Madam Speaker, it is an honour today to rise to speak on Bill C-63, which would amend the Budget Implementation Act.
Before I get started, I want to give a quick shout-out to my mother. It is her 70th birthday and I am far from home. I say, “Thanks, mom”.
A year ago, I tabled a bill, Bill C-312, for a national cycling strategy. In our country, we have seen soaring health care and infrastructure costs and we need to address our greenhouse gases. In the spirit of Bill C-312, I biked across my riding this summer. My riding is 8,500 square kilometres that consists of 10 nations, seven municipalities, and three regional districts. I had an opportunity to engage people in communities. I visited over 28 communities and had over 20 town halls. My speech today is really a reflection of what people wanted to see in the budget, what they want to see happen in their communities, and what they did not see.
The government likes to talk about a robust economy, job creation, and a growing economy, but that is not being seen in my riding of Courtenay—Alberni. In fact, it is the opposite. Raw log exports have gone up tenfold in 10 years in the Alberni Valley, for example. Port Alberni has been identified as the city in British Columbia with the highest poverty rate. A third of children are living in poverty.
My riding needs a marine economy that works for it. We need to rehabilitate the sockeye salmon fishery. It was in a critical stage last summer and the decline of the stock has cost the local economy millions of dollars, but the multiplier effect is in the tens of millions of dollars. We need urgent investments in stock enhancement, rehabilitation, and salmon protection. The government likes to tout its oceans protection plan, but in its coastal restoration fund, it forgot places like the Somass River, which is critical for the sockeye in British Columbia. It is the third-highest returning river basin in coastal British Columbia.
There are great opportunities to create jobs in the port, which is the only deep-sea port on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The Port Alberni Port Authority has put forward some excellent projects that we hope the government will consider. They would create thousands of jobs in my riding. This is a place that had the highest median income in Canada in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and now has one of the lowest median incomes in Canada. The people of the Alberni Valley sent buckets of money to Ottawa when times were good. They are hoping they will get the same return, and they are not seeing that when they need it the most.
There are excellent opportunities in the aerospace sector. In my riding, there is a global leader, Coulson Aviation, which is selling firefighting expertise and technology around the world. It is that Canadian story, where it is not doing business here in Canada because of regulation and because the government is not doing local procurement. We need government to act on opportunities within our communities.
My riding has a great university, the Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences, which is helping to unlock the potential of the 1.2 million Canadians who are out of work or injured in the workplace. We need to make this a priority. This would grow the GDP in our country, help empower people, give people hope who need it the most, and get workers back to work who have been injured in the workplace.
Seniors in my riding and across the country are demanding support for pharmacare, health care, affordable housing, and home care. My riding has an aging population, one of the highest median ages in the country. It is an urgent situation and we need support for initiatives and these important needs. Affordable housing is a huge issue in my riding as well. The spillover from Vancouver is going to Vancouver Island, Victoria, and Nanaimo. It is now going to rural communities, where housing affordability is becoming the biggest issue. The government made an announcement that it is investing $11.2 billion over 10 years in affordable housing, but when we look at it closely, it is $20 million in the first year and $300 million by the next election. That is giving people false hope about the government's real commitment and real change to grow the middle class and help those who are not in it. This is urgent.
There are situations that are of serious and immediate concern. We have an opioid crisis, a fentanyl crisis, that is impacting our communities. In Port Alberni, for example, the Port Alberni Shelter Society, which is a group of people who are relying on local funds to open an overdose protection centre, needs urgent funds from Ottawa to keep that going. It is calling upon Ottawa to make sure this is identified as a national health emergency so that we can help combat that crisis.
We have great people in our communities who are working with people on the street. I have cited case studies here in the House about the cost-effectiveness of putting a roof over someone's head versus having someone live on the street. We know it makes sense.
People are concerned in my riding. They are concerned about the economy. They are concerned about social development and infrastructure. They are concerned about climate change. Floods, forest fires, storms, and seasonal changes are having a significant impact on our environment and our economy.
One thing that I noted on my journey, when going to the remote indigenous communities in my riding, was the people who are earning $235 a month on income assistance in rural communities with 70% unemployment. That is unacceptable. In many of these communities, people have to travel to the grocery store, which is 45 minutes to an hour and a half away. Therefore, for people living in Hesquiat, it is $50 each way to go to the grocery store just to buy groceries. That leaves them $135 to get by on for clothing, medicine, and to survive. This is taking place here in Canada.
Fortunately, on October 1, John Horgan and the B.C. provincial government implemented an increase of $100. However, people are still left with $335 to pay for the water taxi to get to the grocery store, and we know they are not buying fresh food because they cannot afford it. This is at the same time that the Nuu-chah-nulth communities have been in court for over a decade. They had won their court case for the right to catch and sell fish, but the Government of Canada appealed that decision. It appealed that decision twice, not once, and twice it was thrown out by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Instead of doing what it promised to do, which was to work on a nation-to-nation basis, it appealed and fought first nations in court. This is the same government that says that its most important relationship is with indigenous people, yet it is fighting them in court.
People earning $335 a month are not looking for a handout, they are looking to do business with Canada and be a partner in Canada. That is the word from my friend Curtis Dick. My friend Ken Watts quoted his father the late George Watts, who said that they are just looking for “their rightful place in this country”. These are communities that cannot access the fish that are swimming right by their villages. They can be part of this great story of Canada. They just want to feed their families. They want to grow an economy that works for everybody, and be a partner in this nation. They run on the principles of isaak, and that is respect. That is how they have approached Canada.
Canada needs to come back to the nations with the same respect. They need to get to the negotiating table and invest money. However, in this budget there is no money to give back to the nations. They have spent $12 million instead of investing in programs because their food, economic security, and rights are a priority for them. Why will the government not, as an urgent priority, at least get the money they have spent in court back to the nations and stop spending taxpayers' money? Canada must have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the very people with whom it says it has its most important relationship. As a priority and a way of life, the people of Nuu-chah-nulth live by “hishuk ish tsawalk”, which means “everything is one”. In their traditional territories, which they call their ha-houlthee, they treat everyone as one, and everything is interconnected. When the Leviathan II went down, these same people were pulling $5 and $10 out of their jars to buy gas to go and look for people from another country who were missing, because we are all interconnected.
It is time for Canada to do the right thing, to invest in ending poverty in these nations, and end these discriminatory policies of the past. I hope the government is listening today.