Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Northumberland—Peterborough South for splitting his time with me.
I would like to thank the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country for putting their trust in me to represent them as their member of Parliament. I thank all the donors and the hundreds of friends, family members and volunteers who put in countless hours. I thank my husband Larry Gray, my son Daniel Gray, my immediate family and all of my friends. It was a family decision, and it was a huge family effort.
Kelowna—Lake Country is a wonderful mix of urban and rural, and we are one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada, which creates opportunities and challenges.
We have a diverse mix of businesses, including farms, wineries, microbreweries, aerospace, film and animation, and arts and culture. We have tourism and outdoor recreation, including lake sports, golfing, hiking, cycling and skiing, all at our back door, along with sports fishing, shooting and hunting.
Our largest employment sectors are professional services, health care, technology, trade and construction. We have a thriving municipally owned airport, the 10th busiest in Canada, as well as Okanagan College and the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
I would like to step back for a moment to bring forth the reasons I decided to run to become a member of Parliament, which go back over two years.
The Prime Minister came to Kelowna to speak at a town hall at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, and I went there as a Kelowna city councillor to hear the Prime Minister speak. I am sitting, in this House, the approximate distance from the Prime Minister's seat that I was that day.
After hearing the Prime Minister answer question after question about the tax changes he was proposing at the time, which would negatively affect families and small businesses, as a mother and small business owner myself, I knew first-hand how out of touch the Prime Minister was. It compelled me to run.
Let us not forget that at the time of these proposed small-business tax changes over two years ago, 35 organizations from across the country came together in an unprecedented way to form the Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness, a unified voice to oppose the federal government's tax proposals.
President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Perrin Beatty, said, “I've never seen an issue that has generated greater concern among our members.... To make matters worse, allotting only 75 days for comment in the midst of the summer holidays is not a consultation. It's a stealth attack on farmers and family businesses.”
Not all the originally proposed tax changes were implemented. However, many were, including changes to passive investments and income splitting.
I have spoken with thousands of constituents in my riding across Kelowna—Lake Country who have been negatively affected by the small-business tax changes. There are farmers who cannot retire, families who are paying considerably more in personal income tax and spouses who had to go back to work and stop volunteering at their children's school.
One family's story really resonated with me. They had to make the tough decision last year to not buy RESPs for the children. These are real people, with real-life situations. I rose in this House a couple of days ago to ask the government to repeal these tax changes and, in typical fashion, the response from the finance minister was out of touch with how these failed policies truly affect people.
In addition to being engaged in the community every day, I door-knocked for an entire year. Come snow, sleet or summer heat, I personally knocked on over 30,000 doors and with my incredible team of volunteers, we knocked on over 55,000.
We talked to people on their doorsteps, and I realized that the concerns I had with the government were not mine alone. I heard many issues consistently across my riding. People were not just concerned, but they felt as though their voices were not being heard.
Their concerns included the rising cost of living, overall affordability, mental health and addiction on our streets, the desire to work hard and get ahead, constituents in the resource sector losing their jobs, business tax changes, government red tape, infringement on personal freedoms and rights, clean air and water and cumbersome temporary farm worker procedures.
Kelowna is experiencing an addictions crisis that affects our entire community. Mental health and addiction is a topic I have personally spent a lot of time focusing on by meeting with individual residents, community groups, government officials, treatment homes, first responders and health professionals. It is clear that there is little focus on building a system of care that includes treatment and recovery. Constituents and neighbourhoods are feeling like their concerns are not being heard.
We need to hold criminals accountable for the flow of illicit fentanyl. We need laws that target criminals and keep them off our streets, and we need to better equip our police. We need to focus on helping Canadians struggling with addiction through recovery and prevention. This is a gap. There is nothing in the throne speech addressing this.
We need to amend the Canadian drugs and substances strategy and fully implement actionable items that address getting people out of addiction, including direct funding for addictions treatment and recovery centres. I implore the government to make this a federal priority.
Tolko Industries in Kelowna announced the permanent closure of its mill, meaning that 127 people who were laid off recently will now add to the mill's total of 217 permanent jobs lost. This brings the total jobs lost in the forestry sector in British Columbia alone to 4,000. These are well-paying jobs that support families in our community.
I have spoken to many people in the forestry industry and their message is similar: There is not a lack of renewable resources available and the costs and regulations associated with provincial and federal governments are making it more difficult to operate.
There is no mention of the softwood lumber agreement in the throne speech. Canada has filed trade complaints against the United States in the past and has won. However, when our local companies pay tariffs up front, it adds substantially to their immediate costs. The federal government needs to negotiate a softwood lumber agreement to end this dispute, give certainty to the industry and get people back to work.
My community of Kelowna—Lake Country is strongly tied to the prairie provinces economically. I meet people every day who live and work between B.C. and Alberta in the oil and gas sector. We used to have direct flights from Kelowna to Fort McMurray. Those have been cancelled due to the economic downturn. The throne speech says nothing about what the government is going to do about getting people back to work. We need to ensure that we have stable regulations within the energy sector in order to attract and keep investment in Canada. We need to get people back to work.
It does not matter whether they are students, families or retirees, I hear from people every day about the affordability of everything. I saw with all my door-knocking where multiple generations are living together, as many people are trying to figure out how they are going to get ahead. We need to keep taxes low while at the same time not get further into debt as a country. People are concerned about paying higher taxes in the future to pay off debt for decisions being made today by the Liberals. There is nothing in the throne speech that talks about when we are going to get back to a balanced budget.
Something that is important to my constituents in Kelowna—Lake Country is to protect our watershed from invasive zebra and quagga mussels. There is nothing in the throne speech about protecting water sources. When these invasive mussels get into a lake, they change the ecology, basically taking over, making beaches unwalkable in bare feet and attaching onto infrastructure in water. Many people get drinking water from our lakes. A study showed it would cost $40 million per year in the Okanagan alone in economic losses and direct costs to manage if these get into our lakes.
I had the honour of chairing the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which is the organization spearheading this in British Columbia. We met with the fisheries and oceans minister here in Ottawa to elevate the issue when the invasive mussels presented themselves just south of the border in the United States and moved west to Manitoba. The allocation of resources from the government was nominal and it did nothing to protect the Okanagan basin or western Canada from these invasive mussels progressing west.
Last, I am honoured to have been asked to serve as the shadow cabinet minister for interprovincial trade. This will bring the voices of Kelowna—Lake Country and British Columbia forward at an elevated level to hold the government to account. The free movement of goods, services and people across provincial borders is imperative. Red tape stifles business. We have free trade agreements with other countries but not within our own country. As an entrepreneur working in the British Columbia wine industry for 27 years, I saw first-hand how interprovincial trade barriers made it challenging to expand markets within our local British Columbia wineries.
It is no secret that our country is currently divided. Internal trade disputes have escalated between provinces, creating uncertainty. The government must take national unity seriously, reduce regulations and free up the movement of goods and services.
My commitment is to continue to be active and engaged in my community while being a strong voice in this House for the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country.