In this, my first speech in the House of Commons, I would like to congratulate the Speaker on his election and you, Madam Speaker, on your appointment.
I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the people of St. Paul's riding in Toronto who have entrusted me with the honour of representing them in this Parliament. I accept this responsibility in all humility.
St. Paul's riding is in many ways a microcosm of Canada. It defies easy characterization. It is a place of contrast. It is a riding of tenants and home owners, business executives and building contractors, new Canadians and people who have been here for generations. Successive waves of immigrants have called the southwest part of my riding home and supplanted one another in this neighbourhood as each group has prospered and moved on, the Canadian way.
Among the residents of St. Paul's are many of our best known business, cultural, political, labour, educational and community leaders, and many thousands of hard-working people who through their efforts keep Toronto and Canada growing.
As I went door to door during the last election, I was continually moved by the diversity of Canada and how it is reflected in my riding. In representing St. Paul's, I have wonderful role models to look to: John Roberts, Mitchell Sharp and Walter Gordon who represented voters in this riding in the past. These people of great vision and deep commitment to Canada shared a fundamental belief in the virtue of public service.
In carrying out my responsibilities I shall very much have in mind their example, people who served, and in the case of Mitchell Sharp continues to serve, with integrity and devotion to their country.
I must pause to say thank you to my family, the unsung heroes in any politician's life. I am grateful to my wife Debra, who holds things together in Toronto while I am here, and to my two sons, Matthew and Jeremy.
My parents taught me that we each have a responsibility to give back to our community. Whatever our personal circumstances we have the same responsibility to roll up our sleeves, get involved and try to make a difference. I shall always be grateful for that lesson and their support.
Over the last year I have had the privilege of meeting thousands of people in my riding. They voiced concerns about jobs and the economy. Many are deeply troubled about the future and perplexed about the role of government in our time.
St. Paul's has not been spared the ravages of the recession. For many, optimism has given way to frustration and despair. Economic stagnation has taken its toll. However, our spirit is strong. The people in my riding are not apathetic. They have channelled their frustration and anger into action and involvement within their community, their city and their country.
Politics is serious business in my riding. St. Paul's is the site of Montgomery's Tavern where William Lyon Mackenzie planned his rebellion of 1837. One cannot help but notice parallels between those days and our own. The rebellion resulted from widespread public anger directed at a government which was disinterested, self-absorbed and out of touch. The bold actions of 1837 paved the way for responsible government.
One hundred and fifty-seven years later the Canadian people, angry with a disinterested and out of touch government, again rebelled the way we do in modern society: at the ballot box. The message they sent was loud and clear. Canadians want responsive and responsible government.
The people of my riding are unforgiving of politicians. They do not forget if we fail to keep our promises. That is why I am proud to be part of a government which is proceeding with this budget to do exactly what it said it would do. We are funding every major commitment in the red book. When we keep our promises we go a long way to restoring the confidence Canadians must have in their government.
Among the many noteworthy budget initiatives are the infrastructure program, the youth service corps, prenatal nutrition programs, the restoration of the court challenges program, the technology network and the residential rehabilitation assistance program.
There are two different visions for Canada. Some believe, and we have heard it today, in a Canada of winners and losers, of we and they, of us and them. They believe government is the problem, that government has no role to play except to stand
aside and let the chips fall. Their theory is that the economy will adjust, that we will all be better off in the long run if government simply gets out of the way.
In the meantime, and it is a mean time, slash and burn economic policies have a terrible impact on the social fabric of society.
I learned a few things when I was working for the monetary fund in Washington.
One of the things I learned is that slashing expenditures alone, what we call shock therapy, leads inevitably to serious costs to society and fails to restore fiscal health. We must control expenditures and foster growth. That is the course we have set. We should beware of those who would prescribe quack diets.
Our vision is different. We cannot define Canada in terms of winners and losers. What matters to us is improving the quality of life of all Canadians so that they can all be winners.
The government has a role to play in revitalizing the economy and in preserving the social fabric. Canada has always been a land of prosperity and Canadians have always prospered under a government which could play that role, even in times of fiscal restraint. As the budget indicates, our government must take an active part in the economic, social and cultural life of this country.
This budget demonstrates that this government understands its responsibilities to the people of Canada. For Canada and for Canadians to prosper, government must neither stand aside nor stand in the way. Government must stand alongside Canadians.
I know the government cannot do everything. There are worthy things we simply cannot afford to support. We have made tough choices in this budget but I believe we have made the right choices. We were listening to Canadians in the pre-budget consultations.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, I look forward to listening to the views of Canadians on the thrust of the economic policy.
The government understands the reality we are faced with today and is prepared to do that which is necessary to be fiscally responsible. Controlling spending is a priority for this government. This budget begins the long and difficult task of reversing the debt and deficit spiral. The budget incorporates a more ambitious deficit reduction plan on the expenditure side than any budget in the last decade.
We will not blame the previous government for the sorry state of Canada's financial affairs. We are prepared to be judged by how we deal with the hand we have been dealt by the world we find. This budget is a first step in a longer process which began on October 25 to restore fiscal health and preserve the social justice which defines Canada.
The government will not solve Canada's problems by creating a permanent underclass in this country. Those who need help most will always have the assistance they require. I will work with the government to identify and support the role that government can and should be playing.
Government can and should bring people together, set goals, provide leadership, make sure the job gets done fairly and effectively. That is what this budget is all about. The government understands it has a role to play in helping people find decent work, in helping restore their confidence. Even in difficult economic times government must respond to the needs of Canadians and Canadians need jobs.
The budget accomplishes this in two ways. The infrastructure program is putting people to work now. In looking to tomorrow, to tomorrow's workers and the jobs they must have, the budget establishes a national literacy program, a youth service corps, internship and apprenticeship programs, and innovative programs for small business.
I am confident that together with the people of Canada we can solve the riddle of the 1990s. We will be able to have a caring society, a vital cultural life, and a viable economy. We are up to the challenge.
We, as members of Parliament, must do our job, but Canadians too must do their share and keep on believing in what we can accomplish together. All citizens of our great country must recognize and accept their responsibilities towards this society and do their share. We must regain confidence in our common future.