First Speech in Legislative Assembly - Response to Throne Speech

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ms. Chartier: — Mr. Speaker, it is both a privilege and an honour to participate in my first response to the Throne Speech. I'm going to start today by thanking some very important people. I'm going to tell you a little bit about my constituency of Saskatoon Riversdale. I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself, why I'm here, and what I hope to accomplish in this job. And in conclusion, I'll tell you what I think about this Throne Speech.

First I want to extend my congratulations to the new member from Regina Douglas Park, the Leader of the Opposition. I didn't know him or his family until just a few months ago, but through the by-election and now in caucus, I've gotten to know him and I've grown to like him and respect him very much. We come from different generations and I think we have different political styles, but we share many common beliefs among New Democrats. We both believe that this province is a wonderful place to call home, and every citizen deserves to have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and to share in all that Saskatchewan has to offer.

Before I say much else, there is a long list of people I want to thank, starting with the voters of Saskatoon Riversdale. Over the course of several months, I knocked on almost every door in the constituency and got to talk to many people. There was not a day that went by that I did not meet someone for whom my reasons for running weren't reaffirmed.

For the tenants in the apartments on Pendygrasse Road whose rents have almost doubled in two years and who many can no longer make ends meet. For the young woman from Vancouver Island who moved here with her boyfriend because she had heard of the Saskaboom and hoped they would find jobs, only to discover that things weren't quite as rosy as they'd been led to believe. For the young couple who, despite being eligible for parental leave benefits through employment insurance, could not take full advantage of it because they couldn't afford to live on half of one of their salaries for the full year, so they were both back at work full-time before their baby was nine months old.

For the senior who asked me to fight to raise the threshold for prescription drug coverage because, even though his income looked reasonable on paper, his drug costs were breaking the bank. For the mother on social assistance who said she wanted to work but she couldn't leave social assistance because her husband's costly prescriptions were covered on SAP [Saskatchewan assistance plan] but not if she joined the ranks of the working poor. For the mother who had to turn down a job that paid better than her current position because it involved weekend work, and her subsidized child care was only offered during the standard workweek.

These are just a few of those voices that need to be heard in this legislature. I will make sure that I'm reflecting their concerns, and I will hope that you will make sure that you're listening.

Aside from the voters in my constituency, there are many, many others, as I said, that I want to thank. I want to start with my campaign manager, Tim Williams. This was my first campaign and I was a total rookie, but I did realize my job was to be on the doorstep. And Tim did everything humanly possible to support me to get out on the doorstep, whether it was making sure that I had my chai latte on my canvassing breaks or from stocking the fridge for my vegetarian emergencies, and reassuring me that I wasn't a diva just because I needed to have my clothes taken to the laundromat or to the dry cleaner so I could be on the doorstep. Thank you so much, Tim.

I want to thank Linsay who helped me with my nomination by-election campaign literature, despite his own really, really busy schedule. There were others who helped out right from the beginning with the nomination: Eric, Rob, Dave, Gord, and Michael. Thank you.

During the campaign I had amazing volunteers from Saskatoon Riversdale, all over the city, and all over the province for that matter. Our phone and foot canvassers did a wonderful job: Sandy, Frank, Don, Greg, Dolores, and Jean, and there's so many others. But they were just a few people who put in almost as much work as I did into this campaign.
Grant, Jacquie, and George — no one could ask for a better sign crew.

To all the MLAs [Member of the Legislative Assembly] who were out with me on a very regular basis, thank you so much. I want to and need to extend a special thank-you to the member from Massey Place who spent an inordinate amount of time on the doorstep with me. One would have thought it was his own riding on the line if you would have seen the pace that he kept. Thank you so much.

My constituency assistants are wonderful — Yvonne and Tammy. Thank you so much for helping getting me organized and to assist me in learning about my new roles and responsibilities.
Now the most important people I need to thank is my very large and very supportive family. As a mom of two young kids, I could not do this job without the kind of support with which my family is providing me.
My husband Blair, who is a total political animal himself, agreed to put his own desire to be actively involved in the nuts and bolts of the campaign aside so I could focus on the campaign and he could focus on Hennessey and Ophelia. And now that I'm elected, he is doing what women have been doing to support their politician husbands forever. His own career is now on the back burner so one of us can parent full-time and one of us can politick full-time. Thanks, Blair. I love you and I really do appreciate you.
My children, Hennessey and Ophelia, deserve an extra big thank you. My girls put up with almost eight months of campaigning from the time the nomination kicked off until the by-election on September 21. Hennessey is in grade 6 at the Saskatoon French School and, at 11, is a very good public speaker. She is filled with passion and compassion, and I know she will go on to do wonderful things in her life. Maybe she'll even sit in this Chamber some day. And I can honestly only hope to aspire to sound half as confident as she already does when she speaks in public.
And Ophelia will be two in December and is such a joy. She's gotten very proficient at chanting Danielle, Danielle or NDP, NDP whenever we're in a crowd, sometimes not so appropriately, but that's okay. There have been many times when it has been so hard for me to be away from her, but her zest for life, her easygoing personality, and her love and enjoyment of her dad have eased my maternal conscience.
My big sister Michelle, when I told her back in February that I wanted to do this, the first thing she said to me is, why in heck's name would you ever want to do that? Do you not have enough going on in your life? But within about 24 hours after she had processed all the information, she was my biggest supporter and my biggest help. She knocked on doorsteps with me in minus 30 to help me win the nomination, and she knocked on doors in plus 30 to help me win this by-election. Aside from being a great campaigner and a confidante, Michelle is also the best auntie ever. She loves my kids as much as I do and has often been there for them when I can't be.
My sister-in-law Yvette and my brother Marc, who have four children of their own, have also been a huge support for me. With my busy summer of canvassing, Yvette and Marc were always happy to have Hennessey, their fifth child, join along in their family excursions so I could door knock and know my oldest daughter was having fun.
And last but certainly not least, I want to thank my parents Georgiana and Rusty Chartier who are my biggest supporters but will no doubt be my biggest critics and will help ensure . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . But it?s true. It?s true. You laugh but it's true. They will be my biggest critics and will help ensure I stay on the straight and narrow, and will always remind me why I wanted this job in the first place.
I just want to take a quick aside to tell you a bit about my parents. They are good people. They raised seven of us, of whom I'm the youngest, and demonstrated to us through their own actions the importance of being involved in politics and in the broader community.
They've both been very active in the NDP, but they've also been incredibly involved in their community. From their hands-on involvement over the years with organizations like the Saskatoon Farmers' Market, the Core Neighbourhood Youth Co-op, Community First Development Fund, Quint, CHEP [child hunger and education program], the Good Food Junction, Station 20 West, and the Heritage Society, just to name a few, they've always been guided by the principle that it is all our jobs to leave this place a bit better than we found it. And even as they approach their 80s in the next few years, neither has really slowed down a bit.

There's some new people in my life I want to thank. The staff at this building, the Legislative Assembly staff — whether it's legal services, security, the staff in the cafeteria, the financial services people to the library services — you've been so helpful in every regard in helping me adjust to this new life.
I also want to thank the members opposite who've had a smile and kind words for me when we've met in the hallway, the cafeteria, the parking lot, or various other places. Thank you. I really do appreciate it.
I want to tell you a bit about my constituency of Saskatoon Riversdale and my relationship to this area. I am a west side girl through and through and very proud to call Saskatoon Riversdale home. My family roots in this community go back to 1942. In fact my husband and I are raising Hennessey and Ophelia on the same street where my grandparents raised my dad and his brothers and sisters, and we live just a few blocks away from where my parents have lived for 53 years. Saskatoon Riversdale is my home. There is no other place I'd want to represent as an MLA.
Our constituency is made up of the communities of Holiday Park, King George, Pleasant Hill, Riversdale, Meadow Green, Fairhaven, and Montgomery. It's a very diverse constituency. We have some of the poorest people in this province who live there and some of the wealthiest people in the province who live there. We have some of the most beautiful green space in the city. Actually, in fact, just a block from my house we have Holiday Park which is an amazing spot.
We have businesses that have been in the community for decades and, even in ownership and sometimes name changes, continue to thrive and serve our community. We are home to many small businesses like Mel's Café and the first and still thriving Vern's Pizza, and larger businesses and organizations including Cindercrete Products — which the member from Wascana Plains mentioned was her family?s business — and Cameco's head office actually is in Saskatoon Riversdale as well.
We are home of the Saskatoon French School, St. John's, King George, St. Mary, St. Dominic, W. P. Bate, St. Mark's, and Montgomery schools. Montgomery School, the latter, was just named to Today’s Parent magazine's top-20-schools-in-Canada list.
Our constituency is ethnically diverse. In fact, one of our schools is like a mini-United Nations, with students from 29 different countries represented at last count. Saskatoon Riversdale is a constituency not without its challenges, but it is a wonderful place to call home.
So I want to tell you a little bit about myself. I think I'm safe in saying that politics is in my blood. My family's involvement in it stretches actually back to the very beginning of our province. My great-grand-uncle, Albert Champagne, was one of the first MLAs to serve our province back in 1905 as the MLA for Battleford. My uncle Paul worked for John Diefenbaker and enjoyed sharing stories from this time. And in 1988, my own dad ran for mayor in Saskatoon simply for the reason to get the issue of community policing on the public agenda.
My parents have taught me the importance of politics in our lives and the need to give back. Over the last decade or so, when the birth of my first daughter lit my own activist spark, I've known I wanted some role in government or at the very least in impacting government. I wasn't sure if I was going to be behind the scenes as a bureaucrat or as a community activist or out front as a politician. Well, I guess, here I am.
An Hon. Member: — Good choice.
Ms. Chartier: — Yes. During the by-election campaign, the question came up: what do you do? It was hard for me to briefly define myself at this point in my life. My answer was never short or simple. I'm not a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer or something straightforward and simple like that. I was a reporter for 12 years. I was also an at-home mom until my oldest daughter started school and, honestly, I think being a mom is the thing that defines me the most. It is definitely one of the biggest reasons why I decided to put my name forward in this by-election.
Aside from my journalism diploma I do also have a social work degree. But because of the kind of work I've done as a social worker, I never needed to register, so I can't call myself a social worker. I've just about completed a master's in public policy, but not quite. While doing this latest degree I've been doing contract work in the area of work/family balance in lower-waged employees, but haven't focused on this because my youngest daughter isn't even two.
I've also spent the last couple of years of my life working in a volunteer capacity to get the doors open on the Children's Discovery Museum in Saskatoon, which consumed an incredible number of hours for me and for the rest of that board. So no, I don't fit in a nice little, neat little box and can't describe myself in one, two, or even three words, but I like to think my experiences will serve me well in serving my constituents.
Over the last several years I've also spent much of my time in the NDP working on the issue of women and politics. This is because it is my belief that women's issues are not women's issues alone; women's issues are issues of family and of community. I also believe — and there is evidence from other jurisdictions that supports this — that until we begin to elect more women, the priorities of women, of families, and of community will not be the priorities of government. For this reason, our legislature needs to better reflect the diversity of this province.
I had the wonderful library staff in this building put together an extensive bibliography for me, for this speech, on why electing more women matters, and I had tons of reference material to share with you. But as I delved into all this material, you'll be very relieved to know that I realized that this wasn't a paper for one of my classes and my time before you today is limited. But I'm happy to share any of those resources with you if you want to ask.
There are many, many people in my own political party who also believe the diversity of this legislature needs to be enhanced — be it more women, more First Nations and Métis people, or people of visible minorities. I was so pleased to be part of putting forward a resolution at our convention two years ago that saw our party commit unanimously to nominating 50 per cent women candidates in 2011. This next election and fulfilling this commitment is not an end point for our party, but a beginning. It should be the norm, not the exception, that women are well represented in electoral politics on both sides of this Chamber.
I'm totally inspired by the idea of paving the way for more women to get involved in electoral politics, including those like me with young families. I'm fortunate myself to have an incredible family who make this job possible for me, but we do all recognize we will be making big sacrifices. But I want to be a part of ensuring we start to do politics differently and make it easier for individuals with family responsibilities, particularly women, to get involved. It is my belief that although it is a demanding job, it should not be so demanding that our husbands or wives have to give up their lives totally in order for us to be able to serve our community.
A few years ago at an event featuring MP [Member of Parliament] Libby Davies, a concerned and well-meaning young man vocalized an observation he had made: “Why are female MPs so old? We need to get more young women involved.” This person making this comment did not yet have children himself and clearly did not understand the multiple roles that many women of child-bearing age hold, which I believe keeps women like me out of politics. It's just too demanding when you have to juggle the roles of politician and primary caregiver, as most women still are of their children.
And I just want to point out what happened last year, when former Green Party leader Amber Jones took her infant to her inaugural news conference and, heaven forbid, happened to nurse her before the official event began. She was absolutely skewered in a blog by John Gormley's executive producer for supposedly using her daughter as a prop when she was simply being a good mother. I trust that this same producer — or anyone else for that matter — will not be making these kind of disparaging remarks about me when Ophelia comes to visit me for a nursing break and a quick cuddle.
Politics at the best of times is difficult, but it can be even more daunting if you're a woman. It is my goal to ensure it becomes more desirable for women to enter politics and easier for women to get elected. I envision a world where MLAs spend more time in their home constituencies with their constituents and, as a result, will have the opportunity to go home to their families at the end of a long day. Obviously there are times when MLAs need to be in the legislature, like during session, or need to meet face to face, but technology is such these days that much can be accomplished by meeting at a distance. I am new to this job and I fully acknowledge I don't have first-hand experience in this regard yet, but I'm not sure there are good reasons why an MLA cannot take part in some meetings while sitting in her local office rather than in Regina.
Just last week I had the pleasure of touring the Saskatchewan Arts Board's brand new offices on Broad Street and was thrilled to see they've equipped their boardroom for meetings at a distance. According to their staff, video conferencing has proved to be very effective and an efficient tool in assisting them to get their work done. If those in the corporate world and those in the not-for-profit world can embrace this new technology, why can't government?
This is just one possible way of doing politics differently that would be better for MLAs and their families, better for constituents, better for taxpayers, and last but definitely not least, better for the environment. Do this one little thing and I think you might see more women running. At least it would be a start.
So far you've heard my many thank yous and I've told you a bit about my constituency and a bit about myself. Now I need to talk about what I think of this Throne Speech. I may be new to this legislature but I've always understood a Throne Speech is about a vision of the future, not a reflection of the past. I believe my colleagues have already done a fine job of pointing out there is much more in this Throne Speech about the past two years than in the upcoming year. There's much more a hodgepodge of ideas than a real vision for where this province should go.
So what is in this Throne Speech? We have heard this government is going to limit the number of needles handed out by needle exchange programs, despite the fact its own report says these programs have done a good job at reducing the spread of deadly disease among injection drug users here. Limiting the spread of disease is good on many accounts and the humanity of it should be enough. But one reason that it should appeal to those who don't have much sympathy for the users who contract diseases and die, it costs taxpayers a great deal of money to treat those with blood-borne disease, even if they die prematurely.
As a mom of two kids who spend time playing in parks where needles have been discovered, I do know where this fear of needle sticks comes from. This is my reality. While on the doorstep during this by-election, several people talked to me also about poorly discarded needles, so I do realize it is a real concern. But as someone who studies public policy, I believe in putting evidence before ideology. I would like to see the evidence on how limiting the number of needles given away will increase an addict's contact with the health care system and potentially life-changing counselling.
I have heard on many occasions this government talk about the need to address addictions. I would agree wholeheartedly, but I would also argue one needs to take just a step back and deal with the reasons why people become addicted in the first place. The 16-year-old girl who injects cocaine all day long does not do so because her life is good. Chances are good the addiction comes out of the desperation of her life. Poverty, abuse, lack of opportunity, and often racism are just a few of the factors that have likely led to her addiction.
In the Throne Speech we have heard about what this government has done to attract nurses to this province and its success thus far. We also heard about the government's new strategy to increase the number of physicians working in the province, which is a laudable goal. However this Throne Speech did not even mention, let alone address, the concerns of the thousands of individuals who are the front lines of our health care system in the battle against drug-resistant bugs and illnesses like H1N1, or caring on a daily basis for our loved ones in hospitals, care homes, and through home care services.
The fact that many facilities are often working short of these essential employees, and that we need to attract and retain health care professionals beyond doctors and nurses, did not even warrant a mention in the Throne Speech. I heard from many of these employees while on the doorstep during the by-election, and they do not feel like their contribution to the health care system is valued by this government. The lack of a contract or a decent wage offer, among other issues, reaffirms for them that this government believes our health care system only includes doctors and nurses.
What is glaringly absent in this Speech is this government's commitment to addressing the issue of affordability for its citizens, which was a very real issue expressed to me when I was on the doorstep during the by-election. When the opposition talks about this issue, the government responds by telling us they removed the lowest income earners from the tax rolls and have increased the social assistance, shelter allowances, and rental supplements. I applaud the government for doing this. This was a good start and is somewhat expected, especially when you have a giant wallet full of money. But I can tell you people are still suffering, and it's not enough.
The member from Humboldt talks about a balanced approach which is great, but if things aren't balanced, a balanced approach isn't going to work. The people in my constituency, and I know elsewhere in this province, are having a harder and harder time making ends meet. Whether it's the rising utility costs, skyrocketing rents, or the rising cost of food, life is tough. This isn't just an issue for those on social assistance but for those who are working very hard for every dwindling dollar they earn. It's harder for students and it's harder for seniors too. This Throne Speech did nothing to address any of these real and pressing concerns.
I would be remiss as the representative for Saskatoon Riversdale if I did not comment on this government's decision to pull the already-committed funding for the Station 20 West project, a project that grew out of community, not out of government, and would do a great deal for addressing the cost-of-living issues and food securities concerns for many people in Saskatoon. Handing out hamburgers and pop to hungry individuals during the advance polls of a by-election does not constitute a strategy to address hunger in this province. Contrary to the opinion on the benches opposite, Station 20 West was not a political project and still is very worthy of support.
Just to play the devil's advocate here and use the same approach the members opposite often take when they say the NDP has no authority in speaking to issues of rural Saskatchewan, perhaps if you don't live in the core of our urban centres, you have no idea what support individuals need to become full and active citizens in our province.
Because of this government's lack of vision, I will be supporting the amendment and cannot in good conscience support this Throne Speech. Thank you.

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