Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Surrey North. I also offer you my sincere congratulations on your re-election. I would also like to thank the people of London—Fanshawe for their trust and support and for the privilege to serve them in the House.
I wish to talk about the people I serve and about the impact of the Speech from the Throne and government policy on their lives. I want the new Conservative government to understand how very important positive action is to the well-being of the people in the community of London—Fanshawe.
I will begin by telling the House about Bill Hiltz. Bill is a physically challenged adult who deals with cerebral palsy and autism. He depends on his family home provider and support workers for everything in his life; food, shelter, personal care and communication. Bill is among the fortunate. He has family home providers, Joyce, Stan and grandma Ursel, who genuinely love and care for him.
For members here who may not have experience with cerebral palsy or autism, my concern is that there is absolutely no mention of Canadians with disabilities in the throne speech. By not making any commitment to improve the lives of the most vulnerable Canadians, the Prime Minister is treading down the same path as the previous government and ignoring the needs of Canadians with disabilities.
New Democrats have recognized these citizens and prepared draft legislation, the Canadians with disabilities act. We need a commitment from the government to address the needs of children and adults like Bill Hiltz. With the support of the federal government, resources can and must be available to enable disabled Canadians to have the quality of life they deserve as citizens of this country.
The statistics are a matter of shame. Disabled Canadians have great difficulty securing employment, finding affordable housing, receiving the education they need and, as a result, many of them live well below the poverty line. This must be remedied.
I would also like to talk about the auto workers in my riding. As I am sure members are well aware, many of my constituents depend either directly or indirectly on the Ford assembly plant in Talbotville. Recently, the company announced it would reduce the Talbotville assembly plant to one shift.
If this proposal goes ahead it will have a profoundly negative effect on the economy, not only of the London region , but on the economy of Ontario and Canada. In the Speech from the Throne the new Conservative government made reference to promoting a more productive and competitive economy. There was, however, no reference made to how this more productive economy would be achieved. We cannot be more productive without the well-paying jobs provided by the auto sector.
We need a clear industrial strategy for Canadian workers and support for the auto industry. Like the GM plant in Oshawa, the workers at Ford's Talbotville plant are among the most productive, competitive and dedicated workers in the world. They have demonstrated year after year the ability to produce a quality product. They do not need lip service from their government about productivity. They need secure jobs to raise their families and make their contribution to our community.
It is not a failure on the part of workers' productivity that closes auto plants; it is our high dollar that is killing competitiveness. We need more commitment from the government than just a throw away phrase in a throne speech.
The throne speech also failed to address housing needs that are evident not only in London—Fanshawe but across Canada. One of my constituents, Bill Clarke, a disabled veteran who lost both legs in the service of his country, was in desperate need of adequate housing. I first met Bill in 1990. He lived in one of the three storey walk-ups that comprised a compound of four crumbling, unhealthy, unsafe buildings in my riding. Many of the residents had lived in these buildings over a long period of time. They had become a community.
However the disgraceful disrepair of these buildings was making tenants ill, deprived them of security and drained them both physically and emotionally. Doors did not fit properly so heating and cooling costs borne by the tenants were extreme. The roofs of all four buildings leaked, causing water damage inside the tenants' homes and creating a mould problem in each apartment. Safety lights were not maintained and unsecured garbage chutes were a hazard to children.
When I met Bill Clarke he asked me to help the tenants purchase the buildings, secure the funding to effect the necessary renovations and create a co-op.
I am pleased to say that after significant work by my provincial office and members of the federal NDP caucus, we were able to secure federal funding and build Talisman Woods. It was the last federally funded co-op in Canada. It gave the people in my community the safe, affordable, decent housing they deserved. Tragically, there is no mention whatsoever in the Speech from the Throne about housing.
Canada is one of only two G-8 countries without a national housing strategy. In 1996 the former leader of the Liberals abolished the affordable housing program secured by New Democrats in the minority government of the 1970s. In the spring of 2005 the NDP budget secured $1.6 billion for affordable housing construction and $100 million for energy conservation in affordable housing.
Bill Clarke died of cancer in December of 2005. He is truly missed by all who knew and loved him. In the years since the Talisman Woods Housing Co-op became a reality, Bill lived in decent and secure housing. He deserved this comfort.
It is essential that the Government of Canada commit to ensuring that the NDP budget money flow to desperately needed housing projects in our communities and that it further commit to the restart of a national housing program to build the affordable and co-op housing units desperately needed by first nations, seniors, students and people with disabilities. There is far too much missing from this throne speech that is of profound concern to me and the citizens of London—Fanshawe.
My riding is blessed with a wonderful, vibrant community college, Fanshawe College. In the north part of London we have the University of Western Ontario, my alma mater. For the students of these institutions there is nothing in the throne speech. After 13 years of Liberal inaction, students in my riding have seen the student debt soar. The average tuition at colleges and universities has almost tripled in the last 14 years. They should have been front and centre in the government agenda.
New Democrats have and will continue to advocate for the restoration of funding cuts by the former finance minister in the Liberal government. We will continue to advocate for lower tuition fees, a long term federal grant system to make education and training affordable. We will continue to insist on an overhaul to the Canadian student loans program. Our students, the future leaders and contributors to our economy and communities, deserve far more than to be an oversight.
I wish I had more time. I had planned to talk about the need for more affordable public transit. Many Canadians depend on public transit to go to work, to school and have effective environmentally responsible transportation.
However I would be remiss if I did not speak about the child care town hall meeting that I had in my riding. More than 125 people were present and they provided much valued wisdom and advice to me in regard to their absolute need for safe, affordable, regulated, not for profit child care. They utterly rejected any government plan to replace the child care spaces they need with a cash proposal and market based solution. Neither works. My constituents waited for more than 20 years for the child care spaces promised first by a Conservative and then a Liberal federal government. They are demanding the kind of child care that would be realized if we had the child care program proposed by New Democrats. They want a child care act.
Finally, I want to tell the House about two constituents, Jose Rodriguez and his spouse, Miriam Portillo. They are refugees who escaped Guatemala in 2000 after Jose had been kidnapped, two of his uncles murdered and both Miriam and Jose threatened by armed police. They are facing deportation on April 14, 2006.
After six years as contributing members of our community, they will be sent back to very real danger, despite having worked, volunteered and built a life in London, Ontario. Even with the best efforts of my office, two ministers of the current government refuse to abandon the hopeless practices of the previous Liberal government.
Miriam and Jose have an application with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Their lawyer has indicated that they have a good chance to succeed with this application but because the hard-working public servants at CIC do not have adequate staffing, it will take time to be processed. We have asked for extra time so Miriam and Jose can be safe in London while the application is processed. It has been denied.
We can do better. The people of this nation deserve better than the failure they have experienced in the Liberal years and from this less than inspired throne speech. I, with my caucus, will work diligently over the next months to achieve more for the working families of Canada and more inclusion of NDP priorities so that all Canadians will benefit.