Madam Speaker, my first words in this House must be those of appreciation for the privilege and honour of representing the riding of Erie. I would like to thank its voters for their trust and confidence without which I would not be here. I am aware of my responsibility to my constituents and indeed to all citizens of this country and I hope I will be equal to this task. I will not forget where I came from or who put me there. I will advance their position from the highest government in the land. I cannot deliver perfection but I can deliver accessibility, honesty and integrity.
On a personal note I would also like to thank my wife, Sherrie, and my children, Megan, Patrick, Alanna, Andrew and Sarah, for allowing me this privilege. I will endeavour to keep their personal sacrifices as minimal as possible.
I wish to congratulate you, Madam Speaker, on your appointment to this esteemed office of which you are most worthy.
I would further like to take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. member for Welland-St. Catharines-Thorold on his election as Speaker to this 35th Parliament, a position of honour and responsibility unequalled in this House. I have enjoyed his sage advice over the years and regret the non-partisan aspect of his office now denies me the privilege of his counsel.
I further wish to congratulate the mover of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the hon. member for Bruce-Grey, and the seconder, the hon. member for Madawaska-Victoria, on their addresses.
It is indeed a great honour for me to be in this Parliament, especially under such an honourable leader as the Prime Minister. It is a pleasure for me in my maiden address to introduce the riding of Erie to my fellow members of Parliament.
Having been born and raised in Erie it seemed only fitting that on finishing my formal education I would return to Erie. For many years I served on a great number of local committees and boards. This exposure to local issues and people made my decision to enter federal politics a little easier. I believe that Erie deserves the best representation possible in Ottawa and I hope I am worthy of that responsibility.
As some may gather from the name, Erie riding follows the north shore of Lake Erie, one of the fine Great Lakes. It extends from the border town of Fort Erie in the east to the western boundary of the regional municipality of Niagara. It is a rural-urban riding encompassing the city of Port Colborne, the southern portion of the city of Welland, as well as the towns of Fort Erie, Pelham, West Lincoln, and the township of Wainfleet.
This is only geography and does no justice to describing the heart of this riding. Erie riding was blessed with many Canadian riches. Our history, agricultural climate, economic potential and traditions in my humble opinion are unparalleled in any other part of Canada.
Many historical battles of the War of 1812 were fought on Erie soil. Erie also saw the likes of William Lyon Mackenzie during the Upper Canada rebellion of 1837 and the Fenian raids of the 1860s.
The early settlers of Erie were joined by the United Empire Loyalists, a group of people dedicated to what would later become the Dominion of Canada. Over the years our riding was further blessed with healthy immigration from all European countries and most recently from the Pacific Rim. There has also been lateral migration from other areas of Canada: from the west, from the maritimes and from la belle province de Québec , all attracted by the lushness and opportunity that Erie offered. The riding indeed reflects the multicultural heritage that makes our country so strong. I hope I may embody some of their independent, industrious and enthusiastic spirit as I work for my constituents and dedicate myself to community and country.
On the very eastern boundary of Erie riding is the Niagara River which divides Canada from our neighbour, the United States. Our proximity to the American border offers us opportunities for trade and industrial development that will help enhance and diversify our economy well into the 21st century.
Apart from the historical significance, development potential and beauty of the riding, the moderate climate and fertile soil have made Erie famous for its fresh produce, bountiful orchards and vineyards. The Niagara region is one of the best grape growing regions in the world and forms the basis of Canada's wine industry. Poultry and dairy farming represent a solid mainstay in Erie's economy as well as that of our nation.
The climate and charm of Erie attracts a great number of tourists who come to enjoy the water and beaches of Lake Erie, to browse through our heritage museums and historic sites, to marvel at the ships plying the Welland Canal, an integral part of the St. Lawrence seaway system, or just to enjoy the pleasant surroundings and chat with our friendly residents.
Due to the rural nature of my riding many Erie residents embrace a traditional way of life. This lifestyle is rooted in their heritage and must be preserved. This preservation is a goal of mine during my first term in office. I support the maintenance of
rail and postal services to these people. I am happy to be a member of a party that also encourages the rural way of life.
I would be remiss if I did not commend the Canadian public for taking the opportunity of electing a majority Liberal government. They knew that the Liberal Party was a party with a plan, as we heard in His Excellency's throne speech. It is obvious it is the priority of this government to put unemployed Canadians back to work, to give them back their pride in employment. Erie riding is struggling with an unemployment figure of approximately 15 per cent of the work force, an unacceptable level.
The throne speech outlines several initiatives that are fundamental to this new Parliament, a new Parliament I may add that is in a position to make a real difference to Canadians. These major proposals impact on every community regardless of a member's political affiliation and follow the themes of integrity, economy and society.
Integrity in government is an issue that must be dealt with before we begin debating our significant reforms. The conduct and ethics of Parliament will determine how such debates are carried out. We will achieve little unless members are permitted the courtesy to voice their concerns.
In his address to this House on Monday the Speaker stated:
Yet perhaps never in our history have we enjoyed a less favourable opinion on the part of. . .Canadians.
Before anything meaningful can be done in this House we have a duty as representatives to earn the confidence and trust of our fellow Canadians as we conduct our business.
Our government, as promised, is committed to integrity and honesty. We have proposed cuts to members' services and allowances, reduced political staff, the elimination of perks and the reform of MPs' pension plans. The recommendation of the appointment of an ethics counsellor, legislation to bring lobbying out in the open and reform measures to give members of Parliament and House of Commons a greater role in Parliament are very refreshing and very necessary changes.
As a newly elected member of Parliament I am quickly learning how complex many constituents' requests are, but I would suggest that when circumstances are beyond our control we deal forthrightly with the constituents in question.
We are all individuals representing distinct ridings. Therefore it is unlikely that we will agree with every proposal and perspective in this House. Nevertheless we must respect other views and accept the outcome as decided by the greatest number of members.
On Tuesday this government announced its plans to create a more active economy. This goal is desired by all Canadians.
As I mentioned before, the Erie riding embraces the creation of jobs through such programs as the renewal and expansion of infrastructure. I am pleased to say I have already corresponded with Erie riding mayors regarding the steps already taken by this government to initiate renewal at the local level.
I applaud this government for its swift action on launching and obtaining agreements on the infrastructure program.
Another change announced yesterday was the replacement of the goods and services tax or the GST as it is commonly known. It is one of the most reprehensible taxes ever imposed and Canadians have demanded its discontinuation. We cannot impose upon Canadians something that is so vehemently objected to when we have been chosen by them to communicate and reflect their views. This is an arrogance the government does not need.
The youth of our country are our greatest asset. However, as the father of five children I am well aware of the growing despondency of our youth with respect to their futures. I welcome the creation of a youth service corps and a national apprenticeship program which will give more direction and employment to our children and youth.
I was also particularly pleased to see so many initiatives designed to strengthen the fabric of this nation which will continue to make our fine Canadian society the envy of the world.
The environmental assessment act will be well received by all Canadians and the benefits of this act will be appreciated for generations. Representing a riding that is affected by the Great Lakes I hope to see measures within that act to continue to clean up our waters and to prevent further pollution.
In the short period of time I have held this office I have heard from my own constituents as well as many others across the country who are deeply concerned about crime, justice and personal safety.
This government announced its intention on Tuesday to foster safer communities for all Canadians, especially for women and children. I do not believe that any Canadian, male or female, should be apprehensive about his or her safety. However, I know that this fear exists and is real for many. I am pleased to be part of a team that believes the problems of criminal justice and the penal system are deserving of attention and action.
In the area of aboriginal affairs I welcome the announcement that the implementation of inherent aboriginal self-government
will begin. Erie riding has a substantial urban aboriginal population and I look forward to learning how self-government will impact on this community.
As I sit in this Chamber among my colleagues I realize that despite political affiliation we also have the same goals of doing the best job possible for the constituency. Many great members have come and gone before us with similar ambitions. I salute all of those who have come to this place to represent Canadians. As we all know, it is not an easy task.
A great man once stood in this House and in his maiden address said: "I suggest that the time has come for action. We have a tremendous opportunity-the people of Canada look to us; the people of Canada trust in us; the people of Canada are counting on us; in heaven's name, let us not fail them". That man, a predecessor to the free spirits who now sit in this House, was Mr. Tommy Douglas. Mr. Douglas had a vision of a new Canada. I hope that within ourselves each of us also has a vision.
It is fitting to begin this Parliament at the start of a new year for this is the time when resolutions are made. In a recent letter received from Rural Dignity of Canada there was a quote from a 4-H publication. It reads: "May the thoughts in our heads blend with the compassion in our hearts, to guide our hands as they safeguard the health of those things we care most for: our loved ones, our communities and our world, throughout the coming year".
I encourage members to keep these thoughts in mind and in action in the months and years to come as we work for Canadians everywhere, as we work for a strong and united Canada. And when at some unknown future time we leave this Chamber for the final time we can proudly hold our heads high and each of us will be able to say: "I made a difference".