Madam Speaker, let me begin by joining with other members of the House in conveying to you and to Mr. Speaker my best wishes in your election as Speaker and deputy speaker of this Chamber.
In the weeks and months ahead, Madam Speaker, there will be many challenges you will have to face, but I hope you will be comforted in the knowledge that members of all political parties have demonstrated quite clearly their desire to maintain civility without having to sacrifice anything as it relates to our ideology.
There is no greater honour in a democracy than to be elected to represent one's fellow citizens. There is no greater obligation than to work together to try to create a better life for every person in the country.
I do not share the political philosophy of members opposite but I respect their right to hold their beliefs and to enunciate those beliefs. I hope that on many issues we can find common cause and common ground as we seek to build a better future for our children and our grandchildren.
May I say a special thanks to the people of my constituency of Cape Breton-East Richmond who have granted me the privilege in four general elections of representing them as their member of Parliament in this the highest court of the land. I acknowledge that privilege but I remind them, as I do all other members of this prestigious House, of the words of Edmund Burke when he said:
You owe them much more than your industry; you owe them your judgment.
The communities in my constituency were established by people who dared to dream. My constituents are the descendants of men and women who faced adversity and persecution, men and women who came to Canada seeking opportunity, tolerance and a better life. They sought a decent standard of living and they sought a fair chance to play their role in building a better country.
In 1994 the challenges are different but the dreams remain the same. The residents of my riding and indeed all Canadians seek economic growth, compassion, social programs and a generosity of spirit. Canadians want a government that shares their concerns, a government that respects their views and their dollars, and a government that helps them to fulfil their dreams.
In the speech from the throne the government did not promise miracles. We cannot solve all the problems overnight, but we can and we must take steps to foster new economic growth. We can and we must take steps to ensure integrity and openness in our actions. We can and we must move to solve problems with creativity and co-operation. We can and must treat individuals all across this country, regardless of their differing political philosophies, with dignity and with respect.
The Prime Minister made clear throughout the election campaign his belief that we need to kickstart our economy. We are attempting to do just that with the new national infrastructure program which was announced by my colleague, the President of the Treasury Board. This program will create thousands of new jobs in a matter of months. It will help build the roads and bridges we need to link our country together and to move our goods and produce. We need modern infrastructure to compete in the modern world.
What is so encouraging about this particular initiative is the degree of co-operation shown by provinces and municipalities. To my knowledge this is the first time in our country's history when we have crafted such a complex economic program with such speed and indeed such goodwill. I hope this is a hallmark for future efforts in which all of us in government work together to achieve effective and efficient results for the good of the country.
As an Atlantic Canadian I want to note the significance this government attaches to the fixed link. The fixed link is a transportation initiative which will integrate the economies of Prince Edward Island with those of New Brunswick and thereafter the rest of the country. This, the largest of the building projects, will provide short-term jobs and long-term economic growth for that area of the country. I may say in a personal way it will provide hope to an area which suffers from unprecedented levels of high unemployment.
The whole thrust of the government's agenda is to give every region, every province, every community and every person a chance to be part of the economic mainstream. We want to knock down the barriers that keep Canadians from having a fair chance at success. That is the simple principle behind our plan, Madam Speaker, something to which you have spoken yourself personally in the House and indeed across the country, the introduction of a prenatal nutrition program. We think that babies have a right to be born healthy. Frankly I find it shocking that in a country as rich as Canada we have infants born sick just because their mothers were too poor to eat properly during pregnancy.
Equally distressing are the conditions of poverty in which so many aboriginal children live. Is it any wonder that children fall asleep at school when they do not get one decent meal a day let alone three, when they live in rooms without heating, when they do not have proper winter clothing? I hope all members of Parliament, regardless of political ideology, will support the implementation of an aboriginal head start program so that we can end this national disgrace.
We cannot expect people to make a meaningful contribution to our society if we do not create the conditions that allow them to make that contribution. Surely it is the responsibility of Parliament to show forceful leadership in creating those conditions.
I cannot help but reflect upon some words spoken by the new Speaker of this House in 1981 when he said: "I want Canada to excel in spheres in which we are particularly gifted. I want us to produce goods better than anyone else. I want us to celebrate the forms of artistic expression that best reflect our soul. I want us to pioneer to branches of knowledge and to develop an even more humane social system".
It is wrong that one million children use food banks in Canada. That is why the Government of Canada will announce an action plan for major reform of the social security system in this country. It is wrong that senior citizens are afraid to walk down the street. That is why my government will bring in measures for community safety and crime prevention.
It is wrong that large numbers of women and children are battered and abused. That is why my government will introduce measures to combat that high level of violence. It is wrong that law-abiding citizens are victimized just because they look different, sound different or act different. That is why my government led by the right hon. Prime Minister will act to fight racism in hate crimes across this country.
The notion that every Canadian is entitled to certain basic standards of life is central to our identity as a nation. I am proud to live in a country where we take it for granted that we actually care about one another. I am proud to live in a country where universal health care is regarded as a right and not as some sort of specialized service for the wealthy of this country.
The decision of the Prime Minister to create and to chair the National Forum on Health is based on the belief of our party, the Liberal Party of Canada, that medicare is the cornerstone of social programs in this country.
Only when all Canadians have access to decent health care do all Canadians have an opportunity to forge a decent life for themselves and for their families.
As the minister responsible for housing, I am pleased to say that the government will immediately reinstate the residential rehabilitation assistance program. This was a commitment that we made in the election campaign and a commitment that was reaffirmed in the throne speech given just a few days ago.
Over the next two years, the Government of Canada will provide $100 million in loans and grants to allow low income Canadians to bring their homes up to health and safety standards.
The emergency repair program will furnish assistance in rural and remote areas of Canada. RRAP for the disabled will allow Canadians with disabilities to make changes they need to their homes to guarantee their fuller participation in the mainstream of Canadian society.
I have asked the provinces and territories to share the cost and to deliver RRAP in a spirit of partnership and co-operation. It is my hope that we can create more jobs and provide more help to hundreds of thousands of Canadians across this land.
We are announcing this quick action in order to gain the immediate economic benefits that the renovation program will provide. Later this week I intend to propose improvements in the program to provincial and territorial housing ministers.
Our aim is to put Canadians back to work. Our aim is also to invest in short-term projects that provide the foundation for long-term economic growth. Our aim is to introduce policies and programs that allow all Canadians to benefit from that long-term economic growth.
The government's fundamental view is that we can only solve Canada's deficit problem when we are on track with creating long-term jobs. I am perfectly aware that money for any government programs comes from hard-earned taxpayers' dollars. As the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, I intend to respect that fact. I will do my best to eliminate waste within my departments as well as other governments. I look forward to receiving the suggestions of hon. members which I am sure will be made in a very constructive way.
Canadians are entitled to cost effectiveness and accountability for how their money is spent. We are moving toward greater fairness through open and electronic procurement systems. My officials and I will work with the provinces and others to establish an open purchasing policy across our respective governments.
What is equally important is to ensure that small and medium sized businesses have a fair opportunity to do business with the Government of Canada regardless of where they may come from.
On that note, a small business for instance in my riding has a difficult time knowing where to get the application forms or even who to call. Anyone who has ever flipped through a government phone book knows what a frustrating process this
must be for small and medium sized businesses. That is why we will work to bring centralized business service centres to each of our regions. Small businesses should be able to get all of the information, all of the help and all of the forms in one place.
My hope is that we can work with the provinces and business groups to provide information for them at the same locations.
Small businesses in Atlantic Canada, the west and the north pay taxes too and they deserve a fair opportunity when it comes to bidding on contracts paid for by the taxpayers of this country.
I do not pretend that the new government procurement policies will on their own revitalize the poorer regions of this country, whether they be the north, the west or indeed the Atlantic. We know that our problems are much deeper than that.
The truth is that the economic problems confronting, for instance, the four Atlantic provinces are powerful. However, I am absolutely convinced that the will of Atlantic Canadians to overcome those problems is far, far more powerful. I can say that the Government of Canada will show the leadership to make Atlantic Canada prosper indeed in the years ahead.
I know that members from other parts of Canada face difficult economic adjustments in their communities as well, but I point out to Atlantic Canada, which has been doubly hit and doubly hit hard, the recession of the last few years took an especially harsh toll on my region because of our narrow economic base and our competitive gap with the rest of the country. What is more, the collapse of the east coast fishery is wreaking havoc on the livelihood of thousands upon thousands of families. Six hundred communities in Newfoundland and in Cape Breton are losing their economic mainstay and some feel they may even lose their dignity.
The groundfish have disappeared but the will to survive has not. The federal government will work tirelessly with the provinces and the industry to help the people affected to find new job opportunities. We will put an end to foreign overfishing. In that regard, I salute the Prime Minister and my colleague, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who has assumed responsibilities for this particular dossier and is showing leadership both domestically and internationally.
We are going to need goodwill from other Canadians. I urge Canadians to understand the difficulties which interprovincial trade barriers pose not only to Atlantic Canadians but to all Canadians. The Atlantic provinces for instance face a $5.7 billion trade deficit with the rest of Canada. We need your support for the Government of Canada's commitment to eliminate barriers to trade within Canada and, if so, it will benefit all Canadians.
The lack of equity capital remains one of the most serious road blocks facing Atlantic businesses and indeed all businesses across this country. The private venture capital industry is virtually non-existent in Atlantic Canada. We need to work with the private sector and investors to find means of allowing entrepreneurs from the Atlantic region the same access to capital as other Canadian businesses.
Each province in the Atlantic has exciting possibilities for creating and trading new products and we will work with each province to build upon those various strengths.
My province of Nova Scotia for instance has a rapidly growing software industry that stretches from underwater acoustics to support centres of higher education.
We are modernizing and upgrading our tourism in Cape Breton and Halifax, if members do not know it by now, has the potential to become the hotbed of music in North America.
Like every other Atlantic Canadian I am a realist, a realist about our problems we face but an optimist about the future. Like other Atlantic Canadians I believe that the Government of Canada has a major and constructive role to play in justifying that optimism and helping us reach the future.
If we are to become world-class traders and if we are to build upon Atlantic Canada's potential in knowledge-based industries, we need to implement the programs as outlined in the speech from the throne.
I know that as I speak here today other members of this House of Commons do not believe in an activist government, do not believe in job creation programs, and do not believe in our task to help generate new employment for our constituents. But I believe.
Like many others of my generation I came to maturity as an admirer of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy who once said: "Have you ever told a coal miner that what he needs is individual initiative to go out and get a job where there isn't any?"
This government believes it must support job creation and it must provide people with the tools and skills to create new jobs and to obtain those new jobs.
If we want Canadians to seize the opportunities of the future this Parliament must seize the opportunities of today. If we want Canada to tap its full potential we must allow every Canadian to tap his or her full potential. If we want to restore respect for government we must make government a force for economic and social renewal. We must make government a force for growth and, as the Prime Minister has said so often, we must make government a force for good.
We are very blessed in this country. I look forward to working with all members of Parliament to use those blessings wisely and to make certain that each and every one of our citizens from each and every part of our country has a chance to share in those blessings.
Madam Speaker, may I close my remarks by thanking you, congratulating you, and congratulating new members of this House.
For those who have spoken in this debate I am certain they have spoken with sincerity and with conviction. Although we will attempt to practice civility in the weeks and months ahead I assure hon. members opposite that that should not be interpreted in any way as a consent for sharing the ideologies which they may and I may pronounce from time to time.
I seek your respect. I will give you the civility which it deserves but in turn, Madam Speaker, I expect no less than those members opposite.