Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the people of Don Valley East for providing me with the privilege of speaking in the House.
My riding is a remarkable community. It is very diverse culturally, in education and in professions. There are so many differences in my community, but despite all of these differences, we have the same set of values. We believe in values that unite us, like that hard work pays off; that education is and should be a top priority; that if people are sick, we come together and pool our resources to make sure they get the help they need; and making sure that our country remains clean and our environment is protected. The most important value I have picked up over the years is that, when we stick together, we are stronger and better for it. These are the values that make Canada and my community work.
I have the opportunity, due to my community's support, to come into this chamber through the democratic process and reflect those values in the House. We put those values into action by making decisions. Each of us has a choice we can make every single day. It is about choice. When we really cut away everything else, at the end of the day we are sent here to make decisions and choices for our communities. The word “choice” is important when it comes to democracy. It is an important word in the House, and every day those actions we take and choices we make eventually set a tone and become government policy and law.
We are here to make decisions and choices, and when our choice is not aligned with our communities, we know what happens. Communities eventually boot us out of office. We have an opportunity here to align with our communities. I can tell members that when it comes to the fall economic statement, I am very aligned with where my community is, and my community is aligned with the position I am taking in the House.
I am proud to support Bill C-32. I grew up in a community where, despite all of the big differences, people worked together and stuck together. It is a community that has many different types of housing: low-rent and subsidized housing, Toronto Community Housing and low-cost condominiums. There is an array of different styles of homes, and we all live together.
Some people are struggling in my community. I grew up in a neighbourhood where young people went to school without lunches. Growing up, I saw young people not getting the support I did at my house. I saw and picked up on these things. I come from a neighbourhood where many of the young men I grew up with did not graduate high school. By the time I was 21, I must have known at least a dozen young men who were murdered in my community due to street violence. I picked up on these things and took note. It was for these reasons I originally ran to be a school board trustee when I was almost 30 years old. I saw inequity in society and I wanted to take the values that were instilled in my community and look for ways to bring them into forums like this.
I saw many young people with limited opportunities. We are able, in assemblies like this, to create opportunities for people by the decisions and choices we make. I was pretty lucky. I had my mother and father, aunts and uncles, cousins and lots of friends. My lunch was packed for me when I went to school and when I went home, there was a warm meal. I was a lucky person. I did not have to think about the next meal or being safe at night. I did not have to think about those things, so I was able to look for opportunity.
It was because of government programs like student assistance that I got to go to university. I was the first person in my family to go. On whole my street, there were two guys who went to university, and I was one of them. I was lucky to have that opportunity, and it was because of government programming. Once, when I was growing up, my family was threatened with being thrown out on the street by the landlord. We went to the legal aid clinic, and because of the government programs, my family was safe.
One of the first jobs I ever had was subsidized by the government, like the student summer jobs program. I could go and get some experience and take that experience and grow. It is because of those programs that I was able to go off to university and serve my community as an MPP and then as a member of Parliament here in the House of Commons.
At the end of the day, we are opportunity-makers. What we do in this House is create opportunities for people. We create opportunities to make life better for people, and we make opportunities more abundant to them. We have choices. Eventually, with the decisions we make here and the tone we set, there is a tipping point at which it becomes government policy, so I am proud to stand in the House of Commons and support Bill C-32, because I know it is going to create more opportunities for the people who need them.
We just came out of a pretty rough financial situation and COVID. The financial sector on this planet was shocked. COVID changed the entire trajectory of how we do many things. Economically, it has been very challenging for Canadians and for the Canadian government.
Back in 2009, when we went through an economic challenge here in Canada, the Conservatives were in power, and Stephen Harper had choices to make. They decided to take a different route from the one we are taking today. The route they took was to cut programs. They sent out a blanket statement to the ministries, telling them to cut 10% to 15%, or whatever they could, from the departments. They cut literacy programs that were aimed at adult learners, and they did something that shocked Canadians during that time period, changing the rules of eligibility for seniors to receive their pension and moving the age from 65 to 67.
Here we are today in the House of Commons, and a bill is being put forward by this government and the finance minister to look at ways to strengthen people by providing more opportunity. The Conservatives have a choice. They have a choice to support people. I would say without question that the greatest resource we have as Canadians are the people who make up this great country, yet we see the Conservatives voting against things like dental care. Members can imagine having a $1,200 per family dental care program for the kinds of kids I grew up with. I would have been eligible for that program when I was a kid. The way the Conservatives have been talking, I can only presume they are going to vote against Bill C-32.
There is a $500 subsidy for some of the people who rent apartments and need help. The Conservatives are going to vote against that.
We talk about programs like child care, which can save families $10,000 a year. The Conservatives will vote against that.
In this bill is the elimination of interest on student loans. I had a student loan. The only way I could get to Carleton University was to take out a loan, which ended up costing me $57,000. I paid it back, and I was proud to pay it back, because it provided me with an opportunity to eventually be in a place like this with my fellow colleagues, representing my community. We all have choices.
When I was a very young man, I got to hear Nelson Mandela speak in the House of Commons. Yesterday I was learning a bit more about choice and politics in general, and I came across this great quote by him: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
The Conservatives need to stand up and align themselves by choice with their communities, stop using fear as the motivator to separate people and use hope, as I think Bill C-32 does, to bring people together. We should create opportunity and hope, so the next generation of young Canadians, and Canadians today, have the opportunity to build a better country.