollution in our waters, as members can imagine, but we have not dealt with that. However, Jean Crowder presented a very good opportunity in the last sitting of the 41st Parliament to deal with derelict vessels. We need national leadership on this to deal with the protection of the environment when vessels go aground and also to make sure that we protect mariner safety.
In my riding and in Canada a whole, more economic activity that works in conjunction with the environment is needed.
Small business is the core of our economy and the natural leader of innovation. We did not hear anything about small business in the Speech from the Throne, and we need to make sure that we do something about that.
Raw log exports in my riding have gone up tenfold in 10 years. That is not double, but tenfold. This is deeply affecting the economy of Port Alberni and Vancouver Island, and future generations.
One-third of the children in Alberni Valley are living in poverty. This is unacceptable to everyone in my riding. It is unacceptable to everyone in this House.
We have opportunities to invest in innovation. In Sweden they are making car parts out of wood. This morning a forest company announced the opportunity to make biofuel out of wood. This is the kind of innovation that we need and that we can embrace, but we need the government's help to do so.
We have opportunities to invest in emerging sectors such as tech. The tech sector is the fastest growing sector in British Columbia.
What better place to have higher learning, with a natural surrounding like Courtenay—Alberni and the west coast?
We need to improve the role of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans so that it is doing its job and gets back to its mandate to protect our wild salmon. We need boots on the ground so that we can help with the return of our salmon in coastal British Columbia.
We need support for infrastructure, especially for BC Ferries.
I am hoping that the House will support these important calls to action.
On social challenges, as I began to express, one-third of the children in Port Alberni and in Alberni Valley are living in poverty. Seniors in Oceanside and throughout our riding cannot get access to doctors. This is unacceptable.
Getting back to Alberni Valley, the life expectancy there is four years lower than the Canadian average. It is 40th in the world, just above the Dominican Republic. We have some work to do. Affordable child care would really help make a difference in the lives of people of Courtenay—Alberni.
We need a seniors strategy. Having the highest median age for seniors in my riding in the nation, I see firsthand the results of not having a seniors strategy, and not having a strategy for dementia and Alzheimer's. It is important that we do that.
We need better support for mental health and for veterans. We heard this every day at the door, as well as the impact of a failed economy on our youth, and youth unemployment. We need to ensure that our young people have an economy that will take them into the future, and make sure they have a living wage and an affordable place to live.
There are opportunities for us to move forward, and I would like to talk about some of those opportunities, working in collaboration with first nations. Often the wealth of our country starts in rural communities, but it leaves rural communities. We need to have shared prosperity with aboriginal people, and with all of our communities.
In recent years, the Nuu-chah-nulth won a very important court case in the Supreme Court of Canada: the right to catch and sell fish. This decision was awarded to them, but still the government has refused to sit at the table with the Nuu-chah-nulth people and negotiate fairly. I call upon this new government to do just that: sit and have fair and reasonable negotiations.
I am excited to bring a message of hope, optimism, and love from Courtenay—Alberni. I hope that the House will embrace our challenges, that we will stand together and work on our challenges together with ridings across this country to make sure we build a healthier, better, more prosperous Canada.