Mr. Speaker, I begin my first speech in this assembly of democracy feeling a tremendous sense of responsibility given to me by the people in my constituency of Winnipeg North Centre, a constituency which is recognized right across this country as a symbol, as an example of the struggle for dignity, equality and justice in society today.
They have given me a responsibility to fight for things that matter most to people, the things that were missing in the Speech from the Throne, the most important issues that affect people on a day to day basis: the matter of jobs, the matter of quality health care, the matter of good public education, the matter of hope for our young people, the matter of security for working families and the matter of dignity for our seniors.
All of us in the NDP caucus feel the sense of responsibility people have entrusted in us. We will keep our promise. We will not break our commitment to raise those issues day in and day out. We will work as we have never worked before to ensure that their voices are heard in this Chamber.
When I was elected I asked my eight year old son what I should say and do. He said “Tell everyone that we will make Ottawa rock”. That is exactly what we intend to do day in and day out in this Chamber.
We are here on behalf of people everywhere saying the rhetoric that ran as thick as syrup in the Speech from the Throne will not end the despair of people living without work or living with the daily fear of losing the job they may now hold.
It will not relieve the stress on families trying to juggle several jobs, the responsibilities they have for the care of their children and the obligation they feel for their communities and their involvement in community life. It will not end the pain and suffering women feel on a day to day basis because they have to live with the threat of violence.
My sense of responsibility, as I make my first speech in the House of Commons, also comes from those who came before me, those who made a difference in the lives of people in my constituency and indeed everywhere in this country. I am very fortunate to claim both Stanley Knowles and David Orlikow as my predecessors, two longstanding parliamentarians who made a real difference.
Who among us would not be familiar with the dogged persistence of David Orlikow who, for 26 years in this House, fought day in and day out for individuals and for policies that would improve people's lives and ensure some measure of dignity, security and equality among all people of all regions of the country? I am proud to carry on his work. I am grateful for his contribution to Canada and I look forward to his ongoing help and advice.
As my leader said yesterday, I also register a great deal of sadness at not being able to enter this Chamber and see my old friend and colleague, Stanley Knowles, sitting at the table. It was a dream I had. Unfortunately it just was not to be. However we are left with his legacy. The best way we can honour the work of Stanley Knowles is to carry on the work he fought for so long and hard for 38 years in the House of Commons.
All of the issues and policies he fought so hard to achieve are now under attack by the Liberal government today. Canadians can be sure that we will fight to preserve a public pension system to stop the erosion of security for seniors in their old age. We will be there day in and day out.
And we will try to do it as Stanley Knowles would have done it, with honour and dignity and integrity. Mr. Speaker, you can be sure that I will be raising many issues in this House but I will take my critic areas very seriously.
Twenty years ago when I was a parliamentary intern in this place I remember hearing a member of Parliament, a member of the then Liberal government, saying “don't worry about high unemployment among women, after all it is men who are the primary wage earners”.
Having been here for the past few days, having heard the Speech from the Throne, are we any further ahead today under this government, or is this government just more subtle about its practice of continuing inequality and discrimination in our society today?
Is it not the case that the privatization and deregulation and off-loading and cutback policies of this government are contributing to hardship and pain and suffering and greater inequalities facing women in our society today?
If women's equality is important would it not be the case that this government would have long ago honoured its obligations under the human rights act to ensure that women in the federal public service were paid on the basis of equality?
Would it not be the case that instead of offering women half a loaf, this government would have said that before it considers spending $12.2 million on bonuses for senior civil servants, it will ensure it meets its obligations and ensures equal pay for work of equal value?
Mr. Speaker, you can also be sure that I will be raising, as much as possible, issues pertaining to health care. Medicare is our most treasured national program, a matter of pride, a matter of equality and a matter of real meaningful intervention in the lives of people. That program is in serious trouble and let us not forget it is because of the policies of this government. Let us not allow members of this government to suggest that it is another level of government's responsibility entirely.
Let us remember that this government in 1993 introduced the most regressive social policy in the history of this country, the Canada health and social transfer, and took the single biggest bite out of health care in the history of medicare.
For many of us it was absolutely galling to read the Speech from the Throne and the statement “we will legislate to put back, to increase funds for the Canada health care system to the tune of $12.5 billion”. We now are at the base floor of $12.5 billion.
This government owes it to the people of Canada and to the future of medicare to ensure that our cash transfer payments for health care reflect the needs of health care, ensure that we are able to meet our obligations and that every Canadian is able to gain access to the best quality care in this country by virtue of being a member of a civilized country.
Deception, absolutely, because in fact the Speech from the Throne did also not mention that under the present formula of this government dollars from the federal government to provincial governments will actually decline in real terms. It does not look at the growth in the economy. It does not consider growth in population.
We will see in real dollar terms a continual drop in funding from this government to the provinces, thereby jeopardizing even further the future of medicare in this country.
There are so many more issues to raise and so little time. I want to acknowledge the challenges we all face. I and many of my colleagues in this caucus are trying to juggle our work as a members of Parliament and also our responsibility to our children.
Many of us have young children. We are grateful for their support and we recognize that we are not unique. We represent many families, many women in this country trying to juggle so much because of the inaction and the lack of attention of this government to those very important issues.
In the name of Stanley Knowles and others who have fought so hard for these issues, we will be as vigilant as possible to ensure that every person in this country is able to live with security, dignity and hope for the future.