Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here as the voice of the very unique riding called Kenora. Today, I am going to speak on behalf of the Kenora riding, which is a third of Ontario's land mass. It is one of the largest rural ridings in our country. It is unique in that I represent 55 communities, but 42 are first nations, so that is a third of the first nations in Ontario. Because of that, we have some unique challenges as northerners and rural Canadians.
I want to remind the House that 20% of Canadians live in rural Canada. They make their living in agriculture, mining, forestry, tourism, and of course some of the service industries that we all know of. As a rural caucus, we have been talking to the government about announcements related to infrastructure. If we want to grow our economy and to grow Canada, we are going to have to find ways to be successful in putting in infrastructure and the improvements that rural Canadians expect, so they too can be competitive in a new generation of technology and where work has to go.
I will use the example of broadband and the push by the rural members of our caucus to convince the government to not only hear us but to move toward making those changes. In today's economy, we cannot do business in rural Canada without modern technology. Without modern technology, the reason that people leave the rural parts of Canada to move to the cities is obvious. They go to school or they are looking for employment. It is very difficult to make business decisions when the modern, more basic technology that most people take for granted does not exist in northern Ontario, and in lots of parts of rural Canada.
I want to start by highlighting our progress so far. Over the last two years, Canada's economic growth has been fuelled by the hard work of many Canadians combined with historic investments in people and in communities. Therefore, it is exciting to know that since November 2015, we have created a significant number, some 600,000 new jobs in Canada. That is something we should all rejoice in because that is what we are here in this place to do. Whether as members of the government or in opposition, we are here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to improve the lives of Canadians both in our own ridings and across the country. It is good news, and we should rejoice that we are leading the G7. We should feel good about this accomplishment. The unemployment rate is the lowest in 40 years. We should see that as a significant accomplishment and one that shows the government's policies are having an impact.
However, I do not think it is fair to say that everything is government related. It is all about whether businesses and Canadians in general have a view that they can progress and prosper, and whether they agree with the kinds of policies and direction that a government is taking.
Canada's strong fiscal fundamentals mean that our government has the confidence to make the investments in our future that will lay a solid foundation for the next generation of Canadians. I have said in most of my speeches, in the riding in particular, that every decade or two decades or so, Parliament and Canadian parliamentarians have to conclude that it is time to reinvest in Canada's infrastructure and its development, and to spend the resources to prepare the next generation to be competitive.
I see this budget, as I have seen the last two budgets, as being from a government that is looking long term and to the future. I want to make sure that the government, when it looks long term, thinks about the reality that more people will move to rural Canada in the next generation if the technology is in place for them to be there. Most of us who live in the north live there because we like the lifestyle. We have a tradition and a culture that is different from that of urbanites. We want to keep our children there and keep working there, and we need the technology and the infrastructure. We need the support of Canada, and the Ontario government in this case, for these things to happen.
I will just use the example of my riding, which is a bit unique. Out of the 42 first nations I represent, as of today 22 are still isolated. They have no roads. If one asks the question, “Why are first nations in regions like mine not having the opportunity to create an economy?”, it is pretty simple. They have both hands tied behind their backs as far as building an economy goes. They have no broadband, no infrastructure such as roads, bridges, or grids to these communities, and are still basically living with the technology of 100 years ago, so it is not hard to imagine why it is a challenge. It is one that this government is working very hard to change in first nation communities.
I commend the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Indigenous Services for working as hard as they have to change the perspective and the opportunities of first nations people in ridings like mine. Without the help of the governments to develop the infrastructure everybody already has in urban Canada, ridings like mine will not progress and build the economy we have a right to have, like every other Canadian.
I call on the Ontario government. There is an election coming, which is great, and I hope to see northern policies coming out of the different parties that reflect the needs of northerners and rural Canadians in the province of Ontario, which I happen to represent.
I want to talk for a few minutes about the uniqueness of this budget. The uniqueness of this budget is really about looking to the future. Part of that is about making sure women can enter the workforce in many different ways. We have put significant amounts of dollars in this budget to move women to a place where they have more opportunity to participate in the economy. That is good straight economics. There is no fancy way to put this. If we can get more women in the workforce and equal pay for work of equal value, we can all rest assured that they can compete with men at any level. That is basically the premise of this budget.
However, I want to remind people, those of us who have daughters who are now young women with great educations and the opportunities to be successful, that we have to put the tools in their hands so they can be. This budget works toward that. We have the most educated women in any country in the world, so there is absolutely no reason why they cannot be successful. This gender budget is really about putting in the pieces to see if this can move to the next level. This is not to say that we have not gotten anywhere, because we have gotten a long way down the road, but we still have a long way to go.
With the few minutes I have left, I want to end my speech today talking about issues important to all Canadians. As people know, I represent a region—not a riding—the size of France. In that large region, we have the most fresh water of anybody in Ontario, if not North America. If anyone were to take a little ride on an airplane with me across this vast region, they would see that it looks like there is more water than there is land because there are lakes and rivers everywhere.
I am very encouraged that we are now looking to scientists to give us advice on water quality and the importance of water. Most of my constituents around the region, quite a few of them, are in the tourism business, and it is all about water. Not only is it important for us to leave our children with a pristine environment and a Canada they can be proud of, but it is also good economics to make sure the environment is protected. When we go fishing we want to catch a fish we can eat. When we go boating we want to go swimming without worrying about getting some sort of disease from the water. All of these things are extremely important to northerners, who I see as the people who think about the environment every day because we live within it.
I want to congratulate the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Science for some of the work we are doing on the scientific side of things. I just went to the International Joint Commission's conference the other day, and I learned a lot about science and what we are doing. I want to commend them for that.
I look forward to the government continuing to see rural Canada as a great opportunity for economic opportunities for Canadians.