Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was reform.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Simcoe—Grey (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that I have to respond to the rhetoric from someone who I would like to say is an hon. member but who I will just refer to as a member.

By insulting me, compromising or challenging my motive, calling what I say a joke, what kind of parliamentary decorum is that? Does he not think that Liberal members are every bit as concerned about addressing the needs of Canadians as he is?

He keeps referring to an election. Clearly, the hon. member is very nervous about one. I am saying that he should not be talking about an election. He should be talking about working in a collegial manner to resolve the issues of the day. This is not a joke. Working as a separatist in that kind of environment does nobody any good, especially his constituents. The member should be ashamed of himself for making those kinds of statements.

I did not come to the House to be called a joke. I do not dedicate my time and my energies trying to resolve some of the challenges of the day just to have somebody sitting across laugh at me. I did not support the extension of parental benefits through EI so that mothers and fathers could spend time with their children just to have somebody across the way insult me.

No wonder people sometimes have a bad feeling about the House when we see those kinds of shenanigans coming from the Bloc. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that there are more people watching than he thinks and they see how he conducts himself. Shame on him for it. I am as much concerned about families in Quebec as I am in my own riding. I will stand here and speak as passionately as I possibly can to address those things.

It is clear that there is a timely need for change. All I can say is that I believe the minister and the Prime Minister take the problem as seriously as any facing the government right now. As a result of that, I believe there will be action.

I have sat in on numerous meetings. It has not just been the HRSD committee. Members of Parliament have been fully engaged in this. Members from the private sector are fully engaged this. Unions are making recommendations. We receive enormous numbers of recommendations.

What is happening with the HRSD report? The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has stood in the House no less than a dozen times and has said that he appreciates the work the committee did and takes its report very seriously. Clearly it will have an impact but it is one part of a larger piece of pie that he is looking at.

He will take that report very seriously knowing that it came from parliamentarians wanting to make sure that the necessary changes to help Canadian families are put into place. However he also takes seriously the recommendations that come from unions and from the private sector. I know the Quebec members of Parliament, through me and to the Speaker, have been as passionate as anybody could be on making sure that the right changes are being made. They have recommendations.

The key to success in this whole thing is making sure that we wade through them, that we understand the impact and that we make the changes necessary to address families, whether they be in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island or in Angus, which happens to be in my riding. For those kinds of changes we have to understand the impact, both positive and negative. That is what is being done.

I want to see change. This is a living, breathing program. There has been change, there will be change again and there will be change after that. I am as dedicated as anybody in the House to ensuring that the changes we make are appropriate and balanced.

However, to have somebody stand in the House and suggest that what I am saying is a joke, to insult the people in my riding who have qualified for and received benefit from the employment insurance fund or, for that matter, people right across this country, it is shameless politics and nothing more.

Canadians rightly expect and deserve the Liberal government to approach things in a rational fashion and in such a manner so as to understand the needs of Canadians and responding.

I go back to my earlier statement on the OECD. Let us look around the world. This is a program that clearly needs change but it also does wonderfully good work and we should recognize that. We do not want Canadians thinking the employment insurance program is an obsolete tool and that it does no good because that would not be true.

There are families in my riding and families in British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan that are dependent on this program. It is doing what it is supposed to do for those families. Of course there are families, unfortunately, that have not qualified at this point in time, but that is not to say that we have not made changes in qualifying hours for seasonal workers.

The Liberal members of Parliament from Quebec, for that matter the Liberal members of Parliament from all across the country have been very vocal in making sure we recognize what the needs are and making sure we move forward with some of the changes necessary.

That is what we are doing. I certainly hope that over the period of the next few days and weeks the minister will be able to make some of the appropriate changes that might help in these unfortunate situations.

I have to say that when the Bloc members shamelessly voted against the changes that we have made in the past, when we respond to the needs of Canadians in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, they should be supporting them not voting against them.

The Bloc members will have an opportunity in the not too distant future to right their wrong. They can stand up when the necessary changes come forward and they can say, “Mr. Minister, good job. You recognized the problem and you dealt with it in a balanced fashion. Quebec members of Parliament, good job in your fight for Quebecers. New Brunswick members of Parliament, you fought for New Brunswickers. Ontarians, we did it collectively”. That is how Canada works and the House works.

I will be extremely pleased to see the proper changes come forward and know that the Liberal government made them happen.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today in the House and address this most important topic, the motion dealing with our employment insurance benefit program, a program that I believe is one of the cornerstones of our social safety net within the country.

Before I go into detail on all the great things the program does and some of the challenges it will face and some of the changes that may be required, I would like to spend a couple of minutes to deal with process.

When I talk about process, I would like to lend some clarity, some rational discussion and rational positions on the process surrounding the report that came out of HRSD, how that report was addressed and how that report will be addressed in the House by the minister and cabinet.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, for those at home, the committee process is an incredibly invigorating and focused process. As parliamentary secretary, I happen to be a member of the human resource development committee. The committees that meet, whether it be HRSD, or Canadian heritage, defence, health, foreign affairs, whatever that committee might be, have a very specific focus. Whether they be members of the Liberal caucus, or the NDP, or the Bloc, generally speaking I believe committee people put forward their best effort to try to focus with a very specific mandate on the solutions they think are important. Committees work tremendously well, Mr. Speaker, as you well know. You sat on them. When committees have a very specific focus, they produce very clear recommendations.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, the people at home must understand the process is such that once those recommendations are made, they are brought forward to the House and debated in a more generalized context. They are debated taking into consideration many more things than simply the narrow focus of that committee, as does cabinet. Cabinet must view things in a very horizontal fashion, not in a very vertical fashion.

Therefore, it is not uncommon for Canadian heritage for that matter or HRSD to sometimes bring forward recommendations that are focused in a very linear fashion that can not always be adopted in the most timely fashion possible. That does not mean they are not being considered. That does not mean that parts of those recommendations are not being implemented. That does not mean it does not provide us with the opportunity to raise the level of debate in the House on a particular topic.

However, let us not buy into the rhetoric coming from Bloc, that just because a recommendation comes from committee, it must automatically become. That is irresponsible for the Bloc to even make that accusation or statement.

Once people have a clear understanding of how the process works, how actively engaged members of Parliament are in this process, I think they will have a higher level of comfort in some of the decisions that come from the House and some of the decisions that come from cabinet.

Specifically, on the employment insurance fund itself and the employment insurance program, this program has had an impact on Canadian society like few others have. We have a number of different occupations in my riding of Simcoe—Grey that from time to time have to rely on the EI program. We have a number of seasonal workers within my riding. They are seasonal workers not simply because they are forced into seasonal employment, but rather they are in seasonal employment by choice.

In some cases the EI program addresses the needs of those people who quite clearly cannot be gainfully employed 12 months of the year. In some cases it does not address some of the challenges of part time students. If we deal with part time students, we have to understand that some of these seasonal employment opportunities are stepping stones, as is fortunately the case in my riding.

I have a tremendous number of young people who come back to my riding every summer to explore career opportunities. They work for a specific period of time and then they go back to university. Those people are clearly seasonal employees and it is clear that they are using seasonal employment as a stepping stone, as do many.

However, let us go beyond that and talk about some of the other incredible things that this EI account has done in the past. I would suggest that over the last 60 years of this program it has been a flagship of the fine Canadian social fabric and the fine Canadian social safety net that we have in this country. It is one of the flagships. Throughout the OECD and, for that matter, around the world, this program would be the envy of most countries.

Does that mean it is doing everything it should? Clearly not. This government has been incredibly responsive to the needs and the challenges as they have come forward on an ongoing basis, and certainly over the past 9 or 10 years as changes have been required, changes have been brought forward. We have seen the EI rates reduced on a number of different occasions. I might add that for many these EI reforms we have brought forward, we unfortunately have not been able to get the support of our Bloc colleagues.

We make positive changes to the employment insurance program and the Bloc votes against us. I think there is a certain amount of hypocrisy when those members say in one breath they think there needs to be change, this government responds, and then they vote against it. I am not sure what kind of language we would choose for that, but it is certainly contradictory at best.

Let me talk about some of the things that this program has done in my riding and about some of the people and some of the families it has supported. Let me say that I am very, very proud of some of the things this program has accomplished. I know that due to circumstances beyond employees' control, from time to time they have to rely on this employment insurance account. We have to put this into dollars: Over $11 billion was paid out last year to families like those in Simcoe—Grey, families that have had an unfortunate situation arise with plant closures, plant layoffs or seasonal work. Any number of different things will impact this, but the program has been there for them.

For those who have paid in, those who qualify, over 83% actually achieve the benefit of the program. That is a staggering number, so we cannot deal simply with the rhetoric coming from the Bloc.

As the Parliamentary Secretary for Human Resources and Skills Development, I can stand here in the House without any trepidation whatsoever and tell members that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Liberal members of caucus, and certainly those from Quebec, have put forward the strongest arguments possible to make sure that the changes we make, the changes that need to be addressed to meet the needs of the people, are done in the most timely fashion possible. I sit in on briefing after briefing. We sit in on strategy meetings with some of the most senior officials within the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and this is one of the number one priorities. The minister is fully engaged.

But we also have to recognize that we do look at things in a very horizontal fashion on this side of the House, and on that side of the House they should as well. In doing so in that horizontal fashion, if we are going to make changes we have to understand what the implications are of those changes. That does take a little time. As we have done in the past, we want to make sure that when we make decisions and make changes we get it right the first time. That is the process that is under way right now.

I will take this opportunity to talk about some of the incredible changes that have taken place in the EI program. When we were raising our children and my wife or I had to take time off work after the birth of our children, it was a very specific period of time that we were allowed to take, the reason being that we were a young family and we needed the income. We had to get back into the workforce in order to generate income to support our family. That was unfortunate.

I say it was unfortunate because our children lost out on something that this generation is not going to lose out on. There can be no more important time in a child's life than those first few months after being born. And what better quality time, what better motivating force, what greater impact can a parent have than being at home with that newborn child? I was incredibly proud to stand in the House and vote for the women having babies in this country today so that they qualify for EI and are able to stay home for a full year to spend that kind of quality time with and give that kind of commitment to their children. At the end of the day, as has been said time and time again in this House, there is no more valuable resource in this country than our children.

I was very proud to see that kind of change within the EI account and to see that kind of change come forward from this side of the House, from my Liberal colleagues. I know some of the moms and dads who have benefited as a result. Gratefully, I know some of the children who are going to benefit from that. How well-rounded a child can become with that kind of interaction with their parents in that first year. What a tremendous opportunity. What an incredibly civil approach to society in addressing the needs of our children to make those kinds of changes to address those challenges.

We must not let it be said that changes have not been brought forward by this government, because clearly there have been, and those changes were the right changes. Those changes have had lasting positive consequences and there are Canadians from coast to coast to coast who would stand up and say they were the right things to do.

We must also recognize, of course, that as we make these changes in the House we are not simply talking about one EI recipient. We are talking about decisions that quite clearly could have an impact to the tune of billions of dollars. Canadians rightfully expect and deserve and receive from this government an approach that says we must mind this money carefully.

So when I say we have to make sure that we weigh out all the options, that is exactly what I mean. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development stands in the House and says that he is waiting to get all the facts, that he is waiting to get all the information. One very important piece of information is the report that came out of HRSD, but it is one piece of information. There are other areas we have to collect information from.

And I know this is time sensitive. I did not get involved in politics and voted in to see people do without. I did not dedicate a good part of my life to this and then come to the House to see people do without. Liberal members of Parliament in this House did not get into politics to see people do without.

We are compassionate, caring people. We want to help. We want to do things that will raise the quality of life, not only in Quebec but all across the country, but I am also here to say that we have an obligation to those very same people to make sure that any of the changes we bring forward are done in a proper fashion, to make sure we have a clear appreciation of the consequences of those decisions, positive and negative. To suggest that we rush into things, to suggest that we simply look at a sliver of evidence and base conclusions and, in turn, decisions on that sliver of evidence, is irresponsible.

It is easy in opposition. I am not criticizing those members for it, but it is easy in opposition to say the government should do this or should do that. They do not have to live with the consequences. They do not have to look at things in a horizontal fashion. They do not have to make sure that things are done in a balanced fashion.

We hear the rhetoric about softwood lumber. We heard the member who stood up and said the government has done nothing for those who have been hurt by this softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S. That is not true. I cannot be any clearer than that. It is simply not true. This government has responded. It has responded in a number of ways. If the hon. member truly believes that a quarter of a billion dollars, $250 million focused in on this particular challenge in a very short period of time, is nothing, perhaps he should go back to his riding and explain to the taxpayers that a quarter of a billion dollars means nothing.

I will stand here and tell the member today that there has been a massive investment within the softwood lumber industry since the challenges by the United States took place, and we are making progress. The most recent progress, of course, was the decision that clearly sided with the Government of Canada. That did not happen by itself. The Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister himself have been fully engaged in this file. To simply say that we are doing nothing is not accurate.

I know the hon. member wants to do what is right for his constituents, as do I. We are caring, compassionate people. We are trying to accommodate the needs of Canadians, but we have to do so in a balanced fashion.

It is this kind of balance that people require of government. There is no balance coming from the opposition members because they do not have to look at these things in a horizontal manner. They do not have to understand. They do not have to appreciate the fact that there are significant consequences. We have to make sure we understand them. In short, the opposition is not responsible for delivering the important services that the people in this country require.

It is clear that changes are required. There are gaps within our society and challenges within our economy. There are regional problems, not the very least of which are in my riding from time to time. We have to be sensitive to them and we are. Nobody in the House will fight more viciously or more aggressively than I if I have a problem in my riding and I think the government can respond to it in a timely fashion. Of course, I also respect the fact that in responding to that we have to understand what the impacts are, both from a revenue standpoint and from a societal standpoint.

As for the Bloc members, let us drop the rhetoric. We have to work in a collegial, cooperative fashion. Enough talk about elections. Let us try to resolve the problem. Let us try to resolve it as a team. That is what the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has been saying. He is saying that there is no time to try to score political points on the backs of the unemployed. The opportunity is there to work together to address the needs.

I fully expect members from the Bloc, if I have challenges in my riding, to support me in helping me try to address them. That is what we are supposed to do in the House. We are here to help. We are here to build a better Canada. For members of the opposition to suggest otherwise is just untrue and quite frankly slights the House and slights individuals like me, individuals who truly believe that when we work together, when we work in a collective, we can accomplish some great things.

But I come back to the responsibilities of government. Nobody in the House takes this issue more seriously than the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. He has dedicated enormous amounts of time to this. He is making sure that no rock is left unturned with respect to what the potential consequences of various changes will be. He is looking at countless scenarios and he is doing so because he wants to get it right. He wants to make sure that whether it is a seasonal worker in Quebec or a seasonal worker in Alliston the program is there to support them in the most appropriate way possible.

I have to conclude by simply saying this. The time is now to drop the political rhetoric. We have Liberal colleagues from Quebec, from New Brunswick and from British Columbia who are uniting and saying we must make sure these issues get resolved. We need the opposition to join us. We need the opposition to recognize that the only way to address the needs of Canadians, the only way, is to do so in a collective approach: to have a good debate, to find the right solution, and to support it, not as in the past to vote against some of the changes we made, but to support the recommendations that will be coming forward.

I am sure that at some point in the not too distant future the minister is going to come forward with some changes, whatever they might be. When he comes forward with those changes it is certainly my hope that the Bloc members, who are saying here today that change is necessary, will stand there as they have today and say, “Good work, Mr. Minister”. I hope they will say that he made the changes that Canadians required. I hope they will say, “We are here to support that change. We are here to make sure the money is delivered to those who need it most”.

A number of different things have come out of the EI account that have had incredibly positive impacts within my very own riding. Let us think about the unemployment rate at the present time being somewhere around 7.5%. Even better news than this is the fact that the unemployment rate for women in Canada is now about 5.8%. This is astonishing and this is positive.

That did not simply happen by itself. That happened as a result of a collective approach. This is how Canada works. We stand shoulder to shoulder when we recognize challenges and we overcome them. That is what happened.

When we took office in 1993, unemployment rates in my riding were close to 15% and now they are down below 5% because of our collective approach to addressing these things.

Some of the money from the EI account was used to help train people in Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Clearview. These moneys were spent to upgrade the skills that those people possess and, in turn, it created a better standard of living for them.

The answer is simple. I ask all members to please work with us to make sure that we get the right solutions in the right time.

Employment Insurance April 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's comments are completely unfounded. He knows full well, as do all members of the House, that the Prime Minister, the minister and members of the Liberal caucus are fully engaged in this file. I am here to say that once we have an opportunity to review all the facts, the minister will make the appropriate recommendations.

Employment Insurance April 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, quite the contrary. The member knows full well that the minister is fully engaged in this file. Not only is she fully engaged in this file, but the parliamentary secretary and the department have been reviewing the situation on an ongoing basis.

I should inform the hon. member that clearly the departments at the local level have been working with the various stakeholders in British Columbia to address the situations as they come forward. As problems arise, they will be addressed. The member has the commitment of the minister and the department on that.

Employment Insurance April 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, there is just no need for this type of rhetoric. The fact remains that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development have remained very committed to making the necessary changes that need to be made in order to address some of the challenges that not only Quebeckers, but people all across this country, are facing.

The minister has stated time and time again, as the recommendations come forward he is not opposed to making changes to the act. The Prime Minister has clearly stated that he is going to support the necessary initiatives to address these challenges. It is time for fact, not rhetoric.

Employment Insurance April 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, this is simply not true. The hon. member would suggest that the program is not working. The member should recognize that 88% of paid employees that become eligible to collect EI actually get an opportunity to do so. Facts are what are necessary, not rhetoric from the Bloc.

Employment Insurance April 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the member would lead the House to believe that the Prime Minister has done nothing. I would suggest that there has been over $2 billion redirected as a result of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has taken this issue very seriously. He has been very clear in his instructions in cooperation with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, and when the appropriate recommendations come forward, they will act.

Employment Insurance April 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows that quite simply that is not the truth.

The hon. member will recognize that the Prime Minister has been fully engaged in solutions to address this, as has the minister, not the least of which, of course, is the appointment of a task force. In that regard, there will be some very timely recommendations coming forward and I am sure the minister will act as he sees fit.

The Budget March 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure and an honour to address the budget delivered last week, and on behalf of the residents of Simcoe--Grey and I believe on behalf of the majority of Canadians, to indicate how they feel about this budget and how this budget has impacted them.

In Simcoe--Grey the budget will have widespread positive impact. Certainly it will provide excellent footing for me to continue to work closely with municipalities, to continue to work closely with student groups, to continue to work closely with all those in my riding who are truly interested in providing a brighter future for many generations to come. The budget, in some of the things that I will articulate, does that very thing.

We have to put into context how this budget was delivered and compare it to other G-7 countries as well. It is important that Canadians do not simply listen to the opposition, or for that matter listen to the government, but clearly look across the board, look at our competitors, look at the industrialized nations of this world and see what their economic track records are compared to our economic track record. The results are stunning. The results are not only stunning simply because of our track record as compared to theirs, but also because of the impact it is having on Canadian society. That is the true measurement.

We can sit here today and we can reflect back over the last few years. Not that long ago, for example when I ran, we were dealing with an unemployment rate that was almost 12%. In many regions it was far beyond that. As members well know, it was not that long ago when we were sitting here looking at youth unemployment rates of 15% to 20% in this country. The unemployment rates were even higher than that in some areas, such as in northern Ontario.

We have to have some measuring sticks. We have to look at where we were, where we are, and most important, where we are going. I would propose to members and to all Canadians that there is only one party in this House that is focused on where we are going and how to get there for the betterment of all Canadians.

It is no secret that this government has run seven consecutive balanced budgets. Under the stewardship of the former finance minister who is now the Prime Minister, this government has turned around the country's economic situation, the likes of which no other country in the world has accommodated.

Not that long ago one of the major financial daily newspapers in New York called Canada a developing third world nation. It talked about us in terms of moving toward a developing nation by way of our finances, by way of our debt, and by way of our $43 billion deficit. The rest of the world looked at our country not as a ripe environment for investment, not as a ripe environment for business expansion or to maintain existing business. Double digit interest rates, families paying huge amounts of money on relatively small mortgages, the car market, the auto sector, people trying to finance cars with double digit interest rates; these things were all having a catastrophic impact on the economy.

Under the stewardship of the former finance minister who is now the Prime Minister, that changed. It did not change simply because of the people on this side of the House. It changed because Canadians bought into that vision. It was done on the backs of hardworking Canadians and we were able to change the economic status of this country.

Then all of a sudden in 1997-98, in that same financial newspaper out of New York we read of the G-7 economic miracle. Imagine that, a country like the United States with all its wealth and all its power, recognizing Canada out of the OECD or out of the G-7, saying that we are the economic miracle, that we were able to turn our economy around. That is where we were and this is where we are.

We now flutter around a 7% unemployment rate. It is important to recognize that 93% of this population's workforce is working. Is that not an incredible thing? When unemployment rates are rising in the U.K., rising in Germany, rising in France, rising in the United States, and we compare Canada as an investment opportunity for foreign and domestic businesses to keep their dollars here, what better than to sing the praises of what Canadians have accomplished over the last seven years? They have accomplished a lot.

I commented earlier about the $43 billion deficit, the $586 billion debt that had accumulated over a period of 30 some years. What a thing to leave to our children, that kind of debt to GDP ratio. It is unacceptable. It is not unacceptable simply from my vantage point, the Prime Minister's vantage point or the finance minister's vantage point. It is unacceptable to the next generation. We owe them more than that.

I cannot speak highly enough about the commitment the finance minister has made with regard to keeping our debt to GDP ratio on a downward track. What that means to Canadians is almost difficult to comprehend. Ten years from now we very well may be at a 25% debt to GDP ratio.

We are already in tremendous shape and moving in the right direction. These accomplishments cannot go unnoticed, because when we notice these accomplishments, we do a couple of things. We establish consumer confidence in this country. People have a sense of confidence that this is a good economy and a strong economy. When we are able to do that, they feel comfortable investing their money in retail. They feel comfortable putting their money into investments. They feel comfortable with a stable political and economic environment. That is exactly what we have created.

My constituents have been loud and clear in the numerous town hall meetings that I have held over the last number of years that we need to focus on debt reduction. The debt to GDP ratio is very important.

It is also important to recognize that we are saving $3 billion each and every year in carrying costs because we have reduced the hard debt as well. That $3 billion allowed us to do some pretty exciting things in this past budget.

There is $2 billion for health care, which is new money. Not only was the $2 billion there, but there was also a commitment by the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Health and certainly the Prime Minister to continue to work with the provinces on tackling the major issue we call health care to make sure that the country has a sustainable medicare system, a universal health care system that is enjoyed by all. I do not think we can put a price on that. That is one of the cornerstones of Canadian society.

This government has invested over the last three years over $30 billion more in new health care spending. What are the results of that? We are seeing a new era in federal-provincial relationships.

When the Prime Minister came to office in December last year, he made some fairly significant commitments. He had been speaking about them throughout his tenure as finance minister. He certainly spoke about them leading up to the Liberal Party leadership convention in the fall of 2003.

He talked about the dawn of a new era when federal, provincial and municipal governments would work together. At the end of the day the taxpayers do not care whether it is at the provincial, municipal or federal level. What they care about is services. What they care about is three levels of government working together to achieve a better Canada and that is what is happening. We are witnessing things the likes of which we could not have dreamed about, other than on this side, 10 years ago.

I remember when people were renewing their mortgages at 11%, 12% and 13%. The carrying costs on those mortgages were astronomical. For a moderate middle income family in my riding, the difference in four or five basis points is huge. It is absolutely significant. We have to understand the positive impact that a difference of 4% or 5% has on our economy. It cannot go unsung. It is not about singing the praises of the Liberal government. It is not simply about singing the praises of the former finance minister, the present finance minister or the Prime Minister. It is about instilling a sense of confidence, a sense of recognition in the hard work in which Canadians have participated to right a wrong, to create an economy that is an absolute leader. Canadians know that. They need the opposition and government to buy into this kind of promising new future.

Clearly, I come from a rural riding, the riding of Simcoe—Grey. The largest municipality in my riding of about 25,000 is New Tecumseh. A number of the smaller communities within my riding need the support of the federal government.

I was the chair of the southwestern Ontario caucus for two years in 1997 and 1998. You were there, Mr. Speaker, when our caucus pushed so aggressively for a sustainable long term commitment for infrastructure in the country, to recognize that the government had an obligation to work with municipalities because of their limited tax base and to partner with them to see some of the very critical things moves forward within their respective jurisdictions.

We yelled loudly in the House. We yelled loudly in caucus. At the time we told the finance minister, the industry minister, the prime minister and cabinet that we had to do this, not for our political fortunes. We had to do it for the fortunes of the young people in our riding and to provide opportunities for them. If we are supposed to grow in rural Canada, ridings like my own need help. We need help from the provincial government and we need help from the federal government.

When I saw the GST announcement come forward in the budget that had a widespread and positive impact in my riding, I thought once again what a great step in the right direction. However, I have to emphasize it is only a step. There are many more to go.

We hear about an infrastructure deficit that could be as high as $60 billion. We require a strategic approach, partnering with provincial and municipal governments and, quite frankly, the private sector in many areas as well to address that deficit. As we begin to address that deficit in a more aggressive fashion, what will we see? We will see opportunity for our youth.

For years, certainly my generation and ones before me, in the rural communities of Wasaga Beach, Town of the Blue Mountains, Collingwood, Essa and Clearview, saw a mass exodus of young people once they finished high school. They moved on to post-secondary education or employment opportunities in larger urban centres. Why did they do that? Because these larger urban centres were experiencing growth and development.

As a result of those budgets in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998, which were significant infrastructure budgets of over $12 billion federally, we are starting to see rural areas like mine expanding. We are starting to see investment. We are starting to see expansion to the tune of several billions of dollars even in my own riding.

I think of Honda. Honda has done an incredible job of providing a massive industrial employment base within my riding, with good paying jobs and hard-working associates. It is on the map not simply in Ontario and in Canada, but all around the world as a world leader in automotive production. That comes by way of partnership. That comes by way of instilling a sense of confidence in what was effectively a Japanese based auto manufacturer. It says that this is the place to do business, that this is a place to provide opportunities for young people.

We now have a Honda employer in our riding that employs over 4,500 people in good paying jobs. It is not simply the 4,500 who are employed at Honda. Let us take that a step further and talk about the seven or nine to one job ratio that comes from an auto assembly plant. There are auto parts manufacturers throughout my riding. Gas stations, builders, plumbers, electricians are all reaping the rewards of such significant economic investment.

Why did Honda decide to invest in Canada when it had the choice of Mexico or the United States? Why did it decide to become a Canadian corporation as well? It is very proud of that, and it considers itself every bit as much a Canadian manufacturer as anyone else in this country. It decided to do that because of a right, sustainable, economic environment. It knew the potential was there to grow, and grow it has. The opportunities that it has provided goes beyond words, particularly when I think of the employment opportunities provided in my riding over the course of the last 10 years.

It is also important to recognize this giant investment that came by way of Honda, and so many others came by way of a number of different things, was not simply because of the economic environment across the country or in Ontario. It came by way of things we were able to do federally.

We partnered with the town of Alliston over a term to the tune of $8.3 million federally on infrastructure to service that plant. Not only does it service that plant, it services satellite plants and small businesses in the downtown core as well. It did things that the town of Alliston, now township of New Tecumseh, simply did not have the financial wherewithal to do itself.

When I hear the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister saying that we have not seen anything yet, that these steps have been positive and that they are prepared to do more as our finances permit, I get quite excited about those opportunities, especially in rural Canada. When we look at the makeup of the House, where else should we be investing our dollars and providing support than rural Canada? That is a critical element within my riding. We have measured the successes and we will continue to measure them. It is absolutely critical that we continue to invest in that which is our most precious asset and resource, our young people.

How do we do that? We do it in a number of different ways. We do that through creating this economic environment that allows the kind of expansion and investment. We do it by creating opportunities and partnerships with municipalities. We do it by supporting learning. I do not think we have witnessed a budget in the House for some time, which has focused in on learning opportunities for young people, like this one.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, with a special emphasis on the Canada student loan program, I could not have been more proud when I sat here and listened to the budget as it focused in on the access and financial aid issues surrounding post-secondary education and lifelong learning.

Since the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has come to office, he has been an absolute champion in this regard. I have met with him on many occasions and he has but one agenda and one focus in his mandate in dealing with this and in supporting me in dealing with it. That is to ensure that the environment is better tomorrow, that is better 5 years from tomorrow and that it is better 10 years from tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Yes, we have seen some very measurable steps come out of the recent budget. It was not invented in the House. Nor was it invented in the caucus chambers or in my office. The solutions that were presented as a vision within the Speech from the Throne and that were articulated by way of numbers within the budget came from people in the lifelong learning sectors and in the post-secondary education sectors.

When I stand and recognize the Canadian Federation of Students today, it did not go far enough. I am the first to recognize that. We have to take other steps, but the steps we have taken are good, long and are in the right direction. We have had countless meetings with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, not only here in Ottawa, or in Ontario or by visiting universities and post-secondary education centres. Keep in mind that post-secondary education and lifelong learning is not simply about universities. It is about trades, it is about technical schools, it is about community colleges and about many of the things that provide opportunity for young people in ridings like mine in Simcoe—Grey.

It is imperative for the government to remain focused and buy into the vision in the Speech from the Throne by providing access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning. That is the exact responsibility with which the Prime Minister and the Minister for HRSD have charged me.

I have been a very busy person over the course of the last number of months. We have met with over 20 different organizations, from Minister Ottenheimer in Newfoundland to UBC in British Columbia. We have met with universities and colleges, their faculties and student groups across the country. One thing can be said and said clearly: we listened, we acted and we included it in the budget. That is the kind of vision Canadians want. That is the kind of government Canadians want. I could not, as I stand here today, be more proud of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and my caucus colleagues for creating this kind of bold vision and a budget that supports it.

I extend my thanks for the opportunity to espouse my beliefs on the budget on behalf of the residents of Simcoe—Grey.

Supply February 24th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I extend my apologies. I wanted to be shown as voting against the motion, but apparently I misunderstood the Chair in getting directions to stand up and vote against. Please have my vote counted against.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)