Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour and privilege for me to move this motion on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to pay my respects to the Governor General and thank Her Excellency for the speech she has given today.
I would also like to thank the Prime Minister for the honour he has granted to me, and to the voters of Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, in asking me to move this motion.
I am all the more honoured to have been asked to move this motion because today's throne speech marks the beginning of a new era. We are embarking on a period in which we shall see changes of critical importance. A great many of the initiatives and priorities presented today will affect the lives of all Canadians during the next decade.
Our new Prime Minister has, in my opinion, eloquently outlined the factors that have brought Canada to this significant crossroads.
Ten years ago, the federal government faced an alarming financial situation. The previous government had accumulated a crushing national debt, weighed down by annual deficits of up to $42 billion. The national unemployment rate was consistently in the double digits.
These conditions undermined economic prosperity and mortgaged the future of Canada's youth.
But, thanks to the difficult choices our government has made, and especially to the considerable sacrifices made by all Canadians, we have put an end to this nightmare. Fiscal responsibility, that is, living within one's means, is now a defining characteristic of the federal government. Canada now has one of the strongest economies of all industrialized countries.
And while having succeeded in freeing ourselves of this financial burden, another equally heavy burden has become lighter. Over the past twenty years we have wasted too much time and energy on bitter and painful debates over our national identity. A sense of confidence and self-assurance now prevails in Canada. We know who we are and where we want to go.
As the Prime Minister pointed out, there is clearly a new spirit abroad in Canada. We are proud of our linguistic duality, our diversity and our pluralistic society. We know that when we work together and pool our efforts, we have no equal.
This sense of confidence is especially evident in Quebec. Quebeckers, the young in particular, are open to the world and know they can compete with the best the world has to offer. In the last election in Quebec, Quebeckers made clear their legitimate desire to work together with their partners in the Canadian federation. They are tired of the same old unproductive games the Bloc Quebecois is so fond of.
Like all Canadians, Quebeckers know this is not the time for self-indulgence and introspection. They realize that what lies before us is a decade of opportunities during which we will be able to ensure that these recent victories translate into sustainable prosperity for all.
Today's world is offering unprecedented opportunities, and I believe that Canada is ready to take advantage of these opportunities. Having successfully resolved the problems we had been confronted with here in the past, Canada is now more than ever capable of controlling the forces for change which are rapidly transforming our world.
We can benefit from the major technological change taking place worldwide. We will be witnessing breakthroughs in areas such as biotechnology, medical technologies, environmental technologies and nanotechnologies. These breakthroughs will be as significant for the next generation as computer science was for this generation.
If we in Canada can pursue a common goal and make the right decisions, we will ensure not only our own prosperity and that of generations to come but also a quality of life that will be envied the world over.
This future prosperity is not a sure thing, however. While such winds of change will bring great opportunities, they will also disturb the status quo.
Without a clearly defined plan or a coordinated strategy, we risk being overwhelmed by the rapid evolution of new technologies or being left behind while the rest of the world moves forward.
I am happy to open the debate on the throne speech. It is a detailed plan to achieve specific goals. It provides a roadmap for laying the foundation necessary to take advantage of new opportunities to work together as a nation united by its determination to succeed.
The throne speech clearly identifies the goals we must attain to reinforce the foundation of our society, build a strong economy for the 21st century and demonstrate Canada's influence and reputation in international affairs.
Canada is successful when all Canadians work together to reach major goals. However, this is possible only when everyone feels involved in the democratic process. Everyone must feel that their opinion matters.
Canadians need to see real change: voters must see that members play a decisive role in helping government to achieve the national consensus I mentioned earlier.
Canadians will support major national goals only if they are convinced that well-defined democratic mechanisms are in place to establish priorities.
Voters want their members to be able to act and to be even more autonomous, so that they can truly be the most direct link in influencing and shaping the national government.
Today's throne speech refers to an action plan for democratic reform that will implement the necessary changes. Allowing more free votes and making parliamentary committees more influential and autonomous will do much to convince Canadians that their members truly represent them at the national level.
To increase public confidence in the government, real improvements must be made with regard to management and unethical conduct. To this end, the throne speech identifies concrete changes, such as the creation of a new agency for continuing excellence in the public service, the creation of the position of independent ethics commissioner and the implementation of a high-level expenditure review and the elimination of waste and overruns.
The federal government must implement these changes in order to resolve the problems we are facing as a nation.
The greatest challenge facing us is ensuring that we have solid social foundations. We will be able to meet challenges and reap the benefits over the next decade by setting priorities, such as the needs of Canadians, and those of the less fortunate in our society in particular.
We must first ensure that all Canadians have timely access to universal, high-quality, publicly funded health care. The $2 billion health care transfer to the provinces will help in improving our system, increasing the number of doctors and nurses, and reducing waiting times for diagnoses or treatment. The new Canada Public Health Agency will allow us to react quickly and in a coordinated manner to the threat of infectious diseases such as SARS.
Moreover, in order to ensure that our children get the best possible start in life, the government is increasing its initiatives under the Multilateral Framework for Early Learning and Child Care to increase the number of quality child care spaces available.
In the Speech from the Throne, the government also promises to implement child protection legislation and to develop a strategy to prevent the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet.
In the context of the next budget, the government is strongly committed to improving the fairness of the tax system for people with disabilities and those who care for them.
In the speech, the government also promises to meet the urgent needs of aboriginal communities with respect to development, particularly by creating the Centre for First Nations Government and expanding the Urban Aboriginal Strategy and the Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy.
As a government, we want our cities and communities to have access to new sources of revenue in order to meet the growing demand for services. To this end, the government will work with the provinces and territories to share with the municipalities a portion of gas excise tax revenues or other tax revenues.
One of the mechanisms the government is committed to making available quickly is tax relief to cities and municipalities from GST payments, which will free up billions of additional dollars for meeting critical priorities.
In the Speech from the Throne, reference is also made to a number of initiatives aimed at making it possible for Canada to benefit from the new economic possibilities available.
We must first ensure that Canadians have the necessary skills for the jobs available in this 21st century economy. This will be done in part through substantial improvements to the Canada Student Loan Program, by offering new grants to low-income students. As well, we will concentrate on speedier recognition of foreign credentials and previous work experience.
We will improve access to capital for the commercialization of sciencein order to benefit from technological breakthroughs in environment, health,biotechnology, and nanotechnology. We will develop a program to be administered by Canada's new national science advisor. We will promote the technological advancement of the agricultural sector by concentrating on transportation infrastructure, competitiveness and food safety.
Sustainable development will become an even more important component of the world economy, and Canada will play a lead role in this. We will respect our commitments to the Kyoto accord by developing an equitable plan on climate change, in partnership with provincial and territorial governments and other stakeholders.
The Speech from the Throne announces a 10-year, $4 billion program primarily designed to clean up contaminated sites. As well, environmental indicators on clean water, clean air, and emissions reduction will now be incorporated into the government's decisionmaking process.
The Speech from the Throne also refers to specific initiatives to showcase Canada's prestige and influence in international affairs. This strategy will ensure Canada of an independent voice and enable it to promote our distinctive values on the world stage. First, a global overview will draw attention to all of our international policies.
We will also address lessening the debt load of the third world, and will be one of the first countries to enact legislation to provide more affordable drugs to help the developing countries deal with pandemics such as AIDS.
Here in Canada, we will establish a national security policy, including a detailed plan to ensure our safety and security while respecting the special characteristics of our society.
I am thrilled with today's throne speech and the new course it sets for us. I am pleased that Canada is ready to make the most of its renewed faith in progressive goals, with a stronger social agenda, a true 21st century economy, and a platform from which we can assert our prestige and influence in the world. I am also pleased to think that the changes to our political system will enable us to reach these goals with a national consensus.
Similarly, I am pleased to think that, with this plan, Canada will be able to make its mark in history, as the Prime Minister pointed out.
I am proud to move, seconded by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, that the following address be presented to Her Excellency the Governor General of Canada:
To Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
May it please Your Excellency:
We, Her Majesty's most loyal and dutiful subjects, the House of Commons of Canada, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.