Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to address this House and take part in the debate in reply to the throne speech. I want to start by congratulating the Speaker and all those who sit in the Chair in this great chamber.
I would also like to congratulate in a very special way the Prime Minister and our government on the contents of the throne speech. It was clear from day one that the government intended to follow through on the commitments made to Canadians during the election campaign in its famous red book.
A day rarely goes by without someone in my riding contacting me to request a copy of this celebrated document, this famous red book. It has become, if you will pardon the expression, a bible of sorts on how to restore the confidence of Canadians in government.
I admit that when we made this document public during the election campaign, I was a little worried, as were many candidates, about the risk we were taking by laying out our agenda for all to see.
But the wisdom of the leader of the Liberal Party, today the Prime Minister, in deciding to approach the Canadian electorate in such a way has been confirmed. Canadians took a close look at our platform.
And they said: yes, generally we like what we see. I know that not everyone agreed with every aspect of our program, but they told us, yes, here is an election program. Finally, someone has the courage to tell us what they intend to do, and we are prepared to trust people who are open and have nothing to hide. Therefore, I want to congratulate the Prime Minister once again for taking this stand.
I also want to thank the electors of the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell for their support during the last election. They have chosen to return me to this place, which is very special for me and for all those who are here and indeed for our electors.
A former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, once said there was no greater honour for a Canadian than to have this privilege of representing his or her fellow constituents in the highest court in the land, the Parliament of Canada.
I agree with that. I espouse that theory and I will attempt again to live up to those expectations of my constituents who have chosen to send me to this highest court in the land.
The makeup of the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell is somewhat unique. My riding is home to some 100,000 people, 65 per cent of whom are Franco-Ontarians. Francophones thus make up the majority linguistic group in my riding. They are not assimilated. Nor have they lost their language and culture. In fact, 92 per cent of my constituents were born in Ontario. They have preserved their language and culture, despite what some of the members opposite might claim from time to time.
Of the other constituents of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, approximately 35 per cent are English and about 5 per cent are of other languages and cultures.
In Glengarry-Prescott-Russell there is the township of Cumberland. I had the opportunity of serving the people of that area since 1976 since I was first elected at the municipal level. I was re-elected to represent them in 1978 and in 1980. In 1981 I had the honour and privilege of sitting in the Ontario legislature and in 1984 I was elected to this House of Commons. I was
re-elected in 1988 and again in 1993 to represent the people of my area.
I owe a special thanks to the people of Cumberland township who allowed me to begin this career of public service.
I also have the honour of representing the counties of Prescott and Russell and for those of you who are somewhat familiar with the region, Prescott County was part of New France prior to the Constitution Act of 1791. The Township of Longueuil used to be the Longueuil seigneury before the Constitution Act. As those members on the other side who are historians know, there was also a seigneury in Kingston, the Frontenac seigneury.
I also have the honour of representing the people of Glengarry. Glengarry is a very special place in the history of Canada. It was there in 1784 that Sir John Johnson came from the United States with the United Empire Loyalists, or as they were known in those days the empire loyalist refugees.
That is what they were. They were people who took refuge and who came back to be under British dominion and who left the Mohawk Valley, came north across the St. Lawrence River and established the community of Williamstown. Williamstown in Glengarry was named after Sir William Johnson, the father of the founder of the community Sir John Johnson to whom I have already referred.
They established that community where the Northwest Company was subsequently established. The people of Williamstown then went on to explore other parts of Canada. They were people like Simon Fraser, Thompson, Johnson, and Alexander Mackenzie. They all lived in Williamstown in Glengarry. I am very proud to have the honour and privilege of representing such an historical place as Glengarry. I offer a special tribute to the people of Glengarry county.
There is a building in Glengarry where Sir John Johnson made a request of Governor Haldimand at Quebec for a special designation for his part of the colony which was then Quebec. He wanted a special region to be founded where the people would be able to have English laws under which they would live. This is because after the Quebec Act the Quebec civil code existed and land tenure was of the seigniorial kind and so on. He wanted his residents to have English customs, laws and land tenure.
I would make the argument that he wanted to establish a distinct society for the anglophones who had just moved into that part of what was then the colony of Quebec. He got it. It was called the Constitution Act of 1791 that established what then became the province of Upper Canada and it occurred right there in the village of Williamstown in the great county of Glengarry that I have the opportunity to represent.
The people from Scotland then came as a result of the highland clearances when the English barons decided to clear the highlands of Scotland to make room for sheep. Many people again became refugees. They crossed the ocean and came to Glengarry county to join with the United Empire Loyalists to form that great community that still exists.
Still today there are some few people in Glengarry who speak Gaelic. In many cases, of those who do not speak it, one would swear from their accent that they still do.
I have the very special honour and privilege of representing that area. I also have the honour of representing the native community of Akwesasne, a community which has been in turmoil, and still is, because of cigarette smuggling.
Some may say that it is nobody's fault but their own if Akwesasne natives are facing that problem, but that is not true. They too are victims. Consider the young resident of Akwesasne who was coaxed by the criminal element into carrying shipments of cigarettes across the Saint Lawrence River to earn $100, $200 or $300 a day and then buy a car or whatever else young people dream about, especially those who are out of work. He and others like him are victims of this smuggling business. Let us never forget that.
The smuggling problem is an extremely serious one. Yesterday, a minister in the Ontario Cabinet said that it was the kind of problem that existed only in Quebec. With all due respect, that is not true. Nearly 40 per cent of cigarettes in Ontario, not Quebec, are sold illegally. One out of every four illegal cigarettes in Canada travels through my riding, across the Akwesasne River.
Finally, every single day 1,000 cases of cigarettes enter Canada in my riding alone at $1,000 profit per case. That is a million dollars a day that the criminal element makes. Tomorrow morning when we all wake up we can think of it in the following way. Last night the criminals made another million dollars in eastern Ontario by profiteering at the expense of all of us and at the expense of those whom we represent.