Monday, March 12, 2012

An orange line in the sand

I gave the following speech on Sunday, March 11th, at the annual general meeting of the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP Riding Association, held at the Battery Hotel. The above picture (Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press) with the late Jack Layton was taken during the lead up to the May 2011 federal election. 
Good afternoon and welcome to the annual general meeting of the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl New Democratic Party Riding Association. 
Or Mount Pearl-St. John’s-South riding association, depending on where I’m speaking.
It’s been 10 months since this riding went New Democrat — went orange — in the May 2011 election. 
Ideally, we would have held the meeting earlier, but it’s been busy trying to protect Canada from Stephen Harper’s agenda, a Conservative agenda that will change the face of the country, an agenda that will shred Canada’s reputation as a leader of nations, as the gage by which global character is measured. 
Unless we take a stand. 
And our party — the New Democratic Party — has been taking a stand in the House of Commons. 
We will continue to take a stand in Parliament, in town halls, and on the streets. 
A stand in defence of Canada’s sacred social programs, for pensions and jobs. There will be bloodletting in the federal public service in the coming weeks. The cuts won’t just be to the bone, but amputations. 
The New Democratic Party has taken a stand in defence of people and families. 
Defending proven Canadian institutions like the Canadian Wheat Board.  
Ironically, the federal Conservatives are dismantling the wheat board, just as the Progressive Conservative government in this province tries to shape a Newfoundland fish board. 
The irony is lost on no one. 
I, and my fellow New Democrat MPs, have stood in the House of Commons and taken a stand. 
Our party has challenged/will continue to challenge the backward, non-sensicle Conservative crime bill that has failed in other countries, and, make no mistake, will fail in Canada. 
Our party has taken a stand against Conservative plans to raise the age of eligibility for old-age security to 67 from 65. 
Jack Harris and I, along with MP Irene Mathyssen, our party’s seniors’ critic, held a town hall right here in the Battery a few weeks ago on Canada’s old-age pension plan. 
And I took from that meeting a quote I won’t soon forget: “Canada is danger of losing its soul.”
And it is — but we’ve taken a stand. 
We've taken a stand against the closure of the Maritime Rescue sub-centre in St. John’s. 
We've taken a stand against a search-and-rescue response time that is far from adequate, that is one of the world’s worst, that failed 14-year-old Burton Winters of Mokkovik. 
A stand in support of the seal harvest. 
The Conservatives say they support our sealing industry, while, at the same time, they fail to stand up for seal markets as the fall, one by one — the European Union, Russia, and maybe China. 
We’ve taken a stand against changes to the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery that will fundamentally change our 500-year-old industry. 
The elimination of the fleet separation and owner-operator policies will destroy what hope there is for the inshore fishery — the rock of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. 
The elimination of those policies — along with the introduction of Individual Transferable Quotas — has not worked for the inshore fishery in British Columbia or New Zealand. 
And they will not work here.  
A stand must be taken to protect all that makes Canada a great country. 
A stand must be taken to protect and ensure the future of Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture and prosperity. 
New Democrats are taking that stand. 
I want to thank the former executive of the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP Riding Association, in particular Rick Boland — another rock, a political rock for New Democrats in Newfoundland and Labrador. 
The drive and determination of the riding association are what got a second New Democrat MP elected, are what made Newfoundland and Labrador history. 
For the first time in our 63 years in Confederation, this province has two New Democrat MPs in Ottawa. 
I stand on the shoulders of the great New Democrats who came before me — Peg Norman and Greg Malone are two examples. 
I stand alongside Jack Harris in the House of Commons, and Jack has been a mentor. 
Jack Harris is a veteran politician and a Newfoundland and Labrador statesman. 
The past 10 months have been an incredible challenge.  
There was little time to savour our federal party’s monumental breakthrough — 103 MPs and Official Opposition status, another first in our party's history.
We almost immediately had to take a stand in the House of Commons in defence of Canadian postal workers. 
The filibuster lasted days, and tested the mettle and resolve of our new MPs, but we rose to the challenge. 
Jack Layton gave the first speech of the filibuster. 
He spoke for more than an hour. 
We had just gone through a gruelling election, and Jack Layton was visibly weak. 
He was drawn; Jack had lost weight. 
What I won’t forget about Jack’s speech in the Commons that day are the text messages we received on our Blackberries while he was on his feet.  
Texts telling the New Democrat MPs surrounding Jack to give extended standing ovations when we could, to give Jack as much a break as possible. 
Jack was weak — I didn’t know just how weak from looking at him — Jack Layton wasn’t a leader to show weakness easily. 
That day Jack Layton gave the greatest speech I personally have ever heard.
We didn’t need to be told to give standing ovations — Jack Layton brought us to our feet again and again and again that day.  
I have never been so inspired. Our party has never been so inspired. This country has never been so inspired. 
Jack Layton was dead a few weeks later. 
That was hard — incredibly hard. 
Jack Layton is the gage by which political character, greatness and strength will be measured in this country — and in this party — for generations. 
The leadership race to replace Jack has also been challenging.  
But the leadership race has been inspiring, too — the depth of talent on our bench is inspiring. 
We have great men, and we have great women in our ranks, and one of them will soon take over as leader. 
Jack Layton is irreplaceable; there will never be another Jack. 
But his legacy is a New Democratic movement across this country that will see our party beat back the Conservative agenda, and take government in 2015. 
In three years our next leader will take us into government.  
The New Democratic bench is deep with talent, but — on a personal level — I see the new leader as Thomas Mulcair. 

He is my choice. 

I see Thomas Mulcair as the next Prime Minister of Canada — he has the strength, resolve, vision and edge to take our party to the next level. 
Make no mistake, we’ll get there — starting with the leadership convention in less than two weeks from now in Toronto. 
I’ve also been busy in Ottawa, a lovely place to visit, by the way, but I love where I live. 
I brag about St. John’s South-Mount Pearl wherever I go.
I wear it on my chest in the form of the old map of Newfoundland. 
But I can’t tell you how much I look forward to getting off the plane and smelling the Newfoundland and Labrador air — I kid you not. 
I never forget where I come from — not for one second — I represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa, not the other way around. 
My first private member’s bill — The Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act — called for an inquiry into the fisheries, but was defeated before Christmas. 
Every Conservative MP stood against it. 
Every New Democrat, Liberal, Bloc and the lone Green MP stood behind it. 
My battle for the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries — our battle for the future of this place after oil and gas — continues. 
My office has researched every federal report that has been carried out by the federal Auditor General, the Senate, and the House of Commons since the fall of our fisheries almost 20 years ago. 
Few recommendations have been implemented — which explains why the fishery continuously treads water, is in a perpetual state of crisis. 
We need a blueprint for the future and — make no mistake — I plan to help put one together, and defend Newfoundland and Labrador’s interests at all costs. 
I couldn’t do what I do without an all-star team. 
Matt White, outreach; Mark Wilson, case worker; Maria Glavine, research; Jacob Fergus, research and communications; and Rose Genge, office manager. 
My office is here to help people, to help families, to defend the interests of our province on the national stage. 
And to defend, challenge and protect the Canadian way. 
My son showed me a YouTube video this morning of the Ottawa Senators game last night, and, more specifically, the young woman who sang the national anthem. 
The singer forgot the words, but the crowd at the game had her back and picked up singing where she left off — the Canadians in the audience rose to the challenge. 
That inspired my son. 
There is something special about this nation of Canada — a nation that works in practice, if not in theory. 
I was in the Goulds this morning for my son’s hockey game — the St. John’s Privateers won, by the way, 8-3.  
And a lady stopped me to tell me what she described as "a good news story" — her 93-year-old mother on Patrick Street had lost her calendar, one that our office put out. 
The woman said her mother loved the calendar, with the old pictures of Mount Pearl-St. John’s South. 
She liked the notes on the calendar like the first day of spring, and she was almost panicked.  
Someone from my office had two calendars delivered to that senior’s home. 
The woman said her mother was delighted — that’s the kind of feedback I get when I’m out-and-about about my all-star team. 
My team does the little things right, the brilliance is in the detail. 
I’m lucky to have such good, caring, dedicated, passionate people around me. 
That’s what inspires me. 
Keeping in mind that all politics is local, Mount Pearl is a fantastic city. 
I have never seen such community pride and spirit as I have at events in Mount Pearl — at events like Mount Pearl Days and the Frosty Festival. 
Again, an inspiration. 
I live in downtown St. John’s — the most unique city in all of North America. 
St. John’s has its challenges, it’s fiscal challenges, but challenges that can be overcome if we all work together. 
One of our goals over the next three years is to develop a plan for rebuilding, rejuvenating, The Narrows — the historic, iconic entrance to St. John’s harbour. 
We’re working with the stakeholders, and the community groups from the Battery and Fort Amherst to put together a plan to move forward. 
And we’ll get there, with patience and perseverance; we’ll succeed with baby steps.  
Because our goals are clear, we have the passion and determination.  
The New Democratic movement is growing across this country, and across this province.  
Provincially we have 5 New Democrat MHAs in the House of Assembly under the fine, fine leadership of Lorraine Michael. 
More and more, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are seeing us as an alternative — it’s taken that patience and perseverance that I spoke about earlier. 
But we’ll get there yet.  
Politics is tricky business; it’s a learning process. There is a personal and family toll. 
There are peaks and there are valleys, there are highs and there are lows, there are challenges and there are hurdles. 
But there is hope and inspiration.
There is vision and there are dreams. 
We’re about to elect a new slate of officers for the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP Riding Association. 
We’re going to solidify our foundation; we’re going to build on our grassroots. 
I have worn a band around my wrist since before the election — it says "Make Poverty History."
We cannot forget where we come from; we cannot forget whom we fight for. 
We must never forget that — as Jack told us — no one must be left behind. 

Thank you.

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