Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for Welland.
I would like to thank the constituents of Thunder Bay—Superior North for electing me to represent them in Parliament. It is a great honour and an even greater responsibility. After over 30 years of working for myself in my own small businesses, I now work for my constituents, many thousands of them.
I would also like to thank the Thunder Bay New Democrat volunteers who never stopped working hard for NDP representation in our riding since the days the hon. Ernie Epp and the hon. Iain Angus diligently served this House.
I especially would like to thank my wonderful family, Margaret and Michael Hyer, who offered unfailing support over five years and three elections.
Northwestern Ontario helped to supply the raw materials that built Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto: furs, timber and materials that helped to build a prosperous Canada, but it is northern Ontario now that needs help from Ottawa. Our citizens and our small towns feel forgotten. We feel that in our time of need, Ottawa has forgotten where we are, who we are and what we need.
As I knocked on thousands of doors over five years, I heard a lot of anger and a lot of worry. Thousands and thousands of resource jobs have been lost in northern Ontario, mostly in forestry, woodlands and mills. I heard anger and extreme worry in the forest-dependent towns whose mills and woods operations have closed, like Longlac, Nakina, Beardmore, Red Rock, Nipigon and many of the mills in Thunder Bay. Others are on the edge, like Terrace Bay, Marathon, and the two remaining mills in Thunder Bay.
Since October 14, I have been hard at work on many issues related to making life better for families in our region. Some examples include fostering value-added forestry, exploring potential energy from wood opportunities and meetings on regional issues related to mining, health care, highways, freight rail service to Greenstone and bringing back VIA Rail to Thunder Bay and the Lake Superior north shore.
My assistants are already working hard in Thunder Bay on helping many of our citizens with their local needs. However, many of the needs of northwestern Ontario can only be met by this House and by our federal government working together to invest, to create and to re-create healthy communities, families, the environment and the economy.
In our riding, more than 20% of our citizens are members of first nations. We want them to have more than mere payoffs for residential schools. We want them to join the economic and political fabric of Canada.
Many others in our riding are Métis. These descendants of the fur trade marriages want to be recognized at the federal table.
In our riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North, we have a cultural oasis in a sea of wilderness. We have, per capita, more symphony seats than Toronto. We have more seats at live theatre per capita than Montreal. We have a fine visual arts scene from aboriginal art to traditional art, to avant-garde; eye-popping works. We have those because our citizens and our previous governments helped us to build a cultural foundation. Let us please not cut arts funding. Let us increase it so that arts in Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario and all across rural Canada can continue to grow.
In Thunder Bay—Superior North, we have skilled, hard-working craftspeople, tradespeople, a labour force with experience and flexibility. We need support for innovation, for finding new ways to make new products from our forests. We do give thanks for the investments in Thunder Bay for molecular medicine and technologies.
Not everyone will get back to work. We need the government to protect their pensions, their homes and their savings, if they are pushed into retirement, through both wise investments and stringent regulations. If they are laid off in mid-career, we want an EI system that serves and protects them, not a system that adds layer after layer of regulations to avoid paying them so that the finance minister can balance his books. We must stop taking the workers' money from EI. It is their money, not the government's.
As in pretty much every riding in Canada, just over half of the citizens in my riding are women. They want the status of women office back. They want respectful attention to both equity and equality.
In our riding, about 35% of us do not have a family physician, myself included. Persons in need of many services must fly to Winnipeg, Toronto or Hamilton for treatment. Persons in need of psychiatric services get brief diagnoses in pills, not time and therapy and healing.
When Tommy Douglas and Lester Pearson worked together to create our then marvellous health care system, it was funded 50% federally. Today the federal share is well below 20%. We need the federal level of government to restore its long abandoned promise to be equal partners with the provinces on health care.
If our Prime Minister tells us he cannot meet these needs due to the impending deficits, we urge that he retrieve some of the money he gave to his friends in the banks and the oil companies in huge tax breaks.
I have a special plea for the Minister of Industry. We have a specialized mill in Thunder Bay that makes fine printing papers. It is called Thunder Bay Fine Papers. Under previous absentee owners, it was mismanaged. It has been bought and reorganized under new management, local Thunder Bay management. It needs the help of the federal government. It and the families in Thunder Bay need the help of the Minister of Industry, perhaps through FedNor. It is a unique mill. It makes value-added speciality fine printing papers for books, magazines and high quality brochures. It is almost 100% Canadian owned with most of that ownership right in Thunder Bay. It has secured a special, favourable 10-year labour agreement with CEP union. It has dramatically improved its energy and labour efficiency. It has gone from 6.9 hours of labour per tonne of product under the previous owners down to 2.8 hours of labour per tonne, putting it into the top 25% of efficiency in North American mills, and it has several years of orders.
The Province of Ontario has stepped up to the place for the following assistance: a loan guarantee of $25 million, a forgivable grant of $1.5 million, as well, the Ontario Heritage Fund has contributed another $1.5 million.
It is within the power of the Minister of Industry to save this mill. It is within his power to save over 600 direct jobs in a city of 108,000 people, as well as many hundreds of indirect jobs in Thunder Bay, plus securing many jobs at Bowater, also in Thunder Bay, which is the source for the Kraft pulp that goes into these fine papers. All told, it is within his power to save several thousand direct and indirect jobs in Thunder Bay, to save several thousand families in Thunder Bay from the hardship and worry this Christmas.
If theMinister of Industry, the Prime Minister and their government, whether through FedNor or through some other means, choose to show that they do care about value-added forest products, that they do care about forestry workers in northwestern Ontario and that they do believe that a targeted investment in Thunder Bay is important, then here is what is needed: first, a loan guarantee of between $20 million and $30 million for Thunder Bay Fine Papers to get it through its start-up cashflow crunch; second, that they direct our Canadian government agencies to buy from printers who specify Canadian produced fine papers, instead of the offshore papers often used at present.
I am a wildlife biologist. Biologists combine two strategies for saving endangered species. Second, we make a long-term plan for sustainability but first we move quickly for a short-term survival strategy to hold on to a dwindling population.
Mr. Speaker, please tell the Minister of Industry that we have an endangered forest industry in Canada with an especially endangered population of forestry workers in Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario. We urge him to show that his government does care about our forestry workers and does care about northwestern Ontario.
We need to move quickly to secure these jobs at Thunder Bay Fine Papers in Thunder Bay and in resource dependent communities across all of Canada.
Once again, allow me to express my pleasure at joining the House and I look forward to working with all parties to show that we can work together to reinvest in the kind of Canada that we all seek and that Canadians citizens want and need from us.