Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the voters of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel for putting their trust in me by electing me to represent them in the House of Commons.
Born, raised and residing all my life in the riding of Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel, I am moved by this honour which the voters of Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel have bestowed upon me.
I intend to serve my constituents to the best of my abilities and to work alongside my colleagues to address the issues which confront us today and which will challenge us in the future.
I want to pay tribute my predecessor, the hon. Alfonso Gagliano. I thank him for his dedicated efforts in serving his constituents and all Canadians for close to 20 years. I wish him a great deal of success as Canada's ambassador to Denmark.
I would like to express my infinite gratitude to my family and friends without whose untiring commitment and support I would not be here today. In particular, I want to thank my wife Danielle for her patience, my mother Mimma for her encouragement and my father Alessandro, himself a city councillor for 18 years, for instilling in me the sense that politics is a public service in which one can partake to make our community and our world a better place.
I began my political life government as a school trustee, a responsibility that allowed me to witness firsthand the obstacles faced by parents and children, students and professionals, entrepreneurs and workers, and young and not so young Canadians.
The riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel was successively represented by ministers, including the hon. Alfonso Gagliano, and his predecessor, the hon. Monique Bégin. Over the past thirty years, the population of the riding has increased and become more diversified. The challenges that now face the residents of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel are similar to those that confront Canadians across the country. However, the riding that I represent is very different from the other regions of the country.
It is easy to say that my riding is one of the best in the country, simply because of the people. Culturally diverse, Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel is not a stranger to the sound of residents casually carrying out a conversation, intermingling two or three languages, giving rise to our own particular forms of expression. English and Italian are spoken there as commonly as French. Italians form the single largest ethnic group. The riding is home to the highest concentration of Canadians of Italian origin in the country. More recently, Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel has welcomed the influx of Haitians, Latin Americans, Asians, Arabs and many other cultures.
Home to older as well as more recent immigrants, Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel is a proud example of the harmonious integration between the official language groups and the post-war immigrant wave and their children. This convergence of cultures is benefiting our community in very real ways; tangible proof that tolerance fosters cooperation, which in turn favours economic development.
My riding has a very diversified industrial and commercial base. Heavy industry and high technology share space with service industries. Small family businesses are located next door to companies distributing national and international brands such as Saputo and Peerless.
The recently completed 125,000 square foot Leonardo Da Vinci cultural and community centre, with its 600 seat theatre, exhibition hall, chapel, gymnasium, educational centre, indoor soccer field and bistro, is a real gem. It has become a meeting place for community organizations, business leaders, athletes, artists, actors and their public.
This project is a testament to what can be achieved when all levels of government and the community work together. It is a wonderful example of the new partnership between our government and citizens, which was so eloquently expressed in the Speech from the Throne.
Yet we, like many other areas of the country, are not immune to the threats to our universal health care system, the challenges facing children and families, the decline of urban infrastructures and risks to our environment.
As a fundamental concern to the residents of my riding, as to all Canadians, the health care issue must be resolved once and for all. The ideas outlined in today's Speech from the Throne will reassure Canadians that they will not lose the high quality of universal health care to which they have become accustomed.
Saint-Léonard--Saint-Michel is home to many working class Canadians and I am sensitive to the issues surrounding children and their families. As a former school trustee, I am well acquainted with the obstacles young families have to face. The Speech from the Throne proposes solid measures to continue to build on plans which allow all children to start life on an equal footing and give them a fair chance of succeeding in school.
The riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel is made up of two former municipalities, now districts, in Greater Montreal. It is physically cut in two by boulevard Métropolitain, an elevated, narrow, outmoded and dangerous stretch of road which is part of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The problem of neglected or non-existent roads is not limited to my riding. It is a problem throughout the country. A strategy such as the one outlined in the throne speech to promote the renewal and development of our road system is vital to the rapid and safe movement of people and goods and to the economic future of our country.
I am delighted to see that today's throne speech strengthens our government's previous commitments of addressing these critical social issues.
I remain firm in the conviction that governments must take the lead in addressing fundamental social issues, such as assisting children and families in need, guaranteeing equal access to quality education, safeguarding our universal health care system for all Canadians, pursuing a plan to sustain our cities and ensuring that the environment in which we work, live, play, grow our food and raise our families is free from the threat of contaminants. The proposed solutions laid out in today's Speech from the Throne are in line with core values which will benefit all Canadians in the short and long term.
I am pleased to see that our government has taken the fiscally responsible approach by putting forward these proposals rather than falling into the trap of believing that the only way to improve the system is by increasing spending. Through this approach, we are able to respect a balanced budget by adapting current legislation.
Against expectations that are contrary to other nations, our economy continues to be strong. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to be led into a false sense of security. We must continue our course to reduce taxes and reduce the national debt. In doing so we will be an even wealthier nation tomorrow for today's sacrifices.
I move, seconded by the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, that the following motion be presented to Her Excellency the Governour General of Canada:
To Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
May it please Your Excellency:
We, Her Majesty's most loyal and dutiful subjects, the House of Commons of Canada, in parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.