Mr. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, once again I would like to congratulate you on your election. To other public servants, namely the members of the Public Service Alliance, I express my thanks and my solidarity.
I extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister, to the leader of the official opposition and to the leader of the Bloc Quebecois on their re-election.
I want to send a special thanks to our NDP caucus for its patience and tolerance while I was hanging out in the lobby these last many months. I want to thank, in particular, the member for Elmwood—Transcona. I hope one day to be as faithful a parliamentarian as he is and has been. I also want to thank the two leaders of mine who are joining us in the caucus, the members for Ottawa Centre and Halifax, who are examples of wisdom, intelligence, decency and service to us all.
I would like to take this opportunity to quote a man who is very special to me:
On this first opportunity I have to rise as a member of this House, I thought I should express my special appreciation to all those back home, on the shores of Montreal, who have given me the chance to serve in this Parliament.
My father spoke these words nearly 20 years ago, in 1985. I am proud to be his son. Like my father, I am proud to come from Quebec and proud to represent a riding located on the shores of a lake.
That brings me to a thanks to the constituents of Toronto--Danforth for having bestowed in me their confidence to serve here in the House and to work with all members. I particularly want to single out one of those residents, the deputy leader of the New Democratic Party of Ontario, Marilyn Churley, who also sits with me as the representative for Toronto--Danforth in the Ontario Legislature.
I would like everyone to know a little bit about Toronto--Danforth. It is a community of enormous diversity. It holds one of the largest Chinese communities in Canada and indeed I have been blessed to have the support of the Chinese community in Toronto--Danforth on a very active basis.
[Member spoke in Chinese and Greek]
And of course we know the Danforth. We have heard of the taste of the Danforth. It is the centre of Greek culture, activity, music and food. I invite everyone to my riding to share in the magnificence that is the taste of the Danforth with another million aficionados of garlic and fine wine.
It is also the location of the South Asian community markets and businesses on east Gerrard where people talk to me about their families and about their desire to end discrimination including racial profiling in our society.
Finally, I would like to mention that it is the location of a very special church called the Metropolitan Community Church. It is a church wherein the first gay marriage was performed in Canada. I had the experience of being there and I am very proud to have been there. It is the home of the gay and lesbian community in many ways and it is one that speaks out on the issues of human rights.
Toronto--Danforth is very special for many reasons and Toronto itself, as my home city now of 30 years, is very special to me. I have a particular role to play as the lone member of the opposition from Toronto and I can assure members that I intend to take that role very seriously.
However, needless to say, the most important part of Toronto for me is my family. I particularly want to thank Olivia Chow, my wife, Mike and Sarah, my kids, and of course, my mother Doris Layton who is watching and I appreciate very much her support throughout.
Let me speak a little about the purpose of this Parliament and the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the House at this very moment and in the weeks to come. David Lewis, another distinguished parliamentarian and former NDP leader said in his maiden speech in 1962, “We have seen in the last few years that the Liberals have revealed themselves to be thoroughly unreliable”.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, we might say.
However, it was a minority parliament at the time, a parliament with Lester Pearson as Prime Minister. In Pearson's minority parliament, we created public pensions and public health. They would never have occurred with a majority. They would never have occurred without my party. We have 19 MPs here with the support of 2.1 million Canadians. We will not play chicken with historic opportunities to make positive change in this country.
If our party had played chicken in earlier minority governments, we would not have the health care program that we celebrate today. If our party had played chicken in the minority parliaments of the sixties, we would not have the national pension plan that we have today.
In a later minority parliament, often referenced as a good example of how minority parliaments can get progressive things done, from 1972-74, if our party had played chicken, we would not have had a national housing program that houses almost two million Canadians today.
We have an opportunity to create and build once again or we can play politics and let Canadians down. The ones we will be letting down are the families who are sitting at home wondering how they are going to provide for their children and how they are going to meet their needs for child care. The ones we will be letting down are the ones who are trying to breathe clean air and are wondering where they are going to be able to get clean water as they face yet again another boil water order. The ones we will be letting down if we play chicken and play politics instead of getting to work and seizing the opportunities are those who want to see our voting system changed and made more democratic. We have an historic opportunity to do so in this Parliament.
I have observed debates in this place under majority governments and I think that, like me, the public did not like what it saw. That is why we have a minority government now.
Let me be clear: I do not share the Prime Minister's values.
We do not draw our values from the same well as the Prime Minister suggested during the election campaign. He talks about rights, but he dodges on equal marriage for all. He promised to help cities, but he is the one who abolished the affordable housing program. He promised to bring in child care time and time again and did not. He promised to cut pollution and it is up significantly.
It seems that progressive ideas emerge from the Prime Minister and his team only when it suits them. We would like to change that. If he is serious about the environment, if he is serious about cities, and if he is serious about democracy and jobs, well then, we would like to help. If he is serious about child care, we will be there.
I would like to quote from the maiden speech made by the member for Halifax in 1997. She was referring to broken promises and said:
Women are the most vulnerable. It is no surprise that this government has abandoned women. The first 1993 red book promise broken was that of a national child care program. Canadian families and Canada's children are still waiting.
That was seven years ago. Seven years ago our party leader at the time had to bemoan a seven year broken promise. It is now 14 years. This leaves families in real trouble.
I was calling to get a taxi to go to the airport three days ago and the dispatcher said to me, “Mr. Layton, I hope you go up there and make them keep their promises”. I was not sure which promise he was going to pick. He was coming on quite strongly
He said that the Liberals promised a national child care program in 1993 and they broke their promise. On the basis of that promise his wife went out and took early childhood education to become trained to be a daycare worker. They decided to have a family in the expectation that there would be child care available and that her job would be as a child care worker.
I found it amazing to hear this guy speaking this way. He then said that his wife is now looking after their kids at home. She was unable to find a job. Without child care, at the cost that it is available, it was simply impossible for the family to function in any other way.
Broken promises attack the very foundation of what Canadians are looking for, which is some sense of hope. The member for Halifax was waiting seven years ago and we are still waiting.
I say to my fellow opposition leaders that our collective responsibility is to make this place work. We must choose our battles. We must choose the battles not over what the Prime Minister says, but by what he does. My party will do just that and we will always speak up for the people that we represent.
Let me say a word or two about the throne speech itself. Again, I am finding some inspiration from former leaders in their maiden speeches. If members do not mind, I would like to reach back to 1936 when Tommy Douglas was first present in this House prior to being Premier of Saskatchewan. Here is what he said about the Speech from the Throne at that time, “I would point out that the Speech from the Throne is notable, not so much for what it says but for what it fails to say”.
One wonders what Tommy would think about specifics for debt reduction being laid out with such specificity, but with no specifics for child care. The biggest spending priority that has been announced by the government in the throne speech, and again in the Prime Minister's reply today, is the reduction of debt.
Let us be absolutely clear about that. The reduction of debt is being put as the sine qua non of the government's fiscal strategy. This means that it will stand ahead of the environment, of people's basic needs, of affordable housing, just like we have seen for the last decade. Yet we have no specifics on something as important, grand, significant as a child care program.
Let us have some specifics on child care. For example, 3 million kids in Canada have mothers who work, but there are only 515,000 child care spaces in this country. There are fewer child care spaces in my city of Toronto today than there were in 1993. We are falling backwards under this government.
In St. John's it now costs $415 a month for child care per child. In Yellowknife it is $605. In Ottawa it is $750. There are no targets, no dates, no specificity on child care. This is not acceptable.
Tommy Douglas would also have had a few well chosen words about the Prime Minister's seeming desire to help George Bush launch the next arms race, without mentioning even once in the throne speech the so-called missile shield.
Let us hope that this omission means that the Prime Minister has converted to peaceful values and decided to say no to George Bush's star war.
Let us hope that the Prime Minister's values shift from the promotion of war and arms race to the values of peace.
My party wants to built a 21st century economy in Canada, one that is green, that is smart, that has child care, that invests in education and that puts investments into the economic engines of cities. I would like to speak briefly about these.
As members know, I have taken on the responsibility of being our party's energy and climate change critic. After four Liberal throne speeches, I simply do not believe the fifth. We have a commitment to climate change efforts, but time and again that promise has been broken, and I do not believe that it will be followed. We intend to bring forward proposals and I hope the government will take a look at implementing them.
In 1993 the Prime Minister's own red book promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. Instead we have received a report from the OECD saying that we are last among the industrial countries and that we have a massive increase of global warming emissions.
We are facing a global crisis. It is transforming the very planet on which we live. Species that we may or may not care about are losing their capacity to survive on the planet. Hundreds of millions of people will find their lands flooded and their ability to live with any kind of quality of life attacked. That means we have to take urgent and direct action. It is not enough to call for more talks and more discussions of possible plans down the road. I was part of those talks in the past. They led no where.
Let us get going on these issues. It is possible to find solutions. I had a considerable amount to do with the wind turbine on Toronto's waterfront, as did others. I commend the mover of the motion on the Speech from the Throne for his help on that project, but it took six years to get up one turbine.
How long does it take to make change in the country? Surely it cannot take that long.
Let me quote another leader, J.S. Woodsworth, in 1922, on the matter of communities, cities and investment. He said, “As a taxpayer I objected decidedly in my own little municipality to paying out taxes and receiving nothing whatsoever for those taxes”.
What can one say about the commitment to cities and communities in the throne speech? It is pathetic. I stood on the stage with the Prime Minister when he made a promise to municipalities and said there would be 5¢ per litre of the gas tax. Why can the number 5¢ per litre not make its way into the throne speech? Is there something so distasteful about a promise that it cannot be repeated?
What is going on? We see a rapid retraction of commitment on this issue and it is not something that we intend to accept. Instead, we hear about a portion of the fuel tax being phased in. These are the words of someone who frankly does not intend to follow through on a commitment once the election is over.
Also, there is no separate infrastructure program. It will now be folded into the gas tax, I guess. There is no dedicated fund for public transit so we will have more smog and gridlock. That is something to which we can look forward. The infrastructure deficit is growing by $10 million a day and yet the Prime Minister chooses to spend $11 million a day on debt reduction. There is the priority. That is the value wellspring that is being utilized.
Let me turn to the words of the member for Ottawa Centre. He gave a maiden speech in 1968, which is instructive. He said, “serious deficiencies which still remain about which the government gives almost no indication of seriously concerning itself. One, the abysmal lack of affordable housing“. We saw in a minority parliament a national affordable housing program that took us somewhere, that housed hundreds of thousands of Canadians. As soon as the majority Liberal government came into power, it eliminated the whole program and homelessness began to grow across the land with terrifying consequences.
I would like to close on a more positive note by mentioning that the last words in the Speech from the Throne called for a democratic renewal, including the electoral process. We welcome this initiative. We intend to work very hard to achieve the concept of a citizens' assembly and ultimately a referendum so we can fix this place, so we can see that the democratic politics that Canadians want to see in full operation are able to function and clean up Parliament as we know it, clean up the process that we have seen, the scandals and the corruption, and represent the voices of Canadians.
We are ready to work. We are ready to go. Let us end the games of chicken and the politics and get on with the job.
Topic: Speech from the Throne
Subtopic: Resumption of debate on Address in Reply