Speaking up in parliament as a champion for Toronto
(Text of Peggy's response to the Throne Speech, delivered in the house of commons on April 10th, 2006.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election to the Speaker's chair. Although I am new to this House, your reputation precedes you.

I would also like to thank the voters of Parkdale--High Park for giving me their confidence. I consider it a great honour to represent our community in the House of Commons. I look forward to working with the NDP caucus and across party lines to advance my constituents' interests in this great chamber.

I campaigned on a platform of championing Toronto's issues in Ottawa and I intend to do just that working with the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, who is a constituent.

I was pleased that the new government's first throne speech included mention of the environment, the creation of new child care spaces and the importance of public health care. These are important priorities to the people of Parkdale--High Park and indeed to all Torontonians.

I was also immensely proud to have been witness to the long overdue official apology to the Chinese Canadians whose families were subjected to the humiliation of the Chinese head tax. As Parkdale--High Park is home to many Ukrainian Canadians, we look to this Parliament to address their internment as well.

Other NDP priorities were also touched on in the throne speech, however briefly, such as electoral reform and the prevention of crime. In this caucus we support making every vote count and we recognize the importance of stemming violent crime.

The government re-emphasized its five priorities. While some of them deserve attention and merit, they all fall short and in some cases are plain wrong. The citizens of Toronto have more than five simple priorities and they cannot wait years for them to be addressed.

We have waited too long for a national public system of early learning and child care. After 13 long years of promises from the previous government, we were finally to see the modest beginning of such a system.

I say to the Prime Minister through you, Mr. Speaker, that the children of Toronto, the children of Canada, need child care now. Their families are counting on the choice in child care that can only be achieved when we create spaces that today's working families will be able to choose to take advantage of or not. Investing in early childhood education is a key part of kids getting a good start in life. I will be monitoring this vital issue for parents in my constituency and across Toronto.

Torontonians most of all want a city that is sustainable, fair, equitable and just. In short, they want a city they can be proud of and a country they can be proud of. It should and I believe it can be a great city that is a cultural and social centre, not only an economic engine that benefits the rest of the country through equalization measures, although we in Toronto recognize this importance, but a truly great international city. However, for Toronto the good to be more than a slogan, for it to become really true, we need the help of the federal government.

After years of empty promises, we had hoped to see the needs of cities like Toronto better addressed in the throne speech. Cities need a real plan and real funding for vital services like affordable housing, transit, services for newcomers and crime prevention. I want to work with the Minister of Transport to address these important challenges facing our city. We need to expand on the new deal for cities introduced in the last Parliament. I hope that this current Parliament will see the need to enshrine the funding agreements in legislation and give municipalities like Toronto a real seat at the table. A real deal for our municipalities requires a national housing strategy. We are the only industrialized country without such a plan and it is time to right this wrong.

Affordable housing is key to the health and quality of life for my constituents in Parkdale--High Park as it is for the rest of Toronto. While it may not make the new government's top five priorities, it is at the top of the list for many Torontonians as it is for me.

Mr. Speaker, also of great concern to the citizens of my riding of Parkdale--High Park is the issue of crime. As many know, a scourge of guns and gang violence has hit Toronto in recent months. For Toronto to thrive, its residents must feel safe. During the election campaign, I spoke of the need to deal seriously with violent crime. The throne speech mentions that "equally important" is the need to prevent crime before it takes root.

Many African Canadian parents in Toronto are worried sick about their kids. For crime to truly be prevented we need federal help to create new sources of opportunity for our young people, to keep community centres open and especially to help in the most vulnerable and economically depressed neighbourhoods.

The members of Parliament have to work together to prevent the flow of illegal firearms from the United States that end up on our streets, killing our young people. Only by working to eliminate handguns from our streets will we be helping to safeguard our urban centres like the city of Toronto.

The citizens of Toronto also face another danger from a different source, one that is less high profile, perhaps, but is becoming all too visible: smog, pollution and climate change. To tackle this problem we need more than platitudes in a throne speech. We need more than a promise to stay in the Kyoto protocol while ignoring its targets. That strategy seems vaguely familiar. I hope this is not a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

We need concrete measures to reduce the smog and air pollution that kill thousands of Canadians every year. I was proud to bring Greenpeace and the Canadian Auto Workers together to help create the green car strategy for the NDP. We need to implement this and other innovative ideas so that we can clean our air and protect Canadian jobs at the same time.

I am proud to have been involved with the labour movement for many years and, as such, protecting decent paying jobs for Canadians is also a key priority for me. The government should know that you cannot simply mention working families without speaking in concrete terms as to how we are going to create and protect jobs.

The throne speech had no mention of industrial strategy, no mention of trade policy and agreements that threaten our workforce and no mention of protecting unionized workers with real anti-scab legislation. In my mind, this is simply not good enough. Working families need more than 1% or 2% off the GST. They need child care spaces. They need safe, clean cities. They need decent jobs.

As I mentioned earlier, the city of Toronto has to be more than a vital economic engine. It must be our cultural and artistic centre.

Former NDP culture critic Wendy Lill once said that "art is the soul of any great nation". She was right, but it is more than that. Culture and the arts also represent jobs for Canadians. Twenty-five thousand Toronto jobs are tied to film and television production alone, yet there was no mention of culture in the throne speech. The decision of the CBC to cancel programs like This is Wonderland is having a profound effect on employment and also on our collective identity. We need a strong cultural sector in order to tell our stories as Canadians and protect our sovereignty.

Our sovereignty also depends on an independent foreign policy, one that does not see us blindly walk into George Bush's war on terror. I want us to support our brave men and women who are stationed all over the world, including in Afghanistan, by making sure that we fully debate their role in Parliament, as we started to do last night. If we claim that we are defending democracy abroad, then we must practise it in this chamber by voting on future missions and future deployments.

I know that the people of Parkdale--High Park and Toronto work hard and pay their taxes, but they told me at the doorsteps, in the subway stations and in the coffee shops during the election campaign that they do not mind paying these taxes if they see value for their taxes, if they see that money invested back into their communities in programs and incentives for their neighbourhoods. They want a beautiful waterfront. They want more child care spaces and more affordable education and training programs for their children. They want to see an end to smog days that start as early as February. They want a city within a compassionate country that feeds and houses all its citizens as a very minimum.

In short, we want a Toronto that the whole country can be proud of. It is what I want too. That is why I am hoping to work with everyone in the House as an advocate for Toronto in Ottawa.