Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this important and wide-reaching motion. I congratulate my colleague from Halifax West for his initiative in bringing it forward.
There are many important points to make, but I would like to limit my time to several of the issues that are most important for the people in my riding.
One of the things the motion calls for is labour market partnerships. Through the economic and fiscal update of November 2005, our Liberal government had committed $3.5 billion over five years for a workplace skills strategy in partnership with the provinces. These labour market partnership agreements with the provinces would have promoted skills development, improved literacy skills and helped to bring aboriginal people into the workforce. Three provinces have already signed agreements, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I was hoping my own province would be able to do the same. But this initiative is now in limbo.
There was nothing in the budget, and the Conservatives will only say that the issue is part of the fiscal imbalance discussions with the provinces. Given that the Prime Minister's promise on natural resource revenues, also part of the so-called fiscal imbalance issue, has been demoted in his words “to a mere preference”, I would be very worried if I were a premier who had counted on a labour market partnership agreement.
We have heard a lot of bluster today from the Conservatives. They say they are committed to post-secondary education, but their actions speak for themselves. Instead of providing help for tuition costs, they provide a tax credit for $80 for textbooks. Instead of investing in post-secondary education for skills training, the Conservatives have cancelled $3.1 billion in Liberal initiatives to make post-secondary education more affordable. Instead of investing in research, the Conservatives have further weakened our universities and research institutes by slashing research spending.
There are real dangers in this approach. They are troublesome indeed. Not only does it exasperate the regional disparities among the provinces, where some provinces are better able than others, through public and donor support, to fund universities, but it is also short-sighted on the global scene. Not only do Canadians have to compete for ideas with the U.S. and Europe, increasingly we have to watch the emerging economic powerhouses in Asia and Latin America. In Labrador we are already very sensitized to the fact that we live in a globalized world. Domestic, political and economic concerns have led foreign countries to pull back from their traditional military training in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at 5 Wing.
The fishery has faced major market pressure and competition from overseas, not only from Europe but especially from China. Our mining sector does rise with demand in China and India, but also faces stiff competition from Australia, Africa and Latin America. We ignore the challenges of a global marketplace at our own peril.
We have to invest in our brightest minds today so Canada will continue to be an innovative place to work and invest. We need to invest in technologies and research that will ensure primary industries, like those in Labrador, remain competitive and that we add value to our economy through processing and manufacturing. This would be progressive.
Instead, we hear just today that the Conservative government has a policy where it wants to ship our brightest and best to northern Alberta. This is a policy that has been advocated by the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca and the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.
On a lighter note, this would not be much of a solution because if all of us easterners went to northern Alberta, then there might be a few Conservative MPs who would find themselves on the unemployment line. That is for another discussion.
The motion also calls specifically for targeted initiatives to strengthen skills, job readiness and successful workplace participation among aboriginal peoples. My hon. colleague could well have had my riding of Labrador in mind when he drafted that part of his motion.
Tomorrow I will be attending the high school graduation in Sheshatshiu, one of the two Innu communities in Labrador. Too often we hear bad news about aboriginal communities, but Sheshatshiu is increasingly a good news story. This year's graduating class is one of the biggest in many years.
There is a real awakening to the importance of education and skills development among the Innu, Inuit and Métis communities in my riding. In recent years, we have seen increased participation in post-secondary education and the skilled trades. There are Inuit, Métis and Innu who have gone on to become nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers, mechanics, carpenters and the like.
The development of the mine at Voisey's Bay has helped many aboriginal Labradorians enter the skilled trades. Not as many as I personally would like to see, but it is a start.
There are other developments on the horizon in Labrador: a massive resurgence in the iron ore mining industry; potential hydro developments; and renewed interest in our proven uranium deposits. If aboriginal and other Labradorians are to benefit from these developments, we have to be in on the ground floor.
For aboriginal people, in particular, the Kelowna accord would have made great strides in this regard. On November 24, 2005, the hon. member for Wascana, then finance minister, committed and booked over $5 billion in funding to meet the Government of Canada's commitments under Kelowna. Kelowna included $1.8 billion over five years for aboriginal education initiatives.
The Conservative government has torn up that agreement and tossed it aside. The money that we had committed is no longer available. The government has done so over the objections of every aboriginal organization in the country. It has done so over the objections of the premiers who themselves signed onto the Kelowna accord. It did so with the complicity of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP in precipitating an early election. I wonder what the aboriginal people in the respective ridings of the members in those two parties must think about what they have been involved in.
The government has put into jeopardy the real progress that Canada and Canadian first nations, Métis and Inuit people were starting to make in terms of educational attainment, skills and employment. I worry about the repercussions of these cuts not only for today, but for the many years and maybe for generations to come.
Strong social programs, including education and training and a commitment to aboriginal peoples, provide the basis for long term, strong economic growth. Few places is this more true than in Labrador. However, the Conservatives have stuck to their fend for one's self ideology. It shows up time and time again in their budget and in their program cuts. They are turning their backs on people and regions, which can use constructive programs. We are looking for a hand up, but the Conservatives only see such programs as a hand out. It is disgraceful.
It is for these reasons that I would urge my colleagues to support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.