Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with another Atlantic Canadian, the member for Halifax West.
As a new member of Parliament it is not only a privilege but an honour to have this opportunity today to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
I am able to be here to do so because of many people, especially my family, who have supported me unconditionally. I served for 11 years in provincial politics, both in government and opposition, so they know only too well how chaotic things can get. I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly on my behalf. I am sure we all recognize that without our volunteers none of us would be here.
The decision by the people of Random--Burin--St. George's to elect me as their member of Parliament is something for which I will always be grateful. I represent one of the largest ridings in the country. There are 185 communities in the riding, eight of which are isolated, and to drive from one end of the riding to the other takes nine hours. The people of Random--Burin--St. George's have placed their confidence in me to not only represent their interests but to make sure their concerns will not be ignored.
I heard what was in the Speech from the Throne yesterday and today I am going to talk about, regrettably, what was not in the speech.
Canadians are in a state of turmoil and nowhere is this more evident than in the riding I represent. For many, trying to contend with the high cost of heating fuel and gasoline has become a burden, yet there was no acknowledgement in the Speech from the Throne that this situation has to be addressed.
When we see seniors congregating in shopping malls in order to keep warm, there is a problem in this country. When they have to choose between food and fuel in order to heat their homes, we are doing an injustice by our seniors who have contributed so much to our country.
The irony in this is that as the price of oil dropped, oil companies did not drop the prices they charged to consumers proportionately. Only when it became really obvious that consumers were being gouged did the companies act, and then reluctantly.
Our seniors need help and, as hard as it is to believe, the word “senior” does not even appear in the throne speech. The very people who built this great country were simply ignored.
It is obvious from the Speech from the Throne that despite the position taken by the Prime Minister on CTV's Question Period a little over a month ago when he said that we are not going into a deficit, that is exactly where we are heading. The throne speech makes that very clear.
Why would a government put the country in such a circumstance? Money was flowing like water prior to the election and now just a month later the government is singing a different tune using the global economic crisis as the explanation for what is to come.
The reality is that if the Conservative government had acted responsibly, spent wisely, and had continued with the buffer that previous Liberal governments had in place in the event of an economic crisis, we would be the envy of those countries that, through no fault of their own, are finding themselves in a difficult position.
We all know that it is a common practice, where possible, to put savings aside for a rainy day. Why is it such a difficult concept for the government to grasp?
The people from my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, like Canadians everywhere, are hard-working and when faced with adversity rise to the occasion. When the Speech from the Throne says, “In the face of this uncertainty, just as when faced with difficulties before, Canadians will prevail”, I agree. The question is: Why make it difficult for them? Why put them in that situation needlessly?
Nearly three years of irresponsible spending and economic mismanagement is what led us to this deficit and now Canadians will have to suffer as a result of it. In just two short years the government oversaw the disappearance of a $12 billion surplus. Again it begs the question: Why?
Those seniors who are on fixed incomes, who cannot tighten their belts any further, and who need a government to recognize their plight is but one group in our society who will be a casualty of the Conservative government's mismanagement, and that is a tragedy.
Another omission in the Speech from the Throne is the need to recognize those individuals who have worked tirelessly in industries that really take their toll on people and, if given the resources, would be able to retire with dignity and while doing so, create jobs for others.
While I am sure there are other industries where the work is extremely difficult, I am sure there is nothing that takes its toll on a body more than working day in and day out in a fish plant or as a crew member on a fishing boat. Those of us who represent rural communities where fishing is the main industry know only too well how hard people in the industry work.
The fishery is a major employer in the riding I represent, but measures need to be taken to ensure the industry continues to be viable, and one way of doing that is to bring young people into the industry. To do this, however, there has to be an opportunity for people to retire from the industry with dignity.
I know of men and women who have worked in a fish plant for 40 years, standing for hours on a concrete floor. They had no choice but to work under these conditions for years in order to provide for their families. In small rural communities opportunities for employment are limited.
The humane thing for a government to do would be to help fund a retirement program which would see the older workers retire and young workers enter the industry.
While governments cut taxes for businesses as a means of helping them compete and create jobs, this is another way to create employment for Canadians while recognizing the contribution made by others. As I said earlier, I am sure there are other industries in the country that would benefit from such an initiative.
Another omission in the throne speech was any kind of detailed mention of the need to provide for our children, especially those who live in poverty. Today is National Child Day and we are all wearing a ribbon to show the significance of that day. The government missed an opportunity to highlight the importance of providing for our children. One obvious way of doing so would be to initiate a plan to lift families out of poverty.
Our children are our future and so many of them fall through the cracks because there is no concerted effort to make sure that they receive every opportunity to not only survive, but excel. When I look at how and what the government will spend money on, it is obvious that the most vulnerable in our society are shortchanged.
One of the speakers yesterday, in responding to the Speech from the Throne and talking about our great country, made reference to “from coast to coast”. There is a third coast. When those of us in Newfoundland and Labrador hear commentary that refers to the country as, “from Victoria to Halifax” or “from coast to coast”, we like to give a friendly reminder that there is another coast and a province of which we are very proud.
I conclude my remarks today by congratulating, first, those who, like me, were elected for the first time on October 14. No matter what political party we represent, we will always have something in common. I am so grateful to those who have gone out of their way to share their knowledge and the benefit of their experience in the federal parliamentary system with me.