Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.
I rise today in the House for the first time and I do so with a great sense of humility and of course enthusiasm about the possibility that always accompanies change. Clearly, a significant change was exactly what the people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek voted for on January 23. I remain sincerely grateful for the confidence and trust shown in me and I will not let them down.
Short days ago, as I took my place for the first time in this great chamber, I was struck by the fact that within our great democracy working people like myself, originally from a small community like Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, as part of life's journey can still make their way through the halls of our national Parliament.
I wish to thank my wife, Barbara, who is in the gallery, and my family and my friends who have believed in and supported me over the years as we follow the trail leading to this place. To the good people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, my office is now open. My staff and I are available to work with everyone to make our community stronger, to address the needs and questions around federal programs and services, and to fight for the change that Canadians voted for in the past election. Constituents now have a representative who will take their concerns to the government instead of bringing the government's message to them.
In regard to the throne speech, I am encouraged to see some NDP priorities referred to, but we have heard promises of such things as child care over the past 12 years only to be disappointed. Action, not words, creates change. Before this new government becomes too self-assured, I would remind it that more than 60% of Canadians did not vote for its vision, its so-called five point plan. More than 60% of Canadians did not vote for its vision of child care.
Approximately 16% of Hamilton families live in poverty and $1,200 will simply not begin to either meet the needs of those families if there are no affordable, accessible child care spaces. We need ongoing sustainable funding for a publicly administered child care program, not another tax credit or moneys given only to be clawed back. The NDP will stand firm in its commitment to public, not-for-profit child care.
The Conservative plan to give $1,200 to each family for each child under six, and cancelling the first agreement in years that would have made public, not-for-profit spaces, is shortsighted to say the least. If the Conservatives were serious about helping Canadian families, why not do both? Why not help parents pay for the child care they choose while also ensuring that there are quality, affordable, not-for-profit spaces being built?
Parents in Hamilton were excited about the best start program, excited about this much needed program that was working with parents and the community to create more spaces, better care, and a more integrated approach to families, schools and the community to improve early childhood education in our community. Best start was also supposed to ensure that all parents, regardless of economic and social circumstances, had access to quality child care options.
Instead of promoting this worthwhile program in communities like Hamilton across Ontario, the government is cancelling $1.4 billion of the $1.9 billion in federal money promised that made best start possible.
I must echo the words of my leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, when I remind the House, it is the will of Canadians and the majority of the House to build a truly national child care program. I call on the government to build upon the current agreements instead of cancelling them. Working together we can achieve more for child care in the next 12 months than the previous government did in 12 years.
One in five Hamiltonians live below the poverty line. Child poverty is still epidemic in the country. In my riding, the highest incidence of low income is with new Canadians, recent immigrants to our country. Yet in its throne speech, the government did not talk about poverty once, or what we need to do to address social and economic causes of poverty. It was a shameful omission. There is much to be done.
I will stand firm in this House to ensure that the little progress that has been made by the Government of Canada over the last few years is not rolled back and that we do more to fight poverty in our country. While the throne speech did mention working families, it is the NDP that has promised a working families first agenda in this Parliament. This is good news for the people of my community. They have seen significant restructuring of major industries.
Many people who live in my riding, particularly in the Stoney Creek area, work in manufacturing and steel industries. They live in fear of not only losing their jobs to globalization but because of poorly crafted trade agreements that the last Conservative government put into place. They also now face the fear of not having a company pension when they reach retirement age.
New Democrats have long called for sectoral strategies for our important manufacturing industries such as steel and auto parts. Corporate welfare, handouts and more tax cuts do not encourage businesses to change their behaviour.
When industries are deciding whether to invest in making innovative products that often have higher price tags, perhaps those that would clean our air, they need to know consumers will buy them. For example, consumers who want to buy green cars must have access to rebates and other incentives to afford these newer, more environmentally friendly cars. Broader support to workers in these sectors to ensure that they have the skills to participate in these industries through EI reform is essential.
While the government did talk about working families in its Speech from the Throne, there is nothing new or substantial there for them. As millions of baby boomers prepare to retire, pension protection has never been more important. In the last Parliament, we won protection for workers wages. In this Parliament, we will fight for the pension security that workers deserve.
New Democrats will continue to fight to protect workers basic rights and better assistance for new Canadians and their families, so they can take the productive place in society that they came to Canada to provide.
The NDP is putting working families in Hamilton and all across Canada first. We want to talk about pocketbook issues beyond the simplistic approach of a GST cut. We want to talk about accountability and cleaning up corruption beyond government. We want to talk about ensuring that Canadians can afford the prescription drugs they need, get adequate dental, vision and health care, and have access to better EI programs.
The Conservative government talked only about innovation in health care in its throne speech. It did not talk about the need to invest in innovations instead of squandering our money on GST or corporate tax cuts.
We are failing our parents and grandparents, the people who built our country because too many of them cannot get the basic care they need. That is why I am so pleased to join my caucus colleagues to fight in this Parliament to enact the principles in the NDP's senior charter.
We will give working families the tools they need to support their parents and grandparents, so that seniors have access to good quality, long term care, so that seniors and people with disabilities get the home care they need, and so that no senior is ever forced to choose between buying medicine that they need or buying groceries. Seniors have waited long enough. Working families have waited long enough.
The Speech from the Throne promised more support to Canadian core values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights around the world. The Prime Minister has pledged that this would be achieved through a bigger diplomatic role, a stronger military and a more effective use of aid money.
As the NDP advocate for human rights, both domestic and international, I intend to hold Mr. Harper and this government to those promises made last week. Promoting human rights at home or abroad is a big part of what makes us Canadian.
Canadian values must be reflected in our actions overseas and we must continue to ensure that we address human rights issues at home. I and my NDP colleagues will not waver in our determination to ensure that Canada's foreign policies reflect our values.
Before my election, I was a member of the Strengthening Hamilton Community Initiative, begun after the events of September 11, to respond to an increase in racially motivated hate crimes in our community. The initiative's goals have been to bring civic and community representatives together to come up with collaborative solutions to ensure that prejudice and exclusion had no place in our community.
Building diversity and inclusive communities needs support and action from all levels of government. I hope that we will see more of this from this government as it promotes diversity. Canadians sent all of us to Parliament to work. People said they wanted change and they wanted the NDP to balance that change and ensure that there are no rollbacks where progress has been made.
I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities to represent the people of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.