Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure and an honour it is for me to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to thank the constituents in my riding, the new riding of Dufferin--Caledon, for the trust that they have placed in me to deliver their message to the House of Commons. I will endeavour to serve my constituents to the best of my ability, always aware of my responsibility to them.
Dufferin--Caledon is a diverse riding combining rural, urban and suburban communities. Dufferin County is made up of the five townships of Amaranth, East Garafraxa, East Luther-Grand Valley, Melancthon and Mulmur, and the three towns of Mono, Orangeville and Shelburne.
Caledon is a geographically large town in the region of Peel. It is basically the northern geographic half of the region of Peel. It is made up of a number of smaller communities including Bolton, which is the largest, Caledon East, Inglewood, Palgrave, Cheltenham and Alton, to name but a few.
Dufferin--Caledon has outstanding and diverse geographical characteristics, such as the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The headwaters of four of southern Ontario's river systems have their origins in Dufferin--Caledon: the Grand River, the Humber River, the Nottawasaga River and the Credit River. Rich agricultural croplands allow for a diversity of crops, including potatoes, corn, soybeans and barley. The lands support a variety of livestock such as beef and dairy cattle, hogs, chickens, sheep, goats and horses.
The Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association markets the treasures of the riding as being just outside Toronto's back door. These include downhill and cross-country skiing, world class golfing, the Bruce Trail for hiking pleasures, hunting in our forests and fishing in our rivers.
The industrial sector of Dufferin--Caledon encompasses manufacturers of components for the Canadian automotive industry; a thriving plastics and manufacturing sector, including the manufacturing of sophisticated, state of the art injection moulding equipment; and a large number of small and medium size manufacturing companies in the larger centres of the riding.
The throne speech is proof of William Shakespeare's observation that there is nothing new under the sun. When does the government get beyond its old promises and begin to envision a country with a government that leads its citizens and takes its rightful place as a leader in the international community? How many times must we sit through a Speech from the Throne only to hear the latest reiteration of the same old promises? With the passage of time, the lustre comes off these same old promises. Yesterday's vision belongs to yesterday. A promise of a health care plan for a generation suddenly shrinks to a health care plan for a decade.
Canadians had an opportunity to make their voices heard this past June. They chose to elect a minority government which would reduce the amount of power that any one party had in the hope that it would result in the introduction of some new ideas and a fresh vision that would move Canada in a forward direction.
New ideas are not what Canadians are getting with the throne speech. It is left to opposition members like me to report back to our constituents and explain why the government has so little interest in the challenges facing the rural constituencies of Canada.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Dufferin--Caledon consists of many farms and many farm families who have been farming for generations, although there are not as many as 10 years ago. Like the rest of the country today, we have fewer farmers doing more, but for how much longer?
Farmers in my riding talk about their concerns for their industry. They are increasingly telling me that for the first time in the history of their family business they are losing equity. They are worried about the future of their livelihood and the country's future ability to feed itself. With the average age of farm operators in the riding of Dufferin—Caledon now being 52, an age when they should be planning for retirement, they are left wondering if there will be anything left to retire on.
Canada was founded on the principles of agriculture. It is one of the four main industries on which our country was built. The recent throne speech promised nothing but a few words on the recognition of the importance of reliable access to U.S. markets. At least there was no speculation that the border would be opened sooner rather than later.
International borders were shut down due to one cow that carried BSE. It is 16 months later and the borders are no closer to being opened than they were months ago. How can we believe that anything will be done given the lack of prominence provided to BSE in the throne speech?
BSE is given a few words in one paragraph in the speech, and the government is asking Canadians to trust that it will be building on successful smart borders initiatives and on measures to develop a more sophisticated and informed relationship involving business and government officials in the United States. My constituents can take little comfort from this tepid mention masquerading as a plan or a strategy to get the border with the U.S. open. It is neither.
Given the fact that my riding of Dufferin—Caledon is situated at the source of four southern Ontario river systems and significant aquifers, the natural environment of the riding requires an informed and dedicated stewardship.
I am disappointed to see that the environmental portion of the speech is a collection of promises made in earlier years with delivery dates in 2005, or start-up dates in 2006 and 2008 or at some other distant date in the future. When it comes to an environmental plan, Canadians deserve more than platitudes and a promise of some vague action some time in the future. Our environment requires action now.
Having outlined solutions to all of the challenges facing the government in areas traditionally recognized as being matters of federal responsibility, the throne speech proceeds to offer solutions for some areas in the provincial domain with a new deal for cities and communities, and the often talked about national child care program.
In government circles this is probably what passes for thinking outside the box. Given that municipalities exist at the pleasure of the provinces, surely any new deal should rightfully be orchestrated by them.
Last month I met with the warden of Dufferin Country, his worship Keith Thompson. The purpose of Warden Thompson's meeting was to advise me of the county's needs for a continuing and significant infrastructure investment by all levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal.
The warden pointed out that the rural municipalities' need for investment in roads and bridges, and water and sewage upgrades was outstripping their ability to keep up. He told me that one of the local townships had closed a road because it could not afford to replace a bridge that was no longer serviceable. In the small community of Marsville, residents now face the extraordinary situation of having annual water bills that exceed their yearly property tax bills. These are just two examples of the need for traditional infrastructure programs in rural Canada.
Canada's rural communities are much more than a rich resource of natural resources and our cultural heritage. Some 40% of Canada's exports and 24% of our country's gross domestic product are generated by rural Canada. Investment by governments in rural communities make good business sense in that 40% of all of Canada's exports are generated by rural Canada. This is an impressive contribution to the prosperity of our country.
Rural Canada's ability to continue to make contributions at this level is very much in question, which brings me to the second reason for Warden Thompson's visit. The warden reminded me that the great disadvantage of rural communities is the digital divide that separates rural and northern communities from our neighbours.
In the 2001 Speech from the Throne, a commitment was made by the Liberal government of the day to work with the private sector to achieve the goal of making broadband access to citizens, public institutions and all communities in Canada by 2005. That has not happened and I do not see any sign in the last throne speech that it is going to happen. The throne speech reminds me of Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot .