Vancouver East NDP Jenny Kwan highlights First Nations, childcare, and immigration in maiden speech in Parliament

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      Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan delivered the following remarks in her first speech in Parliament:

      As this is my maiden speech in the House of Commons, I would like to thank the people of Vancouver East for giving me a strong mandate to represent them in the House of Commons, in the people's House.

      Vancouver East is a wonderfully diverse group of neighbourhoods and communities that come together to form an incredibly diverse part of our city, our province and our country. Whether refugees, immigrants, new Canadians, retirees, young people working to make a start, artists and writers from the creative community who feed our soul, or people who are homeless, grappling with addiction issues or mental health challenges, or grassroots activists who give strength to the fight for a better tomorrow, in Vancouver East everyone makes a contribution to our community. The activism in Vancouver East is unparalleled. We fight hard for what we believe in. We are so proud to be a pro-democratic movement for social, economic, and environmental justice in an unequal world.

      In Vancouver East, we know that addressing the social determinants of health is key to healthy communities. We are never afraid to fight to be the agent of positive social change for the entire nation. The way forward for a better future demands that we address the root causes of past injustices. Canada has a shameful chapter of how indigenous peoples have been treated. The effects of colonialism have had a profound effect for the first peoples of this land. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report to say, “The disappearances and murders of indigenous women in Canada are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination against indigenous women in the country.”

      It makes my heart sing to see in the throne speech the government's commitment to a national inquiry into the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. I do hope, with all my heart, that this nation will finally address the root causes that exacerbate the violence against indigenous women and girls. The New Democrats stand ready to work with the government to fulfill this important election promise.

      The throne speech stated, “...the Government believes that all Canadians should have a real and fair chance to succeed”. If this statement is to ring true, and I do hope that it does, is it not time to have a national plan with real targets and progress reports to end poverty? After all, it is 2015, and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent's motion to eradicate poverty, supported by every member of the House, was made in 1989. It is startling to me that in Canada 19 percent of the children live in poverty. That is 1.3 million children. In B.C. alone, that is 170,000 children.

      It is a myth to say that people choose to be on welfare. People do not choose to live in poverty. A parent does not choose to send his or her child to bed hungry. The majority of the people on income assistance are people with disabilities, people who are just trying to make ends meet, and people who are working multiple low-income jobs, minimum-wage jobs. It does not have to be this way. If we ask the people of Vancouver East, they will tell us that closing stock option loopholes and investing in a plan to eliminate poverty is an easy choice for governments to make.

      Though the throne speech did not mention childcare, I do hope that the government will recognize that an affordable national universal childcare program would ensure that we are taking care of future generations by laying a strong foundation for success.

      In East Vancouver, it is a struggle to find accessible, affordable, quality childcare, yet we know that early childhood development is good for the child, the family, and the economy. Families and business leaders know that a national childcare program equals economic prosperity for the nation. What goes in tandem with that is a national housing program. We do not have to be rocket scientists to know that ending homelessness is not just plausible, but possible. It requires political will.

      During the campaign, Liberal candidates promised to renew the co-op housing agreements that were set to expire and to bring back a national housing plan. While housing was not mentioned in the throne speech, I do hope those are not just empty words. It is important for Vancouver East that the federal government gets back to being a committed housing partner and starts building safe, secure, affordable, social housing, and co-ops once again.

      From the young to the old, our seniors deserve dignity and support in their golden years. They should not have to worry about not being able to access health care, prescription drugs, home support or having a roof over their heads. Lifting seniors out of poverty by increasing the guaranteed income supplement and returning the retirement age from 67 to 65 is what the government has promised them. In the days ahead, I hope the government will lay out its plan to deliver on that promise. We are worthy of a Canada that honours all those who have sacrificed so much so we can have a better future.

      My parents immigrated to Canada because it was a beacon of freedom, hope, and opportunity. They dared to dream for a better future for their children, they dared to seek opportunities to make a better life, and they dared to cherish our freedoms and civil liberties.

      I am honoured to be the NDP critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship. I look forward to working with the minister and his parliamentary secretary, along with the Conservative critic and deputy critic, on this important portfolio. From honouring the commitment to bring 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada, to eliminating the backlog for family reunification, to spousal sponsorship applications to getting rid of arbitrary quotas, to addressing concerns with the temporary foreign workers program and removing barriers to citizenship, there is much work to be done.

      No Canadian should be made to feel that they are second-class citizens, not immigrants, not those with dual citizenships, no one. The Liberal government promised to repeal Bill C-24. It promised to reverse the invasion of privacy and threat to civil liberties in Bill C-51. Canadians are ready for change. In the days ahead, I hope to see concrete plans and timelines for these election promises, because it is important for the government to deliver on what it promises. The plans that were campaigned on were ambitious, but the expectations need to be met post-election.

      We have a collective responsibility to leave our country a better place than what we inherited from the last generation. I look forward to working with all members of the House to do just that.

      As the final words in my maiden speech, I want to also thank everyone who worked on my campaign team: the volunteers, the staff, the people who put their trust in me and who toiled in a long election campaign to send me here. I will live by the words of the late Dr. David Lam to “bring honour to the title” that the people have bestowed in me with the work that I do.

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