Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne. This is my first speech in the House of Commons. I am honoured to be here to share my views and to speak on behalf of the people of Winnipeg Centre.
Winnipeg Centre has a great history and tradition of sending social democrats to Ottawa. The seat I am taking in the House of Commons has been held by two of the greatest champions for social justice in our nation's history.
Seventy-six years ago the voters of Winnipeg Centre ignored the fact that the Canadian government wanted to send J.S. Woodsworth to prison for his role in the Winnipeg general strike. Instead they sent him to Parliament. Here he became the leader of what he called the labour group, and the voters of Winnipeg Centre kept re-electing him year after year and that labour group kept getting bigger.
On his death after 20 years in Parliament he was replaced by Stanley Knowles who held this seat until he suffered his stroke in 1981. Cyril Keeper then held this seat until 1988. This past June was cause for national mourning when Stanley Knowles passed away.
J.S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles won the admiration of all Canadians for their honesty, their dignity and for their courage. I am pleased that the leaders of all political parties paid tribute to brother Knowles in the House of Commons this past Thursday. Both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition were full of praise. However, there is a danger to this sort of praise.
It is the sort of praise that is used when one wants to bury the cause for which these men fought. We must not only remember these men for their admirable personal qualities, we must remember the ideals that sustained them. I ask the House to listen to these words from J.S. Woodsworth's first speech to the House 75 years ago. He said:
I claim that we have come to a period in the history of our country when we decide once and for all which shall prevail, profits or human welfare. I feel confident that there is a group of men here, new Members of the House, if you will, who have clearly made up their minds that insofar as they decide it, human welfare is to be given the precedence.
There are new members here today, 76 years later, the men and women who make up the NDP caucus who still see this as the key question facing us. It is a question of justice, a question of social justice and it means far more than just the social safety net.
For the past two decades Canadian governments have been tearing apart the social programs that men like Woodsworth, Knowles and Cyril Keeper fought to put in place. Our caucus is going to be fighting to protect what is left of that tattered social safety net.
These words were taken from Stanley Knowles first speech to this Chamber. He said:
Social justice involves a system in which those who toil, being part of the community, own the productive machinery of the nation and therefore receive every day and every month their full and just share of the wealth that they produce.
I regret that last week's Speech from the Throne does not move us any closer to that noble vision.
Like J.S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles, I believe that the day will come when nations will be judged not by their military and economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their people, by their level of health, nutrition and education, by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labour and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children. That must and will be the yardstick by which we measure progress and by which we are judged. Society does not move forward unless we all move forward together.
The Speech from the Throne does not address the growing gap in this country between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have nots. It does nothing to address the need for a more equitable redistribution of wealth in the country. Instead, it relies on an outdated, neo-conservative approach that the free market will provide for all if it is simply left alone. History has shown us otherwise. History has shown us that capital has no conscience.
As a socialist and as a trade unionist I reject the prevailing wisdom that we can no longer afford Canadian social programs. We have endured endless years of cutbacks that have severely affected the lives of the many poor and unemployed Canadians who live in the inner city of Winnipeg.
I do not believe that our deficit problem is a result of overspending on social programs. We spend less on social programs than most developed nations. Our debt and deficit problems are due to a deliberate economic policy of fighting inflation with high interest rates. The predictable and unfortunate consequences of this tight money economic policy have been chronic levels of long term unemployment and spiralling compounding interest on our national debt. I for one am tired of the flat earth society version of our economic problems that we keep hearing from the government and from the official opposition. Their analysis is both false and ultimately dangerous.
Manitoba just went through what has been called the flood of the century. As hard as it was, it could have been very much worse if successive governments had not spent millions of dollars on the Red River floodway diversion system. They knew that money spent on prevention was not money thrown away.
I want to present the government with another flood warning. This time it is not the Red River that is rising, it is the rising tide of desperation in our inner cities. It is the rising tide of poverty and all the consequences of crime, violence, substance abuse, the breakdown of the family.
Just as the blizzard of the century led to the flood of the century, a decade of budget cutting has led to a social crisis and what could amount to a permanent underclass in our society. Rather than investing in the future, the government has opened the floodgates to social disaster.
Common sense dictates that it is time to start investing in flood protection to stem the tide of despair that threatens to sweep away our inner cities and social justice demands it.
I take my seat today, the latest in a long line of people who have been sent to this House by the people of Winnipeg Centre to fight for social justice. As I take my place I am conscious of the honour that is mine. I wish to renew Stanley Knowles' pledge of loyalty to the cause of social justice that J.S. Woodsworth served so well.
I may never fill their shoes but likewise I promise the people of Winnipeg Centre that I will never abandon their cause.
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne