Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for St. Paul's.
Monday was an enlightening day for Canadians. We learned an awful lot about this Conservative government on that day. Let us take a closer look at what happened and what it says about the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues.
On Monday the government announced a budget surplus of some $13 billion. I am sure that like me many Canadians found it rather amusing to hear the Minister of Finance make it sound as though he actually had something to do with achieving that surplus. He seemed to be fishing for a pat on the back. Perhaps the ones he was giving himself were not satisfying enough.
The surplus was welcome news in this House and across Canada. It reflected a legacy of responsible management that put an end to deficits in this country of almost a decade ago. It represented another impressive example of what we can achieve together as Canadians.
However, that was not the only announcement the government made on Monday. The Minister of Finance also revealed a series of cutbacks. This was truly an instructive moment for anyone keen to understand the motivations and beliefs of those who so steadfastly refer to themselves as Canada's new government.
The true colours of a government can be seen in each of its decisions, both large ones and small ones, not only in how it spends its billions but how it spends its thousands. The true priorities of a cabinet can be seen in each of its choices, not merely those of grave significance that alter a nation's course.
The true measure of a Prime Minister can be taken not only from how he treats premiers and dignitaries but in the manner in which he treats the less fortunate, the disadvantaged, those whose voices are not always heard, and those whose place in our society is not always one of comfort, but often one of need.
What have Canadians learned about this government? On the very same day that it announced one of the largest financial surpluses in Canadian history, a windfall of billions upon billions, this government celebrated by turning its back on women, turning its back on those who cannot read, and turning its back on those of modest means who would seek to defend their rights as guaranteed under our charter.
On the same day that the government announced one of the largest financial surpluses in our nation's history, Parliament and Canadians were witness in this House to the exercise of cold ideology and the unmasking of this government's true colours, this cabinet's true priorities and this Prime Minister's true measure.
One of the biggest targets was the Status of Women Canada, which has long been on the hit list of hard core social conservatives. Its budget has been cut deeply. Its ability to do its important work has been compromised.
There will be a price to pay and that price will be paid by individual Canadian women in communities across our country: women who strive to escape violence; women who seek nothing more than the opportunity to participate fully in the economic and cultural bounty of Canada; and women who work so hard to advance the rights of other women and girls around the world.
As is true of many of the departments and programs that were cut, those who benefit from the work of the Status of Women are in many cases Canadians who lack the voice or the resources or the political influence to stand up for themselves, to stand up for their needs and fight back. It falls to progressive minded members in this House to speak on their behalf.
If it was not clear before, the Conservative perspective on women is clear now. This government has slashed funding to the department charged with helping women who need it the most. This government has turned its back on a plan that would have created hundreds of thousands of new and affordable child care spaces, in favour of a token payout that totals a few dollars a day, helping few and creating new spaces for none.
Also on Monday, this government again, showing its social conservative inclinations, announced its intention to eliminate the court challenges program. This is not a program that most Canadians will have ever heard of. Canadians will know its legacy and the social programs that it has helped bring to our country.
The court challenges program has helped minority groups, including women's groups, launch and fight, and win a series of historic court victories during the past three decades. It is a program that has helped to define Canada as one of the most progressive nations in the world; a country determined to protect the rights of all, not just some; a country that respects its history, its standing as a nation of minorities; and a people who see that history and that modern reality as a strength.
In terms of the budget, the court challenges program is a small expenditure, a few millions dollars a year, but it has delivered tremendous value in helping Canadians to expand and to protect their rights and their freedoms. More than that, it is a symbol of the kind of country that we are.
More than 30 years ago we in Canada had the courage not only to enshrine a great Charter of Rights and Freedoms but to also dedicate a modest amount of resources to allow individuals and groups to launch court challenges to ensure those rights are being respected and correctly interpreted in today's context.
What good are rights if there is no way for someone to challenge those who would violate them? What good is the promise of equality if only those people who have the means and the abilities to ensure that promise is kept? These are important questions, but they are questions on which the government chooses not to dwell because they are inconvenient. They reveal more about the character of the government than the government would like Canadians to know.
Overall, the Conservative cuts announced on Monday were small in terms of the overall government expenditures and yet devastating to those who were affected. They were a surgical strike to the heart of our progressive society, a lashing out that spoke plainly and harshly to the government's uncompromising politics and its ideological agenda.
I have sat for long enough across from Conservative members and for more than long enough in their company to understand what motivates them, what their goals are, and what they seek to achieve in this round of budget reductions. The cuts brought down on Monday are not about budgetary matters or meeting financial demands. They are a triumph not of fiscal reason but of social conservative thinking. They are a jarring symbol of the hard and narrow perspective of the Conservatives and their fundamental distrust of the very institution that they fought so hard to lead.
The members of the Liberal Party understand the power at the government's disposal to help ensure Canadians are afforded equality of opportunity. The members of the Liberal Party believe in the government's ability to do good, to help raise people up, to improve their lives, to find their way, and so do members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois. Government cannot do it all, nor should it do it all, but there is a progressive role it must play if we are to ever achieve the ideal of our nation as a truly just society.
The true colours of a government can be seen in each of its decisions, large and small. If we look beyond the numbers on a budget sheet, there are people, lives, homes and dreams. The Government of Canada represents all Canadians, not just the privileged. It represents all Canadians, not just those who voted for its members. A government achieves no progress for the people, no progress for any citizen when it isolates the vulnerable and subjects them to an ideological toll.