Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour and a very humbling experience to make my maiden speech in the House of Commons today.
I would like to thank the good people of my riding of Parkdale—High Park, who have put their faith and trust in me to be their representative. I am committed to serving as the voice of my community in Ottawa and not the other way around in serving as Ottawa's voice in my community.
I also want to thank my family. My mother Sultan, my sister Shakufe, and my father Lutaf have been mentors, advisers and guides for me my entire life. They taught me about working hard and instilled in me the confidence to dream and dream big. Without that foundation, I would not be here in the House today. I also know that my father takes great pride in the fact that today, the date of my maiden address in this chamber, is also his 74th birthday. Happy Birthday dad.
I am also the proud father of two young boys, Zakir and Nitin, and the lucky husband of a very incredible woman Suchita, who is my best friend and also my rock of support. My ability to publicly serve is directly linked to her sacrifice for which I am eternally grateful.
On Friday afternoon, we heard the throne speech and that speech outlined the government's priorities for the first session of the 42nd Parliament. It embodies the change Canadians voted for on October 19.
Today, I would like to talk about three distinct themes in the Speech from the Throne.
The first distinct theme is the idea of welcoming dissent. Dissent is not something to be feared. It is something to be welcomed. It is only through vigorous debate and the challenging and testing of ideas that better, more responsive, and well-formulated policies can emerge. Our new government is committed to welcoming, and not stifling, dissent. We have moved to immediately unmuzzle scientists so they can speak freely and openly about the impact of climate change. That is a change welcomed by the many members of the scientific community in my riding, but also the large number of environmental activists in Parkdale—High Park. One example is Green 13, which is doing incredible work to promote awareness about environmental sustainability in my community.
An unfortunate pattern, however, emerged over the past decade, where charitable organizations that dared to challenge the government's position were subjected to heightened scrutiny by the Canada Revenue Agency. We believe in venerating our civil servants and the work they do, not using them as the strong arm of the government. Importantly, our government is committed to allowing charities to operate free from political harassment so they can make an important contribution to public debate and the development of public policy.
Our government is also determined to restore $150 million in funding to the CBC.
Institutions like the CBC must and will be protected precisely so they can continue their excellent work in holding government to account. Our government also welcomes evidence-based, rather than ideology-based, policy. We do not fear facts, even if they do not corroborate or correspond to our world view. We welcome data that will inform our decision making. I note with great pride that the very first act, 24 hours after our new cabinet was sworn in, was announcing the return of the long form census.
A second theme also emerges from the throne speech delivered on December 4, and that is the theme of governing by consensus rather than governing by decree. Our new government believes that unilateral decision making is poor decision making and that we will eschew that kind of model. A case in point is the Prime Minister's decision to convene the first ministers in Ottawa one week before the Paris environmental summit. That first ministers meeting was held one month after the October 19 election, but it was the first such meeting convened by a prime minister in the country in five and a half years. The difference is palpable.
Our new government believes that to effect good policy and to be responsible stewards of this federation, one needs to engage all levels of government. Take, for example, infrastructure investment. Our government has committed to making significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure. This includes investments in affordable housing.
We will meet with municipal governments and leaders who are on the ground tackling these issues everyday. In my riding, strong entities like Parkdale Community Legal Services and the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust are intimately familiar with the challenge of affordable housing. Their voices will be heard by our government.
The voices of opposition members will also be heard.
Our government is committed to a new era of non-partisanship and with a fresh crop of hundreds of newly-elected members, including me, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make this happen. Parliament can be a more effective institution. So too can the committees that inform our work. Our government is committed to strengthening the committee process by ensuring standing committees are better resourced, have stronger chairs, and are, on the whole, less partisan.
As I have heard time and time again in my riding, the residents of Parkdale—High Park want their elected representative to put the needs of their community and, indeed, the needs of ours country ahead of the needs of any political party. I am committed to doing just that.
The third theme that emerges from the throne speech is restoring Canada's leadership and international reputation. On election night, the Prime Minister said to the rest of the world on behalf of Canadians, “We are back”. As evidence, I would point to a few examples from the throne speech.
Canada is back on the international stage as a nation that takes seriously the threat of climate change and the responsibility of western-developed nations to lead the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our government has already committed $2.65 billion to assist developing nations in combatting climate change, and people not only in my riding of Parkdale—High Park but around the world have, once again, taken notice.
Canada is also back with a government whose policies are informed by our humanitarian and compassionate traditions. I say this in reference to our commitment to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, a commitment welcomed by the caring residents of my riding, who also know and appreciate the terrific work being done in their community to settle newcomers by entities like Romero House and CultureLink.
This commitment is not large in terms of the overall number of Syrians displaced. We should all know that some four million Syrians have fled their homeland, but it is a large commitment in terms of its symbolic value. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has singled out Canada as a model for other western nations to follow in terms of responding to the largest single humanitarian crisis our planet has witnessed since the Second World War. Other nations are watching and learning best practices from Canada again about how to craft a compassionate refugee policy.
I am not objective when it comes to that issue.
I came to this country as a Ugandan-Asian refugee in 1972, fleeing the dictatorship of Idi Amin. I was a one-year-old baby at the time. I was accompanied by my four-year-old sister and my parents, who were in their late twenties. We benefited from the compassion of the government of that era and the generosity of Canadians who, from coast to coast to coast, opened up their hearts and their homes to 7,000 Ugandan-Asians like me simply because they cared and they believed it was the right thing to do.
Canada did not only offer up a new community to us, it also offered up to us new opportunities, opportunities to work for my parents, opportunities to study for my sister and I, and opportunities to one day give back.
I take great pride in standing before you, Mr. Speaker, as the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, charged in part with the stewardship of another national refugee settlement project 43 years after my very own from Uganda.
I will take even more pride when the day comes, and I know it will come, when a Syrian-born refugee, welcomed into this country in 2015, one day takes her place in this esteemed chamber and addresses her maiden speech to your successor, Mr. Speaker.
The throne speech echoes the theme of Canada's restored leadership on the global stage in one further but vitally important way: our role as international leaders in the promotion of tolerance and diversity.
I am not only a refugee, but also a Muslim.
Again and again, we have heard the Prime Minister reiterate that in Canada we are strong, not in spite of our differences but because of our differences. This message took on particular resonance over the past several months, as anti-Islamic rhetoric increased, was legitimized and entered the mainstream. This crescendoed after the horrible attacks in Paris a few weeks ago, retaliatory acts occurred not only at mosques in Peterborough, Hindu temples in Kitchener, and against non-Muslim Canadian women wearing scarves pulled over their heads to simply protect them from the cold. It showed us that we were all victims of intolerance, non-Muslim and Muslim alike. More important, the response of our government in the face of that intolerance was to challenge it, to fight against efforts to pit Canadians against one another and reaffirm our collective commitment to the values of inclusion, tolerance and pluralism.
The reactions of Canadians to fight back against those acts of intolerance were manifest and they were noted by people around the planet. They caused bewilderment in other parts of the world. In countries that are continuing to struggle with ethnic tension, they wonder how Canada gets this great multicultural experiment right. We do not get it perfectly, but we do it far better than most other nations.
I believe that these incidents reveal two things: that intolerance unfortunately still exists in this country, but more important, the capacity and the will of Canadians to overcome such intolerance, through acts of caring and acts of community, is infinite. In my view, the highest calling of any government is to serve as a catalyst for such acts of community building. In community building we are actually doing nation building on the basis of values of tolerance, inclusion and diversity.
That is an endeavour that is not without its challenges, but I am confident that our government will rise to the occasion. Canadians, and indeed the world, are watching. We will not let them down.