Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.
What a pleasure it is to return to Parliament on this, my fourth time, and rise again in the House.
Let me start, Mr. Speaker, by congratulating you. It has been a tremendous honour and privilege to work with you, and to see you as the Chair is very satisfying indeed. I look forward to your tenure, and I hope it is long.
I remember my first time visiting this place when I was a student from Westney Heights Public School in Ajax. I came here in Grade 8 with a student tour. I was infused by the possibility that this place represented, that people of any background or walk of life could come here and represent their home community and get the opportunity to make a difference. I am maintained by that same optimism and sense of wonder as I stand here today.
I want to say to the residents and voters of Ajax how profoundly lucky I feel and how appreciative I am of the opportunity to serve.
I also want to thank my family and, in particular, my children. Many members know already and some are just finding out that this can be a challenging life for a family. My son Braeson who is 20, my daughter Maia, and my youngest boy Riley have been phenomenal supports in my life. I am so lucky to have them. I am blessed and deeply appreciative to have a wonderful family.
I want to thank my incredible campaign team, specifically my campaign manager Evan Wiseman, Sterling Lee, my friends from Heart & Stroke who were incredible on the campaign, Krista Orendorff, Alex Maheux, Nadia Formigoni. I also want to thank Jules Monteyne, Norma Telfer, Rhonda Evans, Sumi Shan, Surinder Kumar, Humera Khan, Jim and Liz Wiseman, Milan Kubik, Tom Thiru, Dinesh Kumar, Randy Low, Stephanie Ince, and so many others. Much work goes into the opportunity of serving.
When I look at the problems that are facing the folks who live in Ajax, and when I was presented with the opportunity over a period of 100 days, like so many members, to knock on doors and share in conversations about what was worrying them and keeping them up at night, it became evident that basically making ends meet was a major challenge for so many of them, getting the opportunity to send their kids away to school, or pay for the obligations of a mortgage. They faced these challenges but were not earning more money. They had been stuck over the last decade in the same financial circumstances. One of the reasons we have the honour of being able to serve in this place is that we spoke directly to the need of those in the middle class, and those struggling to join it, to be able to get ahead, to be able to get a bit more. That is why the throne speech talks directly about the middle class tax cuts we intend to bring forward to help alleviate that challenge.
One of the things that was deeply concerning for residents of Ajax was their ability just to get to work. I talked to people who had commuting times of over one hour and who were frustrated with an antiquated transit system that was poorly invested in. These people just want the opportunity to get home quickly to see their families. They want to get to work and then go home to the life they want without spending so much of their time in gridlock. They understand that our plan to invest in infrastructure would mean a better life for them. It would mean more time with their families. They also understand that, with a struggling economy, the investment in infrastructure would give us an opportunity to improve our economic circumstance and get the economy rolling again. They understand that infrastructure is the best way we could invest. They saw the chronic under-investment that had been taking place in Durham specifically and the GTA more generally. They saw it as needing a change. Our plan as articulated in the throne speech speaks directly to that ambition.
I also heard a lot—and this relates directly to my opportunity to serve as parliamentary secretary—about the need to conduct the business of government differently. This was materially different in the last election and the four elections that I had run in previously, where people spoke about the tone and tenor of the debate in Ottawa, the high degree of partisanship and the visceral nature of it, the personal attacks rather than focus on matters of substance, and the need for each and every one of us to do better and to do more. For the first time I heard real concerns about the strength of our democracy, watching our parliamentary institutions—parliamentary officers whose responsibility it is to hold vigil over the institutions that keep our democracy strong—grow weak.
I was reminded in this place of my work with the Parliamentary Budget Officer when I was the critic for public safety and national security. I was trying to get cost estimates for bills before we voted on them, asking for something as simple as information on how much something was going to cost before we voted on it, and colleagues, we could not get that. We could not get straight answers, whether it was on corrections, jets, or any other matter. We saw that problem disintegrate, get worse and get deeper.
Our democracy is held strong, not because we are a better country, not because we know more than others, or because we are just better people. It is held strong because of the institutions that guard it. It is made strong because of the parliamentary officers who vigorously provide oversight, who ask uncomfortable questions, and shine lights in dark corners. Our democracy is held strong because of those institutions. It may seem that it serves us in the short-term to allow those institutions to weaken, so that we can hold power or gain advantage, but the erosion that causes is fundamental.
As the former executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, I am also deeply encouraged by the words in the throne speech to take action on preventative health. The reality is that we have for the first time a generation of young people who are really facing enormous poor health. We have had a tripling of childhood obesity in just a generation. We have a tsunami of chronic disease and illness that is going to hit this country unless we take it very seriously.
I can speak for the diseases that I represented, heart disease and stroke, and say that around 70% are preventable. Believe it or not, it is around the same for cancer. We know what we have to do. Therefore, we have initiatives like stop marketing to kids. There is over $2 billion a year spent trying to convince our kids to eat poorly. We have the opportunity to change that and level the playing field, so that healthy food options are given fair hearing for children.
Advertisers have something called the “nag factor”. Any of us who are parents remember this when our children are so crazy for a food product, such as Sponge Bob candies or something, that they nag and nag until we finally give in. We need to change that and level that playing field.
I am also excited for the action that we are going to take in the area of smoking. Canada led the world and was one of the jurisdictions that could be counted on when it came to preventative health. For the last decade in tobacco control, we have been off the field. Our action to take on plain packaging, to ensure that marketers are not able to take advantage of that, is hugely important.
The example that we set in tobacco, and I was referencing this in my comments earlier, are instructive in the debate that we will have on marijuana. Some people want to oppose this debate as if there is not a problem today and to provide marijuana because we people want to have it, which is an absurdity. The reality is that we have a massive failure in policy as it revolves around marijuana.
Our young people are smoking marijuana at a rate of about two times that of cigarettes. Think about that. If we just set as an objective the reduction of the prevalence of marijuana to the level of cigarettes, it would be a massive achievement. It is taking something that is illegal and bringing it down to something that is legal. From a health perspective, we have a phenomenal opportunity to take the lessons of tobacco and apply them to marijuana in order to reduce prevalence, protect children, and at the same time decrease illegality.
It is an honour to return to this place. I look forward to the debates to come. As parliamentary secretary, I look forward to working with my colleagues on all sides of the House in making the institutions that make our democracy strong stronger, and the debate that will come in the days ahead.