NOTES FOR REMARKS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON IN RESPONSE TO THE SPEECH FROM THE THRONE

I move, seconded by the Honourable Senator Maria Chaput, that the following address be presented to Her Excellency the Governor General of Canada:

 

To Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.

 

May it please your Excellency:

 

We, Her Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful subjects, The Senate of Canada in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

 

I would like to praise the efforts of the party leaders of this Chamber, the Honourable Jack Austin and the new Conservative Leader and fellow New Brunswicker, Noel Kinsella. I would like to congratulate both Terry Stratton and Marjorie Lebreton in their roles — roles which both Bill Rompkey and Rosemarie Losier Cool do so well. I would also like to extend my best wishes to John Lynch Staunton who has served his party well in this Chamber.  I would like to thank the Honourable Dan Hays for his wise leadership.

 

I would also like to take a moment to express my sadness at the passing of Jack Marshall.  Senator Marshall, who died last August, made innumerable contributions to this nation.  He took part in the “D” Day landing, then served as a member of the House of Commons.

 

He was as a member of many volunteer and service organizations, and of course, was called to serve in this Chamber.  When I was a journalist, I was impressed with his humanity and his kindness.  He was a warm and accessible man who will be greatly missed.

 

It is a great honour for me to be asked to speak today.  As Canada’s newest Senator, I am humbled.  It has been less than a year that I joined you here in this Chamber.  The past months have been a time of transition.  A time for learning.  I want to thank all my Honourable Colleagues for their graciousness and warmth.  I thank you for your experience, knowledge, and years of dedicated service.

 

By the way now that there is an NHL lockout and no Ottawa Sens, I would like to tell.  The people of Ottawa, there are still Senators in town who are working.  And there is no charge to see us.

 

One of the most important lessons I have learned has been that some of the most valuable work we can do as Senators takes place off of Parliament Hill.  Over the course of the last year, I have become involved in several organizations that have brought me in touch with causes and people working on issues that are close to my heart.  These organizations include the Special Olympics which provides sports and training opportunities to more than one million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 150 countries around the world.  I have also been involved in SOS Children’s Villages, one of the world’s largest child welfare organization that provides family-based care for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or unable to remain with their families.

 

I have also worked with Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa, an organization that helps young people develop as community leaders.  I also had an opportunity to travel to the Congrès mondial acadien 2004, une grande expérience qui m’a confirmée qu’une nation est beaucoup plus qu’un état géographique – une nation c’est un état d’esprit.

 

All of this work has been very gratifying.  And this travel put me in contact with new friends across Canada, people who are busy working in their communities and making invaluable contributions to the quality of life of this nation.

 

Introduction

It has been several months since we asked the people of Canada to choose their government.

 

They chose a Liberal government, which, of course, gives me great satisfaction.  They sent a Liberal government back to Ottawa, but they also sent us a stern message.  There is no doubt that the election results left Liberals humbled. I believe it is the Deputy Prime Minister, Anne McLellan, who said it so well:  Canadians generally like what we’re doing.  They just want us to do it better.

 

Liberal governments are good at fixing things, at making government work better.  And I believe we’re up for the job.  Liberals have accomplished a lot during minority governments.  Liberal minority governments under Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau passed important legislation, including universal health care, government loans for university students, and indexing of old age pensions to the cost of living.

 

These minority governments made their mark on Canada and made it the society it is today – a society that is progressive and forward-thinking – a society that cares about, and invests in, people.

 

I think we can look to the examples of Pearson and Trudeau to find guidance.  I am convinced that the challenge of a minority government is to work closely with the opposition and get on with the job governing.  It’s a challenge far beyond that of counting heads and votes.  I believe that the challenge is to think big.  To be bold.  To put the interests of Canadians and good policy-making before partisanship.  And to put Canada’s mark on the world.   By showing leadership and forging ahead with bold policies that put the interests of Canadians before the interests of party politics, this minority government will accomplish much.

 

Good ideas are beacons.  Put them out there, and we will follow, not as Liberals or Conservatives or New Democrats or Bloquistes, but as Canadians who believe in the importance of nation-building.

 

This Speech from the Throne outlines the direction we will be taking to achieve our goals of a better Canada for more Canadians.  It outlines what we are going to do for health care, for children, for cities and communities, for the environment, for Aboriginal people, and for our foreign policy.

 

Health Care

I would like to applaud the Prime Minister and the first ministers for their deal.  The goal was to ensure that our most precious social program be made sustainable for years to come.  Universal, accessible health care is what Canadians want.

 

Open and flexible federalism is what Canadians want. Discussions about federalism, asymmetrical or other, are a debate of little interest for people on a waiting list for an MRI, a hip replacement, or cataract surgery.

 

The challenge is to make sure that this health deal delivers results.  And I believe it is the role of the federal government to ensure that health care dollars are spent for national health care priorities.  Like many Canadians, I still have concerns related to accountability. I strongly believe in national standards.  Our existing health care system is a hungry beast with an insatiable appetite for money.  But money isn’t all it needs.  It needs to be retooled to meet the needs of an aging population.  Our national health care system is now middle-aged.

 

It’s clear that it needs to be modernized to meet the demands of modern times.

 

We have experts here in this Chamber who can make our health care system better.  Senators Kirby and Keon have put forward proposals to make our health care system work better by improving the funding formula for hospitals by basing it on services delivered.  They propose that we review which health care professional delivers which service in which health care setting.  Their road map for improving Medicare will help us get a bigger bang for our health care buck and I think we should pay attention to them.

 

I would also like to see us look at health care within the broader social context, to understand it as a barometer of what is working well in our society and what needs more attention.

 

The Prime Minister has said that our government will work to reduce waiting times for cancer treatment, coronary care, joint replacement, high-tech diagnostics and eye surgery. No one will dispute that Canadians deserve quicker service from their health care system.  But I would like to add another item to this list – an item that is a health issue, but has slipped through the mesh of our social safety net.  The issue is autism.

 

One father in Ottawa, a public servant, forgoes the usual lunch hour routine of sandwiches and errands and instead walks on Parliament Hill with a sign saying, “Kids with autism need health care not waiting lists”.  The fact is, autism is a growing problem in Canada.  It affects one of every 200 babies born each year.  The numbers are growing and what we have to offer families is a patchwork of treatments, long waiting lists, and coverage that depends on where you live.

 

Treatment for autism is similar to treatment for people with brain injuries.  For kids with autism, the treatment is intensive and must happen before they are six.  It’s been proven to be effective, but it is also very expensive.  In fact, for parents with kids with autism, the treatment is so expensive that it is beyond the reach of most.

 

Is this the face of Canada’s universal health care system?  Senators, I’m afraid it is.  And yet the cost of not treating autism is much higher.  Children who don’t receive treatment very often grow up to become wholly dependent on the state for support, and this support is estimated at $2 million over the lifetime of the individual.  So you see, apart from being immoral, denying coverage is a false economy.  The issue is universality.  And the people affected are our most vulnerable citizens who are being denied treatment that is proven to work.

 

We need a national vision.  There must be a national will and with that a national autism program.

 

Child Care

We know that investments in the early years of all children yield good returns.

 

Child care, like health care, like post-secondary education, are priorities for Canadians.  Even if you don’t have children.  Even if you’re healthy.  Even if you are not college or university-bound.  Every Canadian benefits from a society where children arrive at Grade One, healthy, happy, and ready to learn.  Every Canadian benefits from a first-class health care system.  And every Canadian benefits from a society where higher education is within the grasp of those who want it.  We all benefit from a society of healthy, well-educated, productive, contributing people.

 

For too long in Canada, we have used the issue of provincial and federal jurisdiction as an excuse for inaction.  Well, Senators, I believe the time for excuses is over.  It’s time to be bold.  To put in place a plan for child care and to make it happen.

 

Because as far as Canadians are concerned, they don’t care how things get done, they just want to see it get done.  And rightly so.

 

Cities and communities

Looking at the broader picture – together – and identifying the appropriate intervention of government – as a whole – is the challenge we have.  Health care and child care are quality of life issues that demand our full attention.  This government has also identified cities and communities.  I commend the Prime Minister for recognizing the essential contribution that cities and communities make as far as Canada’s economy is concerned and as far as our culture and quality of life are concerned.

 

Providing a mechanism through the gas tax to help municipalities fund sustainable development initiatives is a creative approach that allows the federal government to make a difference in the day-to-day lives of Canadians.  It is an example of policy-making that knocks down the artificial barriers between government departments, spans jurisdictions, and brings those responsible to the table to solve problems together.   This same type of problem-solving will help Canada meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

 

Aboriginal people

And it will help us improve the quality of life and health of Aboriginal people.

 

The prescription we need is for strong social policy to support the development of healthy Aboriginal communities.  Supporting strong Aboriginal communities where people have opportunities to enjoy active and healthy lifestyles is about health care, but it is also about preventing poverty, ensuring access to education, and employment close to home.   It’s about bold policy-making that stretches across jurisdiction and departmental bounds.

 

When it comes to Aboriginal people, I think we can agree Senators, that we have work to do.

 

Foreign Policy

My life and career have taken me around the world.

 

There is nothing like leaving Canada’s borders and witnessing the sorrows and horrors of other nations, to understand the value of peace, tolerance, and good government.

 

I believe strongly that Canada has a responsibility to act on the world stage and make our mark.  Canada has credibility, experience, and wisdom when it comes to issues of governance, nation building and democracy.  We must be bold and respond to the horrors we see in Sudan.  Let us remember the painful lessons of Rwanda and stop history from repeating itself.  I would like to commend the Honourable Mobina Jaffer for her efforts to bring Darfur into the hearts and minds of Canadians.

 

I commend the Prime Minister’s speech at the United Nations and fully support his commitment to do more in Darfur and to do more to strengthen the United Nations.  We, and the world, will be watching what Canada chooses to do.  While other nations wage a war against terrorism, let us wage a war against intolerance, injustice, and inhumanity, but not with just words.  Let us take action to help people who are so desperately in need.

 

Some have said that we must move a step beyond peace keeping and that we need to strengthen and invest in our military.  I support this.  Our country is great today because we learn from the past.  Canada has the credibility and the experience to make the world a better place.  Let us step up and make our mark.   We have work to do.

 

I have a friend, a journalist, who writes frequently about the senate.  Recently he called this chamber “the unpopular Senate”.   I’m not sure I know what he is talking about.

 

Is this the same Senate that has Colleagues such as Michael Kirby and Wilbert Keon who are champions of Canada’s health care system and have recently put forward new ideas about how to make it more sustainable.  Colleagues such as Landon Pearson and Joyce Fairbairn who have tirelessly worked to make children and literacy top policy items.  Senator Sharon Carstairs for her compassion and pioneering work in palliative care.  Maria Chaput for her work promoting minority language rights.  Jean Lapointe, for his work in the area of addictions and rehabilitation.

 

Terry Mercer, for his efforts on behalf of several charities.  Norm Atkins, for his efforts to bring diabetes and issues of disability to the front.  Aurelien Gill, for his work as an ardent defender of the rights of Aboriginal people in Canada.  Senator  Andreychuk in the field of human trafficking,  Senator Angus at  the Montreal General Hospital  And who can forget the work of my friend, Jean-Robert Gauthier for being the beacon for bilingualism in Ottawa.  Time doesn’t permit me to name every Senator.  Everyone in this chamber has, and is, working for the common good.

 

Conclusion

When I look at this chamber and see the talented people here – people who have contributed greatly to Canada and continue to do so in the Senate – I feel a sense of purpose and urgency.
The Speech from the Throne has laid out a bold agenda that addresses the priorities of Canadians.  Let us put aside our party affiliations and unite with a common purpose.  We have work to do.

 

Thank you very much.  Merci beaucoup.