Reply to the Speech from the Throne

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in reply to the Speech from the Throne. Whatever good there might have been in the throne speech, it seems to me that it has now all been obliterated by the events of the last few days and what has happened as a result of the Auditor General’s report.

The Speech from the Throne is a speech whereby the government hopes, and maybe we hope collectively as a Parliament, to give people a sense of hope about the vision of the government and what we might look forward to. That is what a Throne Speech should be about. It seems to me that the scandal that has happened in the last few days and over the last number of months is shaking the very bedrock of Canadian democracy. It has clearly pointed at the Liberal government in terms of the horrific events that have taken place with the $100 million that has been shovelled out to front firms for the Liberal Party.

We are debating the Throne Speech, but I think we have to put it in the context of what is now taking place. It is particularly ironic given the proposals from the government for addressing the democratic deficit.

The Throne Speech was disappointing for us as New Democrats. We had hoped for a clear direction and vision that the new Prime Minister would articulate for Canadians in terms of fixing some of the serious problems that we have in this country. When we look at the Throne Speech and the commitments that were made around medicare, there is not a word about Roy Romanow, about home care or helping Canadians who are aging, facing difficulties, and need to have a national home care plan.

There is not a word about prescription drugs and the fact that medicare’s fastest growing expense comes from prescriptions. We have this increasing stranglehold by big pharmaceutical companies that are close to the Liberal government. Instead, we got an already promised $2 billion one time funding that is doing nothing more than helping to starve the system while privatizing it at the same time. I know that very well coming from British Columbia where Gordon Campbell, the junior partner of these federal Liberals, is carrying out his privatizing plan.

Let us look at the environment, another key concern of Canadians. It is unbelievable. The only connection to the environment in the Throne Speech was a commitment from the government to recycle its old promises, for example, repeating its 10-year-old promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

There was no mention of mandatory GMO labelling. I receive hundreds of e-mails from people about this very simple thing, this basic right to information of what is included in the food that we buy. There is no mention of labelling of GMOs, something that the government could easily have addressed.

There was a lot of hype about a so-called new vision and new deal for Canadian cities and local communities. The reality is that each year the infrastructure deficit in this country grows by $2 billion. What has the government promised? It is about $700 million.

Many municipalities and mayors gave a favourable response, but is that a surprise to any of us? When people have been in the desert for so long waiting for anything to come their way, it seems to me anything they can grab they will be thankful for, but if we look at the real commitments for our cities they absolutely pale in relation to what the problems are. The fact is that over the next 10 years the government will spend $3 billion less on cities than has been spent on corporate tax cuts in the last three years. That puts into context the commitment that was made.

What about housing? I am the housing spokesperson for the federal New Democrats. Many of us have worked very hard to put affordable housing back on the political agenda. It is really hard to put into words the sense of anger and despair that I have and that I know is shared by millions of Canadians when we watch programs such as we saw last night on CBC that looked at homelessness across the country. This is a wealthy country. Why is it that we still have destitute people on the streets? Why is it that we still have people who have lived for years in emergency shelters? It is because of decisions that have been made by the government. These are often passed off as individual failings, but they result from a failure of public policy.

I felt a great sense of anger when I heard that $100 million went to some phony companies and about the scandal we have been dealing with in the last few days. That $100 million would have built 4,000 new affordable housing units for Canadians who are desperately in need of housing.

To add insult to injury, the minister who was responsible for the so-called national housing framework agreement, Alfonso Gagliano, is the same guy who is now complicit in this whole scandal of shovelling money out to Liberal-friendly firms. What an outrage. Here we see the real sharp contrast of what is taking place in this country. The government is taking care of its corporate friends and its Liberal pals while Canadians are out on the street homeless with no place to go.

Let us look at education for a moment. The Throne Speech stated:

“Investing in people will be Canada’s most important economic investment.”

I agree with that. It sounds like a good thing. The Throne Speech went on to say:

“The Government’s goal is to ensure that a lack of financial resources will not be allowed to deny, to those with the motivation and capacity, the opportunity to learn and aspire to excellence in pursuing a skilled trade, a community college diploma, or university degree.”

I agree with that too. However, what solution was offered? We have heard that loan limits will be increased in recognition of the rising costs of education. What an insult to students. The national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students had it right. He said: “Prime Minister Paul Martin’s proposal to increase student loan limits is a blueprint for increasing student debt. Every time loan limits increase, universities and colleges simply hike fees, plunging students into even deeper debt. This is equivalent to a tuition fee increase.”

In Vancouver, British Columbia, thousands of students hit the streets on February 4, as they did across the country, in a national day of action to protest the government’s pathetic response to post-secondary education and its failure to recognize that the real problem in lack of accessibility and rising tuition is the massive retreat of public funding that has been engineered by the federal government over the last decade. That is where the blame lies. Simply raising the loan limit for students is quite an outrageous and insulting thing to do. What about the greatest deficit that exists in our country, the social deficit? This is something that I am concerned about, and it is something that is a real priority in my riding of Vancouver East.

The president of the Canadian Council on Social Development recently wrote an article pointing out that:

“…the latest census figures that came out in 2001 really end the arguments. They point to a society in which income disparity is growing, not falling: to stubbornly stagnant poverty rates; to an entrenching have-not new immigrant class that is faring far worse than previous generations of new Canadians; to continuing Third World living standards among First Nations people; to increasing homelessness; to still significantly lower income levels for women and ethnic minorities.”

He raised the question of whether the Prime Minister would tackle the social deficit with as much gusto, energy and commitment as he has tackled the deficit when he was finance minister? In reality, $100 billion went to corporations but no money went toward the social deficit. Today in British Columbia 125 organizations are rallying to stop the arbitrary time limit on welfare that was caused by the government. These are only some of the issues that should have been addressed in the Throne Speech.