Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway. I would first like to congratulate you on your election as a member and as Speaker. I look forward to working with you and the other members of the House.
I would also like to join my New Democratic Party colleagues in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Official Opposition and the leader of the Bloc Québécois.
I want to thank the citizens of West Nipissing, French River, Rayside-Balfour, Valley East, Onaping Falls, Folyet and the communities surrounding Nickel Belt who have elected me as part of the second largest New Democratic caucus in the history of the party. I humbly acknowledge the trust they have shown in me and the responsibility they have given me. I assure them that I will work unstintingly and will not disappoint them. I am honoured by their trust and I am determined to be here always to stand up for them.
In addition, I would particularly like to thank my wife Marie-Claire, my daughter Johanne and my son Michel for their support and encouragement. It is because of them that I am here.
I am honoured to be here with those of my colleagues who have been elected for the first time, and I am eager to get to work with them.
We are facing one of the most significant events of our times. Across the globe, we are seeing banks collapsing, companies faltering and people losing their jobs. This is just the beginning.
Ordinary Canadians are worried. They were looking to the Speech from the Throne to give them an indication of the direction the government would take to deal with this problem.
There were some positive items. I welcomed the general tone of the speech, with its call for co-operation and its conciliatory language. If the government is able to back up this new tone with action, then we are likely to see a productive Parliament that works for all Canadians.
The nods to the environment, the expansion of the retrofit program and the mention of a continental cap and trade program show that the government is slowly coming around to some of the policies Canadians have been demanding. The people of Nickel Belt understand and appreciate cap and trade. Decades ago, in a necessary effort to protect our environment, Inco was required to cap its sulphur emissions by a specific day or be fined. It capped its emissions. The environment is recovering from years of damage due to sulphur, and it is important to note that Inco did not leave town.
Yet even with these elements, most of the speech was too vague and indirect. It did not match the urgency or the depth of what is required to protect working families in this economy. Canadians were hoping for more from the throne speech, and New Democrats were expecting more.
There was no indication of how the government will reverse the growing doctor deficit. Five million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor and have to rely on clinics and emergency rooms for their basic care. For example, in my riding we face a health care crisis. Ambulances are backed up at the emergency room with ill patients, while beds in the hospital are taken by those who would be better served in long-term care facilities.
We need to know why FedNor has not stepped up to the plate in terms of requested funding for such a facility in Chelmsford. Such a facility would significantly ease the burden on our acute care hospital.
Although consumer bankruptcies in September were 20% higher than in August and although unemployment is projected to rise next year to 7%, there was no mention of how the government is going to fix the EI system. Recent rule changes to employment insurance mean that an unemployed person must exhaust savings before EI is even available. We need to make sure money will go right back into the local economy to create jobs, keep small businesses afloat and put food on the table.
In northern Ontario, we are already seeing the effects of the slowdown. Because of the low price of nickel, Xstrata has made changes to its plans for the lifespan of two major mines. First Nickel has suspended operations at its Lockerby mine in Nickel Belt, resulting in the layoff of 140 of its 160 workers.
We need bold and strategic measures for our economy. The 21st century is new and different, and tired old 20th century solutions will not work anymore.
First, let us introduce financial regulations that would protect consumers in this economy. Even though strong regulations have kept our banking sector comparatively stable, effects from global market turmoil are unavoidable. Stronger oversight is needed to track the $75 billion already given to secure banks. If assistance is given to any ailing sectors, taxpayers need a full accounting and, where appropriate, an equity stake in return. The federal government can protect consumers by ensuring that credit card companies stop hiking interest rates on cash-strapped families who miss a payment.
Second, let us invest in the new energy economy for 21st century prosperity. We do not have to choose between economic growth and fighting climate change. We can choose a new energy economy. We can put a price on carbon and harness the sun, wind and water. Canadian innovation can make us leaders in renewable technology and create green-collar jobs. We can begin creating thousands of jobs right now by energy-retrofitting our homes and buildings.
We can support our local businesses and agriculture. In my riding Don Poulin Farms, which recently could sell its potatoes to local stores, is now forced to ship its product to Toronto corporate chains. These chains then ship the product right back, to be sold in local stores.
Using resources to transport food over greater distances forces local farmers into hardship. It is environmentally damaging, it is an additional cost, and it could result in unnecessary job losses in Nickel Belt.
Third, let us invest in private sector enterprise and innovation through our research institutions. Our universities and colleges should lead the world in practical innovation. They have proven they are up to it. We must do more through incentives for job creation, better support for research and development, and innovation funding. A good start would be to allocate funding for the Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation in northeastern Ontario.
Fourth, let us make strategic investment in infrastructure and in the real economy. Let us commit to an ambitious plan to partner with our communities to repair our crumbling cities, invest in public transit, and build affordable housing. We can ensure that our publicly owned transit systems are efficient and effective.
In my riding it is nearly impossible to find an apartment that is both available and affordable. The roads are among the worst on the continent. We have relied on raw resource exports for too long. We need credit guarantees for viable companies in forestry and mining and we need them now.
Fifth, but certainly not the least important, is to invest in our social infrastructure. Without a national skills training strategy to address our skills shortage, we will only compound the length and depth of the economic downturn.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.
In the United States, pensions are guaranteed up to $50,000. We have to have pension insurance plans to protect seniors today and in future generations. We can create more jobs in child care and in caring for the elderly, increase the number of doctors and nurses and provide better opportunities for members of the first nations.
The government has got to respect the 62% of Canadians who voted for change. This parliament has been asked to set aside its differences and overcome its traditional partisan quarrels. However, that does not mean giving the government carte blanche, which is what Canadians have denied it.
The government has to make compromises and the opposition has to be constructive. If those conditions are met, I am convinced that this parliament will be able to rise to our expectations and to the expectations of all Canadians.