Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure and some relief that at last I rise to move the motion on the address and reply to the speech from the throne.
To you, Mr. Speaker, welcome back. Like you, I do look forward to the second session of this 35th Parliament. It is clearly a place for open debate.
Although it has now been some time since we heard the speech from the throne, at that time I was reflecting on all that has happened in the 28 months since the election brought us here to the Chamber. In the intervening period I have had time to consider it even more closely. Unlike what I have just heard from members opposite, my memories of the red book are quite different. I remember it as an ambitious plan, a plan taken to the people by our Prime Minister in 1993, a plan overwhelmingly endorsed by the Canadian electorate from coast to coast, a plan that has been put into action.
Only half way into our mandate the government has already delivered on the vast majority of commitments in the red book and in the first throne speech.
The two-fold objective to stimulate job creation and economic growth while reducing the debt and the deficit lay at the very heart of the action plan. The emphasis on jobs and the economy helped to create half a million new jobs and achieve a rate of economic growth that ranked among the highest in the world.
Having clearly set out fiscal targets in the first budget, we consistently met those targets. How did we do that? By sticking to
the economic fundamentals, keeping inflation low and reducing the deficit from over 6 per cent of GDP when we took office to a projected 2 per cent by 1997-98. The government has always believed in a balanced approach.
We have remained true to the words of my colleague the hon. member for Madawaska-Victoria who, though perhaps ill qualified as a defensive back, will make a very good Speaker upon the opening of the 35th Parliament. She said: "A Liberal government will have a social conscience while being fiscally responsible. A lean government does not have to be a mean government".
We are proud of our record in the first half of our mandate but this no time to grow complacent, and that is what brings us here today. Today's throne speech represents a reaffirmation of our initial goals. Its purpose is to set out our plan of action for how we will build on past accomplishments during the second half of our mandate.
The throne speech focused on three priority themes: jobs and growth, security for Canadians and modernizing the Canadian federation to ensure unity.
Canadians do not want nor do they expect government to do everything. Canadians expect government to make strategic choices. By forming partnerships with the provinces and the private sector we can succeed in helping Canadians achieve the dignity of work.
When I think of work I think of youth. What immediately comes to mind are my own 19-year old twin boys who happen to be here in Ottawa today. Their existence has a lot to do with my concerns for ensuring there are job opportunities for our youth. I do not suffer from any empty nest syndrome. These boys need to get out of the house. They need to get jobs.
The priority of this issue was brought home to me again last week. The University of Saskatchewan is in my riding in Saskatoon. USSU vice-president Robert Millard, to use our finance minister's expression, keeps my feet to the fire on this issue. He and students across the country will be happy with today's throne speech announcement that we will double the number of federal student jobs this summer.
I read in yesterday's newspaper that youth are exiting Saskatchewan in record numbers because there are no jobs. Last night I heard the same thing on a local Ottawa station in the hon. whip's riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
The announcements made in today's speech are directed at exactly that problem. The government has shown its commitment to our youth by announcing initiatives that will help them make the transition from school to work and find real jobs in the future, a good example of our reaffirmation of our commitment to be an innovative technology leader
By concentrating our efforts on science and technology, we will help Canadians take advantage of the creation of knowledge-based industries, which will generate more jobs, better jobs and durable jobs for Canadians young and old.
Jobs in areas such as agricultural biotechnology, the aerospace industry, environmental technologies are opportunities that currently exist in Innovation Place in my riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt and which will be further enhanced by today's announcement.
Another aspect mentioned in today's speech is the importance of trade. Last week we had the pleasure of a visit from the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific in Saskatoon to discuss the importance of national trade in creating jobs and growth.
The tremendous success of the Team Canada trade missions led by the Prime Minister, most recently in Asia, has resulted in billions of dollars in business deals for Canadian companies and tens of thousands of new jobs. The government will continue to enhance export development and financing and encourage Canadians to be key players in world markets.
The next theme we discussed earlier today was security for Canadians. When I was in my riding during the January recess a consistent message I heard from my constituents was the value they place on the maintenance of our social programs. They and many other Canadians who share their concerns will be heartened by today's commitment to safeguard the principles of medicare, to reform and sustain the public pension system and to implement a new employment insurance program.
Perhaps nothing unites us as a nation like our belief in the need to preserve the fabric of the Canadian social safety net. It is one of the attributes that has earned us the status of the best country in the world. This is high praise to our modest Canadian way of thinking, making us far too prone to blush, to brush it aside, little realizing with what envy our nation is eyed by others around the globe.
This does not mean we can afford to take our federation for granted. The throne speech indicated the commitment of the government to keep Canada together. To remain strong and united we must be open to changing needs and circumstances, ready to be flexible and adapt to the needs of all parts of the country as we enter the next century.
This pledge is not lightly given. Like the other commitments in the throne speech, it is a promise to be kept. "The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable". That quote appeared in chapter 6 of the red book under the heading "Governing with Integrity", from which, I was pleased to see, the hon. member from Kootenay East was quoting earlier this afternoon. I was pleased to see he has a
copy. I am equally pleased to see he has read it. I am pleased to see that he can read.
If members think back to the time of the next election, they will recall that no longer did Canadians perceive their elected officials as the trusted servants of the people. Again we heard the member for Kootenay East quoting from the red book to suggest that after years of scandal and patronage, by 1993 politicians did not enjoy the best of reputations. Perhaps after the comments from the member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley his leader may be distressed to learn this member pines for the days of Brian Mulroney.
The difficulty we faced at the time of the last election was that Canadians had lost faith in the political leadership to maintain the integrity of government institutions.
In the months leading up to the last election, I too was among the ranks of despairing Canadians who had lost faith. Like many other rookie members of the House, I would say from all parties, at that time I had finally reached the point at which action had become the only antidote for the cynicism and discontent tormenting me. Although I had not held political office before, I decided the time had come to get involved.
As I mentioned from chapter 6, restoring integrity to our political institutions, a personal priority for the Prime Minister, became one of the first orders of the day. As my boys will tell you, I say with annoying regularity actions speak louder than words. We have only to look to the example set by the Prime Minister, his own long political career, his unblemished record of honourable service to his country to find out what standard is required. Having regained the trust of the Canadian electorate in 1993, the Prime Minister received a mandate to begin the process of restoring the faith of Canadians.
I mentioned a few moments ago that I have the honour to represent the riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt. It is a long way from Ottawa. Canada is a big country. In spite of the convenience of air travel, what with the time change and connections required, it takes me a good six hours to get from door to door; back to the riding on Friday for the weekend and back on the plane Monday to work in Ottawa. Many Canadians perhaps do not realize that when the House is in session this is a weekly commute.
Before you get too choked up with this sad story, Mr. Speaker, let me say I am lucky. I live in the city of Saskatoon. When I get off the plane I am home. Many of my colleagues who live in rural Canada have yet another leg of the journey ahead, a long lonely drive usually in the dark after a gruelling week and a long flight.
I think in particular of my colleague from Saskatchewan, the member for Souris-Moose Mountain, a young lad of 27; clearly the driving has taken its toll.
Members from other geographically distant areas, the territories, the interior of British Columbia, northern Ontario, rural Quebec or Atlantic Canada, know exactly what I am talking about. Even when we are in our ridings, often in the rural areas declining populations are so scattered over such vast geographical areas that travelling is a real challenge. Even worse, it makes personal interaction between the MP and the constituent increasingly difficult.
Members representing urban ridings face the same outcome but for entirely different reasons. Though geographically manageable, ridings in large centres such as Vancouver or Toronto have undergone tremendous population increases. I think of my colleagues, the member for Mississauga West and the member for North York, whose ridings have populations of over 300,000.
We have shifting population patterns, the challenges presented by time and distance and the increased workload in Ottawa severely taxing the ability of the MP to maintain direct contact with the constituent.
Consider my own riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt. It is a rural-urban split. It is located virtually in the heart of the province of Saskatchewan. It includes one-third of the city of Saskatoon and large rural area to the north and east. It is bounded on the west by the South Saskatchewan River, putting to rest any popularly held misconceptions that there is no water in Saskatchewan.
If you were to accompany me on a tour of the riding, Mr. Speaker, first we would make our way through a well treed residential area. Myth number two debunked, we have trees. We would end up at the University of Saskatchewan, established just after we became a province in 1905. On that campus we would find a variety of colleges including law, engineering, fine arts, medicine and agriculture. We would find the Royal University Hospital. We would find the Saskatchewan Accelerator Laboratory and finally on the outer edges, Innovation Place with its thriving ag-biotech community.
Travelling beyond that we would end up at the edge of the city where in the interest of time we would have to transfer to a helicopter to view the hundreds of square miles that make up the rural portion of Saskatoon-Humboldt. Flying over this vast area we would see First Nations communities, grain farms, agricultural manufacturing, beef and pork operations, schools, churches, town halls, post offices, curling rinks and that prairie landmark, the grain elevator. Most important, we would see the people who live in that riding, the constituents.
Who are these people? We would see a young mother working on aboriginal justice initiatives; a first year engineering student who wonders where the money will come from for next year's tuition; a hospital cafeteria worker who is worried about special care for her diabetic preschooler; a particle physicist who does not want to have to leave Canada to continue her research; a new Canadian pumping gas who devotes his spare time to the jazz festival; a feedlot operator linked to the Internet for market prices who keeps a .22 in the corner to shoot gophers; a farm woman who drives a school bus, works at the credit union and who cannot find decent child care; a Roman Catholic priest with an aging flock; and finally, one of my favourites, an 86-year old francophone lady who cannot get out any more but who crochets like a demon and sends me Christmas cards.
There is not a member in the House who could not produce an equally lengthy, diverse or interesting profile of the Canadians in his or her own riding.
If we stitch all of those ridings together we end up with a map of Canada, a tapestry of rich and varied hue reflecting the myriad of constituents whose interests,both individual and collective we have been sent here to represent.
There are so many different strands of opinion. There are different strands of thought, religious belief, education, ethnic background, income brackets, age groups and loyalties.
Our challenge as parliamentarians, as Canadians, is to be the loom that will take those many strands, all those different colours, all those different fabrics and strengths, and weave them into a strong, beautiful, sheltering Canada.
As was stated in the throne speech, the government approaches the second half of its mandate confident that what unites us as Canadians is far greater than what divides us. The commitment made today is to find those precious threads that strengthen the national fabric without constricting those within its folds; to call upon our shared Canadian values; to build an independent nation, economically strong, socially just, proud of its diversity and characterized by its integrity, compassion and competence.
I have no doubt this challenge can be met and that the opportunity is there. As we head into a new session of Parliament I urge all members of the House to reflect on what we cherish about Canada, to recognize the privileged responsibility we share and the sacred duty we owe to the Canadians we represent to strengthen and preserve this country.
Long live Canada!