Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand before you in the first sitting of the 37th parliament. I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the esteemed position to which you have been elected by your peers and colleagues here in the House of Commons.
At this time I respectfully acknowledge my late parents, John and Olga Zdunich, and my husband's parents, George and Katherine Yelich. I also acknowledge my husband Matt and our daughters Elaina and Ivana.
I thank all whose support and encouragement has brought me here today: my campaign team, the hardworking volunteers, my friends and family members, and especially the people of Blackstrap for the vote of confidence that they have given me. It is an honour and a privilege to represent them in the House of Commons.
The riding I represent is called Blackstrap. The name itself has been a constant conversation piece and a point of interest. People continually ask me where the name Blackstrap came from. Local legend is that during the years of prohibition a rum runner was not aware that one of his kegs had sprung a leak and he travelled the valley leaving a trail of blackstrap molasses behind him. The legend is so popular that some people actually believe it. The real story behind the name is not quite so colourful.
Until filled with Diefenbaker lake water in 1967, making it into a reservoir, Blackstrap Lake was a long, narrow slough filled with black reeds. From atop its steep banks it resembled nothing so much as a long black strap.
Today the area of Blackstrap is a 540 hectare provincial park with a manmade lake at the centre. The provincial park is a resort area that provides year round activities. In the winter the manmade mountain is the centre of a winter activity sports park. In the summer it provides a place for swimming, camping and fishing.
Geographically situated near the centre of the province of Saskatchewan, the riding of Blackstrap is bordered on the west by the South Saskatchewan River and on the north by the Yellowhead highway. It encompasses over 11,000 square miles, is home to approximately 72,000 people and is a riding unique in its broad diversity. This is the riding I call home.
My roots in this riding are almost as old as the province of Saskatchewan. My grandparents immigrated to Canada from the tiny village of Lovinac in Croatia as part of the massive land settlement program of the early 1900s when Sir Clifford Sifton, then minister of the interior, offered land to new immigrants for settling the prairies.
Their move to Canada took a huge leap of faith. They left all that was familiar because they believed a better life could be found in Canada for themselves and the generations to come. I will always be grateful for the courage they showed and what it has meant to me to be raised a Canadian. Living and working in this riding, which was developed almost solely on immigration, I know how important it is that we aim to improve our system, which I will speak to.
Much has changed since the turn of the century when a bright new future could be found with the turning of soil on 160 acres of raw prairie land. At one time the riding of Blackstrap was almost totally dependent upon agriculture. However, as we embark on a new century, the face of the prairie economy has changed drastically, perhaps no more so than in the area I call home.
Throughout the riding are examples of how the people of Blackstrap have shown their resourcefulness in the face of crisis. There is no other word to describe what has happened to the agricultural industry in the past two decades. One such example is the Pound-Maker feedlot in Lanigan, where it decided to integrate its existing feedlot into an ethanol plant.
In Canada as a whole, approximately 55 million litres of ethanol are produced each year; 17 million are used in fuel and the rest go to industrial uses such as toiletries, cosmetics and medications for external use. The Pound-Maker facility has the capacity to produce 13 million litres each year, or one-quarter of Canada's total, in addition to being a 28,500 head cattle feedlot.
Only a few miles away, Drake Meat Processors is a huge successful meat processing plant where over 50 people are employed in what was at one time a co-operative locker plant. They have now developed product lines sold exclusively in Saskatchewan.
Across the riding the pork industry is aggressively expanding with the continual construction of new facilities producing thousands of pork each year for the Canadian marketplace. Much of this started with innovations by three individual pork producers who decided to combine their energies and embark on a new direction. Their start-up barn in Outlook has grown to include 17 community based pork operations with a current capacity of 500,000 pigs a year.
Farmers surrounding Lake Diefenbaker have dedicated thousands of acres to irrigated potato production. In Outlook a mint-herb processing plant is currently under construction. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in Watrous has initiated a crop development farm where new breeds of canola are bred and tested.
In almost every community, market gardens have become commonplace as the people fight to keep their rural communities alive in spite of negative farm incomes. To their credit, hundreds of people in this riding have risen above the challenge of the agricultural crisis and successfully built a diverse economic base. I applaud them.
Obviously the agricultural industry is an important part of what makes up Blackstrap, historically and in today's economy, but it is not the only industry.
The magnitude of the different industries that survive and thrive are what make this area an anomaly in the prairie economy. We are home to five potash mines, the IMC Kalium Mine and the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Mines, PCS.
PCS in itself is an interesting study in the opportunities that arise through diversification. At one time, PCS was a money losing crown corporation that cost the taxpayers of the province hundreds of millions of dollars. It was privatized in the late 1980s and sold to employees and other investors. Today, PCS is the world's leading producer of potash and has 20 plants in North America, Chile, Trinidad and another underway in Brazil.
We have six automotive retail businesses in the riding. When the auto mall currently being constructed on the south side of Saskatoon is completed, our riding will be home to the largest automobile sales group in Saskatchewan.
Through the use of community development bonds, the people of Manitou Beach and area invested in their own community. The area brought the Manitou mineral spa back to its glory days, not seen since the early twenties and thirties.
Building on its natural therapeutic qualities unique to North America and found only in two other places in the world, Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and the Dead Sea of Israel, the committee initiated what has grown into a multimillion dollar facility. Today at Manitou Beach there is a convention centre, mineral spa and entire resort village that is a tourist destination for visitors from around the world.
Blackstrap is home to a national defence base in Dundurn which has the largest ammunition depot in the country. The Whitecap Dakota/Sioux First Nation dates back to the eighteenth century and inhabits the northwest corner of the riding. I should mention that it was the Dakota/Sioux Indians who immigrated to Blackstrap from the United States.
In Canada as a whole, we are all too aware of the problems our aboriginal communities are dealing with, yet this particular reserve is a powerful example of innovation, prosperity and economic stability.
We are forward thinking, inventive, innovative and courageous Canadians. I believe these qualities came with the early settlers to this part of the country and live on in our generation. These are the people of Blackstrap. The people gave me a mandate to come to Ottawa and represent their interests. They have a message that I brought here with me today. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to articulate to all my colleagues in the House of Commons, in all the political parties, what the people of Blackstrap riding have to say.
There has been a lot of attention recently focused on what has been coined western alienation and talk of separation by the west. It would be easy to get sidetracked. However, I know how important Confederation is to the people of my riding. I know how passionately they love the country. In fact, my esteemed colleagues, I believe the focus on separation is backward. What I hear in my riding is not so much that people want out, they want in.
The people I represent want the message brought here to Ottawa that their voices are a part of Canada. When there is talk about equality, there is an intrinsic emphasis put on rights, which is not necessarily the message that needs to be heard. As westerners, we believe in balance and the responsibilities that come with being a balanced partner in Confederation.
The people of Blackstrap want it known that while they willingly and lawfully hand over their hard earned tax dollars, they are frustrated by continual reminders that the federal government does not manage the country's economic situation with the same diligence it manages its personal finances. They want balance brought back to the taxation system.
The people of Blackstrap are frustrated by a legal system that has taken the place of what should be a justice system. They want balance in the laws that govern us as citizens.
The people of Blackstrap are frustrated by regional differences that are treated as divisions by the federal government instead of opportunities for co-operation. They want to see a balance in the regional interests within a federal system that provides the opportunity to work together to overcome those challenges.
When my grandparents immigrated to Canada, they knew nothing of eastern, or western or central Canada. French speaking and English speaking Canada was not an issue.
They came to Canada because they believed in Canada and what it represented, hope for a new future, opportunity, room to grow and contribute. Thousands of people just like them took what Canada had to offer and built a country that has a distinctive label of being the greatest country on this planet.
I have personally sponsored refugees and worked with many immigrant families. The Canada they see is the same Canada that beckoned my ancestors.
I hope and pray that those of us in the House will never lose sight of that vision of the gift it is to be a Canadian and that they will work co-operatively to build on the initial framework that our country's forefathers put together.
As we speak to Bill C-11, the citizenship and immigration bill, we will address how to improve our existing system. We will work on answers to my constituents' questions, such as why does it take so long for people with skills to immigrate to Canada? How can we clear these backlogs? I have spoken to dozens of people with stories of how long it took to get their spouses to Canada. Why is the department cutting staff? How can we stop illegal human smuggling?
My constituents in Blackstrap certainly appreciate the value of immigration, as does my party, as a positive and dynamic force, one that is vital to the economic and cultural growth and diversity of our country. We must continue Canada's longstanding humanitarian tradition of resettling genuine refugees. Canadians have concerns about our present immigration system. We need to restore public confidence.
There is a saying that holds particular significance for me and my family. It sums up what I feel is the essence of what immigration should and can be. The saying is coined as follows: “Croatia gave the strength, Canada the opportunity“. That statement reflects the importance immigration has had for my constituents. I will endeavour to work very hard on their behalf.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the privilege of addressing the House today. I look forward to the years ahead as we work together for the people who have put their trust and faith in us.