Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to speak for the first time in this great Chamber and to congratulate you on your appointment to the Chair.
I would like to begin my remarks by thanking the people of St. John's West for their support on October 25. I am greatly honoured to serve as their member of Parliament and I look forward to working with my constituents over the next four years.
My riding represents a mix of both the old and the new. In St. John's West the fishery is the largest industry and has been a way of life for the past 500 years. At the same time there are many small businesses in the district, some of which are at the leading edge of high technology research. Others are traditional types of businesses which have been employing people for many years.
The people of my district are honest and hard working. They count back the generations of people earning a living from the sea. Business operators recall years of good and bad times. Newfoundlanders have a reputation for sticking together and finding solutions and I have just found that my colleagues in this place also stick together.
Today the people of St. John's West face a number of problems. The decline in the fishery has had a devastating effect on most families in my district. Small business operators are trying to cope with a decrease in sales and the burdens caused by the GST and other taxes. Young people were looking to the future, only to see despair.
During the election Liberals campaigned on a platform of hope and opportunity. The decline in the Newfoundland fishery has struck at the very heart of our province. Under the previous administration foreigners were stealing our fish and laughing at us overseas, while our fisher people at home took empty nets and came home with empty boats. Short-term political concerns were given priority over the long-term health of the industry.
The people of St. John's West were not satisfied with the way the former government dealt with these important issues and that is why fisher persons and plant workers in my riding voted for a Liberal government.
In the throne speech the government made special mention of the challenges facing the east coast fishery. At this time, I would like to say thank you to our Prime Minister who has demonstrated such foresight and wisdom in the appointment of his ministers, in particular the appointment of our very knowledgeable and capable Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. A fellow Newfoundlander and colleague, his reputation for working hard is well known and I can personally vouch for the long hours he dedicates to his work.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been hard at work dealing with foreign overfishing, with measures directed toward rebuilding fish stocks and providing income support programs for those who are displaced by the close out of the fishing industry. The road to recovery in the fishery will be a difficult one but the people of St. John's West are up to the challenge and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
I look forward to playing my role as member of Parliament in working with the minister and my colleagues in helping our number one industry come back to the levels it once enjoyed.
Also in my riding we have what was once considered to be one of the most affluent areas of our province. That area is a town called Argentia. This town is now facing a bleak and uncertain future as the U.S. navy prepares to close its station in that community. The American presence has been a daily fact in Argentia for about 50 years and their pull-out will have a lasting impact on the local economy.
The people of Argentia did not lie down and give up when the American announcement came two years ago. They have been working hard to create opportunities in their own community. The "Agenda for Argentia: A Study on Re-Use", is a testament to the town's determination to prosper. Negotiations are presently under way with the Americans on issues relating to the U.S. naval station and I have met with our ministers on the issue to ensure that these concerns are addressed.
The federal government has already provided funding for the consultant's report on the future use of station facilities. I was pleased to announce recently on behalf of the minister responsible for ACOA that an entrepreneurial training program would be implemented. A key recommendation of the consultant's report was the long-term redevelopment of the port facilities at the station. Such redevelopment would provide needed jobs in an area of increasing unemployment. These efforts will help ease the transition for Argentia.
Today I want to again assure the people of Argentia that they can count on my support as they explore development opportunities.
A decision by Marine Atlantic recently to reduce its scheduled ferry service from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Argentia is another blow to the town. The six-week reduction will have a double impact on Argentia. The shorter season will mean that fewer truckers and tourists will come to visit the town, to eat in the local restaurants and to buy fuel. It will take money out of the local economy. As well, the shorter season will mean less work for Marine Atlantic employees and a greater reliance on unemployment insurance throughout the fall and winter.
This is a backward move by Marine Atlantic and I would call on the company to reverse its decision and I would call on this government to encourage it to revisit its plans for the area.
Small businesses in St. John's West face many challenges. The long recession has hurt sales. Then in 1991 came that infamous tax, the goods and service tax, a tax to end all taxes. It was imposed by the previous government and has created a paper burden that many business administrators and operators find impossible to deal with. In addition, the high interest rates
followed by the previous administration limited funding opportunities for small businesses.
Small businesses are vital to the future prosperity of the residents of St. John's West. Most jobs created in the province of Newfoundland are created by small businesses. As a business operator, I know firsthand the difficulties faced by this sector. During the election I listened to the pleas of small business owners asking for some relief from the problems they experienced.
The Liberal Party has given its promise to help small businesses. I am pleased to hear, in the speech from the throne, the government's determination to fulfil its commitments in that area. The Canada investment fund will also help high technology companies secure funding for product development, improving market access and obtaining long-term capital.
The Prime Minister's commitment to replacing the GST is greatly appreciated by the business people in St. John's West. The GST has been a disaster that has either driven businesses underground or simply forced them out of business altogether. As I have said before, it has increased the paper burden and costs to businesses and forced many to lay off staff in order to reduce their costs. This is an unacceptable situation and I am very pleased with the government's determination to correct it.
Business operators from St. John's West will have an opportunity to participate in a study on a tax to replace the GST. Businesses were not consulted the last time, but they will certainly be consulted by the government this time and by our Prime Minister.
The government's commitment to improving the literacy skills of Canadians is a great step forward. There are people in my district who are not able to take advantage of training programs because they lack the basic math and reading skills. Renewed funding for the national literacy program will enable the people of St. John's West to make better use of government training programs.
The theme of the Liberal Party during the election was creating opportunity. Before the election Canadians felt frustrated with their government. They felt out of touch and felt that their government was not listening to them.
On October 25, Canadians and the people of St. John's West spoke with a loud, clear voice. The government has received the message and it will listen to Canadians. The new Liberal government will provide the people of St. John's West with the opportunities they need to earn a decent living and prosper in this great country.
Once again I wish to thank the people of St. John's West for their overwhelming support. I look forward to the next four years to be their voice in this great Canadian House of Commons.