Mr. Speaker, I have mixed feelings as I stand to speak on the government address in reply to the throne speech. On the one hand, it is of course an honour to speak on behalf of the people of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. On the other hand, the speech from the throne offers very little to speak about that has not already been spoken about far too much. It is basically a regurgitation of the same old rhetoric and the vague, unkept promises that have been included in every Liberal throne speech for the last 11 years. Incredibly, the government even had the gall to talk about fiscal discipline, after overseeing a decade of the worst spending scandals this country has ever seen.
We have experienced the HRDC scandal, the 100,000% cost overrun for the useless gun registry, the sponsorship scandal and the unaccountable spending of millions of dollars on Liberal patronage appointees. All this waste took place while our Prime Minister was gutting health care and the military, the two most important fundamental responsibilities of government.
The Prime Minister delights in saying that he has balanced the budget, but anyone can balance a budget by raising taxes and cutting basic services, as he has done. Neither talent nor vision is needed. On the other hand, balancing a budget in a well thought out and responsible manner while contributing to Canadians' quality of life takes real leadership.
Let me give members an example of this government's misplaced priorities that is especially relevant to my riding. The government has done almost nothing to help rural Canadians cope with the devastating circumstances beyond their control, such as drought, floods and BSE. Remember the AIDA program? It failed to deliver. The CAIS program is no better, and the government's response to the BSE crisis is virtually non-existent. Yet the government happily throws good money after bad into a program forcing rural Canadians to register firearms.
Finally, having taken their property rights away and watching their livelihoods die, all the government can offer rural Canadians is better Internet access. I suppose if they have the Internet, farmers will be able to advertise the sale of their farms and look for work in the city.
That is where things are headed as long as the government fails to support our agricultural sector. It is ironic that the government is so fond of talking about high speed communications for rural Canada, when its response to the BSE crisis has been so slow.
In the throne speech the government calls broadband communication one of the fundamentals of rural economic development. What about agriculture? When will the government realize that agriculture is the very essence of our rural economy?
The government has become so arrogant that it thinks it understands the needs and priorities of rural Canada better than rural Canada does itself. Farmers are not alone in being treated in such a paternalistic and ill-advised way by the Liberals. Some of the measures proposed in the Speech from the Throne indicate that families are getting the same treatment.
Rather than enabling all families to make the child care choices that work best for them, the government continues to promise funding for only those families who choose to put their children in day care facilities. There is no mention of any incentive or assistance for parents who choose to stay home to care for their children. There is nothing for those whose children require special care.
Every family has different circumstances and the government should enable families to make the choices that best meet their own needs. This government loves to pay lip service to diversity, yet its cookie-cutter approach toward child care disrespects the diversity of families and removes their freedom of choice.
The approach to the provinces comes from that same paternalistic attitude. The throne speech is filled with fine phrases about respecting regional diversity in Canada, but this government will nevertheless continue to interfere as much as ever in areas of provincial and municipal jurisdiction.
There are good reasons for Canada being a federal state. Where government policy relating to regional interests is concerned, the provinces are the ones in the best position to make decisions.
Just as individuals and families should be able to make their own choices with respect to things like child care, provinces should be able to make decisions in areas such as municipal infrastructure, skills training, education, and other areas that, according to both the Constitution and common sense, are provincial matters.
This government is so busy making policy where it should not that it has failed to make policy where it should. The most obvious example is national defence. The throne speech started with a very appropriate tribute to our men and women in uniform, but I suspect that most of our military personnel and their families and, for that matter, most Canadians will find the tribute more than a little hypocritical coming from this government. The Liberals have mismanaged and neglected our military almost to the point of collapse.
The government has not even reviewed its defence policy in more than a decade. I am talking about the decade since the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unprecedented nuclear proliferation and regional instability. None of these things have been taken into account in the government's defence policy.
Our military has been systematically dismantled since the Liberals came to power, thanks to this government. The Canadian Forces have no rapid reaction force. Thanks to this government, Canadians paid half a billion dollars not to buy helicopters for the navy, and now we will pay again to buy the cheapest helicopter instead of the best.
This government oversaw the demise of Canada's last submarine fleet, and the replacements, like those for the Sea Kings, are the cheapest instead of the best. The government is eliminating the army's tank force. Our military cannot move its own heavy equipment overseas, either by sea or by air. One of our four destroyers is in mothballs because there is not enough money to put it to sea.
Only the dedication, discipline and quality of our military personnel have allowed them to perform their duties so well up to this point. Our men and women in uniform deserve the safest and most effective equipment available. They deserve our respect and appreciation. The government has asked them to do too much with too little for too long. It must stop.
One of the commitments the government made in the throne speech was to build consensus when it comes to setting the nation's objectives. There is already a consensus in Canada that the military needs better equipment and more funding, but so far there is no evidence that the Liberals are interested in that consensus.
The same is true in many other areas. Canadians of all political persuasions know and agree that there is a need to strengthen our democracy. The official opposition of the House and the governments of all the provinces would almost certainly agree that the people of each province should elect the senators who are supposed to represent them. I suspect that there would also be broad consensus on establishing fixed election dates so that government cannot reserve democracy for an opportune time.
There is also a broad consensus in Canada about criminal justice issues. I think a large majority of Canadians and members of the House would agree that our children should be protected by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.
If the government really wants to act on the basis of consensus, it should start where the consensus already exists. The government has made no attempt to build consensus on anything it has done so far in its mandate. As Treasury Board critic for the official opposition, I listened with great interest as the Treasury Board president tried to make it sound like the government had consulted stakeholders and the opposition on Bill C-11, which deals with disclosures of wrongdoing by public servants. I know I was never consulted. Opposition critics were told of the changes made to the bill a few days before it was tabled, but we were certainly never consulted during the drafting of the bill and it shows.
The government most definitely did not consult the opposition parties on the throne speech. Even if some of us over here will have to vote in favour of its adoption in order to enable the government to continue, this is an unbelievable show of arrogance on its part.
Let me say in closing that I had hoped this throne speech would herald a Parliament built on cooperation and common sense. This is what a minority government situation calls for. But I was disappointed. The throne speech shows no effort to build bridges and no innovation in the areas that matter to Canadians. That is what the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition is meant to fix, and I sincerely hope that it passes with the support of my hon. colleagues opposite.