March 22, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Art Eggleton


Hon. Art Eggleton (York Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York South--Weston.
Today is the first sitting of the House since the Conservative Party chose its leader on the weekend. I hesitate to use the words new leader because he is the same leader that the Alliance Party had. In fact this completes the takeover by the Canadian Alliance, formerly the Reform Party. It completes the takeover of the word conservative.
What has that party done the first day in the House after its convention? It has put forward a motion asking the House to recognize that the current government is not new. It is asking the House to indicate that it has no confidence in the government.
The Conservative Party's time would have been spent far more usefully, this first day back after its convention, if it had put something positive forward in the House, something that would have indicated its vision for Canada, something that would have indicated what changes it would like to make and what policies it would like to see brought forward for the benefit of Canadians.
Instead, what do we have today? We have a motion before us that simply says the current government is not new. That is silly. It is the same party, but it is a new government. What is the point of spending a whole day debating that? What is the point of spending a whole day debating whether the House has confidence in the government? The Conservative Party well knows the composition of membership in the House. The majority of people here are Liberals and will vote confidence in their own party. Conservative members know that. Why are they wasting this whole day?
We are not hearing any positive contribution from those members. They are not telling Canadians what they stand for. What we are hearing is petty rhetoric and a lot of mud slinging. It is very cheap politics that we are getting in support of their motion in the House today, and that is regrettable. Those members have wasted a lot of taxpayers' time. They have wasted a lot of time for Canadians when they could have been talking something more positive, that is if they have something more positive to put forward in terms of how they see Canada in the future, which might be different from what we as Liberals see.
The motion states that we have not put new legislation before the House. The House has been in session for about 6 or 7 weeks now and has in fact passed 12 bills. It has passed legislation dealing with a wide range of issues important to Canadians. We should not belittle that. That is what the House is here to do. We are here to try to improve the conditions under which Canadians live. Twelve bills inside of seven weeks is a pretty good record, but it does not stop there.
New legislation will be coming forward. One piece of legislation, with respect to a promise made by the Prime Minister to protect whistleblowers, was introduced today. He promised that legislation would be introduced by March 31 and today is March 22.
Not everything finds its way into legislation. The government has a wide range of responsibilities to Canadians to act on matters of urgency. One of them was today. It may not be legislation in the current sense, but I am sure it will get into the finance bill. The government announced today almost $1 billion to the agricultural industry, particularly beef producers. This is a big boost to that industry at a very tough time. That is an important thing for the government to do, and it has spent the time to do it. It may not be what those members call new legislation, but it is part of the government's responsibilities.
The government's responsibilities with respect to the sponsorship program have been quite clear. The Prime Minister acted very swiftly on the report of the Auditor General. He acted very swiftly by appointing Mr. Justice Gomery to hold a public inquiry to look into the matter. We keep hearing about the work of the public accounts committee day in and day out. The Prime Minister also appointed a special counsel with a mandate to pursue all possible avenues for financial recovery.
I know that people across the country are upset about what has happened here, but the Prime Minister has moved very quickly and very decisively in action on that matter. This again shows that the government wants to correct this problem and to get on with the business of government, to get on with the issues that need to be dealt with, the issues that in fact were part of the active agenda that was promoted in the Speech from the Throne.
The Speech from the Throne on February 2 outlined a very ambitious agenda in many different areas. For example, on the issue that most Canadians feel is number one, health, some $2 billion in health care transfers to the provinces was confirmed. Two billion dollars goes a long way when we consider the other money that over the last few years has been transferred to help improve the health care system. That is going to help a lot.
On top of that was the announcement that there would be a new Canadian public health agency established, with a new chief public health officer. It would be something along the lines of the CDC in Atlanta, perhaps. This kind of operation that focuses on public health would help overcome some of the problems and would put us on a very positive course for being able to handle anything like SARS or any other public health disaster that may be inflicted upon us. That is going to involve legislation and that will involve the action of the government, so I do not understand why the opposition is trying to get away with the argument that there is nothing new.
On aboriginal Canadians, the Prime Minister made it clear that we are going work with first nations to improve governance in their communities. We are not going to just foist something upon them; we will work with them to create it. This will expand our successful urban aboriginal strategy. In my case, in Toronto there are many people of the first nations and the urban strategy is very vital to us. I know that people at times seem to be focused on what happens on reserves, but there are more of our aboriginal people living in cities and facing many very tough challenges. That was outlined in the Speech from the Throne.
The care of our children is another area. Part of that is accelerating initiatives for more quality child care spaces. In Toronto we badly need child care spaces to help families in which both parents are working. We need quality child care and quality early childhood education. Those are all important parts of helping our children. Our children are our most important asset, as has been said on many occasions. They are the investment in the future. Quality child care was announced in the Speech from the Throne. This is again another new direction.
Creating opportunities for Canadians with disabilities was also touched upon, particularly in regard to improving the fairness of the tax system for persons with disabilities and their supporting families.
The democratic deficit, as it is often called, was addressed extensively. The Prime Minister has been very committed to making the House work better for all Canadians and making all of us an important part of the decision making. This is as opposed to having it all concentrated in the Prime Minister's office or all concentrated in the cabinet. It is important that we all be part of it.
Addressing this not only will benefit the people on the Liberal side of the House, but it will benefit the people on the opposition side of the House as well and it will strengthen our committee structure. It also will strengthen our say in who gets appointed to the Supreme Court or many other different boards and commissions, and there will be a greater opportunity to scrutinize the estimates, the budgets and the programs of different departments. Those things are all important as well.
Finally, there is the new deal for cities or the new deal for communities, something I as a former mayor of Toronto am very interested in. We announced in the throne speech that in fact the GST was being waived on municipal purchases. This creates some $7 billion over 10 years. We announced that infrastructure was going to be expedited and that more would be done in terms of transit and housing. I hope we will hear more about that in tomorrow's budget speech.
It is wrong to say that the government has not introduced new legislation or has not brought about new work. It is wrong to say that the House has lost confidence. It is a waste of time to go through that kind of endeavour. We would have been far better to have heard from the Conservatives what positive contribution they want to make. All they wanted to do today was sling more mud and engage in petty politics.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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