Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to deliver my first address in this chamber. I am particularly fortunate to be able to do so on the subject of post-secondary education and the establishment of the Canada learning bond through Bill C-5.
I am pleased that this bill has the support of the Progressive Conservative Party. We feel that further education is a priority if we are to have a prosperous future for each and every Canadian, and for our society.
That is why the Conservative Party supports Bill C-5.
The Canada learning bond is an initiative that I expect will be welcomed by the residents of my constituency of York--Simcoe. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the confidence they have expressed in me by sending me to represent them in this great chamber.
York--Simcoe was the place my grandfather chose to make his home after a remarkable life journey, one that figures greatly in my reasons for getting involved in public life.
My grandparents lived in a small country, Estonia, which asserted its nationhood and became a free and independent country for the first time out of the chaos of World War I. In that new freedom people prospered.
My grandparents prospered too and enjoyed the opportunities that came with higher education. My grandfather worked his way from a farm boy to the respected position of county agronomist. My grandmother became a lawyer, a career that few women had the courage to choose in that time, the 1920s. They made a better life and gave back to their community.
However, with World War II came successive waves of Soviet and Nazi occupation and the ultimate annexation of Estonia into the U.S.S.R. My mother and grandparents had little choice but to flee. Paradoxically the education that they possessed made them a threat to the occupying Soviets and they faced an otherwise certain fate at their hands if they did not leave. In fact many family members did face that fate in Soviet Siberian camps or otherwise at the hands of the Red Army.
My family as refugees in search of freedom ultimately chose Canada. The agronomist went to work in a paper factory in Riverdale and the lawyer went to work on the order desk at Sears. They found what they were looking for: freedom, hope and opportunity.
One of the things that often comes with a higher education is a recognition of the possibilities that exist to improve one's life and that of one's family and to build a better community, regardless of the barriers that may be faced, the hurdles that may be encountered and the setbacks that come along the way in life.
The importance of education was impressed upon my mother, who would do her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Toronto, and upon her children, who both followed their grandmother's footsteps into the career of law.
My grandfather thought that an important part of education was to see what real life was and in his opinion that happened on a farm. So, after I was born, he marshalled his resources and bought the farm in Georgina which anchors me today.
Freedom, hope and opportunity are to me what my contribution in public life should be about, what all our contributions should be about. In Canada we are often complacent about the freedom that we enjoy and the opportunities which present themselves, but among many new Canadians these things are immediate and important. Education plays a crucial factor in all three.
It is not a coincidence that new authoritarian governments and occupying forces target the educated in society, for with that education often comes the ability to organize and to fight for freedom. Education is a companion of liberty. Higher education also gives us hope to understand our world better and to improve health, security and the quality of life that we enjoy.
As the economists and educators continually remind us, education brings with it opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and economic prosperity. When the citizens prosper, all the country prospers.
For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for all, not just those who have the resources and the means, but the opportunity for all to send their children to post-secondary education is an important objective. For too many it is a challenge that creates anxiety, that is daunting, that is a big mountain to climb.
The typical family profile in York--Simcoe is a young couple, both working hard, trying to pay their mortgage, get ahead and make a brighter future for their children. It is not easy for them. They are good citizens with solid Canadian values that we believe in as Canadians, values that we believe in as Conservatives.
Like those families, we believe that hard work should be rewarded. We believe in self-discipline and responsibility for individual actions and for our families. We believe in honesty, that a promise made should be a promise kept. We believe in property rights and the rule of law. We believe in compassion and support for those who are genuinely in need in society.
They are time tested values that have built civil society. They are the values that have underpinned the advance of humanity. They are values that are all too often ignored by this government through its policies. In that way, the government does not reflect the interests of my constituents in York—Simcoe.
For the people of York--Simcoe the opportunity for them is a frustration. It is something they are grasping at. At every turn those hardworking families are met with heavy taxes and a government that does more to intrude into their lives than to help. They do not understand a federal government that tells them they are not good Canadians if they do not want to pay higher taxes. They would dearly love to save for a child's post-secondary education, but how?
For them they face real choices. Will they give up sending the children to play hockey this year, or will they tell them they cannot have a new bike in the spring? Those are the kinds of choices and sacrifices some of them have to make in order to save for a post-secondary education.
The government could help them most by letting them keep more of their own money. That would give them greater freedom, more hope and genuine opportunity. I hope ultimately the government will do that.
We also believe that Bill C-5, by giving modest income families the means to establish registered education savings plans with an initial $500 contribution, not from the government, but from the taxpayers of Canada, we will help more Canadians achieve their dreams of a higher education. The increased matching grants from the taxpayers of Canada for contributions that those families themselves make to RESPs will also build for that brighter future.
The riding of York--Simcoe can become an even better place if more young people succeed in school and achieve post-secondary education. An educated workforce means more jobs and more prosperity.
An educated population in York--Simcoe can use those skills and ability to improve the quality of our treasured environment. We have a beautiful landscape and environment in York--Simcoe, especially Lake Simcoe. It is our playground. Many take their drinking water from that lake, but it is a lake whose health remains dangerously precarious.
An educated community will mean a richer cultural experience in a community that is already proud of its theatres, its art galleries, its historical sites ranging from the famous Red Barn Theatre to Sharon Temple, a national historic site.
A more educated York--Simcoe will be a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.
Just as York--Simcoe can benefit from encouraging families to save for post-secondary educations for their sons and daughters, so too will all of Canada. Canadians want change and the Canada learning bond represents a change for the better.
In this minority Parliament I am pleased to have been able to stand in a spirit of cooperation to welcome the government's finally taking this initiative. Our party made the Canada learning bond part of our platform in the last election. We are pleased that the government in this case is following our advice and moving forward. Let us hope that that constructive spirit can be an example of how we can work together. If we focus on areas of common ground, we can really see true and genuine benefits for all Canadians.