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Prime Minister backs the Speech from the Throne

October 17, 2007
Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery


Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to reply to the Speech from the Throne delivered yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.

The context to the Speech from the Throne

Mr. Speaker, in 2006 Canadians went to the polls and they voted for change.

Our government ran on a clear platform; we received a clear mandate; and we have been delivering what we promised.

And now, a mere twenty-one months later, we can say with pride:

The government is clean.

The economy is strong.

The country is united.

In the eyes of the world, Canada's back.

This change, after years of scandal, inaction and threats to national unity, bring home to us the strength of Canada's foundational values – our love of freedom; commitment to democracy; reverence for human rights; and adherence to the rule of law.

Notwithstanding our imperfections, we have built a society that genuinely aspires to the highest ideals of civilization.

We balance the rewards of individual initiative with a collective commitment to help those in need.

We value people for who they are and what they contribute, not who they know or where they came from; we leave the conflicts of older worlds behind to live together here in harmony; and we reach beyond our shores to help resolve those conflicts.

The generations that came before us set our country on this noble path:

  • The Aboriginal people who established Canada's first settlements, long before the arrival of Europeans;

  • The French adventurers who laid the foundations of the Canadian state on the shores of the St-Lawrence nearly four hundred years ago;

  • The British settlers who brought the democratic ideals and institutions we have moulded into our own; and

  • The immigrants from every corner of the earth who have enriched our society with their traditions and their ambitions.

Canada is their legacy to us.

Enriching this heritage for future generations is our duty to them.

Every day millions of Canadians are doing just that.

They're setting the nation's moral compass by teaching their children right from wrong.

They're building our economy with their hard work.

And they're making our communities better by giving more than they take.

Solid leadership

In return for all that they give to this country, Canadians expect one thing from their government: principled, focused and effective leadership so that they can confidently plan for their future in a prosperous, safe and united country.

We titled our first Speech from the Throne Turning a New Leaf, reflecting our mandate for change.

We have delivered on that mandate.

And now that we've turned a new leaf, it's time to fix our sights on Canada's long-term horizons – on where we want to go in the 21st century, and how we will get there.

That's why, for this second session of the thirty-ninth parliament, our throne speech is titled: Strong Leadership. A Better Canada.

Strong leadership delivers more than it promises, rather than promising more than it can deliver.

So we promise Canadians simply this: a better Canada for all of us.

We take inspiration from the great explorers of our true north – Radisson and Groseilliers, Hudson and Franklin, Bernier, Amundsen and the rest. 

Just as they were guided by the North Star, we will be guided by a five-point agenda for Canada.

Our plan is principled and focused.

It will strengthen the Canada of tomorrow while delivering real benefits for Canadians today.

Five core priorities for the long term

Mr. Speaker, for this session of Parliament, our government has five core priorities for a better Canada. We want to:

  • Strengthen Canada's sovereignty and place in the world;

  • Protect our environment and the health of our fellow Canadians;

  • Steer our economy toward long-term prosperity;

  • Modernize our federation and democratic institutions; and

  • Make our streets and communities safe again.

Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to elaborate on everything included in the Speech from the Throne, but allow me to touch briefly on some aspects of the government's agenda.

Sovereignty and security

Let me begin with Canada's place in the world.

It is an understatement that we live in a global village, where the economy, the security, the ideologies, even the diseases, of any one part of the world can be immediately linked to any other.

Canadians have always understood the critical nature of our connections to the rest of the world.

We have never been isolationist.

But, whereas in the past Canada participated in the world through its membership in the French and British empires, today we are a fully sovereign country.

And for the federal government, there is nothing more fundamental than the protection of this country's sovereignty.

Our most important potential sovereignty challenge today is on our arctic doorstep, where retreating polar ice, rising global demand for resources and the prospect of year-round shipping are creating new challenges and exciting opportunities for the North.

As Stan Rogers once sang, Franklin's dream of tracing “one warm line through a land so wild and savage” to “make a Northwest Passage to the sea” seems about to be realized.

But it must be on our terms.

And to ensure this, we can't just point to the map and say, “it's ours.”

Protecting and asserting our sovereignty, in the Arctic and elsewhere, requires real effort, sacrifice and expense.

You can't go ten years without sending a single ship to the passage, as our predecessors did.

We have to use the North or we will risk losing it.

Conservative governments going all the way back to Confederation have understood the importance of Canada's true North.

John A. Macdonald, who oversaw Canada's acquisition of our vast lands to the North and West, was the first to apply the “use it or lose it” principle of sovereignty.

Macdonald said, and I quote: “Were we so faint-hearted as not to take possession of it, the Americans would be only too glad of the opportunity [to] hoist the American flag.”

And so he assured our possession over the arctic claims of Britain, just as he had created the North-West mounted police, the predecessor of today's RCMP.

Half a century ago Prime Minister John Diefenbaker extolled his Northern vision.

He foresaw that Canada's future development and prosperity would depend on efficient transportation networks linking Northern resources to Southern markets.

“Roads to resources,” he called them.

And so he built, among others, our northernmost road – the 700-kilometre Dempster highway from Yukon to the Mackenzie River delta.

The opposition of the day has always dismissed such initiatives as unnecessary, fanciful and wasteful, and history has always proven them wrong.

That is why our government established a strategy for the North, and why we have already taken a number of steps to affirm our presence and sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic.

In our first two budgets, for example, we have taken strong measures to strengthen the ability of our territorial governments to deliver services to Northerners, with particular emphasis on Northern housing for First Nations and Inuit.

We're expanding our military and coast guard presence into the High Arctic and improving our surveillance capacity, including strengthening the Arctic Rangers.

We are stepping up our environmental activities and increasing the number of protected areas, as reflected in our recent announcement concerning a massive expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories.

And to mark International Polar Year, we are enhancing research in the High Arctic.

These research activities will help confirm our unassailable ownership of the Arctic Archipelago and the waters around them, including the Northwest Passage, along with the resources that lie beneath the land, sea and ice.

We will now proceed with the first ever comprehensive mapping of Canada's Arctic sea bed, as well as the establishment of a world-class research station to be located in the Arctic itself.

It will become the hub of our scientific activities in the North, gathering knowledge that will support our sovereignty and assist with resource development and environmental protection.

Mr. Speaker, the other Arctic nations already have most of these capabilities.

And under our watch, Canada will not be left behind when it comes to our Arctic.

I should add, Mr. Speaker, that many of my colleagues will be working on these Northern initiatives, led by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, who has done such a terrific job of getting Canadian agriculture back on track.

Of course, our role in the world is not just about our own sovereignty. It is also about effective action beyond our borders, in concert with our friends in the international community.

And we cannot be completely effective in either of these respects without solid, well-led and well-equipped armed forces.

That's why our government will continue rebuilding our long-neglected military, so our men and women in uniform are able to do the work we ask them to do, at home and abroad, as safely and effectively as possible.

Mr. Speaker, I have visited our troops in Kandahar twice in the past 21 months. The ministers of Defence, Revenue, Foreign Affairs, Heritage, and International Cooperation, and several other colleagues have as well.

I have also attended Red Friday Rallies and other events where communities, friends and others show them their support.

I have spoken to many of our soldiers and their families, including some who have lost loved ones.

The soldiers who are serving in Afghanistan, and the families and friends who are supporting them back home, rank among the finest Canadians I've ever known.

Their compassion for the people of Afghanistan, their resolve in the face of a barbaric opponent, their manifest skill and professionalism, and the diplomats and development officers they work with are a credit to our great country.

Our mission in Afghanistan is a noble and necessary endeavour.

It is making a difference in the lives of men who were victims of Taliban oppression, for children forced to live in ignorance, and for women who had no human rights.

Remember these are ordinary human beings like ourselves, the vast, vast majority of whom just want to live in peace, give their families hope and build a future for their communities.

Parliament will have to make some decisions on the future of the Afghan mission post-2009 within the next year.

I hope all parliamentarians will pay attention to the analysis and advice which the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, and his panel of eminent Canadians will share with us in the near future.

For our part, both in and out of power, this party has faithfully supported our military and their mission since it began in Kabul in 2002 and, of course, since our forces were sent to Kandahar in 2005 by the previous government.

Once again, we cannot understate the responsibilities we have undertaken to the Afghan people, to the international community, and to the men and women of our diplomatic, development, and defence forces who have made such enormous sacrifices on behalf of all of us.

This parliament must not let those people down, Mr. Speaker, and we will not.

The mission in Afghanistan reflects our conviction that Canadian foreign policy must promote our values and defend our interests.

This philosophy is at the very heart of all our international policy initiatives.

It was behind our call to confer honorary Canadian citizenship on Aung San Suu Kyi, who has waged a heroic struggle to bring democracy to Burma.

It is seen in our participation in the United Nations mission in Haiti.

It guides our international assistance programs, which will be refocused and strengthened over the coming weeks.

And our conviction, that our foreign policy must promote our values and serve our interests, drives our effort to renew Canada's engagement in the Americas.

Many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are pursuing market reform and democratic development, but others are falling back to economic nationalism and protectionism, to political populism and authoritarianism.
 
That's why it's so important for countries like Canada to engage – to demonstrate there are alternative models that can meet people's aspirations. 

Their choice is not simply between unfettered capitalism and cold war socialism.

The Canadian model of democratic freedom and economic openness, combined with effective regional and social support, offers a middle course for countries seeking democratic institutions, free markets and social equality.

Mr. Speaker, Canada can make a difference in the world.

Not by returning the days when the government lurched from one fashionable international cause to the next, never pausing to assess whether we were making an impact, or whether we even had the capabilities necessary to do so.

In short, not by returning to the days of a government with an announcement on everything but a plan for nothing.

Protecting the environment and improving the health of Canadians

As was the case with the previous government, most notably, on the environment and on climate change.

You know, Mr. Speaker, as I've met with the leaders who have helped draft the consensus climate change statements at the G8 and APEC, they weren't asking me, “how are you going to achieve your Kyoto target?”

They'd figured out, a long time ago, that when Canada's last government spent a decade pushing our greenhouse gases higher and higher, that they had no intention of making the Kyoto target.

What those leaders want to know is, simply, “what target are you going to achieve, and do you have a plan to achieve it?”

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of the Environment has been clear. The targets he has set – which we can call simply 20 by 2020, 60 to 70 by 2050 – are among the most aggressive in the world going forward.

And he is moving, now, to implement the plan to achieve them.

And thanks to his efforts and those of his colleagues, we are engaged in a major effort to establish an international protocol that is to include all large emitters, including giants like the United States and China. 

The government will move forward with its plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.

Mr. Speaker, there is no time to lose arguing about yet another “new plan” that will never be implemented.

It is time to pass this Throne Speech and let the Minister of the Environment get the job done.

Growth of the economy

Just as, Mr. Speaker, it is time to let the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Industry and all of their colleagues get on with the job of strengthening the position of the Canadian economy for long-term prosperity.

I'm pleased to report, wherever I go in the world, that Canada's economic fundamentals are very strong.

The Minister of Finance just announced one of the largest paydowns of federal debt in Canadian history, the direct result of which will be a reduction in personal income taxes under our Tax Back Guarantee legislated in Budget 2007.

Canada continues to enjoy one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history.

Unemployment is at its lowest level in nearly two generations.

Inflation and interest rates remain low.

The real disposable income of Canadian households has been increasing strongly.

But we cannot be complacent about the continued growth of our economy.

Recent volatility in financial markets, emanating from the U.S. sub-prime market, may be with us for some time to come.

There's weakness in some of our export markets.

Good jobs are threatened in some of our traditional industries.

And cost pressures in some parts of the country are creating their own pressures on the budgets of working families.

Our government is aware of these challenges.

We have responded and, in this session, we will pursue our action in struggling sectors such as the manufacturing, forestry, fishery and tourism industries.

We will also continue to take steps to bolster Canadian agriculture.

When it looked like there would be marketing choice for western barley farmers last spring, prices went up.

When marketing choice was swept off the table, prices went down.

The Canadian Wheat Board is supposed to try to get the best prices for farmers.

That's what marketing choice will deliver, and we will not rest until we deliver the choice that Western farmers voted for.

Just as we will not stop defending producers in supply-managed industries. 

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance will soon be presenting the fall Economic and Fiscal Update, which will report on our progress. 

Our plan for Canada's future prosperity is clear.

We are undertaking the largest public infrastructure investments in half a century.

We are strengthening policies on science and technology, on research and education.

We are helping the disabled and those in poverty to move into the workforce.

As the twentieth anniversary of our free-trade with the United States approaches, we are re-invigorating our trade negotiations to open more markets to Canadian products.

And, of course, we are dedicated to paying down debt, keeping spending focused on results and reducing taxes for Canadians.

We have cut the GST by one point, cut corporate taxes, and provided specific tax incentives for families, students, children's sports, tool expenses, and public transit.

And, Mr. Speaker, we will also bring forward a further, long-term plan of broad-based tax relief in this session.

I note that the leader of the opposition has been outspoken in calling for tax reductions for large corporations.

Let me assure you, Mr. Speaker, we will reduce taxes for all businesses, as well as for individuals and for families.

Because, Mr. Speaker, this party has been long and consistently committed to low taxes, direct benefits for families, fiscal discipline and a free and fair market powered by the energy and creativity of the private sector.

A modern and flexible federation

Mr. Speaker, one of the intangibles that has recently been working to the advantage of all Canadians has been the clear improvement in national unity since our government took office.

One of the important steps along this road was the recognition that the Quebecois form a Nation within our united Canada, a measure widely supported in this House last year.

That was a controversial act, Mr. Speaker, and some predicted – and I know they genuinely believed – that it would lead in the wrong direction.

So, as I have spoken in various parts of the country, not just Quebec, I have urged – and continue to urge – all Canadians to look at the beneficial effect this historic recognition has had on our country's unity.

Canada is more united today than it's been since our centennial, 40 years ago.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the results of the last election and reaction to the action taken since then – action on UNESCO, the Nation, fiscal balance – are sending a very important message to us all.

Canadians, and Quebecois in particular, want to move forward.

They have had enough of the old quarrels.

They are fed up with the bickering between centralists and separatists, between those who would keep all the power in Ottawa, and those that would give all the power to an independent Quebec. 

George-Étienne Cartier, MacDonald and their colleagues created a federation that, although not perfect, has served Canadians well for 140 years.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the federation of 1867 created one of the most solid political institutions in the world, unbroken by tyranny or conquest, unbroken by social disorder or economic chaos.

And we mustn't forget that Canada – a country born in French, a country with two languages and a multitude of cultures, which will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of its first capital, Québec – is one of the biggest success stories in history.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, I do not argue that Canada is perfect – and so we are committed to reforming it for the better.

Our government has worked hard to respect the federal division of powers, to strengthen long-neglected federal jurisdictions, and to work cooperatively with the provinces.

In the next session, in accordance with our government practice, we will be introducing legislation to place formal limits on the use of federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction without provincial consent and to provide for opting out with compensation.

We will also act, within federal jurisdiction, to strengthen Canada's economic union, which is a fundamental responsibility for the national government to undertake in the interests of all Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, when I say that Canada is not perfect, I think most Canadians recognize that the Senate, as presently constituted, is one of its obvious imperfections.

I must admit to being rather disappointed that the Senate chose not to adopt the tenure bill, even after an excellent report on the subject prepared by the former Speaker of the Senate, Dan Hays.

In a slightly amended form, the government will re-introduce in the House the bill to shorten senators' tenure from a maximum of 45 years to eight years.

I am tempted to say that such a modernization should be a no-brainer (but I have been surprised before).

On the other hand, the government, while still supportive of the bill to allow for the direct consultations of voters in the selection of senators, does recognize that this is complex and controversial for some members.

As such, the government will, upon re-introducing this bill, ask that it be sent to committee before second reading, in order to get as wide-ranging parliamentary input as possible.

Let me just say, Mr. Speaker, that I remain convinced the country deserves a reformed Senate.

But the country needs the Senate to change. And, if the Senate cannot be reformed, I think most Canadians will eventually conclude that it should be abolished.

In terms of reform, Mr. Speaker, let us also hope that the opposition will see fit to stop delaying the adoption of the former Bill C-44.

We are long past the time where the rights of Aboriginal people living on reserve should be fully protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Tackling crime

Last but not least, Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw your attention to the fifth part of our government's long-term agenda for a better Canada, a point that affects many Canadians.

Canadians have always been proud of their safe streets and communities—something that long distinguished us from our friends across the border.

Today, however, crime is erasing the promise of our Constitution, the promise of peace, order and good government.

Canadians want their safe streets and communities back.

They want leadership that's tough on crime, and reliable on national security – and that's exactly what they're going to get from our government.

Under our government, the protection of law-abiding citizens and their property is once again becoming the top priority of our criminal justice system.

And this will be the agenda we will pursue if parliament adopts this Throne Speech.

In short, the opposition can't allow it to pass, and then expect to obstruct our core priorities.

Mr. Speaker, that brings me to our first piece of legislation.
 
Just as the Accountability Act cleaned up corruption in government, the Tackling Violent Crime Act will be a first step to cleaning up crime in our streets and communities.

And it will be a matter of confidence, Mr. Speaker. 

Because the time for talk has passed and the time for action has arrived.

Canadians are fed up with a justice system that puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Fed up with a revolving door bail system and soft sentences for serious offenders.

And fed up with feeling unsafe in their homes and public places.

In the first session of Parliament, our government introduced 13 justice bills.

Seven have been passed into law, but six, which included several key policy measures, were held up by the opposition.

Though we accommodated many of their amendments, the bills were held up by opposition-controlled house committees or the liberal majority in the senate for a total of 976 days.

That's simply not acceptable. Canadians have lost patience.

So Bill C-2, our Tackling Violent Crime Act, to be spearheaded by the Minister of Justice, will reintroduce the key elements of those bills.

It will, for example, take action on sentencing for gun crimes.

Too often, people convicted of violent crimes involving firearms do little or no time.

That's unacceptable. Under our law, serious gun crime will mean serious, mandatory prison time.

Furthermore, in too many cases bail has been granted to people charged with serious weapons offences.

And while on bail, some of them have committed appalling new crimes.

That's also unacceptable. Our bill will make it tougher for accused gun criminals to get bail.

The Tackling Violent Crime Act will also crack down on sexual predators.

For far too long now, these predators have gone after our children.

That's unacceptable. This legislation will protect our children by raising the age of protection.

Our legislation will also crack down on drug- and alcohol-impaired driving.

Too many innocent people have died at the hands of drunk or stoned drivers.

Again, that's unacceptable.

The Tackling Violent Crime Act will give police and prosecutors more tools to get impaired drivers off our roads, and keep them off.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, too many of the most violent, repeat and dangerous offenders wind up back on our streets where they offend again and again and again.

Each time they do, Canadians look at their rap sheet and ask: why on earth was this person let out of prison?

There is nothing more unacceptable than that.

Again, let us be clear. We are talking about a few dozen of the most violent, dangerous individuals in this country. 

Our bill will make sure they stay behind bars, where they belong.

Now, I have no doubt some people will say we're being too aggressive.

From high up in their academic ivory towers or the boardrooms of their law firms, they'll look down on the streets they never set foot on and say things like: “criminals are really just victims of injustice, of oppression, of social exclusion.”

Well, Mr. Speaker, try telling that to the real victims: tell it to women who don't feel safe walking in their neighbourhoods at night, or having their children outside even during the day.

Tell it to the innocent teenager killed in a gang shootout on the streets of Toronto.

Tell it to the young girl in Quebec who was out riding her bike when she was stuck by a drunk driver.

Tell it to the two prairie boys who were kidnapped and horribly abused by the serial pedophile.

Tell it to the police, the prosecutors and the elected politicians of all stripes, at all levels, who've been clamouring for these laws for years.

There is no good reason for the official opposition to oppose Bill C-2.

In fact, they campaigned in favour of virtually all of these initiatives in the last election.

And they have had enough days, weeks, months – in some cases over a year – to delay their passage.

That's why we're making the Tackling Violent Crime Act a matter of confidence, Mr. Speaker.

We will be seeking timely passage of this legislation and, as is the case with confidence measures, the government will not accept amendments to the substance of the initiatives.

This Parliament must get done what it was elected to do.

Mr. Speaker, this government has been working, and this Parliament is sometimes helping, to make: our economy stronger, our system cleaner, our federation more united, our streets safer – to put families and taxpayers at the centre of our efforts, to voice our values and our interests effectively in the affairs of the world.

These are the right priorities, and our country is moving in the right direction.

Mr. Speaker, I urge this Parliament to support the Speech from the Throne.

Thank you.