Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to stand here today to speak on behalf of the people of my riding of Yellowhead.
I begin by thanking everyone who helped in my campaign and by thanking as well the voters of Yellowhead for placing me in such great confidence. I speak on their behalf and that is a great privilege.
Most important, though, I thank my wife Brenda, my two sons Chad and Scott, my daughter-in-law Joanne and the rest of my loving family for their support.
It is not without some sadness that I stand to reply to the throne speech with regard to health care. I was disappointed that the government did not have any real vision or solutions for Canada. Instead, this caretaker government recycled the same old ideas that have robbed Canada of its status as a country of influence for many years.
I had hoped that the Liberal legacy of broken promises, arrogance, waste, patronage and secrecy would have finally been replaced by tax relief, justice reform and stable health care.
We need a government that understands Canadians and responds to their concerns, and I am disappointed. Canadians want a government with practical solutions, ready to tackle big issues like health care.
The root problems in health care were ignored in the Speech from the Throne. It maintained the status quo. Provincial and federal relationships over the past years have deteriorated to an all time low, so much so that they cannot be repaired under the present government.
Sir John A. Macdonald, the visionary of Canada and Confederation, foresaw the conflicts that would happen between competing governments in our diverse and vast land. In the Confederation debate of 1864 he called for a constitution that would avoid all conflicts of jurisdiction and authority. Clear lines were established on issues such as health care.
The adversarial approach of the Liberal government in dealing with the provinces has become a very large part of the problem. The Canadian Alliance is committed to working with the stakeholders under the provisions of the Canada Health Act to come up with practical, long term solutions.
Unfortunately the government has more interest in provoking a fight with the provinces than in building constructive solutions based on consensus. The adversarial approach taken by the federal government must come to an end. We must start working together collaboratively.
The Liberals claim to be the protectors of health care. That is interesting because history paints a different story for me. They began their reign in 1993 by ripping the guts out of the health care system and trying to balance the books on the back of that system. Their across the board cuts went against the original 50:50 funding arrangements with the provinces.
They not only removed the dollars but insisted on influencing things outside the Canada Health Act. The actions in 1993 have had long lasting effects on the health care system, none of which are positive. Long term planning has been neglected. Our aging population will challenge our system beyond anything we have seen at present. The status quo means certain collapse of a strained health care system.
The neglect since 1993 has left Canada behind in infrastructure technology and the training of medical service providers. An example was the threat of a shutdown of a seniors facility this month because of a nursing shortage in rural communities. Forty-two seniors were about to be displaced. Forty-two may not sound like a lot, but when one's whole life is shrunk down to four walls and a photo album that kind of change is devastating.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the stories about the pending problems in health care that we will be told across the country. We need a government that will recognize the impact of the aging baby boomer generation on the system.
The throne speech boasts of a fall agreement with the provinces to put back $21 billion over a five year period. This is not new money for health care. Even though the program was introduced in last fall's parliament, the reality is that the funding which sustained the system in 1994 will not be reached until March 2002.
The government could have shown real leadership by putting this money to work today. However, not one nickel of that $21 billion will hit the system until April 1 of this year, and then it will be spread over a five year period.
This is not only about dollars and cents. The survival of the health care system requires a comprehensive shift in accountability. Users and providers need to be more aware of and accountable for how health care dollars are spent.
I speak from personal experience. I have dealt with the health care system in Alberta as a member of the health board and regional authorities for the past 15 years. I have dealt with the administration of the health system on a daily basis. I understand the fears Canadians are feeling. The government must look at the real issues facing the health care system.
Health care is not the only issue affecting Yellowhead. My constituents are also very concerned about what is happening in agriculture. The government must fight to protect the agricultural system which is the backbone of the country.
I feel the pain and the frustration of those who drove their tractors to Parliament Hill this week. I also fear that my son, who is the fourth generation to farm our land north of Whitecourt, may be the last because it makes little economic sense to stay on the family farm today.
Why should farmers believe the government has their best interest in mind? Real leadership would have come if the government had fought against unfair foreign subsidies when it came to power in 1993 and not today.
Skyrocketing input costs and low commodity prices will mean an end to the family farm as we know it. Canadian farmers are the most efficient in the world and a vital part of our economy. The government must make a firm commitment to protect them and do so now.
Yellowhead is a diverse riding, relying on agriculture, tourism, and resources like timber and coal which are going through difficult times as well. Current economic policies have driven the dollar to the point where we are selling our raw resources at fire sale prices. Energy costs are also destroying small businesses across the riding.
The federal government must take the lead in ensuring the crisis does not lead to economic disaster. We need a government that sets an optimistic tone for the future, not one that is looking for a legacy. True legacies are built, not bought.
I have another concern that I must address immediately. It is the issue of self-governance in the town of Jasper, which is a community of 4,000 plus individuals nestled into the national park. All Canadians should look at this issue and question the value a government places on democracy and accountability.
Jasper has asked for the ability to govern its own municipal affairs. There are numerous examples of bureaucratic nightmares which I can cite. An example that comes to mind is the new fire truck that Jasper received. It was ordered by bureaucrats 3,000 miles away. The fire truck is too big to fit in the fire hall. This has left the town's emergency services in some doubt because the truck sits outside in the cold.
Jasper also continues to discharge raw sewage into the pristine headwaters of the Rocky Mountains, resulting in a cumbersome bureaucracy unable to make reasonable decisions.
These are municipal matters. Democracy and accountability must be granted to the community of Jasper.
I am disappointed in the lack of vision that the government has set out for Canada. I believe this country has absolutely unbelievable potential. I am sorry to say that after hearing the government's plans in the Speech from the Throne, I will have to tell the people of Yellowhead that the ship remains adrift and it is going to be a very long three and a half years.