Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Assistant Deputy Speaker.
It is an honour for me to rise in this chamber for the first time on behalf of the people of Pontiac. First and foremost, I would like to say a big thank you to the people of my riding for their trust in me. It is with great pride that I accept the mandate to represent the interests of their families. I promise that I will do so every day in a dedicated, committed and constructive manner, along with all the members of the House, in order to achieve tangible results for my constituents.
Communities like mine did not simply choose a new member of Parliament. In the history of my riding, with only one exception, voters have elected Conservative or Liberal members since 1867. However, this year, like 4.5 million Canadians across the country and 1.5 million Quebeckers, they sent a clear message: they want change in Ottawa. It is even more apparent that they want a Canada where the people's interests are the priority and where no one is left behind. I am extremely proud to note that the people of my riding want this positive change but, like them, I am very concerned. I am concerned because the government does not seem to have understood that 60% of the population did not vote for them.
As a result, we once again have before us the same budget that reflects the Conservatives' same old habits, that puts the profits of big business ahead of the interests of the people, that puts the interests of the most profitable banks far above those of Canadian families, that puts the interests of big polluters far ahead of environmental concerns, and that puts the interests of companies that are sending our jobs abroad far ahead of those of small Canadian businesses that create jobs in Canada.
I am concerned because there are real problems in my riding of Pontiac, which is one of the most underprivileged ridings in Quebec. These are problems that do not exist in the Bay Street boardrooms or the big boardrooms of large oil companies. These are serious, tangible problems. Among other things, we, like other areas, have lost many jobs in the forestry industry, an industry that is currently in crisis. Since 2003, we have lost almost 75,000 jobs across Canada. The forestry industry accounts for close to 12% of the manufacturing GNP in Canada. It is a cornerstone of 300 communities, a number of which are in Quebec and in my riding of Pontiac.
In its budget, the government claims that it is coming to the aid of the forestry industry, but it is not enough. The government continues to favour the big oil companies and the automotive industry with billions of dollars in tax breaks despite the fact that the forestry industry employs at least twice as many people.
If the government had wanted to help the industry, it could have easily provided at least the same level of assistance it gave to automobile manufacturers. It could have ensured that loans at reasonable rates were available to help the industry refinance its debt and adapt to new market realities, such as renewable and green technology.
In addition, I have spoken with people who used to work in the industry and they are worried about their retirement income. Some of the workers, such as those who worked at the paper mill in Masson-Angers, stand to lose as much as 40% of their pensions because foreign companies are filing for bankruptcy and the government is not protecting Canadians' pensions.
Instead of creating sustainable jobs in this industry and protecting workers' pensions, this government is choosing to put its friends' interests before everyone else's.
I have also recently had the honour of meeting with leaders of the Kitigan Zibi First Nation. Much of the Pontiac is on Algonquin territory. I also take this opportunity to recognize that this very House and Parliament rests on Algonquin land. I, for one, thank the Algonquin people for their welcome.
The Algonquins of the Pontiac are deeply worried. On Kitigan Zibi, for example, more than 60% of the people do not have access to basic water infrastructure. The water they do have is so radiated that it is not even fit for animal, let alone human consumption. In addition, some houses sit on land where radon gases are three times the allowable amount.
These serious basic problems keep them from investing sufficiently in other necessary services like education and policing.
As the Auditor General recently pointed out, these fundamental issues of survival among our first nation peoples are a blot on Canada. It is a shame that this budget does not even go far enough to begin to address these problems.
The Algonquins of the Pontiac and I truly wonder what the government is waiting for.
I have also talked to the people in the south of my riding. They are deeply worried by the announced cuts to the public service.
Having worked as a public servant for more than 10 years, I know very well what “strategic” and “operational reviews” are code words for: unacceptable workloads, more contracting out of jobs, fewer good-paying jobs and fewer opportunities for promotion, but these cuts are also bad for all Canadians. The reliance on attrition and efficiencies in the public sector to balance the budget will reduce the quality of the services provided by the public service workers as they are called upon to provide the same services to Canadians with fewer resources and less staff.
Yet, the government is moving forward with $4 billion in cuts to public services, while it continues to be less than forthcoming as to where it thinks the fat is that it is likely to be trimming.
I have also spoken with seniors in my riding who cannot make ends meet, and whose income is not increasing. Yet the budget contains nothing except promises of meetings sometime in the future; there are no measures to improve our public pensions. It is unacceptable that seniors are living in poverty.
I have also spoken with people who cannot find a family doctor or who have to wait months to see a specialist. It is even harder in areas like mine, the Pontiac, in Maniwaki, Gracefield, Bouchette, Shawville and other places. Yet the government is simply proposing that we forgive a portion of student debt for doctors and nurses. There is no mention of increasing the number of doctors in areas such as the Pontiac, where thousands of people do not have access to a family doctor. Many people are disappointed that Ottawa is subsidizing major polluters instead of promoting a green economy and protecting the water in our lakes and rivers.
All of these reasons will keep me from voting for this budget and for the same old Conservative rhetoric.
However, in the near future, I trust that the Prime Minister will respect the mandate that our team brings into Parliament. I look forward to working with all members of the House on practical solutions that will make a difference for the majority of the citizens in the Pontiac.
The good people in the Pontiac voted New Democrat for the first time and they know exactly what they voted for. They voted for a more respectful government. They voted for a perspective that does not reduce Canadians to economic units, an option which understands that there is more to being a Canadian citizen than paying taxes, that there is such thing as the good life in a country that has at its heart the principle of caring for each other. They voted for a stronger, more social Canada, with a strong place for Quebec in it; a Canada where after a productive life one can take a much deserved rest; a Canada where universal health care is a fact, not simply an empty phrase; a Canada which enables families to make ends meet, that helps create new innovative green jobs; and a Canada which leaves to our children, my children, a beautiful environment filled with diverse ecosystems because it is a good in itself and not a means.
By voting that way, they made history. The mandate they gave our party is crystal clear. I, for one, will work tirelessly and constructively with all my colleagues in the House to fulfill it.
Finally, I would like to say that I am deeply honoured to serve all the people of the Pontiac and that I am doubly honoured to serve the people of Canada, with every member of this House.