Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mount Royal. It is a great honour for me to give my first speech in the House with my parents and my wife, Regina, in attendance.
I would like to thank the people of Pontiac who gave me a strong mandate and the privilege of representing them. I promise that I will serve them with determination, energy and integrity so that they can be proud of their federal MP.
The throne speech made our Liberal government's democratic vision for a dramatic change in Canada's political identity very clear. We made a specific commitment to listen to and work with other stakeholders and jurisdictions at community, municipality and first nation levels for the benefit of our country and our region in west Quebec.
My challenge will be to represent not only the diverse voters in the suburbs of Aylmer and Gatineau, but also those in rural Pontiac, who have so often been forgotten in the greater national capital region.
Together with my three Liberal Party colleagues in the Outaouais, I will help develop a regional approach based on improving social and environmental infrastructure.
I will stand up for rural Pontiac, which has so often been forgotten by the national capital region. We are going to develop a brand that is based on our wilderness, our farms, our forests, our arts, and our indigenous communities. Our people are our most precious resource. I will listen to them. I will listen to the diversity of Canadian voices that seek to define and redefine our electoral system, that strive for equality and who seek to defend our right to a healthy environment.
Over the past few months as I criss-crossed this rural riding I had the opportunity to listen to concerns far and wide. The simple fact is, our Canadian economy is not delivering for Pontiac. It seems to most of the people I speak with out in the country that our economy is stacked in favour of those who already have the most resources and those who live in big cities.
A vision of Pontiac has emerged as I have spoken with people, from Cantley to Chelsea, westwards along Highway 148, down through Shawville, Campbell's Bay, Fort-Coulonge, all the way out to Allumette Island and Rapides des Joachims. That same vision is one I hear when I go up the 105, all the way up past Low and Kazabazua, Gracefield, Maniwaki, the whole valley of Gatineau. People want economic stability. They want jobs. My job, and the job of my colleagues in the Outaouais, is to help deliver for small businesses, bring forward this vision from our Speech from the Throne and deliver infrastructure projects and new job opportunities.
The Pontiac is a place that is steeped in history. It is a place that was first inhabited by the Anishinaabe, the Algonquin people. This is a great indigenous nation that has experienced many difficult changes. It is now time to invite reconciliation with the Anishinaabe people to address our colonial past and unceded territorial claims. I say meegwetch to the communities of Kitigan Zibi and Barrier Lake for working with me to achieve this reconciliation.
Since the 1600s, the Pontiac has also been home to agricultural settlers, traders, and foresters of European descent. Irish, English, and French communities live side by side in harmony. It is one of the most bilingual regions in our country. It is such a diverse community, and now it is home to some of the newest Syrian families in Canada. We are very proud of that.
Standing behind a vision of Canadian unity, the Pontiac people have had strong federalist roots for many years. So many people in the Pontiac serve our entire country working for the federal government in the civil service.
Thousands of federal civil servants are devoted to helping the federal government create a better Canada.
The Pontiac is a huge playground. We have the Coulonge falls and rafting on the Ottawa River. There is tremendous potential for a new national park. Among other attractions in our region are the Gatineau valley with its many cottages and Nordik Spa, one of the best in North America.
The Pontiac is a land of forests, lakes, and rivers that provides a livelihood for so many residents and abundant opportunities for recreational activities. It is a land of agriculture. It is a land of forests.
The Pontiac has a proud tradition of local producers, both small- and large-scale farmers who supply food to markets in the Outaouais, as well as Montreal and Ottawa. Our best restaurants are just 20 minutes from Ottawa. They offer a local menu, sourced from farmers in the Pontiac.
However, all is not well in the land of Pontiac.
Canadian society is less egalitarian than it used to be. Income disparity is increasing. Our government's throne speech clearly acknowledges that.
I am worried. Actually, I am outraged by the economic situation in the Pontiac. It is unacceptable that some areas of the Pontiac and the Haute-Gatineau have some of the highest poverty rates in the province of Quebec. Our region has been too long forgotten.
Our region's unemployment rate went up after the mills shut down. Our seniors living on fixed incomes and our young people are having a really hard time. On top of all that, there have also been massive cuts to the federal public service over the past decade, as well as to employment insurance.
Pontiac families today are stretched in so many directions, and so are their budgets. Out of pocket costs keep rising faster than wages. I hear this everywhere I go.
A single mom in Shawville talks about juggling a job and raising three kids. If only her child assistance payments were increased, it would ease that situation. Our government will be there to help.
There is the grandmother in La Pêche who works around the clock providing child care to her three grandchildren. She is proud of her work, but the pay is barely enough to pay the rent. She needs affordable senior housing. Our government will deliver.
There are the young entrepreneurs who dream of opening a small business but are hampered by substandard Internet connectivity and cell phone access. Our government will help.
All these trends are real and not going away, but they do not determine our destiny. The choices that we make for our nation and for Pontiac matter. The choices we make over the next four years will set the stage for the middle class and those who aspire to join it in western Quebec.
Our region, the Outaouais, needs a boost. That is why it voted in Liberal MPs and a government that will be able to raise employment rates, improve economic development in the region and restore respect for the public service, our workers and our seniors.
I am committed to working with the people of Pontiac so that, together, we can protect and respectfully and sustainably develop our natural resources. Our lakes, rivers, forests, and agricultural lands are the pride of our region. They unify us, serve as a source of well-being and prosperity and define who we are.
I would like to conclude by saying that I look forward to hosting an economic summit, bringing together all of the municipal and regional governments of our riding. I look forward to bringing together all of these small businesses and all of the communities who want to work together to build a better Pontiac.
I hope the next four years will be the best the Pontiac has ever known.