Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here in this House in the 36th Parliament as the new member representing the riding of Vancouver East.
I have to say as I make my inaugural speech that I feel a very heavy responsibility as I struggle to find the ways and means to bring to the attention of this House a sense of the urgency that comes from the communities I represent.
We are not wealthy or affluent communities. Vancouver East is a highly urban community of over 100,000 people from very diverse and multicultural backgrounds. It is made up of people who are coping with the difficulties of everyday life. In many ways the experience of my first week in this House of Commons seems very far removed from the sometimes harsh realities of life in east Vancouver. Yet despite these difficulties the pride and dignity in Vancouver East is a model for other communities to embrace.
It is a community with a long tradition of social activism and social commitment. It is home to many of Canada's First Nations peoples as well as home to many new Canadians who find in east Vancouver a balance of Canadian roots and multicultural diversity.
If we walk up and down Commercial Drive or through bustling historic Chinatown or along the neighbourhood streets of Strathcona, one of Vancouver's oldest communities, the sense of unique neighbourhoods and their history and character is very evident.
At Hastings and Nanaimo we experience the urban flavour of thriving small businesses that serve the community. There is the landmark Carnegie Centre on one corner of Main and Hastings and the Four Corners Community Savings opposite. At the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House the breakfast program for families is a welcoming start to the day. There is also the pioneering Western Front artist run centre in Mount Pleasant, the Italian Cultural Centre and the new Chinese Cultural Centre Museum. These are only a few of the many community facilities and programs that serve and define east Vancouver as a place of strength and support for its residents.
Unfortunately my riding, like many other ridings and communities in Canada, is also living the consequences of federal Liberal policies of continuing high unemployment especially among youth and aboriginal peoples, of growing poverty, homelessness and inadequate housing.
Vancouver East is poorer because of the failure of this government to aggressively deal with unemployment and declining wages. At the same time this federal government has slashed our social programs at an unprecedented level. There is more homelessness in my community because the federal government has callously abandoned the development of social and co-op housing.
Some of the people in my riding are never heard by those in power. In the downtown east side, in one of the communities in Vancouver East, more than 6,000 people live in what is called single occupant rooms, meaning that they are living in very substandard accommodation. In this same community, we are struggling to cope with a health crisis that results from poverty, an epidemic of HIV transmission among injection drug users.
I brought this to the attention of the Minister of Health in my first week in this House. The people of Vancouver East are waiting for a response with hope that the government will demonstrate that it is willing to act. We ask: How many more deaths will there be? Already over 1,200 British Columbians have died from drug overdoses since 1993.
Vancouver poet and activist, Bud Osbourne, spoke to the community about these and other tragic deaths. He said “But with these thousand crosses planted in Oppenheimer Park today, who really see them, feel sorrow, feel loss, feel rage? Our hearts shed bitter tears. These thousand crosses are symbols of the social apartheid in our culture, the segregation of those who deserve to live and those who are abandoned to die”.
Last week I listened very carefully to my first throne speech. I listened for words of concrete action to be taken, for example, to assist students reeling from the burden of student loan debts or for real targets to reduce unemployment and eliminate poverty. I hoped to hear about commitment to act against violence against women or to hear that the government is going to introduce a national child care program so often promised by the Liberals, or for any indication that the government might finally embark on a campaign of fair taxation to ensure that the vast wealth in this country is something that benefits all Canadians.
However, there was silence from the government on these critical issues. It led me to think about what meaning there is in being here in this place that honours tradition and ritual and holds to represent the people of Canada. The meaning, I believe, is created by the change that is possible if we have the will to act. I know that I and my fellow New Democrats bring back to this House a value and tradition that has almost disappeared, a quest for social justice and social equality and a voice for those who have been silenced and shut out.
We live in an increasingly globalized corporate economy where the rights of multinational corporations, about to be embodied in the multilateral agreement on investment and furthered by APEC, are seen as more important than the rights of people and sustainable human development.
However, as New Democrats we believe that we can bring hope and change not only to this House but to Canadians who believe as well in the progress of nations as outlined in a 1996 UN report. It states “The day will come when the progress of nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their peoples: by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children”.
The people of Vancouver East expect and deserve no less and I am honoured to represent and fight for their interests in this House.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne