Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to make my first speech in the House in this debate on the Speech from the Throne.
I would like to thank my supporters in Burnaby—Douglas for expressing their confidence in me. I would also like to assure those folks who supported other candidates that I am always willing to listen to their concerns and that they will always have access to the services of my office.
I would also like to pay tribute to the candidates who stood in Burnaby—Douglas in the last election: Bill Cunningham, George Drazenovic, Shawn Hunsdale, Adam Desaulniers, Frank Cerminara and Hanne Gidora. It is an honour for me to represent a riding that has such a strong NDP tradition. The first leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas, represented the area through the 1960s as the MP for Burnaby--Coquitlam. To say that Tommy Douglas was a hero of mine would be an incredible understatement.
I also want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Svend Robinson. I worked with Svend for 18 years, briefly here in Ottawa but mostly in his constituency office. Everyone here knows of the difficulties that Svend faced last spring which led to his decision not to seek re-election.
Svend Robinson has a proud record of service to Burnaby, British Columbia and Canada through his more than 25 years as a member of Parliament. Svend was known for his service to his constituents and as an outspoken member who was not afraid to take on controversial issues. He was Canada's first openly gay member of Parliament. He was a tireless defender of human rights here in Canada and around the world and a prominent advocate for the environment.
Svend Robinson's voice will be missed here in the chamber. Like Svend's many friends from coast to coast to coast and, indeed, around the world, I know that he will continue his justice seeking work in new and exciting ways in the coming months.
I want to focus on the Speech from the Throne. I know that child care is an important issue for many families in my riding. Child care is not a luxury issue for the people of my riding. It is an issue of daily importance that has an impact on the development of the children of our community and on the pocketbooks of families.
The people of Burnaby—Douglas have anticipated a national child care program for many years, and rightly so since Liberal governments have promised it for at least 11 years. The throne speech mentions child care but does not give any details. I know that a throne speech is intended to paint broad strokes of the government's plan but I remain disappointed that specifics were avoided when it came to a national child care program.
The time for a high quality, universal, accessible, affordable and inclusive national child care program is now. In fact the time was yesterday but because the government has refused to budget we still have to press for what is urgently required.
Burnaby—Douglas is home to two fine institutions of post-secondary education: Simon Fraser University and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Many people in my riding see post-secondary education as a key priority. We are still reeling from the huge cuts made in transfer payments for education. Students and their families are reeling from ever increasing tuition fees and students face a huge debt load as they graduate. When I look to the Speech from the Throne for measures to address that situation, I find nothing. This is a terrible oversight.
Like most cities, Burnaby has a significant infrastructure and public transit needs. The Speech from the Throne mentions the federal gas tax but promises only a “portion” for our cities. This backs away from the far more specific promise made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign.
On the environment, the government's program is also disappointing. Canada's record on the environment is terrible. We are now one of the worst of the OECD countries when it comes to pollution and greenhouse gases. We need a plan and a timetable to meet our Kyoto accord obligations. Climate change is an urgent reality on our planet, not some far off theoretical notion.
Poverty is an issue across the country. In Burnaby almost 27% of people live below the low income cut-off lines. Child poverty has increased in Canada despite Parliament's commitment in 1989 to end it by the year 2000. We need significant measures, such as an affordable housing program, to address the distribution of wealth in Canada.
I am glad the Speech from the Throne recognized the need for electoral reform. New Democrats will be pursuing proportional representation as a high priority. We want to ensure that the House reflects the human diversity of Canada and the full spectrum of political ideas found in Canadian society. We will be pressing for public hearings on national missile defence and star wars to give Canadians a chance to fully participate in this crucial decision.
I was pleased to be asked by the leader of the NDP to take on critic responsibilities in the areas of citizenship and immigration, Canadian human rights and western economic diversification.
Wearing that hat, I note that the Speech from the Throne contains yet another promise to address the issue of foreign credentials. This has been an issue for decades, if not longer. Why does Canada continue to deny the calling and waste of talent and dedication of those who were trained overseas? I hope the government will proceed on this issue with some urgency.
As I speak this week, Canadian churches and other organizations are calling on the government to address its refugee policies. This summer the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration criticized churches for allowing people, on the verge of deportation after failed refugee claims, to take sanctuary.
However there is a far more pressing issue than the small number of people in sanctuary in Canada, although each of their cases deserves careful review by the minister. The fact remains that there is no significant fact based appeal on the merits of a case available for refugee claimants in Canada. This is despite the fact that such an appeal was mandated by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act passed by Parliament in 2002. The government must implement the refugee appeal division for this injustice to be undone.
We need to attend to the private refugee sponsorship program, a program that was largely responsible for Canada being recognized by the United Nations for its assistance to refugees. Delays in processing applications for this program are leaving refugees in danger and potential sponsors frustrated.
We need to address the huge number of undocumented people resident in Canada. These people form an easily exploited underclass and we must find ways to regularize their status. Canadian workers are increasingly worried that the government is willing to allow foreign workers into this country to do work that they are ready, able and available to do. This practice must be stopped.
On the human rights front, the government must answer for its use of the special security certificate procedure, which has denied a fair hearing to at least five people in Canada and which threatens to remove them from this country and potentially return them to torture and persecution. Many Canadians face racial profiling at borders or when they travel; blatant discrimination based only on the colour of their skin or their ethnic, national or religious origins. This practice is unacceptable.
Transgendered and transsexual Canadians face huge challenges in our society. We need human rights legislation that offers protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. As a gay man, I would urge the government to end its appeal of survivor benefits for same sex partners. The House must finally deal with the question of gay and lesbian marriage. The government must have the courage of its new-found convictions in support of equal marriage and introduce legislation immediately.
Those are only some of the issues I hope to pursue. They were part of the NDP platform in the recent election. They remain part of our commitment to Canadians and are key to my commitment to the people of Burnaby--Douglas.
I often quote J.S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the CCF, when he said:
We are thankful for these and all the good things of life.
We recognize that they come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over.
What we desire for ourselves we wish for all.
To this end may we take our share in the world's work and the world's struggles.
We do indeed have much to be thankful for as citizens and residents of Canada. In our increasingly interconnected world, much of what we do here directly affects people around the world. Their actions similarly affect us. It becomes harder and harder to justify selfish concerns as it becomes clearer that our greed is directly related to others' poverty, that our indifference can sentence brothers and sisters to lives of incredible difficulty and sometimes even death.
I also have always been moved by Svend Robinson's assertion, when he was asked at the time of the death of Sue Rodriguez, what the highest duty of a member of Parliament should be. Svend responded that “the highest duty of a member of Parliament is to love”. I know Svend did not have in mind a romanticized notion of love but a love that drives us to act justly to better the lives of those around us, honour their full humanity and live with care on this planet.
I feel those challenges and those words very acutely. I look forward to the day when we in this place hear a Speech from the Throne that is written from a perspective of love that seeks justice and that truly seeks to accord to others that which we desire for ourselves. I do not think we are there yet but I live in that hope.
Topic: Speech from the Throne
Subtopic: Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply