Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North—St. Paul.
It is my distinct pleasure to rise in the House today as the newly elected member for the riding of Oak Ridges. The riding is named after the Oak Ridges moraine which intersects nine municipalities. It is made up of the communities of Richmond Hill, the home of the largest observatory east of the Rocky Mountains and the home of Elvis Stoyko, world championship skater; the town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, the home of the largest strawberry festival in Canada; and the northern Markham area, the high tech capital of southern Ontario.
The residents of the riding have placed their trust and faith in me. I will not let them down. Public office is a sacred trust and I believe that our role as parliamentarians is to listen to the people, act with fairness and wisdom, and to never forget that we are here to serve the interests of Canada.
Lucius Clay said of government:
The road to democracy is not a freeway. It is a toll road on which we pay by accepting and carrying out our civic responsibilities.
We have accepted our civic responsibilities as members of this House. I believe that Canadians now more than ever expect and even demand that our nation's leaders try to work toward consensus on issues. The days of political attack and rancour have not served this nation well, in my view. Political parties and governments need to work more co-operatively if we are to achieve the best for our citizens.
Yes, there will be fundamental issues on which we will disagree, but where there is an opportunity for us to work together to achieve solutions, let us do it, in the words of Nike.
The Speech from the Throne is the government blueprint for the coming term. I would like to focus on three areas which are of concern to me: youth, national unity, and investment in knowledge and creativity.
In order for Canada to be truly a land of opportunity we must develop an economic atmosphere which speaks to young Canadians, which tells them they have a future in Canada. They need to be able to dream and to reach for the stars.
The government has stated very clearly that the level of unemployment among our young people is far too high. We have the best educated young people in our history and we need to create the conditions that will position them to thrive in our knowledge based economy.
In February the government announced the youth employment strategy which consolidated over $2 billion in new and existing funding for programs and services that young people need to acquire the skills and work experience to find jobs and lasting careers.
I welcome the three priorities of the government in this area: to make sure that young people make a successful transition to the world of work; to make sure that our young people who want to continue to learn have access to education; and finally to make sure that our young people who have found it difficult to get started in the workplace get a second chance.
As a former educator I have worked closely with students. I know their concerns and their aspirations. Canada is the land of opportunity and the government has committed itself to making the vision of tomorrow a reality for Canadian youth.
The role of internship programs has been particularly successful in helping young people get started. The government has committed itself to expand these programs. Enhanced funding for student summer placements will continue.
Working with the private sector and provincial governments, a Canada-wide mentorship program will be developed. I believe that the greatest investment we can make in Canada is in our young people. The government has listened and is responding to the needs and concerns of young Canadians.
Former American Vice-President Hubert Humphrey said of government “the impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbour”. His words are fitting when applied to the national unity debate. The nation was created in 1867 by people of vision, men and women who were prepared to hold out a helping hand, to say that together much can be accomplished, but divided little can be achieved.
In the words Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier:
We are all Canadians. Below the Island of Montreal the water that comes from the north from Ottawa unites with the waters that come from the western lakes, but uniting they do not mix. There they run parallel, separate, distinguishable, and yet are one stream, flowing within the same banks, the mighty St. Lawrence, and rolling on toward the sea bearing the commerce of a nation upon its bosom—a perfect image of our nation. We may not assimilate, we may not blend, but for all that we are still the component parts of the same country.
In the Speech from the Throne the government has indicated that the most important commitment is to keep Canada together. It is our duty. It is our responsibility. The overriding goal is to strengthen and unite the country by joining in the common purpose of keeping Canada as one of the best places in the world in which to live.
Canada has a proud and rich history.
In spite of geography, we have shaped a society that reflects our cultural values as a nation; tolerance, understanding, recognition of the vital role that two languages, generosity of spirit and respect for the individual.
There are those in this House who would fail to adhere to the words of Sir John A. Macdonald: “Let us be English or let us be French but let us always remain loyal and above all, let us be Canadian”.
I think Canada exists because its people can work together.
We are destined for greatness because of the Canadian spirit. That spirit was shown on the battlefields of Ypres in 1915 and Vimy Ridge in 1917. Canadians acted as one: French, English, people of many backgrounds united in a common goal. The Canadians who risked their lives in 1942 in their raid on Dieppe and in June 1944 on the beaches of Normandy understood that. My late father was wounded on those beaches in Normandy. He believed, as did those of his generation, that Canada was worth protecting and that Canada and our way of life was worth saving.
The forces of disunity are the forces of despair, the forces of gloom. Men like Sir George Etienne Cartier believed that French speaking Canadians would survive as a people within the larger nation. His belief has proven to be well founded. The French language and culture is protected by the Constitution, the charter of rights and freedoms. The use of two official languages, the thriving of the French language not only in Quebec but the unparalleled demand for the language in our schools across the country is a testimony to Cartier and his vision.
I believe sincerely that Prime Minister Laurier was correct that the 20th century does belong to Canada. Our leadership on the elimination of land mines is another example of how Canada is recognized around the world for its compassion and concern for others. Canada is my home. It is my passion. I believe the issue of unity can only be addressed by people of goodwill.
Yes, there are issues of alienation that must and will be addressed by people who are unified in the belief that this country is worth preserving. I am reminded of the words of Macdonald on the fate of our nation when he stated “whatever you do adhere to the union. We are a great country and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it. We shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken”.
The time has come to reawaken Canadians to our history, to remind them of our roots and to acknowledge the contribution of men and women across this country, men like Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I believe the time has come to proclaim our faith in their work and to declare two national holidays in their honour to recognize their contributions to Canada and to the building of our nation.
I applaud the government for having the wisdom to invest in knowledge and creativity. We live in a changing technological world. To quote from the Speech from the Throne, “With the nation's finances in good shape, we will soon be positioned to make choices and investments that support innovation and risk taking in Canada, and to attract more foreign investment in knowledge based industries”.
The government has targeted growth strategies that focus on knowledge intensive sectors where we are stronger and have good prospects for new growth and global leadership, areas such as biopharmaceuticals, the environment and information and telecommunications. SchoolNet is another good example.
I am pleased the government has focused its efforts in these areas. I believe that together we can achieve the greatness that Laurier and Macdonald spoke of 100 years ago.
Long live a united and strong Canada.