30 October 2007
Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
2nd Session, 39th Parliament, Volume 144, Issue 7
The Honourable Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, Speaker pro tempore
Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, it is with some pleasure that I rise to speak to the Throne Speech, but it is not with a great deal of pleasure that I rise, for two reasons: First, so little is in this Throne Speech that to suggest one is speaking to it is to exaggerate the point. Rather, one has to speak around it, or one has to speak about all kinds of things that are not in it. I am also not pleased because the minimal amount that is in it is very disconcerting and not particularly inspiring, I believe, for Canadians.
I take offence, first, with the government's statement on the front of the Throne Speech pamphlet. People often describe themselves aggressively in one way simply because they are afraid of the underlying truth that may not actually support that description. We certainly have a great deal of experience with this government saying something over and over again that clearly is not true, on the assumption that if they say it enough people will actually believe it is true.
Education, as we all must understand, is the future of this country. It is the future of the economy of this country. A 21st century economy will be based upon intellectual property, education, science, technology and the minds of Canadians who are able to confront and beat the rest of the world. None of that is supported by this particular Throne Speech.
At the end of that five-year period, she had amassed a $75,000 student loan. When $75,000 is divided by five, the result is not a great deal of money, in some senses, for supporting two children and putting oneself through school as an annual expense. However, the woman ended up with $75,000 in loans. It is like having a mortgage, as they say, without having the house. She is now 38 years old. The interest rate on that mortgage is prime plus 2.5 per cent, which puts it upwards of 9 per cent. She will be forced to begin to make payments at $829 a month. That will be over 25 per cent of her take-home pay, despite the fact that she has a professional job. What assistance has she received? How will she be able to pay for her rent, pay for her children's upbringing, pay for that debt and still provide for some kind of future for herself and her family?
Honourable senators, this is the kind of issue that a caring government, a government that sees the future and has a sense of people and understands empathy would begin to address. This woman has done exactly what our society has asked her to do. She has taken herself off welfare rolls and done everything she possibly could to secure a future in a productive way, support her family and herself, and she is burdened by a mortgage without a house.
The second evident omission in this Throne Speech is its neglect of women's equality. It is now the case that this government is not allowed to use the word "equality" in the context of women's rights and women's issues. This government has cancelled initiatives that would affect women and promote their interests. They have cut off $350,000 in annual federal funding for the National Association of Women and the Law. They have cut the $750,000 annual federal grant to the Canadian Child Care Federation. They have cut the Court Challenges Program, which enabled persons and groups to challenge federal laws on equality grounds. They have cut the Law Reform Commission. They have cut the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative. They have cut $750,000 from Family Service Canada.
In this context, government ministers have made it clear that the funding of advocacy groups is not a priority. However, they are selective in how they manage these cuts to "advocacy" groups. They have cut all support for groups that advocate for the equality of women and the rights of families, but at the same time they have added — and this is almost incomprehensible — a $500,000 grant to the Conference of Defence Associations. Let us support defence associations, but not equality for women.
I have taken a good deal of time to talk about what is not in this speech, and I could go on at some considerable length.
I also point out what is clear in this government's Throne Speech.
Often what this government does is not to achieve some kind of good public policy end or to make the country better. Rather, their actions are based on cynical politics, designed simply to get votes, to promote and manipulate their chance of electoral success.
I will return to the subject of crime bills. If this government truly saw that issue as one that needed to be addressed, they would have allowed the crime bills that were passed in the House of Commons last session to simply be re-established on the list and put through quickly with the kind of support they would have received for that. Instead, they repackage the bills to somehow make the extraneous, elaborate case that the Liberals are soft on crime and are trying to delay the proposed legislation.
There were initiatives in that bill that could have been passed and acted on by now and might well have reduced crime in the Conservative's view of the world. They did not do that.
Another thing than I find almost breathtaking is that the Prime Minister actually calls himself an economist. That reminds me of the story that everyone but my Johnny is out of step. The Prime Minister is perhaps the only economist in this country who actually believes cutting the GST serves any purpose other than a political one.
One of the major issues facing this country is productivity; and in good times we should be preparing for bad times. One day when we confront a downturn, we will need heightened productivity more than we can imagine, and this government should be cutting taxes that stimulate economic productivity. The GST is not one of those. Another issue that they miss is Kyoto. I want to emphasize this because Senator Tkachuk is having a pretty good time about it. He clearly underlined this government's attitude. It is not that they are opposed specifically to the Kyoto process for addressing climate change; it is that they are opposed to any process for addressing climate change. There are many initiatives that the government could have brought in easily after 18 long months. Look at what British Columbia is doing. Look at the announcements and initiatives made by Premier Campbell. That is a government that said they will be carbon neutral by 2010. They are focused on improving the climate and taking concrete, specific initiatives to achieve that. These initiatives do not cost money; they do not cause economic harm. They stimulate economies, save money and enhance productivity and competitiveness.
The frustration I feel when I read this Throne Speech is never greater than when I read the limited amount that it says about climate change, when I contemplate how much could be done and how little is in fact being done. There is no leadership where leadership is required.
Honourable senators, that brings me to my final comment. When I read this Throne Speech, I am struck at how quintessentially small-minded it is. It does not grab a single major issue confronting this country, such as child poverty, Kyoto, climate change or Kelowna.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I must advise the honourable senator that his speaking time has expired.
Senator Mitchell: I would ask for five more minutes, please.
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Mitchell: I thank my Conservative colleagues, in particular, for allowing me to continue. They are very empathetic and compassionate at certain moments. When I read this Throne Speech, the first thing that hit me was how light it was, how little there was in it that inspired. It did not address any of the major issues facing this country today. It did not address productivity or climate change; it did not address child poverty or native issues particularly. It did not address any major issue that, with great leadership, could transform this country in some significant way for the future. I am struck by how quintessentially small "c" conservative this Throne Speech is. It tinkers and modifies only at the margin. It is afraid to grab the future, to lead Canadians to do something great.
Hopefully, honourable senators, it will not be too long before this government will understand the chance that it missed; and we will see one day in the not-too-distant future some great leadership once again for this country from the next Liberal government.
On motion of Senator Hubley, debate adjourned.
This is an abridged version of the Senator's speech. The full text is available at www.parl.gc.ca.