Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Saskatoon West.
I will start by sincerely thanking the great people of Kootenay—Columbia for giving me the honour of representing them in Canada's 42nd Parliament. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously, as I have devoted my life to public service. I would also like to congratulate the citizens of the Kootenays, from Elkford to Revelstoke and from Kaslo to Field, for their outstanding participation in the 2015 election. Almost 74% of eligible voters in my riding took that walk to the polls, which was among the highest turnout rates in Canada.
I am particularly proud of the number of first nations people and youth who were actively involved in the election. This is very good news for the future of reconciliation with our indigenous neighbours and for the future of democracy in the southeast corner of British Columbia.
Of course, I would like to thank my wife Audrey; and my children Shawn, Kellie, and Adrian; and my granddaughter Lalita. Their love and support and their sacrifices are what made this journey possible.
The citizens of the Rocky, Purcell, and Selkirk Mountains sent me to Ottawa with some very specific expectations that I intend to deliver on.
First is to work together with all parties to deliver on a better future for Kootenay—Columbia and Canada. My constituents, quite frankly, are tired of seeing Parliament as a place where partisan politics seem to take precedence over positive progress. Their desire, and mine, is to see the House of Commons as a place where good ideas are celebrated regardless of their origins. I was heartened, Mr. Speaker, to hear that your desire is also to see a better future for Parliament.
The second expectation is for me to hold the Liberal government accountable for its election promises and to make them even better. I will do that alongside my New Democrat colleagues by supporting the government when it is doing the right things for Canada. We demonstrated our willingness to co-operate last Friday when we stood and applauded the objectives of the Speech from the Throne related to electoral reform, to making Canada a leader in dealing with climate change, to immediately launching an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and in welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada. These are all priorities for the citizens of Kootenay—Columbia.
However, my constituents have many other priorities they expect us to deliver on as well. I personally knocked on over a thousand doors during the 2015 election, and here are some of the things that I heard very clearly.
Families with young children want universal, affordable child care. We had a plan to give them that, and they want to know the Liberals' plan to help them get there.
Small businesses need and deserve a tax cut and a reduction in credit-card fees.
Too many seniors are living in poverty. This is unacceptable in a rich country like Canada, which these senior citizens helped to build. At minimum, they need an increase in the guaranteed income supplement.
Bill C-51 needs to be repealed, not just amended. Many of my constituents described Bill C-51 as the “anti-terrorist, fear-mongering bill”. They believe, as I do and many legal scholars, that this bill has the potential to go too far in impacting our rights and freedoms without adding any real benefits to our security.
The trans-Pacific trade partnership has the potential to hurt the dairy and cheese industry, particularly in the Creston area of my riding. We should never sign any trade deal that would negatively impact any aspect of agriculture in Canada. Food security should be a fundamental right protected by all levels of government.
Health care is a concern for all Canadians. I am optimistic and encouraged by the government's promise to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces and territories.
However, it remains to be seen if that accord will deal with long-standing issues related to the requirement for every Canadian to have a family doctor; reducing costs for prescription drugs; helping children and youth struggling with mental illness; tabling a bill of rights for people with disabilities; ensuring that seniors have the help they need at home, in long-term care facilities, in hospitals, and through palliative care.
My constituents also want to see a vibrant and well-funded CBC, as well as mail delivered to their homes by Canada Post.
Indeed, as is the case with many things in life, the devil is in the details. For example, leadership in climate change is a good thing, but it is meaningful only if accompanied by firm, enforceable, and timely targets. Implementing recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is the right thing to do, but in the end, which recommendations and how they are implemented will be the true measure of the government's commitment to first nations.
It was great to have the Prime Minister stop by the orientation session for new members of Parliament back in November. As part of his address to us, he said that the role of the opposition is to make government better. I could not agree more, and as part of Canada's progressive opposition, that is exactly what we will do.
One of my disappointments with the Speech from the Throne is that it failed to make any mention of Canada's national parks. When I reviewed the mandate letter from the Prime Minister to the hon. Minister of Environment and Climate Change, I was heartened to read statements related to developing Canada's national parks and their programs and services, while limiting commercial development within them.
However, during the campaign, the Liberal government also promised to invest $25 million each year to protect ecosystems and species at risk in parks and to manage and expand national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries. As well, it promised to reverse the Conservative government's cuts to Parks Canada and restore $25 million to programs and services. I will be closely monitoring the Liberal government's budget to ensure that national parks, which are important to both our environment and economy, get the enhanced funding that they rightfully deserve.
We also need to ensure that there is a solid long-term plan to twin Highway 1 through the national parks in my riding, while ensuring the safety of both travellers and wildlife, and to see a new national park established in British Columbia's south Okanagan region, which is a long-standing initiative.
I will finish my maiden speech to Parliament with a story.
When I was going door to door during the campaign in Nelson, I met a delightful senior citizen who said she wanted to tell me a story but only if I agreed to share it with others. After hearing her story, I said that I would do just that.
When this senior was a child, her father was friends with Tommy Douglas, and she often played around his feet. Apparently, Mr. Douglas was of rather small stature. One day she was in a room with several adults, one of them a very tall man who was standing by Tommy Douglas. One of the other adults looked at the two of them and said, “Mr. Douglas, you sure are short”, to which Tommy Douglas replied, “The true height of a man is measured from the neck up”.
Of course, Mr. Douglas went on to be the father of Canada's universal health care system, of which we are all so proud.
Why am I telling this story? It is because while we, as a caucus, may be short in numbers, we are long on good ideas that will make our country stand even taller. I am committed to working with all members over the next four years to build a better Kootenay—Columbia and a better Canada.