Mr. Brent St. Denis (Algoma)
Mr. Speaker, it is truly a pleasure and an honour for me to participate in the throne speech debate. We heard earlier today that one of the Telesat Anik satellites is out of commission. I will ask you to decide in 15 or 20 minutes whether it is good or bad that this is not on live television across the country.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you and your colleagues on your appointment to the Chair. It is my firm belief that you will be presiding over one of the best Parliaments that this country has seen in a long, long time.
I do not agree with the media pundits who refer to this as a potentially fractious Parliament. I do not agree with those who think we are going to be faced with problems day in and day out. I am not naive but from what I have seen so far and in talking to colleagues in my own party and colleagues from other parties everyone I have spoken to has agreed that we have the potential to have a truly great and productive Parliament. No doubt that will be partly due to the great contribution you and your colleagues in the Chair will make.
I would also like to pay tribute to my colleagues, the member for Victoria-Madawaska and the member for Bruce-Grey who moved and seconded this debate. Like the speakers we have heard from our ministry and from other private members, they have given me great confidence that this place will truly reflect the views of Canadians in a way we have not seen in at least 10 years. I dare say that we will be very proud of that in the years to come.
We have this honoured section to your left that at times has been disparagingly referred to as the rump. I would like to disabuse members of this House of that name. I am pleased and proud to take my turn over here. When the others have their turn here I am sure they will be pleased with the view and the chance to see what is going on. They will have a chance to speak directly to our fellow members in the government. Maybe we can come up with a more creative description for this area. Take note that three of the Speaker's team are part of this area.
We should look at this section of the House as evidence that Canadians have put great trust in our party. It is impossible to reflect that confidence any other way except to have some of us over here because of our great numbers. If things work out there will be government members over here for a long time to come. Therefore we may as well look at this area as an honoured place to be. I feel very proud to be here, for now.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the voters of Algoma riding. I will talk a little about my riding in a moment before getting to the thrust of my comments on the throne speech.
The confidence my constituents placed in me has made me very proud. I have assured them at every opportunity and do so again now that I will work very hard for them. We talk about serving the country and individual Canadians. There is no greater honour than to have a chance to serve our fellow Canadians in this place. There are many callings in life where service is the thrust of an individual's activities. I cannot imagine a better way to serve our fellow man than as a parlia-
mentarian. I am sure we all feel that way regardless of the ideological differences we might have.
I truly look forward to getting to know better all the members of this House in all parties. Whenever I am in this place I want it to encourage me in the work I do. I want it to strengthen me in my work here and in the riding.
For a while we are going to feel a little bit schizophrenic. It seems that the work here is different from the work in the riding. The nature of the day is obviously very different. Over time we will find that these two different lives will come closer and closer together. I would certainly defer to the opinion of those who have served in this place for a long time to confirm that. However it is my belief that our work here and our work in the riding is really one. It is only a matter of time before we actually feel that in our experiences. I look forward to that.
I would like to thank my family, particularly Julie. Those of us with families know the great sacrifices they have had to endure to allow us to serve in this way. It goes unnoticed by Canadians in general and it is important that we say in this public place that our families also serve the country. I am truly grateful to mine and to all our families who in some ways are forced to contribute. We appreciate that.
We all had many volunteers working for us in our campaigns and we would not be here without them. The whole exercise of democracy is built on the building blocks of volunteers. The volunteers that work in the political process are as valuable as any volunteer raising funds for heart research or the kidney foundation. All those activities are important and the volunteers that work in the political realm are equally important. They make this country run. They are the lifeblood of democracy, in my view.
Of course we all depend on staff and I can assure you that the staff I have working for me are among the best.
I have the honour of representing the riding of Algoma which for the last 25 years was represented by a colleague of many of the returning members, Dr. Maurice Foster. I had the pleasure of working closely with him as his parliamentary assistant for a number of years. It was an experience I will never forget. He will be my adviser, at $1 a year shall we say, for quite some time whether he likes it or not. He distinguished himself as a committee chair, as chairman of Ontario caucus for a number of years, as a parliamentary secretary, and as a representative of this country in several international delegations. He was the kind of parliamentarian who was truly Canadian and truly motivated by service. There is not an ounce of self-serving in Maurice Foster's attitude toward service and I could not let this chance go by without paying tribute to him and his work on behalf of Canada and Algoma.
Dr. Foster followed in the footsteps of Lester Pearson who represented Algoma East. I dare say I feel humbled to follow in the footsteps of such great Canadians as Lester Pearson and Maurice Foster.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to invite you as well as the other members of this House to visit Algoma riding. We all claim to have the greatest riding in the country and if there is such a thing as the greatest among equals then I will claim that title for Algoma.
Algoma riding is situated in the northern area of Lake Huron. It includes Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron approximately from Georgian Bay to the eastern shore of Lake Superior. Like some other ridings it is very large. It takes over seven hours to drive from one end to the other. It is a spectacularly beautiful riding with many unique features, but like many ridings it is suffering difficult economic times.
We have a mining sector in Elliot Lake that has suffered tremendous downsizing. In the months ahead you will hear me make numerous interventions on behalf of Elliot Lake where thousands of jobs in the mining industry have been lost, but where tremendous effort is being made to revitalize the economy.
We have a substantial tourism industry. Our proximity to Michigan is helpful but the tourism industry needs revitalization too.
Forestry is a major industry for us but the constant badgering by the U.S. of our softwood lumber industry has had an impact.
I certainly appreciate the attitude of our government, of our leader and Prime Minister that he will take a firm businesslike stand with the Americans. We can no longer tolerate being pushed around. The Americans are our friends on a personal basis but I believe when it comes to country to country relations those have to be conducted in a businesslike manner. In fact during the campaign I asked the then leader if he would commit not ever to go fishing with the U.S. President. His response was that he did not think he would but it certainly seemed to me that the relationship between our previous Prime Minister and the U.S. President was too cosy.
We also have some farming. Believe it or not in northern Ontario there is a substantial farming sector. We have dairy farmers. Like many members who have dairy farmers or other supply managed sectors in their ridings, the GATT has been a tremendous exercise in frustration. I believe though that our government took up the challenge after October 25 and has produced for us a result that was the very best that could be obtained under the circumstances.
In Algoma riding we are blessed with over 40 small communities including over a dozen First Nation communities. I will not dare start listing them for fear of forgetting or leaving one out. One has to visit.
I would like to come to the point of this exercise. I hope I did not leave myself too short on time. I am thinking back to the campaign where one was required to speak longer than one should too many times. I would like to make reference to a comment made by the member for Broadview-Greenwood yesterday. He made an intervention in response to the speech by a member from the Reform Party. That member from the Reform Party talked about the bottom line and generally the need to run Canada like a business.
I was very proud to hear the member for Broadview-Greenwood say that this country is not just a bottom line, this country is people. After all if there is any vision of this country that we should have front and foremost it is that of its people. When I look at the commitments made in the throne speech, the comments made by the member for Broadview-Greenwood and our famous red book, line after line after line, it is people first.
We cannot have a vision about a technological revolution or a vision about being a major trading country without first having a vision about the people who make up this country. I dare say, and with all due respect, the agenda of the Reform and Bloc parties really misses the mark. The deficit is important. The issues that the Bloc bring forward on behalf of their particular constituency are important, but they really ignore the fact that above all it is people and people want to have dignity. People want to have jobs. People want to be able to put food on the table using money that they have earned, not money that was given to them because they could not find a job.
The whole thing goes back to mobilizing and energizing the creativity of our people, mobilizing the capital resources, coupled with creativity to get this country moving again, get it out of the starting blocks.
I do not want to blame all our ills on the last 10 years, but let us blame some of the ills. Members will seldom hear the right hon. Prime Minister blame the last government for the predicament we are in, but those are the facts.
It really requires of us now that we always put people first. If I go through the list of the throne speech initiatives I do not see one that does not put people first, even something like the Rural Residential Assistance Program, the housing program. I can say that in my riding of Algoma where there are a lot of older people who are trying to stay in their homes longer so that they do not have to go into nursing homes that it is important to have access to funds to improve their homes so they can stay in them. That is a program about people.
Let us look at municipal infrastructure. That is a program about people. It gets people, I do not want to say at the bottom of the economic ladder as I do not mean that, but labourers, contractors and equipment operators, working. It gets money into the economy at the local level and gets it there quickly. We are talking about putting people back to work.
When I was preparing for my earlier S. O. 31 statement today on literacy I was reminded of how many of our adult population have difficulty functioning in our modern society because they cannot read. I just beamed with pride when our government's commitment to literacy, not only in the red book and not only by the appointment of a minister responsible for literacy, was given major mention in the throne speech.
If we do not have strong building blocks and if we do not have strong people, how can we have a strong country.
As I mentioned earlier in the statements, literacy is an important issue in my riding of Algoma. We have people who spent years working in the resource sectors of mining, forestry and so on. When times were good it was easy to get a job. Maybe they did not get the education that was required or for economic reasons they had to go to work. Now with our country having to restructure itself economically these people are being left out. I think it is important that we do not leave anybody behind.
When we talk about the social safety net we are talking about people again. The social safety net without a doubt has become frayed over the years. There may be a few holes in the safety net. We would not want any trapeze artist falling into that safety net and hitting the wrong spot. That is what happens too often unfortunately.
I believe we have to honestly look at our social safety net programs to make them better. It does not mean that it is going to cost more. I really appreciated the comment in the speech by the member for Madawaska-Victoria, the seconder of the reply to the throne speech, that we can have a leaner government without a meaner government. We can do things better.
I am prepared and I am sure that my constituents are prepared to look honestly at changing constructively our social safety net program. We want it to do a better job. I campaigned openly, saying that there were abuses and that I was prepared to look honestly at making changes. I look forward to working with other members in this House to that end.
Even our initiative on crime talks about people. Who is it that is worried about getting mugged? It is people. Whatever we can do to make people feel safer on their streets, to make people feel that the justice system serves not only the victim but the community and deals effectively and constructively with the criminal will be moving this country forward.
Why is it that this country is singly the most desired country in the world in which to live? As long as we do not tell people how cold it can get here sometimes, I am sure everybody in this world would like to move here.
We have a community of peoples. Just imagine, this country was really built on three founding nations.
When one considers that we have such a desirable country, what better chance do we have than to serve together to move this country forward into the next century.
I would like to conclude my remarks by saying that we as a group certainly have many tough decisions to make in the months and years ahead. I think if we continue to be transparent in our dealings with the public they will look at us with confidence. If we try hard and we listen to the people I believe we will be successful. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the other parties in this House, we will be here for a long time.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne