My constituency is made up of people who are coping with the everyday difficulties of life. It has struck me that the pomp and pageantry of this magnificent House seems very far removed from the realities of everyday life in Halifax.
With the highest density of students of any city in Canada, Halifax has residents struggling with monumental student debt and uncertain futures. We have the legacy of Africville, with members of the African Nova Scotian community still contributing their vibrant and active sense of culture throughout our city despite their unanswered calls for recognition and reparations.
We have thousands of seniors who are finding it more and more difficult to do simple things, such as paying their heating bills. We have Mi'kmaq people still looking for concrete commitments to improve their lives after the ray of hope which was the residential school apology.
We also have a strong military presence in our city with many families who have loved ones on the base, overseas in Afghanistan, or at sea. Our military families live with the terrible uncertainty the war in Afghanistan has brought about and the lack of support which seems to await our veterans after their military service has ended.
Over the past number of years I have worked with individuals who heat with their ovens or heat only one room of their home at a time because they cannot afford fuel. Their choice is between heating their home or feeding their kids. They choose between heat or eat. They know they should insulate and upgrade, but they cannot afford the initial costs. There was nothing for them in the throne speech.
I hoped I would hear a plan to restore confidence in pensions which many seniors now feel are uncertain.
I hoped to hear about a real industrial strategy. Nova Scotian manufacturing industries are hurting. We continue to lose workers to the west. The reality is that under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, the Canadian economy has lost its innovative edge. Instead of grasping new opportunities, Canada is more reliant on the broken U.S. economy and more dependent on resource extraction. We are more than just the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.
The NDP recognizes that diversity and productivity are the basis for an effective economic strategy. The NDP understands that the opportunities of the green economy must be grasped quickly. Most important, our party sees the security and competence of people as the backbone to any economy. This must be our priority. I did not hear the throne speech make these things the focus of our collective efforts here in the House of Commons as I had hoped.
Halifax is home to some of the premier research institutions in Canada which are waiting for a real strategy for innovation in the knowledge based green economy of the future.
The Halifax transit system is bursting at the seams. When new services have been added, people in Halifax have responded by using sustainable transportation.
Some say that high gas prices will force people to take the bus, but Sambro, a fishing community in my riding, does not even have a bus. Fishers in my riding deserve as much service as the rest of us.
In Halifax I have seen how jobs can be created in an energy efficient industry. These jobs can be created throughout the country in every community.
Economists are calling for investment in infrastructure. In the throne speech I had hoped to hear about strong investments in public transit and affordable, efficient housing.
Housing is infrastructure. Transit is infrastructure. Building both would create jobs, reduce greenhouse gases and work toward poverty elimination. I did not hear the government seize upon these opportunities.
I also had hoped to hear recognition of arts and culture as part of our economy. Halifax has wonderful arts and culture communities that export film, music, theatre and dance, which create jobs in our city. There was no mention of this vital aspect of our culture and our economy.
I had hoped for so much from the throne speech. I had hoped to hear a commitment to act against violence against women by attacking the root causes of violence, or to hear about a national child care program, or new post-secondary funding, or a commitment to international aid.
I had hoped to hear about a spectrum of supportive housing investments, or about a plan to strengthen education in first nations communities, or for any indication that the government might finally abandon its continued march to reduce the taxes of its supporters and wealthy corporations, even when it admits it will be running a budgetary deficit.
I had hoped, and I was disappointed.
However, as New Democrats, we believe that we can bring hope and change not only to the House, but to Canadians who believe in the progress of nations.
I watched with genuine excitement as our friends in the United States elected a president who campaigned on hope and possibility. I was struck by the fact that Canadians voted overwhelmingly by over 60% to reject the milquetoast Conservative approach to the economic crisis when serious action is needed.
Canada needs bold action for the economy. We need a stimulus package that invests in the real economy of people. We need to protect people's jobs. We need to protect their savings, their homes and their pensions. We need the government to deliver real results.
While I was hopeful that the Speech from the Throne would signal a plan for this kind of action, it instead signalled to me that the Conservative government is content to continue on with the same legislative program that over 60% of Canadians opposed on October 14. This is why I must stand today and oppose the Speech from the Throne.
Jack Harris (also Nov. 21):
I should also add that our party was successful in getting the support of 34% of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is a considerable level of support, and I wanted to make sure hon. members here and people watching at home knew that. I understand that 34% is almost enough to get a minority government in Canada. The current government has a little better than that, but not much.
I hope to play a role in this House as the deputy energy critic for the east coast. We have a tremendous level of development of oil and gas and of other forms of hydroelectricity in the Atlantic region. My appointment by our leader is emblematic of our recognition of the important role our energy plays in the Canadian energy supply. Newfoundland and Labrador produces some 40% of the Canadian requirement for crude oil, and hon. members may not be fully aware of that fact.
We want to see action on issues such as affordable housing. This issue is particularly important in my riding, where the Canada Lands Company is redeveloping some 80 hectares of land. We want affordable housing to be a significant part of that mix. We need to have a national housing plan or affordable housing programs to help do that. Those did not come forward in the speech, but we will continue to fight for those things.
I cannot help but remark on the concerns expressed by the opposition leader in Ontario, Bob Runciman. He talked about the concept of being poor cousins to Newfoundland being hard to swallow.
What was hard to swallow was being told by the Prime Minister that Atlantic Canadians suffered from a culture of dependence, that somehow we were the product of failed regional development policies. Imagine if I said that Ontario's problem was the result of failed regional development policies like the national railway or the St. Lawrence Seaway or the auto pact. That is not the kind of talk we need. We need to understand that nobody needs to feel inferior because the fiscal situation of their province has changed.
We have a great country. It has an equalization formula that applies equally to all parts of our country. It applies to Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and, yes, even Ontario.
We are pleased to be part of an economic change in our province. The price of oil makes a big difference. It is all the more important that commitments like the Atlantic accord be followed, because we will need to have that support while we continue to develop our prosperity.
We do have other projects to go forward, such as the Churchill Falls project. That project will very likely require the support of the Government of Canada, at least in the form of loan guarantees.
If hon. members want to understand the importance of this step to the people of Newfoundland, I would encourage hon. members who are computer literate to use one of the search engines, perhaps Google, to look up the words “Yes, we have”. Those three words will lead you to a website showing a little video put together by a private company. It puts a speech given by Premier Danny Williams to music.
It will give you an idea of the kind of passion and pride that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel having taken this step. The step is fiscal, but it is psychological as well. Looking at that video might give people some insight into the way we Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have sometimes been made to feel because of our economic situation. I certainly intend to play a role in trying to change that as much as I can.
We are here from Newfoundland and Labrador as equal participants in Confederation. We have lots to say about what needs to be done in this country and for our province.