Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mississauga West.
I am pleased to respond to our government's throne speech because it gives me an opportunity to outline some of the ways in which Hamiltonians and my constituents of Hamilton Mountain will benefit from the agenda the government has outlined.
The government has indicated its commitment to the values and institutions that Canadians hold dear and has introduced a socially progressive agenda. It is an inclusive vision which demonstrates that the government intends to follow through on its commitments to create opportunities for all Canadians and to ensure that no individual or family is left behind, while at the same time continuing to be fiscally responsible as we move forward in the new millennium.
There were many good programs announced in the Speech from the Throne. I will talk about several of them. I would like to highlight infrastructure, affordable housing, a commitment to alleviate child poverty, and long term investment in health care.
Cities are vital to our economic growth and well-being. Many of the residents of Hamilton, the ninth largest city in the country, live and work within the core of the city. The local politicians are working hard to make it a dynamic and safe place to live. Because of a restricted tax base, cities cannot do this alone.
Hamilton Mayor Bob Wade has particularly welcomed the government's plan to continue investment in urban infrastructure. The government has pledged to put in place a ten year program for infrastructure development. As an older city facing much needed repairs and upgrades in sewer, water and road systems, the City of Hamilton will benefit from this commitment.
In the Speech from the Throne, homelessness and affordable housing is another area the government pledged to address. Since 1998, homelessness in Hamilton has increased dramatically. The number of people staying in emergency shelters on a given night has increased from 172 in 1998 to 343 in November of last year. To date the government has invested $753 million over three years in the national strategy to alleviate homelessness.
The supporting community initiatives project is administered by the Minister of Labour and Federal Coordinator on Homelessness. I must congratulate her. She has done a great job. She has allowed emergency housing services in Hamilton to meet the needs of a growing clientele by increasing the capacity of organizations in the city to provide these services. The federal government will be extending funding for the program.
It is hoped that the need for these programs will be temporary. The government has committed to work with our provincial and other partners to address shortages of affordable housing. There are approximately 3,600 families on the waiting list for affordable housing in Hamilton, with average waits of up to five years. We need affordable housing urgently. In addition to $680 million that the government has already invested over the previous five years to address shortages of affordable housing, the Prime Minister has announced that the government will increase its investment in this area.
While a strong economy has improved conditions for many Canadians, including many Hamiltonians, there are some individuals and families who have been left behind. The government is committed to rectifying this situation. According to the Social Research and Planning Council of Hamilton, approximately 20,000 children in the city of Hamilton are living in poverty. This is an unacceptably high number.
To date, the Government of Canada has committed $2.2 billion to the early childhood development agreement in partnership with provinces and territories. The agreement provides education and funding for healthy pregnancies, births, and infants, parenting and family support, and early childhood development. We have reaffirmed our commitment to continue working with our partners to increase access to early learning opportunities and to quality child care, particularly for poor and lone-parent families.
Currently the national child benefit supplement introduced by the government in 1998 provides $2,444 for low-income families at the birth of a first child. In the throne speech we committed to increasing this amount. We will also put in place targeted measures for low-income families caring for severely disabled children and will work to improve services and education for first nations children.
Another issue that greatly concerns my constituents is the future of our health care system. Last June I sent out a survey to every household in my riding asking them for opinions on the current health care system and their priorities for the future. Over a thousand people took the time to respond and many of these same individuals also came to my town hall meeting on health. We heard that Hamiltonians want a public and universal health care system that addresses their health care needs in the doctor's office, in the hospital, and at home. They want more doctors and nurses, more home care, support for caregivers, a greater focus on overall health and wellness, pharmacare, and accountability of government money spent on health care. Responses from the questionnaires and the public meeting were sent to Mr. Romanow, the chair of the federal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, which reports to Canada next month.
The government has been listening to the concerns of Canadians regarding health care and has acted on their priorities. Last year, total Canada health and social transfer contributions amounted to $34.6 billion: $18.3 billion in cash transfers and $16.3 billion in tax point transfers.
The Prime Minister has announced that he will convene a first ministers meeting early next year to discuss a comprehensive plan for the reform of the health care system. This will include long-term investment from the federal government to ensure that Canadians, including the citizens of Hamilton, get the health care system that they want and deserve.
At my public forum on health, we listened to the stories of several people caring at home for ill spouses, parents or family members. The personal difficulties of caring for a loved one are often compounded by financial constraints placed upon individuals who may have to quit or decrease their hours of work to take on this task. In 1998, the government introduced a tax credit for caregivers to ease this aspect of their problem. In the throne speech last week, the government further pledged to modify existing programs to ensure that Canadians can provide compassionate care for a gravely ill family member without putting their jobs or incomes at risk.
I would point out to my hon. colleagues that there exists a tremendous opportunity here for us to move forward to address the priorities of Canadians and to implement a progressive and socially inclusive agenda for our country. The throne speech illustrates our government commitment to the values that Canadians hold dear: universal health care, the reduction of child poverty, functioning cities, and homes for the homeless. I look forward to working with our partners to implement this agenda for the betterment of all Canadians.