Madam Speaker, since this is my historic first speech in Canada's House of Commons, I would like to congratulate you on your election to the Speaker's chair. Furthermore, I pledge my support and full co-operation to you and all of your colleagues who will be overseeing the proceedings of this House over the life of the 35th Parliament. Yours is an exceedingly difficult task. The eyes of Canada are upon this Parliament and Canadians are expecting reform.
As a rookie MP it has been my observation over the past two weeks that nowhere is change needed more than right here in this very chamber. Like millions of other Canadians, I am absolutely appalled at the behaviour of some hon. members. I appeal to you, Madam Speaker, to do all you possibly can to help restore the public's faith in this place. I sincerely hope the decorum in this House will improve rather than degenerate further. It is up to each and every MP to assist you in restoring the dignity of this House.
To members elected or re-elected to this Parliament, my congratulations. It is my hope that all MPs will use their mandate wisely.
No maiden speech would be complete without recognizing all of those people who support me, for no politician wins by himself or herself. It takes a dedicated team working together to win. I was very fortunate to have the best team possible working for reform in Prince George-Peace River. For many of my supporters their commitment began before the 1988 election and never faltered-more than six years of hard work and effort. I want to take this brief opportunity to salute them.
A special thank you to Carol, my wife of over 20 years, and my three children for their ongoing love and support. To all my family, friends and supporters, thank you for this great honour that your dedication and sacrifices have bestowed upon me.
I would be remiss if I did not mention a man known throughout our riding and indeed much of northern Canada as Mr. Reform. Short Tompkins is truly a great Canadian committed to doing all he can to bring constructive political change to this country. I am proud to call him my friend.
Although the riding of Prince George-Peace River is famous for its pristine beauty, wildlife and abundant natural resources, its greatest asset is the hard working people who inhabit it. These people have sent me to Ottawa because they have lost faith in the political system in Canada. The population of my riding feels alienated, not only from provincial but from national decision making. There is a growing concern in my riding about how the old parties have avoided making tough decisions on social spending. If this Parliament is to address these critical concerns of Canadians, the attitudes of governments must change.
It is my belief that this reluctance by past governments to listen to Canadians demanding change is a reflection of the plague of political correctness that has infiltrated every segment of our society. If one speaks out against special status for one province, one is said to be out to destroy Canada. If one dares to question our immigration policy, one is branded a racist. If one objects to the legal system that protects criminals rather than holding them responsible for their own actions, one is labelled a dinosaur.
I call on this government to reject political correctness and to instead listen to the wishes of the Canadian people. We cannot create sustainable social programs and safety nets for those truly in need if those programs are built according to the politically correct agenda of the day. The government must consider what is good for Canada, not what is dictated by the media or by a few outspoken interest groups.
Will our social programs as they are currently structured be sustainable? Universality of access must be preserved. But if universality means a declining number of productive taxpayers paying all of the costs for all of the people all of the time, then certainly the programs are not sustainable. Reformers want to ensure that our social programs are sustainable and available for all Canadians when they need them.
In this time of economic trouble caused by a quarter century of government mismanagement, my riding remains one of the few bright spots where hard work and entrepreneurial skills are still rewarded. But even there it is becoming more and more difficult for small business to prosper and expand.
Small business today survives in spite of government, not because of it. Small business people are gravely concerned about the rumoured reductions to maximum RRSP contributions. If this reduction should become reality rather than rumour, this government will be reducing the ability of entrepreneurs in the private sector to provide for their own retirement while the pension plan for the public sector remains untouched.
As of December 1992 about $150 billion were held in tax deferred RRSPs while $110 billion had been set aside for the pensions of government workers. If the finance minister is intent on reducing the maximum allowable contributions of private citizens, then perhaps he should also be looking at
reducing the generous government public servant and MP pension plans that the rest of the taxpayers are helping to fund. The people of my riding are fed up with this double standard.
Canadians are generous people. However they are concerned about whether our charitable but fragile social safety net can withstand the increasing pressures being placed upon it.
Canadians are proud to be able to offer asylum to refugees fleeing political persecution and human rights violations in their home countries. However, is Canada's refugee determination system meeting its mandate? There has been some controversy surrounding the recent appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. While recognizing that many of these appointees have knowledge regarding issues relating to refugees, we question the current government policy of appointing persons from refugee advocacy groups.
Can Canadians rely on these board members to make unbiased decisions? In future appointments it is imperative that the minister places the objectivity and decision-making capabilities of potential board members foremost in his considerations.
Since the Immigration and Refugee Board began operations the recognition rate of convention refugees has declined from 76 per cent in 1989 to 48 per cent during the first nine months of 1993. Although there has been a steady decline in the acceptance rate of refugee claimants, there is still something clearly wrong with our determination system.
Like Canada, most other refugee accepting countries determine whether someone is a refugee according to the UN convention but they accept far fewer claimants as legitimate. Canada continues to have the highest acceptance rate in the world. Many Canadians are wondering why this is happening.
Recent refugee decisions have allowed women fearing spousal abuse or systemic discrimination in their home countries to stay in Canada. What will be the impact of this policy? Does this mean that every woman from countries that do not respect the rights of women or have different cultural norms should be granted refugee status in Canada? I certainly sympathize with the plight of these women. The solution however is not to bring all abused women to Canada but to assist them in promoting respect for human rights within their own societies.
I commend the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's recent decision to allow refugee claimants to work rather than being forced to rely solely on social assistance, but the granting of work permits does nothing to address another problem that has outraged Canadians in recent months. I refer to the reports of welfare fraud by refugee claimants. It was estimated that the cost of welfare payments to refugees in the metro Toronto area for 1993 would reach $209 million.
The minister has removed one barrier for legitimate refugees seeking work but what is he doing to prevent the welfare fraud that his own department has reported? Canadians are compassionate and would like to open their doors to legitimate refugees, but this abuse is an unacceptable drain on our already overburdened social programs.
In conclusion it is my fervent hope that this government listens carefully to the people, as government members have indicated today they are willing to do, and responds by restructuring social programs in ways that make sense to Canadians.