Madam Speaker, it is indeed with enormous pride, great humility and some considerable nervousness that I rise to speak for the first time in the Chamber.
Let me offer you congratulations on assuming the role as a Speaker. It is indeed a pleasure to see you sitting there.
I also want to offer my congratulations to my colleagues, the mover and the seconder of the Speech from the Throne. They set a high standard of eloquence and commitment to the class of 2001.
I most especially want to thank the women and men of Winnipeg South Centre for the profound trust they have shown in sending me here. I also want to thank the many hundreds of volunteers who in four and a half weeks worked thousands of hour to ensure that a Liberal voice would continue to speak for Winnipeg South Centre.
I would be remiss if I did not say that for me family comes first. I want to publicly acknowledge the unequivocal love and support of my three daughters, Jessica, Elissa and Sarah for their support and understanding in this election campaign and many of the tasks that I have undertaken.
I am here today because the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy has chosen to leave politics and follow another path. Many of us wonder what political and public life in Manitoba will be like without him. Involved in our politics for almost 30 years, Lloyd Axworthy served us with great distinction, with a real pride in the community that sent him to serve them in the nation's capital. In Winnipeg and in Manitoba his landmarks are everywhere. Those of us who have worked with him will be true to his legacy by keeping alive his vision of public service.
Winnipeg South Centre is as diverse an urban community as one can find in the country. It is a riding of many faces: great wealth and privilege coupled with great poverty, many young people and students and many who have long passed three score and ten. There are many communities of recent immigrants and many whose families have lived there for several generations. There are large numbers of single parents and many young families throughout. There is a large urban aboriginal community in this riding.
It is, indeed, a community I know well having represented a large portion of it as a member of the board of trustees of the Winnipeg school division for the last 14 years. Much in the Speech from the Throne spoke to the concerns, the issues, the activities and the initiatives of the residents of Winnipeg South Centre and I would like to focus on just a few.
Members may be surprised to know that 25% of the children of Winnipeg South Centre live in poverty. Although child poverty exists throughout the community, there is a handful of places where it has reached epidemic levels. Winnipeg's inner city is unfortunately one of these places.
Furthermore, there are 50,000 people of aboriginal ancestry living in the city of Winnipeg, a large number of whom live in Winnipeg South Centre. In 1971 approximately 57% of Winnipeg's aboriginal households lived in poverty. In 1996 that number was 65%. Unfortunately it continues to grow.
The Speech from the Throne spoke directly to aboriginal people, from reducing the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome, preventable diabetes and tuberculosis to meeting the basic needs of health, housing, work and education. It also spoke to strengthening their entrepreneurial spirit and business expertise.
My pledge based on my record to the people of Winnipeg South Centre was to ensure the safety and well-being of our children, to ensure them a solid future and to ensure that all children have the opportunity to be the best they can be. The Speech from the Throne has addressed this concern on many fronts. It refers to making sure that no child suffers from the debilitating effects of poverty.
The government has begun to tackle this ominous task by committing to increase the contribution to the groundbreaking national child benefit and by investing $2 billion in the early childhood development agreement. We heard the Prime Minister commit yesterday to a major focus on an investment timetable that will allow us to make real progress for children.
It is also reassuring to know that the government will take steps to ensure that laws protect our children from those who would prey on their vulnerability through Internet luring.
I am proud to be part of a government that recognizes that the real engine of growth is the human mind. Continued learning and skills training is a challenge facing all areas of the country. The establishment of registered individual learning accounts will make it easier for adult learners to finance their learning. Workers will be able to learn while they earn.
It is also important to the residents of Winnipeg South Centre to know that the government is committed to give colleges, universities and research hospitals a greater role in feeding the networks and clusters that will connect the brightest researchers with dynamic entrepreneurship.
Very important, financial responsibility and growth is reflected in the Speech from the Throne. The people of Winnipeg South Centre are looking to their government to continue to make Canada one of the most attractive places to invest and to do business. They look to our government to support innovation and to ensure that all Canadians benefit from technology.
I also know that many will applaud the increased commitment to both the CBC and the arts and heritage community.
Much is currently happening in Winnipeg South Centre. It is a vital, vibrant, dramatically diverse community where initiatives abound, be it the Little Red Spirit Head Start Program, the community justice program in West Broadway, the innovative health initiatives at the Riverview Health Centre, the Asper Jewish Community Centre or the Centro Caboto Centre.
At the risk of being parochial, I want to pay particular tribute to the community of the Winnipeg School Division. Not only does it provide quality education to young people, it has frequently, often without support from other jurisdictions of government, piloted or facilitated many programs that are finally now gaining recognition. These are primarily childhood interventions and assessments, culturally appropriate programs and curricula for aboriginal children, housing registries and family resource centres and policies and programs of inclusion.
It is indeed a remarkable institution often not acknowledged for the groundbreaking efforts on behalf of children and their families. It gives me great pleasure to do so here.
In closing, I want to say how proud I am, on behalf of my community, to be part of a government that believes in opportunity with a social conscience, inclusion for the strangers among us, justice and opportunity for our first nations and public generosity for those in need.
It is a government with an understanding of the importance of a strong foundation, a sound economy with incentives and opportunities and growth. It is a government that provides opportunity in a country where citizens will honour their responsibility to give something back to their communities. It is a government that recognizes that sound financial management is indeed a means to an end. It is a government that acknowledges that life is also lived in the spirit in our benevolence toward each other, in true respect for our differences and in the quality of our public service.
I am pleased and proud to be here on behalf of the citizens of Winnipeg South Centre.