Reply to the Speech from the Throne 2016
Standing up for Port Moody-Coquitlam
February 26th, 2016 - 4:19pm
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh.
Although this is not the first time I have spoken in the House in this session, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra for the trust and support they have shown in electing me as their member of Parliament. It is an honour to continue to serve such a beautiful and diverse area and community. I will continue to work hard to serve with integrity and respect.
I would also like to acknowledge my wife Lynda, my parents Val and Cy, my campaign team, and the hundreds of volunteers and staff who worked so tirelessly on my election campaign. To them I am indebted.
I was encouraged to hear the Speech from the Throne address some of the real concerns facing the people in my riding and across the country, but a throne speech is just words if is not followed up with concrete actions.
Every day I hear from constituents who are struggling with the real-life consequences of growing economic inequality, degraded public services, and a changing climate.
In the last election, the Liberals promised quick, urgent, positive change, so it was disappointing to see such a thin Speech from the Throne, with few details and virtually no timelines, no details on key issues like climate change targets, funding to close the gap for first nations education and water, or reversing Conservative cuts to health care and pensions. Given the lack of details, I sincerely hope that this is not a sign that the Liberals are looking for an excuse to back away from the promises they made to Canadians during the election. Canadians are tired of broken promises and they are understandably suspicious of empty government rhetoric. After 10 years of Conservative rule, it is hard to blame them. Canadians want and deserve concrete action.
During the recent federal election, the Liberals promised to address income inequality and our stagnating middle class, and with good reason. Income inequality in Canada continues to rise and Canadian families are paying the price. Unfortunately, instead of helping Canadian families, the first thing they did when they arrived in Ottawa was make equality worse by implementing their so-called middle-class tax cut. The parliamentary budget office shows the benefits of the new Liberal tax cut plan would mainly go to the top 30% of income earners with the most money going to the richest 10%. My constituents in Port Moody—Coquitlam are feeling the financial pain from the exorbitant costs of housing, expensive child care, prescription drugs, and groceries. We can and must do better. The government needs to tackle income inequality head-on. It can start by asking the richest corporations to pay their fair share, cracking down on tax havens, and bringing back the federal minimum wage to drive up wages and salaries for all Canadian workers.
The Liberals promised investments in what they call social infrastructure. Depending on where one lives that could mean anything. I am hopeful that we will get details on infrastructure spending plans soon, because additional funds for affordable housing are imperative to help relieve the pressure on those struggling with high costs and personal debt.
The staggering cost of housing has many living in Metro Vancouver very concerned. The average cost of a home in the tri-cities jumped between 17% and 25% last year alone. For many young families, home ownership is unrealistic, forcing them to move further from their jobs, meaning more time in traffic and less time with their loved ones. Property tax increases have forced seniors living on fixed incomes to move and sell their homes at a time when there are no affordable options for them to move into. The last time the federal government invested in affordable housing was when the late NDP leader Jack Layton convinced the government to abandon corporate tax cuts in favour of social infrastructure investment. I encourage our new Prime Minister to remember this progressive example and take action now.
I am proud to be serving as NDP critic for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. On the west coast the Liberals' promise to open the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is welcome news and it cannot be opened soon enough.
The previous government's closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the cuts and closures to the marine communications and traffic services centres has been disastrous for B.C. These cuts threaten the lives of fishers and other mariners as well as putting the marine environment at risk. The government should reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station to its full complement and do it now. It should reopen the recently closed Ucluelet and Tofino MCTS station and halt the plans to close the Vancouver and Comox MCTS stations.
Together we can protect our coastal waters from environmental hazards and protect the people who navigate these waters on a daily basis. I am hopeful the government will fulfill its promise and implement the 75 recommendations of the Cohen Commission report. It has been three years since the Cohen report laid out a path of recovery for Fraser River wild salmon and the new government must not repeat the mistakes of the last government by dragging its feet.
Wild salmon are under threat on the west coast due to open net fish farms, industrialization of sensitive habitat, and a changing climate. After completing a two-year inquiry, the Cohen Commission report identified 75 recommendations to improve the future sustainability of Fraser River sockeye. The comprehensive report highlighted the impact of stressors on wild salmon such as climate change, aquaculture, habitat protection, and the lack of funding for research and science.
Fraser River sockeye salmon are integral to the economic, ecological, and cultural health of our province. We cannot afford to lose one of the world's last great salmon rivers and with it countless jobs in coastal communities. Now is the time for action. I encourage the new minister to implement the Cohen Commission recommendations and I look forward to working with him in this regard.
I know my time is running near, but before I conclude, I would like to talk briefly about pipelines, the environmental review process, and social licence. Inherent and treaty rights of first nations are enshrined in Canadian law. First nation, Inuit, and Métis have a nearly unbroken record of about 200 court case wins affirming their rights, so it is time to get serious on a nation-to-nation approach with first nations and make first nations true partners in natural resource development.
New Democrats believe that the social licence for natural resource projects will engage first nations communities, citizens, and the broader civil society to include their views and expertise in the sustainable development of our resources. I encourage the government to move in that direction. Fixing the environmental assessment process that was dismantled by the previous federal government should be a priority. We need to reinstate the Burrard Inlet environmental action program and the Fraser River estuary management program that were cut under the Conservatives. Increased industrial activities require that we look at the cumulative impacts of each major project and make science-based recommendations to all levels of government. Looking at each project in isolation without taking into account downstream effects is shortsighted for our coastal economy.
New Democrats want sustainable natural resource development that fosters value-added jobs in Canada and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. We do not have to compromise the health of our environment or our future children in the pursuit of these goals. We need federal leadership. We need strong leadership. We cannot continue with the “rip and ship” approach. We can develop a sustainable economy that will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and protect our environment for future generations.
In closing, Canada is facing some very tough environmental and economic challenges and the Liberals have made many promises to address them. Let us hope they will live up to their promises.
I promise that we in the NDP will hold the government to account. We will be right there to remind them and speak loud about the actions that are needed to move on these very serious concerns. Canadians deserve nothing less.